A Quick Overview Commentary on Galatians (explained section-by-section):
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” (vv. 6–7). He is so opposed to this that he places a double curse on those who are teaching this other gospel (vv. 8–9). 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 in Vocabulary of the Greek NT) “the primary distinction between allos and heteros is that the former 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 and heteros 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 you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by 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 (v. 24).
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.” We read elsewhere that these believing Pharisaical Jews taught that circumcision was a precondition for salvation (Acts 15:1).
Gal 2:6–10, The other 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 wasn’t 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 and obeyed the Torah (in order to be saved). This issue was the center of the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council debate. The apostles ruled at this council that circumcision (and obedience to the Torah) wasn’t a precondition for salvation. The issue at this council was not the validity of the Torah, but whether one had to be circumcised (and obey the Torah) to be saved. In Romans chapter four, Paul makes the strong case that Abraham was saved by Elohim’s grace and that circumcision (and Torah obedience) had nothing to do with the patriarch’s salvation. In fact, Abraham was circumcised some 24 years after he was justified or saved. Therefore, from the beginning, circumcision never was a factor in salvation, which has always been a based on grace and faith and never based on men’s good works (or Torah obedience).
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 demanding 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 no, but whether obedience to it was a precondition for salvation (or justification and redemption).
The Torah teaches us that circumcision was a sign of the Abrahamic Covenant and never was a condition for receiving YHVH’s favor (or grace). 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 same model we are to follow today.
Gal 3:10–12, Those who think that their good works of Torah obedience can save them (or justify them; that is, to bring them into right standing before Elohim) 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. If one merely violates one commandment, 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…ever—a human impossibility!
Gal 3:13, Messiah is the only person who never sinned even once, 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 (or Mosaic) 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 church’s 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 (i.e., 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 (see Rom 3:31).
Gal 3:19–25, The word 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 (Gen 26:5; 18:19) and goes back before the creation of man and originated 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 (or a constitution) 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 also 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 at Mount Sinai. This still didn’t prevent them from sinning. So YHVH gave them the priesthood and the sacrificial system as a custodian or literally, “boy-leader” (vv. 24 and 25, incorrectly translated as schoolmaster or tutor in some Bibles) that would help to guide them in the paths of righteousness, and 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). The Torah-law with it’s penal code, temple service, ritual cleansings, Levitical priesthood and sacrificial system was a tutor or, more accurately, a guide to bring us to Messiah (v. 24). When Messiah came, these things were no longer needed (as Paul states in verse 25), for Yeshua fulfilled them as the writer of Hebrew so eloquently lays out. Because these aspects of the law of Moses were fulfilled in Yeshua (again as the writer of Hebrews points out), this in no way means that the rest of the Torah ceased with Yeshua. If that were so, then it is now permissible, one could logically reason, to steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, covet, dishonor parents, worship idols and so on. Of course, this is absurd! This is not what Paul is saying here. Yet, that is the logical path that Christian theology will lead to if one follows it to its logical conclusion.
When Paul states in verse 24 that the Torah brought us to Messiah, he is envisioning two aspects of the Torah. As previously noted, he is referring to the sacrificial and Levitical systems that YHVH directed Moses to add to the existing Torah code after the golden calf incident. But the Torah also brings us to Messiah in that it defines what sin is. Sin is the transgression of the Torah-law (1 John 3:4). When one sins, there is a penalty to pay. Ultimately, the wages of sin is death. Under the law of Moses, when one sinned, an animal had to be sacrificed, a price was paid, restitution had to be made, someone was stoned, or they were excommunicated from the camp of Israel. The threat of these penalties for sinning hanging over the heads of the Israelites helped to guide them in the paths of righteousness. It acted as a custodian or guide to help them to walk the straight and narrow path. With the indwelling presence of the Spirit of Elohim now living in the saint, one no longer needs that external guide, for we have an internal guide to help keep us on the straight and narrow path. That’s why Paul can say in verse 25 that we’re no longer under a guide or custodian. As we shall discover in chapter five, our guide is not the Set-Apart Spirit of Elohim working in the heart and mind of each believer—writing YHVH’s laws on our hearts!
What mainstream Christian teachers also 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 not only points out sin, and the sacrificial system showed Israel their need for a once-and-for-all Redeemer, but in numerous places, 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 from the point of our acceptance of Yeshua and onward. 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, if you toss out the Torah, you may not even end up there!
Gal 4:1–4, Messiah came to redeem us from being under the curse or penalty of the law. If he came to set us free from the law, so that we no longer have to obey the law, then we are turning the grace of Elohim into lasciviousness. Or as Paul states several times in Romans, do we make the law void through grace? Elohim forbid, may it never be, is his response.
