Was the Torah “to lead us to Messiah” or only in effect “until Messiah came”?

Was the Torah “to lead us to Messiah” or only in effect “until Messiah came”?


I’m J.K. McKee, editor of Messianic
Apologetics. If you are new to the channel, be sure to subscribe for future
teachings and updates. How can today’s Messianic movement believe that the Law
of Moses still has some part to play, when Galatians 3:24 is clear that the
Law was only in effect “until Christ came”? Many contemporary pastors are actually
quite correct when asserting, “The Law is our tutor to
lead us to Christ,” citing Galatians 3:24 as evidence. The
challenge with this assertion, though, is not in the need for the Torah’s
instruction–and our widespread human inability to keep it–to reveal our sin
and point us to the Messiah and the eternal redemption He provides (i.e., Romans
10:4 from the Greek). The problem is that (1) when the good news is
declared in much of Christianity today, people are only told about the love of
God but are often never told about the judgment that is pronounced upon them as
sinners, precisely because they are condemned as Torah-breakers (cf. Isaiah
24:5-6). And, (2) it has become far more commonplace in
examination of Galatians to read Galatians 3:22-25 from the perspective of it not speaking of individuals on the road to
salvation, but instead of it speaking historically of the Jewish people
keeping the Torah prior to the arrival of the Messiah–with the Torah only in
temporary effect to be obeyed until His arrival. Scot McKnight summarizes the
two interpretative options for Galatians 3:24: “The first takes it in an educative
function: ‘the law was our pedagogue to lead us to Christ.’ This is a common,
traditional view which sees the law as pointing out our sins so that we will
cry out for God’s grace in Christ. But besides the fact that Paul is not
talking here about ‘individual experience’ but rather about ‘salvation history,’ he
does not teach in Galatians that this is the purpose of the law…The second view
is therefore to be preferred: ‘the law was our pedagogue until Christ.’ This view is
not only the majority view today but is also contextually more compatible.” McKnight is correct when he informs us
that the majority view held among Galatians commentators is that Galatians
3:24 is to be read from the more temporal perspective of the Torah being
valid “until Christ came” (RSV/NRSV/ESV). Only by reviewing Galatians 3:22-25 in total can we really evaluate whether and individual’s common
experience in coming to faith in Yeshua or the
condition of the Jewish people prior to the arrival of Yeshua is most textually
compatible. This section of Paul’s letter to the Galatians begins with him
informing his audience, “But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that
the promise by faith in Yeshua the Messiah [or, the faithfulness of Yeshua
the Messiah] might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were
kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith
which was later to be revealed” (Galatians 3:22-23, NASU). The negative problem that sin has caused has affected “all men”
(NASB) or “the whole world” (NIV), ta panta. People committing
sin, and rejecting the Creator God and His ways, is by no means an exclusive
First Century Jewish problem; it is a universal problem to all humanity (Romans
3:23). F.F. Bruce is correct to conclude, “As Gentiles and Jews
are ‘confined under sin’ in v. 22, so Gentiles and Jews alike are ‘confined
under law’ [in v. 23].” All people are to be regarded as being “under sin”
(hupo humartian) and “under law” (hupo nomon). The verb to describe this action
is sugkleiō, “to confine to specific limits, confine, imprison”
(BDAG), regarding how “we were confined under the law” (RSV) or “imprisoned and guarded under the law” (NRSV). All that Scripture (the Torah and the Prophets) can do for people
is lay out God’s standard of holiness, righteousness, and proper conduct–yet
because of the common mortal proclivity to disobey Him–the most that Scripture
can really do is lock us up as prisoners. Scripture, to be sure, is not the problem;
sin without a definite solution is the problem. The only thing to be experienced
in a condition where one is “under sin” and “under law” is to be jailed, as it were,
in condemnation and guilt. Thankfully, Yeshua the Messiah has come on the
scene, and His sacrifice offers everyone freedom from this! But, Yeshua’s work is
for “those who believe”; if one does not recognize Him as Lord and Savior,
then the redemption He provides is ineffectual and such people remain “under
sin” and “under law.” At this point, though, many interpreters–in spite of how “the
scripture has all men ‘imprisoned’ under the power of sin” (Galatians 3:22, Phillips New Testament)–opt for the continuing “we” statement made by Paul to
regard only his fellow Jews, and not to all of his audience. So, when Paul says
“before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to
the faith which was later to be revealed” (Galatians 3:23, NASU), such confinement was considered only a Jewish issue. The
clause eis tēn mellousan pistin apokaluphthēnai, “to the faith about
to be revealed” (YLT), is thought
to be taken with a temporal force, with the preposition eis to be viewed “to
