PART 1: POINT BY POINT RESPONSE TO AN ADVENTIST CRITIC: GALATIANS 3:17-18
by Elder Edwin M. Cotto (notes for the video response).
INTRO: This begins part 1 of our series responding to critic Chris Tucker (full article HERE). The first question is: When was the Law established? And Gal. 3:17-18 is quoted. We will be responding to this article in video/writing for the next few weeks. Contributions came from various SDAs.
SECTION 1: “BECAUSE OF TRANSGRESSION…”
The context states that the Law came 430 years after the promises made to Abraham and his Seed (verse 16-17). Verse 19 parallels verse 17 by saying the Law was “added because of transgression…”
- The phrase, “because of transgression,” actually proves the Law already existed prior to it being added, and that it was added because transgression of it was already taking place.
- Contrary to the critic’s interpretation, this verse actually proves there was already a Law before Mt. Sinai.
- We know this because Paul also wrote, “Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.” (Rom. 4:15). Since where no Law is there is no transgression, the implication is that where there is a Law, there must be transgression. To put it another way, Paul writes that where there was transgression, there was a Law that was being transgressed!
- Therefore, this text proves that there was Law prior to the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai, because there was transgression PRIOR to Mt. Sinai. Let’s look at a few examples of the Law being transgressed prior:
–Exodus 16:28: Here we find commandments, but more specifically, the Sabbath, being transgressed at least one month prior to the giving of the Law from the top of Mt. Sinai (cf. Exo. 16:1, 19:1).
–2 Peter 2:8: Here Peter writes that the Sodomites engaged in “unlawful (Gk. anomia) deeds.” Therefore, we may say that the inhabitants of Sodom were transgressors of Law. In fact, we are told they were “sinners” (Gen. 13:13), and “by the Law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). For Moses, the author of Genesis, to say the Sodomites were sinners, is to essentially say they were transgressors of Law. If it be asked which Law, Paul quotes the 10th commandment while explaining sin to distinguish which set he is talking about (cf. Rom. 7:7).
–Genesis 39:7-9: Here, the patriarch Joseph understood it was sin to commit adultery and thus offend his master and his God. Sleeping with Potipher’s wife he considered a “sin against God” (verse 9). Since sin is the breaking of the Law (Rom. 7:7, 1 John 3:4), Joseph essentially refused to transgress a Law of God.
–Genesis 4:6-9: Here, God warns Cain that his unjustified anger towards his brother produces sin (verse 7). Anger without a cause, according to Jesus, is a violation of the 6th commandment, “thou shalt not kill” (Matt. 5:21-22). Thus Cain breaks the 6th commandment in his heart before he breaks it outwardly by actually killing his brother (Gen. 4:8). He later lies about it (ibid, verse 9).
-Genesis 3:6: Here, the serpent tempts Eve to covet and then steal the fruit. She does exactly that. To her the fruit/tree became “desired to make one wise.” She then “took of the fruit thereof, and did eat…” Note she desires it first, which means to covet (ḥāmaḏ), the same Hebrew word used in the 10th commandment (Exo. 20:17). Thus, Eve transgresses two laws which forbid stealing and coveting.
-John 8:44: This text takes transgression of Law even further back to Lucifer’s rebellion and fall. From the beginning, he was a liar and a murderer. Thus the commandments forbidding these deeds are eternal principles that were violated even before the earth was created.
-Romans 5:12-14: These texts prove that wherever there is sin and death, a Law was being transgressed, and since sin and death reigned since Adam’s sin, Law was being transgressed since Adam’s sin (see section 4 for refutation of a possible objection using verse 13).
SECTION 2: THE WORD “ADDED.”
- The word “added” may, but does not always prove what was added is brand new.
- The Greek word for added is prostithēmi and it is found 18 times in the New Testament.
- In verses like John 6:17 and Luke 17:5, it may imply a new thing.
- Yet, in verses like Matt. 6:33, Acts 2:41, 47, 5:14, 11:24, things and people are “added,” that existed prior.
- Definition of prostithēmi: 1. The put to. 2. To add. See: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g4369/kjv/tr/0-1
- Therefore, it can simply mean “to put to” something.
- Nevertheless, even “add” does not necessarily imply a new thing. Example: Adding salt to food doesn’t mean the salt did not exist prior.
SECTION 3: HOW OTHER PORTIONS OF SCRIPTURE COMMENT ON THIS MOMENT.
It helps to look for other instances where there is commentary on the moment the Law was given on Mt. Sinai.
FIRST PARALLEL TEXT: Hebrews 12:18-19.
“For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should (Gk: prostithēmi) not be spoken (Gk: prostithēmi) to them any more.” Hebrews 12:18-19.
