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Archive for September 9th, 2011

Sunday, Sept. 11: Father Callan’s Commentary on Galatians 3:16-22 for Sunday Mass (Extraordinary Form)

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 9, 2011


To see more commentary and resources for both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite go here.

This post contains Father Callans summary of Galatians 3:1-5:12 and is followed by his commentary on the reading for the day (I’ve included his notes on verses 15, 23, 24) Text in red, if any, are my additions.


A Summary of Galatians 3:1-5:12~Since Christ was the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, and since the entire revelation of the Old Testament was a preparation for, and a leading up to Christ, it could most reasonably occur to the Galatians that the ancient Scriptures, including the Law of Moses, were sacred, and that the Gospel, with its perfect revelation, had grown out of them, like the fruit out of the vine. Would it not follow, then, that the observance of the Law was necessary to salvation also for Christians, and that thus only is justification to be obtained?

It is beyond doubt that the Gentiles were partakers of the salvation foreshadowed in the Old Testament, but as heirs of the promise and blessing made to Abraham long centuries before the Law was given. The Law was only an intermediate measure for the Jewish people, a special help to lead them to Christ and to the fruition of those blessings which were promised to the father of their race. To return to the Law after having found Christ would be to go backwards; it would be to give up the end and return to a particular means which were intended for a particular people.

St. Paul, therefore, after having reviewed the history of his divine call and mission, and having shown the conformity of his Gospel with that of the other Apostles, passes on now, in the second part of his letter, to prove that the doctrine and fact of justification are not dependent on the works of the Law, but only on faith in Jesus Christ (3:1-5:12). See Introduction, VIII.


In verses 15-18 St. Paul illustrates the inviolability of the promise made to Abraham by an allusion to a human custom. No one adds to or takes from a man’s will when once it is ratified. Likewise, the covenant made by God with Abraham cannot be annulled by the Law which was given four hundred and thirty years later.

15. Brethren (I speak after the manner of man), yet a man’s testament, if it be confirmed, no man despiseth, nor addeth to it.

Brethren. St. Paul speaks now with the affection of a master for his disciples, and not as in verse 1.

After the manner of man, i.e., according to human custom and practice; or, according to the relation of man to man. The Apostle uses human terms and methods to illustrate and explain the ways of God.

Testament, i.e., a will, or solemn disposition. This is the sense of διαθηκην in classic Greek, in inscriptions and papyri (Cornely, Lagrange). Some object to the word will as connoting death, which διαθηκην does not necessarily include; hence these scholars translate, “deed of gift” (Williams). Others prefer to give the term the meaning of covenant or contract, in which sense it is used in the LXX to signify the alliance between God and Israel. Doubtless disposition comes nearest the Apostle’s meaning, since he is speaking of the great disposition made by God which regulates all His dealings with Abraham and his descendants.

If it be confirmed, etc. Better, “When it hath been ratified,” i.e., officially recognized by proper public authority. The disposition of property by a testator was regarded by the Romans as radically emanating from the power of the State, and consequently as inviolable when enacted according to required legal form; no one could add to or subtract from it in any way.

16. To Abraham were the promises made and to his seed. He saith not, And to his seeds, as of many: but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.

This verse is really the minor premise of a syllogism, of which the major is in the preceding verse, and the conclusion in the verse that follows. A testator’s disposition of his property is sacred and inviolable; but to Abraham and his issue God made the promises, after the manner of a last will or testament; therefore nothing can interfere with those promises.

The promises. The plural is used because the promise, which had the character of a last will or testament, was not only renewed to Isaac and Jacob, but was several times addressed to Abraham himself (Gen 12:7; Gen 13:15; Gen 15:18; Gen 17:7-10; Gen 22:16 ff.; Gen 24:7). The Apostle is directly alluding to the promise found in Gen 13:15; Gen 17:8: “All the land that thou beholdest, I will give to thee and to thy seed,” etc. These words, in their proper sense, refer to the land of Canaan, the country of Palestine, which God promised as an eternal inheritance to Abraham and his descendants, and which St. Paul is here taking in a spiritual sense, as signifying the Messianic Kingdom, the Church of Christ here below and the Kingdom of Heaven hereafter. Hence the Apostle is here speaking of a spiritual inheritance to which the spiritual descendants of Abraham are heirs. But all of Abraham’s spiritual descendants are summed up in one person who was Christ, to whom, as to their head, all Christians are united through faith and charity, forming one mystical body (Gal 3:28; 1 Cor 12:12).

His seed, i.e., his issue.

He saith not, i.e., God, who spoke to Abraham, saith not.