denote a certain point or limit of time” (LS), hence the
common rendering “until faith should be revealed” (RSV). The faith in view is undoubtedly the belief or trust to be placed in
Yeshua and His redemptive work; being “confined under the law” (RSV), though, is thought to only be a Jewish issue, with the Messiah’s arrival
somehow now abolishing Moses’ Teaching. In order to draw the conclusion that the
preposition eis means “until,” a reader has to separate out “under sin” and “under law”
as being two different ideas: “under sin” would mean the negative consequences of
sin, but “under law” would mean Jews having to be Torah obedient (at least at one
prior point in history). However, the symbiotic relationship that being “under
sin” and “under law” have together–as being “under sin” results in being “under law” and
subjected to the Torah’s penalties–is one which is constant and cannot be so
easily separated as some interpreters think. Paul expresses in Romans 6:14-15, to a largely non-Jewish audience in Rome, “For sin
not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then?
Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! (NASU). Not only is the antithesis of being “under grace”
being “under law,” but the “we” referred to would be all born again Believers who
have recognized the Messiah Yeshua. All people are to be redeemed from being
“under law.” Alternatively, if Galatians 3:23 is approached from an
individualistic perspective, the statement “before faith came, we were kept
in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be
revealed” (NASU), regards the status of all people who were once
condemned by God’s Torah as sinners, locked up in some kind of condemnation
state before salvation. Only when people are able to recognize the significance
of Yeshua’s faithfulness to die as a permanent sacrifice for human sin, this
reality of faith having arrived to them, can they then be shown the great
revelation of how faith in the Savior is to significantly transform them and
allow them to enter into the Father’s destiny for their lives. This is
something that the Apostle Paul did not want his Galatian audience to forget:
what it took to get them to truly arrive at the significant faith in the Lord
that they possess. While many would prefer to take the verb apokaluptō in
Galatians 3:23 as regarding God’s plan in Yeshua “to be revealed” within
in salvation history, earlier in his letter Paul himself uses it to describe
how “God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through
His grace, was pleased to reveal [apokaluptō] His Son in me so that I might
preach him among the Gentiles…” (Galatians 1:15-16a, NASU). To have the importance of faith actually revealed to a newly saved
person, who has just been freed from the guilt incurred by sin and Torah-breaking,
is entirely consistent with how Paul himself was redeemed. The initial
salvation experience of faith in Yeshua is to be followed with the person being
shown even more how significant the Messiah’s work is. It is more appropriate
to render the clause eis tēn mellousan pistin apokaluphthēnai as something
like: “to the faith intending to be revealed” (my translation), that which is destined to
manifest itself in the redeemed. Paul acknowledges the initial entry of
Messiah faith in someone’s life, leading to a greater revelation of what faith in
Him and who He is encompasses. The preposition eis can
notably also mean “to express relation, to or towards” (LS). Paul later specifies how the power of the good news is to lead one
from faith to faith, meaning that the significant revelation of faith in
Yeshua naturally gets deeper after one has been forgiven of sin and grows in
Him: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for
it is the power of God for salvation [or, to salvation, YLT; eis sōtērian] to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also
to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith
[apokaluptetai ek pisteōs eis pistin]… (Romans 1:16-17a, NASU). A proper view of Galatians 3:23 recognizes that: (1) saving faith is to manifest itself in the life of a Believer, (2) because of
such faith one is freed from the imprisoning condemnation of sin and
being “under the law,” and (3) this results in being revealed a
greater significance of faith as growth in Messiah begins. Having stated how
those who are “under law,” locked up as condemned sinners, must have faith in
Yeshua come into their lives–and consequently with the redeemed being
shown the magnificent importance of such faith in Yeshua–Paul follows this by
explaining a pre-Messiah function of the Torah: “Therefore the law has become our
tutor to lead us to Messiah, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24, NASU). A majority of today’s interpreters take
Galatians 3:24 as being a temporal function
for Paul’s own Jewish people. From this perspective, “our” means “Jewish,” and “the law
was our custodian until Christ came” (RSV) the or “the law was
our disciplinarian until Christ came” (NRSV). The
Jewish “imprisoner,” so to speak, eis Christon. Highly reflective of this
view, and one who definitely believes that the Torah is not to be followed in
the post-resurrection era, is Ben Witherington III, who concludes
that “the Law as the pedagogue of God’s people lasted only until Christ came.
