14 July 2021

Doing the Whole Law


Anyone who is under the Law of Moses is obligated to keep all its required deeds and rituals – Galatians 3:10

Books - Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
In his letter to
 Galatians, Paul responded to teachings from certain “men from Jerusalem” who were disrupting the churches with their claim that male Gentiles must be circumcised to “complete” their faith. They may also have promoted calendrical observances and following the Levitical dietary regulations - [Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash].

The “Judaizers,” as Paul labeled them, did not deny the need for faith, but they taught that once Gentiles became disciples of Jesus, performing at least some of the works required by the Mosaic Law was necessary to complete their faith:
  • (Galatians 3:1-5) – “So foolish are you, having begun in Spirit, are you now to be MADE COMPLETE in the flesh?”

Paul would have none of it. He labeled them “agitators” who were causing divisions by compelling Gentiles to “live like Jews.” And the real controversy was over the status of Gentiles in the covenant people. To be a member in good standing, must a Gentile add circumcision and other works of the Torah to his faith in Jesus?

APOSTOLIC RESPONSE


The Apostle does not charge his opponents with compelling Gentiles to keep the entire Law.  His remarks suggest they are insisting that Gentiles must keep only certain requirements, especially circumcision, but not necessarily every requirement demanded by Torah - (Galatians 3:105:2-3).

In his main proposition, Paul presents what he held in common with his opponents (verses 15-16), then summarizes the areas of disagreement (Galatians 2:17-21):
  • We ourselves by nature Jews and not sinners from among the Gentiles, know that man is not declared righteous on the basis of the works of the law but through the faith of Christ Jesus; even we believed in Christ Jesus that we might be declared righteous on the basis of the faith of Christ and not on the basis of the works of the law; because from the works of the law will no flesh be declared righteous.”

What he and his opponents hold in common is that no man is put in right standing with God “from the works of the Law,” but “from the faith of Jesus Christ.” The agitators are adding requirements to this faith.

At issue is not good works or human effort in general, but specifically, the deeds required by the Mosaic Law. And that includes circumcision. In this context, the “works of the law” can only refer to the requirements of the Torah given through Moses.

In chapter 3, Paul begins to present his arguments to support his proposition, starting with an argument from experience - the Gentile believers received the Spirit even though they were not circumcised. That is irrefutable evidence that God has accepted Gentile believers on their faith without the rite of circumcision.

THE WHOLE LAW


Next, Paul presents arguments from Scripture. He appeals to the example of Abraham and links him to faith, righteousness, and the promised “blessing” for Gentiles.

The Patriarch was “reckoned righteous” from his faith, and not from the “deeds of the law.” Therefore, all who are from faith are the “sons of Abraham.”
  • (Galatians 3:10-13) - “For as many as are from the works of the Law are under a curse, for it is written, ‘Accursed is everyone who continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them.’”

In contrast to those “from faith,” those who are “from the works of the Law” place themselves under its curse.  The Law itself pronounces that all men who are under it are obligated “to continue in ALL the things written in the Book of the Law, to do them” - (Deuteronomy 27:26).

The Law is not a pick-and-choose menu, but an all-or-nothing proposition. If one is under it, just observing the Sabbath or becoming circumcised is insufficient to avoid its curse. One must do all that it requires.

Gentile believers contemplating the addition of circumcision to their faith must understand that much more is involved than the removal of the foreskin.  The Torah requires members of the covenant community to do all that is written in it, and those who are living from the “works of the Law” fall under its curse if they fail to do so.

At Mount Sinai, Israel placed herself under the obligations of the covenant, and thereby also under its (potential) curse. The curse is pronounced against all who fail to continue in all that the Law requires. The Galatians are considering a decision with potentially dire consequences.

In his letter, Paul connects the preposition “under” to the Law ten times, and always negatively.  Thus, he refers to those who are “under sin”, “under the Law,” “under a custodian,”, “under guardians,” and “under the elemental principles” of the world. Those who are “under the Law” are not classified as people “from faith.” Instead, they need to be redeemed “from under the Law” - (Galatians 3:22-25, 4:2-5, 4:21, 5:18).

His argument is covenantal. He is not arguing against doing good works in general, but against placing oneself under the requirements of the Mosaic Law. The act of circumcision does just that - it obligates men to do all that the Torah demands.

The curse pronounced in Deuteronomy is not against all humanity or sin in general. The curse falls on ALL who fail to do everything that the Law requires. It applies only to those who were under it.

CONSEQUENCES


If Gentile believers choose to get circumcised, Jesus and his work on the cross will cease to benefit them. Instead, they must now keep the entire Law because submission to circumcision places them under the obligations made at Sinai.
  • (Galatians 5:2-3) - “Behold! I, Paul, am saying to you. If you get circumcised, Christ will benefit you nothing. Moreover, I bear solemn witness again to every man getting circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.”

If the Galatians place themselves under Torah, they will cease to be under the new covenant instituted by the death of Jesus. It was one or the other.

Christ endured the Law’s curse, so his followers must not (“You have been set aside from Christ, you who are to be declared righteous from the Law”).

According to Paul, “if righteousness is through the Law, then Christ died in vain.”  Thus, anyone who teaches that faith in what God has done in Jesus is insufficient for determining membership in His people, intentionally or not, declares that his unjust death on a Roman cross served no real purpose, and that, effectively, he “died for nothing.”



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