A Quick Overview Commentary on Galatians (explained section-by-section):
Galatians chapters 1–3
This analysis of Galatians won’t be exhaustive, detailed or comprehensive. It will be a quick overview—a skimming over the theological waves. We’ll save the details for another time.
Gal 1:6–10, Paul opens his epistle up by claiming that the Galatian believers have turned away from the basic gospel message “to another gospel.” He is so opposed to this that he places a double curse on those who are teaching this other gospel. So what is this other gospel?
Gal 1:6–7, This could be a confusing passage the way it reads in some of our Bibles until you get into the Greek. Here it is in the KJV:
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another [Gr. heteros] gospel: which is not another [Gr. allos]; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. (KJV)
How do we make sense of what Paul is saying here? It is only understood by looking at the Greek words. The English word for another is two different words in Greek with two slightly different meanings. According to Moulton and Milligan (quoting Lightfoot inVocabulary of the Greek NT) “the primary distinction between allos and heteros is that theformer is ‘another one besides,’ and the latter another as ‘one of two.’” If this is correct, then this verse should read,
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto one of two [Gr. heteros] gospel[s]: which is not another besides [Gr. allos]; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. (KJV)
This is still confusing to me, so let’s dig a little deeper.
Bullinger in his Companion Bible (App. 124) states that the difference between allos andheteros is “another of the same kind” versus “another of a different kind.” It is a numerical versus qualitative distinction. With this in mind, the verse would read,
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto a gospel of a different kind: which is not another of the same kind; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. (KJV)
This is better, but still a little confusing to me. Let’s see how some other translators handle this passage.
The RSV tries to clarify the difference between these two Greek words in this way:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel not that there is another gospel…
The NIV resolves the confusion in this way:
I am astonished that your are so quickly deserting the one who called you by a the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all…
Stern in his CJB has a similar translation to that of the NIV:
I am astounded that you are so quick to remove yourselves from me, the one who called you by the Messiah’s grace, and turn to some other supposedly “Good News,” which is not good news at all!
William and Robert Mounce in their Greek and English Interlinear translate this passage as follows:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel…
These translations seem to bring light of Paul’s intent in this passage.
Gal 1:11–21, The gospel message Paul was teaching was the same as that of the other apostles such that they glorified Elohim regarding Paul.
Gal 2:3–5, Paul now introduces the issue of circumcision. It seems that there were false brethren who were compelling the Gentiles to be circumcised, which Paul openly opposed calling forced circumcision “a bondage.”
Gal 2:6–10, The apostles accepted the message of the gospel that Paul was preaching to the Gentiles, and for them, circumcision wasn’t an issue. In other words, it was a precondition for coming to faith in Yeshua.
Gal 2:11–13, Paul takes Peter to task for following non-biblical Jewish (Pharisaical) traditions that viewed Gentiles as second class citizens. Those who held to such traditions refused to eat with Gentiles (for fear of being spiritually and ritually contaminated). Those who advocated this Jewish tradition also followed the Jewish traditions concerning circumcision. What were those traditions? See Acts 15:1 and 5 where we learn that there were believing Pharisees who taught that one couldn’t be saved unless one was circumcised. This issue was the center of the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council debate. The apostles ruled at this council that circumcision wasn’t a precondition for salvation. At issue at this council was not the validity of the Torah, but whether one had to be circumcised to be saved. In Romans chapter four, Paul makes the strong case that Abraham was saved by Elohim’s grace and that circumcision had nothing to do with the patriarch’s salvation. In fact, Abraham was circumcised some 24 years after he was saved. Therefore, from the beginning, circumcision never was a factor in salvation, which has always been a matter of grace and faith and never based on men’s good works.
Now let’s return to Galatians. The issue here is not whether the Torah is valid for disciples of Yeshua or not, but whether the disciples needed to adhere to the Pharisaical tradition, which demanded that the rite of circumcision be performed as a precondition for membership in the synagogue fellowship. The question was, “Should this tradition of man be brought over from the Jewish religious system and adopted into the Christian church?” That it should be was “the other gospel” that Paul was so adamantly opposing. Again, the issue never was whether the Torah was a standard of righteousness that disciples of Yeshua should follow or not.
The Torah teaches us that circumcision was a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant and never was a condition for receiving YHVH’s favor. It was something you did because you were saved (or accepted by Elohim), and not to get saved (i.e., to get accepted by Elohim). The same can be said of the entire Mosaic Covenant (as opposed to the Abrahamic Covenant). Torah-obedience was a result of salvation, not a precondition for it. Therefore, man is not saved by the works of the Torah, but by faith in Elohim who then pours out his unconditional love and grace upon the person who has inclined his heart to repent of his sins, and trust and obey YHVH. This is the Abrahamic Covenant model for receiving salvation from Elohim as Paul teaches in Romans chapter four.