Gal 4:8–20, This is a difficult passage to understand. Are the “weak and beggarly elements” (v. 9) speaking about “the elements of the world” to which Paul makes reference earlier and to which the Gentiles had been in bondage (v. 3) before coming to salvation—before they knew Elohim (vv. 8–9)? Or is it referring to the Torah? The latter interpretation is what the mainstream church teaches; however, this is doesn’t seem to be what Paul is saying. How could the Gentiles return again to something they never had in the first place? They never had the Torah before coming to faith in Messiah. They did, however follow the pagan, Torahless customs of the world.
Gal 4:10, The observance of days, months, seasons and years seems to be a reference to the biblical sabbaths and feasts. How is it that Paul seems to be linking these aspects of Torah-obedience with the weak and beggarly elements of paganism to which the Gentiles were previously in bondage? It is the traditional Christian understanding that Paul is here abrogating the biblical Sabbath and feasts. Is this the case? Before answering this question, let’s bring into this discussion 1 Corinthians 13—Paul’s famous “Love Chapter.” There he states that without love, everything a saint does is merely a clanging gong and tinkling cymbal to YHVH. In other words, it means nothing to him. Similarly, if we obey the Torah out of legalistic obedience hoping that somehow by our good works we will earn salvation in our own strength apart from Elohim’s merciful grace, then this is merely sinful pride on our part. Torah-obedience done out of a heart of pride and legalism without love for and faith in Yeshua is no more than a clanging gong or tinkling cymbal to YHVH. It is empty religion devoid of a relationship with the our Father in heaven made possible through a relationship with the Messiah through the Spirit of Elohim. When this happens, YHVH’s feasts and sabbaths simply become religious activities done by prideful hoping to establish their own (self) righteousness apart from Elohim. They are no longer YHVH’s feasts and sabbaths, but men’s feasts and sabbaths—empty, meaningless religious rituals. A similar thing happened to the ancient Israelites who celebrated YHVH’s feasts and sabbaths out of hypocrisy, sinful rebellion and pride (Isa 1:14; Amos 5:21). The Galatians by seeking to be saved through circumcision and through obedience to the Torah including the feasts and the sabbaths had turned these wonderful truths into empty, pointless, meaningless and dead end activities.
Gal 4:21–31, YHVH never promised eternal life salvation to the children of Israel through the Sinaitic Covenant—only earthly blessings if they would obey, and curses if they did not. Under the Abrahamic Covenant, the promise of salvation through the Messiah is promised. This is why this covenant is superior to the Sinaitic Covenant as Paul is trying to show here employing the Hebraic literary device of midrash. Hagar, Ishmael and the Sinaitic Covenant center around the works or efforts of men apart from the grace of Elohim, while the locus of the birth of Isaac and the Abrahamic Covenant are about faith in and the grace of Elohim. In this discussion, Paul talks about two Jerusalems—the physical one and the heavenly one. At the time of Paul, the religious activities occurring at Jerusalem centered around a rigourous, legalistic adherence to the Torah and to the traditions and doctrines men had added to the Torah. This had become a burden and bondage. Circumcision was a main focal point of the conversion process this religious system required of converts. For circumcision to be required of adult male Gentiles to become Christians was an onerous burden and stumbling block—something Paul in this epistle loudly decries.
Paul transitions this discussion into that of walking in the Spirit (a similar tack he takes in Rom 8:1ff). Paul is more concerned with our focus on loving, serving and obeying Yeshua and walking in the Spirit, than a punctilious adherence to Torah’s strict demands. If we genuinely love Yeshua, our hearts are unreservedly inclined on serving him, and we choose to follow the Spirit, then it automatically follows that we will love him by keeping his Torah commandments. This is “law of Messiah” (Gal 6:2)!
Gal 5:1–2, What has Yeshua freed us from? Obedience to the Torah, or from the penalty of violating the Torah? We’ve already discussed this above and shown the former and not the latter to be the case. Circumcision as a prerequisite to salvation (and, in a broader sense, obedience to the Torah) is a yoke of bondage because, if salvation is based on perfect Torah-obedience, then no one will ever be saved, since no one can ever keep the Torah perfectly.
Gal 5:3, If salvation is a requirement for salvation (as Jewish tradition teaches, and as modern rabbinic Judaism still teaches, then not only must one be circumcised, but one must follow perfectly all the rest of the Torah. Paul calls this being “justified by the law.” Such people are relying on their own works to save them instead of the grace of Elohim. These people have “fallen from grace” according to Paul.
Gal 5:14, Here Paul upholds the Torah, which defines what love is.
Gal 5:16–26, Walking in the Spirit means not violating the Torah. Everything listed below (the fruit of the Spirit and the works of the flesh) are all aspects of the Torah (both the letter and the spirit of it). This list invalidates the arguments of those who teach that Torah came to free us from the Torah! The fruit of the Spirit are aspects of what we might call, the weightier matters of the Torah, or the higher Torah against which there is no law.
Stay tuned for the next part in this series…