Controversy at Galatia - Overview

Church Interior - Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash
The letter to the Galatians is the response of the Apostle Paul to a specific situation among the churches of Galatia. At issue was the status of Gentile believers. Must the Gentile convert to the faith conform to Jewish practices and submit to the regulation of the Mosaic Law? The heart of his response was that, now, “in Christ,” the old distinctions between “Jew” and “Gentile” were no longer relevant. In him, the covenant promises found their fulfillment - [
Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash].

THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW. The Law of Moses was much more than a statement of theological principles or a set of moral codes for the regulation of human conduct. In the summary statement made at Mount Sinai, we read:
  • (Exodus 19:3-6) - “And when Moses had gone up to God, then called Yahweh to him out of the mountain saying, Thus, shall you say to the house of Jacob, and tell the sons of Israel: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bare you upon wings of eagles, and brought you to myself: Now, therefore, if you will indeed hearken to my voice, and keep my covenant, then you will be mine as a treasure beyond all the peoples, for mine is all the earth. But you will be mine, as a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which you will speak to the sons of Israel.
Israel was the people chosen by God as His treasure above all other nations.  The Law was not simply a collection of moral precepts but a covenant between Yahweh and the entire nation of Israel. The pronoun “you” in the passage is plural, not singular. It was not individual Israelites that accepted the covenant one-by-one, but the entire nation proclaimed in unison - “All that Yahweh has commanded we will do.”

The Law was given to the nation of Israel, and NOT to any other nation, and her obedience to the Torah was vital to her possession of the Promised Land.  The Torah was a national contract between Yahweh and Israel, one that included a sacrificial system, dietary restrictions, laws of inheritance, civil regulations, penal codes, and so on.  Some of its regulations were specific to the nation residing in the land of Canaan; for example, the establishment of cities of refuge and regulations governing inheritance.

The Law was intended to keep Israel holy and separate from the surrounding nations.  The dietary restrictions, for example, were designed to keep Israel distinct from its pagan neighbors and to maintain its ritual purity - (Leviticus 20:24-26).

None of this means the religion of Israel was closed to Gentiles. The Law provided the means for a Gentile to become a member of the covenant community.  This included circumcision (for males) and submission to ALL the obligations of the Law.

In effect, a Gentile “convert” to the faith of Israel became a member of that nation.  Since circumcision was THE fundamental sign of the covenant, it was not optional.

GENTILE ENTRY INTO THE CHURCH. Originally, the church was composed of Jews and Jewish proselytes. It did not view itself as a new religion, but instead, as a messianic movement within Judaism. Jesus did not abrogate the faith of Israel; instead, he fulfilled it.  The first chapters of the book of Acts record in some detail how this new “way” spread among the Jewish people.

It is not until sometime later that the gospel was offered to Gentiles when the Apostle Peter visited the house of Cornelius in Caesarea. He was a “centurion of the band called Italian.” Although a Gentile in Roman service, he was also “devout and feared God…doing many alms to the people and supplicating God continually.”

Cornelius was an adherent to the precepts of the faith of Israel, He loved the Jewish people, yet he remained uncircumcised. By the time Peter arrived, Cornelius was not yet a Jewish proselyte - (Acts 10:13-28).

The opening of the gospel to the nations necessitated divine intervention through the visions received by Cornelius and Peter. The latter saw a sheet descending from heaven filled with ritually unclean animals. A voice commanded him to eat. This he refused to do.  As a devout Jew, “at no time had he eaten anything common or unclean.” The voice responded, “What things God has cleansed do not make common” - (Acts 10:9-16).

Following this vision, two men sent by Cornelius arrived and told Peter:
  • Cornelius, a centurion, a man righteous and fearing God, well–attested by the whole nation of the Jews, has been instructed by an angel to send for you to his house and to hear words from you.”
Though an uncircumcised Gentile, Cornelius had an excellent reputation among the Jewish people.  God did not choose just any Gentile for this pivotal event; He selected one known by many Jews for his devoutness and moral character.

