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The ‘tutor’ (law) points us out as sinners and calls for punishment

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Q. In Gal 3.24-25 it says that the Law is our tutor and now that faith has come we are no longer under a tutor. Does that mean we are no longer under the Law?

A. This term “under the law” is “upo nomon” in Greek and Paul uses it many times. He says in Gal 5.18 that we are not “upo nomon” (under the law) if we are led by the Spirit. Now, the main theme of Galatians is whether or not the believers there had to be ritually circumcised according to the traditions of the elders to be saved. 

They taught that a person had to become a Jew through ritual circumcision to be saved. When Paul uses “under the law” he is referring to the oral law of the Rabbi’s that said you had to be circumcised to be saved. 

This came up in Acts 15 and Acts 21 and was a major issue in the first century. Now, a system of works righteousness was developed by the rabbi’s from 300 BC to 50 BC (Rom 9.30-33) and what he is basically saying is that a person is not under indictment or under arrest for breaking the oral law of the rabbi’s, in this case, ritual circumcision. 

Now, let’s get back to the original question about the “tutor” in Gal 3.24-25. 

The tutor in Greek is the word “paidagogos” and in the Greek/Roman world they were the guardians and disciplinarians over the master’s children until they reached the age of maturity.

Now, here is why Paul used it. The Torah has a double nature. The Law acts as a “tutor” in a judicial role, but only until we come to the Lord as a believer. 

The “tutor” (Law) points us out as sinners and calls for punishment. We are “under arrest” and in custody. 

Both Jew and Gentile are all under sin (Rom 3.9). But, when we become a believer (maturity) the Law’s role as “tutor”  is abolished. 

The Law can no longer demand our death because there is no longer a record of our sins. That’s what remission of sin means. 

By doing this we are no longer under the curse of the law, which is death. This brings us to the second aspect of the Law, and that is instructional. 

That’s what Torah means, instruction. The Torah reveals God’s ways to us and guides us in the way that we should go. It reveals the will of God in so many areas that we don’t even have to pray about it, we already know. When we don’t follow the Torah, then we sin and we know we have forgiveness (1 Jn 1.9). So, what Paul is saying is this. The Law was our tutor when we weren’t saved and it points out our sin and penalty, the first aspect. 

When we become a believer we are no longer “under a tutor” because we are “mature” and that role does not apply to us anymore. 

Now, the Law becomes our instructor and it tells us to obey, it tells us how to live as a believer. It doesn’t save you but it shows us what to do, how the Lord thinks and what is important. When I was in Catholic school the priests used to tell us that we “were children of God, act like it!” 

So, Paul is merely saying to the Galatians that they have moved from the judicial role of the Torah to its instructive role and the false teaching of ritual circumcision was not in the Torah and they did not have to obey it. It was a rabbinical decree and part of the oral law and it played no role in salvation. They did not need to “do” any works to be saved and that was the whole point of the book of Galatians. 

Now, ritual circumcision is not to be confused with Abrahamic circumcision. Let me explain. The Torah teaches that a descendant of Abraham should be circumcised (Gen 17.9-14). 

That is a commandment and Paul observed it and had Timothy circumcised because his mother was Jewish but his father was a Greek and apparently they did not circumcised Timothy. So, when Timothy became a believer Paul had him circumcised in obedience to the Abrahamic Covenant. 

But, this is not ritual circumcision. Ritual circumcision only applied to Gentiles and they were told that they could not be saved unless they became a Jew and they had to undergo a ritual circumcision as part of the conversion process. 

This was a man-made law and Paul was against it and so was God (Acts 10). Knowing this will help explain why Paul circumcised Timothy (Abrahamic circumcision based on Gen 17) and why he did not circumcise the Gentile Titus (rabbinical, ritual circumcision). 

One was of God and the other man-made. So, in conclusion, the bottom line is this. If you are an unbeliever you are still “under the tutor” but once you believe you are no longer “under a tutor because you have reached maturity and now the Torah is instructional.


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