What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
In verse 8, statutes means "mandates," "precepts," "rules," deriving from a root that means "engraved" or "permanent." Here, the word is used in a narrower sense than the two previous words, meaning "something appointed by authority." Rules or statutes are given to guide. It is interesting that the holy days are referred to as "statutes" in the Bible. Tithing is also a statute. They are things appointed by an authority and given to guide.
Tied to this is the word right, and interestingly, it means "equal," "just," "proper." The whole phrase teaches that the rules are not merely arbitrary appointments made by someone of authority but are equal and just in themselves. David is challenging us to think of any rules, statutes, or guidance commanded by any person or body that even comes close to matching what God gives as fair and proper. This is why they produce rejoicing as people experience obedience to them.
Think about this time, this age, in which we live. Federal laws already on the books (and more in the process of development in Congress) are gradually isolating the perceived enemies of the government. How many laws bring advantages to special interest groups and discomfort and hardship to all the rest? We will never know. That is the point that David is making. God's statutes are fair—always. There is not one iota of meanness in them. Love saturates every aspect of every one of them.
"Commandment" is another word that the Bible uses frequently as a name of the law of God. Like "statutes," it has a narrower application than the first two words: They are free from imperfection, stain, or any kind of corrupt tendency. That is why David writes, "The commandment of the LORD is pure."
If they are pure, if they are fair, if they cause rejoicing, and if they convert—why would God want to do away with a perfect guide for life? Is this not part of His Word? It is not "just extraneous material." How can people say they "no longer apply" to Christians? The thought boggles the mind!
The word "pure" gives the sense of brightness and cleanness, leading to the next benefit: "enlightening the eyes." The commandments give light so we know where to walk, how to walk without bumping into or falling over obstacles in the path of our life, going off the path all together, or never even finding it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Fourteen)
The speaker, Stephen, is most specifically alluding to Exodus 19:3, where
Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel."
See also Psalm 147:19, where the psalmist avers that God "declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel."
The living oracles in Acts refers specifically to the Ten Commandments, more broadly to the Torah, which were to be given "to us," to the church of God. God's Old Testament utterances are for us today.
The Oracles of God
At this point in his epistle, it occurs to Paul that it would only be normal for someone to ask the question, "What, then, was the purpose of the Old Covenant?" Thus, verse 19 begins with, "What purpose then does the law serve?" This broad question covers many more specific ones: Why was it needed? Why did God call Israel out of Egypt? Why did God write His Ten Commandments on tables of stone with His own finger? Why did God have Moses write the statutes and judgments in a book? Why did God establish the Levitical priesthood, the Tabernacle/Temple worship, the washings, oblations, and the sacrifices? What was the purpose of all the rules and regulations of the Old Covenant? Such questions would naturally come to the mind of anyone reading Paul's letter since he emphasizes that our salvation through Christ fulfills the promise made to Abraham. What need is there for another covenant?
The answer he gives is a key to understanding much of everything else he says in Galatians: "It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made." "It was added" means that the Mosaic covenant was in addition to the one God had made with Abraham. But what "transgressions"? Abraham obeyed all of God's laws, commandments, statutes, and ordinances (Genesis 26:5). He taught God's laws to Isaac, who taught them to Jacob. However, after Israel was in Egypt for many years, they forgot them and lived in ignorant transgression of them. Having absorbed so much Egyptian culture in their sojourn, they were even ignorant of the Sabbath day. Paul explains that God "added" the Old Covenant because Israel had gone so far into sin when they lived in Egypt.
Therefore, God had to call Israel out of Egypt and teach them His laws all over again to prepare them for the coming of Christ. He wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone, and Moses wrote the statutes and judgments in a book so that Israel would have a permanent record of His laws and statutes throughout the centuries. God gave them rituals of worship that made them different from other nations, and He forbade them to have anything to do with foreign, pagan customs. Circumcision identified them as a separate and distinct people. These rules and regulations put a hedge around Israel (Isaiah 5:5; Matthew 21:33) to preserve them pure for the coming of Christ.
Just prior to the scripture Paul quotes in Galatians 3:12, God says in Leviticus 18:3,
According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances.
For years, people have wondered how anyone could have transgressed the laws before they were given. Simply put, Paul is talking about the laws of God which have been in full force since creation! When he writes that the Old Covenant was added "till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made," he means that the Old Covenant was temporary; Christ would replace it with the New Covenant. Rather than saying that any of God's laws had become obsolete, he is explaining how important it was to preserve the knowledge of God's laws in Israel to prepare them for the coming of Christ!
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
What Was the Law 'Added Because of Transgressions'?
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