Gal 4:1–5, When we were in the world, we were spiritual slaves to the elements (rudiments or principles) of the world. As worldly sinners (Torah violators, 1 John 3:4), we came under the death penalty, for the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). We needed the Torah as a guardian or steward to tell us what sin was and to lead us to repentance and to the Messiah, who came to redeem us from being under the curse or penalty for violating the law, which is sin. This is him showing sinners his grace. If, as the mainstream church teaches, Yeshua 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 (lewdness, licentiousness or licence to sin or to violate the Torah), which as Jude says, only ungodly men do (Jude 4). Or as Paul asks in Romans, do we make the law void through grace? Elohim forbid, may it never be, is his response (Rom 3:31).
Gal 4:8–20, This passage is difficult to understand. Are the “weak and beggarly elements” (v. 9) speaking about “the elements, rudiments or principles of the world” to which Paul makes reference earlier (in v. 3) and to which the Gentiles had been in bondage (v. 3) before coming to salvation—before they knew Elohim (vv. 8–9)? Or are the “weak and beggarly elements” referring to the Torah? The latter interpretation is what the mainstream church teaches; however, this doesn’t seem to be what Paul is saying here. How could the Gentiles return again to something they never had in the first place—which they had done “when you did not know Elohim” as Paul states in verse 8? They never had the Torah before coming to faith in Messiah. They did, however follow the pagan, Torahless customs of the world. This is what the “weak and beggarly elements” are. Not the Torah!
Gal 4:10, Are these days, months seasons and years referring to pagan holidays and observances, which are aspects of the weak and beggarly elements of pagan worship? If so, why should we think it strange that the Galatian believers were still observing pagan holidays? In our day, hasn’t the mainstream church replaced YHVH’s feasts and Sabbath with pagan festivals? On the other hand, the mainstream church teaches that in this verse not only is Paul referring to the biblical feasts and Sabbath, but that he is here abrogating the biblical Sabbath and feasts. Is this the case? If Paul is referring to the biblical feasts and Sabbath, let’s bring into this discussion 1 Corinthians 13—the Bible’s well-known “Love Chapter.” There Paul 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 YHVH. 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 merely 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 humans 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). They were men’s feasts, not YHVH’s. 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 religious rituals.
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 promised Seed of Abraham (the Messiah) is revealed. This is why this covenant is superior to the Sinaitic Covenant as Paul is trying to show here by employing the Hebraic literary device of allegorical 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 is this yoke of bondage? In the context of Paul’s larger discussion in Galatians, it is the Jewish extra-biblical tradition that circumcision is a requirement for salvation (as well as other non-biblical Jewish traditions), and the adherence to pagan traditions (holidays and ritual observances) that the Galatians were having a hard time giving up. Has Yeshua freed us from obedience to the Torah, from the penalty of violating the Torah or from men’s non-biblical and pagan traditions, which were against the Torah and caused us to sin? He has freed us from all of the above except from Torah obedience. Circumcision as a prerequisite to salvation is a yoke of bondage, for if salvation is based on perfect Torah-obedience, then no one will ever be saved, since no one can ever keep the Torah perfectly. If our salvation is based on perfect Torah obedience, which no mortal can do, then the Torah too will become a yoke of bondage! Adherence to the world’s rudiments or sinful practices and its pagan customs is also a yoke of bondage from which Yeshua came to set his people free. Yeshua came to set us free from the rudiments of this world, and from a legalistic approach that says one must follow man’s religious requirements and to perfectly obey the Torah in order to accepted by YHVH Elohim.
Gal 5:3, If circumcision is a requirement for salvation (as Jewish tradition taught, 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. This doesn’t mean that the saint shouldn’t endeavor to live up the righteous standards of the Torah as much as possible the best he can. It simply means that we do it because we love Yeshua and want to obey him, and not because we’re trying to earn his favor and our salvation.
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 Paul 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.