Here [eis Christon] is surely to be taken in a temporal and not a telic sense.” Such
an interpretation of Galatians 3:24 could lead one to conclude that Paul is
a turncoat Jew, and he is saying that with the arrival of the Messiah that his
own people do not have to observe the burden of having to keep any of the Law
of Moses; it was, after all, only “until Christ.” Much of how we look at Galatians
3:24 is influenced by how we look at the role of the paidagōgos, which is
invariably translated as “tutor” (NASU), “custodian” (RSV/CJB), “child-conductor” (YLT), “guardian” (HCSB), or “schoolmaster” (KJV), comparable to our English word “pedagogue.” Many examiners are in
rightful agreement that “tutor” is not the best rendering for paidagōgos, as there is something specific to be understood from this term in antiquity.
In Galatians 3:24, we actually see Paul using a classical Greek term to express
a Jewish concept. The paidagōgos was “Orig. ‘boy-leader’, the man, usu.[ally] a
slave…whose duty it was to conduct a boy or youth…to and from school and to
superintend his conduct gener.; he was not a ‘teacher’…When the young man became
of age, the [paidagōgos] was no longer needed” (BDAG). In a
classical sense, the paidagōgos was a protector who was to guard young boys on
their way to school until they reached a certain age. This “disciplinarian” (NRSV) or “guardian” (ESV) would try to instill
within them a basic sense of who a responsible citizen was, until they
arrived at a point when they were old enough to take care of themselves. Within
much of the ancient period, the paidagōgos had a widescale reputation
for strictness. Hans Dieter Betz indicates, “The figure of the
pedagogue is looked upon as a hard but necessary instrument in bringing a
person to achieve and realize virtue.” So here, the Torah is not that
much more than a merciless taskmaster that has to beat proper behavior into
someone. Witherington is more tempered, remarking at this point of view “is
much too one-sided. There were both good and bad pedagogues and the latter were
not rarer exceptions to the rule.” Paul is certainly not expecting his
Galatian audience to apply all of the possible negative traits of a classical
paidagōgos into his usage in Galatians 3:24. While strict in terms of
discipline, and while various interpreters would oppose this
conclusion, the paidagōgos did have an important educational function. As Plato
would describe it, “Our sharp-eyed an efficient supervisor
of the education of the young must redirect their natural development along
the right lines, by always setting them on the paths of goodness as embodied in
the legal code” (Laws 7.809). James D.G. Dunn argues in favor of the paidagōgos, again
while being strict, having a “responsibility to instruct in good
manners, and to discipline and correct the youth when necessary.” TDNT further remarks that the Torah “is a paedagōgós while we are minors. During our minority we are under it and virtually
in the position of slaves. With faith, however, we achieve adult sonship and a
new immediacy to the Father which is far better than dependence on even the best
‘pedagogue.’…It is a taskmaster with an educational role.” The related verb to paidagōgos is paideuō, which can mean both “to provide
instruction for informed and responsible living, educate” and “to assist in the
development of a person’s ability to make appropriate choices, practice
discipline” (BDAG). Paideuō is often employed in the septuagint
to translate the Hebrew yasar, meaning, “chastise, discipline, rebuke,” and “teach,
train” (CHALOT). It appears in Proverbs 29:19: “A slave will
not be instructed [yasar] by words alone; for though he understands, there will be
no response” (NASU), or “A stubborn servant will not
be reproved [paideuō] by words: for even if he understands, still he will not obey” (LXE). Yet, even while the verb paideuō can relate to
negative discipline or chastisement, it is used in the Apocrypha to represent
the education of someone in the Tanach Scriptures: “Therefore set your desire on
my words; long for them, and you will be instructed [paideuō]…
Therefore be instructed [paideuō] by my words, and you will profit” (Wisdom 6:11, 25, RSV). “If you were willing, my son, you will be taught [paideuō], and if you apply
yourself you will become clever” (Sirach 6:32, RSV). Another related term to paidagōgos is paideia, regarding “the state of being brought up
properly, training” (BDAG). This notably appears in 2
