September 29, 2020

Who Needs Galatians 3?

Galatians 3:15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

As I was teaching through Galatians 3 this morning- through a particularly difficult passage requiring explanation of ideas quite far from the typical American evangelical’s mind- it occurred to me that it was somewhat astonishing that these words were even written by Paul at all.

I’m sure most of you know that several times in Galatians, the Apostle writes what amounts to this: “There’s a false Gospel loose in your church, and these false teachers of this false Gospel are bewitching you with a dangerous perversion of the truth.”

It’s sounds a bit like some of the watchbloggers you can find around the blogosphere or the discernment ministries around the evangelical world.

It sounds like some of the critics of The Shack, or of Rob Bell or Joel Osteen. (Yes, I see those fingers pointing at me.)

But here’s the thing: Paul goes into teaching mode, not harping, carping, condemning mode. And there he is in Galatians 3, teaching a radical view of the entire Biblical story with Jesus Christ at the center of everything God is doing.

For those who wanted to say that Christianity was Abraham and circumcision and law and Jesus and circumcision and law……Paul said “The Gospel is God making Jesus the true Israel and those who place their faith in him the true people of God.”

To those who wanted a people of Abrahamic descent, circumcised, keeping the law and claiming Jesus as the new way to be a Jew, Paul preached the Gospel of a Christ centered covenant, a spiritual circumcision through Jesus, a law that can’t save and a Christ that does save.

Paul’s radical reinterpretation of the whole idea of Israel as an interim arrangement waiting on Christ to fulfill God’s promises would have stood his Judaizing opponents on their ear. It would have been a debate worth getting a box seat to see.

So why is Paul doing it? Why is he teaching? Patiently, concept by concept? Deep in Judaism and deeper in Christ? Why spend so much ink, time, energy and passion on…..heretics? Apostates? Teachers of a false Gospel?

Is this just debate? Is Paul an angry internet polemicist firing theological bombs away from the safety of mom’s basement?

No. He’s trying to save his hearers in Galatia. And save those false teachers as well. He’s teaching the Gospel, giving every man an answer, and never saying, “These errors and falsehoods mark you as the enemy of Christ.”

He’s answering the Judaizing Gospel with the Jesus Gospel. He’s giving dignity to people who are on the wrong road. He’s teaching the truth instead of just condemning error.

He stopped shouting long enough to make the case for the Gospel and to make a way to see the entire Old Testament- Abraham, circumcision, covenant, law, messiah- in the light of Jesus.

If Paul was like many of us, there wouldn’t be a Galatians 3 or 4 or a I and II Corinthians or a Hebrews (not that Paul wrote it, but someone close to him did I’m sure.) If these writers were like many Christians, they would ridicule the error, label the heresy, ban the book and tell the true Christian to stay away…but you wouldn’t hear chapters and chapters of patient explanation, Gospel proclamation and Biblical interpretation.

There’s a lot to learn from Paul. Not just in what he said, but in his choice to say anything at all.


  1. That’s good stuff Michael. Good and needed words.

    “He’s answering the Judaizing Gospel with the Jesus Gospel. He’s giving dignity to people who are on the wrong road. He’s teaching the truth instead of just condemning error.”


  2. Many times I heard the lesson of Abraham was obedience.”Follow the rules, no matter the cost”
    But I found the key here,
    “And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.”
    It was faith. No matter what Abraham knew he would return with the son of the Promise. No matter what, God would provide, he had faith.
    A lot of writers and preachers seem to think they are Paul. They are trying to correct what they see as wrong, they are trying to say,
    “There’s a false Gospel loose in your church, and these false teachers of this false Gospel are bewitching you with a dangerous perversion of the truth.”
    Somehow I feel they are honest and well meaning, but missing the element of love.
    imonk, everyone is so sure they are right, how can corrections be made? Nobody wants to budge an inch.
    I am glad to be saved by my faith, through His Grace, not by my doctrine. Still if someone perceives a mote or log in my vision of faith I want to hear about it, but I too am stubborn, so don’t expect much. Let us listen to each other in love.

  3. How simple the gospel is–how clear the concept of those who believe,Jew or Gentile, are one people. And yet, how few Christians can accept this. Dispensationalists, legalists etc etc. The gospel is just too easy, God does it all through Jesus, but we want to at least help God out. This part of Galations is so fantastic once we can accept that Grace is Grace–not Grace plus this or that.

