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The Book of Galatians

The Curse of the Law?


                         Part Eight

BARNES' NOTES ON THE NEW TESTAMENT:

CHAP. 3:10  For as many as are of the works of the law, are under
the curse...

'For as many as are of the works of the law.'

     As many as are seeking to be justified by yielding obedience
to then law - whether the moral law, or the ceremonial law. The
proposition is general, and it is designed to show that, from the
nature of the case, it is impossible to be justified by the works
of the law, since, under all circumstances of obedience which    
we can render, we are still left with its heavy curse resting on
us.  

'Are under the curse.' 

     The curse which the law of God denounces. Having failed by
all their efforts to yield perfect obedience, they must be
exposed to the curse which the law denounces on the guilty. The
word rendered curse means, as with us, properly "imprecation" or
"cursing.".... It is here used evidently in the sense of devoting
to punishment or destruction; and the idea is that all who
attempt to secure salvation by the works of the law, must be
exposed to its penalty. It denounces a curse on all who do not
yield entire obedience; and no partial compliance with its
demands can save from the penalty.

'For it is written.'

     The substance of these wordy is found in Deut.27:26: "Cursed
be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them."
It is the solemn close of a series of maledictions which Moses
denounces in that chapter on the violators of the law. In this
quotation, Paul has given the sense of the passage, but he has
quoted literally neither from the Hebrew nor from the Septuagint.
The sense, however, is retained. The word "cursed" here mean,
that the violator of the law shall be devoted to punishment or
destruction. The phrase, "that continueth not," in the Hebrew is
"that confirmeth not" - that does not establish or confirm by his
life. He would confirm it by continuing to obey it; and thus the
sense in Paul and in Moses is substantially the same. The word
"all" is not expressed in the Hebrew in Deuteronomy, but it is
evidently implied, and has been inserted by the English
translators. It is found, however, in six MSS. of Kennicott and
De Rossi; in the Samaritan text; in the Septuagint; and in
several of the Targums -- Clarke.  

'The book of the law.' 

     That is, in the law. This phrase is not found in the passage
in Deuteronomy. The expression there is, "the words of this law,"
Paul gives it a somewhat LARGER sense, and applies it to the
WHOLE of the law of God (yes to the whole Old Covenant which
these false teachers were claiming that obeying it would justify
them, and looking to the death of a man called Jesus Christ was
not needed or not the way to justification with God - Keith
Hunt). The meaning is, that the WHOLE LAW must be obeyed or man
cannot be justified by it, or will be exposed to its PENALTY
and its CURSE.
     This idea is expressed more FULLY by James, (2:10)
"whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet often in one point,
he is guilty of all;" that is, he is guilty of breaking the law
as a whole, and must be held responsible for such violation. The 
sentiment here is one that is common to all law, and must be,
from the nature of the case. The idea is that a man who does not
yield compliance to a whole law is subject to its penalty, or to
a curse. All law is sustained on this principle.  
     A man who has been honest, and temperate, and industrious,
and patriotic, if he commits a single act of murder, is subject
to the curse of the law, and must meet the penalty. A man who has
been honest and honourable in all his dealings, yet if he commit
a single act of forgery, he must meet the curse denounced by the
laws of his country, and bear the penalty.   
     So in all matters pertaining to law; no matter what the 
integrity of the man, no matter how upright he has been, yet for
the ONE OFFENCE the law denounces a penalty, and he must bear it.
It is out of the question for him to be justified by it. He
cannot plead as a reason why he should not be condemned for the
act of murder or forgery, that he has in all other respects
obeyed the law; or even that he has been guilty of no such
offenses before.
     Such is the idea of Paul in the passage before us. It was
clear to his view that man had not, in all respects yielded
obedience to the law of God. If  he had not done this, it was
impossible that he should be justified by the law, and he must
bear its penalty....

CHAP.3:11,12   But that no man is justified by the law......

'But that no man is justified.' etc.