Timothy 3:16, where Paul says “All Scripture is inspired by God and
profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training [paideia] in
righteousness” (NASU). Also to be considered could be
4 Maccabees 1:17: “[There] is education [paideia] in the law, by which we learn
divine matters reverently and human affairs to our advantage” (RSV). Whether Galatians 3:24 should be
understood in the context of the clause eis Christon meaning “to lead us to
Christ” (NIV) or “until Christ came” (TNIV) is determined by the value
judgment of a reader concluding whether or not the figure of the paidagōgos or
pedagogue had any kind of educational role. While no one can deny the fact that
the paidagōgos was a strict disciplinarian, even Witherington argues
that “it was not unusual for the pedagogue to tried or even beat a child
on occasion to achieve the desired form of behavior,” further recognizing “The
pedagogue did have a limited educational role…” All are agreed that the Torah
function as a pedagogue regards the issuance of condemnation to Torah-breakers, but does this condemnation stir up within condemned persons the need for
them to cry out to the Messiah–or did the Torah only have a
limited function in protecting the Jewish people until the Messiah’s
arrival? The combined disciplinarian- educator can actually be seen when we
compare Galatians 3:24 to 2 Timothy 3:14-16: “Therefore the Law has become our tutor…to Messiah, so that we may be
justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24, NASU). “You, however,
continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from
whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred
writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through
faith which is in Messiah Yeshua. All Scripture is inspired by God and
profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:14-16, NASU). The Apostle Paul lauded Timothy
for how he was raised by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5) in the
Tanach Scriptures, which are Holy Texts to be employed for paideian tēn en dikaiosunē, “training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). The Torah
and Tanach are going to train people in ways of righteousness, whether they are
redeemed or unredeemed, and for the latter such training will undeniably
involve chastisement. The Torah, Prophets, and Writings are going to always reveal
a person’s innate need for a Divine Redeemer–One whom the Father has
provided in His Son Yeshua. Paul quite keenly says of the
Tanach Scriptures, that they are “able to make you wise to salvation through
belief in Messiah Yeshua” (my translation), eis sōtērian dia pisteōs tēs en Christō Iēsou. In
2 Timothy 3:15, the preposition eis involves Timothy’s training in the
Tanach leading to his salvation. There is no reason at all why the clause eis Christon cannot be viewed as “to Christ.” It is true that a version like the NASU has added some words in italics with “the Law has become
our tutor {to lead us in italics} to Christ” and the NKJV
has the similar “the law was our tutor {to bring us italics} to Christ”
These words are justifiably added to recognize the appropriate preparatory
role of the pedagogue: eis Christon, “to Christ”–which is comparable to eis sōtērian, “to salvation.” In Galatians 3:24 the perfect verb gegonen is used,
indicating that the role of the Torah as pedagogue, while something done in the
past, still has an ongoing effect for born again Believers. The Torah having
once served a pedagogue for the redeemed– a strict disciplinarian for those who
have now arrived at faith in Yeshua–does not allow for people to dispense with
its instructions. When Matthew 1:21 informs Bible readers,
“Now all this took place to fulfill [gegonen] what was spoken by the Lord
through the prophet” (NASU), are we expected to throw away
and ignore the Messianic prophecies now that they have been fulfilled via the
Incarnation of Yeshua? Or are we to understand them in a new light? There is
every reason to recognize the validity of the Torah serving as the pedagogue
leading individuals in need of salvation to the Messiah. Yet, even if we were to
view Galatians 3:24 from the perspective of the Torah serving as a strict
disciplinarian “until Christ,” meaning “until Christ came into our lives,” this
should not automatically mean that God’s Law gets cast aside as unimportant. The
function of the Torah as pedagogue is over for those who recognize the Messiah,
whether you render the clause eis Christon as “until Christ” or “to Christ.”
John R.W. Scott’s observations are well taken: “[T]he oppressive work of the law was
temporary, [but]…it was ultimately intended not to hurt but to bless. Its purpose was
to shut us up in prison until Christ should free, us or to put us under tutors
until Christ should make us sons….Only Christ can deliver us from the prison to
which the curse of the law has brought us, because He was made a curse for us.
Only Christ can deliver us from the law’s harsh discipline, because He makes us
sons who obey from love for their Father and are no longer naughty children
needing tutors to punish them.” While some might want to argue against
the view that the Torah is to serve as an individual’s pedagogue–concluding
that the “we” Paul was speaking of in Galatians 3:24 is just “we Jews”–the Torah
did indeed play a role in the non-Jewish Galatians’ own salvation experience.
Paul’s visit to Southern Galatia in Acts chs. 13-14 reveals that he
certainly taught about Yeshua from the Torah and Prophets to more than just
Jews, observing that He provided a forgiveness from sins and freedom that
the Torah could not provide (Acts 13:38-39, 43). In various sectors of
today’s Messianic movement, Galatians 3:24 has been viewed from the
perspective of a young man or young woman being prepared for bar/bat
mitzvah. In Judaism, boys and girls are taught the commandments of the Torah
from their infancy. The commandments are rigorously instilled in them so that
by the time they reach puberty, usually by the age of 12 or 13, one who
goes through his or her bar/bat mitzvah recognizes that he is
accountable for being a member of the Jewish community. While it is now
traditional to hold festivities and parties for bar/bat mitzvah, the First
Century historian Josephus recorded, “when I was a child, and about fourteen years
of age, I was commended by all for the love I had to learning; on which account
the high priests and principal men of the city came then frequently to me
together, in order to know my opinion about the accurate understand
of points of the law” (Life 1.9) A major role in a bar/bat mitzvah ceremony (or
even in a Protestant Christian denomination confirming a youth as a
church member) is so that young people arrive at the point of being aware of
their responsibilities before God, and that they have an understanding of the
Scriptures. The practice of preparing a youth for bar/bat mitzvah is to
instill in the boy or girl the understanding that he or she is
accountable for living up to the Torah’s standards. The Torah up to this point
serves as the person’s tutor or schoolmaster, and hopefully when the
youth gets up to the bema to read from the Torah scroll, he or she has an
understanding that this is very serious in the eyes of the God of Israel. In a
Messianic context, we surely hope that a young person undergoing bar/bat
mitzvah has truly come to that moment where he or she realizes that the Torah
is not enough, and that it is the Lord Yeshua to which its instructions
inevitably point. In the view of Galatians 3:24. God’s Law as pedagogue is
to rigorously instill within us a sense of His holiness and righteousness, but
our innate inability to ultimately keep its commandments perfectly should lead
us to faith in the Messiah. When salvation from our sin comes, the key
principles of God’s Torah are to certainly remain instilled within us. As
we then grow and mature in such salvation, with the New Covenant promise
of the Torah being supernaturally transcribed on our hearts now in play (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27), we can fulfill the Torah in emulation of Messiah Yeshua
(Matthew 5:17-19, surely demonstrating it in action via good works of mercy and
kindness toward others. If you all found this content enjoyable and useful, please
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continued support of our ministry efforts. God bless and shalom, and we’ll
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