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"the law was our tutor"  (Galatians 3: 23-25)

     In the third chapter of Galatians, we find a passage which is widely misunderstood.  A misconception about this particular passage has greatly influenced many to conclude that God’s spiritual law---the law summarized by the Ten Commandments---has been replaced by Christ!   The thinking is that, ever since Christ came to this earth, there is no longer any need to strive to live by God’s spiritual law.

     Let’s now consider this passage:  “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law...Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  But after faith has come [i.e., after Christ has come], we are no longer under a tutor [i.e., we are no longer under the law]” (Gal. 3:23-25).

     So, it says, before faith came.   “Faith” is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22).   The Holy Spirit---and the faith provided by the Holy Spirit---first became available to members of the Church just weeks after Christ’s crucifixion, on the day of Pentecost.  With that availability of the Holy Spirit and true Godly faith, there was no longer need for the law which had served as a “tutor.”  

     However---and this is where people greatly misunderstand---what law is being spoken of?   What law was then abolished?

     Is it speaking of God’s spiritual law, as summarized by the Ten Commandments?   No!   God’s spiritual law always has and always will be in effect!

     So, which law is being spoken of as having been abolished?   We begin to see the answer by looking just a few verses earlier in this same chapter: “What purpose then does the law serve?   It [the law] was added because of transgressions, till the Seed [Christ] should come…” (Gal. 3:19). 

     Notice that the “law” being spoken of in this verse, was “added because of transgressions.”   “Transgressions” of what?!   There had to have been another law that was already in effect, which was being transgressed!    “…for where there is no law there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:15). 

     The law which was already in effect was God’s spiritual law, as summarized by the Ten Commandments.  As mentioned earlier, that law always has and always will be in effect.   It is the law which defines what sin is.   “…for by the law is the knowledge of sin,” said Paul (Rom. 3:20).   He also said, “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.  For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Rom. 7:7, NIV).   Plainly, the “law” being referred to here is the Ten Commandments.

     It was because of the fact that this spiritual law was being so flagrantly transgressed, that God temporarily added another set of laws: the laws of animal sacrifice and the ceremonial rituals.

     Let’s first consider the ceremonial rituals.  These consisted of grain offerings, drink offerings, various washings, and physical ordinances (Heb. 9:10).   They were things to do morning, noon, and night.  What was their purpose?   They were to teach the people the habit of obedience---obedience to God’s spiritual law! 

     Unlike Christians today, Old Testament Israelites did not have access to the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Today, if a person comes to have the Holy Spirit dwelling within him, then it is actually Christ living His life within the person (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 8:9-10).   To the extent the person yields his life to Christ’s guidance, Christ lives in that person the same manner of life He lived 2,000 years ago---a life of obedience to God’s law!    Consequently, once the Holy Spirit was made available (after Christ’s crucifixion), this ritualistic law of Moses---the “tutor” spoken of in Gal. 3:24---was no longer needed.  That system of laws had been “imposed [only] until the time of reformation”---i.e., until the time of Christ's crucifixion (Heb. 9:10). 

     Now, what about the temporarily added law of animal sacrifice?   We have looked at the laws of ceremonial rituals; but the Mosaic Law consisted not only of ceremonial rituals, but also of a system of animal sacrifices.

     Unlike Christ’s sacrifice, these animal sacrifices could not “justify” or take away sin (Heb. 10:4).   They were only a temporary substitute for, and until, Christ’s sacrifice.  What was their purpose?   (1) These animal sacrifices would serve to repeatedly remind the people of their sins, and to remind them that the penalty of sin is death (Ezek. 18:4; Rom. 6:23);   (2) they would also serve as a shadowy type of the future sacrifice of a Savior.   “For the law [the Mosaic Law of rituals and animal sacrifices], having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.  For then would they not have ceased to be offered?   For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins.  But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.  For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Heb. 10:1-4).

     So, when the sacrifice of Christ came, it was God’s desire that the Mosaic Law of rituals and animal sacrifice should cease.  However, the religious leaders rejected Christ as the Savior (or “Lamb of God”—John 1:29), and so they continued the ritualistic law (including animal sacrifice) up until the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.

