Exegesis of Galatians 3:20 ( Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one )

Galatians 3:15-22 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

15 Brethren, I speak [x]in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s [y]covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds [z]conditions to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. 17 What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is [aa]based on law, it is no longer [ab]based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.

19 Why the Law then? It was added [ac]because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the [ad]agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. 20 Now a mediator is not [ae]for one party only; whereas God is only one. 21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness [af]would indeed have been [ag]based on law. 22 But the Scripture has shut up [ah]everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Old Testament Law

God (1st party)---Moses (Mediator)---Ancient Israelites (2nd party)

( Now a mediator is not for one party only...) In the aforementioned quasi-diagram, I can understand the meaning of the biblical scripture "Now a mediator is not for one party only..." because it suggests that Moses the Mediator is supportive of both parties( God & the Ancient Israelites ) or for lack of a better term or phrase, one could say Moses the Mediator is unbiased as the middleman between God and the Ancient Israelites.

New Testament Promise

God (1st party and the person Jesus Christ as Mediator )---Church(2nd party)

( whereas God is only one ) Is the aforementioned scripture verse saying that Jesus Christ is Mediator only for God? Is it like saying he is Only supportive of God? Is it biased towards God?


Reference: The New Testament commentary for schools, ed. by C.J. Ellicott edited by Charles John Ellicott (bp. of Gloucester) (20) The mention of the word “mediator” implies a contract to which there are at least two parties. But where there is a contract there must be also conditions, and if these conditions are not observed the whole falls to the ground. Such was the Law. The Law was not kept, and therefore the blessings annexed to it were forfeited. On the other hand, the promise depends upon God alone. He gave it, and He will assuredly keep it, no matter what man may do. God alone is concerned in it.

This passage is a conspicuous instance of the advance which has been made in New Testament exegesis. It is said to have received as many as 250 or 300 (according to another estimate, even 430) interpretations, but at the present moment there is a tendency to acquiesce in that given above, which, it is hoped, will be thought satisfactory.

Now a mediator is not a mediator of one.—The very idea of a mediator involves two parties at least. The Law had a mediator, therefore the Law involves two parties. In other words, it is a contract.

But God is one.—On the other hand, God, the giver of the promise, stands alone: therefore the promise is not a contract; and, resting on God, it is indefeasible.

@anne raises a very good counter argument:

The sign of that covenant was circumcision, which was a big problem in Galatians 2 vs 12. Jewish Christians had to grasp that it was circumcision of the heart that counted as the sign of the new covenant in Christ - Gal. 5:5-6. This point contradicts the quote you give that says “the promise stands alone: therefore the promise is not a contract”. Genesis 12:1-7, followed by the sign of circumcision, shows that Abraham agreed to enter into a covenant contract, even though God had shown He would personally pay the price of covenant obligation failure.


3 Answers 3


Exegesis of this verse requires taking on board everything explained from Galatians 2:11 through to 5:15, I would suggest. In a nutshell, the point being expounded is that the law of God does not change anything about the promises God made to Abraham hundreds of years earlier. On the contrary, the law of God is worked out perfectly in order to keep the promises, but not by humans – by God himself, in Christ.

The letter to Christians in Galatia was probably written to mainly Jewish people he had converted during his first missionary tour. The recipients had to deal with the immensely challenging issue of how the perfect law of God (as mediated by Moses) fitted in to the earlier promises given to Abraham and his seed (singular seed, meaning Christ, Gal. 3:16). The key to understanding for them (as for us) is how this seed, Christ, mediates between us and God, thereby fulfilling the promises to Abraham that through his faith, all nations on earth would be blessed: “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18, see also 12:3 and 26:4-5)

In Galatians 4:21-31 Paul explains the futility of sinners striving to be in the new covenant while simultaneously trying to keep the law covenant (which cannot be done anyway.)

However, the promise to Abraham was enshrined in a covenant where God undertook to bear the covenant curses for breaking of the conditions by the other party. This covenant which God made with Abraham is detailed in Gen. 12:1-7; the covenant ceremony takes place in chapter 15 and the commitment expected of Abraham is set out in 17:1-22. The sign of that covenant was circumcision, which was a big problem in Galatians 2 vs 12. Jewish Christians had to grasp that it was circumcision of the heart that counted as the sign of the new covenant in Christ - Gal. 5:5-6. This point contradicts the quote you give that says “the promise stands alone: therefore the promise is not a contract”. Genesis 12:1-7, followed by the sign of circumcision, shows that Abraham agreed to enter into a covenant contract, even though God had shown He would personally pay the price of covenant obligation failure.

