Christ redeemed “us” from the curse of the Law

In Gal 3:10-14, Paul asserts that those who rely upon the works of the Law are under a curse (presumably because no one is able to perfectly keep the Law). He then claims that Christ has redeemed “us” from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for “us” (3:13). But who does the “us” refer to? Does it refer to Jews (exclusive) or to Jew and Gentile alike (inclusive)? Each view has its difficulties. On the inclusive view one must explain in what sense Gentiles were under the curse of the Law as well as the significance of the citation of Deut 21:23. Advocates of the exclusive reference must account for the seeming parallel between the “us” of 3:13 and “we receive” in 3:14 as well as the seeming implication that Paul would be speaking of exclusively Jewish reception of the Spirit in 3:14. The parallel between the “us” of 3:13 and “we receive” in 3:14 strongly suggests to me that Paul has in view an inclusive reference to believers in both places — Christ redeemed Christians (Jew and Gentile alike) from the curse of the Law so that Christians (Jew and Gentile alike) might receive the promise of the Spirit.

If this is so, that raises the question as to how Gentiles who did not have the Law can be subject to its curse. Admittedly, Paul does not directly answer this question in Galatians. But he does address a similar issue in Rom 2:12-16. There Paul argues that Gentiles who sin without the law perish without the Law (2:12) and that “whenever Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts” (2:14-15). From this passage in Romans, then, it is not a significant step to the idea that Paul considered Gentiles to be under the curse of the Law. After all, Gal 3:10-14 emphasizes that “whosoever” relies on doing the Law, regardless of ethnicity, are under a curse, for no one is able “to do all that is written in the book of the Law.”

This line of argumentation has led me to consider the possibility that Paul considered the curse of the Law as a particularization/focusing of the larger curse that rested upon all of creation as a result of Adam’s transgression in Eden. This post is already too long to add further argumentation, so I will simply open the floor for comments and questions. What say you, friends?

13 thoughts on “Christ redeemed “us” from the curse of the Law”

  1. good post mark (any post that drives us to the text and thus to the cross must be, right?)

    i’d agree that the inclusive approach seems to be most indicated. too many words like “as many,” “everyone,” and “no one” to consider this text as exclusive.

    i believe paul continues to validate this view in vv 22-24: “But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”

    every tongue will be stilled by the Word of God, specifically as the Law reveals His holiness. therefore, no man will have excuse.

    the question then becomes, according to vv 28-29, does God now abolish all ethnic lines, or does He make gentile believers Jews (children of Abraham)?

    1. It has to be that He abolishes all distinctions and not that He classifies all that are redeemed under a group that also required redemption.
      The new classifications (after the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord) are 3 fold now.

      “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks (Gentiles), or to the Church of God”
      (1 Corinthians 10:32)

      There are now 3 distinct classes of humanity. The Jews, the Gentiles, and the New Creation.

  2. Matt,
    Some really solid points.
    Your discussion of Gal 3.10-14 reminded me of an article I read for my thesis research, “Glory in the Ministry of Death: Gentile Condemnation and Letters of Recommedation in 2 Cor 3:6-18.”(Nov. Test. 46.4,2004.) Here Duff, against the majority of scholars, suggests that Paul’s remarks concerning the Law are focused on Gentiles, due to Paul’s identification of his audience in 1 Cor 12:2.
    Let me get to the point. Duff illustrates in the article that various strands of Judaism had differing views concerning gentiles and their relationship to the Mosaic law. One such view is that gentiles were obliged to follow the law (4 Ezra 7:37-38; 2 Baruch 82:2-9; pp.324-325.) After citing these and other examples Duff writes:
    “In all of these works, we can recognize the assumption that the Law was intended not just for Jews but for all humanity.”
    So it does seem to me that you are right Matt, when Paul stresses that the Law had binding effects on all humanity, rather than an exclusive Jew/Gentile dichotomy.

  3. Question: Is Paul, in Rom 2:14-15, saying that the fundamental ethos (maybe ‘ethos’ is not the right word -but I hope you get the idea) of the Jewish written law is embedded in the concience of every human being?

  4. Spooh,

    I think that Rom 2:14-15 indicates that God has written the fundamental moral tenets of his law on the human heart. This is part of the human conscience. However, sin has so warped humanity’s understanding of this “encoded” law that it is entirely possible for a person to live in such a way that the conscience is numbed.


    I am not familiar with that article but it sounds very interesting.


    I think that Gal 3:28-29 does not mean the obliteration of distinctions in every sense (otherwise Paul would seem to contradict himself when treating some of these distinctions elsewhere). I think Paul is arguing that with respect to justification / becoming a child Abraham the issues of gender, social status, and ethnicity are not relevant – all must come to God through faith in Christ.

  5. i agree…just prodding you. (i think to tear down ethnic destinctions is the beginning of a loss of gender distinctions)

    as for the place of the Law in regard to Jews and Gentiles…

    i can’t see how anyone can reconcile the view that God does not hold Gentiles responsible for the Law when the Law is a reflection of who He is. it’s not an arbitrary code written in response to a group of people (Jews).

    but God graciously specifically revealed Himself to these people. Yet His morals, desires, character apply to all creation…not just the Jews.

    i’ve enjoyed this discussion.

  6. Great question!

    I wonder if the subject in 3:10 points us to the answer; “all who rely on observing the law.”

    Paul is writing primarily to Gentiles, some of whom are wanting to place themselves under the law in their relationship with God.

