Law and Gospel in Galatians
February 13, 2012
Paul’s letters repeatedly address the issue of Law and Gospel. In his letters, he tries to answer the question of salvation. Are we saved by following the Torah or is it through faith in Jesus as the messiah? This is a question that our early church fathers wrestled with and Paul tries to express his view on it and we find proof of that in his letter to the Galatians. During the time of Paul, Jews were so preoccupied with upholding the Law that their lives where devoted to a strict regimented life.
Paul would assert that freedom from sin (or rather the punishment of sin) comes only through Jesus Christ since he was sent from God as fulfillment of the Law1. Jews in the first century saw this as an attempt to throw away that Law, to make it void. It is easy see how the Jews would assume that this radical new idea, being free from sin purely by faith rather than austere adherence to the Law, but that is not entirely what Paul’s message is.
In Galatians 3:15-18, Paul argues that a new covenant does not void previously made promises of God. He uses the example of God’s covenant with Abraham. Paul asks his Jewish audience if since God also established a covenant with Moses, does it make the old covenant of Abraham irrelevant. “My point is this: the law: which came four hundred thirty years later does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise2 With the new covenant formed by the coming and death of Jesus, Gentiles are now allowed to be saved and be justified just as the Jews were.
In verse 21 and following we see a more sarcastic side of Paul. He asks his audience if the law is opposed to God’s promises. He says in a witty manner that the law does not make a person righteous but rather the law is imprisonment...