31 October 2018

End of the Jurisdiction of Torah

Tables of the Law
          Jewish Christians from Jerusalem arrived in Galatia to promote disruptive teachings among Gentile believers. They claimed the latter must be circumcised and ought to keep Jewish holy days (2:3; 4:10; 5:2-3; 6:12-13).
          Circumcision was presented as a necessary component of the Christian life, in addition to faith. It was necessary to complete the faith of Gentile believers (3:1-5 [“Are you now to be made complete by the flesh?”]).
          Paul’s opponents had a ready-made argument from the Hebrew Bible: circumcision was given by God to Abraham as the sign of His “everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:7-14). Any male not circumcised was “cut off” from God’s people; “he has broken my covenant.” Did not Christianity originate from the ancient faith of Israel?
          Paul’s letter is his response to this teaching. He compiles a series of arguments why it would be a mistake to require Gentile believers to be circumcised, and otherwise come under the Mosaic Law. Circumcision obligated one to keep the whole thing (3:10; 5:2-3).
          The controversy was over the status of Gentile membership in God’s covenant community. To be members in good standing must Gentiles add circumcision to faith in Jesus (and other requirements of Torah)? Paul’s emphatic answer is, “no.”
          Paul’s main proposition is in Galatians 2:15-21. He first presents what he holds in common with his opponents, then summarizes areas of disagreement. “We ourselves by nature Jews and not sinners from among the Gentiles, know that man is not set right on the basis of the works of the law but through the faith of Christ Jesus; even we believed in Christ Jesus that we might be set right on the basis of the faith of Christ and not on the basis of the works of the law; because from the works of the law will no flesh be set right.”
Both sides agreed that a man is set right before God on the basis of faith and not the deeds of the Mosaic Law. Jewish believers also responded to the Gospel by faith. The problem was the Agitators wished to add things from Torah to that faith requirement.
          The issue was not “legalism” or works-righteousness versus faith, but faith with additions. The dispute was not over good works or human effort in general, but a specific category of works: the works required by the Law or Torah.
          The areas of disagreement are summarized in verses 17-21. If a Christian is set right on the basis of faith but then commits sin, “is Christ therefore a minister of sin?” The Agitators likely claimed that if the Law does not regulate Christian life sin results.
          This line of reasoning makes Christ responsible for consequent sin, which Paul emphatically denies. Instead, if he builds again the very things he pulled down he becomes a transgressor of the worst sort. He “through the law died to the law that he might live to God…for if through the law is righteousness then Christ died without cause.” To return to Torah after being freed from it by the death of Jesus was transgression because one effectively stated that Jesus died in vain.
          The Christian died to the Law on the Cross. In Paul’s parlance, to die to something was to cease to have a relevant relationship to it. The crucifixion of Christ released believers from the Law’s jurisdiction and therefore it is a very real and deadly curse.
          In chapters 3 and 4 of Galatians, Paul works out this proposition in detail, beginning with an argument from experience (3:1-5). The Galatians received the Spirit in an uncircumcised state after hearing the Gospel with faith. This is irrefutable proof that God accepted uncircumcised Gentiles on the basis of faith (Acts 10:44-48, 11:16-18). Having “begun in the Spirit,” it makes no sense to go on to completion by means of “the flesh,” that is, the requirements of Torah.
          Paul then presents an argument from the example of Abraham (3:6-14). He links Abraham to faith, righteousness and the promised blessing for Gentiles, and introduces the subjects of the “sons of Abraham,” the in-gathering of the Gentiles and the curse of the Law.
          Abraham was reckoned righteous on the basis of faith (“just as Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness”), therefore those who are from faith are true “sons of Abraham.” God promised that in Abraham “all the Gentiles will be blessed” from the beginning His purpose was that “the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles in Jesus Christ, in order that the promise of the Spirit might be received through the faith.” Paul equates the “blessing of Abraham” with the “promise of the Spirit.”
          In contrast, those “from the works of the Law” place themselves under the Law's curse. The Law pronounces that those under it are obligated “to continue in ALL the things written in the Book of the Law” (Deuteronomy 27:26). The Law is not a pick-and-choose menu but an all-or-nothing proposition.
          Gentile believers that subject themselves to circumcision must understand that much more is involved than just the removal of the foreskin. Torah requires covenant members to do all that is written in it; failure to do so will place one under its curse. Circumcision is just a first step and entry point to something much larger.
          Paul next presents an argument based on the nature of a covenant (3:15-18). The covenant with Abraham represented God's original intent and irreversible will. A covenant once ratified “no one voids or appends,” therefore the Law that “came into being four hundred and thirty years later does not invalidate or nullify” the earlier promise. The Promise was given not just to Abraham but to “his seed,” singular, and that seed is Jesus. The promised inheritance with its blessings for Gentiles is therefore not from the law, but rather through “the promise to Abraham.” Paul's line of reasoning is covenant-based.

