Father Callan’s Commentary on Galatians 3:22-29

To help provide context I’ve begun this post with Fr. Callan’s brief summaries of  Gal 3:19-24 and Galatians 3:25-29. The notes on 22-29 follow these.


A Summary of Galatians 3:19-24~In verses 19-24 St Paul argues that although the Law was powerless to alter the promise in any way, yet it was a divine institution and in nowise opposed to the promise. It was given as a protection to the Jews, and as a moral guide to lead them to Christ.

Gal 3:19. Why then was the law? It was set because of transgressions, until the seed should come, to whom he made the promise, being ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.

Why then, etc., i.e., what was the purpose of the Law? what end had God in view when He gave it?

It was set because, etc., i.e., the Law was added to (προσετεθη) the promise, not as a codicil to modify a testament, but as a temporary disposition to repress and restrain sins, and, by the revelations it made to the Jews of their weakness and sinfulness, to make them long for the grace and help of the Redeemer (St. Chrys., St. Jerome, etc.). The Law was good in itself, but it revealed to man his many sins and infirmities without giving him the grace and help he needed to overcome his evil nature and perform his duties (Rom 7:7). Thus indirectly the Law multiplied transgressions and increased man’s sins (Rom 4:13-15; Rom 7:7-13; 1 Cor 15:56, etc.).

Until the seed, etc., i.e., the Law was only transitory, serving as a teacher and guide until the coming of Christ and the establishment of His Kingdom, the Church (Gal 3:16).

To whom he made the promise. Better, “To whom the promise was made.”

Being ordained, etc., i.e., the Law was not, like the promise, given directly by God, but indirectly, through angels first (Acts 7:53; Heb 2:2), and then through Moses, who was the mediator between God and the Jewish people (1 Tim 2:5; Heb 8:6; Heb 9:15; Heb 12:24). There was a Jewish tradition, based on Deut 33:2 (cf. Acts 7:53; Heb 2:2, where this tradition is presupposed), that angels had a part in making the Law of Moses.

In the hand refers to the reception of the tables of the Law into the hands of Moses (Exodus 31:15).

In showing the transitoriness of the Law and the indirectness with which it was given St. Paul is calling attention to its inferiority as compared with the promise. The promise was given directly by God to Abraham. The giving of the Law, on the contrary, was performed by angels on behalf of God, and by Moses on behalf of the people.

Gal 3:20. Now a mediator is not of one: but God is one.

A mediator is not of one, i.e., where there is a mediator there are at least two parties who are brought together by the mediator. This was the case in the giving of the Mosaic Law, which was a bilateral contract between God and the Jewish people. In virtue of this contract God promised to give blessings to the people; and they, in turn, pledged themselves to the observance of the precepts of the Law (Deut 5:25). The blessings of the Law were therefore dependent upon the observance of the Law (verse 12).

But God is one. In the promise, on the contrary, God acted alone, and in accordance with the unity of His nature, without the assistance of a mediator. Accordingly He obligated Himself, independently of any condition, to confer the blessings of the promise. Hence the Law is able neither to nullify the promise, nor to act as a substitute for it. Such seems to be the most probable explanation of this difficult verse, of which, it is said, some 430 interpretations have been given. Cf. Cornely, Lagrange, h. l.

If it be objected that even in the promise there is a mediator, namely, Christ, we reply that St. Paul is here regarding Christ as God, as a Divine Person who is God. It is true that in 1 Tim 2:5, the Apostle speaks of Christ as the “mediator” between God and man, but there, as his words indicate, he is considering our Lord’s humanity.

Gal 3:21. Was the law then against the promises of God? God forbid. For if there had been a law given which could give life, verily justice should have been by the law.

A difficulty arises. What is to be concluded from the two preceding verses? If the giving of the Law has increased and multiplied transgressions (verse 19), and if for salvation it has imposed an onerous condition (the obligation of observing its precepts), which was not required in the promise (verse 20), does it not follow that the Law is opposed to the promise of God which contained a blessing to be given gratuitously and absolutely?

God forbid. The inference is manifestly false.

For if, etc., i.e., “if a law had ever been given” (ει γαρ εδοθη νομος) which of itself could give the life of grace and glory, then in reality (“verily”,οντως) such a law would have been the principle of a justice which St. Paul considers the starting-point of a life of grace and glory (Rom 5:10). In such a case faith would have been useless, because salvation would not be a gratuitous gift, but a reward deserved. But it was not so, as appears from the following verse.

Gal 3:22. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise, by the faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to them that believe.

But the scripture. Contrary to the supposition of the preceding verse the entire Old Testament, including the Law, i.e., various texts and passages throughout the Old Testament, show that all men, Jews as well as Gentiles, were held as enslaved by the tyranny of sin. See on Rom 3:10-20. This proves how powerless the Law was of itself to give spiritual life to its subjects; it only enslaved and emprisoned them.

That the promise, etc. The Law, and the Scripture in general, prove that all mankind were under sin, in order that the inheritance promised to Abraham might be given to all who believe, i.e., to all who seek salvation, not through the works of the Law, but in union with Christ, through faith and love.