  4. Very good point Micheal. I struggle with what a lot of the sectarian voices say, because quite often I agree with them but hate the approach.
    Correcting in love, girded by truth and not dismissive condemnation.

  5. “…patient explanation”

    Proverbs 16:32 (NIV)

  6. He’s “washing their feet,” as it were.

  7. i find it interesting that Paul goes deeply into Judaic theology to teach the Galatians who were Romanized Celtic pagans. When were they ever “held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed…”?

    Is Paul explaining what happened to his own people so that the Gentiles could be “grafted in”? Is that the “we” from the above verse (“we were held captive…”)? Does anyone now ever have to see himself as having once been under the Law?

  8. Michael

    Thanks, a much needed reminder. Concerning:

    “If these writers were like many Christians, they would ridicule the error, label the heresy, ban the book and tell the true Christian to stay away…but you wouldn’t hear chapters and chapters of patient explanation, Gospel proclamation and Biblical interpretation.”

    A wise sage once commented:

    “Brother. Talk about Machen’s Warrior Children. I don’t care about what the man preaches, teaches and writes. What books has he endorsed?

    The blogosphere is a dangerous place. “We who are orthodox are watching you.””


  9. Who needs Galatians 3?

    You, me, everybody.

  10. Surfnetter,
    I think he is talking in the same terms as Romans 8:1-2: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”
    One of the problems with translations of Galatians is an overuse of the word “the.” Paul wasn’t always simply talking about the Law of Moses as much as he was talking about the human tendency toward creating a system of rule keeping in order to be righteous. That’s what the Judaizers were doing and that’s still a human tendency today. We rightly call it legalism because of Paul’s work here in Galatians.

  11. Paul says the Judaizers were insisting on circumcision.

  12. Yes, but in Galatians 4:8-9 he tells the Galatians that they were previously enslaved to other weak and miserable principles(that are not Jewish). That suggests that circumcision isn’t the only issue.

  13. It is absolutely amazing what the Apostle tolerates in a church like Corinth without resorting anathematizing. The only thing he is so, so hard on is the Judaisers and (at least to some extent) the super apostles.

    The rest he patiently exhorts.

    Oh, and I remember him being a little short with the man who was sleeping with his father’s wife and the church that wasn’t doing anything about it.

  14. Myrddin, there is a reason St. Paul tolerates the sinners in Corinth better than he tolerates the Judaizers of whom he says in Galatians that if anyone preaches a different Gospel, let him be accursed.

    A carnal Christian is easier to bring to repentance than a legalist. I could also paraphrase our Lord Jesus by saying that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a legalist to repent.

    Which gives me the opportunity to say that most people who are caught in some type of works/justification confusion are not legalists. They are, quite often, suffering believers who would gladly put down the burden of that confusion if only someone would show them how. This is why St. Paul teaches so lovingly and carefully to most of his people. He is trying to take the burdens from them and bring them into the true freedom of obedience to Christ.

    The true legalist rejoices in the rules, enjoys following them, and is quick to catch the slightest deviation from the rules in someone else’s life. From John the Baptist, through our Lord Jesus, to St. Paul, the response to a legalist has often been swift and fierce because of the incredible damage they can cause in the Body of Christ.

  15. Amen. But as for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves.

  16. Great verse. By the way, I think that verse is of way too much interest to a lot of people who want to defend their nasty watchblogging. Just my opinion, my I don’t think we can imitate Paul in that kind of attitude.

  17. Some good thoughts here Micheal,

    It certainly provides some good biblical support for the way I like to blog.

    I don’t know why some people don’t understand that you can make your point better, and get my attention better, if you focus on what is good about your idea, rather than what is bad about someone else’s idea.

  18. Speaking as a non-Christian believer of the Unitarian-Universalist variety, I have to ask a few questions about this. It’s always seemed to me that Christianity was much more the religion of Paul than the religion of Jesus. Did Jesus not say that not one jot of the law would ever be changed, that he came to fulfill the law, not replace it?