     (For a more detailed discussion of the laws of sacrifice and rituals, as well as a discussion of the Old and New Covenants, see The Old and New Covenants.")

 

Further Evidence

     We will now see further evidence that the “law” referred to in Gal. 3:23-25 is referring to the Mosaic ceremonial laws---and not to the spiritual law (summarized by the Ten Commandments).   This “further evidence” concerns Paul’s phrase “works of the law.”

     The phrase “works of the law” is found in only five scriptures in the entire Bible (KJV and NKJV), and all five are Paul’s writings.  Four of the five are in the book of Galatians, and three of those are in chapter 3 (which is the chapter under discussion).

     What does Paul mean by “works of the law”?   Additional light has been shed on the meaning of this phrase by an article published in the Nov. /Dec. 1994 issue of Biblical Archeology Review.  In that article, entitled  “Paul, ‘Works of the Law’ and MMT,”  Dr. Martin Abegg states this:  “This Dead Sea [‘MMT’] Scroll and Paul use the very same phrase….ma’ase ha-torah is equivalent to what we know in English from Paul’s letters as ‘works of the law.’ 

     Dr. Abegg’s article reveals that “recent translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls show that the expression ‘works of the law’ was used in the first century Jewish community [the time of Paul’s writings] to refer  to human efforts performed in order to gain right standing with God.  This often involved the kind of purity rituals that the Pharisees emphasized so much.” 1

                “The Dead Sea Scrolls were the products of a Jewish sect dwelling at Qumran, a desert community.  According to Lawrence Schiffman, a leading scholar involved in translating some of the Dead Sea texts, the Jewish community [or sect] at Qumran had its origins…[due to conflicts among priests] mostly over sacrifices and ritual purity’” (Biblical Archeologist, Jan. 1995, p.37). 2

     So, when Paul spoke of the “works of the law,” he was referring to the ceremonial or ritualistic laws---not the Ten Commandments!   And Paul used this phrase “works of the law” three times in this same chapter where he said that “the law” was our tutor, and that we are no longer under that tutor. 

     Clearly, Paul’s entire discussion in this passage concerns these temporary, ritualistic laws---laws which God gave to teach the people the habit of obedience---obedience to God’s spiritual law.  Once the Holy Spirit was made available after Christ’s crucifixion, those ritualistic laws were no longer needed.

 

Conclusion

      In Galatians 3, Paul said that since the coming of Christ, we are no longer under a “tutor”---no longer under the law.  Yet, which law was he speaking of?   We have essentially seen three proofs that in this passage, Paul is not speaking of God’s spiritual law; and that he is instead speaking of the ritualistic laws given to Old Testament Israel.    

     The first proof is clearly shown in another article on this website, “God’s Law ALWAYS HAS and ALWAYS WILL Be in Effect.”    Since God’s spiritual law will always be in effect, Paul could not be referring to that law!   However, Paul shows in Heb.9 that another law ---the law of sacrifice and rituals ---was indeed imposed only until the time of Christ.

     The second proof is that the “law” in Gal. 3 which Paul said was done away by Christ’s coming, had---as Paul said in verse 19---been “added because of transgressions.”   Therefore, we know that another law---God’s spiritual law---was already in effect and being “transgressed.”   And it was because of transgressions of this spiritual law, that God temporarily added the ritualistic and sacrificial law.

    The third proof is that recent translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls show that Paul’s use of the term “works of the law” refers to the sacrificial and ritualistic law.   And THREE of the 5 times Paul used that term,  he used it IN this chapter we are examining---where Paul said that “the law was our tutor” and that we are no longer under that tutor.  Plainly, then, the “law” which Paul is referring to in Gal. 3:23-25 is the law of sacrifice and rituals!   He is not saying that God’s spiritual law has been done away! 

      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

1.  Tomorrow’s World Bible Study Course,  Lesson Ten,  Dec. 2000,  p.7

2.  Tomorrow’s World Bible Study Course,  Lesson Eleven,  Jan. 2001,  p.4