  • (Galatians 3:19-22) - “Why, then, the Law? It was added because of the transgressions until the time when the seed came for whom the promise was given, and it was given in charge through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not mediator of one, yet God is one. Is then the law against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given which was able to make alive, then righteousness would be from the law. But the scripture confined all things under sin, in order that the promise from the faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them who believe.”
          If God gave the Law at Sinai, if right standing with God is based on faith not deeds of the Torah, and if the inheritance promised to Abraham is received through faith, not Law, what was the purpose of the Mosaic Law?
          Paul responds first that the Law was “added” after the original promise to Abraham. It is subsequent and subsidiary to the promise. It is also distinct from it in regards to its era in salvation history.
          By “added” Paul does not mean that the Mosaic legislation did add something to the original covenant. He identifies the Law given at Sinai to be a covenant confirmed by God (“a covenant confirmed beforehand by God, the law…does not void the promise”). Paul views the Mosaic legislation as a distinct covenant, a covenant that was “added” after the original Promise.
          The Law was given “until the seed should come.” This means there was a temporal limitation on the Law. “Until” translates the Greek preposition achri. When used with a place it connotes “as far as”; with time the sense is “until” or “up to” a termination point. Paul thus places the Law under a time constraint.

          Paul consistently refers to the “law” in the singular, to the Mosaic Law in its entirety. He never subdivides the Law into separate categories (e.g., moral, civil, ceremonial). It is not a part of the Law that has a termination point, but the whole Law.
          Paul identifies the promised “seed” as Christ and the arrival of this “seed” is the termination point of the Law’s jurisdiction. Paul sees two distinct eras of Salvation History. The first ends when the second begins.
          Paul does not argue that the function of the Law is now added to or integrated with the promise; he argues the opposite when he says no one adds to or annuls an existing covenant. Paul sees the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic legislation as two separate covenants, not two parts of one. One is added to Israel’s story after the other.
         The Law became necessary “because of transgressions.” Transgression (parabasis) means an “overstepping, a trespass, a transgression.” It refers to deliberate or conscious acts of disobedience. Sin has existed since Adam but law turns it into “transgression” by making known God’s standard.
          The sense of the preposition “because of” or charin can be understood one of two ways: either the Law was given to identify transgressions or to increase them. The first option fits the immediate context and Paul’s theology (e.g., Romans 3:20).
          The idea of increasing sin makes little sense in light of his next statement, “until the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” Identifying transgression better fits the analogy of the Law’s role as a “custodian” in verse 24-25.
          The Law “was given in charge through angels by the hand of a mediator.” This thought reflects a later Jewish tradition that angels delivered the Law into the “hand of” Moses, one seen elsewhere in the New Testament (cp. Deuteronomy 33:2; Acts 7:38; 7:53; Hebrews 2:2). “The hand of a mediator” likely refers to Moses (the Septuagint frequently states the Law was “by the hand of Moses” (e.g., Leviticus 26:46; Numbers 4:37; 4:41, 4:45, 4:49; 9:23; 10:13; 15:23).
          To claim the Law was given by angels does not disparage it. A law given directly by God or by his appointed agents is valid. Possibly Paul’s opponents cited the angels’ presence at Sinai as evidence of the law’s glory. Paul turns this tradition against them.
          The Law was given by the angels into “the hand of a mediator”; it was delivered into the hands of Moses who in turn mediated it to Israel. But “a mediator is not mediator of one, yet God is one.” A mediator implies a plurality of persons in a transaction. With Abraham God acted directly and unilaterally. He does not need an intermediary; He gave the promise directly to Abraham. This stresses the promise’s priority over the mediated Torah.
Paul does not disparage Moses, the Law, angels or the function of a mediator, but is stressing the priority of the earlier promise over the Law, which was given later and through intermediaries.
          The Law is not contrary to the Promise; “is the Law against the promises of God?” Since there are discontinuities between the Law and the Promise, and since the Law was added later and is subsidiary to the Promise, it is necessary to demonstrate the Law is not contrary to the Promise.
          “If a law had been given that was able to make alive, then righteousness would have been on the basis of law.” The Law is incapable of imparting life, therefore, righteousness cannot be based on the Law. The purpose of the Law was for something other than imparting life. Moreover, if the Law could make alive or acquit sinners before God, “then Christ died in vain” (2:21). Paul equates the imparting of life with the being set right with God. The Law is not contrary to the Promise but the Law lacks the necessary means to deliver it.
          The “Scripture confined all things under sin” so that the promise from the faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them who believe. “All things” is in the neuter gender and maybe a broader category than “all persons” (i.e., the entire creation under the dominion of sin). Paul is expanding his target to include all humanity. All those “under the Law,” that is, Israel, are under its curse, and all humans are confined under sin.
          Paul does not say the Law confined all things but “the Scripture” did, singular. Elsewhere Paul uses “the Scripture” in the singular to refer to specific passages (Galatians 3:8, 4:30, Romans 4:3, 9:17, 10:11, 11:2). Most likely he means the key proof text cited in the letter’s proposition (Galatians 2:16) and quoted from Psalm 143:2 (“because by the works of the law shall no flesh be acquitted”). No flesh can be acquitted by the works of the law because all are confined under sin.
          “Confined” translates a Greek verb, sungkleiō, meaning to “shut together, to confine, hem in, imprison.” The idea is something shut up together on all sides, such as a school of fish caught in a net. A similar idea is expressed in Romans 11:32, “For God has confined them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.” The same verb is used in the next verse, “But before the faith came we were kept under the law, confined until the faith”. All flesh is under sin and unable to be set right before God.
          Verse 22 reads “from the faith of Jesus Christ,” which points either to the “faith” of Jesus or to his “faithfulness.” Probably this is a cryptic reference to the faithful obedience of Jesus demonstrated in his death (2:20-21). The source or basis of the promise now available to all who believe is the faithfulness of Jesus.