St. Paul is not saying that none of those who had the Law attained salvation, but only that the external Law did not secure to the individual internal morality and justice (Loisy). Those of the Old Dispensation who were justified obtained their justification by imitating the faith of their forefather Abraham.

Gal 3:23. But before the faith came, we were kept under the law shut up, unto that faith which was to be revealed.

Before the faith came, i.e., before the advent of Christ, the author and object of our faith, we, i.e., the Jewish Christians, were by means of the precepts, threats and promises of the Law kept . . . shut up, as prisoners and captives, against the danger of idolatry and the other pagan vices that surrounded us. The various precepts and restrictions of the Law acted as a wall to the Israelites, as a hedge, to protect them from the sins of the heathen (St. Chrysostom, Theodoret).

Unto that faith, etc. The tyranny and severity of the Law was for the good of the Jews. Its purpose was, by preserving the revelation given, by keeping alive the Messianic hope, and by making manifest the impotency of unassisted nature to attain to the perfection it required, to prepare its subjects for that fulness of faith which was to be revealed in Christ, and which in the souls of the faithful would be a new regime, opposed to the Law (Lagrange).

Gal 3:24. Wherefore the law was our pedagogue in Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

The conclusion now follows clearly and naturally. To change the metaphor from the idea of a jailer to that of an instructor and tutor St. Paul now says, the law was our pedagogue, literally, “child-leader” (παιδαγωγος). In Greek and Roman households the pedagogue was a faithful slave charged chiefly with the moral and disciplinary protection of the young children; and in this sense the term is here applied to the Law. The Law instructed and disciplined the Jews, showing them by its restraints and prohibitions what sin really was, but affording them no help to avoid or escape from it. This desperate situation of slavery produced by the Law, together with the impotency of reason to liberate from sin, forced mankind, as it were, to have recourse to faith in Christ that they might be justified.

In Christ (εις χριστον) marks the term or end which God the Father had in view as the Messiah and Redeemer of His people enslaved by the Law. Therefore the Law led to Christ, the Redeemer, rather than to Christ the Teacher and Doctor (Lagrange).


A Summary of Galatians 3:25-29~With the coming of Christ the services of the pedagogue ceased. Now all, Jews and Gentiles, who believe, are sons of God in Jesus Christ, united to Christ by faith and Baptism; and, as thus united, the Galatians are also, as He is, the seed of Abraham, and consequently heirs of the inheritance promised to Abraham.

Gal 3:25. But after the faith is come, we are no longer under a pedagogue.

This verse marks the conclusion of what has preceded, and at the same time introduces an account of the privileges which the Galatians enjoy.

After the faith, etc., i.e., after Christ has come.

Gal 3:26. For you are all the children of God by faith, in Christ Jesus.

For (γαρ) introduces the reason why all, Jews and Gentiles, are no longer under a pedagogue, namely, because all are now sons of God, of mature age, with full rights, united by faith to Christ, the perfect man.

It is disputed whether the words in Christ Jesus should be joined with children of God or with faith. The former is preferred by Cornely: “You are the children of God in Christ Jesus,” i.e., through your union with Christ Jesus, to whom you are united by faith and love. The second construction appeals to Lagrange as more natural, according to the order of the words. “It is very true,” he says, “that we become sons of God through union with Christ, but this union commences with faith, and thence produces its effect.”

Gal 3:27. For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ.

Those who in the preceding verse join “Christ Jesus” with “children of God” explain the present verse as follows: You are sons of God as being united with Christ, and you are united with Christ because you have put Him on in Baptism. Those who unite “Christ Jesus” with “faith” see in this verse a proof of the divine filiation: You are the sons of God through faith, because by Baptism, an act of faith, you have put on Christ. In both explanations it is understood that Christ is the Son of God. Cf. Lagrange, h. 1.

This dignity of sonship, this union with Christ, has been effected by Baptism, the exterior and logical conclusion of faith. To put on Christ means to assume the character of Christ, to clothe one’s self with Christ’s dispositions and qualities. The purpose of the metaphor here is to express a most intimate union, in virtue of which Christians really become participants in the sonship of God with the full rights and privileges of sons. By putting on Christ “you are brought to one kindred and one form with Him (Christ). . . . You have all one form, one impress, that of Christ” (St. Chrys.) ; “You are made of the same form with the Son of God. . . . Being then made partakers of Christ, you are rightly called other Christs” (St. Cyril of Jer.).

Gal 3:28. There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Since all those who have received Baptism have put on Christ, that is, are united to Him in a most intimate manner, it follows that there is no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile, bond or free, male or female; religiously no differences exist, national or social, but all form one moral and mystical body with Christ their head.

The Vulgate unum is εις in Greek, meaning one man in Christ Jesus.

Gal 3:29. And if you be Christ’s, then are you the seed of Abraham, heirs according to the promise.

The conclusion is clear and definite: If all are united as in one man with Christ, then all are heirs to the inheritance promised to Abraham and his seed, Christ. In other words: You are all members of Christ (Gal 3:27-28); but to Christ through Abraham were the promises made (Gal 3:); therefore these promises extend to you and to you alone (Sales).

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Father Callan’s Commentary on Galatians 3:22-29

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C | stjoeofoblog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s