Galatians 3:20


The mediator here referred to is not Christ, but Moses, for St. Paul is describing the process through which the Law was given. This he contrasts with the direct flow of grace in the gospel. A mediator implies more than one party, and the gifts that come through mediation do not come immediately from the hand of the giver. But God is one person, and in Christ he immediately confers his grace upon us.

I. A RELIGION OF LAW SEPARATES US FROM DIRECT COMMUNION WITH GOD. The Levitical Law depended on an elaborate system of mediation. The Jew regarded it as given through angels. Moses received it for the people. When the Israelites saw the terrors of Sinai they shrank back and begged Moses to go alone for them into the presence of God, and thus they received the Divine message through their human leader (Exodus 20:18, 19). Subsequently it was administered through the priesthood. The consequence was that the people were not admitted to the sanctuary. The penalty of relying on a human intercessor out of fear of God was separation from direct communion with Heaven. This penalty is still paid by those who pursue the same course. The magnifying of human priesthood and the elaboration of ceremonial religion by one school in the Church, and the over-dependence on human teaching and preaching of another school, put new mediators between us and God, and so separate us from the privileges of immediate Divine fellowship. The same result follows the slavish observance of rules and regulations laid down by the wisest and holiest of teachers. Those men come between us and God.

II. THE HIGHEST RELIGION CONSISTS IN DIRECT COMMUNION WITH GOD, "God is one." When he speaks to us we have all that we need. Many advantages belong to this pure and lofty relation with God.

1. Clear visions of truth. Truth is no longer adulterated with human imaginations.

2. The full efficacy of grace. This is not weakened by the harsh and ugly additions of man's blundering attempts to improve his fellow-man. It flows clear and full in its own heavenly beauty.

3. The blessedness of fellowship with God. A religion of Law is irksome. There is no joy in obedience forced by constraint. But direct communion with God is itself the source of the deepest joy, and it makes all service glad, so that we delight to do the will of God.

III. THE GOSPEL BRINGS TO US THIS RELIGION OF DIRECT COMMUNION. It is true that Christ is a Mediator, but in quite another way from the mediation of Moses. Moses and all human mediators stand between us and God, so as to separate us from him and darken the vision of his glory by their human shadows. But Christ only comes between to bridge over the gulf that separates, to unite us to God, to be the mirror in which the presence of God is revealed; nay, to bring God to us, made manifest in the flesh. Thus in Christ we have immediate communication with God. Through him we not only know that God is spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth, we also have grace thus to worship. In Christ God's grace directly flows to us with all its fresh, untainted purity and power. In Christ we have grace to enter through the rout veil to the holiest place, and to rest in the eternal light of God's near presence. - W.F.A.









Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.
Perhaps no passage in Scripture has received so many interpretations as this — more than two hundred and fifty at least. Who does not see in this an illustration of the honour done to the Word of God? On what other book would the same amount of time, and mental labour, and literary attainment, have been expended for the illustration of an occasional remark? The causes of the diversity of sentiment are various Some suppose the apostle to speak in his own person; others consider either the whole verse, or at any rate the first part of it, as the words of an objector. Some by the "mediator" understand any mediator; others, Moses; others, Christ. Some understand "one" as a substantive; others as an adjective which requires a substantive to be supplied to bring out the sense, and that substantive they have supplied very variously: some, of one party; others, of one seed; others, of one law; others, of one race; others, of one thing, etc. Some understand the assertion "is not of one" of the person; ethers, of the condition, others, of the design and business of the mediator. Some consider the last member of the sentence, "God is one," as philosophical or dogmatic; others as historical, looking to the times of Abraham, or of the giving of the law at Sinai. Luther's notion is quite singular — "God offendeth no man, and therefore needeth no mediator; but we offend God, and therefore we need a mediator." The mode of connecting the passage has also given origin to diversity of view respecting its meaning. Now, in any discussion of this passage, two things must be kept in mind:

1. The repetition of the word "mediator" is not in the original. The text reads literally thus: "Now a" — or the — "mediator is not of one."

