Basics of Galatians
"I am surprised at you! In no time at all you are deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are accepting another gospel. Actually, there is no Ďother gospel,í but I say this because there are some people who are upsetting you and trying to change the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:6-7, TEV).
One of the most effective ways to begin a talk is to grab attention by means of a startling statement. This opening line of the body of the Apostle Paulís letter to the churches in Galatia is an appropriate beginning for a book that has been the source of controversy for virtually the entire period of church history.
Large numbers of members in the churches of Galatia were being "sucked in" by the clever arguments of those who were troubling them. Paul was absolutely astounded by such sudden and complete apostasy.
In addition to offering important doctrinal material, the book of Galatians stands as a warning to Christians of all times regarding the ever-present danger of apostasy.
When Peter wrote (II Peter 3:15-16) that Paulís epistles contain "some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable twist to their destruction, as they do the rest of the scriptures," he undoubtedly had in mind at least some passages in the book of Galatians.
Peter went on to warn, "You therefore, since you know these things beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 1:17-18, NKJV throughout unless otherwise noted).
It is not good enough to be satisfied with time honored explanations from the past in the face of doctrinal challenge, nor is it prudent to cast aside past teachings without thorough, diligent consideration and study, regardless of how persuasive or appealing the argument may seem to be at the time.
What is the message of the book of Galatians and what does it mean for us?
To understand the teachings of the book, we must know the nature of the problems Paul was addressing. We must also clearly understand the terminology Paul employs.
Our purpose here is to take a fresh look at the main body of this book and understand with clarity the doctrinal conclusions that spring from careful and proper exegesis. If we are willing to lay aside preconceived ideas of the past, as well as to probe the new explanations that have been offered, we can clearly understand what has eluded the minds of Bible scholars for centuries. That is a pretty bold statement. But God promises understanding of the truth to those who are enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and wisdom to those who fear God and keep His commandments. As we go through the key verses, we will discover errors of past teachings and dare to go beyond the scope of the most recent material.
Paul bypasses his customary complimentary remarks and immediately meets the problem head on, expressing his shock and dismay at the suddenness and seriousness of the Galatiansí apostasy.
"I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ," (Galatians 1:6-7).
A peek at some points from the original Greek text provides interesting insights. The Greek verb translated "turning away" is "metatithemi."
Metatithemi . . . means Ďto transpose two things, one of which is put in the place of the other.í In classical Greek it was used of a turncoat. The word is used of one altering his opinion or becoming of another mind. The word was also used of desertion or revolt, frequently of a change of religion, philosophy, or morals (Galatians in the Greek New Testament, by Kenneth Wuest, p. 35).
What is the nature of the Galatian heresy? Most Bible scholars are convinced by what seems to be obvious (from the numerous internal references to circumcision and The Law) that Judaizers were the culprits in the Galatian heresy. Others believe that there were two sources of error ó pagan and Jewish. To properly identify the nature of the heresy and be aware of its presuppositions is absolutely vital to proper understanding of the epistle. In his book, Paul & the Gnostics, Walter Schmithals argues convincingly that the culprit is Gnostic Judaism, seeking to absorb the Church of God into its syncretic system. The validity of his claim will become apparent as we progress through the book.
In the meantime, we must consider the basic tenets of Gnosticism, which will enable us to understand the philosophical underpinnings of the Galatian heresy.
Gnosticism gets its name from its claim of higher knowledge (Gr. "gnosis") which it promised to its disciples.
Another basic presupposition of Gnosticism was that matter is evil. Therefore, one must purge himself of evil matter by asceticism (avoiding physical pleasures) and by punishing the flesh. The libertine element of Gnosticism took an opposite approach that since one cannot avoid matter, and being spiritual is totally unrelated to matter, one could do as he pleases and indulge the flesh to the limit and still be spiritual. Since the two concepts are poles apart, the prevailing assumption is that they represent two branches of Gnosticism. However, the fact that both elements are addressed in Paulís anti-Gnostic polemics in Galatians and elsewhere would seem to indicate otherwise. Schmithals makes the point that "Gnostic circumcision and the pneumatic ["spiritual"] state go well together." The idea is that one must punish the flesh in order to become "spiritual," a widely known and still practiced dualistic concept. This "pneumatic state" opened the adherent to special knowledge (Gr. "gnosis") and resulted in highly eroticized ecstatic behavior which was perceived as "spiritual," since it emanated from the allegedly "spiritual state" of the initiated devotee who had already paid his dues by self-abasement. The apparent contradiction can be easily dismissed by the claim that whatever is done as part of a "spiritual state" is spiritual, thus giving sanction to otherwise evil fleshly behavior. This was further defended on the basis of the dichotomy of flesh and spirit. The revised edition of The International Standard Bible Dictionary explains:
Those who favored unnatural asceticism often fell into the opposite sin of shocking licentiousness. As body and soul are entirely distinct in their nature, the soul cannot be defiled by anything, however carnal and gross, that the body can do. Let the soul go its way on the wings of spiritual thought, and the body indulge its fleshly desires (vol. 2, p. 487).
The ISBE article contains fresh information on Gnosticism obtained from Gnostic writings discovered in 1945 but only recently translated. The article also presumes the two school theory, however. Also it fails to include Galatians on the list of areas affected by Gnosticism, which Schmithals makes abundantly clear.
See the March 28, 1989, Pastor Generalís Report or July-Augu,st, 1989 Good News article on the Colossian Heresy by Dr. Stavrinides for a more thorough analysis of the similar problem there. The Daily Study Bible by Barclay [vol. 11, pp 97-99] also has a good basic description of Gnosticism.
