Read This Week’s Passage: Galatians 3:10–29

Considering Context

The old and new covenants, Paul’s “two covenants” (Gal. 4:24), are the watermark of his letter to the Galatians. Its message is interpreted based on how one defines the old and new covenants.

As established in previous lessons, whenever a New Testament passage contains a direct reference or an allusion to the old and new covenants, most modern commentators automatically, even often exclusively, think of the Sinai covenant given through Moses and the historical new covenant initiated or inaugurated by Jesus. Since the two covenants are inevitably discussed in contrasting terms, such interpreters assign any disparaging characteristics to the Sinai covenant as Yahweh gave it and assign the superlative characteristics to the historical new covenant as Jesus instituted it. However, those interpreters who recognize the experiential issues involved have the additional option of considering the possibility of an experiential interpretation of the covenants in such passages.

Among Paul’s numerous historical references in Galatians, note several observations that suggest he is not pitting the Sinai covenant against the historical new covenant:

  • Paul affirms that there is only one gospel, not one for the Old Testament era and another for the New Testament era (Gal. 1:6–9).
  • On that basis he affirms that “Jews by nature,” having been reared with the scriptural revelation of the one true gospel, should know “that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ . . . ; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (2:15, 16, NKJV). The one true gospel was anchored in Jewish heritage because Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness,” and through his “ ‘ . . . Seed,’ who is Christ,” “all the nations shall be blessed” (3:6, 16, 8, NKJV).
  • When, 430 years later, God gave Israel “the Law,” the beautiful historical-old-covenant revelation of the gospel, it did “not invalidate a covenant [with Abraham] previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise” (Gal. 3:17, NASB); some Jewish teachers were wrongly teaching that it did, thus creating an alternate gospel, and they were wreaking havoc in the Galatian church. The Sinai covenant affirmed the gospel previously given, adding that God is gracious, forgiving, compassionate, and loving, and that He sought their love and faithfulness to Him in response (Exod. 34:6, 7; Deut. 6:4–9; Ps. 103; and so forth).

These theological anchors in Galatians establish the context for our close examination of this lesson’s inScribe passage (Gal. 3:21–25). Remember that the interpretative model with the greatest explanatory power rarely answers every question a passage may raise, though it carries the least academic burden compared to competing models.