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31 October 2018

End of the Jurisdiction of Torah

Synopsis - According to the book of Galatians, the jurisdiction of the Torah reached a termination point with the arrival of Jesus.

Sunset Birds - Photo by Vlad Panov on Unsplash
By Vlad Panov on Unsplash
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. 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 (Galatians 2:3, 4:10, 5:2-3, 6:12-13 - “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 to Abraham by Yahweh as the sign of His “everlasting covenant.” Any male not circumcised was “cut off” from the covenant community - “He has broken my covenant.” Did not Christianity originate from the ancient faith of Israel (Genesis 17:7-14)?

Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia was his response to this teaching. He compiled a series of arguments why it would be a mistake to require Gentile believers to be circumcised, and otherwise to come under the Mosaic Law. Circumcision obligated one to keep the whole of the Torah (Galatians 3:10, 5:2-3).

The controversy concerned the status of Gentile members of the covenant community formed around Jesus Christ. To be members in good standing must Gentiles add circumcision to their faith in Jesus (and other requirements of Torah)? Paul’s emphatic answer was, “no.”

The main proposition of the Apostle is recorded in the second chapter of the letter. Paul first presented what he holds in common with his opponents, then summarized the main areas of disagreement.
  • (Galatians 2:15-21) - “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 parties agreed that a man was set right before God on the basis of faith, not on the deeds of the Mosaic Law. Jewish believers also had responded to the Gospel by faith. The problem was that the Agitators wished to add things from the Torah to the requirement of faith.
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 from faith but then commits sin, “Is Christ therefore a minister of sin?” Most likely, the Agitators claimed that if the Law does not regulate Christian life, then sin results.

This line of reasoning makes Jesus responsible for any subsequent sin, which Paul emphatically denies. Instead, if he builds again the very things that 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 - One effectively declared that Jesus died in vain.

The Christian has died to the Law on the Cross. In the parlance of the Apostle to the Gentiles, to die to something was to cease to have a relevant relationship to it. The crucifixion of Christ released believers from the jurisdiction of the Torah and, therefore, it is a very real and deadly curse.

In Chapters 3 and 4 of Galatians, Paul worked out this proposition in detail, beginning with an argument from experience. The Galatians had received the Spirit in an uncircumcised state after hearing the Gospel with faith. This was irrefutable proof that God had accepted uncircumcised Gentiles from faithHaving “begun in the Spirit,” it made no sense to go on to completion by means of “the flesh,” that is to say, by the deeds required by the Torah  (Galatians 3:1-5Acts 10:44-48, 11:16-18).

Paul next presented an argument from the example of Abraham. He linked Abraham to faith, righteousness and the promised blessing for Gentiles, and introduced the subjects of the “sons of Abraham,” the in-gathering of the Gentiles and the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:6-14).

Abraham was reckoned righteous on faith (“Just as Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness”), therefore, those who are from faith are the true “sons of Abraham.” God promised that in Abraham “all the Gentiles would 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” have placed themselves under the Law's curse. The Law pronounced that those under it are obligated “to continue in ALL the things written in the Book of the Law.” The Torah is not a pick-and-choose menu but an all-or-nothing proposition (Deuteronomy 27:26).

Gentile believers that subject themselves to circumcision must understand that much more is involved than just the removal of the foreskin. The 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 argued from the nature of a covenant. The covenant with Abraham represented God's original intent and irreversible will. Once ratified, “no one voids or appends” a covenant, therefore, the Law that “came into being four hundred and thirty years later does not invalidate or nullify” the earlier promise (Galatians 3:15-18).

The Promise was given not just to Abraham, but to “his seed,” singular, and that seed is Jesus. Thus, the promised inheritance and its blessings for Gentiles is not from the law, but instead 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 Mount Sinai, and if right-standing with God is based on faith and not the deeds of the Torah, and if the inheritance promised to Abraham is received through faith and not the Law, then what was the purpose of the Mosaic Law?

The Law was “added” after the original promise to Abraham - It is subsequent and subsidiary to the promise. It is also distinct from it regarding its era in salvation history. By “added,” Paul did not mean the Mosaic legislation added anything to the original covenant. He identified the Law as a covenant confirmed by God (“a covenant confirmed beforehand by God, the law…does not void the promise”). Rather, Paul viewed the Mosaic legislation as a distinct covenant, one 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”; used with time the sense becomes “until” or “up to” a termination point. Thus, Paul places the rule of the Law under a time constraint.

Paul consistently referred to the “law” in the singular, that is, to the Mosaic Law in its entirety. He never subdivided the Law into separate categories (e.g., moral, civil, ceremonial). It was not a part of the Law that had a termination point, but the whole Law.

Sun Rising - Photo by David Jusko on Unsplash
Photo by David Jusko on Unsplash

The Apostle 
identified the promised “seed” as Christ - The arrival of this “seed” was the termination point for the jurisdiction of the Law. He saw two distinct eras of Salvation History. The first ended when the second began. 

Paul did not argue that the function of the Law was added to the earlier promise - He argued the opposite by stating that no one adds to or annuls an existing covenant. Paul saw the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic legislation as two separate covenants, not two parts of one.

The Law became necessary “because of transgressions.” Transgression or 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” most 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 that the Law was given by angels does not disparage it. A law given directly by God or by his appointed agent remains valid. Possibly, the agitators at Galatia had cited the presence of angels at Sinai as evidence of the law’s glory. Paul turned 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.

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 was necessary for Paul to demonstrate that 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” (Galatians 2:21).
Paul equated the imparting of life with the being set right with God. The Law was not contrary to the Promise, but the Law lacked the necessary means to deliver it; namely, the Spirit.
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 here could refer to 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 to say, Israel was under its curse, and all humans are confined under sin. Paul does not say the Law confined all things, but that “the Scripture” did so, 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 by "the Scripture," the Apostle here means the key proof text cited in the letter’s proposition and quoted from the Psalms (“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 (Galatians 2:16, Psalm 143:2).

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. The source or basis of the promise now available to all who believe is the faithfulness of Jesus (Galatians 2:20-21).
  • (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 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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