2. The words must contain in them some statement which lays a foundation for the conclusion deduced in the next verse, that the law is not against the promises of God. However plausible in other respects an interpretation may be, it cannot be the right one if it does not bring out a sense which justifies the apostle's inference. The almost innumerable opinions of interpreters may be reduced to two classes — those in which the words, "Now a mediator is not of one," are understood as a general proposition, true of all mediators, and applied by the apostle in the course of his reasoning to the subject before him; and those in which they are considered as a particular statement, referring exclusively and directly to the mediator spoken of in preceding verse. Those who are agreed in thinking the words are a general proposition, differ widely in the way in which they understand it, and in which they make it bear on the apostle's argument. One class consider the words as equivalent to — "Now a mediator does not belong to a state of unity or agreement. The use of a mediator seems to intimate that the parties between whom he mediates are not at one." This mode of interpretation labours under great difficulties. For, first, it is not true that the use of a mediator necessarily supposes disagreement. There are causes of the use of a mediator besides this. God continues to deal with those with whom He is reconciled through a mediator. And secondly, it breaks the connection between the two clauses of the verse, which obviously is very intimate. Another class consider the words as equivalent to — "a mediator does not belong exclusively to one party; a mediator belongs to both parties;" and they consider the apostle as arguing thus: "No man can be a mediator who is not appointed by both parties. There were two parties in the original agreement — God and the spiritual seed of Abraham. Moses was indeed appointed by God; but God was one of the parties, so that whatever such a mediator could do could not affect the interests of the other party." This explanation is not satisfactory, because in the appointment of the Great Mediator of the better covenant, God alone was concerned. A third class consider the words as equivalent to — "a mediator is not peculiar to this one dispensation. There have been various mediators, but there is but one God. The mediator may be changed, but God continues the same." But the words do not naturally convey this meaning. The mediator of this verse is evidently the same as the mediator referred to in the preceding verse. The question still remains, then, Who is the mediator thus referred to? Some consider the mediator by whose hands the law was given, as Jesus Christ. But Christ is nowhere in Scripture called the mediator of the law; and surely if the reference had been to Him, the language in verse :19 would not have been "a mediator," but "the mediator," if not the expression elsewhere used, "the one Mediator between God and men." This still further narrows the field of discussion. We have now only — taking for granted that the mediator is Moses — to seek for a meaning which the words of the apostle will bear, and which will support his conclusion, that the law is not, cannot be, against the promises of God. If the first part of the verse be read interrogatively, and if the word one be understood, not numerically, but morally, as signifying uniform and unchangeable, always self-consistent, a plain meaning may be deduced from the words, in harmony with the context. "The law was given by the hands of Moses as a mediator. But was he not the mediator of Him who is one and the same for ever? Now God, who appointed Moses mediator, is one and the same — unchanged, unchangeable. Can, then, the law be against the promises of God?"

(John Brown, D. D.)

God is one. He alone is to be considered in this transaction. It is all His doing. He not only mediates with us, but also for us; He is on our side; He takes part with us. It is His single hand which achieves the issue; the whole depends upon Him, and is consummated by Him.

I. THE PARTIES SUPPOSED. God; man. These two at variance.

II. THE MEDIATOR. One who can take up both sides of the case. Necessary that he should receive power and deputation from both, and that each party abide by his determination. In God's stead, and yet man's substitute and surety. Where shall such an one be found?

III. GOD PROVIDES THE MEDIATOR. He acts for man, as well as for Himself.

1. God originates the plan.

2. God removes every obstruction.

3. God secures man's co-operation.

4. God alone is to be adored.

(R. W. Hamilton, D. D.)

Some two or three hundred interpretations go upon the misconception that the meaning is: "A mediator is a mediator, not of one party, but of two parties, and God is one of those two parties." This is, I strongly think, quite erroneous. The structure of the Greek excludes it. The word "one" clearly points not to number, but to quality; and so the sense will be: "A mediator has nothing to do with what is one, whatsoever be the number of individuals constituting that unit, but God is pre-eminently ONE — one with Himself, as in essence, so in will... one in His one method of dealing with all."