Angel worship was also a fundamental aspect of Gnosticism. This was a Jewish adaptation of the pagan concept of "emanations." The idea was that God did not create the earth, since matter is evil. He "passed the buck" on down through countless "emanations," ("elemental spirits") to distance Himself from the material creation. The lowest "emanation" on the totem pole got stuck with the job. (Maybe this is where the saying originated, "Itís a dirty job; somebodyís gotta do it.") Therefore, to reach God, one must work his way up, beginning at the lowest "emanations" (Gr. "stoicheia" ó elemental spirits, or angels), until he reaches the top of the "pecking order." This could be done by various means, including worship of the four elements and astrological concepts of time.
Gnosticism was not a religion of itself but an approach that offered to "improve" the host religion ó a sort of "spiritual hamburger helper," as it were. So what was offered to the Galatians was billed as a new, improved model of the gospel. However, Paul plainly says this "different gospel" was actually a perversion of the true gospel and was in fact no gospel at all.
Church history reveals that Gnosticism found its way into Christianity via Judaism. The book of Galatians documents early successes of this insidious heresy.
Terminology is always important to proper exegesis. The book of Galatians is no exception. In fact the meaning of certain terms is absolutely critical to properly understand the meaning of the book.
"The Law" refers to the complete package or system of laws that comprised the terms of the covenant God made with the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. The Bible does not overtly separate or categorize old covenant laws. The Hebrew word "torah" is simply "the Law" (a complete, intertwined, indivisible system). Jews have always taken exception to the arbitrary classification of Torah in Christian theology. Another Jewish complaint is the New Testament rendering of "torah" with the Greek word "nomos" ("law"). They complain that "Torah" has a much broader range of meaning than simply "law." Although the point is valid in terms of the biblical scope of "torah," Judaism had indeed degenerated into a very narrow, legalistic religion by the time of Christ, as illustrated in the many confrontations between Jesus and Jewish leaders over what was or was not "lawful." One must therefore be careful not to equate this legalistic approach to the old covenant with the intended thrust of "The Law" as revealed by God through Moses. This dichotomy between the "oral Torah" and the "written Torah" (which we call the Old Testament) is clearly evident.
For example, in the sermon on the mount Jesus was not challenging the Old Testament but the "oral Torah," which in other places He calls "the tradition of men" (Mark 7:8) or "the tradition of the elders" (Matthew 15:2; Mark 7:3, 5). This is evidenced by the fact that He prefaced every teaching with the statement, "You have heard that it was said to those of old . . ." (clearly a reference to verbal teaching) as opposed to "it is written" (61 New Testament occurrences), which refers to the "written Torah" or again what we call "the Old Testament."
It is also very important to distinguish "The Law" (the complete package) from "laws" (individual laws within the package). Surprisingly, the plural form of "nomos" (the Greek word for law) occurs only twice in the entire New Testament. We will consider the meaning and importance of those passages later in this paper.
"The Promise(s)," is Paulís term for Godís promise(s) made to Abraham.
However, in Galatians, Paul employs both terms as figures of speech to denote and distinguish between the two covenants. He often uses "The Law" to refer to the Siniatic covenant, and "The Promises" to represent the covenant God made with Abraham. Failure to apprehend this vital distinction has led many down the road to doctrinal disaster by inferring a literal meaning from what was meant to be figurative.
A "metonymy" is "the use of a name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated" (Websterís Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary). This literary device is often employed to emphasize a particular attribute for strategic reasons.
One familiar New Testament example of a "metonymy" is the frequent designation of Jews as "the circumcision" or "the circumcised" (Acts 10:45, 11:2; Romans 3:30, 4:12; Galatians 2:7, 8, 9; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 4:11; Titus 1:10). Circumcision was one of the main features that distinguished Jews from Gentiles. So Paul often referred to Jews by this metonymical expression to call attention to their emphasis on circumcision as a religious requirement. He writes figuratively of "The Law" and "The Promises" for similar reasons.
Paul emphasizes the promises to Abraham and The Law God gave Israel to make important doctrinal points critical to the defense of the gospel against the false claims of Gnostic Judaism. His figurative use of "The Law" and "The Promises(s)" to identify the two covenants puts more focus on these issues. It also helps avoid the potential confusion that could result from using the same word "covenant" for both covenants.
A "synecdoche" is a similar figure of speech in which "a part is put for the whole" (ibid).
Perhaps it would be easier to understand the point by thinking of a metonymy as a "nickname" based on a prominent part. For example, Jimmy Durante was referred to as "the Schnoz" because of his large nose, which was his trademark. Needless to say, the term could not be taken literally to mean Durante was a nose, not a human being.
Similarly, to equate "The Law" with the covenant God made with Israel leads to a mistaken understanding of the book of Galatians resulting from a literal interpretation of these figurative expressions.
This grievous error is the basic presupposition of a book which is currently being widely circulated in some circles to document anti-sabbatarian doctrine. The author cites verses which he claims "state unequivocally that the covenant between God and Israel was the Ten Commandments" (Sabbath in Crisis, by Dale Ratzlaff, p. 33). For example, Deuteronomy 4:13 speaks of "His [Godís] covenant, which He commanded you to perform, that is [implied, but not in the Hebrew text], the Ten Commandments."
The author uses this and similar verses to claim that the covenant with Israel and the Ten Commandments are totally synonymous, interchangeable expressions ó two ways of saying the same thing. The error of reasoning at the crux of the authorís argument becomes readily apparent by understanding the meaning of "apposition":
a: a grammatical construction in which two usual, adjacent nouns having the same referent stand in the same syntactical relation to the rest of the sentence (as in the poet and Burns in "a biography of the poet Burns"), b: the relation of one of such a pair of nouns or noun equivalents to the other (Websterís Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary).