Gal 6:2, 16, This then is “the law of Messiah” that pertains to “the Israel of Elohim” or redeemed Israel who Paul elsewhere refers to as “the one new man” (Eph 2:15). These are the true children of Abraham as Paul states several times in Gal 3 alone (Gal 3:7–9, 14, 28, 29; see also Rom 4:16; 9:8–11). One can be a genetic descendant of real or true Abraham and follow the Torah legalistically, yet not be a child of Abraham or, as Paul terms it, the Israel of Elohim, even as one can possess all knowledge, but if he doesn’t have faith, hope and love, he is nothing in the eyes of Elohim as Paul teaches in 1 Cor 13. The law of the Messiah, therefore, is to have faith in the Promised Seed of Abraham, who is Yeshua the Messiah, and to be transformed by his Spirit into a son of Elohim. This is one who walks in the Spirit not fulfilling the lusts of the flesh, but who loves Yeshua, the Written Torah-Word of Elohim in flesh form, by keeping Yeshua’s commandments out of a circumcised heart of love and faith. This law of Messiah is the same law to which John makes reference in his first epistle. There John speaks of “an old commandment which you have had from the beginning” and, at the same time, of a “new commandment” (1 John 2:7–8) where Yeshua is the focus rather than non-biblical traditions of men, some old, venerated and moth-eaten Torah scroll or the letter of the Torah-law itself. John in no way redefines sin, or annuls the necessity of Torah obedience (1 John 3:4; 2:3–4). Torah, for him, is not an end all. It is a vehicle to know the Father (1 John 2:3), and this is through Yeshua the Messiah (1 John 2:24–29; 5:1–5, 20). John concludes his epistle by admonishing his readers to “keep yourselves from idols.” An idol is anything that takes our eyes off Yeshua the Messiah, who is YHVH Elohim incarnate and the Creator. A Torah scroll along with men’s religious traditions can become an idol!
A New, New, Higher View of Galatians
As we have seen from our discussion above, Paul isn’t invalidating the Torah simply because salvation is by grace through faith and not based one’s good works. Rather, Paul is steering the Galatian saints away from a letter-of-the-law focus on the Torah—an approach which seems to lead automatically to a more legalistic view of the Scriptures—while deemphasizing one’s focus on the basic gospel message, which is faith in Yeshua and a walk in the Spirit. Paul is not invalidating the Torah in any way, for to do so he would be going against his own words instructing us to follow him as he imitates Yeshua, who upheld the Torah (both the letter and the spirit of the law) throughout the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere. So what is Paul really saying in Galatians?
There are those who say that Paul is invalidating the Torah completely and totally. There are also those who read this epistle and think that Paul is teaching that the Torah is for the Jews only and not also for the non-Jews. Finally, there are those who read Paul and are convinced that while he is validating the Torah for all people—both Jews and Gentiles, he is at the same time teaching against using Torah as a means to earn one’s salvation. It is this last interpretation of Paul to which this author adheres. Yet in Galatians, Paul is saying something in addition to this. What is Paul’s higher and deeper message in this often misunderstood epistle?
Not only is Paul steering the Galatians away from the belief that one’s good works (e.g., circumcision) can save a person, but he is trying to get their focus off of a letter-of-the-law approach and more on a walk-of-the-Spirit approach through the grace of Yeshua. It boils down to this: When one puts their faith in Yeshua, accepts his sacrifice to pay the penalty of their sins, repents of their sins and receives the Spirit of Yeshua, they become a new creation in Yeshua by the internal, miraculous work of the Spirit (Gal 2:20; 6:15; 2 Cor 5:17). The saint’s focus now should not primarily be on the dos and don’ts of the Torah, but on walking in the Spirit, which if one does, guess what? Voila! He won’t be violating the Torah! Our focus must be on pleasing and serving Yeshua and walking in the Spirit, and we will show our love for Elohim by not worshipping false gods, by not taking his name in vain, by keeping his sabbaths, by surrendering to him as a living sacrifice and endeavoring to be his holy priesthood in all things. Likewise, we won’t be lying to our neighbor, stealing from him, coveting or committing adultery. The walk of the Spirit is how the saint fulfills the Torah! Paul is telling us to keep our focus on Yeshua and on the simplicity of the gospel message and to walk in the Spirit, and we will automatically be fulfilling the Torah. The Spirit of Eohim will convict us when we sin and violate the Torah, and we will repent and get back to walking according to the Spirit of truth (Torah-truth), which is totally in line with the heart, will, mind and character of our Heavenly Father. This is Paul’s message to the Galatians and to us as well.