pesach - season of our deliverance

view/download pdf

chaggim template

*Updated: April 15, 2016

 

“ADONAI said to Moshe, “Tell the people of Isra’el: ‘The designated times of ADONAI which you are to proclaim as holy convocations are my designated times.” (Leviticus 23:1, 2)

 

פֶּ֖סַח  Pesach - Season of our Deliverance

 

"In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, between sundown and complete darkness, comes Pesach for ADONAI." (Leviticus 23:5)

 

Shabbat notwithstanding, Pesach is the beginning of the biblical feasts of Leviticus chapter 23.  The actual feast known as Pesach spans three separate, yet inextricably-linked feasts: Pesach, observed on the fourteenth day of the Jewish month of Nisan, HaMatzah (Unleavened Bread), observed on the fifteenth day of Nisan, and Bikkurim (Firstfruits), observed the day after the Sabbath of HaMatzah.

 

Commentary Contents:

 

Introduction and English/Hebrew Liturgy (Exodus 13:1-16)

Are Isra’el and the Church the same thing? Does God still have a plan for Isra’el?

Should Christians celebrate Passover?

What does Paul mean when he says to not let anyone judge us in regard to keeping the Sabbath?

What does the Bible say about Christian liberty?

What does it mean to be circumcised in Christ?

 

Introduction and English/Hebrew Liturgy (Exodus 13:1-16)

 

*As of April 2016 I have retired my original 2006 Passover commentary.  It is currently available by written request only.

 

The Festivals of the LORD are wonderful times of celebration, of joy, of worship, of getting together with family, and of recognizing the Messianic redemption found only in the Messiah Yeshua.  Indeed, Paul (Sha'ul) writes in Romans 10:4 that the very goal of the Torah is the Messiah himself!  This explains to us that all of the Feasts of the LORD point to Christ and have their fullest expression and meaning in him alone.  Passover (Pesach) is no exception.  The Pesach story is quite well known, obviously among Jews, but equally among many Gentile Christians these days as well.  To be sure, most Christians are familiar with the Seder dinner with its plate full of symbols from the Passover story of Exodus.  Also, your average Gentile believer in Yeshua readily welcomes watching either The Ten Commandments movie (the one with Charleton Heston), or at the very least the animated Prince of Egypt story around this time of year in the Spring.

 

For that reason, I do not wish to retell the story of the Exodus from Mitzrayim (Egypt) here in this commentary (newly updated especially for Pesach 2016).  Instead, I simply wish to open by reading a relevant passage out of the book of Exodus so as to put us in the mindset of the events that formed the first Passover thousands of years ago.  This reading from both the English and the Hebrew will also serve as the liturgy of my commentary.  After the scriptural recitation, I have decided to treat you all to a look inside my weekly mailbag as a Torah Teacher.  Instead of midrashing on the Passover itself, and instead of a lengthy discussion on the challenging chronology of the Passover week as recorded for us in the Synoptic gospels as compared to that of John (see my older Passover commentary for that), I have decided to present and answer five questions that are related to Passover, Isra'el, the Church, Christian liberty, and even circumcision.  To be sure, the questions are real-life questions sent in by well-meaning readers over the years, and by showing you all the answers, I hope to build you up in Mashiach this Pesach season, as well as continue to serve the body of Jews and Gentiles as a teacher of Torah.

 

For this rendition of the Exodus story the English will be the New American Standard (NAS) version of the Bible and the Hebrew will be the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) as preserved in the Leningrad Codex:

 

Exodus 13:1 - NAS – Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,

Exodus 13:1 - BHS – וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃

 

Exodus 13:2 - NAS – "Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me."

Exodus 13:2 - BHS – קַדֶּשׁ־לִ֨י כָל־בְּכֹ֜ור פֶּ֤טֶר כָּל־רֶ֙חֶם֙ בִּבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בָּאָדָ֖ם וּבַבְּהֵמָ֑ה לִ֖י הֽוּא׃

 

Exodus 13:3 - NAS – Moses said to the people, "Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the LORD brought you out from this place. And nothing leavened shall be eaten.

Exodus 13:3 - BHS – וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶל־הָעָ֗ם זָכֹ֞ור אֶת־הַיֹּ֤ום הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְצָאתֶ֤ם מִמִּצְרַ֙יִם֙ מִבֵּ֣ית עֲבָדִ֔ים כִּ֚י בְּחֹ֣זֶק יָ֔ד הֹוצִ֧יא יְהֹוָ֛ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם מִזֶּ֑ה וְלֹ֥א יֵאָכֵ֖ל חָמֵֽץ׃

 

Exodus 13:4 - NAS – "On this day in the month of Abib, you are about to go forth.