But, despite his well-attested devoutness, Peter responded, “You well know how it is unlawful for a Jew to be joining himself or coming into one of another race.” This statement demonstrates the obstacle to welcoming Gentiles into the covenant community. Regardless of how righteous a man might be, he remained outside the covenant and ritually unclean if uncircumcised. Peter continued:
  • Yet to me has God pointed out that I should be calling no man common or unclean...of a truth I find that God is no respecter of persons but IN EVERY NATION, he that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.”
During his sermon, the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles while Peter was speaking. This caused the Jews with him amazement, for “upon the Gentiles also the free–gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out.” God gave the very same gift of the Spirit to uncircumcised Gentiles - (Acts 10:29-48).

Only after the Spirit fell on the household of Cornelius did Peter confess that people from every nation were acceptable to God if they feared him and lived righteously, regardless of whether they were members of Israel, circumcised or not.  The “revelation” on that day was the acceptability of Gentiles AS GENTILES into the covenant community.

Some Jewish believers in Jerusalem found fault with Peter’s actions. He had fellowshipped with “men uncircumcised and ate with them.”  They did not criticize Peter simply for eating with uncircumcised Gentiles. He justified his actions by pointing to the outpouring of the Spirit on the Gentiles: “If the same free–gift God gave to them as even unto us when we had believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that could withstand God?” – (Acts 11:1-3).

The fact that God had given the Spirit to Gentiles while they were still in an uncircumcised state was irrefutable proof that He had accepted them because of their faith in Jesus.  After hearing Peter’s defense, the church at Jerusalem glorified God and declared, “even to the Gentiles has God granted repentance for life.”

IN GALATIA. In chapters 1 and 2 of his letter, the Apostle Paul detailed how he received his gospel for the Gentiles by divine revelation, a commission confirmed by the leadership of the Jerusalem church. He also described how certain “false brethren, secretly introduced, slinked in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus.”

Paul was referring to an earlier controversy in Antioch, where Jewish believers from Jerusalem had infiltrated the church to spread disruptive teachings, including claims that it was inappropriate for Jewish believers to eat with Gentile Christians.  The pressure was so great, that even Peter and Barnabas were caught up in it - (Galatians 2:1-13).

The Apostle Paul would have none of it and confronted even Peter over his hypocrisy:
  • (Galatians 2:14) - “But when I saw that they were not walking with straightforwardness regarding the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before all: If you, although a Jew, like them of the nations and not like the Jews live, how do you compel them of the nations to live like Jews?
The key phrase in the preceding is “compelling Gentiles to live like Jews.”  The Greek verb is a strong one and means, “to compel, force” (anangkazō – Strong’s #G315).  The infinitive rendered “to live like Jews” occurs only here in the New Testament (Ioudaizo – Strong’s #G2450). The latter term refers to efforts to compel non-Jews to adopt a Jewish lifestyle.
This was the crux of the matter. Some Jewish believers in Antioch were “compelling” Gentiles to conform to Jewish practices.  To refuse to eat with Gentiles insinuated there was something defective in their faith and conduct.

The controversy in Galatia focused on circumcision (“If you are getting circumcised Christ will profit you nothing”). Paul’s opponents were “compelling you to get circumcised.” To be members in good standing, must Gentile believers add circumcision to their faith in Jesus? - (Galatians 5:12).

This controversy was not surprising.  The first disciples of Jesus were all Jews.  It was only after the incident with Cornelius that the Gospel was opened to Gentiles, at least formally. Was not Jesus the promised Jewish messiah? Questions about how Gentiles were to enter the covenant community were inevitable.

The new “Jesus movement” was connected to the faith of Abraham.  It was natural for Jewish believers to look to the old covenant for the things that defined the people of God.  Inevitably, circumcision would become an issue. It was the original sign of Yahweh’s covenant with Abraham, and it even predated the Torah. And proponents of circumcision had a strong scriptural basis. Did not the Law already provide the means for Gentiles to enter the covenant community, namely, circumcision?

THE RESPONSE OF PAUL. Paul did not charge his opponents with compelling Gentiles to keep the entire Law, or with repudiating the need for faith. His opponents were insisting that Gentiles must conform to certain requirements of the Law; at a minimum, circumcision.

The opponents believed in Jesus and did not deny the need for faith. There is no evidence they insisted that Christians must keep all the requirements of the Torah to be “saved.” In effect, they argued for faith in Jesus PLUS circumcision, and perhaps other regulations including calendrical observations and dietary restrictions - (Galatians 4:9-11).

