9. Summary

 

In my historical research into this book by Sha’ul (Apostle Paul), I have discovered that much of the social fabric of the 1st Century Judaisms that we read about suffered from a sickness I like to call Ethnocentric Jewish Exclusivism.  I have written about this concept in another paper that dealt with studies on group prejudice.  I believe the paper nicely summarizes our study on Galatians and helps to form the necessary social background required to properly understand the book in its original historical and religious context, and therefore have decided to include a quote from that work here:

 

The New Testament writer Paul of Tarsus (a.k.a. Apostle Paul) had much to say about the Judaisms of his day and the ethnocentric cultural requirements they were imposing on the non-Jews. To be sure, Paul is traditionally misunderstood by the Christianities of today as teaching an abrogation to Torah, circumcision, and Jewish culture as a whole—in a word—ethnic genocide. A proper understanding of 2nd Temple Judaism will uncover many of the true motives driving the ethnic competition between Jews and non-Jews.

 

Group-level stereotyping of Gentiles by Jews as pejorative pagans, with no viable and positive contribution possible for the Jewish community, can clearly be seen in this research. Negative attitudes by the Jewish community turned into prejudice against non-Jews, which lead to discrimination against non-Jews as an ethnicity, and eventually provided the Jewish leaders with a mechanism for installing anti-Gentile group policies that were racially driven. Indeed, the power to enforce group prejudice and discrimination is what gives racism its social advantage over subjugated minorities.[1]

 

The book of Galatians obviously includes an ongoing drama involving two social groups (Jews and Gentiles) not so much over the identity of Jesus the Christ, but perhaps more over who has the right to join Isra'el (who is a Jew?) and subsequently follow after the Torah of Moshe.  Recall that the Torah was historically given to Isra'el nearly 3500 years ago, but realize that Isra'els post-Egypt beginnings included both native-born sons of Jacob, as well as those mixed racial multitudes that God delivered out of Egypt during the Passover.  These two groups came to the foot of Mount Sinai, received the Words of God, and were collectively called Isra'el by the text (read the Exodus narratives carefully again).  Paul later reveals that the mystery of the Gospel is that according to Rom. 11 and Eph. chapters 2 and 3 and specifically 6:19, Gentiles are grafted into the commonwealth of Isra'el via Messiah, and become fellow heirs sharing in the richness of the root of the Olive Tree and inheriting the blessings spelled out in the Torah for all of obedient Isra'el.  Therefore, since Isra'el is actually a multi-ethnic entity, Torah actually applies to all who name the name of the LORD as their one and Only God.  This naturally includes Gentile believers in Yeshua.

 

Let us go back now and take a look at what we have covered so far in these sectional chapters to this Messianic Jewish commentary to the book of Galatians.

 

Circumcision:

 

In Section One, we read in Genesis 17 how God commanded Abraham to be circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. God also commanded eight-day old baby boys to be circumcised later on in the book of Leviticus. Circumcision was a command of God so the Jews rightly took it seriously, as they do with all of Gods commandments. From a practical application perspective, we Jews do not believe that the Law has come to an end in Messiah therefore we still practice infant circumcision.

 

Circumcision pointed towards the promise of God that he would bless Abraham with many descendants, culminating in the quintessential son of Abraham, Yeshua the Messiah.  By remaining loyal to the brit milah, the covenant of circumcision, male members of Isra'el were signaling their continued reliance, not upon the flesh (the member of procreation) to bring about God's promises in their lives, but instead they were demonstrating their continued dependency upon the miracle working power of the LORD Almighty to enact blessings in their lives.  And even though Messiah has now already come, circumcision still serves as a reminder that all who wish to be counted among Abrahams genuine and lasting children must appropriate the same faith as Abraham had, that is, faith in the promised Word of the LORD.

 

Circumcision was a hot topic in the 1st century of Isra'el. By Pauls day, it had lost its simple surgical meaning and had taken on a socio-religious meaning. Instead of being a sign of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 17:9-14; Lev 12:3), it had become code word Jewish ethnicity, as well as one of the key requirements  for conversion to Judaism for Gentiles not born Jewish. Quite simply, it was being misused by the Judaisms of Pauls day to seal the deal for Gentile proselytes wishing to be counted as legally recognized Jews and therefore righteous Israelites in the Jewish communities. This was quite upsetting to Paul because the Torah (Law) prescribed NO such ceremony. Proselyte conversion was entirely a man-made rubricand an unnecessary one at that. Paul taught that believing Gentiles and Jews were both genuine covenant members. And both were covenant-bound to follow Torahincluding circumcision. Paul only dissuaded circumcision in Galatians due to Jewish misuse of this God-given sign.

