CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS

 CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XVIII)

3:10:  However, those who continue trying to make things right with God by depending on the religious rituals and regulations that Moses gave them, will not achieve their goal. The Scriptures make this very clear: “Everyone who does not observe and obey every single one of the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law, are bound for eternal separation from God.”

Since Bible scholars tell us that Luke’s Gospel was written around 70 AD, and that Paul’s death is estimated as occurring around 65 AD, and with being Paul’s companion on his missionary journeys, Luke already began his research on the life of Jesus so that he could write a Gospel built on evidence rather than memory. So, there is every possibility that Luke told Paul about some of the parables of Jesus that he discovered while interviewing Matthew, Mark, John and other disciples and followers.

One of them was about people who trusted in themselves and thought they were right with God based on their own good works. These people did not hold a high opinion of other people. So, Jesus told the story of two men who went up to the Temple to pray. One of them was a proud Pharisee like Paul used to be. The other was a despised man who gathered taxes for the Romans. The proud Pharisee stood and as he bowed back and forth toward the Temple, he prayed softly to himself like this, “O God! I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, immoral, or like this tax-collector! I fast twice a week, I pay tithes on my entire income...” But the man who gathered taxes stood a long way off. He would not even lift his eyes to heaven. But hit himself on his chest as he prayed, “God, have pity on me, being the kind of sinner that I am.” I tell you, said Jesus, this tax-collector went back to his home being more right with God than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts themselves will be humbled, but everyone who humbles themselves will be exalted.[1]

This parable contains the very same theme that Paul now uses in talking to the Galatians. Paul knew exactly how this Pharisee felt, and then by God’s grace, he found out how this lowly tax-collector felt. He tells the Romans he did not know it was a sin to follow wrong desires until he read the Torah, where it talks about not yielding to sinful desires.[2] The Torah told me why I was sinning, said Paul. It showed me how I desired all kinds of things that were no good for me. You see, says Paul, if God did not cause the Law to be written I wouldn’t know what sin was. When I didn’t know what the Torah said, I experienced no conviction when doing things against it. But once I read the Torah, I found out that I broke the Law. I knew then what a sinner I was.

Then came the really bad news, because of what the Torah said, and because I wasn’t doing what it commanded, I knew I was going to die as a sinner. I was told that the Torah would help me start a new life. Instead, it condemned me to death. Sin found a way to trap me by working through the Law. Then sin made me understand that my hope in life in the world-to-come was destroyed. The Torah is a holy book. Each one of its Laws is holy and right and good. Does this mean that the Torah, which is good, brought death to me? No, not at all! It was sinning that did it. Sin brought death to me by the Torah was meant to teach how to be good. Because of that, I finally saw what sinning really was. So, because of the Torah, the horribleness of sin was fully revealed.[3]

No wonder Paul was beside himself when he heard that the Galatians who were freed from the bondage of sin through grace, allowed themselves to be persuaded to go back to following the Torah in order to provide a safety net just in case Grace didn’t work. It made no sense! Didn’t they realize that if you let your old sinful tendencies become a boss over your mind, it leads to death? But if the Holy Spirit is the boss over your mind, it leads to life and peace. The mind that thinks only of ways to please the old sinful tendencies is fighting against God. It makes it impossible for a person to obey all of God’s Laws. They never can. Those who do what their sinful tendencies want to do can never please God.[4]

This would be like a person who was indicted and found guilty of a felony and was given the death penalty. But then they were placed on parole and decided to make up for what they did and get the death sentence lifted. But it didn’t work. They could not get a job because everyone knew they were on their way to prison and then the electric chair. They couldn’t borrow money because the bank knew they might not pay it back once the execution was ordered. The Law was clear in its findings and punishment. In the same way, a sinner is already condemned to death but is trying to get the death sentence commuted by trying to be good. This goes against what Moses told the Israelites.[5]

Jesus also explains the future of sinners this way: He told the story about when the Son of Man comes to judge the people of earth. He will divide those who are right with God through grace from those who tried to become right with God through the Law. Just like a farmer divides the sheep from the goats. He will invite the sheep into His eternal presence forever, but to the goats, He sent this message: “Get away from Me! You are guilty! Go into the fire that lasts forever. It has been made ready for the devil and his angels.”[6] Why couldn’t the Jewish believers see this? Did they think that just because they could trace their lineage back to Abraham, they were somehow better off than the Gentile believers because they were adding obedience to the Law as part of their guarantee for eternal salvation? That doesn’t work.[7] The wages that sin pays are death, but God’s free gift of eternal life is free and will last forever. And this gift is only available through faith in the Lord Jesus the Anointed One.[8]