In the letter’s propositional statement, Paul first presented what he held in common with his opponents, then summarized the points of disagreement.  He began by spelling out the basis on which a man or woman was set in right standing with God:
  • (Galatians 2:15-16) - “We, by nature Jews, and not sinners from among the nations, knowing, however, that a man is not declared righteous from the works of law, except through the faith of Christ Jesus; even we, on believed Christ Jesus, that we might be declared righteous from faith in Christ and not from works of the law; because from the works of law shall no flesh be declared righteous.
The statement begins with an emphatic pronoun, “we ourselves.”  Paul was stating truths accepted by Peter and other Jewish believers; namely, that a man is not put in right standing with God “from the works of the Law, but instead, from faith. This was common ground; even Jewish believers responded to the gospel by exercising faith (“even we believed in Christ Jesus”).  His opponents were not advocating legalism but faith plus other things.

Paul was specific and qualified what set of “works” he meant, the “works of the law.”  In this context, “law” can only refer to the Law of Moses.  Paul stated that a man or woman is not set right with God on the basis of the works required by the Law.  Instead, a man is justified “from the faith of Christ Jesus.” Note well: the issue was not good works or human efforts in general, but certain requirements of the Law of Moses.

Next, Paul presented the key areas of disagreement with his Judaizing opponents:
  • (Galatians 2:17-21) - “Now, if in seeking to be declared righteous in Christ we ourselves also were found sinners, is Christ, therefore, a minister of sin? Far be it! For if the things that I pulled down, these again I build, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For I, through means of law, to law died, that to God I might live. With Christ have I been crucified; and living no longer am I, but living in me is Christ, while so far as I now do live in flesh, from faith I live, the faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up in my behalf. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if through law is righteousness, then Christ without cause died.
Precisely what Paul meant by “the faith of Jesus” is not spelled out, though believers responded to it by faith in him, but becomes clearer in verse 20: “I live from faith, that of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up on my behalf.”  “From the faith of Jesus” is shorthand for the obedience of Jesus in his death on Calvary.

That faithful act of Jesus is the basis for justification before God, not the requirements of the Law.  The contrast is between two different ways of being justified: “from the works of the law,” or, “from the faith of Jesus Christ.” One is not set right through faith in general, but through a specific faith, the faith of Jesus Christ. And “if righteousness is through the law,” then “Christ died in vain.”

Jesus - Photo by Eran Menashri on Unsplash
Jesus - Photo by Eran Menashri on Unsplash

Possibly, the Judaizing opponents claimed that if the Law did not regulate Christian conduct, then sin and moral anarchy would result. However, by this logic, Christ would become responsible for sin.  This Paul emphatically denied. The charge that a Law-free Gospel would lead to sin is false. To return to the Law after having been freed from it was the real transgression. By rebuilding the old ways, a man transgressed because he declared, in effect, that the death of Jesus failed to achieve what God intended.  This would be transgression of the worst sort.

The purpose of the law was to bring believers to a position where they could live for God - (“I through the law died to the law that I might live unto God”).  The place where the Christian “dies to the Law” is on the Cross.  In Paul’s parlance, to die to something is to cease to have any relevant relationship to it.  It is the crucifixion of Jesus that released believers from the Law’s jurisdiction, and from its potential curse so that they may now live for God.

ARGUMENTS FROM EXPERIENCE. The first argument appealed to the original experience of receiving the Spirit by the Galatians. When they responded to the Gospel, they received the gift of the Spirit, which occurred before the latter controversy with its questions about circumcision, and while the Gentile believers remained uncircumcised.
  • (Galatians 3:1-5) - “O thoughtless Galatians! who has bewitched you, before whose very eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth as a crucified one? This only am I wishing to learn from you. From works of law received you the Spirit, or from a believed report? So thoughtless, are you? Having made a beginning in Spirit, are you now in flesh to be made complete? Such things you suffered in vain, if, at least, it is even in vain? He, then, who was supplying you with the Spirit and energizing mighty works among you, from the works of law or from a believed report?
This is reminiscent of the argument after the incident with Cornelius.  Like Peter, Paul points to the bestowal of the Spirit as the irrefutable evidence of God’s acceptance of the uncircumcised Galatians. The means by which the Spirit entered their lives was faith, not meeting any requirement of the Law.

