BARNES' NOTES ON THE NEW TESTAMENT:
CHAP.3:17 And this I say, that the covenant that was confirmed
before of God in Christ........
'The covenant that was confirmed before of God'
By God in his promise to Abraham. It was confirmed BEFORE
the giving of the law. The confirmation was the solemn promise
which God made to him.
With respect to the Messiah; a covenant relating to him, and
which promised that he should descend from Abraham. The word
"in," in the phrase "in Christ," does not quite express the
meaning of the Greek That means rather "unto Christ," or unto the
Messiah; i.e., the covenant had respect to him. This is a common
signification of the preposition....
The argument is, that a law given after the solemn promise
which had been made and confirmed, could not make that promise
void. It would still be binding, according to the original
intention; and the law ( the full Old Covenant - Keith Hunt) must
have been given for some purpose, entirely different from that of
the promise. No one can doubt the soundness of this argument. The
promise to Abraham was of the nature of a compact. But no law by
one of the parties to a treaty or compact can disannul it. Two
nations make a treaty of peace, involving solemn promises,
pledges, and obligations. No law made afterwards by one of the
nations can disannul or change that treaty. Two men make a
contract with solemn pledges and promises. No act of one of the
parties can change that, or alter the conditions. So it was with
the covenant between God and Abraham. God made to him solemn
promises, which could not be affected by a future giving of a law
(or large compact covenant - Keith Hunt) God would feel himself
to be under the most solemn obligation to fulfil ALL the promises
which he had made to him.....
CHAP.3:18 For if the inheritance be of the law......
'For if the inheritance.'
The inheritance promised to Abraham. The sum of the promise
was, that "he should be the heir of the world." See Rom.4:13, and
the Note on that verse. To that heirship or inheritance Paul
refers here, and says that it was an essential part of it that
it was to be in virtue of the promise to him, and not by
fulfilling the law.
'Be of the law.'
If it is by observing the law of Moses - or if it come in
any way by the fulfilling of law. This is plain. Yet the Jew
contended that the blessings of justification and salvation were
to be in virtue of the observance of the law of Moses. But if so,
says Paul, then it could not be by the promise made to Abraham,
since there could NOT be TWO ways of obtaining the blessing.
'But God gave it to Abraham by promise.'
That says Paul, is a settled point. It is perfectly clear;
and that is to be held as an indisputable fact, that the blessing
was given to Abraham by a promise. That promise was confirmed and
ratified hundreds of years before the law was given (the Old
Covenant - Keith Hunt) and the giving of the law could not affect
it. But that promise was, that he would be the ancestor of the
Messiah, and that in him all the nations of the earth should be
blessed. Of course if they were to be blessed in this way, then
it was not to by the observance of the law (Old Covenant - Keith
Hunt)and the law must have been given for a different purpose.
What that was, he states in the following verses.
CHAP.3:19 Wherefore then serveth the law, It was added because
of transgression, till the seed should come to whom the promise
'Wherefore then serveth the law?'
This is obviously an objection which be might be urged to
the reasoning which the apostle had pursued. It was very obvious
to ask, if the principles which he had laid down were correct, of
what use was the law? (Old Covenant - Keith Hunt). Why was it
given at all? Why were there so many wonderful exhibitions of the
Divine power at its promulgation? Why were there so many
commendations of it in the Scriptures? And why were there so
many injunctions to obey it? Are all these to bo regarded as no
thing, and is the law to be esteemed as worthless? To all this
the apostle replies that the law was not useless, but that it was
given by God for great and important purposes, and especially for
purposes closely connected with the fulfilment of the promise
made to Abraham and the work of the Mediator. It was added
(Barnes gives the Greek word here - Keith Hunt). It was appended
to all the previous institutions and promises. It was an
additional arrangement on the part of God, for great and im-
portant purposes. It was an arrangement subsequent to the giving
the promise, and was intended to secure important advantages
until the superior arrangement under the Messiah should be intro-
duced, and was with reference to that.
'Because of transgressions.'
On account of transgressions, or with reference to them. The
meaning is, that the law was given (the Old Covenant - Keith
Hunt) to show the true nature of transgressions, or to SHOW WHAT
WAS SIN. It was not to reveal a way of justification, but it was
to DISCLOSE THE NATURE OF SIN; to DETER men from committing it;
to declare its PENALTY; to CONVINCE men of it, and thus to be
"ancillary" to, and preparatory to, the work of redemption
THROUGH the Redeemer. This is the true account of the
law of God as given to apostate man, and this still exists.
This effect of the law is accomplished (1) by showing us
what God requires, and what is duty. It is the straight rule what
is right; and to depart from that is the measure of wrong.