To his seeds, etc. In order to show the unity between Christ and the faithful, God, when making the promise, made use of a collective word in the singular, indicating unity rather than plurality. The promise was given to Abraham and his issue, i.e., Christ; and hence none can have part in this inheritance except in Christ, i.e., as united to Christ by faith and love.

The Vulgate should have autem (i.e., but, on the other hand, moreover, however, also) after Abraham at the beginning of the verse to represent the δε of the best Greek MSS., and thus connect this verse with the preceding.

17. Now this I say, that the testament which was confirmed by God, the law which was made after four hundred and thirty years, doth not disannul, to make the promise of no effect.

The argument of the two preceding verses is concluded.

The testament or disposition made by God to Abraham, and ratified by God with an oath (Gen 22:16; Heb 6:17-18) long centuries before the Law was given, and independently of it, is not rendered void by the promulgation of the latter.

The addition of “in Christ” after “God,” which is found in some MSS., is a gloss.

Four hundred and thirty years. This is the period of time allowed by Paul between the making of the promise and the giving of the Law. The statement, while causing a difficulty, does not interfere with the Apostle’s argument given above. It is generally supposed that about 200 years elapsed between the promise made to Abraham and the entrance of the Israelites into Egypt; and on this supposition St. Paul should have said 630 years. Different explanations are given of the difficulty.

(a) The chronology of this verse is practically that of the Septuagint of Exodus 12:40, of the Samaritan Pentateuch, and of Josephus (Antiq. ii. 15, 2), which authorities allow 430 years between the entrance of Abraham into Canaan and the departure of the Jews from Egypt, (b) St. Paul is counting from the last renewal of the promise, which was made to Jacob (Gen 46:3-4), and the giving of the Law, i.e., he is speaking of the period during which the Jews were in Egypt, which, according to the Hebrew of Exodus 12:40, was 430 years.

18. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise. But
God gave it to Abraham by promise.

See on Rom 4:13-16. So radically different are the Law and the promise that it is impossible for the inheritance pledged in the “testament” to come from the former without ceasing altogether to be from the latter. But the inheritance is of promise, and therefore not of the Law.

The inheritance originally and directly meant the land of Canaan, but is here used in a purely spiritual sense, as embracing all the blessings of which Christ is the source; of these spiritual gifts the land of Canaan was a figure and a type.

Be of the law, i.e., if the inheritance be the reward of observing the Law, it is no more of promise, i.e., it is no longer a gratuitous gift of God. Since, therefore, the blessings and gifts of which Christ is the source are entirely gratuitous, depending on no condition, it is clear that they are not the result of observing the Law.


In verses 19-24 St Paul argues that although the Law was powerless to alter the promise in any way, yet it was a divine institution and in nowise opposed to the promise. It was given as a protection to the Jews, and as a moral guide to lead them to Christ.

19. Why then was the law? It was set because of transgressions, until the seed should come, to whom he made the promise, being ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.

Why then, etc., i.e., what was the purpose of the Law? what end had God in view when He gave it?

It was set because, etc., i.e., the Law was added to (προσετεθη) the promise, not as a codicil to modify a testament, but as a temporary disposition to repress and restrain sins, and, by the revelations it made to the Jews of their weakness and sinfulness, to make them long for the grace and help of the Redeemer (St. Chrys., St. Jerome, etc.). The Law was good in itself, but it revealed to man his many sins and infirmities without giving him the grace and help he needed to overcome his evil nature and perform his duties (Rom 7:7). Thus indirectly the Law multiplied transgressions and increased man’s sins (Rom 4:13-15; Rom 7:7-13; 1 Cor 15:56, etc.).

Until the seed, etc., i.e., the Law was only transitory, serving as a teacher and guide until the coming of Christ and the establishment of His Kingdom, the Church (verse 16).

To whom he made the promise. Better, “To whom the promise was made.”

Being ordained, etc., i.e., the Law was not, like the promise, given directly by God, but indirectly, through angels first (Acts 7:53; Heb 2:2), and then through Moses, who was the mediator between God and the Jewish people (1 Tim 2:5; Heb 8:6; Heb 9:15; Heb 12:24). There was a Jewish tradition, based on Deut 33:2 (cf. Acts 7:53; Heb 2:2, where this tradition is presupposed), that angels had a part in making the Law of Moses.

In the hand refers to the reception of the tables of the Law into the hands of Moses (Exodus 31:15).

In showing the transitoriness of the Law and the indirectness with which it was given St. Paul is calling attention to its inferiority as compared with the promise. The promise was given directly by God to Abraham. The giving of the Law, on the contrary, was performed by angels on behalf of God, and by Moses on behalf of the people.

