Skip to content

The mediator in Galatians 3:20

Galatians 3:20 is literally translated:

A mediator is not of one, yet God is one.

The word “one” can mean either “one (as opposed to many)”; or it can mean “united (as opposed to divided)”. What does it mean in this verse? And what does this verse have to do with Paul’s argument about the law and covenants (Gal 3:15-19)?

(This post is part of a series)

Galatians 3:20 verse has spawned a multitude of interpretations, but a common thread in most interpretations is the juxtaposition of plurality and singularity.[1] This is exacerbated by certain translations, which add a concept of plurality into the verse which isn’t there in the original (e.g. the ESV, “Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one”).

Wright, for example, understands Galatians 3:20 to mean that God, being one, desires one worldwide covenantal family demarcated by faith, rather than a plurality of different families.[2] However, in normal Greek usage, the existence of a mediator (μεσίτης) usually implied a conflict or underlying disunity between two parties.[3] Hence it seems that Paul’s argument is not about plurality but disunity between Israel and God.

This is backed up by the allusion to an important Old Testament verse. One of the foundational statements of the law was the Shema, with its tight indicative-imperative logic: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, The LORD is One (κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν κύριος εἷς ἐστιν). And you shall love the LORD your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole strength” (Deut 6:4–5 LXX). The logic is that, because God is “one”, there must be “whole” undivided devotion to him.

But this is precisely what had not happened at the time of the giving of the law (Exod 32–34). God was about to destroy Israel for her outright apostasy with the Golden Calf, so a mediator (Moses) was introduced to the covenant, and God’s glory was veiled to Israel. The existence of a mediator proved that God and Israel were not united. Israel was never going to be able to fulfil the promise of international blessing. From her very inception, Israel failed to display the blameless walk required of the seed as a prerequisite for this covenant (Gen 17:1). So Paul adds a further argument to his proof that Christ, not Israel, is the true obedient seed of Abraham, not by means of a semantic trick (cf. 3:16) but here from the Torah itself.


[1] N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant (London: T & T Clark, 1991) , 159.

[2] Wright, Climax, 168–72.

[3] Becker, NIDNTT 1:372–76; see also Craig R. Koester, Hebrews: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (The Anchor Bible; New York: Doubleday, 2001), 378–79.

Full bibliography

Published inCovenantGalatians

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians

Recent blog posts

  • Elf on the Shelf Balloon. Photo by Kim on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/thegirlsny/8208193899God: Beyond us—and with us (Ephesians 3:20–21)
    God is nothing like the Elf on the Shelf. God’s power is far beyond us. Yet God’s power is at work in us. So God’s glory is our joyful goal.
  • EducationWhen education is not the answer (Romans 2:17–27)
    When education is not the answer (Romans 2:17–27). Amongst all the pragmatics & demands & struggles of ministry, you first need to know the why of ministry. You need deep and strong theology, and to apply that theology to your life & ministry.
  • Colosseum with skyThis is huge (Ephesians 3:18–19)
    God’s plans for his world, and his love for us in Christ, are vast and awe-inspiring. They change everything. That’s why need prayer to grasp them.
  • Inscription behind table in St Stephens Anglican Church NewtownWhere does God live? (Ephesians 3:16–17)
    Can God’s presence be with us? If so, how? In bread and wine? In a tangible experience of worship? In Ephesians, Paul speaks about how Christ dwells among us.
  • Photo by Greg Rakozy on UnsplashWho are you praying to? (Ephesians 3:14–15)
    Most people pray. But not everyone prays in the same way. Your view of God will have a profound effect on your prayer life. Who are you praying to?
  • Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on UnsplashWith Israel Folau (repost)
    Given the current controversy surrounding Israel Folau's social media post, a piece I wrote for the ABC News website has again become highly topical.
  • My afflictions, your glory (Ephesians 3:12–13)
    We can react to suffering by avoiding or escaping or denying or rationalising it. For Paul, the gospel of Christ leads to a profoundly different reaction.
  • Ceiling Pattern, Christ Church College Staircase, OxfordGod’s multidimensional wisdom (Ephesians 3:9–11)
    Do you think being a Christian is boring? If so, maybe your view of God is one-dimensional. But Paul sees God and his purposes in vivid multidimensional glory.
  • People and the Post, Postal History from the Smithsonian's National Postal MuseumThe meaning of ministry (Ephesians 3:7–8)
    Christian ministry is hard. So why be involved at all? Pragmatics and techniques alone can’t answer that question. We need to know the meaning of ministry.
  • Photo by Sai de Silva on UnsplashThe open secret (Ephesians 3:4–6)
    How can we know God’s will? Some try to see God’s will in the progress of history. But this is disastrous. God’s will is something we can’t work out by ourselves.

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor