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Galatians 3:19-20

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Who is the (singular) intermediary referred to here?

Moses? The angel of the Lord? Who?

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  • Angels is how ἀγγέλων is translated into English. It means messengers: and it was put in place through messengers (ἀγγέλων). As in Romans, "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures." (1:1-2) Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 16:44
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    @RevelationLad, Interesting take if I understand you that the messengers should be understood to be human. Do you have an idea of the specific identity of the human messengers who put in place the law in the hand of an intermediary?
    – Austin
    Commented May 2, 2022 at 3:48

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The word “mediator” literally means to be in the middle or midst. It is “‘one who mediates’ between two parties with a view to producing peace” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary). Moses was the mediator God used to make the Old Testament covenant of Law between Himself and the Jews. In the New Testament, Jesus is the mediator between God and mankind (1 Timothy 2:5)

Jesus is the New Testament mediator between God and mankind (1 Timothy 2:5). There are some sharp contrasts between the mediation of Jesus in the N.T. and that of Moses in the Old Testament Law. First, Moses was only a man and was therefore limited in his ability to adequately represent God. However, Jesus was uniquely God and man (1 Timothy 3:16); therefore, He was a perfect mediator, knowing by experience both sides of the issue.

Second, Jesus did what Moses could not do. He went beyond mediation to actually become the sacrifice that would satisfy the justice of the one party (God) by bearing the sins of the other party (mankind). When Jesus rose from the dead, He (the mediator) also became the guarantor that His settlement would work. “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

What did Paul mean here? A mediator mediates between two parties who are in conflict with each other. Therefore, by using the statement “a mediator is not a mediator of one,” he was saying that mediators don’t settle disputes among themselves–they are the go-between for two other parties.

However, the mediation of Jesus was very unique. Jesus was God and mankind at the same time. Therefore, He was reconciling Himself (His humanity and all His children by faith) to Himself (His divinity; i.e., His Father). This is what Paul referred to when he said, “But God is one.”

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    This answer as provided some good food for thought. I feel like you cover a lot of ground such that it's not clear who you think the mediator is in verse 19,20. Who do you think the mediator is that Paul is referring to?
    – Austin
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 8:18
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    @Austin - 1st paragraph :-)
    – Dave
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 18:18
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    I assumed so, but based on the direction you take the rest of the post it's not totally clear if who you refer to as the mediator in the Old Testament is the same as who you think Paul is referring to in the Gal 3:19-20, especially considering the way you conclude your response, the only time you explicitly identify what Paul refers to. Still it's a little confusing. Do you think Paul goes from discussion the mediation of the Old law in verse 19 to the mediation of the new in verse 20? Do you think Paul intended to imply that Moses mediated between the Jews and Jesus?
    – Austin
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 19:37
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    @Austin (a Q that may be difficult to address via a short comment.) - Verse 20 is saying that if there is a ‘mediator’?- then that implies that there must be two differing groups. The ‘role’ of a mediator is to establish a ‘means’ to overcome or ‘get around’ those ‘differences’ - so that the two groups can then get along with each other. Paul is preaching that the Jews can now come ‘out’ from ‘under’ the Law, and partake of another different covenant, and that this new covenant has a different mediator. (Jesus).
    – Dave
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 20:44
  • Ok, so you think the mediator in verse 19 is Moses and the mediator in verse 20 is Jesus.
    – Austin
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 21:12
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Who is the intermediary in Gal 3:19-20?

Yes, this intermediary or mediator is Moses whom Paul is referring to. Paul is talking about the Law and as a former Pharisee, he was well versed in the Law given by Moses.

The study note for verse 19 in the New World Translation explains who this mediator is and the meaning of the word:

The unnamed mediator was Moses. He acted as the intermediary between Jehovah and the nation of Israel for establishing a covenant, or a legally binding agreement, between God and the nation. (See Glossary, “Mediator.”) The Greek word me·siʹtes, translated “mediator,” occurs six times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. (Ga 3:19, 20; 1Ti 2:5; Heb 8:6; 9:15; 12:24) It is a legal term. According to one lexicon, it means “one who intervenes between two, either in order to make or restore peace and friendship, or to form a compact [that is, an agreement], or for ratifying a covenant.” In mediating the Law covenant, Moses helped the nation of Israel to keep the covenant and to receive its benefits. For example, Moses officiated at the inauguration of the covenant. (Ex 24:3-8; Heb 9:18-22) He installed the priests and put the work of the priesthood into operation. (Le 8:1-36; Heb 7:11) He also conveyed a body of more than 600 laws to the Israelites and pleaded that Jehovah spare them from punishment.​—Nu 16:20-22; 21:7; De 9:18-20, 25-29.

