The Ordination of the Law through Angels: Lexham Bible Guides

lexham-bible-guide-galatiansThe Lexham Bible Guides are an invaluable help in the study of biblical interpretation and exegesis. They survey a broad range of perspectives on biblical passages, bringing clarity to a topic and providing a birds-eye view of the issues at hand. These resources are of particular help in the study of difficult passages. They offer an at-a-glance look at the issues, helpful introductions, and sections covering the place of that passage within the book, as well as that canon as a whole. The guides also include links to other relevant Logos resources, propelling you into further study of the topic at hand.

Here’s an excerpt from Lexham Bible Guide: Galatians on the ordination of the Law through angels in Galatians 3:19.

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Perhaps the most bewildering statement in all of Galatians for modern readers is found in Gal 3:19. While Paul is explaining the purpose of the law, he states that the law was “ordained through angels by a mediator” (NRSV). Longenecker (1998, 140–1) writes that the implied mediator of Gal 3:19 is undoubtedly Moses. Paul’s reference to the role of angels in the giving of the law, however, is more difficult to comprehend since it seems to reflect a post-biblical tradition rather than the narrative of the Pentateuch. The Hebrew text of the giving of the law at Mount Sinai does not mention angels, but the Septuagint version of the narrative seems to assume their presence. Although the origin of this tradition is difficult to determine, the belief that angels were present at the giving of the law was widespread during the NT period (see Acts 7:38, 53; Heb 2:2). Interpreters debate both the origin of the tradition and Paul’s appropriation of it in his argument in Gal 3.

    • Betz highlights the contrasting agency of the promise to Abraham and the law. Whereas God Himself spoke the promise (of the gospel) to Abraham (Gal 3:8), the law was ordained indirectly through angels. To demonstrate the superior agency—and thus the greater role in God’s redemptive plan—of the Abrahamic promise to Torah, Betz claims that Paul drew upon Jewish traditions that regarded angels as the means through which the law was given (e.g., Josephus, Ant. 15.136; compare Acts 7:38, 53).
      “Galatians” 3:19 Hermeneia: Galatians
    • Bruce provides a thorough overview of Jewish and early Christian traditions that linked angels with the giving of the law. Bruce also contrasts Paul’s use of this tradition—to demonstrate the inferiority of the Mosaic law to the Abrahamic promise—with its appropriation by Stephen (Acts 7:38, 53) and the writer of Hebrews (Heb 2:2).
      “Galatians 3:19” The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Galatians
    • Martyn interprets Galatians 3:19 as Paul’s corrective to what his opponents in Galatia might have taught regarding the law and angels. He claims that Paul upended the Jewish tradition of angels giving the law to suggest they did so “in God’s absence.” Martyn adds that Paul may have resisted this tradition due to his opponents’ emphasis on the angels’ agency in the giving of the law (see Gal 1:8).
      “Galatians 3:19” Anchor Yale Bible: Galatians
    • Schreiner maintains that the angels’ agency does not imply that God was absent or that the angels were in some sense “demonic.” Further, he argues that the angels function in a passive role through which God gave the law to Moses, and Moses, in turn, to the people of Israel.
      “Galatians 3:19” Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Galatians

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. . . this is really an excellent tool. It is useful, in my view, not only for beginning students of the Bible but for those wishing to introduce various biblical texts to Sunday School classes, Bible study groups, and small group discussions. This series does a very fine job of introducing interested persons to many of the letters of Paul and divulging to them just some of the treasures contained therein. It is a series from faith to faith: by people of faith for people of faith. Consequently, unlike so many volumes published these days, they’re actually functional.

—Jim West, ThD, adjunct professor at Quartz Hill School of Theology

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Written by
Jonathan Watson
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Written by Jonathan Watson