Exodus 13:4 - BHS – הַיֹּ֖ום אַתֶּ֣ם יֹצְאִ֑ים בְּחֹ֖דֶשׁ הָאָבִֽיב׃

 

Exodus 13:5 - NAS – "It shall be when the LORD brings you to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall observe this rite in this month.

Exodus 13:5 - BHS – וְהָיָ֣ה כִֽי־יְבִֽיאֲךָ֣ יְהוָ֡ה אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ הַֽ֠כְּנַעֲנִי וְהַחִתִּ֨י וְהָאֱמֹרִ֜י וְהַחִוִּ֣י וְהַיְבוּסִ֗י אֲשֶׁ֨ר נִשְׁבַּ֤ע לַאֲבֹתֶ֙יךָ֙ לָ֣תֶת לָ֔ךְ אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָ֑שׁ וְעָבַדְתָּ֛ אֶת־הָעֲבֹדָ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את בַּחֹ֥דֶשׁ הַזֶּֽה׃

 

Exodus 13:6 - NAS – "For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD.

Exodus 13:6 - BHS – שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֖ים תֹּאכַ֣ל מַצֹּ֑ת וּבַיֹּום֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י חַ֖ג לַיהוָֽה׃

 

Exodus 13:7 - NAS – "Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and nothing leavened shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven be seen among you in all your borders.

Exodus 13:7 - BHS – מַצֹּות֙ יֵֽאָכֵ֔ל אֵ֖ת שִׁבְעַ֣ת הַיָּמִ֑ים וְלֹֽא־יֵרָאֶ֨ה לְךָ֜ חָמֵ֗ץ וְלֹֽא־יֵרָאֶ֥ה לְךָ֛ שְׂאֹ֖ר בְּכָל־גְּבֻלֶֽךָ׃

 

Exodus 13:8 - NAS – "You shall tell your son on that day, saying, 'It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.'

Exodus 13:8 - BHS – וְהִגַּדְתָּ֣ לְבִנְךָ֔ בַּיֹּ֥ום הַה֖וּא לֵאמֹ֑ר בַּעֲב֣וּר זֶ֗ה עָשָׂ֤ה יְהוָה֙ לִ֔י בְּצֵאתִ֖י מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃

 

Exodus 13:9 - NAS – "And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead *, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt.

Exodus 13:9 - BHS – וְהָיָה֩ לְךָ֨ לְאֹ֜ות עַל־יָדְךָ֗ וּלְזִכָּרֹון֙ בֵּ֣ין עֵינֶ֔יךָ לְמַ֗עַן תִּהְיֶ֛ה תֹּורַ֥ת יְהוָ֖ה בְּפִ֑יךָ כִּ֚י בְּיָ֣ד חֲזָקָ֔ה הֹוצִֽאֲךָ֥ יְהֹוָ֖ה מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃

 

Exodus 13:10 - NAS – "Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year.

Exodus 13:10 - BHS – וְשָׁמַרְתָּ֛ אֶת־הַחֻקָּ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את לְמֹועֲדָ֑הּ מִיָּמִ֖ים יָמִֽימָה׃ ס

 

Exodus 13:11 - NAS – "Now when the LORD brings you to the land of the Canaanite, as He swore to you and to your fathers, and gives it to you,

Exodus 13:11 - BHS – וְהָיָ֞ה כִּֽי־יְבִֽאֲךָ֤ יְהוָה֙ אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ הַֽכְּנַעֲנִ֔י כַּאֲשֶׁ֛ר נִשְׁבַּ֥ע לְךָ֖ וְלַֽאֲבֹתֶ֑יךָ וּנְתָנָ֖הּ לָֽךְ׃

 

Exodus 13:12 - NAS – you shall devote to the LORD the first offspring of every womb, and the first offspring of every beast that you own; the males belong to the LORD.

Exodus 13:12 - BHS – וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ֥ כָל־פֶּֽטֶר־רֶ֖חֶם לַֽיהֹוָ֑ה וְכָל־פֶּ֣טֶר שֶׁ֣גֶר בְּהֵמָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִהְיֶ֥ה לְךָ֛ הַזְּכָרִ֖ים לַיהוָֽה׃

 

Exodus 13:13 - NAS – "But every first offspring of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck and every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.

