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Galatians 3:24 reads in the ESV (and several modern translations)

So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.ESV

In the KJV it reads:

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.KJV

In the NASB it reads:

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.NASB

So what is the meaning of the actual greek? Does it mean one who stands in place of a parent (a Guardian), one who instructs (a Schoolmaster/Tutor), or both?

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My answer to a related question may be of interest. – Jon Ericson Oct 24 '11 at 15:55
A quite good PDF on the word in question:… – H3br3wHamm3r81 Dec 19 '12 at 23:40
Encourage new perspectives and approaches to issues. – user2246 May 9 '13 at 11:05
KJV reading is the most clear reading. You do not have to go to greek to understand it. Read Romans chapters 3 - 7 will bring it all together. – hbrock Sep 15 at 1:13

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The NET Bible has something interesting to say about this word:

Or “disciplinarian,” “custodian,” or “guide.” According to BDAG 748 s.v. παιδαγωγός, “the man, usu. a slave…whose duty it was to conduct a boy or youth…to and from school and to superintend his conduct gener.; he was not a ‘teacher’ (despite the present mng. of the derivative ‘pedagogue’…When the young man became of age, the π. was no longer needed.” L&N 36.5 gives “guardian, leader, guide” here.

This is also reflected in Strongs G3807. Strongs said that this was applied to a trustworthy slave. Also, it mentions that the boys weren't even allowed to leave the house without the slave. Once the boy became a man, this slave was no longer useful and was released from that duty.

So, the translation of this word is a bit difficult since we don't have that concept in modern day. However, this word relates to being a guardian, a tutor, and a slave.

While the law was protecting and instructing us, and while the law was in charge of and over us, it wasn't something that was the ultimate authority. It was merely acting in behalf of the greater authority.

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Actually, I think guardian works perfectly. Just this morning, I was helping a friend think through the problem of finding a legal guardian for his children to designate in his will. The nuance of a slave being tasked with guardian duties is bit of a twist that does aid in understanding. Thanks for the answer. – Jon Ericson Oct 24 '11 at 19:53

The παιδαγωγός (Law) set the standard for fellowship (or behavior) in the household of Israel. The Law in the Old Testament was not a means of justification, but a means of fellowship with Yahweh.

Righteousness never came through the Law (Gal 3:21). Righteousness came by faith on the Covenant Promises, which concerned the promised seed, who would "sprout" in the Promised Land, and who would be the son of both Abraham and David. The world would be blessed as a result (Gal 3:8). In this sense, the Old Testament believers actually believed on Jesus Christ before he was ever born. For example, Paul reminded Timothy that it was the "sacred scriptures" (another word for the Old Testament) that "gave the wisdom" that led to salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 4:8). In other words, the παιδαγωγός can impart the wisdom, but the righteousness comes only by faith.

Thus the παιδαγωγός set the standards of behavior and taught believers about God's holiness. The Old Testament believer was therefore not a son as an individual, but a "household slave" under the παιδαγωγός (Gal 4:1-2). Of course, Israel was God's child in the corporate elective sense, but at the individual level, the believer was a "slave" who was managed by the pedagogue ("παιδαγωγός"), which was the Law. (The Law is described a "yoke" in Acts 15:10.) The reason the individual was a slave was because the Old Testament believer was still spiritually dead, notwithstanding that the Old Testament believer possessed righteousness through faith. In the New Testament (or, better, the New Covenant) the believer receives the free gift of eternal life through the Holy Spirit, and therefore becomes a son, who no longer is under the pedagogue (or the yoke of the Law).

Thus the pedagogue managed the child slave, who, at the appointed time (i.e., the giving of the New Covenant), became a son, who had the gift of God's eternal life. However, as a slave, the Old Testament believer was managed by a system of rules and regulations that typified typologies of Jesus Christ. For example, circumcision was the removal of the dead flesh, which Abraham had, and as a result, the promised seed came to life:-- Isaac was born. In Gal 3:17, Paul indicates that the Old Testament believers understood the promised seed not just in a wide sense of many descendants of Abraham, but in a limited sense, that is, he was the anointed one ("Christus"), who was the object of the David Covenant. And of course the sacrifices were typologies of the life of God (Heb 9:16-18), which was sacrificed to atone for sin. The sacrifice of Isaac was the key typology that the Promised Seed was indeed the sacrifice. That is, in Gal 3:16 Paul cited out of the Old Testament what was Yahweh's discourse immediately following Abraham's attempted sacrifice of Isaac. Thus the Law and its typologies of sacrifices and cleanliness and observation of holy days pointed to the object of the Covenant Promises (which is the Promised Seed in the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants). Compliance with the Law (pedagogue) was the means of fellowship with Yahweh, but it was not the means of righteousness. Faith was the means of righteousness, and this faith was on the Promised Seed, and the Law (pedagogue) pointed to those promises, which "gave the wisdom" that led to salvation through faith in the Old Testament.

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What the Law does :

The Law killed:

Galatians 2:19 NET For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God.