     The argument which Paul has been pursuing he proceeds to
confirm by an express declaration of the Bible. The argument is
this: "It is impossible that a man should be justified by the
law, because God has appointed another way of justification." But
there cannot be two ways of obtaining life; and as he has
appointed faith as the condition on which men shall live, he has
precluded from them the possibility of obtaining salvation in any
other mode.     

'For, The just shall live by faith.'


     This is quoted from Hab.2:4. This passage is also quoted by
Paul in Rom.1:17. See it explained in the Note on that verse. The
sense here is, that life is promised to man only in connexion
with faith. It is not by the works of the law that it is done.   
The condition of life is faith; and he lives who believes. The
meaning is not, I apprehend, that the man who is justified by
faith shall live; but that life is promised and exists only in
connexion with faith, and that the just or righteous man obtains
it only in this way. Of course it cannot be obtained by the
observance of the law, but must be by some other scheme.

'And the law is not of faith.' 

     The law is not a matter of faith; it does not relate to
faith; it does not require faith; it deals in other matters, and
it pertains to another system than to faith. 

'But, The man,' etc.     

     This is the language of the law, and this is what the law
teaches. It does not make provision for faith, but it requires
unwavering and perpetual obedience, if man would obtain life by
it. See this passage explained in the Notes on Rom.10:5 .....

CHAP.3:13  Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law...

'Christ hath redeemed us' 

     The word used here, is not that which is usually employed in
the New Testament to denote redemption. That word is (Barnes
gives the Greek word here - Keith Hunt). The difference between
them mainly is, that the word used here more usually relates to a
PURCHASE of any kind; the other is used strictly with reference
to RANSOM. The word here used is more GENERAL in its meaning; the
other is strictly appropriated to a ransom. This distinction is
not observable here, however, and the word here used is employed
in the proper sense of redeem. It occurs in the New Testament
only in this place, and in chap.4:5; Eph.5:16; Col.4:5. It
properly means, to purchase, to buy up; and then to purchase any
one, to redeem, to set free. Here it means, that Christ had
purchased or set us free from the curse of the law, by his being
made a curse for us. On the meaning of the words redeem and
ransom, see my Notes on Rom.3:5, and Isa.43:3. Comp. 2 Cor.5:21. 

   
'From the curse of the law.'

     The curse which the law threatens, and which the execution
of the law would inflict; the PUNISHMENT DUE TO SIN.
     This must mean, that he has rescued us from the consequences
of transgression in the world of woe; he has saved us from the
PUNISHMENT which our sins have deserved. The word "us" must refer
to those who are redeemed; that is, to the Gentiles as well as
the Jews. The CURSE of the law is a CURSE which is DUE to SIN,
and cannot be regarded as applied particularly to any one class
of men. All who violate the law of God, however that law may be
made known are exposed to its penalty. The word "law" here
relates to the law of God in general, to all the laws of God made
known man. The law of God denounced DEATH as the WAGES of sin. It
threatened PUNISHMENT in the future... That would certainly have
been inflicted, but for the coming and death of Christ. The world
is lying by nature under this CURSE, and it is sweeping the race
on to ruin.....

