Q: #496. In speaking of the law, what does (Gal 3:19) mean when it says, "it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator?"
A: In preparing to teach one of my Bible classes, I came across this phrase in (Gal 3:19). I have read this many times without giving it a second thought. However, this time, it hit me: “What exactly does this mean?” What follows is what I have come up with.
I have poured through about 30 different commentaries and studies which discuss this, and of course, there are several different interpretations. However, only two possible explanations seem likely to me. What I find to be the best, contrary to what I have always believed (and what most of you have likely believed), is that it appears “the law” may not have been given to Moses “directly” from God, but rather, through an “angel / angels.” “What!” you may be saying. Let me explain.
There are 4 verses I can find that point to this, and (Gal 3:19) is one. Let me list them:
(Acts 7:38) This is he (Moses), that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:
(Acts 7:53) Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
(Gal 3:19) Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
***Note: “Ordained” (Gr: “diatasso“) “frequently denotes to arrange, appoint, prescribe” [Strong’s]. (Mediator = Moses)
(Heb 2:2) For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward;
Looking at these verses, it seems fairly clear that Moses was either: 1. given the law by an angel or angels, or 2. given the law by God as He was accompanied by angels. These two are the prevailing theories.
Giving credence to the first theory (and the one I believe) is the solid historical tradition that this is what the Jews believed. Many scholars mention this historical tradition. Perhaps the best proof of this belief is documented by the Jewish historian Josephus in his writing Antiquities (Book 15, Ch. 5:3), when he quotes King Herod who said, “…we have learned from God the most excellent of our doctrines, and the most holy part of our law, by angels.” This apparently reflected the traditional Jewish thinking of those times. In (Gal 3:19), Paul may also be reflecting this belief.
But, does the Old Testament actually “say” this happened? Not very clearly. (Deut 33:2) is pointed to as the primary verse to support this belief. It says:
(Deut 33:2) And he said, The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them.
This is describing when Moses received the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai. When it says, “and he (God) came with ten thousands of saints,” the Hebrew word qodesh is used for “saints” (most versions apart from the KJV use “holy ones” instead of “saints”). Qodesh simply means “a sacred place or thing” (Strong’s). Obviously, this can refer to many things (including “angels or saints”). However, even if (Deut 33:2) is speaking of “angels,” it simply seems to point to the 2nd view, that “Moses was given the law by God as He was accompanied by angels.” (Some use Ps 68:17 to bolster Deut 33:2, but it should be noted that the word “angels” in Ps 68:17 is not found in the original Hebrew, nor does this verse seem to be tied to this subject.)
***Note: It should also be noted that the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament, used the word “angels” in place of “saints” when translating (Deut 33:2).
Having said all of this, we really have very little Old Testament proof that Moses was either given the law by angels, or by God as He was accompanied by angels. It simply appears that God gave the law directly to Moses, with no angels being involved. However, what then do we do with the 4 verses from above in the New Testament (Acts 7:38,53) (Gal 3:19)(Heb 2:2), and with the Jewish tradition? I choose to believe that they convey what actually happened. It does not in any way take away from what happened with the giving of the Law in the Old Testament to say that God gave the law to Moses through an angel or angels. God was still giving the law to Moses, just not “directly” to Moses.
Some call this “double mediation.” God gave the law to an angel, who gave it to Moses (first mediation), who gave it to the people (second mediation). Moses is the “mediator” referred to in (Gal 3:19). He was the “mediator” of the Old Covenant (Deut 5:5)(Ex 20:18-22)(Heb 3:2-5)(Lev 26:46). Jesus is the “mediator” of the New Covenant, and is now the “mediator” between God [the Father] and man (1 Tim 2:5)(Heb 9:15)(Heb 8:6)(Heb 12:24)(Rom 8:34). (No “angel” mediation between the Father and Jesus.) (More on the Old vs New Covenant here.)
There is clearly a pattern of God using angels to deliver His word to people in the Bible: (Gen Ch. 19 – to Lot) (Dan 9:20-27 – to Daniel) (Lk 1:11-20 – to Zechariah) (Lk 1:26-38 to Mary) (Mt 1:20-25 – to Joseph) (Acts 27:23-24 – to Paul), and this may be another example. I am going with this theory in regards to this subject (for now at least 🙂 ). However, we cannot know with certainty whether either theory proposed in this study, or perhaps another is correct.