 

What then, exactly, does Paul indicate when he teaches we are circumcised in Christ?  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.

 

The term circumcision in Pauls day quite often implied Jewish identity by context. The entire chapter of Romans 4 is Pauls 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 Pauls 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 Pauls 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 sinin 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.

 

Works of [the] Law:

 

In Sections Two and Three we shifted from our study of circumcision and began to dig into the socio-religious background of Paul's famous phrase ‘works of the Law.’  What we learned, especially from Qumran’s 4QMMT document, as well as from the surviving rabbinic literature is that ‘works of the Law’ is not merely a description of ‘works.’  What Sha’ul is really talking about when he employs the Greek phrase “ἔργων νόμου ergon nomou,” translated as “deeds/works of Law,” is in actuality a technical phrase that the Judaisms of Sha’ul’s day employed to speak of the socio-religious and ethnic boundary markers that separated Jews from Gentiles and which undergirded covenant membership and group sectarianism.  Indeed, the prevailing view of the sages of the 1st Century held to the common belief that Jewish Isra'el and Jewish Isra'el alone shared a place in the world to come (Mishnah Tractate Sanhedrin 10:1, which references Isaiah 60:21).  Thus, in their way of thinking, if a non-Jew wished to enter into HaShem’s covenant blessings and promises, such a person had to convert to Judaism first (take on legal Jewish status, which granted covenant membership), and then exercise “maintenance” of existing covenant membership by ongoing loyalty and obedience to the Torah.  To be sure, this is also one of the primary arguments delineated in the letter to the Galatians.

 

But for Sha’ul no such “man-made” conversion policy existed in Scripture!

 

By contrast, Sha'ul taught most assuredly that Gentiles were grafted into the Remnant of Isra'el the same way that Avraham was counted as righteous by God in B’resheet (Genesis) chapter 15: faith in the promised Word of the LORD, viz, Yeshua.  Thus, the original Greek phrase translated as “works of Law” has a Hebrew counterpart: ma’asei haTorah.  What meaneth ma’asei haTorah?  The Dead Sea Scrolls used this phrase as well,[2] and particularly in those manuscripts we have now come to know that it refers to “some of the precepts of the Torah,” as adjudicated by each sectarian halakhah, and implemented by the various communities wielding the most influence over any given group (i.e., Essenes vs. Pharisees, etc.).  To be sure, the common social perspective of 1st century religious Isra'el that taught Gentile inclusion into covenant Isra'el only by way of conversion (read most often as “circumcision,” viz, Jewish identity in Galatians 5:2) was naturally at odds with the True Gospel of Gentile inclusion into the community of Isra'el by faith in Yeshua plus nothing!  If we understand that quite likely Sha'ul’s socio-religious use of the term circumcision in Galatians 5:2 is actually shorthand for “the man-made ritual that sought to turn Gentiles into Jews before they could be counted as covenant members” then the letter begins to make more sense Hebraically and contextually.

 

‘Works of the Law’ as a religious slogan in Paul’s day appears to have focused primarily on the way Torah and Jewish identity served to distinctively separate and elevate Jewish nationalism above all other social expressions of what was deemed “righteous” in God's eyes.  Dunn expresses it well in this quote from his (now famous) ‘The New Perspective on Paul’ essay:

 

Paul has no intention here of denying a ritual expression of faith, as in baptism or the Lord’s Supper. Here again we should keep the precise limitations of Paul’s distinction between faith in Christ and works of law before us. What he is concerned to exclude is the racial not the ritual expression of faith; it is nationalism which he denies not activism. Whatever their basis in the Scriptures, these works of the law had become identified as indices of Jewishness, as badges betokening race and nation – inevitably so when race and religion are so inextricably intertwined as they were, and are, in Judaism. What Jesus has done by his death and resurrection, in Paul’s understanding, is to free the grace of God in justifying from its nationalistically restrictive clamps for a broader experience (beyond the circumcised Jew) and a fuller expression (beyond concern for ritual purity).[3]

