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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE GALATIANS - Chapter 3 - Verse 20

Verse 20. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, etc. This verse has given great perplexity to commentators. "There is, unquestionably," says Bloomfield, "no passage in the New Testament that has so much, and to so little purpose, exercised the learning and ingenuity of commentators as the present, which seems to defy all attempts to elicit any satisfactory sense, except by methods so violent as to be almost the same thing as writing the passage afresh." In regard, however, to the truth of the declarations here—that "a mediator is not a mediator of one," and that "God is one"—there cad be no doubt, and no difficulty. The very idea of a mediator supposes that there are two parties or persons between whom the mediator comes, either to reconcile them or to bear some message from the one to the other; and it is abundantly affirmed also, in the Old Testament, that there is but one God. See De 6:4. But the difficulty is, to see the pertinency or the bearing of the remark on the argument of the apostle. What does he intend to illustrate by the declaration? and how do the truths which he states illustrate the point before him? It is not consistent with the design of these Notes to detail the numerous opinions which have been entertained of the passage. They may be found in the larger commentaries, and particularly may be seen in Koppe, Excursus vii., on the Galatians. After referring to a number of works on the passage, Rosenmuller adopts the following interpretation, proposed by Noesselt, as expressing the true sense: But he (i.e., Moses) is not a mediator of one race, (to wit, the Abrahamic,) but God is the same God of them and of the Gentiles. The sense according to this is, that Moses had not reference in his office as mediator or as internuncius to the descendants of Abraham, or to that one seed or race, referred to in the promise. He added the hard conditions of the law; required its stem and severe observances; his institutions pertained to the Jews mainly. They indeed might obtain the favour of God, but by compliance with the severe laws which he had ordained. But to the one seed, the whole posterity of Abraham, they concerning whom the promise was made, the Gentiles as well as the Jews, he had no reference in his institutions: all their favours, therefore, must depend on the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham. But God is one and the same in reference to all. His promise pertains to all. He is the common God to the Jews and the Gentiles. There is great difficulty in embracing this view of the passage, but it is not necessary for me to state the difficulty, or to attempt to show that the view here proposed cannot be defended. Whitby has expressed substantially the same interpretation of this passage: "But this mediator (namely, Moses) was only the mediator of the Jews, and so was only the mediator of one party, to whom belonged the blessing of Abraham, Ga 3:8,14. But God, who made the promise, `That in one should all the families of the earth be blessed,' is one; the God of the other party, the Gentiles as well as the Jews, and so as ready to justify the one as the other." According to this interpretation, the sense is, that Moses was mediator of one part of Abraham's seed, the Israelites; but was not the mediator of the other part of that seed, the Gentiles; yet there was the same God to both parties, who was equally ready to justify both. Locke has expressed a view of the passage which differs somewhat from this, but which has quite as much plausibility. According to his exposition it means, that God was but one of the parties to the promise. The Jews and the Gentiles made up the other. But at the giving of the law, Moses was a mediator only between God and the Israelites, and, therefore, could not transact anything which would tend to the disannulling of the promise which was between God and the Jews and Gentiles together, the other party to the promise. Or in other words, at the covenant made on Mount Sinai, there was really present but one of the parties, and consequently nothing could be done that would affect the other. Moses did not appear in behalf of the Gentiles. They had no representative there. He was engaged only for the Jews, for a part only of the one party, and that part could not transact anything for the whole. The giving of the law, therefore, could not affect the promise which was made to Abraham, and which related to the Jews and the Gentiles as together constituting one party. This view is plausible. It has been adopted by Doddridge, and perhaps may be the true interpretation. No one can deny, however, that it is forced, and that it is far from being obvious. It seems to be making a meaning for the apostle, or furnishing him with an argument, rather than explaining the one which he has chosen to use; and it may be doubted whether Paul would have used an argument that required so much explanation as this before it could be understood. All these expositions proceed on the supposition that the word "mediator" here refers to Moses, and that the transaction here referred to was that on Mount Sinai. I would suggest a sense of the passage which I have found in none of the commentaries which I have consulted, and which I would, therefore, propose with diffidence. All that I can claim for it is, that it may possibly be the meaning. According to the view which I shall submit, the words here are to be regarded as used in their usual signification; and the simplest interpretation possible is to be given to the propositions in the verse. One proposition is, that a mediator is not appointed with reference to one party, but to two. This proposition is universal. Wherever there is a mediator, there are always two parties. The other proposition is, that God is one; that is, that he is the same one God, in whatever form his will may be made known to men—whether by a promise as to Abraham, or by the law as to Moses. The interpretation which I would propose embraces the following particulars:

(1.) The design of the apostle is, to show that the giving of the law could not abrogate or affect the promise made to Abraham; and to show at the same time what is its true object. It could not annul the promises, says Paul. It was given long after, and could not affect them Ga 3:17. It was an addition, an appendage, a subsequent enactment for a specific purpose, yet a part of the same general plan, and subordinate to the Mediator, Ga 3:19. It was to be shown also that the law was not against the promises of God. It was a good law, Ga 3:21; and was not designed to be an opposing system, or intended to counteract the promise, or the scheme of salvation by promise, but was a part of the same great plan.

(2.) A mediator always supposes two parties. In all the transactions, therefore, where a mediator is employed, there is supposed to be two parties. When, therefore, the promise was made to Abraham with reference to the Messiah, the great Mediator, and when the law was given in the hand of the Mediator, and under his control, there is always supposed to be two parties.

(3.) The whole arrangement here referred to is under the Mediator, and with reference to him. The promise made to Abraham had reference to him, and to those who should believe on him; and the law given by Moses was also under him, and with reference to him. He was the grand object and agent of all. He was the Mediator with reference to both. Each transaction had reference to him, though in different ways; the transaction with Abraham relating to him in connexion with a promise; the transaction at the giving of the law being under his control as Mediator, and being a part of the one great plan. There was an identity of plan; and the plan had reference to the Messiah, the great Mediator.

(4.) God is one and the same. He is throughout one of the parties; and he does not change. However the arrangements may vary, whether in giving the law or imparting a promise, he is the same. There is but one God in all the transaction; and he, throughout, constitutes one of the parties. The other party is man, at first receiving the promise from this one God with reference to the Mediator through Abraham, and then receiving the law through the same Mediator on Mount Sinai. He is still the one party unchanged; and there is the same Mediator, implying all along that there are two parties.

(5.) It follows, therefore, agreeably to the argument of the apostle, that the law given so long after the promise could not abrogate it, because they pertained to the same plan, were under the same one God, who was one unchanging party in all this transaction, and had reference to the same Mediator, and were alike under his control. It followed, also, that the law was temporary, Ga 3:19 interposed for important purposes until the "seed should come," because it was a part of the same general arrangement, and was under the control of the same Mediator, and directed by the same one God, the unchanging one party in all these transactions. It followed, further, that the one could not be against the other, Ga 3:21, because they were a part of the same plan, under the control of the same Mediator, and where the same God remained unchanged as the one party. All that is assumed in this interpretation is,

(a.) that there was but one plan or arrangement, or that the transaction with Abraham and with Moses were parts of one great scheme; and,

(b.) that the Mediator here referred to was not Moses, but the Messiah, the Son of God. The following paraphrase will express the sense which I have endeavoured to convey:

"The giving of the law could not annul or abrogate the promise

made to Abraham. It was long after that, and it was itself

subservient to that. It was given by the instrumentality of

angels, and it was entirely under the control of the

Mediator, the Messiah. The plan was one; and all the parts

of it, in the promise made to Abraham, and in the giving of

the law, were subordinate to him. A mediator always supposes

two parties; and the reference to the mediator, alike in the

promise to Abraham and in the giving of the law, supposes

that there were two parties. God is one party—the same

unchanging God in all the forms of the promise and of the

law. In this state of things, it is impossible that the law

should clash with the promise, or that it should supersede

or modify it. It was a part of the one great plan;

appointed with reference to the work which the Mediator

came to do, and in accordance with the promise made to

Abraham; and therefore they could not be contradictory

and inconsistent."

It is assumed in all this that the Messiah was contemplated in the whole arrangement, and that it was entered into with reference to him. That this may be assumed no one can deny who believes the Scriptures. The whole arrangement in the Old Testament, it is supposed, was designed to be ancillary to redemption; and the interpretation which has been submitted above is based on that supposition.

{c} "God is one" De 6:4

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