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St John Chrysostom on the Epistle 
(Commentary on Galatians in Vol XIII, NPNF (1st))
Galatians 3:16-22

Ver. 16, 17, 18. "Now to Abraham were the promises spoken and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds,85 as of many; but as of One, And to thy seed, which is Christ.86 Now this I say, A covenant, confirmed before hand by God the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years after, doth not disannul, so as to make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance is of the Law, it is no more of promise: but God hath granted it to Abraham by promise."

Thus God made a covenant with Abraham, promising that in his seed the blessing should come upon the heathen; and this blessing the Law cannot turn aside. As this example was not in all respects appropriate to the matter in hand, he introduces it thus, "I speak after the manner of men," that nothing might be deduced from it derogatory to the majesty of God. But let us go to the bottom of this illustration. It was promised Abraham that by his seed the heathen should be blessed; and his seed according to the flesh is Christ; four hundred and thirty years after came the Law; now, if the Law bestows the blessings even life and righteousness, that promise is annulled. And so while no one annuls a man's covenant, the covenant of God after four hundred and thirty years is annulled; for if not that covenant but another instead of it bestows what is promised, then is it set aside, which is most unreasonable.

Ver. 19. "What then is the Law? it was added because of transgressions."

This remark again is not superfluous; observe too how he glances round at every thing, as if he had an hundred eyes. Having exalted Faith, and proved its eider claims, that the Law may not be considered superfluous, he sets right this side of the doctrine also, and proves that the Law was not given without a view, but altogether profitably. "Because of transgressions;" that is to say, that the Jews might not be let live carelessly, and plunge into the depth of wickedness,87 but that the Law might be placed upon them as a bridle, guiding, regulating, and checking them from transgressing, if not all, at least some of the commandments. Not slight then was the advantage of the Law; but for how long?

Ver. 19. "Till the seed should come to whom the promise hath been made."

This is said of Christ; if then it was given until His advent, why do you protract it beyond its natural period?

Ver. 19. "And it was ordained through Angels by the hand of a Mediator."

He either calls the priests Angels, or he declares that the Angels themselves ministered to the delivery of the Law. By Mediator here he means Christ,88 and shows that He was before it, and Himself the Giver of it.

Ver. 20. "Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one."89

What can the heretics90 say to this? for as, according to them, the expression "the Only True God" excludes the Son from being true God, so here the phrase "God is One," excludes Him from being God in any sense. But if, although the Father is called "One God," the Son is nevertheless God, it is very plain that though the Father is called "Very God," the Son is very God likewise. Now a mediator, says he, is between two parties; of whom then is Christ the Mediator? plainly of God and of men. Observe, he says, that Christ also gave the Law; what therefore it was His to give, it is His to annul.

Ver. 21. "Is the Law then against the promises of God?"

For if the blessing is given in the seed of Abraham, but the Law brings in the curse, it must be contrary to the promises. This objection he meets, first, by a protest, in the words,

Ver. 21. "God forbid:" And next he brings his proof;

Ver. 21. "For if there had been a law given which could make alive. verily righteousness would have been of the Law."

His meaning is as follows; If we had our hope of life in the Law, and our salvation depended on it, the objection might be valid. But if it save you, by means of Faith, though it brings you under the curse, you suffer nothing from it, gain no harm, in that Faith comes and sets all right. Had the promise been by the Law, you had reasonably feared lest, separating from the Law, you should separate from righteousness, but if it was given in order to shut up all, that is, to convince all and expose their individual sins, far from excluding you from the promises, it now aids you in obtaining them. This is shown by the words,

Ver. 22. "Howbeit the scripture91 hath shut up all things trader sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe."

As the Jews were not even conscious of their own sins, and in consequence did not even desire remission; the Law was given to probe their wounds, that they might long for a physician. And the word "shut up" means "convinced" and conviction held them in fear. You see then it is not only not against, but was given for the promises. Had it arrogated to itself the work and the authority, the objection would stand; but if its drift is something else, and it acted for that, how is it against the promises of God? Had the Law not been given, all would have been wrecked upon wickedness, and there would have been no Jews to listen to Christ; but now being given, it has effected two things; it has schooled its followers in a certain degree of virtue, and has pressed on them the knowledge of their own sins. And this especially made them more zealous to seek the Son, for those who disbelieved, disbelieved from having no sense of their own sins, as Paul shows; "For being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God." (Rom. x: 3)


85 ["We may reasonably wonder," says Ellicott, "how the early expositors (Basil and Theodoret excepted) could have so generally coincided in the perplexing view of Origen that the Mediator here mentioned was Christ. On the contrary it is plain that it was Moses, Deut. v:5."-G. A.]

86 ["This verse is counted the most difficult passage in the New Testament, and has given rise to about 300 interpretations."

That of Lightfoot seems to satisfy the context, and is thus forcibly put by him: "The law is of the nature of a contract between two parties. God on the one hand and the Jewish people on the other. It is valid only so long as both parties fulfil the terms of contract. It is therefore contingent and not absolute. Unlike the law the promise is absolute and unconditional. It depends on the sole decree of God. There are not two contracting parties. There is nothing of the nature of a stipulation. The giver is everything and the recipient nothing."-Com. in loco.-G. A.]

87 The heretics refered to are the Anomoeans, who held Arianism in its most developed form, against whom S. Chrysostom has written Homilies. For the particular objection answered in the text, vid. also Basil, in Eunom, iv. p. 294. Athan. Or in Arian, iii. 9. Greg. Naz. Orat. 36, p. 586.

88 ["The Law then though differing widely from the promise is not antagonistic to it, does not interfere with it. On the contrary, we might imagine such a law as would justify and give life. This was not the effect of the law of Moses, however; on the contrary (a0lla;) the Scripture (that, namely, about the curse, v. 10:) testifies that the Law condemned all alike, yet not finally and irrevocably but only as leading the way for the dispensation of faith."-Lightfoot. Meyer takes a different view of v. 21: "For if it had been opposed to the promises, the Law must have been in a position to procure life and if this were so, then would righteousness actually be from the Law, which according to the Scripture cannot be so (ver. 22)"-G. A.]

89 ["The paedagogus or tutor, frequently a superior slave, was entrusted with the moral supervision of the child. Thus his office was quite distinct from that of the dida/skaloj; so the word "Schoolmaster" conveys a wrong idea. As well in his inferior rank as in his recognized duty of enforcing discipline, this person was a fit emblem of the Mosaic law. There is a very complete illustration of the use which Paul makes of the metaphor in Plato (Lysis, p, 208 C)."-Lightfoot.-G. A.]

90 ["This reference of nh/pioj to mental immaturity is quite in opposition to the context."-Meyer. "The heir in his nonage represents the Jewish people and the state of the world before Christ."-Schaff. So Meyer: "The klhrono/moj nh/pioj represents the Christians as a body regarded in their earlier pre-Christian condition."-G. A.]

91 [This interpretation is rejected by Schaff, Meyer, Ellicott, Lightfoot et al. Schaff says: "`Elements 0' here represents the religion before Christ as an elementary religion full of external rites and ceremonies. * * Comp. v:10, for a specimen."-G. A.]