    So those “under the law” would include those God placed there (the nation of Israel) together with those who place themselves there (those who rely on observing the law).

    It is like a parent asking the teenage son “Why did you get home so late last night?” Then the son replies “I didn’t do anything wrong. You didn’t say what time I had to be home.” The parent wants to have an ‘adult’ conversation about responsibility and learning, but the teen wants to run for ‘protection by the law.’ As a parent, I know the son can NEVER win that way, because if he wants to be justified because he keeps the rules, then there are always rules he hasn’t kept.

  7. Gal 3:10 The word ‘for’ is linking back to what has preceeded in vv 6-9. It is showing a contrast between those who rely on faith such as Abraham it will be acredited to them ( Jew or Gentile alike)as righteousness, and those who ( Jew or Prosilyte) rely on works of the law are cursed and Paul makes clear as to why that is. Because it is impossible for mankind to be in an unblemished state before God by keeping the works of the law in its entirety. I don’t think we have any difficulty understanding this stement as such.
    However to understand the ‘US’ in v.13 We must work out who we deem that Paul is writing to. my point of view is he is theologising against the Judaisers of his day in that he has written with great dissapointment to the church that he established in the faith, and with not so long a time passing they are considering being circumcised to complete their salvation in Christ. It therefore is not difficult to understand that there must have been a considerable amount of Gentiles belonging to this church in Galatia, for it to cause such a consternation among the Jews that they should be ritually accepted by circumcision before being included in the common wealth of Israel. When we look at the closing vv in ch6:11-18 Paul writes that these Judaisers are concerned that the Gentiles of this church be circumcised like they are as it is causing them (the Judaisers) problems in having table fellowship with the Gentile Christians. It is more tolerable for these Judaisers to have their fellow Gentiles to have the marks of the circumcision in their flesh, than for the Judaisers to have the marks of the thirty nine stripes on their back or flesh as was the punishment for those of the Jewish faith who continually had table fellowship with gentiles or meeting with them in synagogues or Temple. So we conclude that Primarily Paul addreses those who were Gentiles in the ‘US’ who has followed his teaching and Those Jews who would identify with that same message. Both are covered in the fact that they have both been rescued from under the curse of the law. Which is as you suggest that the Gentiles are as the Jews were under the original curse of the original sin Gen 3. It was the plan of God to redeem all of mankind through the selection of a man Abraham, a family, and then a nation to produce the saviour who could stand before God as the representitive of God and Man in the removing of the original curse.

  8. Matt-

    I know this is late response to your post, but I ran across a miniature commentary on Galatians by Derrick Olliff. Here is the link for his blog

    You can also download it as a pdf here.

    Here is also a quote from it.

    This curse was a covenant curse given to those within the Mosaic covenant who failed to be faithful to it. If they did not get circumcised, they would be cut off from the people. And if they did not follow the Mosaic commandments, they would be cursed (cf. the verses just quoted above: Deut. 28:15; 30:15-18). The book of Deuteronomy records the renewal of the Mosaic covenant. The potential curses of the covenant, of course, come at the end. This is the context of Deut. 27:26, the verse Paul quoted. So the curse had reference to the Mosaic covenant made with the Jews.

    Thus, this curse did not apply to gentiles outside of the covenant. It did not apply to pagans and it did not apply to the “God-fearing” gentiles either. As mentioned above, this latter category has never been required to follow all the commands of Moses. This means that the distinction provided by the phrase “of the works of the law” is not between legalists and non-legalists but between Jews under the old covenant and gentiles not under the old covenant. This curse did not apply to the most legalistic gentile in Egypt, and neither did it apply to the most orthodox, God-fearing gentile in Assyria after Jonah preached there. (Obviously if the curse applied to such gentiles, it would be impossible to be a God-fearing gentile without becoming a Jew and fully following Torah — in which case the person would no longer be a gentile.) On the other hand, the curse was still relevant for the most consistent rejecter of legalism in Israel. It did not matter what such a person believed about the relationship of grace and faith to works. If he did not “continue in all things that are written,” he would have been liable to the curse.


  9. Your post was very thoughtful and insightful. I believe that Paul was specifically referring to the ‘curse of the law’. That would exclude the curse that generally affects creation. You might like the work of N.T. Wright. He has an excellent commentary on Galatians at the N.T. Wright Page. Just do a google search.

  10. Gentiles were never in a covenant relationship with God, therefore the Mosiac law did not apply to them. Under the Old Covenant, a slave had to be ‘redeemed’ by a kinsman redeemer. Jesus, being of the tribe of Judah, redeemed the Israelites from the curse of the law, which is death, and brought life and light to the world. They had to be redeemed before the Gentiles were grafted into the stump. That’s why Jesus instructed his disciples to go to ‘the lost sheep of Israel.’ The gospel preached by both Jesus and the apostles was ‘the kingdom of God is near.’ This was the ‘hope of Israel.’ The LAW brought death. The gospel brought life and liberty first to the Jews. Read Rev 22:2 The Bride came DOWN from heaven, 12 names of apostles on the foundations and 12 names of tribes of Israel on the gates….

  11. In addition, most of the Bible was written to ‘bondservants’ which has nothing to do with Gentiles. The book of James was written to ‘the 12 tribes of Israel’ dispersed among the nations. Revelation was written to ‘bondservants’ as the Israelites were residing in almost every city in the known world at that time and had synagogues there. The same people James addressed were there at Pentecost. They were Israelites born and raised in foreign nations, speaking the language of their residence.

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