Gal 3:1–9, Therefore, having established these basic truths, Paul goes on to explain that the works of the law can’t save a person. Faith in YHVH by the work of the Spirit is what saves a person. This is how Abraham was saved. This is the model we are to follow.
Gal 3:10–12, Those who think that their good works of Torah obedience can save them have now put themselves under the curse of the law. The law blesses the person who keeps it, but curses the person who disobeys it. Violate one commandment, and the curse of death comes on that person, for, as Ezekiel declared, the soul that sins shall die, or as Paul states, the wages of sin is death, for sin is the violation of the law, as John writes. The only way to not come under the curse of law is to never violate the law in the first place—a human impossibility!
Gal 3:13, Messiah is the only person who never sinned, so he is the only one who can redeem us from the penalty or curse of the law, which has come on every human.
Gal 3:17, The Sinaitic Covenant with the written Torah (in codified form) forming its framework, in no way supersedes the Abrahamic Covenant YHVH made with Abraham. These two covenants are not conflicting, but complimentary to each other, and, in truth are indivisible. They need each other. One can’t exist without the other. The Abrahamic Covenant shows man how to enter into a spiritual relationship with Elohim (by faith), while the Sinaitic Covenant shows man how to stay in right relationship with Elohim (i.e., how to love Elohim and one’s fellow man) after one has initially entered into a right relationship with his Creator. The churches’ idea that the covenants of Elohim are antithetical, or that the latter supplants the former, or that the new covenant annuls and supplants them all is totally wrong. Paul disproves this in Romans when he proves, from the Abrahamic Covenant, the salvation equation (by grace, through faith one is saved, see also Eph 2:8), and then goes on to demonstrate that salvation by faith resulting in grace in no way annuls the Torah, but establishes or strengthens it.
Gal 3:19–25, “Added” (v. 19) means “to put together with.” The written Torah was the nation of Israel’s legal code or constitution and was written down (Gal 3:10), and included the Levitical and sacrificial systems along with the eternal truths of the Torah, which Abraham followed and goes back before the creation of man and originates in the heart, mind and character of the Creator—YHVH Elohim. The Torah, which always existed, was written down 430 years after YHVH made his covenant with Abraham. The Written Torah was added or put together with the Abrahamic Covenant.
YHVH gave the Israelites the Torah-law in a written or codified form, so that nation would have written rules by which to govern itself (how can a nation exist without a legal code to keep it from descending into anarchy?).
Because of sin, that is, the sin of the golden calf, YHVH gave the Israelites, as part of the Sinaitic-Torah Covenant, the Levitical priesthood and sacrificial systems. When they sinned at the golden calf, YHVH had already given them his Torah. This still didn’t prevent them from sinning. So YHVH gave them the priesthood and the sacrificial system that would help to guide them in the paths of righteousness—to help prevent them from wandering off again into the heinous sin of idolatry. Eventually, the sacrificial and Levitical systems pointed them to Yeshua the Messiah,who would redeem them once and for all from the power and consequences of sin. This is why Paul introduces the concept of the Messiah-Seed (vv. 16, 19), and a mediator (v. 20), with the Torah-law as a tutor to bring us to Messiah. What mainstream Christian teachers tend to ignore is that the Torah bringing us to Messiah is only one of the Torah’s purposes—not the only one! The law points out sin, and the sacrificial system showed Israel their need for a once-and-for-all Redeemer, but in numerous places, the both Yeshua and the apostolic writers show us that the Torah is essential in the life of the redeemed believer to guide us in the paths of righteousness. Moreover, Yeshua clearly states in several places that the eternal and heavenly rewards of the saints are based on one’s Torah works (e.g., Matt 5:19). One can’t throw the Torah into the trash can and expect to have a high reward in the kingdom of Elohim. If fact, you may not even end up there!
Stay tuned for the next part in this series…
An Important Question
Let us first ask an important question that has far-reaching implication including whether you can trust the Bible and whether you are saved or not. In the Epistle to the Galatians, is Paul advocating the abrogation of the Torah-law as mainstream Christianity teaches?
This is the lens through which most Christians view Galatians. For example, the chapter subheadings in my NKJV Bible reveal the antitorah bias of mainstream Christianity. The heading above Galatians 2:11 reads, “No Return to the Law,” and the heading over Gal 3:10 reads, “ The Law Brings a Curse.” When Christians study their Bibles and encounter these subheadings that are written by men and not inspired by the Spirit, what are they to think? Most don’t questions the scholars who translate the Bible or the publishers sell the Bibles. Most readers will automatically thinks to themselves, “After all, these translators and publishers are Bible experts, they know more than I do, so who am I to question them?”