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

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Note the difficulties of Gal 3:20 as pointed out by Barnes:

Now a mediator is not a mediator of one ... - This verse has given great perplexity to commentators. "There is, unquestionably," says Bloomfield, "no passage in the New Testament that has so much, and to so little purpose, exercised the learning and ingenuity of commentators as the present, which seems to defy all attempts to elicit any satisfactory sense, except by methods so violent as to be almost the same thing as writing the passage afresh." In regard, however, to the truth of the declarations here - that "a mediator is not a mediator of one," and that "God is one" - there can be no doubt, and no difficulty. The very idea of a mediator supposes that there are two parties or persons between whom the mediator comes either to reconcile them or to bear some message from the one to the other; and it is abundantly affirmed also in the Old Testament that there is but one God; see Deuteronomy 6:4.

The difficulty here can be summed up by observing two apparently contradictory facts:

  1. On the one hand Jesus, the Messiah is a mediator (1 Tim 2:5) who intercedes between God and mankind (Heb 7:25)
  2. On the other hand, Jesus is in unity with God (Titus 2:13, Heb 1:8, 9, Phil 2:5, 6, 2 Peter 1:1, John 5:17, 18)

As the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary observes:

For Jesus is not a mediator separating the two parties in the covenant of promise or grace, as Moses did, but One in both nature and office with both God and man (compare "God in Christ," Ga 3:17): representing the whole universal manhood (1Co 15:22, 45, 47), and also bearing in Him "all the fullness of the Godhead."

Thus, God deals with mankind directly through a "mediator", Jesus, but God is one! (Gal 3:20).

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Who is the intermediary in Gal 3:19-20

Galatians 3:19-20 NASB

19 Why the Law then? It was added on account of the [a]violations, having been ordered through angels at the hand of a [b]mediator, until the Seed would come to whom the promise had been made.

It is a well-known fact that the mediator between God and the nation of Israel was Moses. The Law Covenant given to Moses required two parties, the nation of Israel and God, the Israelites agreed to the terms and conditions of the Covenant.

The Israelites promised to keep all the words which God has spoken.

Exodus 24:3-8 NASB

3 Then Moses came and reported to the people all the words of the Lord and all the [a]ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” 4 And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Then he got up early in the morning, and built an altar [b]at the foot of the mountain with twelve memorial stones for the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 And he sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it [c]as the people listened; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” 8 So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has [d]made with you [e]in accordance with all these words.”

20 Now a mediator is not for one party only, but God is only one.

Now there is no mediator for one party because God is the only party to the promise. Paul here is actually referring to the promise made to Abraham in which promise/covenant there were no conditions for Abraham to fulfill. God made this promise/covenant and it was up to him to fulfill it.

Galatians 3:18 NASB

18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.

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  • Thought provoking take. Thanks.
    – Austin
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 21:55
  • P. J. Gloag has a similar thought in his commentary. >“The one was conditional, and by law or contract; the other was unconditional, and by promise” studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/galatians-3.html#verse-20 But Genesis Ch 17 seems to indicate that there is something to fulfill: 17:9 And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations 17:14 ....that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.
    – matt
    Commented Apr 22 at 13:58
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We should refer to the context of the passage to see what Paul is expanding on here.

  • You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you... v1
  • Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? v3
  • does He who provides you with the Spirit ... by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

Paul is contrasting the law and faith - the physical and spiritual.

  • God justifies the Gentiles by faith, ... “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then, those of faith are blessed along with the believing Abraham. v8
  • Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed (Christ) v16
  • For if the inheritance is by the Law, it is no longer by a promise v18

Paul asks - why the law then? Is it contrary to God's promises? Of course not!

The law was given through the mediator - Moses, but it could not impart life v21 The promises however can and will impart life - through the seed of Abraham - Jesus the Christ.

The law required a mediator - someone to arbitrate and represent each party - God and the Israelites. A promise requires no mediator - or it would not be a promise. God is the one who promised through Abraham to - all who would have faith. No agreement was made with Abraham for the promise - God will do what He said He would - to His glory.

