Imprisoned in Galatians

The Letter to the Galatians has a long discussion about the role of the law. This was necessary, because the Christians in Galatia were falling back into legalism. Paul explains why the law was needed in the period between the Exodus and Jesus ministry (Gal 3:19).

The law was put into effect by angels.

The law was given through angels (Gal 3:20).

This means that those who knock the law are putting down the work of angels.

Paul explains that the law is not opposed to the promise of salvation through Jesus, because it was not capable of imparting life.

Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law (Gal 3:21).

The law could not provide full salvation, because no law can do that. Full salvation could only come with Jesus.

In most English translations the last part of Galatians 3 sounds like the people were prisoners of the law. This is a bad translation by people who do not understand the purpose of the law. Paul is actually explaining to the Galatians that the law provided spiritual protection for the children of Israel. The Greek word "phroureo" in verse 23 is usually translated as "imprisoned". This is misleading. The core meaning of the word refers to a garrison. It also refers to a sentinel looking for trouble in the distance. In Phil 4:7 and 1 Peter 4:7, it is translated to mean "kept safe". This is Paul's meaning in Galatians. The law was not a prison in which the people were locked up. It is a garrison, which keeps the people free from spiritual attack.

As described above, the law provided the people with Israel with spiritual protection from the spiritual powers that dominated the surrounding nations.

Now before faith came, we were guarded/kept safe together under the law until the coming faith would be revealed (Gal 3:23).

The law offered protection for the people of Israel until Jesus came. It did not lock people up. It actually guarded them, so they could live in relative freedom until the coming of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit would provide full protection and freedom.

This spiritual protection was not limited to the Jews.

The Torah embraced (encloses) everyone under sin, until the announcement of faith through Jesus could be given to those who believe (Gal 3:22).

Anyone who chose to serve God and reject evil could have the same protection.


The last two verses of Gal 2 is often translated as if the law was a schoolmaster to lead people to Jesus. This is misleading as it focuses on the conviction role of the law, when Paul is more concerned about the protection role.

So the Law has become our supervising servant to lead us to Christ that we may be justified by faith (Gal 3:24)

A "paidagoges" was not a tutor. The word refers to a servant who accompanies the son of his master on his amusements and studies to keep him safe from moral and physical evil and to ensure he does not wander into trouble. This is the perfect description of the role of the law. It could not make the people of Israel good. But it could go with them to keep them on the right track and free from evil.

After the coming of the gospel, they no longer needed spiritual protection from the law, because Jesus provides better spiritual protection and the Holy Spirit provides better guidance.

Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian (Gal 3:25).

A fuller statement of the principle is in Lev 20:22.

Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out.

This is protection. If they disobey the laws, Satan will get in their midst, and life will fall apart. They might eventually be exiled from the land.


Although the children of Israel could have been free if they had stuck with God's covenant, they rejected him, so they became slaves of the nations, first the Babylonians and then the Romans. This explains the meaning of the parable of Hagar and Sarah. The child of Hagar is a slave, and the child of the other is the heir of promises (Gal 4:21-23).

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother (Gal 4:24-26).

Most commentators assume that Hagar is the old covenant and Sarah represents the new, but that is not what Paul is saying. Hagar represents the current situation of Israel. They have chosen to be live under the Mosaic Covenant, but have refused to follow God, so they were enslaved by the Romans. Their situation would be made worse when the Romans destroyed the temple, because that put in an end to the temple sacrifices.

As the chosen people, they should have been first to receive the promise, but they chose to reject Jesus, although he had fulfilled the covenant on their behalf.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us... so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit (Gal 3:13-14).

Jesus had taken the curse on behalf of the people of the covenant, but they refused to accept it, so they remained stuck under its curse of the law. If they had accepted him, they could have received the full blessing promised through Moses, plus the additional blessing of the gift of the Spirit. By rejecting what God was doing though, they had put themselves under the curse of the law. The consequence was slavery under the Romans.

Paul reminded the Christians in Galatia that they were children of promise.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman (Gal 4:31).

As children of promise, who have been set free from the power of sin, they should avoid placing themselves under the authority of those who are not free. Jesus has set them free from the powers of evil, so they should have nothing to do with people who would put them back into slavery. This is not just a matter of foolish rules. By submitting to the requirements of the Jews, they would be putting themselves back under the authority of the powers of evil.

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