Paul's letter to the Galatians is the Scripture most often used to try and prove that YHVH's Law has been done away. Many theologians cite passages from Galatians to establish that the so-called "Mosaic Law" (i.e., Torah) given at Mount Sinai has no validity for "new covenant" believers. But is this position correct? Did Yeshua remove the Law that God gave the Israelites at Sinai and replace it with a different law?
The key to understanding anything in the Bible is an awareness of the CONTEXT of the Scripture you're reading. Paul's epistle to the Galatians is no exception. We have to remember that this text is a letter that Paul wrote to try and correct a problem that was occurring in Galatia. However, we only have ONE side of the discussion. We don't know what questions or statements Paul had received from the Galatians. In effect, reading this letter is like listening to a telephone conversation we're not directly involved with. We can't hear what the other party is saying, so we have to try and determine what was said through the answers given by the one we can hear.
To fully grasp what Paul is saying in this pivotal New Testament epistle, we must become aware of the specific problems that had arisen in Galatia. We must also try to discern who was causing those problems. Our goal in this article is to compare Paul's comments to the Galatians with teachings that existed in 1st-century Judaism. By doing this, we will attempt to identify the group of "Judaizers" who were disturbing Paul's converts in Galatia. In the process, we will look extensively at some of the documents uncovered during the 20th century in the Dead Sea scrolls found at Qumran.
Now let's begin our journey through the book of Galatians with Paul's introduction and greeting to the Galatians:
GALATIANS 1:1 Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead), 2 and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia: 3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (NKJV)
After his short greeting, Paul quickly launches into the problem occurring in Galatia:
GALATIANS 1:6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (NKJV)
Some person or group was attempting to deceive the Galatians with a "different gospel." At this point in his letter, we don't yet know what this other gospel ("good news") is that Paul refers to here. As we delve more deeply into his epistle, Paul will give us some vital clues about how the good news proclaimed by Messiah had been perverted. To emphasize the depth of his displeasure at this development, Paul pronounces a double curse on the person(s) attempting to convert the Galatians to this heretical religious view.
GALATIANS 1:10 For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ. 11 But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. (NKJV)
Here Paul emphasizes the divine nature of his teaching. He claims that Yeshua the Messiah himself revealed the truth to him. This claim is designed to differentiate the gospel that Paul initially brought to the Galatians from the gospel they later accepted.
GALATIANS 1:13 For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. 14 And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. (NKJV)
In the Second Temple period, Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Qumran sectarians, Nazarenes, etc. all considered themselves to be Jews. Judaism is a useful term insofar as it indicates that one worships the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. However, the different Jewish sects differed widely in belief and practice in the 1st century.
We know from the New Testament that Paul was a member of the sect of the Pharisees (Acts 23:6; 26:5; Phi. 3:5). The "traditions of the fathers" he mentions in verse 14 is a reference to the Oral Law of the Pharisees. The Pharisees (and later their successors, rabbinic Judaism) believed that Moses was given oral laws as well as the written Law while on Mount Sinai for 40 days. According to Jewish tradition, these oral laws were handed down through the generations from father to son to explain how the written Law was to be kept. Many of these oral laws were later recorded by the rabbis in the Mishnah and the Talmud.
Paul does not just mention the "traditions of the fathers" in passing here. His comment is intended to set up what he will write to the Galatians later in his letter about the teachings of the "false brethren."
GALATIANS 1:15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. (NKJV)
Unlike many who would have sought human validation for the supernatural instruction he had just received, Paul did not go to Jerusalem to consult with the disciples who had been with Yeshua. Instead, he went to Arabia and then Damascus for a total of three years (v. 18).
GALATIANS 1:18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord's brother. 20 (Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.) 21 Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. 23 But they were hearing only, "He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy." 24 And they glorified God in me. (NKJV)
At the end of chapter 1, Paul speaks of his trip to Jerusalem three years after his experience on the road to Damsacus. While there, he conferred with the apostle Peter for 15 days.
GALATIANS 2:1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. 2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. 3 Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. (NKJV)
Paul tells of another trip he took to Jerusalem 14 years after his conversion, this time accompanied by Barnabas (Acts 11:30; 12:25) and Titus. He states that he was told to go "by revelation." The purpose of his trip was to confirm that he was preaching the same message to the Gentiles that the original apostles were preaching to the Jews.
Paul's statement regarding Titus not being compelled to be circumcised (v. 3) is another clue regarding the problems that had arisen in Galatia. Indications from the text are that coerced circumcision was one of the primary false teachings being brought to the Galatians.
The different Jewish sects taught different meanings for circumcision. Despite the common misconception of most Christians, Paul was not opposed to circumcision per se. In fact, he required circumcision of his co-worker Timothy (Acts 16:1-4), and he stated that "the sign of circumcision" is "a seal of the righteousness of the faith" (Rom. 4:11). But Paul's adversaries in Galatia wanted circumcision not to be simply a sign that showed faith, but rather part of the method through which righteousness was attained.
GALATIANS 2:4 But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us – 5 we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you. (NRSV)
Verses 4 and 5 seem somewhat out of place because these verses are an inset equating the "false brethren" bothering the Galatians with other false believers the apostle Paul had met during his ministry. They are mentioned at this point in Paul's letter because their actions and attitudes were the opposite of those Paul visited while in Jerusalem. Paul's contrast between Titus not being required to be circumcised by the apostles when they visited Jerusalem (v. 3) and the mention of "false brethren" (v. 4) shows that forced circumcision based on the teaching of the "false brethren" was one of the central issues Paul was concerned about in Galatia.
GALATIANS 2:6 But from those who seemed to be something – whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man – for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. 7 But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter 8 (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), 9 and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do. (NKJV)
After the two inset verses, Paul continues discussing his trip to Jerusalem. He shows that Peter was the leader of the apostles who had been with Yeshua. This passage is designed to show the Galatians that Paul was preaching the same good news to the Gentiles that the original apostles let by Peter were preaching to the Jews.
In the next story Paul relates about Peter, he sets up his main point against the false brethren in Galatia:
GALATIANS 2:11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. (NKJV)
Apparently Peter later made a reciprocal visit to Paul at Antioch. Initially, he ate meals with the Gentile converts there. But when some Jewish men sent by James showed up later, he discontinued eating with the Gentiles.
The reason Peter ceased eating with the Gentiles when the Jewish men from Jerusalem arrived was due to requirements found in the Oral Law. The eating Paul speaks of here had nothing to do with unclean food. Peter himself confirms this tenet of the Oral Law in his visit to Cornelius:
ACTS 10:28 He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean." (NIV)
This prohibition is NOT found in the Torah, but rather was part of the Oral Law. According to strict Jewish tradition, it was not permitted to eat with an uncircumcised Gentile even if he worshiped the God of Israel and served clean food. This was because it was automatically assumed that the house was ritually unclean, and that the Gentiles in it were also unclean. According to the Oral Law, this uncleanness would make the Jew entering into the house unclean also.
The tradition of separating from the Gentiles to maintain ritual purity was contrary to the truth of the Gospel. There is no law in the Torah which forbids Israelites from eating with Gentiles. Paul's commission was to preach the good news to as many Gentiles as were willing to hear it. Jews refusing to eat with Gentile believers would have made this task very difficult, if not impossible.
GALATIANS 2:14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew [Ioudaios], live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews [Ioudaikos], why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews [Ioudaizein]?" (NKJV)
Paul called Peter's hand on this practice in front of all the Jews, including those from Jerusalem, because he knew Peter's true feelings on this issue. Paul's words to Peter are hard for us to understand today, as Peter himself later commented about many of Paul's writings (2 Pet. 3:16). However, a careful analysis of them will reveal the true point that Paul was making to Peter.
In the New Testament, the word "Jew" (from the Greek root word Ioudaios) has basically three meanings. It either refers to (1) one who is descended from the House of Judah, (2) someone from the land of Judea, or (3) someone who practiced the religion of Israel. At times, these designations overlapped.
In Paul's case, his rebuke of Peter was designed to call attention to the hypocrisy he showed when the religious Jews arrived from Judea. Paul chastised Peter for trying to adhere to ritual purity customs based on the Oral Law which were kept by the strict Jews in Judea. However, these traditions were not normally required of the Gentile brethren outside of Judea. A Jewish evangelist who followed these traditional customs while in other nations would have had a tough time converting the Gentiles.
Below is a literal translation of verse 14 that better illustrates Paul's point:
GALATIANS 2:14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew [Ioudaios], live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Judeans [Ioudaikos], why do you compel Gentiles to live as Judeans [Ioudaizein]?" (literal)
Paul asked Peter a simple but biting question: "Peter, although you are a Jew, while dwelling among the Gentiles you don't normally seek to be ritually pure like the Jews in Judea. So why are you now trying to force the Gentiles to adhere to the purity traditions just as if they were in Judea?" Paul said Peter did not normally follow the oral tradition that he was advocating by his actions, and that made him a hypocrite.
In the context of Paul's argument, to "live as Jews," or "Judeans" was synonymous with following the oral customs regarding contact with Gentiles that those in Judea followed. The issue here was not compliance with the written Law, but remaining ritually pure according to the Oral Law. The Judeans from Jerusalem were apparently concerned about maintaining their ritual purity. Peter, who was not adhering to those customs when he first arrived in Antioch, returned to the stricter Judean practice of maintaining ritual purity when the Jews from Jerusalem arrived. His hypocrisy was evident to Paul because he knew that Peter did not believe the Oral Law's ritual purity requirements regarding eating with Gentiles were valid (Acts 10:28).
Paul's use of the example of Peter here in his letter was intended to lead in to the problem of the "false gospel" being promoted in Galatia by his opponents. It is within Paul's next statement that we see the crux of the problem in Galatia first addressed by Paul:
GALATIANS 2:15 "We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law [ergon nomou] but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law [ergon nomou]; for by the works of the law [ergon nomou] no flesh shall be justified. (NKJV)
Here we are introduced to the phrase "works of the law" for the first time in the letter to the Galatians. This phrase has been the foundation for much Christian doctrine and theological understanding. Most Christians believe that "works of the law" is a reference to observing the Law of Moses. They interpret Paul's words here to mean that obedience to the Torah is no longer required. In fact, some take Paul's statement to mean that obedience to the Law demonstrates a lack of faith.
However, this interpretation is unjustified based on Paul's prior comments to Peter. Peter was NOT following the Law of Moses when he separated himself from the Gentiles. Rather, he was adhering to traditions found in the Oral Law. Could it be that Paul's use of the phrase "works of the law" was intended to refer to something other than the Law of Moses?
Due to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, new light has been shed on the heresy that Paul was combating in Galatia. In the fourth cave excavated at Qumran, a manuscript named Miqsat Ma'ase haTorah (4QMMT) was found. It was only translated and released to the public in 1994.
In the November/December 1994 issue of Biblical Archaeological Review, scholar Martin Abegg commented on the importance of this document to understanding Paul's letter to the Galatians:
MMT . . . stands for Miqsat Ma'ase Ha-Torah, which Strugnell and Qimron translate "Some Precepts of the Torah." This translation unfortunately obscures MMT's relationship to Paul's letters.
In this case, miqsat does not mean simply "some." The same word is used in Genesis 47:2, where Joseph presents five of his brothers to Pharaoh. Here the word could be understood to mean the most important of the brothers or perhaps the choice or select. In other words, when the word is used in MMT, it does not refer just to some random laws; these laws are important to the writer. A similar understanding of the meaning of the word can be gleaned from its use in the Talmud. Thus we might translate the word more accurately as "some important" or "pertinent."
More significant for our purposes, however, are the other two words, ma'ase ha-torah. Strugnell and Qimron translate this phrase as "precepts of Torah," while Lawrence Schiffman offers "legal rulings of Torah." These translations are accurate enough, but they nonetheless cloud the Paul connection.
A few minutes with a concordance of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, leaves little doubt that the Greek equivalent of ma'ase ha-torah is likely ergon nomou. Ergon nomou is commonly translated in English versions of the New Testament as "works of the law." This well-known Pauline phrase is found in Romans 3:20,28 and in Galatians 2:16; 3:2,5,10.
. . . Ma'ase ha-torah is equivalent to what we know in English from Paul's letters as "works of the law." This Dead Sea Scroll and Paul use the very same phrase. The connection is emphasized by the fact that this phrase appears nowhere in rabbinic literature of the first and second centuries A.D.—only in Paul and in MMT. (pp. 52-53, "Paul, 'Works of the Law,' and MMT," Biblical Archaeological Review, November/December 1994)
This ancient document is of great importance in understanding the heresy that Paul was combating at Galatia. As we will see by another of Paul's statements later (Gal. 4:10), the evidence is overwhelming that his opponents there were adherents to some of the same doctrines that those in Qumran held.
Several books have addressed this particular Dead Sea Scroll since it was first published. In a more recent work, Abegg speaks further about the significance of 4QMMT (which he calls A Sectarian Manifesto):
In all of antiquity, only the Manifesto and Paul's Letters to the Galatians and Romans discuss the connection between works and righteousness. For that reason alone this writing is of immense interest and importance. But the Manifesto has additional significance. While the sectarian documents found in the caves at Qumran fairly bristle with legal discussions on a variety of issues, only this work, commonly known as 4QMMT (an acronym from the Hebrew words meaning "some of the works of the Law"), directly challenges the position of another religious group.
. . . The Manifesto presents a well-reasoned argument couched in a homily, complete with applications, illustrations, and exhortations. Following a thesis statement that identifies the central problem—the impure are being allowed to mix with the pure (the profane with the holy)—the author lists some two dozen examples to prove his point . . . The addressee (and secondarily, the reader) is then encouraged to follow the author: separate from those who practice such things. . . . (p. 358, Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation)
Abegg's translation of the 4QMMT author's concluding statements shows that the Qumran sectarians were advocating obedience to their particular interpretation of the Tanakh:
[Indeed,] we [have written] to you so that you might understand the book of Moses, the book[s of the Pr]ophets, and Davi[d] . . . (p. 363, Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation)
Here is Abegg's translation of the final exhortation found in 4QMMT:
Now, we have written to you some of the works of the Law, those which we determined would be beneficial for you and your people, because we have seen [that] you possess insight and knowledge of the Law. Understand all these things and beseech Him to set your counsel straight and so keep you away from evil thoughts and the counsel of Belial. Then you shall rejoice at the end time when you find the essence of our words to be true. And it will be reckoned to you as righteousness, in that you have done what is right and good before Him, to your own benefit and to that of Israel. (p. 364, Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation)
Abegg succinctly summarizes the author's intention for a reader of 4QMMT:
. . . The final exhortation presses home the author's true point: to be accounted righteous, one must obey the Law as interpreted in the Manifesto.
This final exhortation is of great importance for a fuller understanding of statements the apostle Paul makes about works and righteousness in his Letter to the Galatians. The author of the Manifesto, probably thinking of Psalm 106:30-31 (where the works of Phinehas were "reckoned to him as righteousness"), is engaged, as it were, in a rhetorical duel with the ideas of the apostle. Paul appeals to Genesis 15:6 to show that it was the faith of Abraham that was "reckoned to him as righteousness" (Gal. 3:6) and goes on to state categorically that "by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal. 2:16). Probably the "false brethren" (Gal. 2:4) that Paul opposed held a doctrine on justification much like that of the present writing (i.e., 4QMMT). (p. 359, Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation)
In his essay "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Historical Jesus," James H. Charlesworth speaks of the emphasis the Qumran Essenes placed on purity:
As we know from an unpublished letter ("Some of the Precepts of the Torah") . . . the Qumran group held to rules for purification that differed from other Jews (4QMMT). The Qumranic penal code, which included the death penalty, was closely aligned with the rules for purity. In terms of the concept of purity Jesus was categorically different from the Essenes. (p. 25, Jesus And The Dead Sea Scrolls)
It was the issue of ritual purity as defined by the Oral Law that caused Peter to separate from Gentiles in Antioch. The relationship between the cause for Peter's hypocrisy and the "different gospel" being brought to Galatia by the "false brethren" is why Paul chose to use the story of Peter to launch his attack on his opponents there. Regarding the nature of the teachings found at Qumran, Charlesworth writes:
. . . The Essenes originated as a separate group because of their interpretation of legal issues (4QMMT). Many of the Dead Sea Scrolls are legalistic . . . (p. 32, Jesus And The Dead Sea Scrolls)
The Essenes at Qumran were a subgroup of the majority of Essenes:
. . . The Essenes of Josephus cannot be simply equated with the Qumranites. The history of the Qumranites is long, covering three centuries, and there is considerable development at Qumran. Likewise the lifestyle of the "Qumran Essenes" would be more strict than those living, for example, in Jerusalem. There were at least two distinct types of Essenes in Palestine. (p. 42, Jesus And The Dead Sea Scrolls)
As these quotations show, the teaching brought to Galatia by the sectarians went far above and beyond the requirements of the written Torah.
GALATIANS 2:17 "If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. (NIV)
Now Paul, in an effort to head off any counter argument that he was opposed to obeying the written Law of Moses, goes on the offensive against lawlessness (I John 3:4). He states that justification through the sacrifice of the Messiah does not give us license to sin.
GALATIANS 2:19 For I through the Law died to the Law that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (NKJV)
The penalty for sin is death, as Paul states in his epistle to the Romans (Rom. 6:23). Therefore, those who have broken any of God's laws are under this penalty (cf. Jam. 2:10). Because of this requirement of the Law, Paul had to die. But instead of physically dying, Paul was able to substitute the Messiah's sacrificial death for his own. However, in order not to become a lawbreaker again after having been cleansed of his sins, Paul had to subject his will to that of Messiah Yeshua. He had to become a living sacrifice, living his life in obedience to God instead of obeying his own fleshly lusts.
GALATIANS 2:21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died in vain." (NKJV)
Here Paul finishes his opening remarks and establishes the premise for his attack on the teachings of the "false brethren" in Galatia that follows in chapter 3. Paul's position is that legalistic observance of the Law (whether according to the sectarians' "Works of the Law," the Oral Law of the Pharisees, etc.) for the purpose of establishing one's own righteousness is worthless in the sight of God.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul contrasts the two ways for gaining righteousness: (1) Legalistic obedience to the Law versus (2) obedience to the Law due to faith in the Messiah. To understand Paul's comments about the Law in Galatians, we must realize his position about the PURPOSE of the Law. He speaks of this extensively in his letter to the Romans:
ROMANS 3:19 Now we know that whatever the Law says it speaks to those who are under the Law [hupo nomon], so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law [ergon nomou] no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the Law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it - 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (ESV)
Taken in context, Paul's words here show his true understanding of the purpose of the Law. The Law was intended to show the conduct God expected from mankind. Any deviation from that specified conduct was sin. As the apostle John tells us explicitly in the New Testament, "sin is lawlessness" (I John 3:4).
The Law speaks to those who are "under the Law" (Gr. hupo nomon). Here this phrase refers to the judging function of the Law. Paul is speaking of those who, because they have sinned, are under the PENALTY for breaking the Law (Rom. 6:14-15; Gal. 3:23; 5:18). This penalty is DEATH (Rom. 6:23). Lest anyone think that only the Jews are subject to this judgment, Paul tells us that through the Law the whole world will be held accountable to God (Rom. 3:19).
ROMANS 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law [ergon nomou]. (NASU)
By "works of the law" (legalistic observance of the Law to gain God's favor), no one will be justified in God's sight. The reason why this is so is because "all have sinned" (Rom. 3:23). However, God has provided a way for our justification other than through perfect observance of the Law. That way is through FAITH, by accepting the sacrifice of Messiah Yeshua (Rom. 3:20, 28).
ROMANS 3:31 Do we then overthrow [katargoumen] the Law BY THIS FAITH? By no means [me genoito]! On the contrary, we uphold [histomen] the Law. (ESV)
Finally, to ensure that the Romans did not misundertand his stance on the Law, Paul summed up the relationship of faith to the Law. Paul first asks if our FAITH overthrows (Gr. katargoumen - "nullifies," "makes void," "destroys") the Law. Answering his own rhetorical question, Paul emphatically states "NO WAY!" using a strong negative Greek phrase (me genoito). Paul finishes by stating that instead of our faith nullifying the Law, it should motivate us to uphold (Gr. histomen - "establish," "make valid," "confirm") the Law. It's amazing that anyone could misconstrue the plain meaning of these words. But unfortunately, most of the Christian world has done just that.
Later in the book of Romans, Paul speaks about HOW the Jews who did not accept Yeshua as the Messiah had gotten off track:
ROMANS 9:30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the the law of righteousness. 32 Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law [ergon nomou]. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. (NKJV)
Refusing to accept God's grace and the imputed righteousness provided by the sacrifice of His Son, the Jews had sought to establish their own righteousness through scrupulous keeping of the Law. In Romans 10, Paul continued his explanation of this Jewish error:
ROMANS 10:1 Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (NKJV)
Too many read that the "Messiah is the end of the Law" without acknowledging the remainder of Paul's statement. Messiah was NOT the end of the Law; he was only the end of the Law as a means of righteousness for those who had FAITH in his atoning sacrifice.
Did this shift in the way righteousness was obtained mean that the Law was no longer valid? No, as Paul himself states elsewhere (Rom. 3:31; Gal. 3:21). Paul was simply showing that the MOTIVATION for keeping the Law changed when one through faith accepted the Messiah's sacrifice.
Paul speaks in his letter to the Philippians about the differences between the "righteousness of the Law" and the righteousness obtained through faith:
PHILIPPIANS 3:4 Though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the Law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless. 7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; (NKJV)
Paul shows here that, according to his legalistic observance of the Law before his conversion, he was considered righteous and blameless. However, this righteousness was based on Paul's fleshly ability to conform to the Law. The righteousness which is from God through faith in Yeshua is based on the power of the Holy Spirit to enable a person to be obedient. As we shall see later, Paul speaks of this allegorically in Galatians 4:22-31.
Armed with this view of Paul's understanding of the Law's purpose, let's now examine his specific comments about the Law in Galatians 3:
GALATIANS 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law [ergon nomou], or by the hearing of faith? (NKJV)
Now Paul begins to attack the premise underlying the sectarian teaching in earnest. He asks the Galatians if keeping the Torah perfectly (or in this case, according to the sectarians' "Works of the Law") was what had initially allowed them to receive God's Spirit, or whether it was hearing the gospel he had proclaimed and believing it in faith. Clearly, his implication is that they were first accounted righteous through faithful acceptance of Yeshua's sacrifice, not by legalistic observance of the Law.
GALATIANS 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? 4 Have you suffered so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain? 5 Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law [ergon nomou], or by the hearing of faith? – (NKJV)
Here Paul reemphasizes his previous point: It was through faith that the Galatians had obtained the Spirit, not through perfect observance of the Torah such as that encouraged by the sectarians.
GALATIANS 3:6 Just as Abraham "believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." 7 Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed." 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. (NKJV)
Many think that Paul here (quoting in v. 6 from Genesis 15:6) is stating that all one has to do is believe in faith, and that faith somehow substitutes for keeping the commandments of God. But let's examine the example of Abraham more closely. The Bible clearly shows that his faith led to obedience, as Hebrews 11 (the "faith chapter") records:
HEBREWS 11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. (NKJV)
HEBREWS 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, (NKJV)
The author of Hebrews clearly shows that Abraham's faith was confirmed by his OBEDIENCE to God. Faith is not a substitute for obedience. True faith leads to obedience, because the one who obeys believes that God "is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6). This is affirmed in God's confirmation to Isaac of the promises made to Abraham:
GENESIS 26:2 Then the LORD appeared to him [Isaac] and said: "Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you. 3 Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. 4 And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; 5 because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws." (NKJV)
Paul's statement in verse 6, when understood properly, perfectly compliments the words of James regarding Abraham's faith:
JAMES 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (NKJV)
These Scriptures do not contradict each other; Paul and James were making the same point regarding Abraham's faith. But Abraham's faithful obedience and the Galatian's legalistic obedience were two different things. The former showed faith in God's imputed righteousness, while the latter indicated reliance on one's own actions and abilities to become righteous.
GALATIANS 3:10 For as many as are of the works of the law [ergon nomou] are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the Book of the Law, to do them." (NKJV)
When the Galatians began to seek their own righteousness by observing the Torah according to the sectarians' "Works of the Law," they had ceased depending on the sacrifice of the Messiah to make them righteous. At that point, in order to remain righteous, they had to keep the Law perfectly. This is the reason for Paul's warning here. He wanted to make them understand that their choice had left them no room for error.
GALATIANS 3:11 But that no one is justified by the Law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith." 12 Yet the Law is not of faith, but "the man who does them shall live by them." (NKJV)
What did Paul mean by his declaration that "the Law is not of faith"? Many take this to mean that observance of the Law is not required after the death and resurrection of Messiah. Some go so far as to say that those who seek to do what God has commanded are under a curse. That certainly was not Paul's view. To him, observing the "works of the law" represented a legalistic mindset that sought to earn righteousness. Paul is not disparaging the Law itself, but rather the attitude represented by the sectarian teachings that had come to Galatia.
To better understand Paul's comments about the relationship of God's commandments to a believer, let's examine a scenario put forth by the Messiah himself:
LUKE 17:7 "And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'? 8 But will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'? 9 Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. 10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.' " (NKJV)
According to Yeshua, doing what God has commanded is not optional; it is our duty as His people. Those who anticipate earning a reward for obeying God's commandments will be disappointed. As his example clearly shows, obedience to the Law is expected of believers; it is a prerequisite to being considered a true follower of Yeshua the Messiah (Matt. 7:21-23).
GALATIANS 3:13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (NKJV)
Here Paul quotes from the Torah regarding the penalty for a capital crime under the Mosaic Law:
DEUTERONOMY 21:22 "If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God. (NKJV)
Paul told the Romans that by committing sin, one earns the death penalty (Rom. 6:23). James stated that even if a person kept the majority of the Law and just stumbled in one point of it, he was guilty of breaking it all (Jam. 2:10). Therefore, rather than the commonly held assumption that "the curse of the Law" is having to obey the Law, we see that "the curse of the Law" is the DEATH PENALTY required for not obeying the Law.
By living a sinless life (II Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15), Yeshua was not under this death penalty. But even though he was not subject to the "curse of the Law," Yeshua gave his life to redeem those who were under that judgment. Faithful acceptance of his sacrifice will save us from the "curse of the Law," which is God's wrath against unrepentant sinners:
ROMANS 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. (NKJV)
To further make his point, Paul next addresses the covenant God made with Abraham:
GALATIANS 3:15 Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man's covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. 16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, "And to seeds," as of many, but as of one, "And to your Seed," who is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the Law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. 18 For if the inheritance is of the Law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. (NKJV)
Now Paul goes into the promises and blessings given to Abraham. God gave Abraham the promise of a multitude of descendants, but He also promised him one SPECIFIC descendant:
GENESIS 22:18 "In your seed [zar'akha] all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." (NKJV)
The Hebrew word zar'akha (root word zera, "seed") is singular (as is the Greek word spermati used in the Septuagint). This verse is the source of Paul's reference to ONE seed, the Messiah. Although Abraham certainly has a multitude of physical descendants, he has even more "offspring" through the work being performed by the Messiah.
Paul's point here is that legalistic obedience to the Law, which came 430 years after God made the promises to Abraham, does not nullify God's covenant with Abraham. This covenant promises God's salvation to all mankind through the work of the Messiah. However, this salvation does not negate the importance of obedience. The promises were given to Abraham based on his faithful obedience. Abraham BELIEVED what God told him, and he DID what God said. This included obeying God's laws, statutes and commandments, as God told Isaac (Gen. 26:5).
But here is the most important point: Abraham believed FIRST, and then OBEYED. The sectarian approach was just the opposite of Abraham's actions. They required perfect obedience to the Law FIRST as a qualification for the promised inheritance. In their view, faith was not the primary reason for observing the Law; ensuring one's place as an inheritor of the promises of Abraham was.
GALATIANS 3:19 Why then the Law? It was added because of transgressions, until the Offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. (NRSV)
To correctly understand this verse, we must remember Paul's position on the Law. It was not a tool to enable righteousness, but rather a way to know what God expects of us. Paul addresses this point more fully in verse 21.
The mediator mentioned in verse 19 is Moses, who stood between the people of Israel and Israel's 'elohim, the preincarnate Messiah. Paul mentions this to set up his next point:
GALATIANS 3:20 Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. (NKJV)
The covenant between 'elohim and Abraham had no mediator; 'elohim and Abraham spoke face to face. Here Paul is again emphasizing the preeminence of God's covenant with Abraham over the covenant made with Abraham's descendants at Mount Sinai.
GALATIANS 3:21 Is the Law then against the promises of God? Certainly not [me genoito]! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the Law. (NKJV)
Paul, realizing that some might take his previous comments to be AGAINST the Law, now seeks to dispel any such notion in verse 21. He states without reservation that the Law is not, in any way, contrary to God's promises to Abraham. In the last part of the verse, Paul equates LIFE with RIGHTEOUSNESS (and by implication, DEATH with UNRIGHTEOUSNESS / SIN). He goes so far as to say that if it were possible for ANY law to give life, then the Law given through Moses would have been the one to do so. But it could not, because that was not the function of the Law.
Why could the Law not provide life?
GALATIANS 3:22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (NKJV)
The Law could not provide life because of the flawed nature of human beings, not because of some defect in the Law:
ROMANS 8:3 What the Law could not do because of the weakness of human nature, God did, sending His own Son in the same human nature as any sinner to be a sacrifice for sin, and condemning sin in that human nature. (NJB)
Going back to Paul's understanding of the PURPOSE of the Law discussed earlier, we see he recognized that it provided a guide for conduct and penalties for disobedience. But because of the sin nature of mankind, the Law was not a means for achieving righteousness. Paul tells us that all have broken the Law (cf. Rom. 3:9, 23). Therefore, all have incurred the resulting penalty, which is DEATH.
GALATIANS 3:23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the Law [hupo nomon], imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the Law was our guardian [paidagogos] until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian [paidagogon], (ESV)
Paul's point here is generally misunderstood because of a wrong view of the function of the paidagogos in ancient Greek society. This Greek word, translated "guardian" above, is translated "schoolmaster" and "tutor" in some versions. However, the key to comprehending Paul's point is to truly understand the responsibilities of the paidagogos. Here is what the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature states about the function of a paidagogos:
. . . Orig[inally] 'boy-leader', the man, usu[ally] a slave (Plut., Mor. 4ab), whose duty it was to conduct a boy or youth (Plut., Mor. 439f) to and from school and to superintend his conduct gener[ally]; he was not a 'teacher' . . . When the young man became of age, the [paidagogos] was no longer needed . . .
As you can see from the definition above, Paul is NOT referring to the Law as a teacher. Instead, he is again speaking of the judgment function of the Law. The context indicates that the Law functioned as a guardian for those convicted of sin. Since all have sinned (Gal. 3:22), this was all of humanity.
When forgiveness came through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua, we were no longer subject to the guardianship of the Law; we were no longer under its penalty for disobedience. Faith leads us to spiritual maturity; just as a boy no longer needed a guardian to superintend his conduct after he came of age, we no longer need the Law as the guardian of our conduct after we come to faith in Messiah. However, this does not mean that the Law's role as God's standard of right conduct has been voided.
GALATIANS 3:26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (NKJV)
This passage is often used to try and show that no physical or racial differences should exist within the body of Messiah. That was not Paul's point. He gives us three pairs: (1) Jew/Greek; (2) slave/free; and (3) male/female. Obviously differences still existed between all these groups in Paul's day. Instead, Paul was saying that each has equal access to Yah's salvation. As children of God, each is an heir, along with Messiah, of the promises made to Abraham.
GALATIANS 4:1 My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; 2 but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. 3 So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world [ta stoicheia tou kosmou]. (NRSV)
Paul states his point using the analogy of human children. Even though we are children of God, until we come to spiritual maturity, we are no better than slaves. Just as the Galatians were under the judgment of the Law until they accepted the Messiah's sacrifice, Paul says that they were subject to "the elemental spirits of the world" (Gr. ta stoicheia tou kosmou). Regarding the meaning of this Greek phrase, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology states:
In the case of Gal. 4:3, 9 and Col. 2:8, 20 it is a disputed question whether or not the stoicheia tou kosmou, the "elements of the world", are angels, demons, gods . . . Most commentators hold this to be the case . . . (p. 452, vol. 2)
In his Jewish New Testament Commentary, David Stern agrees with this understanding of ta stoicheia tou kosmou in Galatians. He writes:
Elemental spirits of the universe . . . both Jews and Gentiles, were slaves to them. Gentiles served these demonic spirits as gods. Jews, though knowing the one true God, were sometimes led astray by demonic spirits . . ." (p. 556)
Paul's point here is the same thing that he stated in his letter to the Ephesians:
EPHESIANS 6:12 For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. (NAB)
As Paul states a little further on in his letter to the Galatians (Gal. 4:8-9), it is these evil spiritual forces that lead a person from faithful obedience into legalistic observance of the Law.
GALATIANS 4:4 But when the time had fully come [to pleroma tou chronou], God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under Law [hupo nomon], 5 to redeem those under Law [hupo nomon], that we might receive the full rights of sons. (NIV)
When "the fullness of the time" (to pleroma tou chronou) had come, when it was the exact moment planned out before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8), Paul tells us that God sent His divine Son to this earth as a human being. This was done to provide a way for mankind to overcome the "curse of the Law" and become fellow heirs of God with Messiah (Rom. 8:17).
GALATIANS 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (NKJV)
Through the Holy Spirit, God had provided the Galatians with the very mind of Messiah (Phi. 2:5). Having been released from the penalty for breaking the Law, they had become heirs of God instead of slaves to sin (Rom. 6:16).
GALATIANS 4:8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; (RSV)
The "elemental spirits" Paul referred to earlier (Gal. 4:3) were the false gods the Galatians had ignorantly worshiped before their conversion. As Paul clearly explained in his first letter to the Corinthian church, idol worship is actually the worship of demons (I Cor. 10:19-20).
GALATIANS 4:9 Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again? (NRSV)
The "weak and worthless elemental spirits" which had shackled the Galatians in sin prior to their conversion were evil spirits (i.e., fallen angels and demons"). Paul now equates the doctrines being taught by the sectarians with the pagan demon worship the Galatians had previously abandoned. The comparison between paganism and the (legalistic) observance of the Law must have shocked the Galatians, who undoubtedly thought that they were growing spiritually rather than regressing.
The next verse has been widely misunderstood. Yet in regard to identifying Paul's opponents, it is one of the most important verses in the letter to the Galatians:
GALATIANS 4:10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. (NKJV)
The long-standing position of traditional Christian scholars is that Paul is criticizing the Galatians here for keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days given to Israel in the Torah. However, this position requires the assumption that Paul equates the observance of God's Holy Days with slavery to/worship of evil spirit beings.
This view ignores Paul's command to the Corinthians to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread (I Cor. 5:8), as well as his background and training as a Torah-observant Pharisee. In fact, it implies that Paul held the Gnostic position that the god of the Old Testament was an evil angelic being ("demiurge").
Clearly, the sectarians proselytizing at Galatia were trying to get the congregation to observe some type of Jewish "days and months and seasons and years." But were these the same "days and months and seasons and years" that normative Judaism kept?
If you remember from our earlier discussion, Paul's use of the phrase "Works of the Law" indicates that he was speaking specifically against beliefs held by the Qumran Essene sectarians, as defined in 4QMMT. According to Martin Abegg, another Qumran document (4Q327) was connected to 4QMMT:
4Q327 . . . plots the Sabbaths and festivals for one complete solar year . . . This is one of the few calendars that designates the extrabiblical Festival of Oil, which fell on the twenty-second day of the sixth month. The structure of the work makes it likely that two more extrabiblical festivals were originally listed as well: the Wine Festival and the Festival of Wood Offering. . . .
Some scholars believe that 4Q327 was not actually a separate and distinct work. They argue that instead it originally attached to the beginning of one copy of A Sectarian Manifesto (text 84). In favor of this suggestion is the handwriting: the same scribe wrote both 4Q327 and the copy of the Manifesto. . . . (p. 319, Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation)
As shown by 4Q327, another core belief of the Qumran Essene group was their calendar. It was a solar calendar consisting of 364 days per year which included the Essene version of God's commanded Holy Days (Lev. 23), as well as extrabiblical observances. Here is a copy of this calendar:
ESSENE SOLAR CALENDAR BASED ON 4Q327
|OBSERVANCE||ESSENE CALENDAR||PHARISAIC CALENDAR|
|Day of Remembrance (start of month)||every month, 1st day||when New Moon sighted|
|Sacred New Year||Wed, 1st month, 1st day||1 Nisan (1st month)|
|1st Day of Passover Feast||Wed, 1st month, 15th day||15 Nisan|
|7th Day of Passover Feast||Tue, 1st month, 21st day||21 Nisan|
|First Fruits of Barley (Wave Sheaf)||Sun, 1st month, 26th day||16 Nisan|
|First Fruits of Wheat (Shavu'ot)||Sun, 3rd month, 15th day||5, 6, or 7 Sivan (3rd month)|
|First Fruits of Wine||Sun, 5th month, 3rd day||Not observed|
|Feast of the Wood Offering||Mon, 6th month, 2nd day||15 Av (5th month)|
|First Fruits of Oil||Sun, 6th month, 22nd day||Not observed|
|Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah)||Wed, 7th month, 1st day||1 Tishri (7th month)|
|Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)||Fri, 7th month, 10th day||10 Tishri|
|1st Day of Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot)||Wed, 7th month, 15th day||15 Tishri|
|8th Day after Tabernacles (Shemini Atzeret)||Wed, 7th month, 22th day||22 Tishri|
A recent article in the Biblical Archaeological Review gives us some specific information about this calendar and how it differed from the calendar used by the majority of Jews:
Even the Essene calendar was different. The Temple authorities maintained a lunar calendar; the Essenes followed a solar calendar, which consisted of exactly 52 weeks per year, that is, 364 days. According to this calendar, festivals always fell on the same day of the week. Thus, Rosh Hashanah (the Feast of Trumpets), Passover and the first day of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) always occurred on a Wednesday. The Essenes considered the solar calendar used by the Hasmoneans in the Temple, tied as it was to a 354-day lunar calendar, to be adulterated with Babylonian elements. For example, the names of the months - Nisan, Shevet, Adar, Tishri - were Babylonian. The difference in calendars created a terrible discrepancy in holiday observance, with the Temple authorities and the Essenes celebrating festivals on different days. This naturally created a sharp rift between the two groups. (p. 64, "Jerusalem's Essene Gateway," Biblical Archaeological Review, May/June 1997)
The Essene calendar was a rival to the traditional Jewish calendar endorsed by the Pharisees. Paul, trained as a Pharisee (Acts 23:6; 26:5; Phi. 3:5), would have followed the traditional calendar sanctioned by the Temple authorities. Yeshua himself endorsed this calendar indirectly (Matt. 23:1-3).
The Essene calendar (and consequently, their new year) always began on a Wednesday because the sun, moon, and stars were created on this day (Gen. 1:14-19). The first of the month was called "A Day of Remembrance"; however, the Essene months generally did not start with a new moon. The Qumran sectarians, following the Essene calendar, had substituted different feast days and different months for the true calendar observed by the majority of Jews. Because of the seasonal drift caused by the structure of their calendar, the Essene seasons were also off. Finally, as another document from Qumran (4Q319, "Calendar of the Heavenly Signs") shows, the Essenes had a different system of sabbatical and Jubilee years.
It is easy to understand why Paul would have viewed this calendar and its different holy "days," "months" which did not start on the new moon, out-of-sync "seasons," and variant sabbatical "years" as demonically inspired. These "days and months and seasons and years" were just as much satanic counterfeits as the pagan observances the Galatians had kept before their conversion.
GALATIANS 4:11 I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain. 12 Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you. You have not injured me at all. 13 You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. 14 And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. 15 What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth? (NKJV)
Here Paul shows his exasperation with the Galatians' acceptance of the Essene heresy. He recounts how he originally came to Galatia and how he was overwhelmingly accepted by them. Now, he asks, had he become their enemy by pointing out their errors to them?
GALATIANS 4:17 Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. 19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! (NIV)
Paul continues his chiding of the Galatians. He tells the Galatian congregation that the sectarians desire was to win them for themselves and separate them from Paul and the truth he had brought.
GALATIANS 4:21 Tell me, you who want to be under Law [hupo nomon], do you not listen to the Law? (NASU)
Paul uses the term "Law" in two different ways in this verse. First, "under Law" refers to legalistic observance of the Law for the purpose of establishing one's own righteousness. As Paul stated earlier (Gal. 3:10), this attitude subjects a person to the "curse of the Law" (i.e., "death") if it is not kept perfectly.
The second usage of "Law" by Paul specifically refers to the book of Genesis. Here he introduces the allegorical story of Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah/Isaac:
GALATIANS 4:22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar – 25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children – 26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. (NKJV)
In this parable, Paul uses Hagar and her son Ishmael to symbolically represent the covenant made at Mount Sinai. Conversely, Sarah and her son Isaac represent the new covenant promised to Israel and Judah (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10). This also must have stunned the Galatians, who surely thought that their zeal to observe some "Works of the Law" would ensure that they were counted as righteous, just like their father Abraham.
To fully understand Paul's point with this comparison, let's examine the difference between the two covenants:
EXODUS 24:12 The LORD said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction." (NIV)
JEREMIAH 31:33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put My Law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people." (NIV)
The Law implemented at the first covenant was written on stone, but the Law of the new covenant will be written on the hearts of the people. The prophet Ezekiel also highlights the contrast between the first covenant and that "new covenant" which would come:
EZEKIEL 36:26 "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. 28 Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. (NKJV)
Most misunderstand why there is a need for a "new" covenant. The Law was NOT the problem! Remember, Paul earlier told the Galatians that if any law could have given life, the Law of Moses would have given it (Gal. 3:21). Yes, there was something wrong with the first covenant, but it wasn't the Law, as the author of Hebrews states:
HEBREWS 8:7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. 8 Because finding fault with them, He says: "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – 9 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD." (NKJV)
The problem with the covenant made at Mount Sinai was not the Law; it was the PEOPLE. They could not keep the covenant because human nature made them weak through their flesh:
ROMANS 8:3 For what the Law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, (NKJV)
The Law governing the first covenant was written on tablets of stone and obedience depended upon the flesh. But due to human nature, the Israelites were weak; they couldn't keep the covenant. Under the promised new covenant, the Law is to be written on the hearts of the Israelites, and it is to be kept through the power of God's Spirit.
In Paul's analogy, Hagar and Ishmael represent the efforts of the flesh. God had promised Abram that he would have a physical son who would be his heir (Gen. 15:1-5). But although Abram believed God (Gen. 15:6), his wife Sarai decided to help in the fulfillment of the divine promise. Considering her barrenness and advancing age, Sarai convinced Abram to take her Egyptian maid, Hagar, as a secondary wife for the purpose of bearing him the promised child (Gen. 16:1-2).
Abram did have a son by Hagar (Gen. 16:15); he was named Ishmael ("God hears"). But Ishmael was NOT the son God had promised Abram. Ishmael was born by the will and efforts of the flesh, not by the power of God's Spirit.
GALATIANS 4:27 For it is written: "Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband." 28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. 29 But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. 30 Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman." 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free. (NKJV)
Soon after the birth of Ishmael, God reiterated the promise to Abram ("exalted father") and changed his name to Abraham ("father of a multitude"), telling him that He would make him the father of many nations (Gen. 17:4-5). When Abraham was 100 years old, Sarah (then 90 years old) bore him the son of promise, Isaac, through divine intervention (Gen. 21:1-7). It was through this son that God intended to fulfill His promises to Abraham.
On the day Isaac was weaned, Abraham made a great feast for him (Gen. 21:8). Probably because of jealousy, Ishmael mocked Isaac and scoffed at him (Gen. 21:9). Sarah saw Ishmael making fun of her son and insisted that Abraham send him and his mother away (Gen. 21:10). Abraham didn't want to do this, but God told him to listen to Sarah, because it was Isaac that was the son of promise (Gen. 21:11-12).
Using the backdrop of Ishmael and Isaac, we are able to see Paul's point with this allegory. Paul is not disparaging the Law, because as we saw earlier, the Law is a part of both the first covenant and the new covenant. Rather, Paul is again contrasting those who seek to keep the Law through the efforts of the flesh (legalism) and those who seek to observe the Law by the Spirit (faith).
GALATIANS 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (NKJV)
In this chapter, Paul focuses on the freedom believers have in Messiah. But he begins by speaking of the opposite of freedom. The "yoke of bondage" referenced here by Paul is the enslavement to the "elemental spirits of the world" he had mentioned earlier (Gal. 4:3, 9).
In the context of the Galatian problem, this slavery was typified by LEGALISTIC observance of the Law as a means of establishing one's own righteousness. When viewed properly, the letter to the Galatians shows that Paul did NOT consider the Law itself a "yoke of bondage."
GALATIANS 5:2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole Law. (NKJV)
Once again, we see that the false brethren troubling the Galatians were seeking to have them circumcised. Circumcision itself was not the principal issue. The meaning being assigned to circumcision was what Paul opposed. This ritual was being promoted by the sectarians for the purpose of making the Galatians righteous.
Paul reiterates that once they began depending on their own fleshly ability to keep the Law, the Galatians would have to keep ALL the Law perfectly to be considered righteous. The sacrifice of Messiah would be of no further benefit to them because they had ceased depending on his blood to cleanse them of sin.
GALATIANS 5:4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by Law; you have fallen from grace. (NKJV)
Because "all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23), justification CANNOT come through the flesh. It only comes through God's grace, which leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4) and faith in the sacrifice of the Messiah (Rom. 3:24-26).
However, the sectarians had nullified God's grace, which had provided a way for the Galatians to be justified through Yeshua's sacrifice. In its place, they had brought them a doctrine of legalism, teaching them that through the efforts of their flesh, they could achieve righteousness by the Law. Of course, Paul knew this effort was ultimately doomed to fail.
GALATIANS 5:5 For we through the Spirit eagerly WAIT for the hope of righteousness by faith. (NKJV)
Again, Paul highlights the true way to righteousness - faith in the sacrifice of Yeshua. Notice, Paul stated that believers were eagerly WAITING for the hope of righteousness by faith. Apparently, they had not YET attained that righteousness.
GALATIANS 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. (NKJV)
Paul states that it is only "faith working through love" that brings this righteousness. As Paul told the Romans, physical circumcision ALONE does not make a person righteous:
ROMANS 2:25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the Law, but if you break the Law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the Law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the Law. (ESV)
Paul told the Romans that when the physically circumcised break the Law, they become spiritually uncircumcised. Conversely, one who is physically uncircumcised will be considered spiritually circumcised if he obeys the Law. Whether physically circumcised or not, "faith working through love" inspires one to be obedient to God, as the apostle John shows:
I JOHN 5:3 This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, (NIV)
"Faith working through love" does not nullify the Law. Instead, it motivates one to obedience in order to fulfill the two greatest commandments:
MATTHEW 22:36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" 37 Jesus said to him, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (NKJV)
Here, Yeshua breaks the 10 Commandments given at Mount Sinai down into two groups: (1) those that show us how to love God (Exo. 20:1-11), and (2) those that show us how to love our neighbor as ourself (Exo. 20:12-17). According to Yeshua, these two principles form the basis for everything written in the Old Testament.
GALATIANS 5:7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. 10 I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. 11 But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. 12 I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves. (NASU)
Here, Paul wonders who it was that had come to Galatia and gotten them off course. He states that these sectarians certainly were not from God. Paul compares them with yeast, which, even in minute amounts, will eventually work its way throughout an entire lump of dough and leaven it. He allows his exasperation with the Galatians to show through again, stating that he wished those teaching righteousness by circumcision would go the whole way and emasculate themselves.
Paul's statement in verse 11 shows that he no longer believed or taught that righteousness comes by circumcision (in contrast to the sectarians). He now taught that righteousness came through the sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah on the cross. This teaching was a stumbling block to most Jews and foolishness to most Greeks (I Cor. 1:23).
GALATIANS 5:13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the Law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (NKJV)
The Galatians had been called to be free through Messiah. But this liberty was a freedom from their slavery to sin (John 8:34-36). In Romans, Paul states that those freed from sin must become God's slaves (Rom. 6:22). Love is the summation of God's Law, because God is love (I John 4:8).
In a passage that deals with the same topic, James the brother of Yeshua speaks of the "Law of liberty":
JAMES 2:8 If you really fulfill the Royal Law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the Law as transgressors. 10 For whoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the Law. 12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the Law of liberty. (NKJV)
James references the "Royal Law according to the Scripture" and then cites two commands from that Law: "Do not commit adultery" (Exo. 20:14) and "Do not murder" (Exo. 20:13). Clearly, the Law he is referring to is that which was given to Moses and the Israelites on Mount Sinai. James states that it is this "Royal Law" from Scripture that sums up the command to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). Although speaking to believers, James stated that they should refrain from transgression of this Law because they would be judged by it if they broke it.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul also defines love of one's neighbor:
ROMANS 13:8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the Law. 9 For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not murder," "You shall not steal," "You shall not bear false witness," "You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the Law. (NKJV)
Is the "love" spoken of here by Paul simply an emotional feeling? No. This scriptural love begins with concrete actions such as NOT committing adultery with your neighbor's wife (Exo. 20:14), NOT murdering him (Exo. 20:13), NOT stealing from him (Exo. 20:15), NOT bearing false witness against him (Exo. 20:16), and NOT coveting his possessions (Exo. 20:17). Paul also includes the other commandments from the Law dealing with human relationships in his definition of love of neighbor. Far from doing away with these commandments, Paul told the Romans that obedience to them was "love."
In the words of Paul and James, we are not seeing some new doctrine or teaching. The Messiah himself defined obedience to the Law as "love of neighbor":
MATTHEW 19:16 Now behold, one came and said to him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" 17 So he said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." 18 He said to him, "Which ones?" Jesus said, " 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 19 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' " (NKJV)
Yeshua told the ruler who came to him that these commandments showed love to his neighbor. But he went even further, stating that obedience to these commandments was necessary for eternal life.
The Law shows us how God expects us to love Him (Exo. 20:1-11; cf. Matt. 22:37-38; Mark 12:28-30), and also how we are to love our neighbor as ourself (Exo. 20:12-17; cf. Matt. 22:39-40; Mark 12:31).
However, the apostle John tells us that obedience to the two great commandments does not progress as one would normally expect. It must begin with the second, not the first:
I JOHN 4:20 If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. (NKJV)
It's ironic that we cannot fulfill the greatest commandment (love of God) until we are first able to keep the second commandment (love of neighbor).
GALATIANS 5:15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! (NKJV)
Apparently, the legalistic teaching of the sectarians had caused friction in the Galatian congregation. Paul contrasts this attitude with love, which is the true motivation for keeping the Law.
GALATIANS 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law [hupo nomon]. (ESV)
Why is one led by the Spirit not under the Law? Because those who walk by the Spirit do NOT live to satisfy the desires of the flesh, but are slaves to God. Therefore, they will not be subject to the judgment of the Law. Paul speaks of this extensively in Romans 8:
ROMANS 8:5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the Law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. (NKJV)
The Spirit of God is the key to being able to keep the Law in an attitude of love. The flesh seeks its own way, which leads to death. But the Holy Spirit helps us to rise above our flawed human nature and live our lives in obedience to God.
Paul next defines the works of the flesh in his epistle to the Galatians:
GALATIANS 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (NKJV)
This is not a detailed, comprehensive list of sin. Instead, Paul provides a broad synopsis of the weaknesses of our carnal nature and the areas where men fall short of God's perfect standard of love.
GALATIANS 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (NKJV)
After listing the bad fruit produced by man's imperfect carnal nature, Paul lists the good fruit produced by God's Spirit dwelling in a believer. There are no commands in the Law against these attitudes and actions, and those who are truly following the Messiah will have quit practicing the "works of the flesh" listed in verses 19-21.
GALATIANS 5:25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (NKJV)
Now Paul finishes this line of thought with an exhortation to the Galatian believers to allow God's Spirit to enable them to exhibit the "fruits of the Spirit." Apparently, the fruit produced by the sectarian doctrine was noticably bad. It seems to have brought out conceit, anger, and envy among the congregation.
GALATIANS 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (NIV)
Paul here asks that, instead of a legalistic approach to Law-keeping, the Galatians practice forgiving and helping one found to be engaged in sin. However, he also warns them not to be enticed into the sinner's error themselves.
Many believe Paul teaches that the Law of God given to Moses at Mount Sinai has been abolished and replaced with the "law of Christ" for new covenant believers. We've already seen that Messiah upheld the 10 Commandments and summarized them as the two great commandments.
Yeshua does speak of "my commandments" (John 14:15, 21; 15:10) and "my words" (John 12:47-48; 14:24; 15:7). But were these commandments or words from Yeshua NEW? Let's look to see if the Messiah's own statements support the theory that he instituted a new law:
JOHN 12:44 Then Jesus cried out and said, "He who believes in me, believes not in me but in Him who sent me. 45 And he who sees me sees Him who sent me. 46 I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me should not abide in darkness. 47 And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 He who rejects me, and does not receive my words, has that which judges him – the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority; but the Father who sent me gave me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told me, so I speak." (NKJV)
JOHN 14:23 Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me." (NKJV)
When taken at face value, Yeshua's words make it quite clear that he did not come to abolish the Law and replace it with some new legal code. In fact, he explicitly states that was NOT his goal in the Sermon on the Mount:
MATTHEW 5:17 "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (NASU)
The Law of Christ is not a new law instituted to replace the Law given to Israel at Mount Sinai. It is the same Law, expanded from a purely physical perspective to the spiritual level (i.e., Matt. 5:21-30).
GALATIANS 6:3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load. (NKJV)
Here, Paul suggests that each of the Galatians examine "his own work" to ensure that they remain in the will of God. Paul emphasizes each person's personal responsibility and, consequently, each one's liability.
GALATIANS 6:6 Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (NKJV)
In this passage, Paul gives the Galatian congregation an exhortation to do good and to physically provide for those who teach them the truth. But he also gives them a warning to sow according to the Spirit, and not according to the flesh.
GALATIANS 6:11 See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand! 12 As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. 13 For not even those who are circumcised keep the Law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. (NKJV)
Paul, who generally seems to have dictated his letters by the hand of another, personally wrote the end of his letter to the Galatians in his own handwriting. Here Paul claims that the sectarians compelling the Galatians to be circumcised were doing so to avoid persecution and to tout their accomplishment. Apparently, the rest of the Essenes would not have accepted the Galatians as sons of Abraham until they were physically circumcised. In a "no nonsense" fashion, Paul states that even those sectarians who were pushing for legalistic observance of the Law by having them circumcised didn't keep the Law perfectly (Rom. 3:23; Gal. 3:22).
GALATIANS 6:14 But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. 16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. 17 From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. 18 Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (NKJV)
Paul places his blessing on those who are a new creation through the Messiah. This includes the Jews as well as the Gentiles grafted into "the Israel of God" (Rom. 11:17-24). He concludes his letter with a reminder of what he had suffered to preach the good news of Yeshua the Messiah.
Paul's letter to the Galatians has long been considered to show that the Law of Moses was invalidated and abolished by the Messiah. However, a reevaluation of that premise in light of new information found in the Dead Sea Scrolls indicates that the traditional Christian understanding of Paul's message is incorrect. Instead, we now see that Paul was combating a form of legalistic Torah observance in Galatia that focused on keeping the Law by the strength of the flesh rather than by the power of God's Holy Spirit. Paul's letter sought to put the Galatians back on the right path in the face of an extensive 1st-century sectarian heresy.
Bryan T. Huie
July 16, 2004