Limits of the Law

In responding to claims that Gentiles must be circumcised, Paul appeals to the common experience of the Spirit received by the Galatians. Did they receive the gift due to a “hearing of faith” or “from the works of the Law?” Having begun in the Spirit, why do they now seek “completion” based on “flesh” by submitting to circumcision?

Next, he cites the example of Abraham who was “reckoned righteous from his faith,” and not from the rite of circumcision that he received later. Thus, Abraham became the “father” of all who are “from faith.”

In contrast, those who are from “the works of the Law are under a curse.” As the Law itself attests, “cursed is every man who continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law.” Had not Israel committed itself to do everything that Yahweh had commanded? - (Exodus 24:3, Deuteronomy 27:26, Galatians 3:5-10).

THE SEED


Jesus, the “seed of Abraham,” came to redeem us from the “curse of the Law” by becoming a curse on our behalf so that the “blessing of Abraham,” the “promise of the Spirit,” might come upon Gentiles, and through faith and not from the “works of the law.”

Paul describes the custom that “a man’s confirmed covenant” cannot be altered after the fact. So also, the “promise” made to Abraham and to “his seed,” Jesus.

The covenant was confirmed by God 430 years before the Law was given, therefore, the Mosaic legislation does not add to or subtract from the original promise, and the latter takes precedence over the former. The inheritance is based on the previous “promise,” not on the Law given at Sinai centuries after the fact - (Galatians 3:15-19).

Thus, the Law is supplemental - an added interim stage to deal with “transgressions until the seed should come.” The Law is incapable of “making alive,” otherwise, “righteousness would have been in law.”  The Law “confined all things under sin that the promise might come on the basis of the faith of Jesus Christ,” and given to all who respond in faith.

Before the arrival of Jesus, the Torah was Israel’s custodian “until Christ.” But he, having come, “no longer are we under the custodian.” The custodianship of the Law ceased, and therefore, no longer can there be “Jew or Greek, bond or free, male and female.”

All who are in Christ are “Abraham’s seed, according to promise, heirs,” regardless of ethnicity, gender, or social status. The social divisions inherent in the Law no longer apply. But a return to “the works of the Law” will rebuild those same barriers - (Galatians 3:23-29).

GUARDIANS AND STEWARDS


Paul provides a similar contrast in the fourth chapter of Galatians. While still a minor, the heir is “under guardians and stewards until the day appointed of by his father.”

Likewise, prior to the arrival of Jesus, “we were infants, in servitude under the elementary principles of the world until the fullness of time,” at which point he came to “redeem them who were under Law, that we might receive the adoption.”  Therefore, no longer are we servants, but sons and heirs - (Galatians 4:1-6).

Thus, Paul argues on his understanding that the Law’s jurisdiction for determining membership in the covenant community ceased with the arrival of the promised “seed,” Jesus Christ.

If the Mosaic legislation still determines who is “in” and who is not, and if obedience to all of its regulations remains mandatory for right standing before God, then Paul’s entire argument falls apart. Thus, his earlier declaration:  If acquittal before God is based on the “works of the law,” then Jesus died in vain - (Galatians 2:17-21).

Put another way, if we are still “under the Law,” then we are NOT heirs according to the promise, and therefore, we remain under servitude to the “elementary principles of the world.” And if this is true, we are still dead in our sins - (Romans 10:4 – “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes”).

Anyone who puts himself under the jurisdiction of the Mosaic legislation including its requirement for circumcision will experience servitude, not liberty. To return to it means the abandonment of the “faith of Jesus Christ” and renders his death on Calvary pointless.


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