The purpose of the Law of Moses according to Paul

17 What I am saying is this: the Law which came 430 years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, nullifying the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. 19 So what is the purpose of the Law? It was added on account of the violations, having been ordered through angels at the hand of a mediator, until the Seed would come to whom the promise had been made. 20 Now a mediator is not for one party only; but God is only one. 21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? Far from it! For if a law had been given that was able to impart Life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22 But the Scripture has confined everyone under sin, so that the promise through Jesus Christ’s faithfulness [ἐκ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ] might be given to those who believe. 2But before faith came, we were guarded by the Law, being confined for the faith that was yet to be revealed24 Therefore the Law has become our guardian to Christ so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. 26 For you are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus [διὰ τῆς πίστεως ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ]. [Gal3:17-26]

Frankly it is no wonder that Paul has so often been misunderstood. Every word of the passage we have arrived at in Galatians 3 is truth, but it focusses on certain aspects concerning the Law whilst omitting others. I have pointed out before, that is because Paul is not writing a theological treatise but attending to particular pastoral issues. In this case it is to repudiate the teaching of the Judaizing heretics that had infiltrated the Galatian churches. They had taught that Torah observance was essential for Christians and implied that observing the Law could be grounds for righteousness in the eyes of God. Paul therefore sets out the context of the Law as a temporary measure. In particular, he makes the point that its introduction could never invalidate the promise made to Abraham which had been based on faith, not compliance with law.

The true purpose of the Law

Paul also writes here that the purpose of the Law was to deal with violations (v19), i.e. to restrain sin and expose it when it occurred. What Paul doesn’t mention (for it is not essential to the pastoral point he is making) is that whilst justification had never been on the basis of keeping the Law, nor could it impart Life (v21), the covenantal requirements that God made with Israel via the intermediaries of Moses and angels were entirely do-able. Says who? Says God, through His servant Moses:

“For this commandment which I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it far away.  It is not in heaven that you could say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us and get it for us, and proclaim it to us, so that we may perform it?’  Nor is it beyond the sea, that you could say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us and get it for us and proclaim it to us, so that we may perform it?’  On the contrary, the Word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may perform it. (Deut30:11-14)

 This actually pertains to natural law but I won’t develop that idea further in this particular context (see note 1). For the other key point concerning the purpose of the Law was alluded to by Moses. It is that God’s chosen race and their Laws were to be a witness to the rest of the world concerning the wisdom of the statutes themselves and the prudence of those who adhered to them:

“Look, as JHWE my God commanded me (Moses), I have taught you laws and customs for you to observe in the country in which you are to take possession. Keep them and put them into practice and other nations will admire your wisdom and prudence. Once they know what all these laws are, they will exclaim “No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation Israel” (Deut4:5,6).

Augustine’s misreading of the Law

So, it is absolutely not the case that the Law was given to God’s people with a view to them “acknowledging their inability to act in obedience, give up their own efforts to be righteous and trust in God’s mercy”. Still less, to put their trust in a future Saviour, “believing in the incarnation, Passion and resurrection of Christ as a future event” as Augustine outrageously suggested in his anti-Pelagian writing (Book III chapter11). That whole notion, which I as a former Calvinist Evangelical was taught to believe, is a non-runner for three key reasons:

i) It is nowhere suggested in the Old Testament itself; quite the opposite as Moses’ statement affirmed;

ii) In terms of trusting in a future Saviour, Christ’s own disciples were clueless concerning Jesus’ future death, let alone the purpose of it, even having been at His side for three years (Lk18:33-34);

iii) Paul here in Gal3 affirms that justification through faith in a Saviour was not known to those within the Mosaic Covenant: “Before faith came, we were guarded by the Law, being confined for the faith that had yet to be revealed” (v23).

Augustine’s assertions built upon by the Protestant Reformers largely came about in view of his rejection of natural law [note 1] – principles that the likes of Irenaeus and Eusebius indicate had been universally accepted within the 2nd century Church. Augustine’s position was also an overreaction to the teachings of Pelagius. But primarily it was a misreading of Paul’s teaching. No great surprise there, for his fellow apostle Peter acknowledged Paul’s writings were prone to be misunderstood even in his own day, sometimes with fatal consequences (2Pet3:16). The result in this case: a tendency to antinomianism and the repugnant doctrine usually referred to as “the theology of sovereign grace”. I malign it as I do because it distorts God’s kindly providential care towards humanity as a whole. It belittles the scope and efficacy of Christ’s saving work (note 1) and presents those created in God’s image as innately depraved rather than people whose spirits temporarily inhabit a corrupted intellectual vessel – Paul’s “body of this death” (Rom7:24-25). Sovereign grace theology deems our entire spiritual essence to be corrupt in itself. As a result, according to Augustine, man by nature can do “absolutely no good thing, whether in thought or will, affection or in action(Rebuke and Grace chap.3). Whilst in my former hero Calvin’s words: “All men’s thoughts, inclinations and efforts are corrupt and viscous”, even young infants being “odious and an abomination to God; their very natures being a seed-bed of sin” [Institutes of Christian Religion – Second Book chap. 1 para 8]. 

Such sentiments are piously packaged and presented as a doctrine that claims to exalt God’s grace whilst “trouncing man’s arrogant determination to in some way contribute to his own salvation”. Yet it is a doctrine that must delight Satan’s heart in view of what it implies about both divine and human nature. That is no doubt why his party has shown such displeasure that such an ingenious fabrication is being systematically dismantled by yours truly.

But regrettably many sincere Christians shall also take offence. For whilst, even within this post, I have alluded to doctrinal errors within the Roman Church, for those who separated from her 500 years ago my denouncements are foundational to their movement’s raison d’être. Yet the purpose of this exercise is not primarily to point out error or “deconstruct”. Many could do that and make a more convincing case than mine. But only with the Holy Spirit’s help could a coherent biblical synopsis be provided in its place. In view of its intrinsic coherence and the phenomena I have alluded to in my earlier testimony, I believe such has happened with regard to The Little Book of Providence. It is for those who are sufficiently theologically literate and (far rarer) faction-free to determine whether that is the case. But frankly, a virtually unprecedented movement of the Spirit would be needed to bring about what I understand must occur prior to Christ’s return (cf. Jn17:11; Mt24:14).


  • Note 1 – “Natural Law” – In the words of 3rd century Church historian Eusebius: “The Creator has impressed a natural law upon the soul as an assistant and ally in man’s conduct. It points out to him the right way by this law; but endowed by a free liberty, man makes the choice of what is best worthy of praise and acceptance; because he has acted rightly from his own free-will, when he had it in his power to act otherwise”. As I have outlined in earlier posts, by positively responding to these innate spiritual faculties the majority (those who are of God – 1Jn3:12) benefit from the forensic (guilt remedying) fruits of Christ Passion whereas the participatory (sanctifying /empowering) benefits are restricted to those in whom Christ dwells and who dwell in Him (Jn6:56)

The LITTLE BOOK OF PROVIDENCE: a seven-part synopsis of the bible: Download a free PDF of e-book suitable for desktop computers HERE[updated September 2023] Large-print version for mobiles HERE [565 pages]

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