Exodus 13:13 - BHS – וְכָל־פֶּ֤טֶר חֲמֹר֙ תִּפְדֶּ֣ה בְשֶׂ֔ה וְאִם־לֹ֥א תִפְדֶּ֖ה וַעֲרַפְתֹּ֑ו וְכֹ֨ל בְּכֹ֥ור אָדָ֛ם בְּבָנֶ֖יךָ תִּפְדֶּֽה׃

 

Exodus 13:14 - NAS – "And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come saying, 'What is this?' then you shall say to him, 'With a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.

Exodus 13:14 - BHS – וְהָיָ֞ה כִּֽי־יִשְׁאָלְךָ֥ בִנְךָ֛ מָחָ֖ר לֵאמֹ֣ר מַה־זֹּ֑את וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֵלָ֔יו בְּחֹ֣זֶק יָ֗ד הֹוצִיאָ֧נוּ יְהוָ֛ה מִמִּצְרַ֖יִם מִבֵּ֥ית עֲבָדִֽים׃

Exodus 13:15 - NAS – 'It came about, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go that the LORD killed every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore *, I sacrifice to the LORD the males, the first offspring of every womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.'
Exodus 13:15 - BHS  וַיְהִ֗י כִּֽי־הִקְשָׁ֣ה פַרְעֹה֮ לְשַׁלְּחֵנוּ֒ וַיַּהֲרֹ֨ג יְהֹוָ֤ה כָּל־בְּכֹור֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם מִבְּכֹ֥ר אָדָ֖ם וְעַד־בְּכֹ֣ור בְּהֵמָ֑ה עַל־כֵּן֩ אֲנִ֨י זֹבֵ֜חַ לַֽיהוָ֗ה כָּל־פֶּ֤טֶר רֶ֙חֶם֙ הַזְּכָרִ֔ים וְכָל־בְּכֹ֥ור בָּנַ֖י אֶפְדֶּֽה׃

Exodus 13:16 - NAS – "So it shall serve as a sign on your hand and as phylacteries on your forehead *, for with a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt."
Exodus 13:16 - BHS  
וְהָיָ֤ה לְאֹות֙ עַל־יָ֣דְכָ֔ה וּלְטֹוטָפֹ֖ת בֵּ֣ין עֵינֶ֑יךָ כִּ֚י בְּחֹ֣זֶק יָ֔ד הֹוצִיאָ֥נוּ יְהוָ֖ה מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃ ס

That will do it for our scripture reading in English and in Hebrew. 

 

Okay, are you ready to tackle some possibly debatable Jewish-Christian topics related to Passover?  I personally love a good Bible debate/discussion, as long as the differing parties agree beforehand to keep things civil, professional, and bathed in the love of Yeshua.  For that reason, let us be careful to invite the Ruach HaKodesh into our Q/A session, with the conviction that all things should be done in order to exhort one another towards brotherly love and growth in the Body, amen?   I have laced the answers themselves with links to eBible.com and their wonderful scriptural resources.  In reality, all of the questions and answers in this commentary can be found on the eBible.com site itself; the questions were sent in by real people (they are not set-up questions), and the answers are my own.  Follow this link to read more questions and answers that I personally have addressed:

 

https://ebible.com/users/492502/profile

 

I believe this first question and answer—actually made of two separate questions—forms the foundation towards appreciating the importance of the subsequent Passover related questions and answers that will be presented in this commentary.  In my estimation, once we as Jews and Gentiles in Messiah begin to understand our place within salvation and election history, we will subsequently have a better chance at comprehending the oft-controversial topics of exactly who should be following Torah, who should be keeping the Feasts, is the Torah bondage, and what exactly the value of circumcision is from a biblical perspective.

 

Are Isra’el and the Church the same thing? Does God still have a plan for Isra’el?

 

It seems as if everyone has an opinion on “Who is Isra'el?” “Who is the Church?” “Are they the same thing?” “Does God still have a plan for Isra'el?” I am no different in that I also have a strongly-held opinion that drives my understanding of my identity, my responsibility to God’s covenant, and my place in God’s family.

 

No one is perfected in his views. In truth, all of the differing views must logically carry some weight of truth to them, so I greatly appreciate a forum such as this where we can present our differing views in a Spirit of love and mutual respect, even in the midst of our disagreements. We all need each other. May God grant us grace as we continue to study his Word for greater and greater insights from the text.