(Canon T. S. Evans, D. D.)

There is more than one sense in which unity may be understood. It may mean "one and no more," i.e., numerical unity; or, one and the same to all and always; or, union of many in a collective unit. We may say, there is one king, meaning that there are not two or more; or, there is one king, meaning that all have the same king, that he is the same to all his subjects; and we may say, the kingdom is one, meaning that it is not divided, that it is a collective unit in the monarchy. It is therefore important to observe in what sense St. Paul uses the word εἶς when in any passage he speaks of unity, and especially when he refers to the unity of God. Now it is plainly his habit to use the word in senses other than numerical. The following are instances: 1 Corinthians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:13; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 2:14, 15; Philippians 1:27. And so, when St. Paul speaks of God being one, it is certainly not usually, if it is ever, in the numerical sense. The very word θεός, as he understands it, excludes the idea of polytheism; and against polytheism, as implying many actual gods, he is nowhere concerned to argue... Brought up in Judaism, he had imbibed, as it were with his mother's milk, the idea of one God only. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one God," had been the central principle of his religion from the first, and expressed a self-evident truth which to his mind was unassailable. But he had been taught also to regard the One God as, in a peculiar sense, the God of Israel only; the whole Gentile world being to the mind of the Jew outside the circle of special Divine favour. Yet, as his mind became enlarged through familiarity with Gentile thought and literature, and through his own musings and his observation of the world, we may believe that he had long been perplexed by the limitation which his creed seemed to imply of the love of the universal Father. His mind craved a conception of God, as not only supreme, but as one in His own nature, one and the same to all, comprehending all alike in the embrace of His own essential unity. Further, it appears from his language in more than one passage, that he had been perplexed not only by the seeming partition between Jew and Gentile, but also by the discords and anomalies Apparent at present in creation generally. The general "puzzle of this painful earth" had set him musing. Such comprehensive language (as that in Romans 8:19-22) cannot surely be interpreted as referring to humanity alone. It seems to mean that everywhere throughout known sentient creation there is now pain and evil, discordant with the idea of unity in God. But among all the apparent discords of creation those within himself came home to him especially, because personally felt. He was conscious of a "law of God" within him, demanding his entire allegiance; but he was conscious also of another "law in his members" — a "law of sin and death" — warring against the law of his mind — such as to have wrung from him once the almost despairing cry, "O wretched man that I am," etc. Such inward experience clashed with his conceived ideal of "One God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto Him." And further, it is evident (as is especially seen in his Epistle to the Ephesians) that even beyond this mundane sphere of things his thoughts extended. His religious faith — confirmed doubtless by his observation of the mystery of spiritual evil among men — told him also of "spiritual things of wickednesses in the heavenly places," of a "prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience;" and such dissonance in the heavenly places themselves was inconsistent with his grand ideal. For God was to his mind the one absolute existence, the one eternal Being, "of whom are all things:" "the Father (πατήρ) of whom every family (πατριά) in heaven and on earth is named;" and not only the Father, but also present in all creation still And the God of his conscience being to him Love and Righteousness as well as Power and Life, he craved in all creation a reflection of the whole Divine perfection — such as, in the present state of things, he did not find. Such grand conceptions we conceive to have had possession of St. Paul's mind — after his conversion certainly, as is evident from his writings, and probably long before. To a mind thus prepared, the revelation of God in Christ was as a sudden burst of light. It did not, indeed, show him the original source or purpose of existing evil... But the new light from heaven showed him Reconciliation, and discords resolved, in the fulness of time, into eternal harmony In this passage the apostle has been arguing against the notion that the Mosaic law had either fulfilled or abrogated the promise made to Abraham; and the thought that suggests the verse before us is, that in the giving of the law Moses had intervened as a mediator. In reference to this fact he says: "Now a mediator is not of one; but God is one." Viewed in the light of St. Paul's dominant conception, with all that it involves, of the unity of God, the following interpretation at once suggests itself to the mind: "A mediator is not of one" (i.e., "of that which is one" — whether singly or collectively — mediation has no place where there is unity); "but God is one" (in the sense, with all that follows from it, ever present to St. Paul's mind when he says εἶς ὁ Θεός): therefore (the conclusion follows, though not expressed) the law, with its intervening mediator, did not manifest God's unity, and the consequent unity of all in Him.

