Galatians: Explanation of Terms and Quick Overview

Definition of Terms in Galatians

The law (the Torah):

The Torah of Elohim as contained in the first five books of Scripture (the Penteteuch [Greek] or Chumash [Hebrew]). Defined literally, Torah in Hebrew meansteachings, precepts, instructions [in righteousness].” In the Jewish religion the term Torah can have both broader and narrower meanings than just the five books of Moses: (a) the entire Tenakh (or Old Testament); (b) the Oral Law; (c) or strictly the legal code (non-narrative) parts of the first five books of Moses. 

The law versus [a] law: 

In most cases where the term the law is found in the English “New” Testaments, the definite article the is not part of the original Greek (this can be verified by consulting a Greek interlinear), even though the English translators have not italicized it indicating it as a word which has been added by the translators to clarify the meaning of the text (as they have in the KJV and NASB Bibles). The term law by itself (without the definite article the preceding) can, at times, simply refer to: (a) any legal code of do’s and don’ts without reference to faith, heart conviction or love; (b) legalism; (c) a perversion of the Torah into a system of do’s and don’ts to earn, merit or keep Elohim’s love and favor and thereby to receive salvation. 

Under [the] law: 

(3:23; 4:4, 5, 21; 5:18; also Rom 3:19; 6:14, 15; 1 Cor 9:20, 21) under [the] law can alternatively be rendered under subjection to legalism, according to David Stern. Finally, let’s look actually at the Greek word under as it is used in the phrase under law. 

The Complete Jewish Bible (by David Stern) translates the phrase under [the] law as under legalism (see Stern’s Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 344 where he explains why). Stern explains here that the word under is the Greek word upo which means “controlled by (as in under the control of or in subjection to sin,” see Rom 3:9). He reasons that if one is not controlled by or in subjection to law/legalism, then how is one under, controlled by or in subjection to grace? In the same sense that we have accepted Yeshua’s yoke which is easy and light to be under (Matt 11:28–30), this is in contrast to the yoke of legalism which is not easy and light to be under.

Stern contends that YHVH’s people are living en (i.e. within the framework of Torah, but not to be upo (i.e. in subjection to) legalism. YHVH’s people are in a faith/trust relationship with him and always have been under grace and “under” Torah (a gracious subjection), but never under legalism (a harsh subjection) (Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 374).

Elements of the world: 

(4:3) Refers to the elemental [demonic] demigod spirits that the dualistic hellenized heathens worshipped and who were supposed to live in the spheres above the earth and who controlled life on earth (See Stern’s JNT Commentary, pp. 556-7).

Weak and beggarly elements: 

(4:9) Stern says that when Gentiles observe the Torah festivals of YHVH neither out of joy in sharing what YHVH has given to them nor out of spiritual identification with them, but out of fear induced by legalists who have convinced them that unless they do these things, YHVH will not accept them, then they are not obeying the Torah but subjugating themselves to legalism; and legalism is just another species of those weak and miserable elemental [demonic] spirits and no better than the idols they left behind (JNTC, p. 557).

Under a schoolmaster: 

Stern in his Complete Jewish Bible translates schoolmaster as custodian. He explains why in his JNT Commentary (p. 553). The word translated as schoolmaster in the KJV and other English Bibles is the Greek word paidagogos which literally means boy-leader. In ancient Greece a paidagogos was a slave who conducted a boy to and from school and was not actually the school teacher. You can verify this definition in Webster’s dictionary. As languages evolve words change in meanings. Therefore, a secondary modern meaning of pedagogue is a teacher or schoolmaster and pedagogy is the science of teaching. Stern explains that the ancient Greek paidagogos had no teaching function and although the Torah had as one of its goals the leading of Jewish people to the Messiah, as Paul explicitly states at Romans 10:4, that is not the import of the present verse. The paidagogos actually would have been a harsh disciplinarian for the Jewish people, providing some protection but generally making the Jewish person aware of many transgressions so that Jews might turn from legalistic rule-following and be declared righteous legally on the basis of faith and being faithful to Yeshua, whose trusting faithfulness to God the Father purchased our salvation.


(2:11) Should be furthermore, moreover, not but, as in opposition to.

The Jews’ religion:

(1:13, 14) Referring to non-Messianic Judaism, not to Messianic, Torah-keeping Jews.

Hagar versus Sarah: 

(4:22–31) Here we see a Jewish midrash which is an in-depth biblical lesson in story form. Often it involves interpreting the Tanakh through allegorical and not literal interpretation. In this passage we see that Abraham tried to obtain YHVH’s promises through works by working out YHVH’s plans and purposes for his life through his own effort. As a result, he took matters into his own hands (works) and conceived Ishmael through Hagar instead of waiting in faith on YHVH to bring him a son through Sarah. 

Conversely, Isaac represents obtaining YHVH’s grace and favor (salvation) through faith and not works. Paul here draws a parallel between Hagar (who represents a works or legalistic approach to earning YHVH’s favor) and the Torah-commandments given on Mt. Sinai. If one hopes to achieve YHVH’s favor by the legalistic works of perfectly keeping all of the Torah-commandments then one is sure to fall short and miss the mark even as Abraham did in attempting to obtain a son of promise through Hagar. 

