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summarized by the Ten Commandments---has been replaced by Christ!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.
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
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.")
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.
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
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
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!
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