 

So here is what I hold to. I will try to be succinct:

 

Short Answers:

I will answer the two questions head on and then attempt to substantiate my answers from the text.

 

Q: Are Isra'el and the Church the same thing?

A: Well…yes…and no. Isra'el exists on two levels: National Isra'el, and Remnant Isra'el. The Church exists within Remnant Isra'el, and Remnant Isra'el exists within National Isra'el. I will flesh this out with verses below…

 

Q: Does God still have a plan for Isra'el?

A: Absolutely. Messiah is the head of Remnant Isra'el, and even though National Isra'el doesn't have faith in Yeshua yet, nevertheless, God the Father is still going to bring National Isra'el to her knees in repentance someday.

 

Longer Answers:

Paul sets up the Olive Tree example in Rom 11:11-24. In Rom 11:16, he teaches that if the root is holy then the branches are holy. I take the Olive Tree to be the family of Isra'el and the root to be the Patriarchs. The “holy” aspect is Paul teaching the set-apartness of the Patriarchs from the rest of the world unto God, making his offspring (all the tree’s branches) also set apart from the world unto God.

 

Abraham the “nourishing root” is the exemplar of faith for all of his “branches,” but especially for the Remnant who live among the other “unsaved natural branches,” and for the grafted in branches, because of his faith in the Promised Word of the LORD (Gen 15:6). The root cannot be Yeshua (Jesus), because Paul teaches elsewhere in this book that we cannot be separated from the love of God in Messiah (Rom 8:38, 39), yet branches get broken off from this tree (Rom 11:17-21). Also, Paul warns the Gentile Christians not to suppose that they support the root (Rom 11:18). This makes no sense if the root is Yeshua, for no Christian in history has ever made such a supposition.

 

The branches being broken off are some of the members of National Isra'el, whom God prunes because of lack of faith in Yeshua (Rom 11:19, 20), in order to make way for Gentile Christians who demonstrate faith in Yeshua. IMPORTANT: these “wild olive branch” Gentiles are grafted among the Remnant of Isra'el, not into National Isra'el. Notice Paul does NOT say how the Remnant came to be in the tree. That is because, like Paul himself, they were born into their own Olive Tree. Remnant Isra'el are natural branches that graduated to faith in Yeshua—also a son of Abraham—making them the Remnant that still dwells in the same Olive Tree as National Isra'el.

 

In the pruning of natural branches (some of the unsaved Jews), Paul doesn't say they are completely cut off from Isra'el, because if they, like believing Jews and Gentiles, place their faith in Yeshua, they too can be grafted back into their own Olive Tree, but this time it will be as Remnant Isra'el (Rom 11:23, 24). In fact, Paul goes even further to suggest that since the gospel is essentially a culturally Hebrew concept engrained in the lives of the Hebrews and transmitted through the Scriptures they revere, then it is more natural for a Jew to believe in a Messiah than it is for a “wild olive branch” to believe in him (read Rom 11:24 and catch the meaning of the “wild by nature,” and “contrary to nature” illustrations).

 

Should Christians celebrate Passover?

 

The short answer is “yes,” Christians should celebrate Passover. After all, Paul explicitly tells us to in 1 Cor 5:8. He says, “Let us therefore celebrate the festival…” and then he goes on to tell us how to celebrate it. But the point I am making is that he actually TELLS us to keep it. Whoever says that the NT doesn't command Gentile believers to keep parts of the Torah (Law) has obviously missed this verse.

 

Granted, the Passover as Traditional Judaism observes it down through the ages misses the Messiah, and thus does not have to simply become the default model for our own Messianic Passover observances. We can and should borrow traditions from Judaism that honor HaShem (God) and uphold his laws, but we must be careful to always take our final orders from the Master and the Apostolic Scriptures. This means our Torah observance is going to necessarily differ from Traditional Judaic Torah observance because we follow the True Rabbi named Yeshua (Jesus). When in doubt, side with Scripture instead of with tradition. Don't just do something just because it is Jewish.

 

Besides, I believe the current LORD’s Supper is in fact a “mini Passover.” If my postulation is true, then (albeit in drastically reduced form) most Christians are already celebrating the Passover! They simply don't know they are celebrating the Passover. To be sure, Yeshua’s last supper with his disciples was a “fusion” of the traditional Passover with the institution of the LORD’s Supper, right? Communion didn't replace Passover, or else Paul’s instructions about celebrating the festival would make nonsense. Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles are expected to incorporate the LORD’s Supper into the Mosaic Passover in order to highlight what our Savior did for us on the cross.

