CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LV)

English Baptist minister John Foster (1770-1843), in response to what Paul says here about falling from grace, states since Satan cannot hinder the birth of virtues, then he has designs to be the death of virtues. This is so ordinary, to see a Christian lose their first love, and to fall from their first works. This love that was formerly an ascending flame always glittering up to heaven is now, like a little spark, almost suffocated by the world’s ungodly haze. The devout sorrow that was once a swelling torrent, like the Jordan River overflowing its banks, is now like Job’s summer brook,[1] which makes the traveler feel letdown. His battles against sin, once furious, like the march of King Jehu against the tyrant Ahab,[2] are now like Samson sleeping in Delilah’s lap while she steals away his strength.[3] Before, he could not give rest to his eyes till God had given rest to his soul; but now he can lie down with sin in his heart, and wounds in his conscience. At first, his zeal for God devoured them; but now, spiritual decay is swallowing up his zeal.[4]

Marvin Vincent (1834-1922), in his Word Studies, makes the point that circumcision is the sign of subjection to the Jewish “yoke” – the methodology of the Law. But for the Galatians, it was being offered as a condition for salvation.[5] So now they must decide between redemption by the Law or salvation by Grace. If they choose salvation by the Law, they must relinquish their union with the Anointed One.[6] They cannot retain both at the same time. So, it’s one or the other. According to Chrysostom, said Vincent, those who receive circumcision do so out of fear for the Law. But when they fear the Law, they lose trust in the power of Grace. And no one gains anything from that which they distrust.[7]

In George Barker Stevens’ (1854-1906) exposition of verse two, he writes in such a way that it cannot be overlooked that when Paul uses the term “circumcision” in this verse, he is not specifically referring to the rite itself, but its ties to the commandments. In other words, circumcision represents a law-system which is contradictory to the grace-system. These two systems have very little in common. So, you cannot faithfully follow them together; it’s one or the other. Not only that, but a commitment to one is a renouncing of the other.[8] In today’s world, some countries allow for dual citizenship. But in God’s Kingdom, that is not plausible or possible. Therefore, either you pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of this World.

Kenneth Wuest explains that the statement in verse two, “if you are circumcised,” is on a hypothetical basis. In other words, the Galatians did not yet submit to that rite but were on the verge of doing so. The words “the Anointed One will profit you nothing,” must be interpreted in their context. Paul is not speaking here of their standing in grace, but as believers who are justified and not facing the death sentence for sin. He is speaking of the method of living a Christian life and of growth in that life. Thus, if the Galatians submit to circumcision, they are putting themselves under the Law, and are depriving themselves of the ministry of the Holy Spirit which the Anointed One made possible through His death, resurrection, and ascension, which ministry was not provided for under the Law.

During the First Covenant period, the Spirit came upon or in believers so that they might perform a certain service for God and then left them when that mission was accomplished. He did not dwell in them for purposes of sanctification. The great Apostle Paul taught the Galatians that God’s grace guaranteed their everlasting retention of salvation. So they understood that he was speaking of their Christian experience, not their Christian standing. In other words, there is standing in grace and living in grace. Paul’s interest at this point was their living in grace.

Wuest then goes on to say in verse three that it continues the argument of verse two. Not only would the Galatians lose the aid of the Holy Spirit in living their Christian lives, but they would be assuming the burden of the entire religious legal system. Paul warns them that the acceptance of circumcision would be, in principle, the adoption of all the Levitical rites, rituals, and regulations. They were now asking the Galatian Christians to accept circumcision as a rite by which they would become sons of Abraham and thus participants in the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant. It appears that the Judaizers already persuaded them to approve celebrating the Jewish cycle of feasts.[9]

Jewish Christian scholar Mark D. Nanos also notes that Paul is attempting here in verse two is to make sure that the Gentile Galatians understand that they are equal in union with the Anointed One to the Jewish Galatians. Perhaps the Judaizers were making such a statement, but Paul tells them it is not so.[10] Paul points to the fact that when they were converted, they received the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, which was their guarantee that they belonged to the spiritual family of Abraham as children of God.[11] Paul also mentions the miracles the Holy Spirit performed through them,[12] as well as their shared experiences with the Apostle himself.[13] So why are they letting themselves be fooled into thinking that they need the Jewish ceremonial laws added to all this?  Nanos also makes another point that may be influencing the Galatians, and that is, that the Law was the first gospel, and the teachings of Paul were an addendum to that gospel. So, since Paul encouraged them to live by the Gospel he preached, it was not meant to replace the Law but to increase it into a full gospel that combined both.[14]