Normally, a covenant was 'cut' with the carcass split in two and the parties to the covenant walking between them, as a visual aid that they were agreeing to penalties if they broke their side of the covenant. But with this one, only God moved (unseen but for the burning brazier and brand) meaning that God was promising to bear the penalties for BOTH sides of the covenant agreement! Of course, God would never break his side of the covenant but showed by this mysterious ceremony that He would pay the price for covenant failure by either side. God was saying that he was willing to die on behalf of Abraham and his descendants. If (indeed, when) they fell short of the covenant's terms, he would take the curse for covenant failure in their place. This explains why God credits Abraham with righteousness the moment he says 'yes' to the covenant offer (Gen. 15:6). This foreshadows the cross of Jesus. His flesh was torn and sacrificed so that God's word to Abraham might be fulfilled, not just for land, not just for one tiny nation, but for forgiveness and eternal life for all who put faith in Jesus, Jews and Gentiles alike! “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).

Now, you asked, “Is the aforementioned scripture verse saying that Jesus Christ is Mediator only for God? Is it like saying he is Only supportive of God? Is it biased towards God?” No, Jesus Christ is Mediator only for sinners who put faith in his ransom sacrifice. Jesus stands between the holy God and unholy sinners who have broken their covenant obligations. Jesus supports the latter who trust in him while remaining completely ‘supportive’ of God (not that God needs support – I use the word in the sense of upholding the righteousness of God in justifying sinners.) There is no compromise going on here so that any kind of bias is displayed. Heaven forbid! God is completely righteous in sending his Son to die on behalf of covenant violators who accept by faith that provision. God is keeping his terms of the covenant as displayed that dark night when he ‘cut’ the covenant with Abraham. Remember how Gal. 3:16 said that Christ is the seed of Abraham? And Christ paid the penalty on behalf of covenant breakers showing the same faith as did Abraham? And because Christ is God incarnate we come full circle, back to that awesome dark night where a sword and fire was used, which parallels that awful, dark day when the sword pierced Christ and he was sacrificed in the fire of God’s righteous judgment on sin.

Source for explanation of Gen. 15:4-21 based on The Book of the Covenant by B.N. Howard, chap. 6 pp79-81 (the good book company, 2013)

  • Do commentaries agree that G. was written to converted Jews? Please show your work by backing up every assertion. Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Jul 10, 2018 at 13:49
  • 1
    There is no unanimous agreement as to who, exactly Paul was writing to. The North Galatian Theory is an older view that says the letter was addressed to churches located in north-central Asia Minor. Paul is reckoned to have visited here on his 2nd missionary tour, though Acts contains no record of this. The South Galatian Theory says it was written to churches in the south of the Roman province of Galatia, founded on Paul's first missionary tour. Others think it was written from Syria Antioch after that and before the Jerusalem Council meeting of Acts ch. 15. Yet others say Corinth, 51-53 AD.
    – Anne
    Jul 10, 2018 at 18:47
  • 1
    It makes no material difference to the answer given, as whoever received the letter - be they converted Jews or Gentiles - had to absorb this phenomenal understanding of OT events in light of the death and resurrection of Christ. The danger of new Christians lapsing into legalism was being flagged up and explained in theological terms that demanded a grasp of OT covenants.
    – Anne
    Jul 10, 2018 at 18:51
  • I just grabbed your first unsupported assertion as an example.
    – Ruminator
    Jul 10, 2018 at 19:10

As Jesus is "God's Son" is most fitting for him to be the "Mediator" (a go-between) for the "chosen ones" (2 Tim. 2:10) as the set the Model for them and all to follow:-

NWT 1 Peter 2:21 "In fact, to this course you were called, because even Christ suffered for you, leaving a model for you to follow his steps closely."

He was the perfect model of self-sacrificing love 1st his God, Jehovah, and 2nd because of his great love for mankind.

Like Moses who was also a mediator for the Old Covenant and a faithful man:-

NWT Galatians 3:19 "Why, then, the Law? It was added to make transgressions manifest, until the offspring should arrive to whom the promise had been made; and it was transmitted through angels by the hand of a mediator.

Jesus proved to be worthy to be the Mediator of the New Covenant as God Son on earth and as a Faithful man to death:-

NWT Deuteronomy 18:15 "Jehovah your God will raise up for you from among your brothers a prophet like me. You must listen to him."