Even though in the above example, "poet" and "Burns" are "noun equivalents," Burns is more than simply a poet, and of course there are poets other than Burns. Likewise, even though "His covenant" and "the Ten Commandments" (or technically, "covenant" and "commandments") are "noun equivalents," the "covenant" is more than the Ten Commandments; and the Ten Commandments are more than a covenant. For that matter, apart from the technicalities of grammar, common sense ought to tell us that the body of laws which comprise the terms of the covenant are distinct from the covenant or agreement itself. Since this erroneous presupposition is the basis for virtually all that follows in the book, one must consider the authorís conclusions logically invalid due to the faulty premise upon which they are based.
So when used as figures of speech or statements of apposition, the meaning of "The Law" and "The Promise(s)" cannot be considered totally synonymous with the covenants to which they refer.
To understand the Abrahamic covenant as solely a unilateral and therefore "unconditional" promise from God, negates any requirement of Abraham other than faith, and conflicts with scriptural statements that plainly state otherwise. Abraham obeyed Godís commandments, statutes and laws (Genesis 22:16-18, 26:5). The covenant with Israel involved promises. "Godís covenant with Israel at Sinai is the next great center of divine promises [emphasis mine]" (Expositorís Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 981). So the two covenants are very similar in content. In fact the covenant with Israel is an extension of the covenant with Abraham as Galatians explains. But despite the overlap, Paul makes some critically important distinctions in the pages of Galatians. Understanding his use of literary devices is crucial to proper exegesis.
Two other terms are very important to define. "Justify" encompasses the related meanings of "to declare righteous or make right, and to acquit." "Works of [the] law" means the dutiful performance of a legal code of requirements. The text does not say "the works of the law" but simply "works of law." This leads to the next area of concern.
Understanding the role of the definite article ("the" in English) provides nuances that shed additional light on many passages in Galatians and other epistles of Paul. If the following is too technical for your blood, donít be discouraged. Understanding the book of Galatians does not hinge on these grammatical points.
A noun preceded by the definite article ("articular noun") stresses the specific identity of the noun. By contrast, an "anarthrous" noun (a noun not preceded by the definite article) emphasizes the general quality of the noun. In Galatians, this grammatical point is most significant in reference to the word "law." The bottom line is that the articular form "The Law" singles out or points to the identity of "Torah" ó the whole package or system as a whole (literal application), or the covenant with Israel (figurative use as explained earlier), whereas the "anarthrous" expression "law" (no definite article) either refers to law in general, or it stresses the legal quality of the subject being discussed. Or it can refer more narrowly to the nature or character of "The Law" "[the] law," i.e., "The Law" as a legal system. "Where nomos represents the Mosaic legislation, the word without the article refers to that legislation not primarily as Mosaic but to its character as law" (Light from the Greek New Testament, by Boyce W. Blackwelder, p. 148).
Unfortunately, I know of no translation that faithfully preserves the distinction in every passage. The only way to determine whether the definite article is in the original is from the Greek text itself. An interlinear can be used to fine-tune the passages in this manner. However, Englishmanís Greek Concordance of the New Testament by Wigram contains a complete listing of every occurrence of "nomos" with entries footnoted to indicate passages in which the definite article is inserted in the KJV but absent in the Greek text. It is not necessary to read Greek to use this list. Since the words are all keyed to Strongís numbers, one can simply turn to number 3551 for the complete list. Again, this is a nonessential technicality, though an interesting study for those who care to indulge.
Prepositions are also very important in Greek.
Prepositions constitute one of the most prominent classes of words and provide a prolific area for discriminative study in the Greek New Testament. Because they are involved in exegesis at innumerable points, a knowledge of their nature and function is essential for clarity and accuracy in grasping the message of the biblical text (Blackwelder, p. 82).
Clearly, the most important preposition in the book of Galatians is "ek," which the KJV usually translates simply as "of." This simple word for word rendering loses much of the rich meaning embodied in the text and even obscures fundamental understanding of the passage.
In English, "of" often denotes ownership or origin, such as "kingdom of God." In Greek the "genitive case ending" of possessive nouns ("God" in this example) indicates this meaning without the use of a preposition. Since the English language does not use case endings, a preposition often must be supplied in translation to make the meaning clear. The two ways to translate a genitive noun from Greek to English are to add an "s" to the end of the noun (a case ending of sorts) or use the word "of." So "Godís kingdom" means the same in English as "kingdom of God." Unfortunately, the English translations again fall short by using "of" for both the genitive case where there is no preposition in Greek and for "ek," even though the meanings are quite different, especially in Galatians and Romans. "Ek" literally means "out of" (literally or figuratively), thus denoting origin, source, cause. It is used exclusively with the genitive case to emphasize or expand the basic concept of origin relative to the noun in the context of the sentence by stressing motion or action outward from origin. The range of meanings is best illustrated conceptually by a line proceeding out of the middle of a circle. (You have to be a conceptual person for this to do anything for you!). Thayerís Lexicon well explains, "It denotes . . . exit or emission out of, as separation from, something with which there has been close connection." The figurative meanings that apply to the passages in Galatians are "to rely on or depend on," and thus, again quoting Thayerís, "of the power on which one depends, by which he is promised and governed, whose character he reflects."
So when Galatians speaks of being "of ("ek") works of law (Galatians 3:10)," it refers to someone who depends on dutiful performance of legal requirements, is promised and governed by these duties, and reflects their character. In short he is legalistic.
With that rather lengthy introduction behind us, we will now proceed into the heart and core of the book. For the sake of clarity, we will survey and summarize five major areas of subject material with more detailed analysis of the more pertinent passages.
Outline of Major Contents/Sections
1) Galatians 1:1 - 2:15 ó Paulís defence of the authenticity of his office & gospel
2) Galatians 2:16 - 3:14 ó justification by works of law and/or faith
3) Galatians 3:15-29 ó "The Law" & "the promises" (Abrahamic & Siniatic covenants)
4) Galatians 4:1-20 ó nature of the heresy
5) Galatians 4:21 - 5:26 ó final appeal
1) Paulís Defense
Schmithals makes the point that Paulís defense of his office and gospel are suggestive of a Gnostic-based opposition. He points out that Paul establishes the authenticity of his message on the basis of special revelation (1:12). Another author explains, "Like Baptists, Quakers, and many others, the gnostic is convinced that whoever receives the spirit communicates directly with the divine" (The Gnostic Gospels, by Elaine Pagels, p. 23).
Paul raises the topic of circumcision early (2:3) and often. Hence the widespread assumption of a Judaizing element as the source of the Galatian heresy. However, a closer look at the subject reveals this is clearly a different concept of circumcision that does not fit the Judaistic mold. The Jerusalem-based Jews preaching circumcision were bent on converting Gentile disciples to the "law of Moses" (Acts 15:1, 5). The Galatian hereticsí insistence on circumcision was decidedly not related to any such obligation. In Galatia, it was Paul who raised this issue as a reason not to be circumcised (Galatians 5:3). Furthermore, these enemies of the gospel were not themselves lawkeepers (6:12-13). Paulís closing remarks refer to his "marks" of identity to Christ in contrast to the self-imposed "brand" of circumcision. His "marks" resulted in suffering physical pain brought on by persecution, not self-imposed pain as a form of punishing the flesh by cutting which was the reasoning behind Gnostic circumcision (Philippians 3:2). Such pagan practices have long been extant in various pagan religions and were forbidden in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:28).
In Galatians 2:11-15, Paul uses his confrontation of Peter to defend his apostolic authority and as a springboard to the topic of justification. His reference to other incidents involving leading apostles at the Jerusalem conference (Acts 15) must be understood as a defense of his office, not as a theological link with the Galatian heresy, which we will see is clearly different.
2) Justification, Faith & "Works of Law"
Galatians 2:16 contains a landmark statement on the topic of justification. It appears to pit "works of law" against faith as mutually exclusive. Which is to say, that we can be declared righteous based solely on what Christ has done, not by anything we do. However, when properly translated this passage sets forth a remarkable truth that contradicts the fundamental mainstream Protestant doctrine of "justification by faith alone." The verse literally says, "A man is not justified by ["ek"] works of law except through faith (in) Christ" (Jay Greenís Interlinear, cf. also The Complete Word Study Dictionary, by Zodhiates). "Through" (Gr. "dia") or "by means of" denotes "the channel through which one secures salvation" (Wuest). This verse properly translated clearly asserts that dutiful obedience of the laws of God is not counterproductive or contradictory to faith. Quite the contrary. James 2:14-24 clearly explains that genuine faith and works are inseparable. The point is that works apart from Christ are worthless for justification, because no one can avoid sin. But faith without works is equally useless. One has no value without the other.
Gnosticism was a legalistic religion based on rigid, ascetic, regulations. So was Judaism (Romans 9:30 - 10:3). Gnostic Judaism was a blend of Judaism with Gnostic beliefs and practices in a common bond of legalism. This was the battleground upon which Paul waged the doctrinal war in the epistle to the Galatians. Legalism is "belief in salvation by obedience to the law rather than [emphasis mine] by the grace of God or by faith" (Bakerís Concise Dictionary of Religion). To believe and keep the laws of God as a Christian obligation and expression of love for God and fellow man is decidedly not "legalism." It is simply a corroboration of genuine faith and love.
The hermeneutical conclusion for all ages is that apart from Christ we cannot be justified by any works of any law, up to and including the Ten Commandments. Even though God requires obedience, that obedience does not and cannot earn us justification or salvation. Both justification and salvation are free gifts of the grace of God. So Galatians 2:16 simply says, "A man is not justified by works of law except by means of faith in Christ."
Therefore, faith in Christ is necessary along with works. Faith is required to be "justified" (acquitted, declared righteous) on the basis of Christís sacrifice. The works result from Christ living in us (Galatians 2:20) through the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:11) to produce the fruit of the Spirit, and to keep us right with God in conduct. Call it the process of conversion, "sanctification," or whatever you wish, but Galatians 2:16 is a scripture about Christian works.
Vincent presents an outspoken but valid observation on Galatians 2:16:
The meaning "to declare or pronounce righteous" cannot be consistently carried through Paulís writings in the interest of a theological fiction of imputed righteousness. . . . If one is justified by the works of the law, his righteousness is a real [emphasis his] righteousness, founded upon his conformity to the law. Why is the righteousness of faith any less a real righteousness? (Vincentís Word Studies of the New Testament, vol. IV, p. 104).
He cites Romans 4:25 to further his point.
But if the whole matter of the justification depends on what He has suffered for our offences, we shall as certainly be justified or have our account made even, if He does not rise, as if He does. Doubtless the rising has an immense significance, when the justification is conceived to be the renewing of our moral nature in righteousness. . . . But in the other view of justification there is plainly enough nothing depending . . . on His resurrection" (Vincent, vol. III, p. 57).
To put it simply, Jesusí death makes possible legal justification (acquittal from sin). By living His life in us He brings about true righteousness of character and conduct. Not a vicarious righteousness of Christ "imputed" to us, which is the traditional mainstream Protestant claim that Jesus kept the law for you because you canít keep it. The truth is made plain in Romans 5:9-10, "Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him, for if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." Jesus died for us; but He doesnít live for us, He lives in us.
Galatians 2:17, we must be declared guilty before pronounced innocent. But that does not make Christ a "minister of sin." Paul poses a similar question in Romans 7:7, "What shall we say then, is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin, except through [the] law."
Verse 19, Paul says he died "through the law" (the medium which defines sin and the death penalty) and "to the law" (the claim of death).
Verse 21, righteousness cannot come through law alone apart from the grace of God, who offers forgiveness of sins (legal justification, "acquittal"), through Christ as our High Priest. Christ is also living in us (v. 20), to produce a spiritual transformation (Romans 12:2) and being "formed in us" (Galatians 4:19).
Now we cover Galatians 3:
Verse 1, "the truth" = the true gospel message (as opposed to the false, 1:6-7)
Verses 2-5, God gives His Spirit as a gift, which we claim in faith, not as wages we earn by performance of law.
(Romans 6:23 ó The only thing we earn is death for sins. Eternal life, which abides in us via the "earnest" of the Holy Spirit, is a gift of God.)
There is apparently more to Galatians verses 2-3 than meets the eye. Schmithals explains that members were following the "laws of the pneumatikoi ("spiritual ones" ó the adjective form of "pneuma"). These laws included Gnostic circumcision and "ecstatic licentiousness" (Schmithals, pp. 46-51). This should bring to mind a similar religious philosophy among the prophets of Baal, who cut themselves as part of their Corybantic frenzy (I Kings 18:28).
Verses 7-10, "All who rely on ("ek") "works of law" (i.e., try to "earn" justification and/or salvation apart from Christ) are under a curse, which is part of the total package spelled out by The Law.
Verses 11-14, Mere performance of law (as practiced by Judaism) is a system of doís and donítís which isnít based on ("ek") faith and cannot lead to justification apart from Christ.
Verse 14, The Abrahamic covenant is introduced ("promises").
3) "The Law" & "The Promises"
Continuing in Galatians 3:
Verses 14, 16, We are to inherit the blessing of the promises to Abraham through Jesus Christ, the promised "Seed."
Verse 15, Even a human covenant (agreement) cannot be annulled or added to after it is confirmed (ratified, terms agreed upon). The Greek word for "added" is "epidiatass_" ó "tass_" ("arranged") + "epi" ("upon") + "dia." It refers to piling more obligations on top of what has already been agreed upon.
Verse 17, On the basis of the reasoning established in v. 15, Paul argues that "The Law" (the old covenant made with Israel) cannot interfere with the covenant with Abraham, which had been confirmed 430 years earlier.
Verse 18, The promises of the covenant with Abraham did not originate from and does not depend on ("ek") [the] law.
Verse 19, What was "the law" that was "added?" By understanding "the law" in a literal sense as the "whole package" of laws, mainstream Christianity concludes that the coming of Christ ended the obligation to keep any of the laws of the old covenant, except for those repeated in the New Testament (vv. 24-25).
Herbert W. Armstrong knew this conclusion was in conflict with the clear teachings of scripture. So he concluded that this "added law" was "the sacrificial and ceremonial law" that was added (to the Ten Commandment law) because of transgressions (of the Ten Commandments). He used Jeremiah 7:22 to explain that the sacrificial laws were given later (about a year after the Ten Commandments were given), because Israel proved during that time that they would not obey the Ten Commandments. This explanation is not correct for the following reasons:
1) This requires attaching different meanings to the same expression "the law." ("The law in Galatians" vs. "the law" that defines sin, etc.). This inconsistent, grammatically erroneous conclusion has drawn the charge of "proof texting." "The Law" is "The Law" ó in Galatians, Romans or wherever the term is used, at least in Paulís epistles.
2) "The Law" ("Torah") is one indivisible system or unit, not two sets of laws. The fact that the Ten Commandments were written on tables of stone and the others on whole stones does not prove they were two different sets of laws. The Ten Commandments were written on two tables of stone, but that doesnít make them two sets of laws.
3) God did speak regarding sacrifices at the same time the ten commandments were given (Exodus 20:24-26).
4) The sacrificial laws were given later because God first gave instructions on how to build the tabernacle, then told Israel how to use it (offering sacrifices) after the tabernacle was finished.
5) God knew all along that Israel would not obey him (Deuteronomy 5:29).
6) Jeremiah 7:22 is a figurative expression similar to Hosea 6:6 ("I desire mercy and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings"). The word "not" in both cases should be understood as meaning "not primarily." So Jeremiah 7:22 means obedience is more important than sacrifice, just as Hosea 6:6 means mercy is more desirable than sacrifice.
7) Paul is not talking about two sets of laws but the two covenants. Galatians 3:19 refers to "The Law" being added to the covenant made with Abraham, not to the Ten Commandments.
In v. 19 Paul explains the purpose of "The Law" (the "old covenant" made with Israel). "It was Ďaddedí [to the Abrahamic covenant] because of transgressions till the Seed should come." This appears to contradict the point made in v. 15. However, the word here translated "added" is a different word than in v. 15. The word in verse 19 is "prosthemi" ("pros" ó "to[ward]" + "themi" ó "put") which means to come alongside of in sense of something that works side by side together or in harmony with the covenant, not an additional obligation ("on top of" it). "The Law" was "added to" not "added on top of" the covenant with Abraham. This is why v. 21 says The Law is not against the promises of God.
Verses 19-25, The purpose of "The Law" (the old covenant to Israel, system of laws) was to define sin and to convict, sentence, "imprison" ("confined," v 2.2, NKJV) and keep "under guard" (v. 23, NKJV) sinners, thus leading us to Christ, who paid the price for our sins and freed us from the bondage (Hebrews 2:14-15) and "imprisonment" (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18). It was also to serve as a tutor to portray the spiritual realities of Christís role in Godís master plan by means of physical types, rituals, and ceremonies.
Verse 25, Now that Christ has come, the old covenant has served its purpose. We are no longer under "The Law" (the old covenant tutor).
Hebrews 8:13 says the old covenant is now "obsolete." But this doesnít mean the individual laws within "The Law" are obsolete.
Hebrews 8:10 and Hebrews 10:16 are the only two New Testament occurrences of the plural of nomos ("laws"). Even though "The Law" as a system is now obsolete, the individual laws within the system must be separately considered, as clearly addressed and explained in the New Testament. The terms of the old covenant were explicitly recorded in the Old Testament. It is incorrect to equate the New Testament with the new covenant, because, unlike the old covenant, the terms or requirements of the new covenant are not all spelled out in the New Testament. Rather, these two passages in Hebrews (quoting from Jeremiah 31) state that the terms of the new covenant are written in our minds and hearts. The terms of the new covenant are the same laws of God that have been in effect since before they were written down at Mount Sinai, and will continue to be in effect until they fulfill their purpose, as Jesus clearly stated in Matthew 5:18.
4) Nature of the Heresy
After laying the theological foundation, Paul now zeroes in on the exact nature of the heresy in terms of specific conduct. Here is where the source of the problem becomes apparent and hermeneutically crucial.
Verses 1-2, An infant child (Gr. "nepios") is like a slave in the sense of being dependent and thus subservient to others.
Verse 3, We (all mankind) were helpless and subservient to the "elements (Gr. "stoicheia") of the world" in the spiritual bondage of sin (Ephesians 2:1-3).
The plural form of the Greek word "stoicheion" primarily signifies any first things from which others in a series, or a composite whole, proceed; the word can also mean "an element, first principle" (from "stoichos," "a row, rank, series"; cf. the verb "stoiche_," "to walk or march in rank"; it was used of the letters of the alphabet, as elements of speech.
Those who consider Judaizers as the problem in Galatia connect "stoicheia" with the "tutelage" of "The Law" described in 3:22-25. However, Chapter 4 begins a new topic with new metaphors ("guardians and stewards," not "tutor" ó similar, but different terms). Whereas "stoicheia" could conceivably describe the elementary teachings of the old covenant, it is incorrect to attribute their divine origin to "the world" (v. 3) and downright blasphemous to call any laws of God "weak and beggarly" (v. 9).
This description does fit the Gnostic Judaism model very well, however, as Vincent explains:
The elements of the world are the personal, elemental spirits. This seems to be the preferable explanation, both here and in Col. ii. 8. According to Jewish ideas, all things had their special angels . . . . In this passage the elements of the world are compared with overseers and stewards . . . . In ver. 8, "did service to them which by nature are no gods," appears to be = "in bondage under the elements," suggesting a personal interpretation of the latter (Vincent, vol. IV, pp. 134-135).
Expositorís Bible Commentary also has a very fine exposition on this passage concluding with the following remarks:
Thus, this whole issue takes on a cosmic and spiritual significance. The ultimate contrast to freedom in Christ is bondage to Satan and the evil spirits (vol 10, p. 472).
This conclusion summarizes what Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:1-3, namely that we all were under Satanís sway prior to conversion. Satan and sin are the sources of bondage, not the law of God (any law of God, old or new covenant)! We will have more to say on the topic of "bondage" when we come to chapter 5.
Verses 4-5, Jesus Christ lived "under (in subjection to) the law" to redeem us from the death penalty of the law (cf. 3:13). The assumption cannot be made that "under the law" refers only to the Jews, because the redemption of Christ is to all who believe, regardless of nationality or religious background (3:28-29). In fact all mankind is "under law" (correct translation due to absence of definite article, not "under the law"), and in need of forgiveness and redemption. Ungodly laws lead to sin, which the law of God defines.
Verses 6-7, We have an intimate, mature relationship with God via the Holy Spirit in us, so that we are no longer slaves or infant children but mature sons (Gr. "huios") who through Christ are heirs of the promises of Abraham, whose children we all are through Christ (3:28-29).
Verses 8-9, Here again we see the importance of knowing the source of the Galatian heresy. The problem Paul is addressing is Gentile members returning to the "weak and beggarly elements" of their pagan past. Again, this fits Gnosticism or Gnostic Judaism, not Judaism. And as previously stated, to refer to laws and practices God instituted as "weak and beggarly" is blasphemous. To further suggest that living by the laws of God, even in the old covenant, is "bondage" is to suggest that God delivered Israel from the bondage of Egypt, only to put them into "bondage" to the law. This would be a case of "out of the frying pan, into the fire" and the proverbial "good news and bad news" scenario.
Verse 10, This understanding provides the backdrop necessary to properly understand this verse, which is often used to document the claim that the Sabbath and Holy Days are no longer valid under the new covenant. Schmithals concludes:
Gnostic speculations must also stand behind the Galatian observance of certain times . . . . [Paul speaks of] service under those who by nature are not God or of the poor and beggarly ["stoicheia"], the world powers, to which the Galatians are returning. This too has its parallel in . . . Colossians. The Colossians are liberated from the ["stoicheia tou kosmou" ó "basic principles of the world," Colossians 2:20], to which they are again subjecting themselves with their angel worship in the observance of feasts, new moons, and sabbaths.
Therewith is indicated the tendency out of which we must understand Paulís remark that the Galatians are observing days, months, seasons and years (Schmithal, p. 45).
It would be inconceivable that Paul regards the observance of the Jewish [emphasis his] feast days as the worship of pagan gods. Hence in 4:10 he cannot have in mind any judaizing behavior. The similarity of the terminology and of the argument in Galatians 4:8-10 and Col. 2:16-23 inexorably compels us to see the same opponents being combatted in both passages . . . . If one wishes to see Judaizers combatted in Galatians 4:8-10, one must therefore accept the assumption of the same false teachers for Colossae. Since this is impossible, there remains only the possibility of assuming for the Galatian epistle also an anti-Gnostic battle line (Schmithals, footnotes on p. 45).
Kittel concurs in his assessment of the meaning of the verb "parat_re_" ("observe") in Galatians 4:10:
The compound [i.e., compound verb "parat_re_"] esp. in the mid. ["middle voice" of the verb], seems to have the sense of "anxious, scrupulous, well-informed observance in oneís own interest," which does not fit the traditional celebration of the Sabbath or other Jewish feasts, but does fit regard for points or spans of time which are evaluated positively or negatively from the standpoint of the calendar or astrology (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament by Kittel, vol. VII, p. 148).
Likewise Vincent concludes, "The Galatians had turned again to the observance of times and seasons (ver. 10), which were controlled by the heavenly bodies and their spirits" (Vincent, vol. IV, p. 135).
5) Final Appeal
Paul wraps up his case with an allegory (4:21-31) and a final appeal to hang on to the freedom they have in Christ and not go back under the yoke of bondage out of which God called them.
Verse 21a) "You who desire to be under law" is not to be understood as the stated claim of the followers but rather as Paulís assessment of their spiritual condition of obligation in contrast to the freedom of the gospel. The same expression "under law" is contrasted with being "under grace" in Romans 6:14. The common denominator of both verses is lack of provision for mercy and forgiveness under a legal system apart from Christ.
Verses 21-31, Paul presents the historical experiences of Abrahamís two sons allegorically to represent the two covenants (Abrahamic and Siniatic) in order to make his point from yet another frame of reference. (No one could ever accuse Paul of not being thorough!)
The overall point should be clear. Yet many claim that the old covenant is a form of bondage. But this is the result of careless exegesis of v. 24. Paul does not say the Siniatic covenant is bondage, but that it gives birth to bondage (v. 24).
Here again the book of Romans is instructive. The law stimulates sin (Romans 7:5, 8) because "the carnal mind is enmity against God [and] not subject to the law of God" (Romans 8:7). Anyone who understands human nature doesnít need a theological explanation to understand the meaning of this phenomenon. Law alone cannot resolve this dilemma, not even the law of God. It defines sin without providing deliverance from sinís bondage.
The Abrahamic covenant offers spiritual freedom through Christ, the promised "seed" (Galatians 3:16). We are not "children of the bondwoman," but "children of promises." We are free from the bondage of sin through Christ and the gospel (Romans 6:16-23, 8:1-4). This cannot be said of those who were "under law" by participating in a legalistic religion which rejects Christ.
Verse 1, Paul has now dealt with the Jewish aspect of the heresy as well as the ascetic aspect of Gnosticism. The word "therefore" indicates the beginning of his closing arguments to them, encompassing 5:1-12. The bottom line is a choice between freedom and slavery as illustrated by the allegory, which sums up what Paul has reasoned throughout the epistle. Many cannot resist the opportunity to define the "yoke of bondage" as "legalism," or even the old covenant or "the law" itself. Many understand "legalism" as a belief that one is obligated to obey the law. By logical extension, the freedom wrought by Christ would then mean freedom from any obligation to the law, a fundamental doctrine of mainstream Protestantism and spawning ground for numerous other unbiblical teachings such as "imputation," justification by faith alone, and the "law of Christ" as distinct from the law of God, to name a few. However, we have already pointed out that bondage is a term used for sin, not for "The Law."
Here the expression "yoke of bondage" is used. The marginal reference column of some Bibles connects this expression with Acts 15:10, implying this is the same "yoke" Peter said "neither our fathers nor we were able to bear," namely the law of Moses (v. 5). Once again we must be careful not to jump to conclusions by careless reading of the passage. Peter does indeed say the law of Moses was a "yoke" but not a "yoke of bondage." There is a big difference! The word "yoke" simply implies an obligation.
In Matthew 11:29-30 Jesus appeals to all "who labor and are heavy laden," . . . "Take My yoke upon you . . . , for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." Needless to say, no one would connect the yoke of Jesus with bondage. Yet "yoke" (Gr. "zugos") in this passage is the same word used in Galatians 5:1. A yoke is an apparatus that joins two things together, such as oxen. The New Testament uses the term metaphorically to refer to an obligation of a person to someone or something. There is obviously nothing wrong with the concept of obligation, especially since it is here applied to Jesus Christ.
Likewise, a burden is not the same as "bondage." The "rest" Jesus promises in Matthew 11:28-29 should be understood as the relief He offered from the heavy burdens (Gr. "phortion") imposed by the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:2-4, Luke 11:46) who loaded extra baggage onto the law of God with their "tradition." By contrast, the yoke Jesus offered involved a burden (same word, Gr. "phortion") which was light by comparison.
In Acts 15 Peter said the law of Moses (a term synonymous to "The Law") was a yoke that the people were unable to bear ("support as a burden" ó Vineís Dictionary of Biblical Words). The text does not specify what part of "The Law" Peter was referring to. Of course human nature leads many to apply the description to all of the laws (Romans 8:7). Undoubtedly this is why the Apostle John exclaims that Godís commandments are not burdensome (Gr. "barus," which is translated "heavy" in Matthew 23:4, referring to the aforementioned burdens imposed by the Scribes and Pharisees). The rigorous, detailed system of sacrifices and purification required under "The Law," however, could conceivably fit Peterís description. But this is part of the lesson God intended Israel to learn from the old covenant to lead them to Christ, who "bore our sins in His own body on the tree" (I Peter 2:24-25). Here the word "bore" is "anaphero," "ana" ("up") plus "phero" ("to bear,") the same word from which "phortion" ["burden"] is derived. The choice in Acts 15 was whether the new Gentile converts should look to Christ to bear the burdens of sin or to attempt to do the impossible task of bearing it themselves by being circumcised and thus coming under the obligation of all the requirements of the old covenant.
Likewise the choice Paul presents to the Galatians is whether to accept the freedom from sin offered by Christ or to go back into the bondage of sin by reverting to legalistic, pagan, practices that "set aside the grace of God (Galatians 2:21)."