 

By focusing on a test case verse in Galatians (Gal 2:16), we were able to ascertain that in essence, when Paul has Gentile inclusion into Isra'el in mind, “works of the Law” referred to those sometimes locally autonomous “group requirements” that were being imposed on non-Jews, as outlined and delegated by each individual group functioning under the prevailing Judaisms of Paul’s day (recall that the Qumran community has unique works of the Law that necessarily differed from some of the other Jewish community’s works of the Law).  When it came to works of the Law for Jews, we discovered that Paul most likely had obedience to Torah done for the sake of keeping Jews separate from “Gentile sinners,”[4] and ostensibly for maintaining one’s “righteous” place in the covenant people in mind.  So, as far as the equality of both people groups in Messiah is concerned, Paul, missionary to the Gentiles, had to defend the correct Torah viewpoint in his letters addressed to the Churches at Galatia (specifically chapter 5), as well as to the one in Ephesus.  Circumcision was, therefore, directly related to works of the Law in that it was a shorthand way for Paul to talk about "conversion to Judaism/being or becoming a Jew/maintaining covenant membership via Torah observance.” Once again, we must remind ourselves that even though circumcision was historically misused and misapplied as “Jewish identity,” there is no reason for us to continue in such a misunderstanding.  Nor is there any reason for the emerging Torah communities to shrink back from the Torah that God has clearly given for us to obey, provided we maintain our primary identity, not necessarily as “Jewish” or “Gentile,” but as that of one firmly grounded in Mashiach.

 

Covenantal Nomism and Justification:

 

We saw in Section Five that to better understand Paul's 1st century Judaisms from their historic perspective one needs to gain an appreciation for the way the people interacted with the Torah as a social responsibility and with how one expressed his loyalty to the covenant.  What we found is that according to Sanders research, one got ‘into’ the covenant by ethnicity (Jewish lineage) and one stayed ‘in’ by maintenance of commandments.  Indeed, in Sanders’ view, the ancient discussions on covenantal nomism in the minds of the rabbis essentially amounts to systematic teachings on salvation:

 

In favour of the use of the term 'soteriology' is that it points to a concern which is central to Judaism: a concern to be properly rather than improperly religious, to serve God rather than to desert his way, to be 'in' rather than 'out'. When a man is concerned to be 'in' rather than 'out', we may consider him to have a 'soteriological' concern, even though he may have no view concerning an afterlife at all. There does appear to be in Rabbinic Judaism a coherent and all-pervasive view of what constitutes the essence of Jewish religion and of how that religion 'works', and we shall occasionally, for the sake of convenience, call this view 'soteriology'. The all-pervasive view can be summarized in the phrase 'covenantal nomism'.[5]

 

Covenantal nomism concerns itself with keeping the Torah for the express purpose of exercising the freedom of living as an existing covenant member, with the scriptural assurance that God was pleased with such nomistic service, provided it was done in faith.  Covenantal nomism did not view the Torah as a yoke of bondage the way the historic Christian communities have done.

 

However, doesn’t Paul explicitly say in Galatians 5 that the Law is bondage?  Context shows that Paul is combatting ethnic-driven corporate righteousness and ostensible covenant membership based on the social expectation and maintenance of Law-keeping.  Because of the ground breaking work done by Sanders, scholars have come to learn that the social relationship to the Law, as described by Paul and his contemporaries, is best subsumed under the label ‘covenantal nomism.’  The bondage of Galatians chapter 5 verse 1 is spiritual bondage spelled out for any believer who might wish to return to a 1st century Jewish worldview of corporate/individual salvation and sanctification based on group membership and maintenance of Torah commands.  Recall that in covenantal nomism, one “gets in” by belonging to the group (being legally born with or married into Jewish identity, or conversion to the legal status of Jewish), and one “stays in” by keeping Torah.  Remind yourself that neither of these two “gets in—stays in” facts are true in God’s courtroom.  Thus, Paul is warning the genuine Galatian believers that to “get in” one places his trust in Yeshua, and that to “stay in” one waits for the hope of righteousness by faith.  The debt to the “whole Law” of verse 3 is a debt to whatever ethnocentric Jewish conversion policy the hapless Gentile converts would submit themselves to should they venture down that bondage-laden path—a debt that surely excluded group membership and Torah observance for non-Jews.  Justification by Law in verse 4 means ostensible justification by the policy that teaches a “Jewish-only Isra'el.”

