Spoken Because of Transgressions | Galatians 3:19

“WHEREFORE then serves the law? It was added because of transgressions” (Gal. 3:19).

The Greek term that is here translated “added,” is the same word that, in Heb. 12:19, is translated “spoken,” in the clause referring to the voice of God speaking from Sinai, “which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken [or added] to them any more.” It is the same word that is used also in Deut. 5:22 where it is translated “added,” in the sentence, “These words the Lord spoke unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added [or spoke] no more.”

In both Hebrews and Deuteronomy the word is used with direct reference to the giving of the law of God, the Ten Commandments. This passage in Galatians, therefore, would certainly seem to suggest that the law here referred to would be the same law. And this is further sustained by the expression later, in this verse, that the law referred to was ordained in the hand of a mediator.” Now, since there is only “one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus,” it was certainly Christ’s hand in which this law was ordained. And Deut. 33:2, speaking of the same scene referred to in Deut. 5:22 and Heb. 12:20, says: “The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them: he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them.”

Now the Ten Commandments were not only written by the hand of the Lord himself, but they were written on tables of stone, which “tables were the work of God,” as well as the writing, which was the writing of God. And these tables were given by the hand of the Lord, unto Moses. And even when Moses had broken these tables, and had been directed to make other tables, the Lord wrote again with his hand on these tables the same law that at first he had written on the tables that he himself had made.

But this is not true of any other law. It is true that the ceremonial law—the law concerning sacrifices, offerings, the sanctuary, the whole Levitical system—was also given by the Lord to Moses; but it was not given by the hand of the Lord to Moses. It did not come forth from his hand, either in writing by his own hand, or upon tables made with his own hand. It was given to Moses by the Lord, and was written altogether by Moses, and not at all by the Lord.

Some, taking the English word “added” in this clause in Gal. 3:19, and holding it in the restricted English sense of “added,” have supposed that it is here taught that whatever law is referred to was necessarily added to something as a part of that thing, and so have held that it was added to the covenant with Abraham. But such a view as that would plainly be a mistake, because, in Gal. 3:15, it is positively stated that “though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man . . . adds thereto.” Thus it would be impossible for anything to be added to that covenant. The word translated “adds,” in Gal. 3:15, is not the same in Greek as that translated “added” in Gal. 3:19, nor are the words akin.

From the Greek word itself, in Gal. 3:19, and its use in connection with the law, in Heb. 12:20 and Deut. 5:22, as well as its further use in the Scriptures, it is plain that it is not necessarily implied that what is referred to should be literally added in the sense of a mathematical addition. One expression in which the Greek word is used is, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). Here it is plain that the expression is equivalent to merely to “give”—“all these things shall be given unto you,” or “ye shall receive all these things.” Such is exactly its meaning in Mark 4:24, in which our translation is, “Unto you that hear shall more be given”—shall more be added. In Acts 12:3 our translation reads, “He proceeded further to take Peter also.” This translated, as in Gal. 3:19, would be, “He added to take Peter.” Thus the word in Gal. 3:19 could, with equal propriety be translated, “Wherefore then the law? It was spoken because of transgressions,” or, “It was given because of transgressions.” One translation of the clause is, “It was set because of transgressions.” Another is, “It was introduced,” etc. True, to translate it, “It was added,” is just as good, provided it be understood that the word “added” conveys these senses, and is not to be restricted to its special meaning of a mathematical addition, as of adding “one cubit unto his stature.”

The law, then, was given, was spoken, and was added, because of transgression. Will this statement that “it was added because of transgressions” hold in the case of the law of God, the Ten Commandments? With respect to that law as it is referred to throughout in the discussion in which the Galatian Christians were involved, that is, the law in its written form, the expression does certainly apply. This will not only be clearly seen, but it is positively stated, in a passage already several times quoted in these “Studies in Galatians;” and we here set it down again: —

“If man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abrahams, there would have been no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision. And if the descendants of Abraham had kept the covenant, of which circumcision was a sign, they would never have been seduced into idolatry, nor would it have been necessary for then to suffer a life of bondage in Egypt; they would have kept God’s law in mind, and there would have been no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai, or engraved upon the tables of stone. And had the people practiced the principles of the Ten Commandments, there would have been no need of the additional directions given to Moses” (“Patriarch and Prophets,” page 364).

This corresponds exactly to the other expressions with reference to the entering of the law of God: “The laws entered, that the offense might abound” (Rom. 5:20). “That sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful” (Rom. 7:13). “To bring transgressions to a head” (Farrar’s translation of Gal. 3:19). “In order to bring about as transgressions the transgressions of it” (Alford).

This will be followed further next week.

[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | February 20, 1900]