Christian Jewish writer Ariel ben Lyman points out that back to what Paul already stated in 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the Law, then the Anointed One died for no purpose” (ESV). The contest in the mind of the Galatians used the argument of the Anointed One versus the Law. Now here in verse two, the contest uses the indwelling Spirit of the Anointed One versus Circumcision. When Paul used the word Law in 2:21, he did not mean just the observance of the Torah. By the same token, using the word circumcision here in verse two does not simply mean the physical cutting away of the foreskin of the male reproductive organ. In both passages, Paul states that if the Galatians wish to continue down the road constructed by the Judaizers – the road described by the 1st century Judaism as “the Law,” “under the Law,”works of the Law,” and “circumcision” – and reject the free offer of genuine and lasting covenant membership into the family of Israel as offered by God and outlined in the TaNaKH (Jewish Bible), then, using the language of our verse here, the work was done by Yeshua on the cross on their behalf will indeed have no value for them at all, or His death will have been purposeless.[15]

Another Christian Jewish scholar, Tom Hegg, reports that recently, some in the Messianic movement have adopted what they call the “Divine Invitation” teaching.[16] In a nutshell, this teaching maintains that Jews and those with “legal Jewish status” as Gentile converts to Judaism are obligated to keep the whole Torah, while Gentiles, who did not first convert to Judaism but are believers in Yeshua are under no such obligation. While everyone must abide by the enduring moral commandments of the Torah, Gentile believers are given a “divine invitation” to keep those parts of the Torah that are generally considered to pertain particularly to Jews and proselytes (Sabbath, Festivals, kosher foods, wearing of tzitzit,[17] etc.).

If Gentiles accept the invitation which God extends to them, says Hegg, they will be blessed. But if they do not accept, they are not living in disobedience since Gentiles are not obligated to the whole Torah. In explaining their view of “Divine Invitation” for Gentiles, they put forth what Paul says here in verse three as the coup de grâce (“death blow”) for the “One Law for All” position, which holds that all of God’s family, regardless of their ethnic status, are equally obligated to the whole Torah because they are equally covenant members.[18]

Christadelphian[19] speaker Duncan Hester feels strongly that Paul was writing to a Jewish readership in Galatia,[20] so he thinks that omission would be helpful here, we should remove any suggestion that circumcision is required for salvation. Circumcision alone is not sinful nor ungodly. What Paul is driving at is that circumcision does not add anything for which a person could expect special treatment by the Anointed One. He certainly was not against Gentiles being circumcised to live more comfortably among the Jews. But to think that this would add anything to their status before God as a believer in His Son is being misled. It adds nothing. Believers are saved by Grace, not trying to charm God so He’ll love them more. How much of the rules and regulations of the church a person may ascribe to, it doesn’t affect their sanctification. That’s why, says Heaster, every part of our thinking and living becomes subject to our driving passion of gratitude and joy being a child of God.[21]

[1] See Job 6:15

[2] 2 Kings 9:20

[3] Judges 16:19

[4] John Foster: Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., Vol. 48, (Kindle Location 14426)

[5] See Galatians 2:3, 5; Acts of the Apostles 15:1

[6] See Galatians 2:21

[7] Marvin R. Vincent: Word Studies in the New Testament, op. cit., pp. 155-156

[8] George Barker Stevens, Exposition of Galatians, op. cit.,  pp. 199-200

[9] Kenneth Wuest: Word Studies, op. cit., loc. cit.

[10] See Galatians 2:2-5, 8, 14; 3:8-9, 14; 3:26-4:9; 6:12-13

[11] Ibid. 3:1 – 4:7

[12] Ibid. 3:5

[13] Ibid. 4:12-16

[14] Mark D. Nanos: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 82, 142

[15] Ariel ben Lyman HaNaviy: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 150

[16] Hegg mentions Michael and D. Thomas Lancaster, “‘One Law’ and the Messianic Gentile,” Messiah Journal 101 (August 2009), pp. 46–70

[17] Tzitzit are the strings, or fringes, tied to each of the four corners of a tallit (prayer shawl). They are widely considered a reminder, not unlike a string around one’s finger, to think of God at all times.

[18] Tim Hegg: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 215 [p. 182]

[19] The Christadelphian religious group traces its origins to John Thomas (1805–1871), who emigrated to North America from England in 1832. They are primarily a Unitarian group but believe in the infallibility of the Bible and Jesus as the expected Messiah.

[20] Cf. Galatians 4:8

[21] Heaster, Duncan. On Galatians (Kindle Location 1355-1362).

About drbob76

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