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I have not been to church in years. I recently went to a friend's prayer meeting. While there, I was encouraged to read the following from the bible:

"Now a mediator is not of one, but God is one." ( Galatians 3:20, King James Version )

The number one reason I have not been to church in years is that when I did go to church, I had no idea what people were talking about. They might as well be speaking Swahili, Mandarin, or Greek for one hour of time.

Please, answer this question so that an ignoramus, or a child, might understand.

What does the following mean in 21st-century American English to someone who has never read the Bible before:

"Now a mediator is not of one, but God is one" Galatians 3:20, King James Version

I think that the New Living Translation might be easier for people like me to understand:

Galatians 3:20, NLT: "Now a mediator is helpful if more than one party must reach an agreement. But God, who is one, did not use a mediator when he gave his promise to Abraham."

What promise was given to Abraham? What is the minimum amount of context required to understand Galatians 3:20?

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Even the Bible tells us to be careful with Paul's writings, because many people misunderstand them and are led astray--so you may prefer to begin your Bible reading with something that Paul has not written.

And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15-16, KJV)

That said, your text in Galatians can be explained simply by breaking it into two parts.

"Now a mediator is not a mediator of one" (Gal. 3:20a, KJV)

Whenever a mediator is involved, it requires intercession between two parties. There cannot be just one party involved. So when we talk about a mediator, we know that there are at least two entities between whom that mediator is working.

"but God is one." (Gal. 3:20b, KJV)

There is only one God. God is only one of the parties involved; just one side of the mediatorial equation. The mediator who goes between God and Man is not God either, for how could he then mediate between the two?

A parallel verse in Paul's writings which may help to clarify what he is saying would be this one:

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; (1 Timothy 2:5, KJV)

Paul is saying that Jesus, as a man, is our mediator--the one who intercedes between us and God. Because he is a man just like us, we know Jesus is on our side and working in our favor.

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    Because he is also a man. What do you mean, ‘also’? What else is he according to scripture?
    – Steve
    Oct 18, 2022 at 4:26
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    @steveowen good question. I think he means also in respect to mankind. Should be made more clear for the final conclusive hammer blow. Oct 18, 2022 at 6:07
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    Peter's comment about Paul's writing is a warning - it is a warning against following those who misrepresent what Paul said. But here, I suggest you misrepresent what Peter said by discouraging people from reading Paul's writings . . . . which Peter never did !
    – Nigel J
    Oct 18, 2022 at 14:22
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    @NigelJ I'm not suggesting that one should never read Paul's writings. I'm merely suggesting they may not be the place for a beginner to start. It takes more spiritual maturity to handle Paul's manner of speech than is required with many other authors. It is well known that John is often recommended as a good starting point. I, personally, also like Matthew very much. In one of my theology classes, we considered how to explain the Bible's "problem texts"--the difficult ones. As I recall, nearly 90% of these were found in Paul's writings--for our class, anyhow.
    – Biblasia
    Oct 18, 2022 at 16:30
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    For many, across the whole Mediterranean region in the first century, Paul's words were the first they had ever heard of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And thus were churches raised up, out of nothing, throughout the known world at the time. These people heard, and they believed, without any so-called 'problems' at all.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 18, 2022 at 19:05
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A promise from God is not based on two people making a covenant that can be broken. This promise is totally based on God alone who cannot lie.

God gave a promise to Abraham, that in his seed, ALL the FAMILIES of the earth would be blessed.

You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant that God made to our fathers, saying to Abraham: And in your Seed will all the families of the earth be blessed; Acts 3:25

This is a promise that is based on God and His faithfulness to fulfill His own word. It did not change because either Abraham believed it or not, it was a fact.

There was nothing on man's part to do to make it a fact. There was no mediator saying, "if you do this then I'll do that."

The seed that was promised to Abraham became Christ who bore the world's sin and took it away. That includes your sin as well as everybody else's. You did not have to do anything to make it happen.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29

The faith of Jesus Christ's to believe in His Father was shown to be perfect when His Father asked him to let all the sins of every man woman and child be laid upon him during His crucifixion.

Death was a consequence of sin being transferred to everyone through Adam's disobedience.

Through one act of disobedience from Adam all were subjected to death and and sin. The same is also through Christ's one act of obedience all will be made righteous according to Romans 5:18

Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:18

This is the blessedness that has been given to all families through that seed, Christ, for God was in Christ reconciling the whole world onto himself.

God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19

This is right, and is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who is willing for all mankind to be saved and come to a full knowledge of the truth. For there is but one God and but one Mediator between God and men—Christ Jesus, Himself man; who gave Himself as the redemption price for all—a fact testified to at its own appointed time. 1 Timothy 2:6

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Now a mediator is not of one, but God is one.

The simple answer as requested goes like this. While the other answers certainly have merit, they seem to not reach what a child, might understand.

