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 XXIV)

Catholic scholar Cornelius à Lápide is clear when he says that the Law is not faith. As he sees it, the Law neither teaches nor gives the grace by which we fulfill its demands to live righteously. But, as is said in Ezekiel, “I gave them my decrees and made known to them my laws, by which the person who obeys them will live.”[1] In other words, they will not be punished with the death sentence threatened by the Law for transgressors, but they will enjoy life and an abundance of temporal goods, as the Law promises to those who keep it. Paul mentioned the same thing when he told the Romans that Moses wrote about the righteousness that is by the Law: “The person who does these things will live by them.”[2] Observe the antithesis between “Faith” and “Law.” On the Faith, it is said that the just because they are just, will live by it, namely, will enjoy a life of grace and glory here on earth, which is the contented and blissful life. But as to the Law, it is not said absolutely that they who keep the Law will live by it, but only in it, namely, they will live the life and enjoy the goods promised by the Law, for example, the abundance of corn, wine, and oil.[3]

Joseph Benson (1749-1821) notes that no matter how people may look at this, it is obvious that in the words of Habakkuk, who said nothing about being justified by works, declared, “The just will live by faith.” That means, the person who is accounted as just or right before God, will be made alive and continue to live a spiritual life here and receive eternal life hereafter, by faith. This is the way God chose believers to live.[4] Besides that, the law, strictly speaking, is not of faith, nor does it allow or imagine seeking salvation in such a manner. In other words, seeking justification by keeping the law, whether moral or ceremonial, is quite a different thing from seeking it by faith. For the Law does not say, Believe and live, but Do and Live; its language is, the person that does them — namely, the things commanded; will live in, or by them — that is, they who perfectly and constantly conforms themselves to these precepts, will have a right to life and everlasting happiness as a result. But those who break them must bear the penalty, without any further assistance from the Law, which, being in one instance violated, must forever condemn the transgressor.[5] [6]

John Edmunds (1800-1874) emphasizes that Paul says here in verse twelve that the Law is not the result of faith. This is clear from the fact that long before the Law was given to Moses, Abraham was justified as being right with God through faith. It would be ridiculous for someone to say that the Gospel was lying when it said justification was available through the Law.[7] So why was the Law given? Because the children of Israel wandered away from the truth there was no one and nothing to lead them back. But this was not a “cover your mistake” action on God’s part. This was predestined before the world was created. It was in His plans from the beginning. So, it was absolutely unbelievable that the Judaizers were telling the Galatians that faith does not derive its origin from the Law.[8]

Levy HaNaviy says something about what Paul appears is saying in the first line verse twelve, “The Law does not use faith.”[9] The Complete Jewish Bible reads, “Furthermore, legalism is not based on trusting and being faithful.” At first blush, says HaNaviy, a surface reading of this first clause seems to show Paul’s statement is short and sweet and to the point: The Torah has nothing to do with faith, this is essentially how the first clause is interpreted and translated in a few well-known Bible versions. However, does Paul truly believe that God’s written Torah is unrelated to genuine faith? Are Law and Faith mutually exclusive concepts? Do Law and Faith – as many Christian commentators regularly teach – belong to two distinctly different historical eras? We already know Paul believes that a primary function of the Law is to point people to the Anointed One for justification and salvation – for, in fact, he is going to explicitly say so verse twenty-four below. What is more, he told the Romans in plain terms that faith does not “overthrow” the Law.[10]

HaNaviy feels it seemed somewhat antiquated for Paul to be setting up a Christian-like dichotomy between Law and Faith since, as both he and the Judaizers of his day would affirm, clearly the TaNaKH demonstrates that God expects genuine faith to be a vital component of the fabric of the social communities of his Law-keeping children. To be sure, faithlessness, which always leads to law-breaking, is what got Israel in hot water time and time again, prompting God to punish and eventually exile them from their Land. To say that “the Torah is not based on faith…,” implicating that Law (as properly understood as God’s revelation to humanity) and Faith (properly understood as humanity’s response to God’s revelation) are mutually exclusive concepts, is simply not what the Apostle Paul is conveying here. We must look beyond a surface reading and let context dictate the proper interpretations of Law and Faith in this verse.[11]

I agree with HaNaviy in that we cannot divorce faithfulness from God’s standard of living and performing as His children, and being a light in this dark world. But what I get from these various English translations is that the Law does not require any Jewish adherent to exercise Faith in order to do what the Law requires. It is all done out of obligation and fear of retribution. In other words, they do not refrain from stealing as the Law demands because it will make them better, but to keep them from becoming worse than they already are. Faithfulness to what the Gospel teaches isn’t to be complied with so the believer will look better in God’s eyes, but will help them become even more pleasing to God as His devoted children who do everything out of love for Him and their Savior Jesus the Anointed One.

