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Written around AD 51, the Book of Galatians represents one of the 13 letters or epistles the Apostle Paul authored to early churches in antiquity. In this book, he addressed the Galatian assemblies of whom membership predominantly comprised Gentile believers (Gal 1:16; 2:2-7-9).[1] Paul wrote the letter in deliberative rhetorical style as an argument to redirect the Galatian ekklēsia from living in the law of works to the law of the promised Holy Spirit (Gal 3:1, 5, 14).

Cultural Profile

Paul addressed his letter to “the churches of Galatia” (Gal 1:2). He did not specify North or South Galatia. The Galatians originated in central Europe. Later, they migrated into Switzerland, southern Germany, northern Italy, France, Britain, Balkans, and finally Asia Minor. At the time Paul wrote this book, the Greek-speaking Gauls inhabited Asia Minor (cf. Galatia).[2]

Witherington, a theologian, specializing in socio-rhetorical interpretation, believed the Galatian descendants retained their original Celtic culture through dialect, organization, politics, and religion well into the New Testament. The general populace revered and feared the Galatians for their standing as mercenaries and warriors, Celtic native language, physical stature, and wild appearance. [3] However, Witherington noted other peoples and tribes lived in Galatia besides Gaul descendants due to the establishing of Roman colonies. Additionally, Galatia had a heavy Roman military presence among its population.[4]

Internal evidence within the Book of Galatians does not explain the people Paul addressed. However, the Jewish Christian infiltrators brought up the issue of circumcision that specifically related to Gentiles. One finds additional evidence of the audience outside this book. Acts and Luke use the word Phrygian (Acts 16:6; Luke 3:1) to indicate a part of Galatia. Paul would have traveled through the Phrygian territory on the way to Ephesus.


Broader Literary Context

The author sought to refute false teachings and claims from a counter group of Jewish Christians who infiltrated the church. Paul argued for the “truth of the Gospel (Gal 2:5,14; 3:2; 4:4) and identity found in Jesus Christ (3:28). The counter group of Judaizers not only presented false claims but also questioned Paul’s authority. They perverted the Gospel (1:7-9) by insisting all Gentiles must be circumcised (5:2; 6:12-13), adhere to the law (3:2-5; 5:4-6) and take on a Christian identity marked in Jewish rites and practices.

Immediate Literary Context

Paul opened the argument in Gal 3, reprimanding the ekklēsia for not obeying truth and calling them foolish and bewitched (3:1). He posed six pointed questions, like a father speaking to his errant children, related to their misguided beliefs over the Law (3:1, 2b, 3a, 3b, 4, 5). The six questions provide background information that lays the foundation for the next text blocks.[5]

The last question, “Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (3:5 NKJV) transitions by means of logical causation to a contrasting portrait of faith-blessed (3:6-9) versus works of the law-cursed (3:10-13). Paul expounded on the blessings (3:14-18) with particulars about “Abraham and his Seed were the promises made” (3:16). Paul also presents six thesis statements in this block, found in Gal 3:6-14, of which preview the rest of the chapter.[6]

Paul immediately began the Gal 3:19-22 passage block with two questions-to-answer. He asked the first question, “What purpose then does the law serve?” (3:19a). Then, he subsequently responded to it in the following verse, “because of transgressions, but temporary until the Seed fulfilled the promise (3:19-20). He posed a secondary question to the answer in 3:21, Is the law then against the promises of God?” Again, he responded in 3:25 with a resounding no and explanation of why, ending with the Law served the Jews as a trainer to lead them to Christ to be justified “by faith” (v.24). After faith, they were no longer under the tutor” (v.25).

The author concluded his discussion on the law as he brought Jews and Gentiles together through faith in Christ.“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (v.28). He then circled back to Jesus as Abraham’s seed and heir to the promise. (v.29; cf. vv.16-18).


Train of Thought: Gal 3:19-22

Purpose of the Law (3:19-20)

Verse 19: “What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.

This verse adds relevance to the preceding verses from the chapter and propels the rest forward. Paul’s tone appears direct because he was making a point. Opening with a question, Paul explained it with logical causation in the first clause adding it (in passive aorist) because of transgressions, by means of  “till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made” in the second clause. He then added manner/condition with “and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator” in the last clause.

Several words surface in this passage necessary to understanding original meaning: law, transgression, and mediator. The word law refers to the precepts of Mosaic Law explained in v.17. While it seems unusual that Paul would explain the law in Judeo terminology, Gentiles would have understood this reference. Keener explained that “Greco-Roman philosophers felt that the law was necessary for the masses, but that the wise were a law for themselves.”[7]

Another word in this passage is transgressions. Paul defined the meaning of transgression in Gal 2:18 with the word transgressor, “For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.”  Thus, transgression is a human act of resurrecting the law, for Paul said that “I through the law died to the law that I might live to God” (2:19). An example of a human act of transgression in Galatians is the occasion when Peter separated himself from the Gentiles in table fellowship (2:12), of which Paul later confronts Peter (v.14).

The Seed and mediator are one in the same, Christ, for God revealed in Christ has many attributes. Paul stated in Gal 3:16, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.” Though not in Galatians, Paul also said in 1 Tim 2:5, that “For [there is] one God and one Mediator between God and men, [the] Man Christ Jesus.” So, Jesus is both Seed and Mediator. The last word is mediator. Schneider explained that mediator commonly related to “breaches of the law in Greek culture of the time and also in the Septuagint.”[8] Accordingly, the term crossed two cultures.

Verse 20: “Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.”

