“Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed. The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian” (Galatians 3:23-25).
Does Galatians 3:23-25 mean that in witnessing to the lost, the evangelist must use the Ten Commandments in order to faithfully proclaim the gospel? I don’t think so. Here are three reasons why:
1). As we’ve explained on this blog before (here, and here, for example), “the Ten Commandments” is not what is meant by the New Testament’s use of the word law. When the NT uses the word law, there are various meanings determined by context. Sometimes law refers to the dietary commands in the Torah (Gal 2:16). Sometimes it refers to all of the commands of God in the Torah (Gal 3:10). Sometimes it means any of God’s commands, even if those commands “came 430 years” before the giving of the Ten Commandments (Gal 3:18). Sometimes it means “the Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).
So the question in relationship to Galatians 3:23-25 is what is meant by the word law? The context makes it clear that Paul is referring to the entirety of the commands in the Torah. He says that this law “imprisoned” people until the coming of Christ. Paul could not possibly be referring to the law written on people’s consciences (which he does refer to in Rom 2:14-16), because the law he’s talking about here was “temporary, secondary and preparatory” (FF Bruce in NIGNTC). It was “added” after the promise to Abraham and “given through angels” (Gal 3:19). Obviously this is not the moral law written on people’s hearts. This description really only fits the Torah as a whole.
2. The word guardian (or tutor in the NAS) does not imply that the law teaches each individual how to come to Jesus, but rather speaks of someone who watched over the world until the Messiah came. The KJV did not help us with this verse by rendering the law as a “schoolmaster,” which undoubtedly led to the NAS’s use of “tutor.” Today, tutors teach algebra and prepare you for a final. They don’t watch over you until you come of age, which is exactly what the word in Gal 3:24 means.
The word is paidagogos, which was a person who worked for a wealthy family and was responsible for raising a child from around age six until adulthood. Here is how George explains it in the NAC:
“In ancient Greece and Rome wealthy parents often placed their newborn babies under the care of a wet-nurse who in turn would pass them on to an older woman, a nanny who would care for their basic needs until about the age of six. At that time they came under the supervision of another household servant, the paidagōgos, who remained in charge of their upbringing until late adolescence.”
This was not a person who taught a lesson, but rather a person who had custody rights for years. The image of the law as this kind of guardian was not meant to be positive. Even in the context, Paul had just compared the law to a prison guard, and those who were under it were “captives” (Gal 3:23). It is through that lens we should see Paul’s comparison of the law to a guardian.
3. The ministry of the law is over. Paul writes that the law was a guardian “until” the Messiah came to the world. Paul is not implying that the law teaches each individual what to do in order to become a Christian. Rather, he is saying that the Mosaic Law watched over Israel from the time of the Exodus until Jesus fulfilled it. Now graduation day has arrived and it’s time to move on from the law. Don’t be the 19-year-old hanging out at your high school. You are done. Go get a job, or (in this case) grow up and believe by faith rather than by the works of the law.
To say that we need to use the OT law in order bring people to Christ is really the opposite of what this verse means. Paul’s entire point is that the law prepared the Jews to receive their Messiah. So Peter needs to stop avoiding the Gentile buffet at the church lunch, as if the dietary laws were still valid. And the Galatians need to stop acting like they are sanctified by keeping the law. The law is done, Paul says. If the law were an employee, he’s off the clock; he punched out, went home, and he’s not returning calls. Leave him alone. He taught you that you needed the Messiah. Remember what he taught you, and now exercise faith.
So how does this affect evangelism? I strongly believe that the evangelist needs to confront sin. I agree with Ray Comfort and Tim Keller both when they say that a person has to know the bad news before they are able to understand the good news. For people to come to faith in Jesus as their savior, they first have to realize what they are saved from (God’s wrath), and second they have to understand why they deserve God’s wrath. If you don’t understand sin, you can’t understand forgiveness or grace.
Practically, non-believers have to be confronted with the fact that they have violated God’s law as revealed in their conscience and in the world, and as explained in the Bible. In Romans 1 Paul lists the kind of acts that people do that justify the wrath of God being poured out on them. He says that they are:
“filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”
A good evangelist will help people see themselves in this list, and help them understand that they are broken, and that they need a savior from the wrath they deserve. But to use the Galatians 3 principle of the law as a tutor is to walk backwards from that. It is to take somebody back to the Old Testament, and place them under the authority of a guardian that they don’t even need. Not only do they not need that particular guardian, even when he was working he was unable to save those under his protection. That’s not what he was paid to do.