This midrash underscores the fact that the Mosaic or Sinaitic Covenant was not a covenant of salvation. This was the purpose of the Abrahamic Covenant as Ariel Berkowitz so clearly points out in his book Take Hold (pp. 23-25). He says that the Abrahamic Covenant was a covenant strictly of grace which Abraham did not earn, merit or deserve, yet he received the promises and blessings of offspring, land and nations. Berkowitz goes on to write that if the Abrahamic Covenant was the covenant of promise then the Mosaic Covenant was the covenant of dwelling in that promise. Participation in the covenant of Sinai did not secure the promises given as a grace gift by YHVH to Abraham and his descendants. Rather, the Torah-covenant was given to keep the people of Israel in YHVH’s path of righteousness so that the promises YHVH made to Abraham and his descendents might come to fruition upon Israel. The Torah-covenant provided a means for Israel to fulfil it’s YHVH-ordained destiny, and it provide d a legal standard so necessary to an orderly society (ibid.).

A Quick Overview of the Book of Galatians

Below is a quick overview of the book of Galatians. My explanatory comments are in brackets. 

The main theme of the book of Galatians is that one is saved by the grace of Elohim through faith in Yeshua the Messiah, not by the works of the Torah-law. Here, it’s not Paul’s point to discuss the validity of the Torah in a believer’s life. This he does, for example, in the book of Romans. Rather, in Galatians, he discusses how one is saved: Is it by works (i.e. obedience to the Torah and men’s non-biblical religious doctrines), or by the grace of Elohim?

In chapter one, Paul warns against accepting a “different gospel” and shares his personal testimony.

Chapter two describes Paul’s confrontation with Peter about not having to adhere to Jewish (non-Torah) traditions. He then begins to define what the gospel is by asserting that men are justified (made righteous) before Elohim not by the works of the law, but by faith in Yeshua. [This is because a man can never keep the laws of Elohim well enough to measure up to his high standard of righteousness or perfection. This in no way gives man a pass to violate the laws of Elohim — only that man can’t be saved by the good works of Torah-obedience.] Once a man is saved, Yeshua now lives his righteousness through the man [through the help of the Holy Spirit].

In chapter three, Paul further explains the concept of justification by faith stating that this method of salvation goes back to Abraham who trusted Elohim, and because of that faith YHVH accounted him as righteous. At the same time, if one attempts to be justified by the works of the law, because he can’t keep the whole law perfectly, he will fall under the curse or penalty of the law [which is death. Elsewhere we learn the that sin is the violation of the law (1 John 3:4) and the wages or penalty of sin is death (Gal 3:22; Rom 6:23).]. Paul goes on to explain that all believers in Yeshua [both Jews and non-Jews] are children of Abraham (v. 28, 29), and so the same salvation model applies to them that YHVH established at the time of Abraham. What then is the purpose of the Torah, Paul asks? It is to bring sinners to the cross of Yeshua [who died in our place to take on himself the penalty for our sins]. [This isn’t the only purpose of the Torah, as Paul teaches us elsewhere. This is the only purpose he mentions in Galatians for the sake of this discussion. The Torah’s other purpose — once we are brought to Messiah because of our sin, which the violation of the Torah — is that it shows us how to walk without sinning; namely how to love Elohim and our fellow man.] Paul concludes this chapter by saying that once the Torah has brought us to Yeshua, we’re no longer under penalty phase of the Torah, and this applies to all people, not just the Jews.

Next in chapter four, Paul explains in more detail the glorious gospel message of salvation by grace. Messiah came to redeem us (set us free) from slavery to sin and the world and to give us a spiritual inheritance as sons of Elohim. He then asks a question. After having received the glorious message of salvation by grace, how can one turn to a works-based salvation and to other non-biblical religious doctrines of men? He then answers the question by using an illustration to make his point. He compares the old or former covenant that YHVH made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai with the new covenant through Yeshua. This was prefigured in Abraham’s two sons: Ishmael and Isaac. The first son (Ishmael) was a result of human effort and brought bondage, while the second son (Isaac) was a result of YHVH’s grace and brought freedom. [Similarly, if one seeks to do Elohim’s will through one’s own effort, it will result in spiritual bondage. On the other hand, if one seeks to do Elohim’s will through his grace and the divine empowerment of the Holy Spirit, it will bring freedom from sin (i.e. Torahlessness) and it’s death penalty.]

In chapter five, Paul exposes the false teachers who were bringing “another gospel.” They were teaching that one can’t be saved, born again, justified or redeemed unless one is physically circumcised. [Although this doctrine is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures, it had become a belief in first-century Judaism. This was hindering the spread of the gospel message among uncircumcised non-Jewish peoples to whom Paul had been commissioned.] Again, Paul restates the idea that salvation is by grace through faith in Yeshua, and that if one seeks to be saved by one’s good works including circumcision, then one must keep the entire law [perfectly without sinning, which is an impossibility]. Evidently, this false teaching was causing much division and strife within the church at Galatia, and Paul urges the believers there to fulfill the Torah-law by loving one another. [Yeshua sums up the entire Torah as loving YHVH with everything and one’s neighbor as oneself (Mark 12:29–31).] Paul admonishes believers to walk according to the Spirit of Elohim that is living in them, which will lead them away from sin (Torahlessness) and towards righteousness (Torah-obedience). Walking in accordance to the leading of the Holy Spirit leads us away from Torahlessness (the works of the flesh including murder, lying, stealing, fornication, uncleanness, witchcraft, idolatry, worldliness and other fleshly passions and desires) and towards righteousness (the fruit of the Spirit).

Paul concludes this letter in chapter six by giving further instructions about living as a follower of Yeshua.


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