(J. Barmby, B. D.)That nothing should disturb our deep and settled repose in immutable love and faithfulness of God. That the most rigid enactments of law can never affect the promises of Divine grace, while the grace revealed in the promises mellows and modifies the rigour of law. That both the law and the promise shut us up to one only ground of dependence and hope of eternal life. That Christianity, with its personal Saviour and remedial scheme of mercy, is the only revelation suited to the moral and undeniable necessities of man's fallen nature. That the belief and reception of the Christian revelation is the one simple condition of endless life and blessedness. Such we deem to be the true exegesis of this confessedly difficult text, and such the profound truths involved in its interpretation. There are no various readings to perplex us; there is no necessity for taking a single word out of its ordinary and accepted meaning; there is no pretext for twisting or wresting the apostle's language, nor for interfering with the chain of his argument. His aim is to bring out the superiority of the gospel to the law: and this he does by showing that whatever methods God may adopt in the government of our world, nothing can interfere with His promise of grace, since that promise is founded on the immutability of His own nature, no less than on the depth and the exuberance of His own love. God is one, immutably and for ever the same; so that the promise which was given four hundred years before the law remains the same after the law — as rich in grace, and as pregnant with life. In this promise, or rather in Him to whom the promise refers, we can confide with calm and joyous repose, "persuaded that neither life nor death, neither angels, nor principalities, etc."

(R. Ferguson, LL. D.)