Beginning in Spirit” and going on “to be made complete by the flesh” point to the logic of the opponents: “Now that you have come to faith and received the Spirit, you need to add circumcision (and other deeds of the Law) to complete your faith.”

ARGUMENTS FROM SCRIPTURE. Next, Paul appealed to Scripture and the example of Abraham.    This section is linked to the previous one by its reference to the Spirit. Paul referred to passages from Genesis that linked Abraham to faithrighteousness, and blessing for the Gentiles.

Paul then continued with the theme of faith but added the example of the faith of Abraham. New topics are introduced:
  • Who are the true “sons of Abraham”?
  • The salvation of the Gentiles was foretold to Abraham.
  • The curse of the Law.
Abraham was reckoned righteous from faith (“just as Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness”), therefore, those who are “from faith, the same are sons of Abraham.” In His covenant with Abraham, Yahweh promised that, in him, “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 we might receive through the faith.” Thus, Paul linked the “blessing of Abraham” to the “promise of the Spirit.”

In contrast, those “from the works of the Law” had placed themselves under its curse.  The Law pronounced anyone under it obliged to continue “in ALL the things written in the Book of the Law, to do them.” Every man who was circumcised was “a debtor to do the whole law” - (Deuteronomy 27:26, Galatians 5:3).
The Law is not a pick-and-choose menu. Instead, it is an all-or-nothing proposition.  Gentile believers considering circumcision must understand that much more is required than just the removal of the foreskin.

This line of argumentation suggests that the opponents of Paul were not insisting that Gentiles must keep the entire Law, but only certain of its commandments. Otherwise, their argument loses force. The Law itself requires members of the covenant to do all that was written in it.

Paul concludes this section with the word “promise,” which leads to the next section and is its key theme.

ORIGINAL COVENANT AND PROMISE. Next, Paul argued that the covenant with Abraham represented the original intent and irreversible will of Yahweh.  A covenant, once ratified, “no one voids or appends,” therefore, the Law that “came into being four hundred and thirty years later did not invalidate or nullify” the promise.

The promise was not spoken only to Abraham, but also to “his seed,” singular, and that “seed” was none other than Jesus.  The promised inheritance included blessings for Gentiles and was not “from the law”; instead, it was through “the promise to Abraham.” Paul's line of reasoning was covenantal.

PURPOSE AND DURATION. Paul began the next section with the obvious question: “Why, then, the law?” He responded that, first, the Law was “added.” It was brought in after the original promise, therefore, it was supplemental and subordinate to the covenant.

Second, the Law was added “because of transgression,” that is, it was intended to identify sin.

Third, Paul placed a time limit on the Law - “Until the promised seed should come.”

Fourth, the Law was mediated by angels.  The idea is derived from the Jewish interpretation of Deuteronomy 33:1-3, according to which angels were the intermediaries that gave the Law at Sinai.  In contrast, the covenant with Abraham came directly from Yahweh - (Acts 7:51-53Hebrews 2:1-4).

Fifth, the Law was given by the “hands of a mediator,” that is, Moses - (“Now a mediator implies more than one; but God is one”).  Paul was demonstrating the inferior position of the Law to the original promise.  A mediator implied a plurality of persons, but God, who is one, acted directly and unilaterally when He established His covenant with Abraham.

The function of the Law was to identify trespasses and condemn the sinner.  It was a “custodian” assigned to supervise the life of Israel.  This supervisory function was temporary, until the “faith was revealed.” That faith was “the promise from the faith of Jesus Christ” that is now “given to those who believe.” With the coming of the promise, believers were no longer “under the custodian.”  To his covenantal line of reasoning, Paul added a temporal aspect - The provisional status of the jurisdiction of the Torah.