  • (Galatians 3:23-25) - “Before the coming of the faith, however, we were being kept in ward under the Law, being confined until the faith, which was going to be revealed. So that the Law has proved our custodian training us for Christ, in order that from faith we might be declared righteous. But the faith having come, no longer are we under a custodian.”
          We were kept in ward under the Law until the faith of Christ. Once more a temporal termination point is stressed. All things were confined under sin, just as the Jews were kept in ward under the Law until the faith was revealed through Jesus Christ. The Law guarded God’s people until the faith came. It made them aware of transgression and the need for holiness.
          “Custodian” translates the Greek noun paidagōgos from which the English term “pedagogue” is derived. Unlike English, the Greek term does not refer to an educator but to someone with supervisory responsibilities. A “pedagogue” in Greco-Roman society was not to a tutor but a servant with custodial and disciplinary authority over a child until it reached maturity. Though often a slave, a custodian was authorized to administer correction to the future master of the household.
          The metaphor stresses the minority status of the one under the custodian and the temporary nature of the custodian’s role. That function ceased when the child reached adulthood. Likewise, the supervisory role of the Law was only to last until “the faith is revealed…the promise from the faith of Jesus Christ given to those who believe.”
          With the coming of the promise, believers are no longer under the custodianship of the Law. The analogy of the custodian emphasizes again the temporal purpose and function of the Law. Since the Law is compared to the custodian, to say the heir is no longer under the authority of the custodian is to say the believing Jew is no longer under the Law’s jurisdiction.
          If the Law was unable to acquit anyone before God, and if it was added after the original Promise and could not modify it, what was the purpose of the legislation given at Sinai?
          The Law was given to make clear that sin constituted disobedience to the commandments and purposes of God. It was given to Israel to be a “custodian” or supervisor to guard her until the promised seed arrived. But that function was temporary; it was to serve for a limited period of time. Jesus is the promised “seed.” Now that he has arrived the jurisdiction of the “custodian” had come to an end.
          Throughout this section prominent is the temporal aspect; the Law given at Sinai was an interim or provisional stage in God’s redemptive program but has now reached its termination point. Therefore it is no longer has jurisdiction to determine who is in the covenant and who is not.

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