What does Galatians 3:23 mean?
ESV: Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.
NIV: Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed.
NASB: But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the Law, being confined for the faith that was destined to be revealed.
CSB: Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed.
NLT: Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.
KJV: But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.
NKJV: But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed.
Verse Commentary:
A group referred to as the Judaizers were attempting to convince Christians in Galatia that they must be circumcised and follow the law of Moses, in addition to believing in Christ, if they wanted to be saved (Galatians 2:4). Paul is writing to explain what is so wrong with this idea (Galatians 3:1).

He is in the middle of describing what the point of the law really was. In the previous verses, he showed that the law cannot give life to people because people cannot keep the law perfectly. It serves the purpose of showing us just how sinful we are once we understand what God would require of us to live up to His standards for righteousness. The law shows us that we cannot do it; we cannot stop sinning!

In this way, the law held Israel—and all those who wanted to be right with God—in a form of captivity. They became aware that they were prisoners of their own sin. That season under the law was temporary, however. Eventually, faith came. More specifically, Christ came and died to pay for the sin we could not escape. Through faith in Him, we can find a way out of captivity under the law. The following verse will reveal that the law served a vital purpose in the history of Israel, but that purpose came to an end when the opportunity to put our faith in Christ was revealed.
Verse Context:
Galatians 3:23–29 summarizes the idea that God never intended the law to be the final solution for the problem of sin. Instead, it was meant to ''guard'' mankind, until the arrival of Christ. This freedom from the captivity of the law also transcends all other barriers: race, gender, wealth, health, and culture are all irrelevant to our relationship with the Savior. Anyone who belongs to Christ, by faith, is promised to be an heir.
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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