Instead of these Judaizers reading to them from their “other” gospel, why don’t they read from some of their own material? They would find an obvious error in that they claimed Abraham observed the whole Torah before it was given. In other words, they were pretending that Abraham did what they were told to do, and did it perfectly. They based this on what is said in the Torah, a copy of which Abraham did not possess because Abraham listened to God’s voice and did what He said in all of His commandments, statutes, and laws.[9] [10] It’s clear to see that this was impossible for Abraham to do and for them to repeat as well since not one of the Rabbis who read the Mishnah[11] challenged this, it was repeated in later documents, such as the Babylonian Talmud.[12] [13]

In another part of the Talmud, we find this story: Because the Israelites faithfully and perfectly observed all the laws in the Torah, that Gentiles would come to them and say, offer us the Torah and we will obey it. But the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to them, you foolish Gentiles, which of you took the trouble to prepare your meals on the eve of the Sabbath so you wouldn’t need to work on the Sabbath, and be able to eat on the Sabbath without doing any work to prepare? Nevertheless, I’ve got an easy task for you, it’s called Sukkah, (Feast of Tabernacles), go and follow the rules on how to prepare, then do it.

Upon reading this, one of the Rabbis objected by saying that Rabbi Joshua ben Levi was saying that it needed to be done on the very day that God gave the Gentiles the order to follow Him. Furthermore, those who do not do it on that very day will not be rewarded by God’s favor. And what about when the Messiah comes, will they be made to observe this feast during His time?  No! Because the Holy One, blessed be He, does not deal in a domineering way with His creatures. And who said preparing for Sukkah was an easy thing to do? But the Holy One, blessed be He, will cause the sun to unmercifully blaze in the sky as it does on the longest day of the year. Then Gentiles will tear down their booths and say, “We’re finished with this. Let’s stop listening to these Jews and their hold over us.” But, inquires one Rabbi, didn’t you just say that the Holy One, blessed be He, does not treat his creatures with such spitefulness? Yes, replied Rabbi Levi, but the Israelites do.[14] This is exactly what the Judaizers were trying to do to the Gentile Galatians in telling them they must follow the Law and not depend solely on Grace.

Early church scholar Marius Victorinus (280-355 AD) believes that by Paul saying “works of the Law” we are to understand that there are also good works in the Christian life, especially those that the Apostle frequently commends, such as that we should be mindful of the poor and the other precepts for living that are contained in this very letter. The fulfillment of all these works is the part of the calling of every Christian. The cursed works of the Law referred to here are, therefore, other things: obviously observations [of days], sacrifices of lambs and other such works that they perform concerning circumcision and the choice of foods. But now the paschal feast has been consummated through the Anointed One.[15] We find later in verse twenty-one that Victorinus does not ascribe these good works to obtaining salvation. They are done after one becomes a child of God as a way of thanking Him for His love, grace, and mercy.

Medieval Bible scholar Bruno the Carthusian (1030-1101), saw an opportunity here in this verse to set up a dispute between the Apostle Paul and an unnamed opponent regarding the superiority of Faith over the Law. This anonymous opponent admitted earlier that everyone who fails to do what the Law commands becomes subject to the spiritual death penalty. This opponent might say that even as Moses told us to abide in faith, it is still necessary to fulfill the Law so that we do not have this same curse placed on us. It is here that Paul offers his counterargument that although everyone who did not fulfill the Law is cursed, that curse was removed by the Anointed One who took it upon Himself on the cross. It is called “redemption.” This redemption by the Anointed One who bore the penalty of the curse that was inflicted on Adam because of his sins caused Adam’s to lose impassibility[16] and immortality originally granted to him might be saved for all who believe in the Anointed One as their Redeemer and Savior.[17]

[1] Luke 18:9-14

[2] See Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21

[3] Romans 7:7-13

[4] Ibid. 8:7-8

[5] Deuteronomy 11:26-28

[6] Matthew 25:41

[7] Cf. Romans 3:9-18

[8] Ibid. 6:23

[9] Genesis 26:5

[10] Jewish Mishnah: Nashim, Tractate Kaddishim, Ch. 4, sec. 14

[11] The Mishnah, which means “study by repetition,” was a collection of Rabbinical interpretations of what Moses said in the Torah that was known before as the Oral Teachings of Judaism.

[12] The Talmud, which means “study,” was a collection of Jewish civil and ceremonial laws based on what was said in the Mishnah.

[13] Babylonian Talmud: Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Yoma, folio 28b

[14] Ibid. Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Abodah Zarah,

[15] Marius Victorinus: On Galatians, op. cit., Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). 1999, p. 40

[16]Impassibility” describes the theological doctrine that God does not experience pain or pleasure from the actions of another being. It’s often seen as a consequence of divine existence originating without having any other source than itself, the idea that God is absolutely independent of any other being.

[17] Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 50, Kindle Edition

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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