But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Galatians 3:22 (NIV).
If you’ve never read the Bible before and this was the only verse you ever read, you’d probably walk away scratching your head. On its own, verse 22 is nonsense. Jesus enables sin in us through Scripture? Sin leads to a promise, through faith in Jesus, for believers; sin causes belief? Is that what this says? Of course not. Context is needed, both the context of what was said earlier in this chapter, as well as things Paul said elsewhere.
I’ve long thought that studying Scripture – truly studying it for God’s intent and meaning – is the most intellectually demanding exercise possible. The Apostle Paul was an intellectual, someone gifted in the talent of using reason, fact, and logic. He was an intellectual in a time when the big brains of Greece still held great sway over much of the western world. As a Pharisee, Paul was intensely trained in the intricacies of Jewish law, of God’s commands. As a Roman citizen, he had been exposed to the highest culture on the planet. As an intellectual living in a Hellenized Mediterranean, Paul understood reason, the lure of knowledge, and the thirst to always know and explain more.
Here in Galatians, Paul has spent all of Chapter 3 talking about how God promised Abraham to deliver all people through him, and how the law, given to Abraham’s descendants, was given to us for our good so that we would know what sin is (and beware it). Here in this verse, Paul says that “scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin.” Another NIV variation of that says, “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.” I don’t know what the original Greek version says, but that second vignette makes more sense to me (and fits in better with the bigger lesson from the chapter). This point is hammered home even more in Romans 3. There we are reminded that all humanity is thick and guilty with sin.
Knowing that, it makes sense that Paul would immediately proclaim that faith in Christ remedies our punishment for sin. The law mandates consequences, and God’s holiness requires atonement. Christ’s sacrificial death was this, then His resurrection put the law back under the control of God’s grace. In reality, the law has always been under God’s graceful control. He has always provided a faith-exit from our sins. Yet only through Jesus, and the Spirit He sends to us, can we be plainly aware of how His salvation specifically applies to us.
For further reading: Romans 3:9-19, Romans 11:32, Galatians 3:23
Father, You provided Your Son as the only holy sacrifice for my sins. Forgive me. Thank You for all this.
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