“Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator” (Galatians 3:19, King James Version).
There are numerous interpretations of this verse and we shall examine the false in comparison with the true. As we study this verse in contrast with the word, we will find that it has several misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
The Added Law
The verse says, “It (the law) was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made” (Galatians 3:19). What is this law that was added because of transgressions? There are a few ideas the bible points out:
- Moral Law
- Ceremonial Law
In Deuteronomy 5:6-21, Moses revealedthe Ten Commandments after which he gave the following account:
“These words the LORD spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me” (Deuteronomy 5:22).
The word “added” in this verse refers to the Ten Commandments, which God gave to Moses and “added no more.”
In Hebrews 12:19, we read: “And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more.”
The same Greek word “spoken” in Hebrews 12:19 is the same Greek word “added” that was translated in Galatians 3:19. In other words, after giving the Ten Commandments, God “spoke no more.”
When reading Galatians 3:19, it can actually be read as, “It was spoken because of transgressions.” The law was “spoken” at Sinai because of the sins of the people, so that they could see their wickedness and repent.
The word “added” in this verse is not implying that the law was “added” in a mathematical sense as many have come to believe. If this were true, then how was it that before Sinai, people like Cain recognized that they had sinned (Genesis 4:7, 13)? How did Joseph know what sin was (Genesis 39:9)? They knew because the law was in existence before Sinai.
Because of Transgressions
Romans 7:7 says, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, ‘Thou shalt not covet.’”
Paul, as he had no knowledge of sin, knew what it was due to the law. The law was given to point out people’s transgressions. It magnified their sins and brought them back to Christ. This could only have been the moral law that pointed out wrongdoings. Especially since the ceremonial law, which is the gospel, was not performed until after the recognition of sin. The ceremonial law revealed the solution when one breaks the moral law. This is why the law was spoken at Sinai.
Romans 7:13 reads, “Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.”
The commandment made the sin exceeding sinful, thus it was “added because of transgressions.” Clearly, it is the moral law that was “added because of transgressions.”
Ordained by Angels
“It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator”(Galatians 3:19).
What law was Paul referring to then that was ordained by angels in the hands of a mediator? Evidently, it is the “added law” or the Ten Commandments as we’ve already learned.
Let’s review some verses again from the scripture to affirm that this “added law” is indeed the Ten Commandments.
Deuteronomy 33:2: “The LORD came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined forth from Mount Paran, and He came with ten thousands of saints [holy ones—angels]; from His right hand went a fiery law for them.”
The angels were at Mount Sinai when the fiery law was given to them. Stephen spoke of this account:
“Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it” (Acts 7:51-53).
Here we see that the angels had an intimate connection with the giving of the moral law, the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai; the law which these people did not keep. Clearly, “the added law” is the moral law.
The Mediator – Moses or Christ
“…it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one” (Galatians 3:19-20). God is one and the bible says, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
Scripture apparently points out that Jesus Christ was the mediator of the Covenant.
Hebrews 12:24 also affirms this: “And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” Again the mediator of this law was Jesus Christ.
What we have learned so far is that upon the giving of the moral law at Sinai, Christ was the mediator and that such an occurence was ordained by angels.
Many would like to teach that this law spoken of in Galatians is only called the Law of Moses, which includes only ceremonial laws abolished at the cross. This is erroneous. The Law of Moses includes both the moral and ceremonial laws. The terms Law of Moses and Law of God are used interchangeably in both moral and ceremonial laws (see Deuteronomy 4:44- 5:23 and Luke 2:22-24 for example).
God has never justified a single man by the law. Hebrews 11 tells us of the many patriarchs before the cross that were all justified by faith alone, and before chapter 10 starts, we read the following:
Hebrews 10:38: “Now the just shall live by faith….”
God has never taught justification to come by the law. This view teaches us that God changed his way from dispensation to dispensation, and by “…beholding…we are changed into that same image” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
God’s personality is everything to us as a people. It is important to recognize the truth in these matters, so that we can see our Father in a proper light. Failing to see Him as He is will only lead to “justification by works.”
Till the Seed Should Come
Another common misinterpretation of this verse is teaching that it referred to the ceremonial law alone and that it was only in place until the cross. It is also taught that the seed, Jesus Christ had come to do what he was set to do at the cross rather than His second coming.
But first, who is this “seed” that is to come?
Let’s look carefully at the following verse: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ” (Galatians 3:16).
Christ is “the seed.” So Galatians 3:19 could be read as “…till Christ should come.” Now the most common “coming” spoken of in the New Testament is the “second coming,” which is yet to come. This is exactly what the verse is referring to.
Now, let’s consider that a “promise” was given to Abraham and to his seed (Christ). That said “promise” included the inheritance.
Galatians 3:16-18 says, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, [that] the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance [be] of the law, [it is] no more of promise: but God gave [it] to Abraham by promise.”
Let’s break this down:
- The promise is meant for Abraham and his seed
- The promise is the covenant
- The promise is of the inheritance
Romans 4:13 then reads, “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”
- Abraham is heir of the world
- The promise that he should be heir of the world is to Christ
- The promise is not through the law, but by faith
- Abraham has not received the promise yet, neither has Christ
Furthermore, Hebrews 11:8-13 states that “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God…. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
- Abraham is heir of the world
- Abraham did not receive the promise
- The promise is the inheritance of the land
- The promise is to Abraham and his seed which is Christ
- Christ has yet to receive the inheritance with Abraham
All these died in faith not having received the promises. So when do they receive the inheritance? Is it at the first coming of Christ or at the second coming?
