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12 September 2019

Requirement to do the Whole Law

Moses parts the Red Sea
Some voices in the contemporary church are encouraging Christians to adopt the practices of the Law of Moses or Torah; at least, in part. This includes observing the Sabbath and other Jewish holy days, the dietary restrictions of Leviticus, and other ritualistic requirements.
While one can gain a better understanding of early Christianity by studying the ancient faith of Israel, there are consequences from submitting one’s life to the regulations of the Torah, not all of which are positive.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul responded to the teachings of Jewish Christians who were disrupting the house churches of Galatia. One point of contention was their claim that male Gentiles must be circumcised (Galatians 2:3, 5:2-3, 6:12-13). Possibly, they also pressured believers to keep the calendrical observances of the Mosaic legislation (Galatians 4:10).
This group did not deny the need for faith; rather, the taught that once Gentiles came to faith in Jesus, performing the “works of the Law” was necessary to complete their faith (Galatians 3:1-5 – “So foolish are ye, having begun in Spirit are you now to be made complete by the flesh?”).
Paul would have none of it and described these teachers as “agitators” who were compelling Gentiles to live like Jews (Galatians 2:14). The controversy was over questions about the status of Gentiles in God’s covenant people.  In order to be a member in good standing of the covenant community, must a Gentile add circumcision and other works of the Torah to his faith in Jesus?

Paul’s Response

Paul did not charge his opponents with compelling Gentiles to keep the entire Law.  Some verses indicate that his opponents were insisting that Gentiles keep only certain requirements of Torah, specifically, circumcision but not (necessarily) every requirement of the Law (Galatians 3:10, 5:2-3). 
Paul’s main proposition is found in Galatians 2:15-21 where he laid out what he held in common with his Jewish opponents (verses 15-16) then summarized the main areas of disagreement (verses 17-21):
We ourselves by nature Jews and not sinners from among the Gentiles, know that man is not declared righteous 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 declared righteous 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 declared righteous.”
Paul stated what he and his opponents held in common; that a man is not put in right standing with God “from the works of the Law” but, instead, “from the faith of Jesus Christ.” The agitators added requirements to this faith.
At issue was not good works and human effort in general, but the deeds required by the Law, including circumcision; the “works of the Law.” In the context of this letter, “works of the law” can only refer to the requirements of the Torah.
In Galatians Chapters 3 and 4, Paul presented his arguments in support of this proposition.  He began with an argument from experience (Galatians 3:1-5), the receipt of the Spirit while the Galatians were uncircumcised. The gift of the Spirit was irrefutable proof that God had accepted Gentiles on the basis of faith.

Doing the Whole Law

(Galatians 3:10-13) - “For as many as are from the works of the Law are under a curse, for it is written, ‘Accursed is everyone who continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them.’”
Paul presents arguments from Scripture in verses 6-14. He appeals to the example of Abraham and links him to faith, righteousness, and promised “blessing” for Gentiles. Abraham was reckoned righteous on the basis of his faith (“just as Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness”) and, therefore, those who are from faith are the “sons of Abraham.”
Paul then presents another argument from scripture.  In contrast to those “from faith,” those who are “from the works of the Law” place themselves under the Law's curse.  The Law itself pronounces that those under it are obligated “to continue in ALL the things written in the Book of the Law, to do them” (Deuteronomy 27:26).
The Law is not a pick-and-choose menu but an all-or-nothing proposition.  If one is under Torah, just observing the Sabbath or getting circumcision is insufficient to avoid its curse.
Gentile believers contemplating the addition of circumcision must understand that much more is involved than just the removal of the foreskin.  The Torah requires members of the covenant community to do all that is written in it. Those who are living from the “works of the Law” fall under its curse.
At Mount Sinai, Israel placed herself under the obligations of the covenant (Exodus 24:3-7) and, thereby, potentially, under its curse. The curse is pronounced against all who fail to continue in all the requirements of the Law. The Galatians were considering a decision with potentially dire consequences.
In Galatians, Paul connects the preposition “under” or hupo (Greek) directly or indirectly to the Law ten times and always negatively.  Thus, he refers to those who are “under sin” (3:22), “under the Law” (3:23, 4:4, 4:5, 4:21, 5:18), “under a custodian” (3:25), “under guardians” (4:2), and “under the elemental principles” of the world (4:3). Those who are “under the Law” are not classified as people “from faith.” Instead, they stand in need of redemption “from under the Law” (4:5).
Paul’s argument is covenantal. He is not arguing against doing good works in general, but against placing oneself under the requirements and obligations of the Mosaic Law. The act of circumcision will do just that; obligate the man to do all that the Torah demands.
The curse pronounced in Deuteronomy is not against all humanity or sin in general; the curse falls on ALL who fail to do everything that the Law requires. Thus, it applies only to those who are under it. If the Galatians submit to the Law, they will be subject to the curse.

Consequences of Submission to Torah

(Galatians 5:2-3) - “Behold! I, Paul, am saying to you, if you get circumcised Christ will benefit you nothing. Moreover, I bear solemn witness again to every man getting circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.”
Paul’s language becomes emphatic and severe in this passage.  If Gentile believers choose to get circumcised, Jesus and his work on the cross will cease to benefit them. Instead, they will need to keep the entire Law because submission to circumcision places them under the Mosaic covenant.
If the Galatians place themselves under the Mosaic covenant, they will cease to be under the covenant instituted by the death of Jesus Christ. It is one or the other. Jesus endured the Law’s curse on the Cross so his followers will not. To embrace what is now obsolete is to insinuate that the covenant established by Jesus is void (you have been set aside from Christ, you who are to be declared righteous from the Law, you have fallen from grace”).
Paul emphasizes that circumcision obligates one to keep the whole Law because his opponents have failed to mention this fact to the Galatians.

Summary Remarks

Once one is under the rule of the Law, one is obligated to keep all its requirements.  A Christian cannot pick and choose which laws are applicable and which are not. Once under the Torah, if one fails to keep the whole thing he or she comes under its curse.
In his propositional statement, Paul declared, “if righteousness is through the Law, then Christ died in vain.”  Those who teach that faith in what God has done in Jesus is insufficient for determining membership in God’s covenant people, also declare that Christ’s unjust death served no real purpose.

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