Romans 7:9-10 NET And I was once alive apart from the law, but with the coming of the commandment sin became alive and I died. So I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life brought death!

It also was a protector:

Galatians 3:24 NET Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith.

How does one harmonise the above?

The pedagogue was the trusted family servant who took the child to school. It was the school that fulfilled the potential of the child to be all he could possibly be, as a fully equipped adult, which is what the believer becomes, in Christ.

Before the Atonement (the faithfulness of Christ), we were dead. The Law killed us. The awareness/knowledge of its requirements crushed us. But this death is the death of inability to be functional believers (before the Cross). It stopped us dead in our tracks in our attempt to be a functioning part of Abraham's Seed, the corporate entity, collectively known as the People of God. The Seed had not come, Israel was not the REST, until the second Joshua, in Jesus made it the Rest. Arrival in the Promised Land did not kick off the blessing. The LAND had to be "prepped"! The Atonement accomplished the latter. Figuratively, what happened after the Cross was:

Israel has become Abraham's Seed. Believers who are in the Seed are justified (protected) and sanctified (made alive).

Ephesians 2:4-5 NET But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved! –

But all the believers before the ministry of Christ did not go to hell. The Law protected them, by triggering REALIZATION of inadequacy of own efforts, leading to humility and of need for God's mercy (publican in the Temple?) until they meet their Redeemer.

To be protected by the Law, you have to believe God requires ALL the requirements to be met, both the minor AND the major points. THAT is what brings about inadequacy humiliation and dependence. Cherry picking do-able points of the Law only leads to pride and boastfulness, as if it were humanly possible to be compliant to the Law!

See how the Law protects by killing:

Luke 18:13-14 NET The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!’ I tell you that this man went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

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Galatians is one side of a heated argument; a "war of words" that was going on between Paul and "die-hard Jews". And Paul is spitting bullets. When you read it you can feel the heat. The scruff of Paul's neck is up like a mad dog. The Galatians, Peter, maybe some other apostles and perhaps the majority of the Jewish believers in Galatia have moved off center from Paul's teaching and are relying on aspects of Judaism and even insisting the same for gentile believers.

So what seems to be the problem? The central issue seems to relate to this passage:

Gen 17:3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, Gen 17:4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations [gentiles!]. Gen 17:5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations [gentiles!] have I made thee. Gen 17:6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. Gen 17:7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. Gen 17:8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. Gen 17:9 And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. Gen 17:10 This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. Gen 17:11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. Gen 17:12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. Gen 17:13 He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. Gen 17:14 And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.

So based on this seemingly impenetrable dictum all of Galatia was abandoning Paul's gospel of justification by faith apart from the activities of the law. The argument seemed to crescendo on the idea of the inheritance of the promise land which verse 14 seems to say will be denied anyone uncircumcised. It seems like they have a very solid case, no?! I think so! Galatians is Paul's counter.

There is another passage that seems to also be being marshaled by Paul's foes:

Deu 6:17 Ye shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, and his testimonies, and his statutes, which he hath commanded thee. Deu 6:18 And thou shalt do that which is right and good in the sight of the LORD: that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest go in and possess the good land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, Deu 6:19 To cast out all thine enemies from before thee, as the LORD hath spoken. Deu 6:20 And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD our God hath commanded you? Deu 6:21 Then thou shalt say unto thy son, We were Pharaoh's bondmen in Egypt; and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand: Deu 6:22 And the LORD shewed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household, before our eyes: Deu 6:23 And he brought us out from thence, that he might bring us in, to give us the land which he sware unto our fathers. Deu 6:24 And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day. Deu 6:25 And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he hath commanded us.

Note that: "It shall be our righteousness".

I won't go into Paul's other arguments for his gospel in Galatians but I will attempt to address your question regarding that particular passage.

Note that he says "though he is an heir", as a child he is no different from a slave in that a slave controls him. Though the Jews were promised to inherit the land, as long as they are under the control of the law being an heir has no practical value. They need to be emancipated.

So the "guardian" was a slave that controlled an heir while they were a child. Paul paints it as a debasing situation, where the child is essentially a slave.

And Paul's argument is that in order to enjoy their inheritance they have to be emancipated from the law, their guardian. And he goes further to say that if they remains slaves by being under the domination of the law that they will not receive the inheritance:

Gal 4:28 So you, brothers, are children of the promise, like Isaac. Gal 4:29 But just as then the son who was conceived according to the flesh persecuted the son who was conceived according to the Spirit, so it is now. Gal 4:30 But what does the Scripture say? "Drive out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman must never share the inheritance with the son of the free woman." Gal 4:31 So then, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman.

So in this chapter Paul is arguing somewhat based on emotion using analogies rather than analysis of the passages set forth. In other places he makes more cogent arguments.

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I believe that what this scripture is implying is that the law was a tutor. A tutor helps you understand things. The purpose of the Law for the Jews was to point them to there need for the coming messiah who would fulfill that Law and release them from it. The Law was to help bring the understanding that they were incapable of doing it and that the messiah would. This way there faith would not only have been in Jesus, but they also would have recognized him when he came.

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