 

As Jews and Gentiles, Passover celebrates our freedom from Egypt (remember there was a mixed multitude that came out of Egypt…(Ex 12:38) …mixed in terms of ethnicities). The death of the lamb secured their escape from the Death Angel and their escape from Egypt. All then came to the foot of Sinai and were declared to be “Isra'el” by God (Ex 19:1-6). The exodus from Egypt as such forms the antecedent theology to understand that each one of us was set free from our own personal Egypt of sin and shame. Since the LORD’s Supper celebrates the death (not his resurrection) of the Spotless Lamb, read Matt 26:28 and 1 Cor 11:26, and since Gentiles are grafted into Remnant Isra'el to take their place alongside believing Jews, it only makes sense to put the Torah Passover and the LORD’s Supper together as Paul no doubt did for his 1st century communities.

 

What does Paul mean when he says to not let anyone judge us in regard to keeping the Sabbath?

 

The seventh day Sabbath is not the only Sabbath in the bible.  Each of the Feasts of Leviticus 23 is considered a Sabbath as well.  When discussing the question of whether Gentile Christians should celebrate Passover or not, quite often Colossians 2:16 and 17 gets brought up in defense of why Passover should not be used as a point of judgment towards Christians who do not celebrate it like many Messianic Jews and a growing number of Messianic Gentiles do.  Truthfully, I do not think believers should be falsely judging one another over any issue.  However, we do have the responsibility to admonish one another towards an ever growing relationship with HaShem, through his Son Yeshua.  Allow me to address this question for us here in my Pesach commentary.  I want to offer an explanation that I don't hear too often in churches. Let me quote the verse in question:

 

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Col 2:16, 17)

 

Why do we have to translate the verse as if Paul were telling these Messianic Gentiles, “Don't let anyone (presumably Messianic Jews) judge you for NOT keeping kosher, feasts and Sabbaths just like they do. Those things are just shadows. You have the substance which is Christ…”? This interpretation does not fit with historic accounts of who was judging whom, and why.

 

If we back up into the chapter, we can gain a better context in which to work from. We know from Col 2:6-15 that Paul is admonishing his readers about the wonderful forensic realities that they now possess in Messiah. They have truly been grafted into Isra'el (Rom 11), they have been brought near to God and to the Commonwealth of Isra'el as fellow heirs and fellow citizens (Eph 2), and they have received the more important circumcision—that of the heart (Col 2:11).

 

It is in this context that Paul comforts his readers with the famous passage in Col 2:16, 17. He tells them not to let anyone (outsiders, pagans, Jews and Gentiles outside of Messiah, etc.) judge you for who you really are and what you do in Yeshua (Jesus). You are the righteousness of God in Messiah! (read 2 Cor 5:21) Hallelujah!

 

Why would Gentile outsiders be judging Paul’s readers? History shows that pagans and Gentiles outside of Messiah would often judge Gentile Christians for no longer attending the state required emperor celebrations with all their vile lewdness, demon worship, blood rituals, nudity, sexual promiscuity, and all-purpose pagan pageantry. That this judgment would eventually fall upon them is a given and Paul challenges them to hold their ground and not return to the former life of debauchery that they have been graciously rescued from.

 

However, Scripture likewise attests that Gentiles attracted to Isra'el’s God and Isra'el’s laws would attend the synagogue alongside Jews (read the numerous accounts in the book of Acts). After coming to faith in the Jewish Messiah, it was natural for these Messianic Gentile believers to begin walking out the Torah just like their Messianic Jewish brothers were doing. However, the unbelieving Jewish leaders would always become jealous and outraged that Paul was teaching these Messianic Gentiles about their equality to Jews in Messiah. Remember, the Judaisms of Paul’s day practiced a social class/caste system in which Gentiles were not worthy to be counted as genuine covenant members in Isra'el without going through a ceremony of the proselyte. Thus, in this imbalanced view of covenant membership, the Torah was seen as a Jewish-only document.