  • God made a deal with Abraham that was based on a promise - Abraham didn't have to do anything.
  • The New Covenant goes like this. Man has to do something do get what was offered - eternal life. Jesus, as mediator, stands between God and man and negotiates man's pardon through his blood (which has paid for all sin as the others have pointed out). What we have to do is accept Jesus' sacrifice instead of ours.

Paul goes on to explain why he said this.

For if a law had been given that was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22But the Scripture has confined everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Gal 3:21

God cannot give eternal life to sinners who cannot keep the law. So, He made another way by faith in Christ Jesus who DID keep the law on our behalf.

We don't have to die to pay for our sins - Jesus did for all already and he goes before God as our mediator to say, "look these people come under my blood and they are now free from the penalty of sin'.

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The context of Gal 3:20 is Paul’s argument that justification is by faith, according to the covenant that God made with Abraham, and not by works, according to the Law that was given through Moses. The OP asks: “What promise was given to Abraham?” Paul is referring to God’s promise to Abraham and to his seed in the book of Genesis.

“By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” – Gen 22:15-16 NASB

Based on God’s covenant with Abraham, Paul asserts that justification is by faith alone and not by works of the Law, and that it is faith in Christ which identifies the descendants and heirs of God’s promise to Abraham (v 7). Within this context, Gal 3:20 is a theme that is threaded throughout Paul’s arguments, one that contrasts the plurality/division of parties in the Law, against the oneness/unity of God.

Paul uses a legal analogy to make his points more clear, but legal concepts are themselves difficult to understand. The paradox in Gal 3:20 makes it even more of a riddle. Thus the OP’s quest for a simple answer may be too tall of an order to fill. In addition, Gal 3:20 is written in such a way as to allow for multiple interpretations depending on the context and Paul’s argument. While the New Living Translation cited by the OP’s is easy to understand, by locking Gal 3:20 into one meaning, it limits the text’s reach and power.

Returning to the OP’s question, the role of a mediator is to reconcile or bring two or more parties that are at odds together in an agreement. In this case, the parties consist of God and man. Given this context, there are two principal ways of understanding Gal 3:20 that correspond to the two covenants outlined in the text. In one, the mediator is Moses and the agreement is the Law. In the other, the mediator is Christ and the agreement is God’s covenant with Abraham.

When Gal 3:20 is viewed in terms of the Law, it points to the Law’s inability to bring about reconciliation. Paul writes, “Now, that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “the righteous one will live by faith” (v11). A mediator implies there are two or more parties who agree to comply with the terms that are set in the agreement. But if justification were based on the Law given through Moses, Paul argues that man would be incapable of meeting such terms.

“But God is one.” The same word εἷς (Strong’s 1520) is used by Jesus in reference to God (Mat 19:17): “There is only One who is good.” Paul appears to echo this sentiment in his argument. God alone is good, whereas all men are confined to sin.

v22 But the Scripture has confined everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Furthermore, if justification were through the Law, it would mean God was changing or nullifying the covenant that had previously been made with Abraham (v 17), which would in turn imply that God is two-minded. But God is one in the sense that He is unchanging, singular of mind and purpose (cf Num 23:19).

v17 What I am saying is this: the Law, which came 430 years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.

Thus far we have looked at Gal 3:20 through the lens of the Law, but the meaning evolves when viewed in terms of God’s promise to Abraham. Whereas a mediator implies the compliance/participation of two or more parties, the fulfillment of a promise depends on one party only. In God's covenant with Abraham, that party is God, and the mediator of His promise to Abraham is Christ, the seed of Abraham.

v16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as one would in referring to many, but rather as in referring to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

Paul points to the fact that “seed” is in the singular. The promise was made to Christ alone, but faith is the means by which all are united to him.

v26 For you are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

That God is the only party responsible for fulfilling His promise opens up another possibility for interpreting Gal 3:20, which is as a reference to Christ’s unity with God the Father. In other words, Christ is the mediator who, as both God and man, stands in the position of both parties to bring all sides together. Of the different connotations in Gal 3:20, this is the one that best resolves the contradictions in the text: "Now a mediator is not for one party only; but God is only one." Compare with the careful wording of John 17:22-23:

The glory which You have given Me I also have given to them, so that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity – Jn 17:22-23

Whereas Christ reconciles, the Law causes further division. The disagreements between Jew and Gentile Christians over the Law is after all the reason that Paul is making these arguments. Such division is in itself contrary to the Spirit. In contrast, Christ is the mediator who, in reconciling mankind to God, brings all parties together as one.

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

As a final thought, Paul's intent was not to invalidate the Law. Between the giving of the promise and its fulfillment lies a gap during which the Law plays a crucial role as guide and guardian until such time as faith would come (vv 24-25). If I had to restate Gal 3:20 in a way that a child might understand, I would say: God does not love us and bless us with His spirit because we are always good and obey the rules, but because He is one who keeps His promises to those who believe.

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