Torah as Custodian

Yesterday I had one of those accidents of discovery that makes life so much fun. I was researching opinions on Ephesians 2, preparing for some Bible studies our congregation will have around the campfire this Sukkot. I was reading my favorite Ephesians commentary by Markus Barth (in the Anchor Bible series), when he made some remarks about Galatians 3. It’s a commentary on Ephesians, so this was not something I expected.

On page 292, Barth refers to to Galatians 3:24 and the custodian or pedagogue metaphor Paul uses there to describe the Torah. Something Barth said opened my eyes to a dimension I had completely missed before. My thoughts are not complete and it may be this will come out jumbled and incoherent. It may be there will be holes large enough for study Bibles to fit through in this exposition (but you will be sure and let me know, I presume).

What is Paul’s point about the Torah being a custodian or pedagogue? Before I get into the exposition, I should make sure all readers know that in the Greco-Roman world affluent families often had a custodian in charge of the education of the boys. The custodian was not the teacher so much as a supervisor of their education. He made sure the boys got to school and did their work. I have read that he was also responsible for teaching them manners.

The Common View
The view I have heard commonly expressed is that this custodian metaphor of Paul

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6 Responses to Torah as Custodian

  1. mjaymc says:

    So, brother Leman, are you suggesting the law is for no one now or Israel and Jews only?


  2. mchuey says:

    Out of curiosity, what is Herr Barth’s perspective on the composition of Ephesians? Genuine Pauline authorship or pseudonymity?

    Never heard this ever addressed from a Messianic point of view–or the fact that “in Ephesus” is missing from the oldest manuscripts of Ephesians 1:1.


  3. judahgabriel says:


    Non sequitur.

    If you stick with the “you” and “we’s”, you’ll see Paul say, “We’re not under a custodian.”

    If your interpretation were correct, Paul would be saying,

    “Israel is not under a custodian.”


    And if you are further correct that Paul is telling gentiles not to keep the Torah, then he is also telling Israel not to keep the Torah.

    If all that were the case, Paul would be in opposition to the Messiah.

    He’s not, so I believe you’re interpretation is incorrect.

  4. Mjaymc:

    I said that I am considering the interpretation that Israel’s relationship to the Torah is altered, not that Israel is free to break the Torah. In Messiah, a Jewish person is still called to Torah, but something has changed. I suspect the primary change is the end of condemnation and curse.


  5. Judah:

    Of course, as you know, I do believe that some parts of the Torah are only required of Israel (the identity markers such as Sabbath, dietary law, circumcision, fringes) and some apply only in the land.

    However, my point here (or my interpretation of Paul’s point here) is different. He is saying to Gentiles: don’t let anyone tell you you must come under the yoke of Torah, converting and joining the synagogue, and that this will bring you the Abrahamic blessing. The Torah was our custodian, not yours. Even our relationship to Torah has changed (see my comment to mjaymc above). How much more then should you Gentiles see that Torah-keeping is not the way to be included in Messiah. You are already included (as the Torah and prophets testify).


  6. mjaymc says:

    Thanks Derek

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