The word "bondage" (Gr. "douleia" is "akin to "de_," Ďto bind,í primarily Ďthe condition of being a slaveí" [Vine]). The familiar word Greek word "doulos" is a close cousin. However, "bondage" ("douleia") is used in only a negative sense in the New Testament (Romans 8:15, 21; Galatians 4:24, 5:1; Hebrews 2:15), whereas "servant" ("doulos") and the verb "to serve" (Gr. "douleu_") are used in both the positive sense of serving Christ and the negative sense of serving sin. The point here is that nowhere does the Bible portray any of Godís laws as "bondage," despite the fact that many Bible scholars try to read this meaning into the two passages in Galatians (Galatians 4:24, 5:1) based on the erroneous presupposition that the heretics in Galatia were Judaizers trying to coerce the brethren to come under the old covenant. The real villain is Gnostic Judaism, which claimed to be in harmony with the law of Moses and the gospel but was in fact a ploy of Satan to pervert the gospel and bring the brethren back into the bondage of sin.
This same Gnostic, Judaistic, Christian syncretism was what James, Peter and John had to combat in their epistles many years later. It is interesting to note that Peter also warned of the danger of following "cunningly devised fables (II Peter 1:16)" of false prophets whose "destructive ways" led to "the way of truth [being] blasphemed," as they "by covetousness exploit [brethren] with deceptive words" (II Peter 2:1-3). All this under the guise of alleged "freedom," which is actually "licentiousness" that leads right back into the entanglement and bondage of sin, despite their "great swelling words of emptiness" (II Peter 2:18-20). When Peter wrote in the next chapter about some of the "hard to understand" things in Paulís epistles which "those who are untaught and unstable twist," do you suppose he might have had much of the book of Galatians in mind? One can certainly make a strong case for that, by comparing these verses with Paulís discussion of freedom and bondage in Galatians 5.
Verses 2-3, As we saw earlier in this paper, Paul explained that circumcision is a package deal. The heretics obviously tried to connect their concept of circumcision with the old covenant command. The Gnostic concept was totally different. Paul here refers to it as circumcision only because that was what the heretics claimed. Paulís description proves it was actually what he elsewhere calls "mutilation" in Philippians 3:2. The Greek word here is "katatom_" which literally means "cut down." The word for circumcision is "peritom_" (literally "cut around").
Verses 4-6, Paul summarizes what he has already discussed in detail earlier in the epistle ó the futility of attempting to be justified "by law" apart from faith in Christ.
Verse 7-12, Paul zeroes in on the troublemaker(s). His "cutting remarks" (pun intended) in v. 12 can be understood in the context of Philippians 3:2. Whether he means "cut themselves off" in a literal or figurative sense is a matter of conjecture.
Verses 13-15, Paul now comes back to the libertine aspect of the heresy, urging its adherents not to use liberty as a license to sin. He is directing this toward the philosophy of "pneumatikoi" once again. That false form of "spirituality" was self-absorbed. Paul points out that true spirituality is reflected in service to others (cf. 6:1).
Verse 14, This quote from Leviticus 19:18 refers to "The Law" (articular), not some "new law of Christ." Paul is speaking of the focus of the spirit of "The Law" emphasized by Jesus Christ under the new covenant, now that we have access to the divine nature to be able to obey in the spirit, however imperfectly.
Verses 16-17, Paul urges the Galatians to live the true way of the spirit which is diametrically opposite to the lust of the flesh that characterized the Gnostic brand of "spirituality."
Verse 18, The true way of the spirit transcends law. Yet it does not conflict with law. It fulfills law by love, the principle upon which the entirety of Godís law is based (Galatians 5:23; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 22:36-40).
Verses 19-26, Paul contrasts the "works of the flesh" (the product of the libertine, counterfeit, "spirituality" of the Gnostic "pneumatikoi") with the genuine fruit of true spirituality.
Verses 1-10, Paul again stresses love and service to others is the expression of genuine spirituality. Both the counterfeit "spiritual one" (who "sows to the flesh" in self-indulgent behavior) and the truly spiritual (who "sows to the spirit") will reap what they sow ó corruption and eternal life respectively.
The Bible teaches that doing what we please is not freedom, but slavery (Romans 6:15-21). True freedom is achieved only by obeying the law of God through faith in Jesus Christ, motivated by the love of God as Jesus Christ lives in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Thus James 1:25 speaks of "the perfect law of liberty"). Charles Kingsley expressed it this way, "There are two freedoms: the false where a man is free to do what he likes; the true where a man is free to do what he ought."
Verse 15, Paul makes one final observation about circumcision and its relative lack of importance. To use the vernacular, circumcision or lack thereof is no big deal. Christianity is "a whole new ball game" (cf. II Corinthians 5:17). For a Christian, everything takes on a new significance. In Galatians 5:6, Paul makes a similar statement about the irrelevancy of circumcision and emphasizes faith and love. Also in I Corinthians 7:19, he contrasts circumcision and keeping the commandments. Faith, love, and keeping the commandments are inseparable components of true Christianity. Circumcision is not.
Verse 16, The Church of God is the "Israel of God," not Gentiles of God. This explains why Satan is so determined to undermine any laws that pertain to Israel, labeling them as "Jewish" and therefore no longer obligatory to a Christian. The book of Galatians has long been used to perpetuate this damnable heresy by means of twisting scriptures which hopefully this paper has been able to clarify.
In closing, Paul asks (Galatians 4:16), "Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?" By the grace of God I have written this study paper in the interest of true understanding, not to cause division or to judge, condemn, or point the finger of accusation at any person or organization. I have no intention of making enemies with this paper, or anything I say or do. If some consider me an enemy for expounding what I believe is the truth, that is their choice, not mine. Paul stuck his neck out to preach the truth without pulling punches to a group of people in an area where the truth was rapidly being destroyed and replaced with a counterfeit "gospel." Godís ministers must always preach the truth, even though some may consider them as enemies for so doing. In the words of Edmund Burke, "all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
I would echo the appeal of the apostle Paul (Galatians 5:1), "Stand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage." As ministers we are duty bound to do this in our own lives and to help the members we serve do the same. Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). We all need to ask what we can and should do to protect, preserve, and promote the precious truth that God has given us.
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