“Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed. The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:23-24 HCSB).
The first five books of the Bible are known as the Pentateuch, the Law, or the Torah. The word Pentateuch means “five volumes” and it comprises the Biblical books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers. For the purpose of our discussion here in Galatians chapter three, we should recognize that there are three aspects to the Old Testament Law. Those aspects are represented by the civil, ceremonial, and moral components of the Mosaic Law.
The civil law defined lawful and unlawful activities and various types of contractual arrangements for the people of Old Testament Israel. The ceremonial law prescribed the manner in which an individual could approach God under the Old Covenant sacrificial system. The moral law explained the difference between right and wrong.
Unlike the false teachers who had entered the Galatian churches, the New Testament books of Romans and Colossians tell us that the ceremonial aspects of the Old Testament law were fulfilled in Christ….
“For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God” (Romans 10:4 NLT).
“So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality” (Colossians 2:16-17 NLV).
While these New Testament Scriptures tell us that we are no longer under the ceremonial requirements of the Old Testament Law, we still maintain a moral obligation to honor God in our personal behavior. Since the Law provides us with the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20), the moral principles found there are just as valid today as they were when they were originally written.
One Biblical scholar explains how these realities should inform our thinking in regard to these aspects of the Old Testament Law…
“A ‘guardian’ was a slave responsible for a child’s training, especially for pointing out and punishing misbehavior (see 4:1, 2). Like a guardian, the law pointed out sin and punished it. Another important function of guardians was to separate and protect the child from the influence of outsiders. The law functioned in a similar way to separate Israel from the Gentiles. That function of the ceremonial law has also ended.” (1)
Portions of this study originally appeared here
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (pp. 2079–2080). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.