The Hebrew Bible is often known among
Jews as TaNaKh,
an acronym derived from the names of its
(Instruction, or Law, also called the Pentateuch), Neviʾim (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).
The Torah contains five books:
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus,
Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
In Paul’s great defense
of salvation and growth
rather than by works,
Paul asserts that
“the law is not of faith”
(Galatians 3:12, ESV).
Paul rebukes the Galatians for acting as if their growth (or sanctification) would come from works or obeying the law. He challenges them with a rhetorical question: “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?” (Galatians 3:2). They knew the answer.
They had been born again
and received the Spirit of God by
grace through faith.
The next step in Paul’s defense of faith-over-law is a series of logical follow-up rhetorical questions. If they had begun their new walk by the Spirit of God (whom they had received by faith), then why are they expecting their growth and maturing would be accomplished by the works of the flesh (Galatians 3:3)? Had everything they had been through to that point been in vain (Galatians 3:4)? Does the One who provides the Spirit of God accomplish His work among them by works of law or by faith in the gospel (Galatians 3:5)? The point is that it is contradictory to acknowledge the role of faith at the beginning only to turn back to works and obedience to law. The law is not of (or from) faith (Galatians 3:12).
In case the Galatians had forgotten, Paul reminds them that
who lived long before the law was given,
was justified by God by faith.
Abraham believed in God, and it was counted to him as righteousness (Galatians 3:6; referencing Genesis 15:6). Those who share Abraham’s faith are his “children” (Galatians 3:7). The Galatians were counting themselves as Abraham’s children, perceiving their need to uphold their ancient heritage.
Paul reminds them that
legacy of Abraham
obedience to law
works of the flesh;
was faith in God.
Paul adds that salvation by faith is nothing new. God had announced it long beforehand to Abraham (Galatians 3:8). Just as God had promised, people from all the families of the earth would be saved by faith and would ultimately be blessed with Abraham (Galatians 3:9). On the other hand, all who try to obey the law are under a curse, because they have to obey all of the commandments perfectly (Galatians 3:10; James 2:10). In fact, the Law of Moses was never intended to provide righteousness—which has always and only come by faith (Galatians 3:11).
Paul points out that the law is not of (or from) faith (Galatians 3:12). The law was about works to demonstrate the need for faith. Paul explains that “the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:22, NLT). Before people believed, they were in the custody of the law, as a child is under a guardian (Galatians 3:23). Law, then, helps make clear the depth and severity of our falling short of God’s glory. The Law of Moses, in particular, serves as a tutor to show us the need for salvation by faith in Jesus (Galatians 3:23). The law is not of faith, but the law helps us to see the need for faith. By the works of the law no one can be righteous in God’s sight. We must rely on His righteousness, which He freely gives to all who believe in Jesus Christ.
One way we recognize that the law is not of faith is in the fact that the Law of Moses was a conditional covenant requiring obedience from the people of Israel to receive God’s blessing on the nation (Deuteronomy 28—29). All of the other covenants God made with humanity are unconditional. The gospel pre-announcement that Paul cites in Galatians 3:8 was part of God’s unconditional covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:2–3). The good news of righteousness has always been by faith and never by conditions of obedience. The law is not of faith.
In Galatians 3:13, the apostle Paul states that
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law
by becoming a curse for us.”
When Paul refers to “the law,” he means the Mosaic Law
found in the first five books of the Bible,
which instructed the Israelites how to properly worship and honor God through various commands and requirements.
The first five books are the books of Law, also called the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Moses is traditionally accepted as the author of all five books, and the Pentateuch has an essential role in how we understand the rest of Scripture.
The Greek word for “redeem” in the Bible is exagorazo. It was a financial term that referred to the process of purchasing a slave’s freedom. When a slave was “redeemed,” he or she was no longer bound to the rules and expectations of a slave’s life. So, to be redeemed from the curse of the law means to be set free from its rules and regulations. In other words, those who are redeemed from the curse of the law are no longer required to observe the law’s commands as the Israelites were.
Christ redeemed us
from the curse of the law.
That is, His sacrificial work on the cross purchased our freedom from the law. Jesus fulfilled the original intention and purpose of the Mosaic Law on our behalf (Matthew 5:17; Romans 8:34). What we could not do in perfectly obeying God’s will laid out in the law, Christ did for us. In that way, He fulfilled the law and accomplished what God intended.
This doesn’t mean we completely ignore everything in the Mosaic Law. There are many commands in the law that all people from all time should always obey. For example, Exodus 20:13 says, “You shall not murder.” Even though Christ fulfilled the law, God’s people should still observe the command not to take another human’s life. Though we are redeemed from the curse of the law and set free from its rules and regulations, it’s still important to observe the moral and ethical commands found within the law. Of the Ten Commandments, nine are repeated in the New Testament as commands for us today.
To be redeemed from the curse of the law also means that we no longer have to face the judgment of God. The law was perfect, and, as sinful beings, the Israelites could not perfectly observe the law. They were considered “cursed” whenever they disobeyed the law or failed to live up to its expectations. God’s judgment rested on all of those who did not live according to His ways. And since, according to Romans 2:14–15, God has placed the moral requirements of the law on all human hearts (not just the Israelites’), we are all under a curse and deserving of God’s judgment. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a).
So, when Paul says in Galatians 3:13 that we are redeemed from the curse of the law, he means that we no longer will receive the judgment of God because of the way we fall short of His holy standards. In the same verse, Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 21:23 in referring to Jesus’ death on the cross. Through Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, He became that curse for us in order to receive the judgment of God on Himself. He died in our place so that we wouldn’t have to experience the wrath of God (see 1 Peter 2:24); instead, we could receive the gift of His Holy Spirit (see Galatians 3:14).
To be redeemed from the curse of the law means to be freed from followings its rules and regulations and from experiencing the judgment of God. Jesus Christ is the Redeemer, becoming a curse for us and purchasing us from the slavery of sin through His death on the cross.