     But what is the meaning of the language of Paul it will be
asked when he says that he was "made a curse for us." I reply in
answer, that the meaning must be ascertained from the passage
which Paul quotes in support of his assertion, that Christ was
"made a curse for us."   
     That passage is, "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a
tree." This passage is found in Deut.21:23. It occurs in a law
respecting one who was hanged for a "sin worthy of death," verse
22. The law was, that he should be buried the same day, and that
the body should not remain suspended over the night; and it is
added, as a reason for this, that "he that is hanged is accursed
of God;" or, as it is in the margin, "the curse of God." The
meaning is, that when one was executed for crime in this manner,
he was the object of the Divine displeasure and malediction.     
Regarded thus as an object accursed of God, there was a propriety
that the man who was executed for crime should be buried as soon
as possible, that the offensive object should be hidden from the
view. In quoting this passage, Paul leaves out the words "of
God," and simply says, that the one who was hanged on a tree was
held accursed. The sense of the passage before us is therefore,
that Jesus was subjected to what was regarded as an accursed     
death. We was treated in his death AS IF had been a criminal. He
was put to death in the same manner as he would have been if he
had himself been guilty of the violation of the law. Had he been
a thief or a murderer. Had he committed the grossest of the
blackest of crimes, this would have been the punishment to which
he would have been subjected. This was the mode punishment
adapted to those crimes, and he was treated AS IF all these had
been committed by him. Or, in other words, had he been guilty of
all these, or any of these, he could not have been treated in a
more shameful and ignominious manner than he was; nor could he
have been subject to a more cruel death. As has already been
intimated, it does not mean that he was guilty, nor that he was
not the object of the approbation and love of God, but that his
death was the same that it would have been if he had been
the vilest of malefactors and that that death was regarded by the
law as accursed. It was by such substituted sorrows that we are
saved; and he consented to die the most shameful and painful
death, AS IF he were the vilest malefactor, in order that the
most guilty and vile of the human race might be saved.....

     It may be observed, also, that the punishment of the cross
was unknown to the Hebrews in the time of Moses, and that the
passage in Deut.21:23 did not refer originally to that. Nor is it
known that hanging criminals alive was practised among the
Hebrews. Those who were guilty of great crimes were first stoned
or otherwise put to death, and then their bodies were suspended
for a few hours on a gibbet. In many cases, however, merely the
head vas suspended after it had been severed from the body, Gen.
40:17-19; Numb.25:4,6. Crucifixion was not known in the time of
the giving of the law; but the Jews gave such an extent to the
law in Deut.21:23, as to include this mode of punishment. See
John 19:31, seq. The force of the argument here, as used by the
apostle Paul is, that if to be suspended on a gibbet after having
been put to death to death was regarded as a curse, it should not
be regarded as a curse in a less degree to be suspended alive on
a cross, and to be put to death in this manner. If this
interpretation of the passage be correct, then it follows that
this should never be used as implying, in any sense, that   
Christ was guilty, or that he was ill-deserving, or that he was
an object of Divine displeasure, or that he poured out on
him all his wrath. 
     He was, throughout, an object of the Divine love and
approbation. God never loved him more, or approved what he did
more, than when he gave himself to death on the cross. He had no
hatred towards him; he had no displeasure to express towards him.
And it is this which makes the atonement so wonderful and so
glorious.
     Had he been displeased with him; had the Redeemer been
properly an object of his wrath; had he in any sense deserved
those sorrows, there would have been no merit in his sufferings;
there would have been no atonement. What merit can there be when
one suffers only what he deserves? 
     But what made the atonement so wonderful, so glorious, so
benevolent, what made it an atonement at all, was, that innocence
was treated AS IF it were guilty; that the most pure, and holy,
and benevolent, and lovely Being on earth should consent to be
treated by God and man, AS IF he were the most vile and ill-
deserving.
     This is the mystery of the atonement; the wonders of the
Divine benevolence; this is the nature of substituted sorrow; and
this lays the foundation for the offer of pardon, and for the
hope of eternal salvation.

End quotes from Barnes' Notes on the New Testament

Keith Hunt:

CHAP. 3:13
THE CURSE OF THE LAW: 

Paul does not say the law is a curse, or that cursed law, but he
says the curse OF the law; i.e. a curse which the law produces.
Which cannot as Barnes notes; the punishment due to sin.
The law itself cannot, nor should it ever be thought of as a
curse. Those who would teach so, or would teach that Paul is here
saying the law is a curse, must indeed read the Bible with tunnel
vision in pitch blackness. For there are numerous verses that do
nothing but praise, extol, and declare how perfect, righteous,
holy, and good, is the law of the Lord. A short study with a
Bible Concordance under such words as "law" and "commandment/s"
will soon prove correct the previous statement.

                          ........

TO BE CONTINUED


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