19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,
Galatians 3:19-25 is a discussion of why God gave the Law. I disagree with commentators that reduce it merely to being the end of the Law in every usage and with others that try to reduce it merely to the ceremonial stipulations. Both interpretations focus on elements that are both in the passage but ignores the other. So, I believe the correct interpretation will both encapsulate the elements that each position gets correct.
The reasons I think it extends past the ceremonial aspects of the law are several reasons:
The language of being “under the law” and “under the Pedagogue” are synonymous in this chapter and should carry roughly the same meaning. The Judaizers demanded both ceremonial and moral aspects of the Law. The problem with the Judaizers was that they required anything more than faith for those to be saved.
This is a discussion of the purpose of the entire Law and not merely the ceremonial Laws. The Law can’t and was never meant to give life, both moral and ceremonial. As it states that the Law has “imprisoned everything under sin”. Paul makes similar statements through his work (Rom. 11:32).
There are also other reasons to think the Law has these Jewish boundary markers (or ceremonial law) in mind as well. One of the purposes of the Law was to keep Israel distinct from its Gentile counterparts.
The book is directed towards those that wish to make gentiles take on Jewish identity in order to be saved. Paul begins this chapter by arguing that Abraham was saved prior to taking Jewish Identity (before circumcision).
It fits well with the notion that there are temporary elements of salvation history. This temporary thing being ended results in the ending of the ethnic division (in verses 26 and 28).
in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Chris Matthew also has good reasons to suppose that these things are in view here:
I think the best way to bring these interpretations together is through a redemptive-historical interpretation. It speaks to both issues and gives a persuasive interpretation of the passage.
With the fuller revelation of the “faith” or Christ’s redemptive works, we can now view the Law and not be condemned. We are no longer under the curse. Paul’s point is that the law, in its concrete Mosaic form, has undergone a redemptive-historical transformation in light of the finished work of Jesus Christ. We are no longer under its curse and it no longer condemns us. As I’ve stated in Romans 6-7: The Law has no condemning power over the Christian because Christ has done what we couldn’t do because of the weakness of our flesh. Here, Paul is saying that those of us in Christ are not under the penalty of law (the curse) but grace. This is one aspect of which people were under and the other aspect is that God has united his people by abolishing the need for Jewish boundary markers.
Dr. Timothy George is someone with whom I share this interpretation. He states:
This image thus brings together both the judicial and the punitive dimensions of the law’s condemning function. Not only does the law declare us guilty before God, thus placing us under its curse, but it also locks us up in prison, preventing our escape. Jewish thought had developed the idea of the law as a fence, a protective wall designed to cordon off the people of Israel from the corruptions of the surrounding nations. The emphasis on circumcision as a rite of initiation, the detailed regulations regarding clean and unclean foods, the prohibition against eating with “Gentile sinners,” all these measures were based on the understanding of the law as a prophylactic protection for the chosen people. Paul took the metaphor of the fence, however, and radicalized it by turning it into a barbed-wire prison wall. Its purpose was not to make the unjustified sinner pure and holy, to “impart life,” but rather to condemn, enclose, and punish.
Moreover, if Paul radicalized the function of the law, he also universalized its scope. The whole world, ta panta in Greek (a neuter plural that may signify the created realm as well as the totality of humanity), has been shut up under its dominion. Traditionally, of course, the law was understood as the special preserve of the Jews, and in fact Paul could on other occasions speak this way himself (cf. his contrasting behavior among Jews who were “under the law” and Gentiles who were “outside the law” (1 Cor 9:20–21). Yet the same sinful disobedience that characterized the Jews who were given the specific revelation of the Mosaic law has spread throughout all cultures and among all peoples everywhere.
To be sure, the precise form of bondage differs greatly. For the Jews, it is the Mosaic legislation with its burdensome requirements; for the Gentiles, it is slavery to the stoicheia, the pagan deities and demonic forces that hold sway in “this present evil age.” In one sense the law itself, though it remains holy, righteous, and good as adivinely sanctioned mandate, has become one of these evil powers insofar as it serves as an instrument of condemnation, judgment, and death.120
Dr. Timothy George. Galatians: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary)(Page 206-207).