 

What we learned from our studies on this topic is that axiomatic for Paul in his teaching on covenantal nomism and justification is his Messianic understanding and application of Habakkuk’s famous pasuk, “The righteous shall live by his faith” (Hab 2:4).  In Hab 2:4, the last half of the verse is usually translated: “…the righteous shall live by his faith.” But based on one Hebrew word in the verse, it could just as easily be translated: “…the righteous shall live by his faithfulness.” The Hebrew word emunah is both faith and faithfulness, which is why NIV, NLT, NET, and GWT all have faithfulness for this word. Interestingly, Young’s Literal Translation has “steadfastness.”

 

The origin words for faith and faithfulness share a noun and verb relationship in both Hebrew and Greek. Tim Hegg of TorahResource.com explains the Hebrew and Greek noun and verb cognates this way:

 

One of the major difficulties we encounter in our discussion of “trust,” “believe,” and “faith/faithful,” is that there is no corresponding verbal form of “faith” in the English language.  We have no way of saying that one “faithed” or that someone is “faithing” in God.  Yet in both the Hebrew and the Greek the word group expressing the concept of faith also contains a verb cognate.  For example, the Hebrew verb !ma (‘aman),  “to be supported”[6] from which we derive the verb “to believe,” has the corresponding noun hnwma (‘emunah), which means “faith” or “faithful.”  Likewise, the Greek verb pisteuvw (pisteuo), “to believe,” has the corresponding noun pivstiß, (pistis), which means “faith” or “faithful.”  Unfortunately, many English readers do not realize that “believing,” “having faith,” and “being faithful” all derive from the same word group whether in the Hebrew or the Greek.[7]

 

The way I see it, faith and faithfulness function as two sides of the same coin, in that they are both precious in God’s eyes. Don't misunderstand me. I am NOT saying we are saved by works. Perish the thought! I am saying genuine faith will lead to genuine faithfulness. Righteousness can be defined in two ways: "behavioral righteousness,” actually doing what is right, and "forensic righteousness,” being regarded as righteous in the sense (a) that God has cleared him of guilt for past sins, and (b) that God has given him a new human nature inclined to obey God rather than rebel against him as before. Millard Erickson stated, "Sanctification is a process by which one's moral condition is brought into conformity with one's legal status before God.”

 

Thus, our verse in Habakkuk is a fitting one for our study on faith and faithfulness. For indeed, this passage is a decisive verse for the Apostle Paul. Here, the famous phrase “the just shall live by faith” must be understood from the original context of Habakkuk to mean that the righteous person lives on the basis of his faithfulness. In the time of Habakkuk, the nation was being torn in her loyalties, whether to trust God and the covenant He had given, or to ally herself with the nations for protection. Habakkuk’s statement is made with this in mind: the righteous (those who have faith in God) will live (be protected and sustained) by faith (by demonstrating a faithful trust in God and His promises). It is this understanding of faith that Paul carries into the argument of Romans and is sustained throughout the book.

 

Thus, “the righteous shall live by his faith” does not simply mean he will claim to have faith then but do nothing about it. On the contrary, if he has genuine faith then he will demonstrate genuine faithfulness to the God that he claims to have faith in. And in this faith and faithfulness, he shall indeed live!

 

Acts 10:

 

In Section Six, we conducted another test case using Peter and the account in Acts 10.  What we found is that the Jewish nationalism that was present in Paul's Galatians was also very much alive and well in Peter’s book of Acts experience with Cornelius.  To be sure, Peter himself needed to be taught a very valuable lesson on Gentile equality in Messiah, and that is the reason HaShem sent the vision in the first place.  If the rabbinic literature that survived the destruction of the 2nd Temple is any indication of the pattern of religious life in 1st century Isra'el, then the Judaisms of Peter’s day held to the common belief that Jewish Isra'el held an exclusive place among the righteous peoples of the earth. The poison of Ethnocentric Jewish Exclusivism that permeated the first century Jewish society erected a wall of separation between your average Jew and your average Gentile (read Eph 2:14 with this view in mind). Because of this social view, many religious Jews sought to keep a measured distance away from most Gentiles, believing the average Gentile to be intrinsically “unclean,” capable of transmitting ritual impurity to Jews, and or leading Jews away into idolatry.