Interestingly, the same author of Galatians elsewhere admonishes us to, “Prove/test all things; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess 5:21). This is the responsibility of each saint as he studies the word of Elohim. Therefore, it behooves us to have a touch of intellectual scepticism when studying the Scriptures to insure that we’re not unwittingly putting our faith in the traditions and doctrines of men by which the word of Elohim has been made of none-effect (Mark 7:9, 13), and that we haven’t inherited lies that have been passed on down to us from our spiritual fathers (Jer 16:19). Let us instead be like the righteous Bereans who “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).
Instead of looking at Galatians as a stand-alone book, let’s view it in the broader context of all the New Testament writers’ and Yeshua’s view of the Torah. After all, the Scriptures cannot contradict themselves. The Bible doesn’t lie, Elohim doesn’t change, and Yeshua declared that the Scriptures can’t be broken (or loosened, untied, dissolved, annulled,John 10:35).
In 1 Cor 11:1, Paul instructed us to imitate him as he imitated Messiah. So let’s follow Paul’s advice.
What did Yeshua teach and do vis-à-vis the Torah?
He never violated the Torah (or sinned), or else he couldn’t have been our sin-free Savior and taken upon himself the consequences or penalty of our sins, which is death.
Paul goes on to tell us to imitate him as he imitates Yeshua. This includes obedience to the Torah.
Elsewhere, in many places, Paul advocates Torah obedience as we will see next.
How Did Paul View the Torah (“Law”)?
In answering this question, let us allow Paul to speak for himself in order to establish his predisposition with regard to the Torah-law. Was he a proponent or opponent of it? Several Scriptural quotations from his own pen should suffice in answering this question:
Wherefore the law [Torah] is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. (Rom 7:12)
For we know that the law [Torah] is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. (Rom 7:14)
For I delight in the law [Torah] of Elohim after the inward man… (Rom 7:22)
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin [i.e., violation of the laws/Torah of YHVH, see 1 John 3:4], that grace may abound? Elohim forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (Rom 6:1–2)
Do we then make void the law through faith? Elohim forbid: yea, we establish the law. (Rom 3:31, Romans was written in about A.D. 56)
But we know that the law [Torah] is good, if a man use it lawfully…(1 Tim 1:8, First Timothy was written just before Paul’s martyrdom in about A.D. 66)
But if, while we seek to be justified by Messiah, we ourselves also are found sinners [i.e., violators of the law/Torah], is therefore Messiah the minister of sin [lawlessness/Torahlessness]? Elohim forbid. (Gal 2:17, Galatians was written between A.D. 55 to 56)
Toward the end of Paul’s life and ministry when, according to many Christian theologians, Paul was supposed to have already liberated the first-century believers from the “shackles and bondage” of the Torah-law, yet in the Book of Acts we read the following:
And when they heard it, they glorified YHVH, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe [in Yeshua the Messiah]; and they are all zealous of the law [Torah]: And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? The multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law [Torah]. (Acts 20:20–24, written in about A.D. 58 to 60)
While he answered for himself, neither against the law [Torah] of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all. (Acts 25: 8; Paul made this statement in a court of law about A.D. 62.)
And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, [i.e., the Torah] yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. (Acts 28:17, written about A.D. 63)
Viewing Galatians Through a Different Lens
In view of the fact that Paul instructed us to imitate him as imitated Yeshua, who was Torah observant, and in light of the fact in numerous places in Paul’s own writings and in the Book of Acts we see that Paul was Torah observant to the end of his life, what conclusion can we come to in light of these facts? Either the Bible is consistent, and the Torah is for all people for all time, or Paul was an inconsistent liar in telling us, on the one hand, to follow the Torah, and on the other hand, telling us not to obey it. Which is it? If Paul is inconsistent, then the truth of the Bible is inconsistent, the Scripture is broken, Yeshua is a liar and the Bible is a lie. Which one is it?
There is another answer to this dilemma. Perhaps the mainstream church has misinterpreted Paul in the Book of Galatians and has come to a skewed view in believing that Paul abrogates the Torah in Galatians. We take the position of the inerrancy of Scripture, that it can’t be broken, that Elohim and Yeshua don’t lie, and that Paul wasn’t a duplicitous schizophrenic. Instead of viewing Galatians as an antitorah tirade courtesy of Paul, maybe there is something else going on here that needs to be discovered—the real message of Galatians that in no way contradicts the rest of the Bible.
Stay tuned. There is more to follow on this subject…
The fruit of the spirit is love, joy and peace. – Galatians 5:22