By W. M. Ramsay
Function of the Law (Gal 3:19-22)
In this passage Paul guards against a possible misinterpretation of his words, which might be dangerous. It might be said that he was representing the law as being in opposition to the Promises made to Abraham and his seed. He must therefore define clearly what he conceives to be the function of the law. The same person, the one God, gave both the Promises and the Law. The Promises were to be fulfilled, not immediately, but after a long interval, not to each individual of the human “Seed of Abraham,” but to and through the “the Seed,” i.e., the Christ. The Law is the preparation for the fulfilment of the Promises. There must be a clear and peremptory forbidding of sin, before the sin is made emphatic and beyond palliation or excuse. “The times of ignorance God might overlook,” as Paul said to the Athenians; but none who sinned against the clear Law could try to shelter themselves behind such a plea. Moreover, the Law was necessary (as has been said, p. 336) in order that the overwhelming consciousness of sin, which is a necessary preliminary to true faith in Christ, might be produced in the minds of men.
The Law would have been contrary to the Promises if it had been intended to produce the same result as they by a new way, and therefore had rendered them unnecessary. The Promises are promises of life and salvation; and if a Law such as could produce life and salvation had been given from Mount Sinai, then this Law would really have interfered with and nullified the Promises.
But, on the contrary, the Scripture declares that the effect of the Law is to “shut up everything under the dominion of sin without means of escape” (Lightfoot), in order that men might be forced to look forward to “the Christ” as the only means of escape, the only hope of life and salvation.
It is noteworthy that Paul makes only the vague reference to “the Scripture,” and does not quote a special passage. His words are intelligible only on the supposition that they are a brief summary of a more elaborate exposition of the combined effect of several passages, which he had delivered in his earlier preaching to the Galatians.
The expression “by faith to them that believe,” Gal 3:22, ἐκ πίστεως τοῖς πιστεύουσιν, is rendered very strong by the repetition. As has been pointed out on page 347, ἐκ πίστεως must be understood as emphatically denying the opposite doctrine of the Judaising Christians — the source is ἐκ πίστεως, not ἐκ νόμον.