- Since Gal. 3:17-19 and Hebrews 12:18-19 both point to the same moment when the Law was given, and since both use the same Greek term prostithēmi, therefore, both can be compared.
- Hebrews 12:19 translates prostithēmi as SPOKEN.
- Considering that the Law was already being transgressed prior, it makes sense to view it as being spoken from Mt. Sinai, 430 after the promises made to Abraham.
SECOND PARALLEL TEXT: Romans 5:20.
“Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” (Romans 5:20).
- This text also, albeit briefly, speaks about the moment the Law came in. It “entered.” So, we can compare this one with Galatians 3:17-19 as well.
- The Greek word “entered” is pareiserchomai. It means: 1. To come in secretly or by stealth, or creep or steal in. 2. To enter in addition, come in besides. See: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g3922/kjv/tr/0-1/
- Gal. 3:19 says the Law was added “because of transgression” but Rom. 5:20 adds another reasons, “the offense might abound (Gk: superabound, increase).
- The offense was the sin of Adam, which was transgression, or disobedience, which lead to many offenses or sinners (cf. verses 14-19).
- Therefore, the Law entered, or was added, or was put to, or was spoken, “that the offense, sin, disobedience” might abound. In order to make sin look as hideous as possible, or, in order to show the enormity of sin and its consequences, God spoke from the mountain all His principles or laws in the form of Ten Commandments, that all may see how low they’ve fallen, and that all may receive the even greater gift of God’s grace to save them their transgressions of it.
- Paul wrote, “I had not known sin, but by the law, for I had not known lust, except the law had said, ‘thou shalt not covet.’’ (Rom. 7:7).
- Therefore, the Ten Commandments were given to REVEAL to all that it was being broken, that all may see their sin and repent.
THIRD PARALLEL TEXT: Nehemiah 9:13-14
- These verses are also speaking about the moment God spoke from Mt. Sinai, so it too can be compared.
- Verse 13 says that God spoke from heaven, and gave ordinances, laws, statutes and commandments.
- The Sabbath, which forms part of the Decalogue, was “made known” a phrase that evinces it existed prior. For example, in Eze. 20:5 God was “made known” to the Israelites, and yet God always existed. So, to “make known” does not prove it began to exist, but rather that it existed prior yet needed to be revealed.
- Therefore the Sabbath of the fourth commandment always existed (cf. Gen. 2:2-3, Mark 2:27).
- What we can gather from Neh. 9:13-14 is that even though the Law was “added” at Mt. Sinai 430 years after the promise was made to Abraham, yet it already existed. It was simply “revealed” or “spoken” later.
SECTION 4: POSSIBLE OBJECTION: ROMANS 5:13 PROVES THE LAW DIDN’T EXIST PRIOR!
The first clause of this verse reads, “For until the law sin was in the world.” The NIV reads, “sin was in the world before the law was given.” The NLT reads, “yes, people sinned even before the law was given.” The argument, therefore, is that sin existed before the Law and thus sin began at one point while Law began at another point.
- We agree that sin was in the world before the law was “given.” Assuming that “given” is a correct translation, to give does not necessarily mean it did not exist prior. For example, in John 7:22 Jesus said that circumcision was given to the Jews by Moses, yet this same text says, “not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers.” So, something can be “given” and yet already exist prior.
- “Given” must be understood in context and with careful eisegesis. The second clause of verse 13 reads, “but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” To impute means “to reckon in, set to one’s account, lay to one’s charge…” See: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g1677/kjv/tr/0-1/
- Was sin imputed to people’s account before the Law was spoken from Mt. Sinai? Yes, see Section 1 above. Therefore, there must have been a Law in order for sin to be imputed to people’s account.
- What then does it mean when the first clause reads, “sin was in the world before the law was given?” Simply this, that the Law, though it already existed, “entered that the offense might abound…” (verse 20).
- So, sin always existed, and so did Law in order that sin could be imputed, but the Law was given in a special sense from Mt. Sinai in order to make sin look as terrible as it actually is, that sinners may see their need of salvation and dependance on God, and may be converted (cf. 1 Tim. 1:8-11).
CONCLUSION: The critic asked, “When was the law established?” and quotes Gal. 3:17, later writing, “the law started AFTER the promise to Abraham…” But the same text says that transgression was already taking place. Rom. 4:15 explains that where there is transgression, there is law, and various examples were demonstrated. Finally, we learned that terms like added, spoken, entered or given prove that the Law did appear on Mt. Sinai, though in a special sense; for the purpose of making sin look extra bad, that sinners may see their need and repent via the over abundance of grace provided. Thus Law and Grace work together for the salvation of souls, the former revealing sin (Rom. 7:7, 1 John 3:4, 1 Tim. 8-9), the latter saving from sin (Eph. 2:8).