(2) It shows us the nature and extent of transgression, by
showing us how far we have departed from it. (3) It shows what is
the just PENALTY of transgression, and is thus fitted to reveal
its true nature. (4) It is fitted to produce CONVICTION for sin,
and thus shows how EVIL and bitter a thing transgression is. See
Notes on Rom.4:15; 7:7-11. (5) It thus shows its own inability to
justify and save men, and is a preparatory arrangement to lead
men to the cross of the Redeemer.
.....At the same time,(6) the law was given with reference to
transgressions, in order to keep men from transgression. It was
designed to restrain and control them by its denunciations, and
by the fear of its threatened penalties. When Paul says that the
law was given on account of transgressions, we are not to suppose
that this was the sole use of the law; but that this was a main
or leading purpose. It may accomplish many other important
purposes, (Calvin,) but this is one leading design. And this
design it still accomplishes. It shows men their duty. It reminds
them of their guilt. It teaches them how far they have wandered
from God. It reveals to them the penalty of disobedience. It
shows them that justification by the law is impossible, and that
there must be some other way by which men must be saved. And
since these advantages are derived from it, it is of importance
that that law should be still proclaimed, and that its high
demands and its penalties should be held up to the view of men.
'Till the seed should come,' etc.
The Messiah, to whom the promise particularly applied. See
verse 16. It is not implied here that the law would be of no use
AFTER that, but that it would accomplish important purposes
BEFORE that. A large portion of the laws of Moses would then
indeed cease to be binding. They were given to accomplish
important purposes among the Jews until the Messiah should come,
and then they would give way to the more important institutions
of the gospel. But the moral law would continue to accomplish
valuable objects after his advent, in showing men the nature of
transgression, and leading them to the cross of Christ. The
essential idea of Paul here is, that the WHOLE arrangement of the
Mosaic economy (the Old Covenant - Keith Hunt) including all
his laws, was with reference to the Messiah.
It was not an INDEPENDENT thing. It did not stand by itself.
It was incomplete, and in many respects unintelligible, until he
came - as one part of a tally is unmeaning and useless until the
other is found. In itself it did not justify or save men, but it
served to introduce a system by which they could be saved. It
contained NO PROVISION for justifying men, but it was in the
design of God an essential part of a system by which they could
It was not a whole in itself, but it was part of a glorious
whole, and led to the completion and fulfilment of the entire
scheme by which the race could be justified....
(THE OLD COVENANT was enacted and brought into being only for a
certain length of time - until the Messiah should appear and a
NEW COVENANT take effect. (See Luke 16:16; Heb.8;9; 10:1-17; Mat.
5;6;7 - Keith Hunt)
CHAP.3:21 Is the law then against the promises of God....
'Is the law of then against the promise of God?
Is the law of Moses to be regarded as opposed to the
promises made to Abraham? Does this follow from any view which
can be taken of the subject? The object of the apostle in asking
this question is, evidently, to take an opportunity to deny, in
the most positive manner, that there can be any such clashing or
contradiction. He shows, therefore, what was the design of the
law, and declares that the object was to further the plan
contemplated in the promise made to Abraham. It was an auxiliary
to that. It was as good as a law could be; and it was designed to
prepare the way for the fulfilment of the promise made to
It cannot be. It is impossible. I do not hold such an
opinion. Such a sentiment by no mean follows from what has been
advanced. Comp. Note, Rom.3:4.
'For if there had been a law given which could have given life.'
The law of Moses is as good as a law can be. It is pure, and
holy, and good. It is not the design to insinuate anything
against the law in itself, or to say that as a law it is
defective. But law COULD NOT give life. It is not its nature; and
man cannot be justified by obedience to it. No man ever has
yielded perfect compliance with it, and no man, therefore, can be
justified by it. Comp. Notes on chap.2:16; 3:10.
'Verily righteousness should have been by the law.'
Or justification would have been secured by the law. The law
of Moses was as well adapted to this as a law could be. No better
law could have been originated for this purpose; and if men were
to ATTEMPT to justify themselves before God by their own works
the law of Moses would be as favorable for such an undertaking as
any law which could be revealed. It is as reasonable, and
equal, and pure. Its demands are as just, and its terms as
favourable, as could be any of the terms of mere law. And SUCH a
law has been given, in part, in order to show that justification
by the law is out of the question.
If men could not be justified by a law so pure, and equal,
an just, so reasonable in all its requirements, and so perfect,
how could they expect to be justified by conformity to any
INFERIOR or LESS perfect rule of life?
The fact, therefore, that no one can be justified by the
pure law revealed on Mount Sinai (even all of the whole Old
Covenant - Keith Hunt) for ever settles the question about the
possibility of being justified by law.
TO BE CONTINUED