The Prophet to come was Jesus who filled all the rolls that God laid out for him to die on behalf of and teach mankind to love and worship his God in the right way so being the go-between between God and man puts his in just the right place to teach mankind to worship Jehovah:-

NWT Acts 3:19-22 "Repent, therefore, and turn around so as to get your sins blotted out, so that seasons of refreshing may come from Jehovah himself 20 and he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus. 21 Heaven must hold this one within itself until the times of restoration of all things of which God spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets of old. 22 In fact, Moses said: ‘Jehovah your God will raise up for you from among your brothers a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you."

Jehovah said the same thing from heaven:-

NWT Matthew 3:17 "Look! Also, a voice from the heavens said: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.”

So as Jesus Christ takes on the roll of the greater Moses, he becomes the perfect "Mediator" in all respect as The Lamb made by God to establish the New Covenant by his shed blood as Moses could only do that with the blood of a "lamb" whereas Jesus in giving his own life for those he is mediating for was the greatest and perfect sacrifice possible the His Father could make for mankind, His Son.!

  • +1 for properly associating the blood with the ratification of the new covenant rather than being Aaronic in nature (IE: human sacrifice).
    – Ruminator
    Dec 3, 2018 at 19:29

Please would you reason with me on this one issue; on what basis did you receive the Holy Spirit? Are we talking gift or reward here? What kind of message ignites faith? What a condemned sinner and failure you are as revealed in the law, or what God believes to be true about you as revealed in the Gospel. Let’s not confuse Law with Grace. Can you see how stupid it would be to start in the spirit (believing in the success of the cross) and then for some crazy reason to switch modes back to DIY again! As if your own works could add anything to what God has already done in Christ. ([DIY - Do It Yourself.] It would be suicidal! It’s like deliberately jumping out of the boat to try and swim across the ocean! There are two trees: the DIY tree or the Life tree. They represent two laws or systems: the law of works and the law of faith; the one represents what you have to do in order to become. The true tree reveals who you are by your redeemed design. Because of the Calvary-tree we are free to be! Spirit = faith; flesh = works) Remember how you felt when you first encountered faith; are you prepared to exchange that for religious sentiment? All the ground you’ve gained would be lost. (The law does not complete faith, it nullifies it.) Would you accredit what you have received from God to something you did or something you have heard? Did God reward you for your high moral standards when he worked extravagant miracles in you and lavished his Spirit upon you; or did it perhaps have anything to do with the content of the revelation of the message of grace that you have heard? Faith is the source of God’s action on mankind’s behalf; our hearing is the conduit of what God’s faith reveals. Abraham had no other claim to righteousness but simply believing what God declared concerning him! Isaac confirmed God’s faith, not Abraham’s efforts. This is all we have in common with Abraham. (Righteousness reveals God’s faith as responsible for mankind’s salvation in direct contrast to their doing it themselves by keeping moral laws!) The conclusion is clear; faith and not flesh relates us to Abraham! (Grace rather than law is our true lineage. Ishmael represents so much more than the Muslim religion. Ishmael represents the clumsy effort of the flesh to compete with faith; the preaching of a mixed message of law and grace.) Scripture records prophetically that the mass of non-Jewish nations would be justified by faith and not by keeping moral laws. This announcement by God over Abraham is the gospel in advance. God saw every nation included in the same principle of the faith that Abraham pioneered. “In you all the nations of the earth are equally represented in the blessing of faith.” ([Gen 22:17] I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies, Gen 22:18 and by your seed shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves. Righteousness by faith is the revelation of the gospel; [Rom 1:17 and Hab 2:4] “the just shall live by his (God’s) faith” Righteousness by faith defines your life!) As did Abraham so do we now find our source in the blessing of faith. In clear contrast to faith, the law is the authority of the curse. As it is written, “Everyone who fails to perform the detailed requirements of the law, even in the least, is condemned.” (Deut 27:26) Habakkuk confirms conclusively that righteousness by God’s faith is the only basis to life; this terminates any possible justification before God based on moral behavior. (Hab 2:4, 3:17-19) Law and faith have nothing in common! Law measures a person’s doing and experience as defining their life. (Faith measures God’s doing in redeeming his design in us, as defining our lives.) Christ redeemed us from the curse as consequence of our failure to keep the law. In his cross he concentrated the total curse of the human race upon himself. In his abandoning himself to death, he absorbed and dissolved the horror of the curse in his own person. Scripture declares that anyone hanging on a tree embodies the curse. (Deut 21:23) This act of Christ released the blessing of Abraham upon the Gentiles! Now we are free to receive the blessing of the Spirit. (Righteousness by God’s faith in the achievement of Christ, and not as a reward for our behavior. In the obedience of Christ Deuteronomy 28 is out-dated! [Rom 5:19, Eph 1:3]. We are familiar with the fact that in civil affairs a testament, once endorsed, is authoritative and cannot be tampered with at a later stage. It is on record that the promise (of the blessing of righteousness by God’s faith) was made to Abraham and to his seed, singular, (thus excluding his effort to produce Ishmael.) Isaac, the child of promise and not of the flesh mirrors the Messiah. This is my reasoning: God endorsed the covenant of promise in Christ 430 years before the law was given. The law did not later replace the promise! (God’s means of justifying humanity would always be by faith in his promise and never by their own ability to keep moral laws.) The law and the promise are not compatible; the one system nullifies the other. God gifts Abraham with heir-ship by promise (and not by reward for his behavior.)