The argument is based on the fact that when God blessed Abraham, He used a singular and not a plural word, and said, not "seeds," but "Seed:" "to Abraham and his seed were the promises made." "The Seed," therefore, must be One Individual. And who could that single Individual be, but Christ only? Therefore all the promises in the Old Testament are to Christ. Not primarily, nor chiefly, to Isaac, or to Jacob, or to Judah, or to any other earthly descendants; but to one, to Christ. Stop a moment, and consider what that assertion involves. All the promises in the Old Testament are to Jesus only. Nay more, all the promises in the Bible centre in Jesus. They pass to us only through Him. How often have we taken the comfort of some beautiful promise in Deuteronomy; or in the Psalms; or the Proverbs; or in Isaiah; or any of the Prophets, without thinking of this. But not one of those promises was originally made to us. They were made to Christ. How then, could we dare to appropriate them, or even to touch them? Where do we find a right or a title to any one of them? Only by a union to Him to whom they were made. You must have a part in Christ. You must be "in Him;" a member in His mystical body. Thus and thus only, does any promise really belong to and to all that are in Him, what is the use of the law. "Wherefore then serveth the law?" "The law" is not "covenant," it was "four hundred and thirty years" after covenant. The law does not give us the promises. "Wherefore then serveth the law?" Our fallen nature, and our sins, made it necessary. "It was added (after the covenant) because of transgressions," to prevent transgressions; to punish transgressions; but not to give pardon, or peace, or salvation, or heaven. It was a beautiful and holy law; and if any law could have saved a man, that would have saved him. "If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law." But no law can give life. But now let us consider the mode of the giving of that law which St. Paul introduces as a further link in his chain of argument. "It was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator" (see Deuteronomy 33:2). It is clear, therefore, that in some way, at the giving of the law on mount Sinai, "angels" were employed for the ordering, disposing, and arranging the solemnities of that awful occasion. St. Paul introduces the fact to enhance the glory of the "second" and better "covenant"; he goes on to a climax; the first covenant was very glorious, "it was ordained by angels"; but how much more glorious when Christ did all Him. self, in His own Person, by His own act, alone! Then St. Paul passes — from "the angels," and the order of the solemnities on mount Sinai — to "the mediator," Moses, who was employed by God to communicate God's will to man, the Creator's law to His creatures. "It was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator." And at that word "mediator" St Paul (as is his custom), breaks off to the thoughts which that word "mediator" suggested to his mind. "A mediator!" — what is it? What does that word involve? And so we come to the text, "Now a mediator is not a mediator of one; but God is one." This short sentence is so difficult in its conciseness, so abstruse, and capable of so many meanings, that it is not too much to say that it has more interpretations than any other passage in the Bible. Amongst all the meanings, however, which have been attached to it, there are two which stand out so distinct, and are far superior (as far as I can judge) to all the rest, that the true understanding of the words must be, I think, in one or the other, or in both unitedly. The one is this. "Now a mediator is not a mediator of one." A "mediator" implies that there are two parties concerned. There cannot be mediators unless there are two between whom ."the mediator" is to act. And the two must be, more or less, at variance, otherwise there would be no need, or occasion, for the mediation. Here, then, there must be two. Two? God is one of the two, one of those two between whom the mediation takes place. Then, who was the other? Man. In what condition, then, must man be? At enmity with God! Else, he would not need a mediation. The other interpretation is this. The words are in. tended to draw a contrast between the law and the gospel. The mediation of the law — which was conducted by Moses — was of the nature of a contract between two parties — God, on the one side, man on the other. And each must fulfil his part in the contract, or else it would not be valid. Therefore the contract of the law, observe this! leaves the issue uncertain — for it depended, on one side, on man's obedience, which was an exceedingly doubtful thing; it certainly cannot be depended upon! But just the contrary to that is the contract of the gospel. In that contract God is all in all. It depends on the will and power of God. It is all, from beginning to end, His work. He elects the soul: He makes the faith: He makes the obedience: He makes the holiness; and He has provided, and He Himself gives, and is, the reward. There is nothing but God in it. So the unity of God is complete. There is nothing but God. "God is one." The mediation is entirely different from the mediation of the law. There, the parties mediated, were two. Here, all are one. God the Author, God the Finisher; only God on either side, in His electing love, in the sinner's penitence, in the sinner's peace, in the sinner's eternal life. It is all God. One; alone. Of these two explanations I myself very much prefer the first. But why may we not embrace the two, reading the verse thus? Man is separate from God. The fact that there is a Mediator, the necessity of a Mediator, proves it. We are all at variance with God. A controversy between a man and God is, on reasonable and rational principles, hopeless. I am one and alone in my deep, sinful degradation. God is one and alone in the solitude of His infinite and unapproachable holiness. There is not the vestige of a hope for me unless there be a Mediator. "But God is one." One, up in heaven, in His foreordaining love; one, in my poor heart, working there in His grace and mercy; one, in His eternal sovereignty; one, in His power and will to make me all He would have me to be; one to plan, one to execute, His grand design. One to begin, and one to perfect, my salvation. One to save me and glorify Himself by my everlasting happiness. "A mediator is not a mediator of one" — then God and I are at enmity. "But God is one." And, in His unity, I and God are one for ever.

(James Vaughan, M. A.)

I. His office — to act between two parties — needed betwixt God and man.

II. His qualifications — friendly relations with both parties — strict justice and impartiality.

III. His functions — to effect reconciliation-by bringing both together — on a common ground. —

IV. His authority — Divine, for God is one — consequently there is but one mediator, the man Christ Jesus — Moses was but a shadow of the true.

(J. Lyth.)

I. Effects reconciliation between God and man.

II. Is the realization of the idea faintly depicted in the person of Moses — He gives the law of the Spirit — provides the true sacrifice — makes everlasting intercession.

III. Is based upon the original promise (v. 21) — God is one, therefore supreme — unchangeable — almighty to effect His purpose of grace.

(J. Lyth.)

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