3:13 That’s why the Anointed One rescued us from certain extinction by following religious rituals and regulations. When they hung Him on the cross, He willingly accepted the condemnation meant for us because of our wrongdoing. The Scriptures clearly state, “Everyone who is hung on a tree is doomed.”

 One way to really get the full impact of this verse is to rearrange it somewhat: Everyone who depended on religious rituals and regulations to save them will be hung on a tree and doomed to die. That’s why the Anointed One rescued us from certain extinction when they hung Him on the cross and He willingly accepted the condemnation meant for us because of our wrongdoing. Perhaps Paul heard in his spirit the call of Isaiah, Seek Adonai while He is available, call on Him while He is still nearby. Let the wicked person abandon their way and the evil person their thoughts; let them return to Adonai, and He will have mercy on them; let them return to our God, for He will freely forgive them.[12]

It is quite possible that Paul was emboldened to take this stand by the words of Jesus Himself, who said, “For this is my blood, which ratifies the Final Covenant, my blood shed on behalf of many, so that they may have their sins forgiven.”[13] That clearly was Paul’s message to the Roman believers.[14] Stop thinking that you can do anything to open the door to the Father in heaven so you can stand before Him as being right with Him, all the credit goes to what the Anointed One did for us to open that door to forgiveness and salvation, not the Law.[15] This is the encouraging truth that Paul shared with Titus.[16] And the writer of Hebrews concurs fully with this point of view.[17]

And the Apostle Peter joins in with his words to the Jewish members of the flock: “You know you were not bought and made free from sin by paying gold or silver which comes to an end. And you know you were not saved from the punishment of sin by the way of life that you were given from your early fathers. That way of life was worth nothing. The blood of the Anointed One saved you. This blood is of great worth and no amount of money can buy it, the Anointed One was given as a lamb without sin and without spot. Long before the world was made, God chose the Anointed One to be given to you in these last days. Because of the Anointed One, you have put your trust in God. He raised the Anointed One from the dead and gave Him great honor. So now your faith and hope are in God.[18]

So, Paul is on solid footing here in putting the Law in its proper place so that the Cross can become the object of faith and obedience. The curse of death upon sin and sinners was real and not preventable by even the most dedicated follower.[19] It was the Anointed One who took that curse upon Himself because He was given the power to survive the penalty. The Jews should know this because of what the Prophet Jeremiah said.[20] But this is not where Paul’s message ends, the same God who told the Israelites about the curse, also told them about the remedy.

Jewish Karaite scholar, Isaac ben Abraham (1533-1594) who lived in Troki, (known today as Trakai, Lithuania), believed that all the divine commandments handed by God to Moses are in the Torah without the need for any additional Oral Law or explanation. In other words, no need for the Midrash or Talmud. Around that same time as the Protestant Reformation was able to pursue an amicable relationship with Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Greek Orthodox clergymen, the Rabbi became an avid reader of the New Testament and Christian theological literature. But after reading anti-Jewish literature that was prevalent in that day, he felt the need to defend Judaism and so he wrote “The Strengthening of Faith,” known in Hebrew as Chizzuk Emunah.

[1] Ezekiel 20:11

[2] Romans 10:5

[3] Cornelius à Lápide, On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 267-268

[4] See Romans 1:17

[5] See Leviticus 18:5

[6] Joseph Benson: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[7] See 1 John 2:21

[8] John Edmund: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 47

[9] The New Life Version; The NIV reads “The law is not based on faith.

[10] Romans 3:31

[11] Ariel HaNaviy: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 117

[12] Isaiah 55:6-7

[13] Matthew 26:28 – Complete Jewish Bible

[14] Romans 3:24-26. Cf. 4:25; 8:3-4

[15] 2 Corinthians 5;21

[16] Titus 2:14

[17] Hebrews 7:26, 27; 9:12, 15, 26, 28; 10:4-10

[18] 1 Peter 1:18-21. Cf. 2:24; 3:18

[19] See Deuteronomy: 21:22-23

[20] Jeremiah 44:20-23

About drbob76

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