Jan Lambrecht, «Abraham and His Offspring. A Comparison of Galatians 5,1 with 3,13», Vol. 80 (1999) 525-536
Just as after the Abraham passage of 3,6-12 Christ is mentioned in 3,13 quite unexpectedly, so also after 4,21-31, Pauls so-called allegory which deals with the wives and sons of Abraham, the sudden statement about Christ in 5,1 cannot but surprise the reader. Although the word order differs, both vocabulary and content of parts of 3,13a and 5,1a are identical or at least similar. Abrahams faith was already, by way of anticipation, Christian faith. Moreover, "those of faith" in 3,7 and 9 implicitly are believers in Christ. This also applies to 4,26. The children of "the Jerusalem above" are free because they belong to Christ, even if in v. 26 this is not (yet) explicitly stated. Therefore, a seemingly brusque transition from the Abraham text or the allegory to Christ should not disturb the reader too much.
only strange but utterly confusing. Moreover, the time period between Abraham and Christ would seem to be suppressed. Do we have, then, a phenomenon which should be compared with that of 3,13 and 5,1? Yet after the statement in 3,7 that only those of faith are the children of Abraham, Paul can hardly hold in 3,16 that unbelieving Jews continue to be offspring or descendants of Abraham. Sooner than one might have anticipated, from verse 17 onward, the time argument emerges in all clarity; its treatment makes Pauls reasoning in 3,15-29 different from that in 3,1-14 and 4,21-5,12. The law comes in. The lawgiving stands in between Abraham and Christ; it is later than the promise and earlier than the fulfillment. Yet, the law is powerless, its role is not positive.
The first negative feature of the law is a temporal one: the law came later, four hundred and thirty years after the promise. Therefore, it cannot nullify or destroy the promise (cf. v. 17). At the end of verse 19 Paul states that the law was ordained by angels through a mediator. "Mediator" here most probably points to Moses, not so much as an intermediary agent between two groups angels and humans but as the representative of the many angels19. In contrast God spoke the promise directly to Abraham, without angels and without an intermediary-representative. Again, law appears to be inferior. There is, moreover, a second temporal feature, equally negative, pointing not to the past but to the future. The function of the law is limited in time. Already in verse 19 it is said that the law will last (only) "till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made". This temporal limitation is worked out very clearly in the somewhat simplistic survey of salvation history given in verses 22-25. Two periods of time are distinguished, that of the law and that of faith (or: that of sin and that of Christ). When the second arrives, the first disappears.
Promise and faith are so closely linked that in 3,18 promise even takes the place of faith in the opposition to the law: "for if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise" (cf. the end of v. 29: "heirs according to promise"). One notes the same radical tone as with faith. In diatribe style Paul asks in verse 21: "Is the law then against the promises of God?". "Certainly not" is the expected first emotional reaction. In fact, the real answer is not given afterwards; it must be supplied. Perhaps one may reconstruct it as follows: although the law is not against the promise and is holy, just and good (cf. Rom 7,12), yet through it sin works death (cf. Rom 7,13). What Paul eventually says after "certainly not" explains this answer: "for if a law had been given which could make alive, then