Tuesday 8th August, 2017 – Sabbath School Lesson

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The Law as Our “Guard”

Paul gives two basic conclusions about the law: (1) the law does not nullify or abolish God’s promise made to Abraham (Gal. 3:15-20); (2) the law is not opposed to the promise (Gal. 3:21, 22).

What role does the law actually play then? Paul writes that it was added “because of transgressions” (Gal. 3:19), and he expands on this idea using three different words or phrases in connection to the law: kept (vs. 23), shut up (vs. 23), and schoolmaster (vs. 24).

Read prayerfully and carefully Galatians 3:19-24. What is Paul saying about the law?

Most modern translations interpret Paul’s comments about the law in Galatians 3:19 in wholly negative terms. But the original Greek is not nearly so one-sided. The Greek word translated as “kept” (vs. 23) literally means “to guard.” Although it can be used in a negative sense, as to “hold in subjection” or to “watch over” (2 Cor. 11:32), in the New Testament it generally has a more positive sense of “protecting” or “keeping” (Phil. 4:7, 1 Pet. 1:5). The same is true of the word translated as “shut up” (Gal. 3:23). It can be translated “to close” (Gen. 20:18), “to shut” (Exod. 14:3, Josh. 6:1, Jer. 13:19), “to enclose” (Luke 5:6), or “to confine” (Rom. 11:32). As these examples indicate, depending on its context, this word can have either positive or negative connotations.

What benefits did the law (moral and ceremonial) provide the children of Israel? Rom. 3:1, 2; Deut. 7:12-24; Lev. 18:20-30.


While Paul can speak about the law in negative terms (Rom. 7:6, Gal. 2:19), he also has many positive things to say about it (see Rom. 7:12, 14; 8:3, 4; 13:8)The law was not a curse that God placed upon Israel; on the contrary, it was intended to be a blessing. Though its sacrificial system could not ultimately remove sin, it pointed to the promised Messiah who could, and its laws guiding human behavior protected Israel from many of the vices that plagued other ancient civilizations. In light of Paul’s positive comments about the law elsewhere, it would be a mistake to understand his comments here in a completely negative way.

Think of something good that is misused. For example, a drug created to treat a disease could be used by some people to get high. What examples have you seen in your own life of this principle? How does our knowledge of how something good can be misused help us understand what Paul is dealing with here?

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Monday 7th August, 2017 – Sabbath School Lesson

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“Kept Under Law”

In Galatians 3:23, Paul writes that “before faith came, we were kept under the law.” By “we” Paul is referring to the Jewish believers in the Galatian churches. They are the ones acquainted with the law, and Paul has been speaking to them in particular since Galatians 2:15. This can be seen in the contrast between the “we” in Galatians 3:23 and the “you” in Galatians 3:26 (ESV).

Galatians 3:23 reads, “Before faith came”; but in the literal Greek it reads, “before the faith” came. Because Paul is contrasting the place of the law before and after Christ (Gal. 3:24), “the faith” is most likely a reference to our faith and not a reference to Christian faith in general.

Paul says the Jews were kept “under the law” before the coming of Christ. What does he mean by “under the law”? Compare Gal. 3:22, 23 with Rom. 6:14, 15; 1 Cor. 9:20; Gal. 4:4, 5, 21; 5:18.


Paul uses the phrase “under the law” twelve times in his letters.

1. “Under the law” means under the power, or penalty, of the law (Gal. 4:21). The opponents in Galatia were trying to gain life-giving righteousness by obedience. However, as Paul has already made clear, this is impossible (Gal. 3:21, 22) because without Christ we are unable to obey the Law. Paul later will even point out that, by desiring to be under the law, the Galatians were really rejecting Christ Gal. 5:2-4).

2. “Under the law” includes being under its condemnation (Rom. 6:14, 15). Because the law cannot atone for sin, the violation of its demands ultimately results in condemnation. This is the condition in which all human beings find themselves. The law acts as a prison warden, locking up all who have violated it and brought upon themselves the sentence of death. As we will see in tomorrow’s study, the use of the word guard (Gal. 3:23, NKJV) indicates that this is what Paul means by “under the law” in this passage.

A related Greek word, ennomos, normally translated “under the law,” literally means “within the law” and refers to living within the requirements of the law through union with Christ (1 Cor. 9:21). By “the works of the law,” that is, by trying to keep the law apart from Christ, it is impossible to be justified, because only those who through faith are righteous will live (Gal. 3:11). This truth doesn’t nullify the law; it shows only that the law can’t give us eternal life. It’s way too late for that.