 

A careful reading of the Greek of Acts 10 and Peter’s conversation with God showed that this simple fisherman was also blinded by the prevailing Jewish traditions and bylaws that sought to avoid Gentiles at all costs, and it took the Spirit of God to open Peter’s eyes to the truth that, in Yeshua (Jesus), Gentiles too can be cleansed by the power of the Messiah’s blood (Acts 10:34, 35, 43).

 

Under the Law:

 

Beginning with Section Seven we turns our eye to another one of Paul’s famous “Law” phrases.  Earlier on in the book of Galatians, most often we found that the technical term “under the Law” was also used as another way to speak of Jewish identity.  For Gentiles wishing to be included into Isra'el, the man-made ritual known as conversion could ostensibly secure this legal identity.  By the time we get to the latter half of chapter five of Galatians, however, Paul had changed his polemical tone and was now assuring those truly in Christ that if they are led by the Spirit they are no longer slaves to the old nature—viz—“under the Law.”  Having the mind controlled by the old nature is death.  Conversely, having the mind controlled by the indwelling Ruach HaKodesh is life and true shalom.  Those who are controlled by the flesh cannot please God and are destined to suffer the ultimate punishment the Torah spells out for unrepentant sinners, that is, condemnation.  This “under the Law” condemnation is what Paul meant by its usage in 5:18, and his theology is taken squarely from the Torah proper.  Specifically, to be “under the Law” is a pejorative position originally hinted at all the way back in Deuteronomy 29:19-21,

 

“If there is such a person, when he hears the words of this curse, he will bless himself secretly, saying to himself, 'I will be all right, even though I will stubbornly keep doing whatever I feel like doing; so that I, although "dry," [sinful,] will be added to the "watered" [righteous].'

 

But ADONAI will not forgive him. Rather, the anger and jealousy of ADONAI will blaze up against that person. Every curse written in this book will be upon him. ADONAI will blot out his name from under heaven.

 

“ADONAI will single him out from all the tribes of Isra'el to experience what is bad in all the curses of the covenant written in this book of the Torah.” (Emphasis, mine)

 

The passage clearly teaches us that to have “every curse written in this book upon you” is to be in a state of “not forgiven by ADONAI,” viz, “under condemnation,” viz, “under the Law.”

 

Only the Spirit of the Holy One, writing the Torah on the heart and mind, can bring the participant to the intended goal of surrendering to the Mashiach and out from under the curse pronounced in the law. With our natural mind, we read, "do this…" and "don’t do that…” and we have a tendency to misunderstand the grace behind the words. Yeshua came to explain the gracious intent of every command, by explaining the primary thrust of the Torah in the first place: leading its reader to a genuine trusting faith in the Messiah found therein—namely himself!

 

So, those of us who claim membership in an existing Torah community, the One Law Movement (a.k.a., the Messianic Jewish Movement) confidently affirm and teach obligation to Torah commands for both Jews and Gentiles in Messiah.  And yet Paul says in Rom 6:14 that we are not under Law but under grace.  The difficulty in correctly interpreting Paul is in understanding that his uses of the word Law in many of his letters applies the definition from the context, which means the root Greek word used (nomos=law) can apply to a variety of definitions.  Paul’s “not under Law” phrase is preceded by “For sin shall not have dominion over you...” In this verse, Law does not mean we are not under obligation to Torah commands.  Rather, it most naturally functions in this verse as shorthand for “not under the bondage of sin and therefore under the condemnation of the Law,” a just condemnation reserved for unrepentant sinners.  The reason we are not under [the] condemnation [of the Law] is because we are not under bondage, and the reason we are not under bondage is because we have been set free and are under [the] grace [of Yeshua’s blood].

 

Shomer Mitzvot:

 

Lastly, in Section Eight, we devoted an entire chapter to talk about Torah observance, or “shomer mitzvot” as many religious Jews call it.  Does Galatians signal the end of the age of Law for Christians?  Did the Apostle Paul preach the end of the Law? The short answers are “no,” and “no.” Paul not only DID Torah, he also taught others to DO the Torah.

