What does “schoolmaster” mean in Galatians? 


By BibleAsk Team


Paul, in his letter to the Galatian Church wrote, “But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:25). Here, the apostle is using the word “schoolmaster” as a figure of speech that should not be taken literally. He meant by the word schoolmaster as being under the “condemnation of the law.”   

Some have interpreted the word schoolmaster to mean that the believers are no longer obliged to keep God’s law (Exodus 20: 3-17). But this would go against Paul’s own preaching. For he taught, “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). True faith means an unreserved willingness to do the will of God in a life of obedience to His commandments (Romans 3:28).

The Son of God came to magnify the law (Isaiah 42:21; Matthew 5:17) and to illustrate by His life of full obedience that believers can, through the enabling grace of God, obey His law (Philippians 4:13). Justification by faith shows God’s regard for His law in requiring and providing the redeeming sacrifice. If justification by faith abolishes law, then there was no need for the redeeming sacrifice of Christ to free the sinner from the guilt of his sins, and thus grant him peace. 

What Is the Purpose of the Law?

The purpose of the law is to reveal sin in the life of a person. “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7-25). The Law serves only as mirror that shows dirt on someone’s face. The illogical attitude toward law is to regard it as an enemy. A mirror is not an enemy because it reveals dirt.

Then, when sin is revealed in the life, the law brings the believers to Christ for cleansing: “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).  The law cannot save a sinner, nor can it put an end to sin or its power in his life. Christ does the work of transformation. The sinner who wants to be saved under law will find only judgement and bondage to sin. 

Salvation by Grace

When a person gets saved by the grace of God (Galatians 3:24), his sinful past is instantly forgiven (justification), and he receives divine power to walk and grow in Christ (sanctification). Under grace, the struggle against sin is not impossibility but a triumph (Philippians 4:13). The offer to be under grace, to have victory over sin, and the enabling power for having every righteous quality, is offered to all people that seek it (John 3:16).  

But many have chosen to remain under law as a schoolmaster and believe that they are saved by works. These think they can earn salvation by their own obedience to law. Such was the experience of the Jews, and such is the experience of many professed believers today, who in their self-righteousness are not ready to admit their own inability to keep the law and to yield themselves fully to the divine changing grace. 

Paul says that as long as a person is under the law he stays also under the power of sin. But those who are under grace receive not only liberation from condemnation (Romans 8:1) but also have power to triumph (Galatians 6:4). Thus, sin no longer will have dominion over them. 

What Happens to the Law as the Schoolmaster?

Regarding the ceremonial laws, they ceased to be effective for Christ’s sacrifice substituted the animal sacrifices, and thus the laws governing such ceremonies were abolished at the cross (Colossians 2:14; Ephesians 2:15).  

Regarding the civil statutes, they lost their importance because ancient Israel ended as a nation by the Romans in 70 AD. And literal Israel was substituted by spiritual Israel or the New Testament church, which consists of Jews and Gentiles, that accept Christ as Lord and Savior (Galatians 3:26, 29).  

Regarding the moral law (the Ten Commandments – Exodus 20:2-17), it is still binding but it is no longer written on two tables of stone. Instead, those who are “justified by faith” in Christ become new creatures in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17), with the Ten Commandments written in their hearts (Hebrews 8:10). People keep the Ten Commandments not to be saved but because they are saved. Obedience to the law is the natural fruit of conversion. The Lord identifies the saints as commandment keepers (Revelation 14:12 also 12:17; 1 John 2: 3; 2 John 1:6 etc.).  

And thus, “the righteousness [or “requirements”] of the law” is “fulfilled” in the believers (Romans 8:4). Correctly does Paul, use the schoolmaster figure of speech, to teach that Christians are no longer “under a schoolmaster.” It is hard to understand how anyone could conclude that Paul, in Galatians 3:25, abolishes the Ten Commandments, God’s moral law. The truth is that so long as believers live, the divine law will be written upon their hearts and seen in their godly characters. 

In His service,
BibleaAsk Team 

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