I have a question on the translation of Galatians 3:22. Most English translations give something like the NIV gives:

But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (NIV 2011)

However, I'm thinking this is not correct, for two reasons.

αλλα συνεκλεισεν η γραφη τα παντα υπο αμαρτιαν ινα η επαγγελια εκ πιστεως ιησου χριστου δοθη τοις πιστευουσιν (Robinson-Pierpont 2000 Byz-Majority Text)

(1) In context Paul is describing the Law as a sort of "guardian" in the next verse:

verse 23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. (NIV 2011)

It seems obvious a "guardian" would not lock us up in sin or under the control of sin but would attempt to lock sin out or lock us up away from its control.

(2) The Greek seems to me to imply (by the presence of the article and the word order) that a "which are" or some such must be understood. Like:

But the scriptures shut up all things [which were] under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

i.e that it imprisoned or shut up those things which were already under sin, in order to protect the Israelites from overmuch sin which might prevent the coming of Christ (i.e. a complete intermixing with the heathen nations, for instance).

The closest to this translation is the ASV, which is often hailed as being super-literal to the Greek:

But the scriptures shut up all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. (ASV)

The only difference being the abiguity inherent in their rendering. The ASV can be taken to be in agreement with the NIV or with my understanding of the verse.

Anyway, I guess I'm asking for an evaluation of my rendering an interpretation of the context. I believe I'm right, and am not going to change my mind, but I'm curious what arguments would be made against it. And I'm sure someone holding a different position will be zealous to defend the "traditional" Protestant view against it.

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    I think you’re asking if the prepositional phrase under sin is modifying the verb συνεκλεισεν (locked up) or the noun τα παντα (everything). If it’s intended to modify the noun (i.e. "all things/men that are under sin”), I would prefer to see τὰ πάντα τὰ ὑπὸ ἁμαρτίαν to mark the 2nd attributive position. Not sure if it's possible as written.
    – Susan
    Sep 15, 2014 at 6:55
  • To make the guardian point you may want to quote vv 24-25 instead of 23.
    – Susan
    Sep 15, 2014 at 7:39

3 Answers 3


A consideration is perhaps seems suggested by other bible passages such as Romans 11:25-32 (KJV):

25 For I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, of this mystery, that ye may not be wise in your own conceits, that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the nations be come in; 26 and so all Israel shall be saved. According as it is written, The deliverer shall come out of Zion; he shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. 27 And this is the covenant from me to them, when I shall have taken away their sins. 28 As regards the glad tidings, they are enemies on your account; but as regards election, beloved on account of the fathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are not subject to repentance. 30 For as indeed ye also once have not believed in God, but now have been objects of mercy through the unbelief of these; 31 so these also have now not believed in your mercy, in order that they also may be objects of mercy. 32 For God hath shut up together all in unbelief, in order that he might shew mercy to all.

In verse 32 "all" seems to mean that both Israel and the nations are guilty of unbelief. Then is said unbelief to be a sin, would thus mean for Galatians 3:22 that all were under the control of sin, but that such would enable the salvation together of both Israel and gentiles

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    – ThaddeusB
    Dec 21, 2015 at 17:10

The problem with your interpretation is that it is unnatural to the context and overall doctrine. We need to remember that context supersede to clarify any minor ambiguity of identifying which word is direct object; although there is no ambiguity in the Greek here, which you see in ASV English. In a sentence: The King gave horses to the men, cannot be understood, 'he gave men to the horses', in spite of an ambiguity due to lack of prepositions in old English.

You should search the occurrences of παντα to know that there will be a relative pronoun as an article to specify if the referent is people, like panta ta ethne. There is no relative pronoun or article before "under sin" which could suggest "all those under sin".

It seems obvious a "guardian" would not lock us up in sin or under the control of sin but would attempt to lock sin out or lock us up away from its control.

The text says locked everything up under sin, rather than locking up sin away from everything. The purpose of the Mosaic law was to exaggerate the definition of sin with protective boundaries by adding the ritual, ceremonial restrictions over daily routine. So that man may learn the nature of objective truth and discipline from his lifestyle. You can see that it was a protective guarding fence locking Israel in its boundaries and control of that Mosaic-law.

You can understand from the context clearly that the law is called a law of transgressions. Not law of freedom from transgressions. The grace covenant liberated the Israelis from those protective transgressions (not from the moral law). The law itself is not sin (Rom 7:1), it protected the Israelites from the real sins by creating an increased level of social sins Rom 5:20. It was added because of transgressions or disobedience (Gal 3:19). It was added to save them from disobedience, as you rightly explained; it did it by increasing the boundary of sins, as a guardian police.

This way you can correct your interpretation and try to apply context based honest hermeneutics rather than forcing another meaning into the text as you do with ASV. I encourage those who come up with such confusions based on no knowledge of Greek to start learning it from books like John Dobson's.


It appears the problem is with the translation of ek pistews Jesou Kristou, which should be read in Lithuanian order for English translation (i.e the order of the genitives needs to be reversed): "from out of Christ Jesus's faithfulness", which makes the verse read

But the Scripture did imprison everything under sin so that the promise from out of Christ Jesus's faithfulness might be given to the faithful.

The implication of Galatians 3:22-25 is that scripture and law, like a pedagogue made us aware of our sinning and our separation from God until Jesus arrived with His faithfulness. From that faithfulness, there is a promise to make the faithful upright/justified with God.

It appears this translation issue came about as a result of the Vulgate translation.

  • Welcome to BHSE! We're a little different here, please review our Site Directives before asking or answering questions. Thank you!
    – Tau
    Dec 1, 2014 at 12:07
  • 1
    You gave some reference to your response, but left other questions unanswered: 1) What is Lithuanian order, and why does it have any bearing on the text? 2) What is the Vulgate translation, and why is it different from the translation quoted? Answering these questions would 'sharpen' your response and make your answer more credible.Thank you!
    – Tau
    Dec 1, 2014 at 12:15
  • "Christ Jesus's faithfulness" and "faithfulness of Christ Jesus" are equivalent. So its not absolutely necessary to reverse their order. In any case, I don't see how this answer relates. And how does "from out of" improve the translation here? Dec 2, 2014 at 16:44

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