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Galatians - Was Paul Teaching Against the Law?

Galatians - Was Paul Teaching Against the Law?



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Published by Bryan T. Huie
This article on Galatians explains Paul's position on the Law and shows why he was not invalidating the Torah. It explains many of Paul’s apparently contradictory statements regarding the Law. As you will see, Paul was preaching against a legalistic form of Judaism, not against the Law itself.
This article on Galatians explains Paul's position on the Law and shows why he was not invalidating the Torah. It explains many of Paul’s apparently contradictory statements regarding the Law. As you will see, Paul was preaching against a legalistic form of Judaism, not against the Law itself.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Bryan T. Huie on Jun 27, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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aul's letter to the Galatians is the Scripture most used to try and prove that God's Law has been done away with. Manytheologians cite passages from Galatians to establish that the so-called "Mosaic Law" (i.e.,
) given at Mount Sinaihas no validity for "new covenant" believers. But is this position correct? Did Yeshua remove the Law that God gave theIsraelites 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 epistleto the Galatians is no exception. We have to remember that this text is a letter that Paul wrote to try and correct a problem thatwas occurring in Galatia. However, we only have ONE side of the discussion. We don't know what information Paul hadreceived from the Galatians and was responding to. In effect, it's like listening in on a telephone conversation we're not directlyinvolved in. We can't hear what the other party is saying, so we have to try and determine what was said through the answersgiven 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 thathad arisen in Galatia. We must also understand who was causing those problems. Our goal in this article is to compare Paul'scomments to the Galatians with teachings that existed in 1st-century Judaism. By doing this, we will identify the group of "Judaizers" who were disturbing Paul's converts in Galatia. In the process, we will look extensively at some of the documentsuncovered during the 20th century in the Dead Sea scrolls found at Qumran. Now let's begin our journey through the book of Galatians:
GALATIANS 1:1 Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God theFather 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 whombe glory forever and ever. Amen. (
This is Paul's introduction and greeting to the Galatians.
GALATIANS 1:6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, toa
different gospel
, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to
pervert thegospel of Christ
. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than whatwe have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyonepreaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (
After his short greeting, Paul quickly launches into the problem occurring in Galatia. Some person or group was attempting todeceive the Galatians with a "different gospel." At this point in his letter, we don't yet know what this other 
("goodnews") is that Paul refers to here. As we delve more deeply into his epistle, Paul will give us some vital clues about how thegood 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
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would not be a bondservant of Christ. 11 But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which waspreached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but itcame through the revelation of Jesus Christ. (
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 them 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 Godbeyond measure and tried to destroy it. 14 And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporariesin my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the
traditions of my fathers
. (
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, thedifferent 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 40days. According to Jewish tradition, these oral laws were handed down through the generations from father to son to explainhow the written Law was to be kept. Many of these oral laws were later recorded by the rabbis in the
and the
.Paul does not just mention the "traditions of the fathers" in passing here. His comment is intended to set up what he will writeto 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 throughHis grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediatelyconfer with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but Iwent to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. (
Unlike many who would have sought human validation for the supernatural instruction he had just received, Paul did not go toJerusalem 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 fifteendays. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord's brother. 20 (Now concerning thethings which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.) 21 Afterward I went into the regions of Syriaand Cilicia. 22 And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. 23 But they werehearing only, "He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy." 24And they glorified God in me. (
At the end of chapter 1, Paul speaks of his trip to Jerusalem three years after his experience on the road to Damsacus. Whilethere, 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 Tituswith me. 2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among theGentiles, 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
. (
Paul tells of another trip he took to Jerusalem after 14 more years, this time accompanied by Barnabas and Titus. He states thathe was told to go "by revelation." The purpose of his trip was to confirm that he was preaching the same message to theGentiles 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 hadarisen in Galatia. Indications from the text are that
coerced circumcision
was one of the false teachings being brought to the
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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 hestated that "the sign of circumcision" is "a seal of the righteousness of the faith" (Rom. 4:11). But Paul's adversaries in Galatiawanted circumcision not to be simply a sign that showed faith, but rather part of the method through which righteousness wasattained.
GALATIANS 2:4 But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom wehave in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us – 5 we did not submit to them even for a moment, sothat the truth of the gospel might always remain with you. (
Verses 4 and 5 seem somewhat out of place because these verses are an inset equating the "false brethren" bothering theGalatians with other false believers the apostle Paul had met during his ministry. They are mentioned at this point in Paul'sletter because their actions and attitudes were the opposite of those Paul visited while in Jerusalem. Paul's contrast betweenTitus 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 issues Paul wasconcerned about in Galatia.
GALATIANS 2:6 But from those who seemed to be something – whatever they were, it makes no difference tome; God shows personal favoritism to no man – for those who seemed to be something added nothing tome. 7 But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed tome, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter 8 (for He who worked effectively in Peter for theapostleship 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 meand 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.(
After the two inset verses, Paul continues discussing his trip to Jerusalem. He shows that Peter was the leader of the apostleswho had been with Yeshua. This passage is designed to show the Galatians that Paul was preaching the same good news to theGentiles that the original apostles 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 beblamed; 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 theJews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.(
Apparently Peter later made a reciprocal visit to Paul at Antioch. Initially, he ate meals with the Gentile converts there. Butwhen 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 foundin the Oral Law. The eating Paul speaks of here had nothing to do with unclean food. Peter himself confirms this tenet of theOral 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 aGentile or visit him
. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean." (
This prohibition is not found in the
, 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 becauseit was automatically assumed that the house was ritually unclean, and that the Gentiles in it were also unclean. According to theOral Law, this uncleanness would make the Jew entering into the house unclean also.
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