What does Galatians 3:21 mean?
ESV: Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.
NIV: Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.
NASB: Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? Far from it! For if a law had been given that was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.
CSB: Is the law therefore contrary to God's promises? Absolutely not! For if the law had been granted with the ability to give life, then righteousness would certainly be on the basis of the law.
NLT: Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it.
KJV: Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.
NKJV: Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.
Verse Commentary:
Paul is building his case for why the law cannot accomplish what faith in Christ can. Namely, he is referring to salvation—saving us from our sin. Paul has begun to answer the question "why the law," at all, then? Now he anticipates a different question from his readers: Is he suggesting that the law of Moses and the promises made to Abraham are in conflict?

He answers emphatically, "Certainly not!" In the Greek it reads mē genoito, or "death to that idea!" In plain language, Paul really means it! Both the promises to Abraham and the law of Moses were given by God, after all. They are not opposed to each other; they simply serve different ultimate purposes.

If God had given a law designed to give life, then human beings could become righteous—"justified"—by following the law. The law cannot give life, however, because no human being has ever been able to keep it perfectly, aside from Christ Himself (Hebrews 4:15). Instead, as Paul will say in the following verse, the result of the law was to leave every human being in a prison of their own inescapable sinfulness. But, because of the promises to Abraham, as fulfilled in Jesus, that was not the end of the story.
Verse Context:
Galatians 3:15–22 begins with Paul making a legal argument about God's covenant with Abraham. This arrangement remained in place even during the later covenant of the law of Moses. Paul follows this by describing what the point of the law really is. It was given both to show what is sinful, and to show how sinful we are. By the law, we learn that we are not able to keep to God's standard and must be saved in another way. That other way is through faith in Christ. Once He arrived, this salvation was available to all people, including non-Jewish Gentiles.
Chapter Summary:
Paul indicates the Galatian Christians are foolish for believing they need to follow the law of Moses to be right with God. He offers three specific arguments to support this. First, they received God's Spirit in a powerful way after believing in Jesus, but before doing any works of the law. Second, Scripture itself shows God's blessing coming by faith, and His curse coming by the law. Christ paid the price of that curse on the cross. Third, God's covenant with Abraham is like a legal document, and it cannot be revoked.
Chapter Context:
In Galatians chapter 2, Paul declared that we can only be justified—''made right with God''—by faith in Christ and not by following the law of Moses. In chapter 3, Paul offers three arguments for why that is true. He argues from the Galatians own experience, from the Scriptures themselves, and from the legal standpoint of a covenant contract. Finally, Paul answers what the law is for if it cannot save us from our sin. In part, it reveals our sinfulness and convinces us of our need to be saved by faith in Christ. The following chapter will expand on what it means to be an ''heir,'' spiritually.
Book Summary:
Galatians is sometimes called “a short Romans” for its similar themes of justification and sanctification through faith. A group of Christians known as “Judaizers” were preaching a gospel of legalism, rather than grace. Paul’s main purpose in writing the letter to the Galatians was to reiterate the true nature of the gospel: we are justified (made righteous) and sanctified (made more Christlike) through our faith in Jesus Christ alone. This letter was probably written shortly before the church elders in Jerusalem issued their official refutation of the Judaizers, commonly called the Jerusalem Council.
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