In Christ, all have by faith, a relationship with God in righteousness - not theirs, but Christ's.

Those NOT yet in Christ, still require a mediator - they are still under the law and have not been set free from death. 'Mankind', is not referring to those of faith.

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 1Tim 2:5

How was the law put in place? Through Moses - the mediator for Israel.

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    I agree Moses is initially in view here but...YLT has this for verse 17 "A covenant confirmed before by God to Christ, the law, that came four hundred and thirty years after, doth not set aside, to make void the promise" If the law (mediated by Moses) was confirmed by God to Christ that puts a very different spin on verse 20. Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 23:04
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    Why is God confirming the law to Christ?? He was born under the law, that's it. The promises, requiring no mediator are fulfilled through Christ. He came to fulfil the law. It is a covenant of promise not law.
    – Steve
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 23:15
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    Perhaps the law, that schoolmaster given to drive us to Christ, was part of God keeping His promise to Abraham's seed, we who, in Christ, are the true children. Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 0:21
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The mediator on behalf of Israel is Moses.

Brice Martin writes in Christ and the Law in Paul (2.3) that the phrase "in the hand of a mediator" recalls the recurring phrase "in the hand of Moses",

In modern times the mediator has almost universally been understood to be Moses. Many of the ancient church Fathers, however, understood it to be Christ. C. H. Cosgrove has argued that the mediator is so closely associated with angels that it is more easy to think of the angels’ mediator than Israel’s mediator. But it seems evident that the mediator must be Moses. En cheiri mesitou recalls en cheiri Mouseos in the LXX (Lev 26:46; Num 4:37, 41, 45 etc.) at the giving of the law. Bruce observes that Moses was the Israelites’ mediator with God throughout the wilderness wanderings and at Deut 5:5 he says "I stood between (ana meson) Yahweh and you."

[..] The context makes good sense if Moses mediated the law, if an agreement was made between God and the people of Israel on how the law was to be kept. But with reference to the promise, "God is one" in the sense that he acted unilaterally and unconditionally.12 The natural question would then be, "is the (mediated) law opposed to the (unmediated) promise (3:21)?

The phrase "en kheiri Mouses" (in hand of Moses) is a common phrase in the Scripture, Lev 26:46 Num 4:37 Num 4:41 Num 4:45 Num 4:49 Num 9:23 Num 10:13 Num 15:23 Num 16:40 Num 33:1 Num 36:13.

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Based upon John 1:17, I think it’s safe to conclude that the “intermediary” in verse 19 is referring to “Moses”, because Galatians 3:19 is talking about the law. And John 1:17 says…..

17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

The following verses also reference the fact that the law was given to Moses

Ezra 7:6 This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given

Exodus 31:18 And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.

Exodus 34:27 The Lord also said to Moses, “Write down these words, for I have made a covenant with you and with Israel based on these words.”

The “intermediary” in verse 20 could be generic, meaning not referencing a specific person. More like a title, or a position held.

The main theme of Galatians Chapter 3 is the differences between the law and faith, or the differences between the law and the promises. I think reading the chapter makes this theme evident, but the Community Bot asked that I provide more citations and documentation for my answer.

The Greek word pistis G4102 (and forms of this word G4100 and G4103), which is translated as “faith/belief” (Strong’s Dictionary), is used 17 times within Galatians chapter 3.

The Greek word Epaggelia G1860, which is translated “promise”, is used 9 times

The Greek word nom'-os G3551, which is translated “law”, is used 15 times

The word “faith/promise” is used within the same verse as “law” … 10 times

Viewing verses 19 and 20 through this context (the idea that ch 3 repeatedly draws a distinction between faith/promise and the law) , I would suggest that verse 19 is talking about how the law was mediated to the Israelites by Moses. And verse 20 is referencing the promises to Abraham, because there is no mediator involved when God interacts with Abraham during those promises.

The promises to Abraham are referenced within many books of the Bible, but Genesis chapter 17 probably best represents the idea. And there is no mediator involved, it is God making a covenant directly with Abraham (Vs 2 and 4)

In an effort to explain my understanding, a paraphrase of Galatians 3:19-20 could read something like this:

The law was added because of our sins, until Jesus came (Jesus being the one to whom the promise was made). And the law was put into place, through angels, by the hand of Moses. Now there was no mediator needed with the promise, because God is one.

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