 

In their eyes, the Gentiles had no right to keep the feasts of the Jews—even if they believed in the Jewish Messiah (recall in Acts 15:5 that even some believing Pharisees wanted these Gentile Christians to becomes Jews before they could be received in the community). Paul came to set the record straight: in Yeshua, the Messianic Gentiles have every right to keep kosher and keep the Feasts just like Messianic Jews, since both constitute the Remnant of Isra'el.

 

So, the verse should be interpreted as Paul telling these Messianic Gentiles, “Don't worry if the unbelieving religious Jews judge you for KEEPING kosher, Feasts, New Moons, and Sabbath observances—without becoming legally recognized Jews first. You are grafted into Isra'el—as Gentiles—via your faith in the King of Isra'el. In the end, you will most likely get kicked out of their synagogues and out of their festive celebrations because you did not change your ethnicity, but don't worry, those things are a shadow nonetheless. You have the SUBSTANCE that those shadows point to—which is Messiah himself.”

 

What does the Bible say about Christian liberty?

 

One of the central themes associated with Passover is freedom.  Paul speaks prominently of freedom in the book of Galatians.  Although the bondage of Galatians is not quite the same as the bondage we read about in the Passover story, nevertheless, the topic of exclusive freedom in Christ is always a worthwhile topic for discussion on and around the time of Passover.  Let’s start with Paul’s admonition in Galatians and work from there.  “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1)

 

What exactly IS the slavery that Paul speaks of here? To be “in Messiah” is to be truly free (recall Yeshua’s (Jesus’) declaration from John 8:36, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (KJV). How is then that these Galatian Gentiles wish to return to the slavery that marked their former manner of life? Can’t they see that anything less than a complete commitment to the true Gospel is not good news at all, and will eventually result in slavery?

 

As is to be expected, historic Christianity interprets the slavery of verse one as a return to Judaism, a return to living in the confines of Torah (Law) observance, a return to Sabbaths, keeping kosher, keeping the Feasts, and of course, circumcision. However, when we go back and study the historical and sociological context of the book of Galatians more closely, we will discover that the standard Christian interpretation of this verse does not fit with Paul’s view of Torah, and most importantly, it does it follow from the Scriptural view of Torah. The Torah is not bondage. However, if one places their trust in ethnicity and/or Torah obedience, then that person is truly a slave to their old nature—whether they know it or not.

 

The battle lines were being drawn, not between the relevance of Torah vs. the relevance of Yeshua. The lines were being drawn between the necessity of Jewish identity for covenant inclusion vs. the necessity of falling on the mercy and grace of Messiah for genuine covenant membership and forgiveness of sins. Paul doesn't need to denigrate the Torah by calling it a yoke of slavery because that is not the focus of the argument in the first place. As we shall see in the next verse (needed to develop the context of verse one), circumcision is the fulcrum by which membership into 1st century Isra'el was being weighed.

 

The Galatian Gentiles were at the crossroads of decision. Would they invest their faith in Jewish ethnicity? Or would they invest their faith in Jesus Christ— the one who died and rose again? In Gal 2:21, the contest in the mind of the Galatians used the verbiage of Christ vs. The Law. Here in Gal 5:2, the contest uses the verbiage of Christ vs. Circumcision. After studying the Jewish background to Paul’s life and knowing his propensity for carefully reasoned arguments, it should be amply clear that Paul did not mean Torah observance when he used the word “Law” in Gal 2:21. By the same token, it should be amply clear that he does not simply mean physical circumcision when he uses the word “circumcision” in Gal 5:2.

 

Conclusions:

In Gal 5:1, 2 (as well as Gal 2:21 from earlier), Paul states that if the Galatians wish to continue down the road constructed by those false teachers—the road described by the 1st century Judaisms as “the law,” “under the law,” works of the law,” and “circumcision,”—and reject the free offer of genuine and lasting covenant membership into Isra'el as offered by God and outlined in the TaNaKH (OT), then (using the language of Gal 5:1, 2) the work done by Yeshua’s cross will indeed have no value for them at all.

 

Biblical freedom does not mean free from Law. Again, knowing that Yeshua set us free from sin, its proclivities, its bondage, and its ultimate penalty, helps us to understand Paul’s teachings on this subject. The paradigm set by the Exodus narrative teaches us that sin (bondage) prevents us from truly worshiping God the way he deserves to be worshipped. Speaking for God, Moses said, “Let my people go so that they may serve me!” Once Yeshua makes us alive in him and sets us free indeed, we are then free to worship God properly without the fear of condemnation or bondage to sin. This means we are free to walk into Torah the way God intended it to be walked out: in imitation of Messiah, by the Spirit, and to the glory of God the Father.

