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:

  • The Named Jew and the Name of God: A new reading of Romans 2:17–29

All posts

Recent blog posts

  • Romans Crash CourseRomans Crash Course (video)
    A 75 minute video course in the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans designed for church members and leaders.
  • The Mistranslation "Call Yourself a Jew" in Romans 2:17: A Mythbusting StoryThe mistranslation “call yourself a Jew”: A myth-busting story (Romans 2:17)
    This is a story about a scholarly myth and how I had the chance to bust it. I’m talking here about a small but significant 20th century biblical translation: “call yourself” instead of “are called” in Romans 2:17.
  • Breaking news: Religious Scandal in RomeThe named Jew and the name of God: A new reading of Romans 2:17–29
    I've just had an article published in the journal Novum Testamentum. In it, I provide a detailed defense of my new reading of Romans 2:17–29. This passage is not primarily about Jewish salvation - rather it's primarily about Jewish teaching and God's glory.
  • Photo by Joseph d'Mello on UnsplashPreaching the Pastoral Epistles
    A one-hour audio seminar with principles and ideas for preaching the biblical books 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus ("Pastoral Epistles")
  • A Crash Course in Romans: Livestream
    Here's a <90 minute "Crash Course in Romans" I'm running on Monday evening 1 Feb 2021. It's aimed at leaders and any interested members of my church St Augustine's Neutral Bay and Church by the Bridge Kirribilli. Anyone is welcome to watch the livestream.
  • Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on UnsplashWhat’s wrong with the world? Is there hope? (Ephesians)
    Guilt, weakness, spiritual slavery, prejudice, arrogance, tribalism, conflict, war, victimhood, persecution, pain, suffering, futility, ignorance, lying, deceit, anger, theft, greed, pornography, sexual sin, darkness, fear, drunkenness, substance abuse, domestic abuse, workplace abuse, spiritual powers... In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he says many things about the problems we face in this world. He also gives us wonderful reasons to find life, hope and healing in Jesus Christ. Along the way, he provides practical teachings about how to respond and live together.
  • What does Ephesians say about reconciliation?
    We humans are not very good at living up close with others. This is especially true when we have a history of conflict with those others. Reconciliation isn't easy. No matter how much you might want healing, it’s hardly ever a matter of just everybody getting on and pretending the hurts didn’t happen. In Paul's letter to the Ephesians, he says some very important, fundamental things about peace and reconciliation, and gives many other very practical teachings about how to live together in light of these truths.
  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on EphesiansLift Your Eyes – How it works
    Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians. Here's a video where I explain how the free online resource works.
  • Review: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman
    I need to understand the people around me, so I can live for the gospel among them and speak the gospel to them. To do that, I need to understand the people around me. That's where Carl Trueman's book is so incredibly valuable.
  • What does Ephesians say about church?
    There are so many ideas about what the church is should be. How do we navigate them all? Here are ten key reflections from Ephesians.

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor