Epistles: We Are All One in Christ (Galatians 3:23-29)

Paul writes: “Before faith came” [that is, before Christ], “we [the Jews] were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed” (Gal. 3:23). The Jewish people were under the restrictions of the law, under its temporary jurisdiction or custody. The law gave requirements, but never rescued anyone from their tendency to sin, and this confinement lasted only until Christ came.

“So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came[1], in order that we might be justified by faith” (v. 24). The law had authority from Moses until Christ. It showed that humans are prisoners of sin, unable to save themselves through human effort. It showed that salvation can be received only through faith, not by law.

Now that the Law of Moses has fulfilled its purpose, it has become obsolete: “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian” (Gal 3:25). The law had power in the time before Christ, showing that humans are transgressors, prisoners of sin, unable to be justified by works. But now, the law no longer has authority over us; it cannot condemn us.

Christians are not to look at the law of Moses as if it has anything to do with our salvation. It is not a way to get right with God. It is not a way to enter his kingdom nor a way to stay in his kingdom nor a way to improve our standing with God. Because of Jesus’ crucifixion, our relationship with God depends entirely on faith.

Children of God

Paul concludes that the gospel of salvation by grace through faith treats all people equally: “for in Christ Jesus you are all [children] of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:26). Both Jews and Gentiles receive God’s gift by believing the gospel.

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). We have clothed ourselves with him. He gives us the robes of righteousness, and our life is now after the pattern he sets for us.

But the conclusion is even more sweeping than ethnic equality: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The unity we have in Christ should have consequences in the social world. Slave-owners and slaves have equal status with God, and that should affect the way that they treat each other. If slave-owners realized that believing slaves were family members whom they should love as themselves, then the slave-owners would free the slaves. A person’s status in the church should not be limited by the status an unbelieving society puts upon them.

In the same way, males and females are one in Christ, but the consequences of that go beyond equal access to salvation (which was not an issue when Paul wrote) — it should result in equal treatment within the church.

Paul returns to the point that salvation is available to all: “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29). Salvation is based on the promises God gave to Abraham, and we inherit those promises by faith, because that was the basis on which those promises were given in the first place.

Things to think about

  • Do people today make themselves “prisoners of the law” even though they are not really under the law? (Gal. 3:23)
  • Do old social divisions affect the unity of people in my church? (Gal. 3:28)


[1] The 1984 edition of the NIV had “to lead us to Christ.” But the Greek means “into Christ,” and probably means “until” (McKnight, Galatians, 183). “We did not make our way, under the tutelage of the Law, progressively to Christ; instead, Christ came to us” (Hays, 270). In historical experience, we can see that the people who have kept the law (the Jews) have not been particularly “led” to Christ. 

The Greeks Had a Word for It: Paidagogos

“The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ,” says Galatians 3:24. The word “schoolmaster” is the King James translation of paidagogos, from which we get the English word pedagogue, meaning “teacher.”

But in ancient Greece, a paidagogos was not a schoolteacher. It is difficult to translate this word because it refers to something that does not exist in our society. The Greeks had a word for it because they had “it,” and we do not.

Paidagogos comes from two Greek words: pais, meaning child, and agogos, meaning leader. A paidagogos was usually a slave; he made sure the children went to school and did their homework. He taught manners and good behavior, but not academic topics. He supervised the children, and disciplined misbehavior. Paidagogoi had a reputation or stereotype for excessive discipline, and Greeks rarely had fond memories of the slave who supervised them.

The law was like that, Paul says. It watched over the Jewish people and gave them discipline until Christ came. He extends the analogy into chapter 4, saying that young children are like slaves — under the authority of others until a set time. And the Jews (he includes himself by using the word “we”) were enslaved until Christ came (Gal. 4:1-3). But now that the true Teacher has come, “we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Gal. 3:25).

Author: Michael Morrison

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