  • So what is the use of the law then? It was an intermediary arrangement to make people aware of the extent of their wrong doings and at the same time point them to the promise of a Redeemer, the Messianic seed! It was given by angelic beings to Moses as the middleman (Advocate). With Abraham there was no middleman; it was just God! (The Mosaic law required mediators [the Levitical priesthood] because it was an arrangement whereby mankind had a part and God had a part. Mankind’s part was to obey the commandments and God’s part was to bless. God’s covenant with Abraham was a grace covenant pointing to the man Jesus Christ, in whom God himself would fulfil mankind’s part and therefore needed no mediator apart from himself. See Heb 6:17) No, the law does not oppose God’s promise; it emphasizes the desperate need for a Redeemer to release righteousness in mankind as their life; something the law would certainly be incapable of! Had it been possible for a person to be justified by the law, the promise would be unnecessary. (“For if any kind of rule-keeping had power to create life in us, we would certainly have gotten it by this time.” — The Message. Romans 5:6 “God’s timing was absolutely perfect; humanity was at their weakest when Christ died their death—we were bankrupt in our efforts to save ourselves.”) Scripture concludes that all men without exception are in the same predicament; they are imprisoned to sin; now faith brings the promise of immediate release within everyone’s reach! Jesus Christ makes it possible for all to believe what God believes concerning their righteousness and restored innocence. (Jesus is the embodiment of God’s faith in mankind. The righteousness of God is now on display in such a way that all may believe, regardless of who they are, there is no distinction. The same mass of mankind that was once reduced to an inferior identity through their sin, is now gifted with acquittal on the basis of the ransom paid by Jesus Christ for their liberation. [Rom 3:22-24]) We were confined to the law, kept in custody to its constraining influence until the revelation of faith would come to our rescue! The law was acting just like a slave appointed to be the guardian of his master’s children, until they would be of age to go to the proper school of Christ to find in faith their righteousness revealed and endorsed. Now that we have arrived at our destination, the prophetic road signs and pointers are of no further use. Faith replaced the Custodian. Now that faith has come the law is no longer relevant. What Jesus Christ believes to be true about you is the final confirmation of mankind’s redeemed sonship. His faith is the only valid reference to your belief! Whoever is immersed in Christ is fully clothed with him! He is your brand new wardrobe confirming your sonship! (From now on the diaper days are over! “Our own righteousness by doing the law compares to filthy rags!” [Isa 64:6]) Nothing resembles your previous identity as Jew or Gentile, bond or free, male or female, Billabong or Gucci, now you are all defined in oneness with Christ! He is your significance and makes you stand out! Since Christ is the seed of promise, it is only in our realizing our union with him (in the incarnation) that we are equally related to Abraham and heirs of the promise. Faith and not flesh relates us to Abraham. (We inherit his righteousness by the same faith!) [Galatians 3]

Man's need for an advocate can never be done away with. In the story of Job, we have Job crying earnestly for a mediator. Job 9:32-33. The marginal rendering in my King James reference for the word translated "days man" is umpire. Another reference reads one who argues. In other words, there is no one to argue the case for both sides. The Amplified version of the verse is enlightening. Job needed one who would be able to lay his hands on him and a hand on God. He needed one to stand between him and God to plead his case. God saw that there was no intercessor. Isa 59:16. God saw that there was no intercessor, so He supplied the need. He sent Jesus. Jesus came to bridge the gap between God and sinful man. Man needed someone to stand in the gap so he could get back to God. Jesus' sacrifice established Him as the only fully trustworthy Intercessor for mankind. 1 Tim. 2:15.

  • 2
    Whoa! You need paragraph breaks!
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 8, 2018 at 13:53
  • I'll work on that Jul 9, 2018 at 8:51

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.