The passage begins with the word now, signaling contrast the mediator from 3:19, followed by another contrast with “but God is one.” The first clause takes some reading, but if a person looks at it from a logical standpoint, one would see that two parties are necessary for mediation. Therefore, it follows that Christ mediates between more than one party. Since Christ is the sole mediator under the New Covenant who took the place of the high priests from Israel under the Mosaic Covenant, the two parties are God and His people and/or an individual believer.

Looking at verse 30 from a literary stance as a play on metaphors, perhaps Paul ties the word one from “does not mediate for one only” to “God is one” (the Shema) from v.20 with “for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (v.28) to illustrate different levels of oneness. Each is separate, yet tied together through Christ as a unifier for all parties. Keener says that by Paul arguing with a oneness theme, he uses “an analogy that would be persuasive in his readers’ culture.”[9]

Another cultural aspect of the role of the mediator is that people from the early Mediterranean world often used brokers between patrons and clients as part of a patronage system in the social order.[10] In keeping with using language from the people during that time period, the word mediator would resonate a transferable meaning.

Promises of God through Faith in Jesus Christ (3:21-22)

Verse 21:”Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.”

This next verse begins with a secondary question that extends the meaning of the first (v.19). The question follows with the answer as a logical causation with the response, “Certainly not” (v.21b), preceding to a solution or reason with, “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. The sentence, “Certainly not” is key in understanding this passage because it shows the law of Moses (v.22a) does not contradict God’s promises to Abraham. Wuest said that “The law is a ministry of condemnation. The promises are the ministry of salvation.”[11] Each operates with a different function. The latter phrase “truly righteousness would have been by the law” cross-references to 2:20 5:16, 25, dealing with righteousness through the faith from the Son of God, walking in the Spirit rather than flesh.

Verse 22: “But the Scripture has confined all under sin that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”

Galatians 3:22 contrasts from the prior with as a causal explanation, “But the Scripture has confined us all under sin,” (v.22a) with the logical causation of “that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (v.22b).

Verse 22 comprises the beginning of a string of metaphors that Paul used to explain his position on the law.[12] Paul wrote Scripture in singular form, emanating from Gal 2:16 (Ps 143.2) and 3:10 (Deut 27:26). The verb confine comes from “sunkleio which means to shut up.” [13] Perhaps, Paul portrayed the image of one confined to a prison of the works of the law under sin. Jesus, fulfilling promise, frees the imprisoned through their faith in Him under grace (cf. 2:16; 3:10).


Aster explained Gal 3:19-22 in the context of this audience with, “the identity of the ingroup is superior to that of the outgroup.”[14] The in group reflects Christians, including Gentiles, while the outgroup comprises Jews and Judaizers. At the core lies the fact that the law confines a person and does not give them life; rather, one finds life through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul’s purpose in these passages was to sway the Gentiles away from the approaches of the outgroup (Judaizers) who wanted the ingroup, (Galatians) to conform to the law as a qualifier for righteousness. Paul clarified the purpose of the law and implied that Christian Galatians did not need a Jewish ethnic identity grounded in the law.

In full, Paul explained the meaning, purpose, and intent of the law in Gal 3:19-22. He focuses on the fact that the law was added after God’s promise to Abraham and because of the nation of Israel’s transgressions (3:19a). However, the law was not meant to be in place permanently, rather until the promise of the Seed was fulfilled (v.19b). The Seed did come, and serves as a Mediator (vv.19b, 20) The Seed and the Mediator are none other than Jesus (v.20) Jesus as the Mediator, mediates between God and all those who believe in Jesus Christ through the promise of faith as the offspring of the Seed (v.16). Further, the Seed does not contradict the promise God made to Israel. Jesus is the inheritor of that promise and sets His offspring free (v.22).


[1] William Baird, HarperCollins Commentary, p. 1105. Baird notes that the original kingdom of the Galatians was in the north-central area of Asia Minor; but in BC25, the Romans reorganized tis region to include the provinces of Galatia areas to the south. According to the sough Galatians’ theory, the churches addressed in Galatians come from the south region, which Paul established during his first missionary journey (Acts 15:4-14:28). On the other hand, the north Galatians’ theory espouses churches in the original territory of Galatia.

[2] Ben Witherington, Grace in Galatia, Eerdmans Publishing House, 1998), 3.

[3] Witherington, Grace in Galatia, pp. 870-72.

[4] Witherington, Grace in Galatia, pp. 3-4.

[5] The six questions Paul posed to the Galatians: 1. “Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?” (3:1 NKJV); 2. “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (v.2b); 3. “Are you so foolish?” (v.3a); 4. “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (v.3b); 5.“Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?” (v.4); 6. “Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (v.5).

[6] The thesis statements are 1.“Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (3:6); 2.“Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham” (3:7) & “So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham” (3:9); 3.“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse” (3:10a); 4.“But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God” (3:11a); 5.“Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law” (3:13a) and 6. “That the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (3:14).

[7] Craig S. Keener, The Bible Background Commentary New Testament, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 525.

[8] Aster, Galatians New Testament Reading. Loc 4221. From Schneider 1967.

[9] Keener, The Bible Background Commentary New Testament, 527.

[10] Jan Paron, “Reconciliation in Corinth, Pt. 2: Biblical History & Forces of Change,” PerSpectives 12, Cited: 9 October 2012, Online: https://specs12.wordpress.com/2012/08/10/corinth-biblical-history-forces-of-change/

[11] Kenneth S. Wuest. Wuest’s Word Studies from te Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 107

[12] Phillip F. Ester, Galatians, (London: Taylor and Francis e-Library, 1998), 4339.

[13] Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from te Greek New Testament, 108.

[14] Ester, Galatians, Loc 4325.

Jan Paron, PhD — 8-2-2020


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