“But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed”
Verse 23 bears a strong semblance to verse 22. Verse 22 showed us that there are no supporting arguments to keep the law for salvation.
But before faith came,
The “faith” here is faith in Christ (3:22). The Greek says “the faith,” indicating a special faith, faith in the promise of Jesus Christ (3:22). Old Testament saints did not have the opportunity to believe in the person of Jesus Christ. They believed in the coming Messiah.
“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
Paul now turns to the first person “we” referring to saved Jews. The law kept Jews in the prison of legalism during God’s dealings with Israel. The idea is that when Christ came, the object of faith changed from the idea of a coming Messiah to the person of Jesus. We came to understand who the Messiah was in His person and work.
Paul uses the second person plural “you” in the preceding context until this verse. Now he switches to the first person plural through verse 25. In verse 26, he reverts to the second person, “you.” The whole argument of this section revolves around the first person plural “we.” Paul very carefully switched these pronouns for a purpose. The “we” are Jewish Christians in Galatia, and “you” are Christian Gentile Galatians.
were kept under guard by the law,
The word “kept” is a military term for keeping guard as with a garrison. The law guards against every way of escape from the conclusion we are sinners. The phrase in verse 22, “confined all under sin,” and this phrase “kept under guard by the law,” is the same thing. The law will not allow us to justify our sin. Therefore, we cannot justify ourselves by works. All the law does to us is curse us. It proves we are sinners.
kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed
The second word for “kept” in this verse means to shut together, shut in on all sides. The law kept people in a state of exclusively depending on faith in the Messiah for salvation. This does not mean that God justified people by law before Christ because God justified Old Testament believers by faith just as He justified Abraham by faith (Genesis 15:6).
The Greek word indicates the law permanently shuts us up to sin until the faith “afterward” revealed. The word “revealed” means uncovered. The faith of this dispensation was unknown under the law; it was covered until Christ came. The law covered the New Testament faith for 1500 years. God locked the Jews under the law until Christ came to fulfill all the requirements of the law (Romans 8:2-4). God frees both Jews and Gentiles through personal faith in Christ. The Jews anticipated the coming of the Messiah, and Gentiles know the Messiah by name.
The law is a prison for those who try to keep it.
The law can diagnose our sin, but it cannot prescribe a remedy. If this is so, why would you revert to legalism to be saved or sanctified? The law precludes any attempt to secure justification before God other than by faith in the finished work of Christ. God does not want us to lose consciousness of our sin, and it’s ability to punish us. If we keep the law to be saved, it will forever imprison us. However, if we trust the work of Christ, it will forever free us.
“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11).
The greek tense for “kept” is not perfect but present isn’t it?
Lyndon, thanks for calling attention to that error. The idea is contained in the Greek word itself with the qualification of “until.”
I fully believe different than you do because of the fact that Luke 1:5&6 plainly teaches that Zechariah & Elizabeth were both righteous before God "walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." It says no where that they were saved by faith but by keeping the Law. Romans 10:5 states that Moses describes the "righteousness which is of the Law" All the Old Testament people knew about in the Dispensational Period of the Law was "Keeping the Law, which meant living by God's Law and offering a blood sacrifice when they sinned for forgiveness and restoration. They had never even heard of Christ or the Cross at this time and even if they had they would have been just as blind to the truth as the Jews were in Jesus' day. The word "faith"is only mentioned 2 times in the entire Old Testament and neither time is it dealing with salvation. I fully believe that Paul, in Galatians 3:23, is teaching that the Jews were secured or guarded under their obedience to the Law for salvations sake until the Faith that can only be found in Jesus Christ came into the world. If you have any scriptures that plainly teach that "faith" was the only means of salvation in the Old Testament I wish you would share them with me because all I can find in the Old Testament is where God constantly told the Israelites to "keep His Law and love the Lord with their whole heart, soul and mind." This Law required "work" on the part of the Jew to offer sacrifice, and constant obedience to keep the law. Maybe I am wrong but if I am please correct me!
Dr Lynch, thanks for your blog.
There are a number of Scriptures that demonstrate that salvation was by faith in the Old Testament. Abraham came to Jehovah by faith. Romans 15:6 "And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness." What is more, the argument of Romans 4 indicates that both he and David came to God by faith. I would recommend my exposition of Romans four on that subject.
It is important to distinguish between the three types of law in the Old Testament: 1) ethical law as in the Ten Commandments, 2) civil law for the nation Israel and 3) ceremonial law, which was the content of their faith system. They had to believe in the principle of sacrificial death of a substitute for forgiveness of sins. Old Testament saints never believed in the moral law as a system of salvation except those who went aberrant from faith.
2 Timothy 3:15; “that from a child thou has known the Holy Scriptures, which is able to make three wise unto salvation through, faith which is in Christ Jesus”. this of course is speaking of the Old Testament Scriptures.
Romans 9:31-33; “but Israel which followed after the law of righteousness ,hath not attained to the law of righteousness. (32. Wherefor? because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. for they stumbled at that stumblingstone; (33. as it is written: behold I lay in sion, a stumblingstone, and a rock of offense, and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed”. John 8:56; “your father Abraham, rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad”. Jesus appeared to Abraham in the Old Testament, as he did many others. the fact that Jesus was known in the Old Testament is clear from study of the Scriptures. Galatians 3:11; “but that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for the just shall live by faith”.