The Old Testament has "included" or "enclosed" or "shut up" all of humanity under the umbrella of sin. Not a single person can appear before God on the basis of his own merit or righteousness. The totality of mankind is enslaved by sin and does not have the means to break free from its grasp. By "concluding" that everyone is under the bondage of sin, or under the curse of sin, Scripture shows that something external to mankind has to act to provide a solution that can save man from himself and his sinful nature. This "conclusion" also demonstrates that none of the paths that man has embarked on—primarily justification on the basis of one's own works—are of any lasting worth.
Because all other paths are shown to be futile, the only option for salvation and glorification is the way that Jesus Christ has set forth. There are no other alternatives. Faith in what Christ has done, is doing, and will do is mankind's only hope.
The story of the Israelites is a record of a people whom God chose, set apart, and blessed with incredible blessings and opportunities. But it is also a record of mankind's sinful nature and how illogical it is that a man could stand before God on account of his own innate righteousness. God revealed just a portion of His will and character—the letter of the law—to Israel, and its history powerfully demonstrates that, by himself, man is unable to live up to God's standards.
This should be glaring testimony that some other means is required for man to have a relationship with his Creator. The solution is justification—being brought into alignment with God and His law—on the basis of belief in the Savior and His perfect sacrifice. This marks the beginning of the relationship.
But because faith without works is dead, the way a man lives his life demonstrates who and what he believes in. If he has been justified before God and is being saved, his life will reflect God's mercy, providence, and sovereignty. We are not justified or saved by our works, but if we are justified our works will demonstrate that we are being saved. "Belief" in Christ will be an everyday, continual reality, and true belief will shape every thought, word, and deed.
David C. Grabbe
In Galatians 3:22, Paul adds to the Bible's teaching of the universality of sin. "The Scripture" is the Old Testament; it is man's jailer, condemning and confining him because he has sinned. This shows the uselessness of trying to be justified by lawkeeping. How can one expect the very thing that declares him to be guilty and condemns him to death also to pronounce him innocent? We would no more expect the law of our land to declare a murderer guilty and at the same time acquit him!
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Sin Is & What Sin Does
Galatians 3:17 confirms that, when Paul was talking about the law, he was also talking about the entire Old Covenant. He uses "law" synonymously with "covenant."
The translators have difficulty deciding whether the "covenant" refers to the Mosaic covenant or the one made with Abraham. Most modern translations connect "covenant" to the one God made with Abraham. However, the more literal translations such as the King James version and Young's Literal Translation put the word "covenant" in the sentence so it refers to the Mosaic covenant. The Emphatic Diaglott translates it as, "Now this I affirm, that a covenant-engagement previously ratified by God, the Law, issued four hundred thirty years afterwards does not annul, so as to invalidate the promise." Thus, Paul viewed the law as the symbol and embodiment of the Old Covenant and used the terms "law" and covenant" synonymously.
This agrees with the way the covenant was sometimes referred to in the Old Testament. In II Chronicles 6:11, Solomon says, "And there I have put the ark, in which is the covenant of the LORD which He made with the children of Israel." Only the two tables of stone upon which were written the Ten Commandments were in the ark (II Chronicles 5:10).
Moses writes, "So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone" (Deuteronomy 4:13; see Exodus 34:28). Even without this evidence, it is very clear that Paul refers to the two covenants, not just to what we would consider the law itself.
Further, notice how Paul uses the term "law" in Galatians 4:21-23. The births of Ishmael and Isaac are recorded in Genesis 16 and 21. Though this happened long before the Ten Commandments and the other laws were given through Moses, Paul refers to this portion of Scripture as the law! Obviously, Paul uses "law" to mean the entire Pentateuch or Torah (the first five books of the Bible), not just the Commandments. In Galatians 4:24, he specifically mentions the Old and New Covenants.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
What Was the Law 'Added Because of Transgressions'?