20. Now a mediator is not of one: but God is one.

A mediator is not of one, i.e., where there is a mediator there are at least two parties who are brought together by the mediator. This was the case in the giving of the Mosaic Law, which was a bilateral contract between God and the Jewish people. In virtue of this contract God promised to give blessings to the people; and they, in turn, pledged themselves to the observance of the precepts of the Law (Deut 5:25). The blessings of the Law were therefore dependent upon the observance of the Law (verse 12).

But God is one. In the promise, on the contrary, God acted alone, and in accordance with the unity of His nature, without the assistance of a mediator. Accordingly He obligated Himself, independently of any condition, to confer the blessings of the promise. Hence the Law is able neither to nullify the promise, nor to act as a substitute for it. Such seems to be the most probable explanation of this difficult verse, of which, it is said, some 430 interpretations have been given. Cf. Cornely, Lagrange, h. l.

If it be objected that even in the promise there is a mediator, namely, Christ, we reply that St. Paul is here regarding Christ as God, as a Divine Person who is God. It is true that in 1 Tim 2:5, the Apostle speaks of Christ as the “mediator” between God and man, but there, as his words indicate, he is considering our Lord’s humanity.

21. Was the law then against the promises of God? God forbid. For if there had been a law given which could give life, verily justice should have been by the law.

A difficulty arises. What is to be concluded from the two preceding verses? If the giving of the Law has increased and multiplied transgressions (verse 19), and if for salvation it has imposed an onerous condition (the obligation of observing its precepts), which was not required in the promise (verse 20), does it not follow that the Law is opposed to the promise of God which contained a blessing to be given gratuitously and absolutely?

God forbid. The inference is manifestly false.

For if, etc., i.e., “if a law had ever been given” (ει γαρ εδοθη νομος) which of itself could give the life of grace and glory, then in reality (“verily”,οντως) such a law would have been the principle of a justice which St. Paul considers the starting-point of a life of grace and glory (Rom 5:10). In such a case faith would have been useless, because salvation would not be a gratuitous gift, but a reward deserved. But it was not so, as appears from the following verse.

22. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise, by the faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to them that believe.

But the scripture. Contrary to the supposition of the preceding verse the entire Old Testament, including the Law, i.e., various texts and passages throughout the Old Testament, show that all men, Jews as well as Gentiles, were held as enslaved by the tyranny of sin. See on Rom 3:10-20. This proves how powerless the Law was of itself to give spiritual life to its subjects; it only enslaved and emprisoned them.

That the promise, etc. The Law, and the Scripture in general, prove that all mankind were under sin, in order that the inheritance promised to Abraham might be given to all who believe, i.e., to all who seek salvation, not through the works of the Law, but in union with Christ, through faith and love.

St. Paul is not saying that none of those who had the Law attained salvation, but only that the external Law did not secure to the individual internal morality and justice (Loisy). Those of the Old Dispensation who were justified obtained their justification by imitating the faith of their forefather Abraham.

23. But before the faith came, we were kept under the law shut up, unto that faith which was to be revealed.

Before the faith came, i.e., before the advent of Christ, the author and object of our faith, we, i.e., the Jewish Christians, were by means of the precepts, threats and promises of the Law kept . . . shut up, as prisoners and captives, against the danger of idolatry and the other pagan vices that surrounded us. The various precepts and restrictions of the Law acted as a wall to the Israelites, as a hedge, to protect them from the sins of the heathen (St. Chrysostom, Theodoret).

Unto that faith, etc. The tyranny and severity of the Law was for the good of the Jews. Its purpose was, by preserving the revelation given, by keeping alive the Messianic hope, and by making manifest the impotency of unassisted nature to attain to the perfection it required, to prepare its subjects for that fulness of faith which was to be revealed in Christ, and which in the souls of the faithful would be a new regime, opposed to the Law (Lagrange).

24. Wherefore the law was our pedagogue in Christ, that we might be
justified by faith.

The conclusion now follows clearly and naturally. To change the metaphor from the idea of a jailer to that of an instructor and tutor St. Paul now says, the law was our pedagogue, literally, “child-leader” (παιδαγωγος). In Greek and Roman households the pedagogue was a faithful slave charged chiefly with the moral and disciplinary protection of the young children; and in this sense the term is here applied to the Law. The Law instructed and disciplined the Jews, showing them by its restraints and prohibitions what sin really was, but affording them no help to avoid or escape from it. This desperate situation of slavery produced by the Law, together with the impotency of reason to liberate from sin, forced mankind, as it were, to have recourse to faith in Christ that they might be justified.

In Christ (εις χριστον) marks the term or end which God the Father had in view as the Messiah and Redeemer of His people enslaved by the Law. Therefore the Law led to Christ, the Redeemer, rather than to Christ the Teacher and Doctor (Lagrange).


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