How often is Paul’s Epistle to the GALATIANS used to argue for the Law having been ‘done away with’? Does GALATIANS actually say that? If not, what does GALATIANS have to say for itself?
Written in this blog are two other posts about GALATIANS. The dealing with Titus’ circumcision, and that of Peter’s embarrassing gaffe in Antioch, as discussed by Paul in GALATIANS because it was relevant to the situation there. These posts are: Was Titus Compelled or Not? and What Did Peter Do Wrong in Antioch? It may be useful to reread these to brush up on what was happening with the Christians in Galatia. But, in truth, it is not abundantly clear.
I was wondering out loud to my disinterested 17 year-old today, why we relate the goings-on of GALATIANS to today’s church at all. Only Paul and the Galatians know the full story. The letter was for them. The same circumstances never occur today. When was the last time someone tried to compel a Christian man to be circumcised in order to make himself look good, to save the Christian, make him more righteous, or for any other obscure reason?
GALATIANS is probably the most misinterpreted book in the entire Bible. Having been written by Paul, it is guaranteed, as Peter declares, to be misunderstood and twisted due to Paul’s writings being so hard to understand (II PET. 3:16).
Let us set the scene. Unlike Titus not being compelled to be circumcised, Paul in fact is compelled to defend his apostleship. Some Jewish Christians–if there is such a thing, for aren’t we all one in Messiah Yahshua once converted (GAL. 3:28)?–have come along to church in Galatia, and were confusing and upsetting Paul’s converts. These actions were causing the believers there to question Paul’s apostleship, though the Gospel both Paul and these other Christians preached was the same:
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Messiah unto another Gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the Gospel of Messiah (GAL. 1:6-7).
Paul makes it clear in GALATIANS 6:12-13 the Judaisers are teaching a perverted form of the Gospel in order to be popular, avoid the persecution they would receive from other Jews if they preached Messiah crucified, and boast in new disciples.
So let us explore what these Judaisers were in fact teaching, and what part of that Paul was refuting. That’s where Titus and Peter came into the picture, being used by Paul as examples of what to do, and what not to do. However, having previously written about them, and established Paul’s self-defence, we’ll instead look at some Scriptures, remembering–importantly–that he preached the very same Gospel as the Yerushalem apostles, remained a Law-keeper, and regularly attended Feasts in Yerushalem:
And I went up (to Yerushalem) by revelation, and communicated unto them (James, Peter, John) that Gospel that I preach among the Gentiles…lest…I…had run, in vain…(but) they…added nothing to me…And…they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship (GAL. 2:2,6,9).
Let’s start at verse 15, chapter 2. Paul writes: Though the Jews are by nature righteous (because they keep the Law) as opposed to sinful Gentiles who don’t, even so that Law does not make them righteous. Sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? The Law never ever had any power in itself to make a person righteous. Superstitious people believe opening an umbrella inside will bring bad luck. But hey, it’s an umbrella! Umbrella’s have no power in themselves to do anything, not even keep off the rain. When opened and held up, it merely agrees with the laws of nature in such a way that anyone standing underneath is blocked from becoming wet. Same with the Law. It’s just a lot of written words. Even if Moses had thrown the stone tablets at the sinning Israelites and killed them, the Ten Commandments had not a speck of power in themselves. Moses would have been the murderer, not the stone tablets!
The Law was to show the Jews, and us now, what sin was and is. Yet the Jews were righteous. Why? The animal sacrifices. By sacrificing animals for their sins or transgressions of that Law–in obedience–it kept them righteous enough to be ‘saved’, though they went only to Paradise if they died, not Heaven itself. (Continue reading my posts and we will find out more about this Old Testament salvation.) The key to everything is that Yahshua replaced animal sacrifices. He became the better sacrifice. Creation had to wait for that better sacrifice to open Heaven, for Father never liked the slaying of animals. He detests the killing of anything. He is the Creator of life, not death.
What if in the beginning YHWH had ordained that the sacrifice of animals was enough? Then Yahshua would not have had to die. He would still be our Saviour. He was the Saviour when animals were sacrificed. He’s the Creator, the Big Boss. He could have chosen any course for His Creation.
Verse 17-21. Every Bible version interprets it differently. Some are completely opposite to others! Reading between the lines, my interpretation goes something like this: We discover through the Law that we are sinners, we are convicted of sin by Yahshua (who kept the Law perfectly), forgiven and justified by His sacrifice (not by the works of the Law, that is, animal sacrifices which do not remove sin, but remind us of it). Now I live for YHWH by obeying the Law. He gives me the Holy Spirit to direct me in this and to reveal His will for my personal life. Now that I’m reconciled to YHWH through Yahshua’s sacrifice, I stay righteous by obedience to His Law.
For I through the Law am dead to the Law… (v.19).
What does it mean to be dead to the Law? The Law pointed to the better sacrifice of Messiah. Through this we are no longer sinners, but perfected.
I am crucified with Messiah… (v.20).
We no longer need the Law. We are dead people – to sin, to the Law. We have put on perfection. We are exclusively now led by the Spirit who is given to us through baptism (or the laying on of hands) [GAL. 3:27].
But, we all go out and sin again, don’t we? Even Paul himself did when he started killing Christians. In reality, if we all truly loved our neighbour, we would not,
For all the Law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (GAL. 5:14).
And in that one commandment is the gist of Paul’s Epistle to the GALATIANS!
As I have written before, until we are 100% spiritual, Spirit-led Christians we need the Law to tell us what is sin and what is not. The Jews were brought up on it so it was already written on their hearts from childhood. Gentile believers need longer to
- become familiar with the law,
- understand it through study and revelation,
- put it into practice so they live according to it;
at which time they may be considered dead to it because they need no longer refer to it for every little direction. Think about this: if you were told from a very young age that you would be cursed, cast out, not blessed, put into prison, or stoned if you did not follow the laws which you were also taught, what would you do? Unless you refused to believe what your parents and authorities had taught you, wouldn’t you endeavour to keep that law as perfectly as possible?
The Holy Spirit will lead a person by faith, but He will never direct or instruct contrary to the Law and Word of YHWH. That is how we check it is the Holy Spirit leading us and not an evil spirit. I call it dropping things into my heart. When I wish to or feel led to do something, I will ‘drop it into my heart’. After a moment, few days, or perhaps longer, I’ll know whether it is Father’s will or not. That’s the Spirit confirming or forbidding it. Often He will refer me to a Scripture or Law. Most carnal Christians do what they want, believing emotions and desires are the Holy Spirit leading them. Because they are not familiar with the Law, and believe YHWH’s (OT) Word is irrelevant.
Returning to GALATIANS, Paul was showing his converts that these Judaisers were not led by the Spirit, for they were teaching that circumcision and other Jewish traditions were what? We don’t exactly know. It is not made clear. Necessary for salvation? Useful? But Paul did make it clear that whatever the Judaisers said, it was not from the Spirit. Circumcision may indeed be good, for it was a command to Abraham and we are Abraham’s offspring (GAL. 5:18). But anything so serious must come as a direction from the Spirit, not from man. If circumcision is undertaken to justify oneself, that person must keep the entire Law, including animal sacrifices. For that was the only basis upon which the Law could make one righteous – if it was kept totally and perfectly, as Yahshua did.
Which brings me to another passage that is twisted and misinterpreted: GALATIANS 3:10-12. The man that doeth them (the Laws) shall live by them. It is taught in the Church today that this means it is impossible to keep the whole Law. But that is not what this says at all. Yahshua proved it is possible to keep and live by the Law. Scripture gives us evidence others also kept the Law perfectly: Paul, until his Christian-killing period; Ananias in Damascus; Elizabeth and Zecharyah. It is not saying it is impossible, just improbable or difficult, especially for Gentiles unschooled in the Law. The more one has the Law tattooed upon their heart and is led by the Spirit, the easier it is to keep it all, and the holier a person becomes.
If we are fully guided by the Spirit–not by emotions, desires, men, demons, or anything else–we are not under, subservient to, or inferior to the Law (GAL. 5:18).
Next post we will cover what Paul means in GALATIANS by weak and beggarly elements of the world; observing days, and months, and times, and years in relation to the Mosaic Law.