“And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39-40).
Some say that this verse refers to the promise of the Holy Spirit, but the fact is, all of the patriarchs in this chapter had the Holy Spirit. They each had faith, and “…the fruit of the spirit is…faith” (Galatians 5:22, 23). Therefore, they all had that same spirit.
Jesus is still coming and this is when the inheritance is to be received. Not at the first coming, but at the second coming.
Galatians 3:18-19 affirms this: “For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.”
The promise of the inheritance has yet to be received. Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham is coming to receive the promised inheritance that was promised to Abraham and his seed Christ Jesus and all of those who have died in faith.
The coming seed refers to the second coming.
Does This Imply that the Law is Finished at the Second Coming?
This is another misinterpretation. Many believe that the word “till” means that the law will last only “till the seed should come,” and then it is done. This is not what the verse is saying.
Hereunder is a summary of just one of the myriads of misconceptions the verse has:
- They think that the verse pertains to the ceremonial law, which we have learned is wrong.
- They also believe it refers to the Ten Commandments and imply that the word “till” means that the law would cease at the coming of the seed.
- Moreover, they interpret the coming of the seed to refer to the first coming of Christ and by this they say the law is abolished, nailed to the cross, and done away with.
- Some even pertain it to the moral law, interpreting it to consummate at the cross, resulting to the abolition of the moral and ceremonial laws.
The last item is of great deception.
Let’s examine some verses to see if the word “till” limits the duration to which something should cease to exist.
“He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law” (Isaiah 42:4).
Now if we were to read this text in the manner that many read Galatians 3:19, we would be led to believe that this limits the time to which Christ would then be discouraged. Would it make sense that after he has set judgment on earth, he would fail and be discouraged? I don’t think anyone would read that verse with such an interpretation. The law will not cease at the coming seed.
Here are other examples:
Psalms 112:8 reads, “His heart is established, he shall not be afraid, until he see his desire upon his enemies.”
If we were to utilize the word “until” the same way we use “till” in Galatians 3:19, we would have to conclude that this man, when he sees his enemies, will no longer be established and will be afraid.
Daniel 1:21: “And Daniel continued even unto the first year of King Cyrus.”
Does this imply that Daniel did not live longer than this? In Daniel 10, we read that he was given a vision in Cyrus’ third reign.
1 Samuel 15:35: “Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death.”
Do you think that he went to see him as soon as he died?
These texts show that the word “till” does not necessarily limit the duration of the thing to which it is applied, and does not necessarily imply that the law ceases at the coming of the seed as we have already learned. When we reach heaven and see the standard of judgment in the sanctuary (see Revelation 11:19), no one will be saying “That old law was abolished or nailed to the cross.”
Under the Law
This is another point not to be overlooked. Paul was speaking of the Galatians. seeking to justify themselves by “works of the law” rather than by faith. The faith of Jesus includes having his law written in our hearts by the finger of God (2 Corinthians 3:3, Hebrews 8:10).
Galatians 3:23: “But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.”
Now many of the patriarchs were justified by faith as we’ve already read. However, before faith came. Each of them were kept under the law. Some have interpreted this verse to apply to a system of laws that was only applicable to those before the cross. This view is called “dispensationalism.”
Dispensationalism teaches that God changes his way from dispensation to dispensation. The truth of this matter is that it was applicable even to the Galatians after the cross and in fact, t was applicable to all before the cross (Galatians 3:10, 23, 4:4-5, 21, 5:18).
The system by which justification comes has always been the same. It has never come by the law. Not a single soul has ever been, nor will ever be justified by law.
Before the existence of faith, we were all kept under the law including the Galatians. But what about in the aftermath?
“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:24-25).
In conclusion, men like Abraham, Abel, and Moses, were all freed from being kept “under the law” because “after faith,” they were “no longer UNDER” the law’s condemnation. After the advent of faith, which each one of them was justified by (see Hebrews 11), not one of them was “under the law” (Galatians 3:23-25). Therefore, “under the law” does not refer to a particular people in a particular dispensation of time; a confusion taught in Babylon.
Under grace does not mean that it is now acceptable to break the law. The bible says, “…sin is transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). Here is what Paul said about breaking the law (continuing in sin) after no longer being “under the law”:
“What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid” (Romans 6:15).
Do we sin (break the law) because we are no longer under the law? God forbid. The only way to be under the law is to break the law. When you break the law willingly, you bring yourself under its condemnation. This is why Paul says “God forbid.”
We are no longer under the law, or under sin, or under it’s condemnation. Why?
Because Jesus Christ took the condemnation for us.
“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:4-6).
He has redeemed us from under the condemnation of the law, being made under the condemnation of the law for us. Now that we are no longer under the law, but under grace, shall we break the law (sin)? God forbid.
Furthermore, he didn’t just redeem everyone who lived after 31AD. He redeemed those before 31AD as well. And they beheld the lamb of God, the power of the cross, and the power of the gospel even before He came in the flesh.
- The words “added law” also mean “spoken law.”
- The Ten Commandments were added because of transgression.
- The Ten Commandments were ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
- The mediator is Christ Jesus.
- The seed is Jesus Christ.
- The “coming seed” is referring to the second coming and the inheritance to come.
- The word “till” in Galatians 3:19 does not limit the duration of the law.
- Before the advent of faith, we were under the law.
- The patriarchs and prophets were justified by faith and not under the law.
- “Under the law” does not refer to a particular people in a particular dispensation of time, but it can refer to all people throughout time.
- Shall we break the law because we are no longer under the law? God forbid.