(19) Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. (20) Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
– Galatians 3:19-20
I preached on Galatians 3:15-22 yesterday and in my prep last week the two verses quoted above gave me the biggest headache. The first part of v.19 I could get a handle on. The second part, I understood fairly well. Verse 20′s conciseness belied the frustration therein. Galatians 3:20 is like Manny Pacquiao: doesn’t look like much, but it will tear you up. At least, it did me, anyway.
I chewed on it and chewed on it. I looked at it from different angles. I stared at it like it was one of those optical illusion pictures they sell at the mall. You know, the ones that look like a swirl of color until you get your gaze into it just right, and then you see the unicorn frolicking by a lighthouse or something? Didn’t work.
Commentaries weren’t much help. Luther has been my homeboy throughout this series on Galatians, but his comment only seemed to extrapolate further on v.19. I wanted to know what God being one had to do with intermediaries involved in dispensing the Law. It seems like the answer should be obvious. But I’m a dumb guy. I felt like a dog who’d just been handed a Rubik’s cube. (Can you picture me tilting my head to the side in curiosity-slash-confusion?)
I don’t have an endless supply of commentaries in my library, but I checked the ones I had access to. I wasn’t helped too much by them. Not even by Calvin, really. Except! The editor’s note in Calvin’s commentary said that another commentator estimated that there were 250 possible interpretations of Galatians 3:20. This was both comforting and deflating. I finally did what I never do: I pulled J. Vernon McGee’s commentary from the shelf. Who reads McGee? Certainly not me. He’s so pedestrian (I said with my nose in the air). And you know what? It’ll be another ten years before I pull him off the shelf again: he skipped over v.20 entirely! Like it didn’t even exist. His commentary goes right from 3:19 to 3:21. Like we wouldn’t notice. He must’ve gotten to it and got scared and decided not to even try.
You know those little pill-looking sponge things you can get at the dollar store for kids? You put them in a glass of water and the plastic capsule dissolves or gives way and the wadded sponge expands and it’s a duckie or a dinosaur or whatever? That’s how (I think) I eventually experienced the awesomeness in Galatians 3:20. I just let it steep. I just gnawed on it (like a dog again) to get to the marrow.
Here’s what I think it means (and I figure I have at least a 1 in 250 shot at being right):
The Law was put in place via angels, through Moses. We see this affirmed in Acts 7:38 and 53 and in Hebrews 2:2. Deuteronomy 33:2 tells us it came to Sinai by “ten thousand holy ones.” That’s a pretty impressive scene. “An intermediary implies more than one.” Yes. There were several links in the chain of command: from God via his ten thousand holy ones to Moses, then to the people. And let’s not forget to factor in the priests and the ceremonial rites and regulations that went along with all that. In order to deliver — and then to minister — the Law, teamwork, as they say, made the dream work.
“But God is one.”
Why is the gospel better than the Law? Why is Jesus more glorious than any other intermediary? Because it is God himself doing the job himself for the people himself all by himself. Consider the exhaustive and exhausting comprehensiveness and rigor that the Law entails. Multiply that by the glory that radiated on Moses’ face, that was transmitted on mountaintop via ten thousand flaming angels. Multiply that precise measurements, a routine cycle of sacrifices, and an every-T-crossed attention to detail. Now consider that Christ Jesus is more glorious, more precise, more fulfilling, more encompassing than all that. And then! Consider that Jesus doesn’t just hold up his end of the covenant of righteousness: he holds up our end too. An intermediary implies more than one. But God is one. He does his job, and ours.
That’s what I think Galatians 3:20 means. I believe that is in keeping with the trajectory of the passage and the context of the book itself, which is to say that the Law is good (for what it’s designed for), but that Jesus is much, much better. The law is awesome, but the gospel is awesomer than awesome.
“Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.”
– 2 Corinthians 3:7-10