 

What does it mean to be circumcised in Christ?

 

This last question and answer will close out our commentary on Jewish-Christian Passover-related topics.

 

When the Temple stood and sacrifices were a reality, the Torah commands regarding Passover required Jewish and Gentile males to be physically circumcised in order to eat of the meat of lambs slaughtered on the altar (cf. Ex 12:48, 49).  This meant that if an uncircumcised Gentile believer lived in ancient Isra'el and was keeping the Passover in his local area because he was unable to make the journey to Jerusalem to slaughter a lamb, then this physical circumcision commandment was not as relevant for him because he would not be eating meat from lambs slaughtered in the Temple anyway.  To be sure, even though he may not have been physically circumcised, he knew from reading Paul's letters that he was circumcised in Messiah, and that it was this heart circumcision that was of primary importance anyway.  So let us talk about this heart circumcision.  What exactly is it and what is its significance?

 

The short answer is that to be circumcised in Christ means one is saved, taking the word “circumcision” here to refer to “circumcision of the heart, indicative of genuine faith in Yeshua (Jesus).” To be sure, a few verses later we read,” For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”” (Rom 4:3) Circumcision implies cutting something away, whether it is physical foreskin, or spiritual unbelief. Circumcised in Christ means unbelief has been cut away from the heart so that one sees Messiah by faith, and such faith saves him.

 

Background needed to understand and appreciate the context of Romans 4; and to substantiate my answer:

 

The term “circumcision” in Paul’s day quite often implied Jewish identity by context. The entire chapter of Romans 4 is Paul’s exposition to combat the 1st century mistaken notion that Jews and only Jews were genuine covenant members in Isra'el. Recall that Jewish males were circumcised as eight-day-old baby boys (Lev 12:3). In effect, according to common Jewish reasoning, they were “born with covenant status.”

 

The reason circumcision gets brought into Paul’s discussions so prominently (Rom 2:25-29; Rom 3:1; 1 Cor 7:18, 19 Gal 2:12; Gal 5:2-11; Gal 6:15; Eph 2:11; Philippians 3:3; Titus 1:10) is because by the 1st century, Isra'el was using the term circumcision more as a sociological term that referred to Jewish status, than as a covenant sign that pointed to the Abrahamic promise of Gen 17:9-14. In the eyes of these “ethnocentric” Jews, circumcision was the sign that guaranteed them covenant status and salvation (Acts 15:1).

 

So if a Gentile wished to join Isra'el, a man-made ceremony of the proselyte was prescribed, in which one could ostensibly change their ethnicity and become Jewish. And because the same prevailing Jewish views believed the Torah to be a Jewish-only document, once a person earned their Jewish status, the Torah became their covenant possession and responsibility.

 

We know this is the correct understanding of these opening verses because of Paul’s line of reasoning later on down in the passage in Rom 4:9, 10

 

“Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.”

 

If I were to paraphrase these two verses and insert the implied historical, grammatical, and sociological meanings, they would sound something like this:

 

“Is this blessing, that those whose lawless deeds are forgiven and whose sins are covered because the LORD will not count his sin—in a word, salvation, only for those with legal Jewish status, or also for those who are not Jews, that is the Gentiles? For we state with certainty that salvation was counted by God to Abraham as righteousness in Gen 15:6 and the Scriptures are definitely reliable. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he became Jewish? It was not after, but before he became Jewish.”

 

The notion of “Jewish-only Isra'el,” and a “Jewish-only Torah” is also corroborated from reading the surviving, non-inspired Pharisaic writings from before and after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, namely, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Talmud and other rabbinic writings, etc. They indeed help us to better understanding the historical, grammatical, and sociological background to our own inspired Apostolic Writings (viz, the NT).

 

Lastly, “circumcised in Christ” does not necessarily mean that physical circumcision is no longer valuable. For what does Paul say?

 

Rom 2:25

“For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.”

 

Rom 3:1, 2

“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.”

 

(End of questions and answers)

 

Chag Sah-meach Pesach!

(Happy Festival of Passover!)

 

For further study, read: Ex. 12:21-51, Num. 28:16-25, Josh. 3:5-7, 5:2-6:1. 6:27; Is. 52:13-53:12; Mt. 26-28; Mk. 14-16; Luke 22-24; John 13-21; 1 Cor. 5:6-8