PROMISE REDEFINES RELATIONSHIP. The next paragraph is pivotal to Paul’s argument; it emphasizes the oneness of God's people. The old social and ethnic divisions were wholly inappropriate now that the promised “seed” had come. Regardless of ethnicity or circumcision, all were now the “children of Abraham” because of their relationship to Jesus Christ.
  • (Galatians 3:26-29) - “For you are all sons of God through the faith in Christ Jesus; for you, as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ:  there cannot be Jew or Greek, there cannot be bond or free, there cannot be male and female, for all you are one in Christ Jesus.  Now, if you are of Christ, by consequence, you are Abraham’s seed, according to promise, heirs.”
To pursue a Torah-observant lifestyle would re-erect the old barriers, especially the divide between Jew and Gentile. Here, Paul stressed the word “ALL.” Jewish and Gentile believers were constituted “sons of God” through their unity with Jesus. “In Christ,” believers became true sons of God and “Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise.” Such distinctions no longer mattered to a person’s standing before God.

ANALOGY OF GUARDIANSHIP. Paul used an illustration from everyday life to show how the Law provided guardianship over Israel,but only for a set period. That role was to supervise the nation during its “spiritual minority.”
  • (Galatians 4:1-7) - “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, who came to be of a woman, who came to be under the law, that those who were under law he might redeem, that the son-ship we might duly receive; and because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts exclaiming, 'Abba! Oh Father!'   So that no longer are you a servant but a son; and if a son, an heir also through God.”
With the coming of Jesus, the time of the Law’s custodianship had come to an end, and the sons of God, the “heirs,” became free from the restrictions of the “custodian,” the jurisdiction of the Law. From then on, believers were “in Christ,” not “under the law.”

PAUL'S PERSONAL CONCERN. The next section expressed Paul’s concern for the Galatians and what would result if they took the path they were contemplating. He likened pursuing the “works of the Law” to their pagan past. To return to it meant “turning back to the weak and beggarly elemental principles”; in short, the abandonment of what God has done in Christ.

Paul saw the true danger. If Gentile believers added a Torah-observant lifestyle to their Christian faith, they would return to a state of bondage under the “elemental things.”

HAGAR AND SARAH. The allegory based on Hagar and Sarah linked the physical line of descent from Abraham through Ishmael to slavery, while the line of promise through Isaac meant freedom and promise.  It is not the physical descendants of Abraham who were free, but the “children of promise.”

HOLD FAST TO FREEDOM IN CHRIST. Paul argued even more aggressively: If one was circumcised, he was obligated to keep the entire Law of Moses.  Implicit in his words was the proposition that obligating oneself to keep the Law of Moses was incompatible with “freedom in Christ.”
  • With her freedom Christ has made you free.  Stand fast, therefore, and do not again be held fast with a yoke of servitude!  See, I Paul say to you if you are getting circumcised that Christ will profit you nothing.  Yea, I bear solemn witness again to every man getting circumcised that he is a debtor to do the whole law.  You have been set aside from Christ, you who are to be declared righteous from the law; you have fallen out of his grace... for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything nor uncircumcision, but faith energizing through love.”

LIVE BY LOVE AND THE SPIRIT. One charge made against Paul's law-free gospel was that detaching yourself from the Law would lead to sin (“If, in seeking to be set right in Christ even we ourselves were found sinners, is Christ, therefore, a minister of sin?”).  Paul next addressed this claim.
  • (Galatians 5:13-18) - “Only turn not your freedom into an occasion to the flesh but by means of your love be serving one another; for the whole law is summed up in one word:  you shall love your neighbor as yourself... Be walking in the Spirit and fleshly coveting you will in nowise fulfill... And if by the Spirit you are being led, you are not under the law.”
In the first place, believers are to live according to the rule of love; to serve one another.  True love forbids one to do anything that might hurt another.

In the second place, Christians must walk “in the Spirit” so they will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.  Those who do so are “NOT UNDER THE LAW.”  Here is an explicit statement that those who respond to Christ from faith are not under the Law.

FLESH VERSUS SPIRIT. Paul gave two catalog lists:  the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit.”  The works of the flesh included “fornication, impurity, wantonness, idolatry, enchantment, enmities, strife, jealousy, wrath.” Those who practiced such things would not “inherit God's kingdom.” Paul's law-free gospel was NOT a formula for moral anarchy; sin had consequences.
  • (Galatians 5:19-26) – “Manifest, however, are the works of the flesh, which, indeed, are fornication, impurity, wantonness, idolatry, enchantment, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of wrath, factions, divisions, parties, envying, drunkenness, revellings; and such things as these, as to which I forewarn you, even as I have forewarned you, that they who such things as these do practice shall not inherit God’s kingdom. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, graciousness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such things as these there is no law. And they who are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its susceptibilities and lusts. If we live by Spirit, by Spirit let us also walk. Let us not become vain-glorious challenging one another, envying one another.
Each sin listed is condemned under the Old Covenant.  The New Covenant in Christ has both continuity and discontinuity with the old system.  Paul was not opposed to right living or obedience.

ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES. Paul demonstrated his conviction that human actions have consequences, both good and bad.  He was not opposed to good works or obedience.  How one lived determined what one would reap in the future.
  • (Galatians 6:1-10) - “Be not deceiving yourselves! God is not to be mocked; for whatever a man sows, the same will he also reap, because he that sows to his own flesh, out of the flesh will reap corruption, whereas he that sows to the Spirit, out of the Spirit will reap everlasting life.  And in doing that which is honorable let us not be fainthearted for in due season we will reap if we faint not.”
Because Christians are not under the Law of Moses does not mean they are lawless or unaccountable for their actions. To believe that sin is inconsequential is to deceive oneself.

PAUL’S CONCLUDING ARGUMENTS. The letter’s conclusion summarizes the basic issue:  compelling Gentile believers to get circumcised.  Paul waxed bold by attacking the motives of his opponents; they did so to avoid persecution.
  • (Galatians 6:11-18) - “As many as are wishing to make a good show in flesh, the same are compelling you to get circumcised, only that for the cross of Christ Jesus they may not be suffering persecution!  For not even they who are getting circumcised are themselves observing the law but are wishing you to be circumcised that in your flesh they may boast themselves.  With me, however, far be it to be boasting except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ whereby to me a world has been crucified and I to a world; for neither circumcision is anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”
By convincing Gentile converts to get circumcised Paul’s opponents removed something offensive to non-Christian Jews. Circumcision made Gentiles into Jewish proselytes, and, therefore, acceptable to Jews.

It is not clear what Paul meant when he said that his opponents do not “keep the law.”  Based on his previous statements, this suggests they were not, in fact, keeping the entire law despite their insistence on circumcision.

Because of the death of Jesus, Paul's former way of life had come to an end.  To those who were new creatures “in Christ,” circumcision no longer was relevant. Regarding right standing before God, such things were matters of indifference.

SUMMARY POINTS. Paul's line of reasoning was covenantal. He appealed to the original covenant with Abraham and made the later Law supplemental to it.

He also used temporal or “salvation history” arguments.  The Law came 430 years after the promise; therefore, it was an interim stage in Redemptive History.  It was to continue only until the “seed of Abraham” arrived.

Paul answered the logical question: Why the Law?  It came because of transgressions.  Its purpose was custodial; to supervise Israel for a set period until the promise came. But the Law was a package deal.  If one was obligated to keep portions of it, one was just as obligated to keep the whole thing. And since Christ had come, the jurisdiction of the Law had reached its intended goal.

Paul addressed the charge that his Law-free gospel produced sin. Continuing in sin produced a deadly harvest. The New Covenant “in Christ” was epitomized by love, which is inherently incompatible with sin - (1 Corinthians 9:15-23).

The underlying dispute in Galatia centered on the status of Gentile believers.  Is the Gentile who exercises faith in Christ and receives the Spirit acceptable in the covenant community AS A GENTILE, or must he also adopt a Jewish way of life?

Paul did not exhort Jewish Christians to have their circumcision undone or to cease from all Jewish customs. What he objected to was forcing others to conform to a Jewish way of life. Since circumcision had no effect on one’s standing before God, it was a matter of indifference.

One great reality lay behind Paul’s understanding; Jesus, the crucified Messiah, the one “who gave himself for our sins that he might deliver us out of the present evil age according to the will of our God.” At the appointed time, he came to redeem those who were under the Law to receive the sonship - (Galatians 1:4, 4:4-5, 5:11, 6:12-14).

The criterion that determines membership in the covenant community is Jesus, not circumcision, dietary restrictions, calendrical rituals, or ethnicity.  The crucified Messiah is the paradigm by which Christians must conform their lives.  Anything that distracts or deviates from that must be discarded.



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