 

For instance, these facts can easily be observed by James’ instructions to Paul in Acts 21:24, “…thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the Law.” James was addressing this specific rumor among the Judean Jews concerning Paul: “…that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.” Paul demonstrated by his lifestyle that the Law did not come to an end in Messiah. Moreover, Paul admitted to this fact later on in his life (Acts 21:24; Acts 24:14-16; Acts 25:8; Acts 26:4, 5). Notice also that James does not add any supposed “three-part” breakdown to the Law (moral, ceremonial, civil). He just says “Law.” This would indicate those three designations are probably unsanctioned man-made distinctions, and as such, are confusing and unnecessary.

 

We can also easily observe Paul’s view of the Law in Rom 3:31, “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the Law.” We could also use Rom 7:22, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being.” Also see Rom 7:25. “So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

 

What then did we learn concerning the believer’s relationship to the Law?  What came to an end in Messiah is the curse of the Law for those in Messiah (Rom 8:1). However, this curse is still in effect for those outside of Messiah. What also came to an end in Messiah was the wall of separation that was erected by the Jewish communities in Isra'el who were wishing to keep a religious separation between Gentiles and Jews (Eph 2:11-122). In Messiah, both Jews and Gentiles who embrace Yeshua (Jesus) as LORD become “one new mankind.” As one new mankind, they both comprise the Remnant of Isra'el and both inherit the blessings and promises of God—which includes the Torah given to Isra'el.

 

Besides, if Paul taught the end of the Law, then, as a disciple of Yeshua, he would be going against the words of his Master, “Do not think I came to do away with the Law…” (Matt 5:17) Yeshua clearly defined his use of the word “fulfill” in this passage by giving us the immediate example of Matt 5:19, “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

 

Based on Yeshua’s words, if Paul wanted to be great instead of least in the kingdom, then Paul needed to not only DO the Law, but teach others to DO them as well. Which brings us full circle: by his life, Paul not only DID the Torah, he taught others to DO it as well.

 

Applying what we studied about the popular contest between “Law vs. grace” towards a better hermeneutic approach to the book of Galatians and Paul's writings as a whole, we find that grace is indeed needed when sin blinds our eyes to believe that covenant status is granted on the basis of ethnicity, whether natural or achieved.  Historic Isra'el of the 1st century genuinely believed that by virtue of being born Jewish they were automatically guaranteed covenant status.  What is more, from their point of view, if someone from non-Jewish stock wished to join the covenant people all he or she needed to do was convert to Judaism, hence my use of the terms “natural” and “achieved” respectively.  Natural Isra'elites—those native-born—held to the prevailing theology that Torah was given to maintain the covenant status already acquired at birth.  The “ger” (Hebrew for stranger, alien, etc.) was deemed as someone in the process of becoming a Jew via the vehicle of proselyte conversion.

 

Sha'ul went to great lengths to refute such teaching in his letters both to the Romans and to the Galatians.  To be sure, if we apply this hermeneutic to those letters, instead of adopting a “grace versus law” hermeneutic, the Apostle begins to make more sense theologically and historically.  I am convinced more now than ever that a foundational understanding of Paul’s writings must take into account the historical fact that 1st century Isra'el reckoned herself as right-standing before HaShem on the basis of ethnicity (read as “being Jewish”) alone! She did not feel that keeping the Torah equaled positional (forensic) righteousness; she concluded—albeit incorrectly—that keeping Torah was the vehicle that one used to maintain covenant status already achieved either at birth or by conversion.



[1] Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy, Towards Understanding 1st Century and 21st Century Jewish Attitudes: Studies in Group Prejudice (Tetze Torah Ministries, 2011), pp. 10-12.

[2]Dead Sea Scrolls, 4QMMT, section C 25-32.

[3] James D.G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul: Revised Edition (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2008), Section II.

[4] Recall Gal 2:15 where Paul reminds Peter that, “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners.”

[5] E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Fortress Press 1977), p. 17.

[6] The qal only shows up one time in the Tanach (Lamentations 4:5), and the root meaning of “supported” is actually derived from the meaning attached to its usage in other forms.  BDB offer “confirm” or “support” as the root meaning of the verb.

[7] Tim Hegg, The Letter Writer (FFOZ Publications, 2002), p. 17-18.