    “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” [i.e. love your enemies and judge not of others, etc.]Luke 6:46

    “why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments…”Mark 10:18

    These sorts of statements from Jesus seem to be saying that he was calling people to follow the law of the Jews (although perhaps in a more exacting manner than was usual), not to call him Lord or God (or even good!) and certainly not to believe that merely “having faith” in him would save them. “Every one then who hears my words and DOES them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock…”Matt. 6:24

    Jesus seems to always be preaching about doing, while it seems to be Paul who teaches about “having faith” in Jesus and being saved by his sacrifice.

    Paul, in the passage quoted, seems to go to great lengths to show that the law is no longer necessary, only “faith” in Jesus. But this sort of Christian theologizing has always raised the question for me, what do Christians mean when they say they have faith in Jesus, or are saved by faith? If you have faith in someone, don’t you do what they tell you you should do? And if you don’t live as they insist that you should, can you really be said to have faith?

    Personally, I try to live as Jesus taught (and as many other spiritual giants have taught we should live) and have seen the benefits, though I cannot claim any great success in the imitation of Christ, but I just don’t get where Paul, and contemporary Christian dogma, are coming from. Jesus makes sense to me, is what I’m saying, Paul does not. And is not insisting that having “faith in Jesus” is necessary for salvation not its own variety of Legalism?

    I’m not trying to be facetious here, or controversial just for the sake of it, btw, just looking for some answers from someone who obviously thinks about these things. Thanks for your time and the wonderful blog. Keep up the good work (and the good works).

  19. Josh,
    I think you are expressing a false dichotomy between Christ and Paul. Compare what Christ says in John 8:31-47, with a highlight on verse 36: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” with what Paul says in Galatians 4:21-5:1 and 5:13-18 specifically again with an emphasis on 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
    Having faith in Jesus means believing that Jesus is the Son of God (which is what He claimed to be) and trusting that God will make good on the promises He has given in Christ to us. The law was not set aside or annulled; Christ kept every part of it, and has offered His righteous standing before God to you and me if we are willing to trust that He can and did do what He has claimed He did. An imperfect analogy would be paper currency. Currency is backed by the ability of the issuer to make good on the claim sometimes it is referred to as the “full faith and credit” of the institution. Jesus offers salvation in a similar way to all who will believe i.e. have faith in His ability to make good on His promise. What Paul is concerned about with the Galatians is the attempt to “pay their own way” so to speak by keeping the law themselves. They couldn’t and we can’t either. The only option we have is to accept the payment Jesus made in our behalf.
    I hope I didn’t muddy the water too much. This is an issue that many have struggled with and will continue to struggle with. I am not going to sit here and pretend I understand it perfectly either, but I trust and have faith in the One who does.

  20. Excellent. How I wish that we could all learn the lesson here–to not fire away at our opponents as if they are the enemies of everything that is right and true and ought to be shut down and ignored completely, but instead to give them a respectful hearing and then teach them and everyone else the truth.

  21. Josh:

    Jesus’ fulfillment of the law was radical. In all of Jesus’ discussions of the law, he pushes its application to one place: Belief in himself as the one whom the entire law was pointing to. Look at the story of the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10. To someone who confidently said they had fulfilled the law, Jesus said “One thing remains- come follow me.” Look at the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. One had kept the law; the other had miserably broken it. But one bragged of legal righteousness (I thank You that I am not like other men) and the other begged for mercy (Lord have mercy on me a sinner.)

    Who went home justified? The law keeper or the one who found a savior?

    Paul applies Christianity in a different setting than Jesus- Gentile churches where a Judaizing influence often threatens to do away with the radical nature of the Gospel. Read Thomas Shreiner’s book on Paul.



  22. >> Paul goes into teaching mode, not harping, carping, condemning mode. And there he is in Galatians 3, teaching a radical view of the entire Biblical story with Jesus Christ at the center of everything God is doing.

    Years entrenched in the squalor of legalism caused me to ignore Paul’s methods at the direction of the Holy Spirit. Yet through the kind hand of encouragers who brought the challenge of God’s Word against such false gospels, I have been set free indeed.
    Now My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
    It is enough that Jesus died and that He died for me.

    As a legalist I chose the “brilliance” of my intellect over the simplicity of the Holy Spirit’s teaching the truth in love, without condemnation for those who are in Christ.
    Not unlike Josh’s choice to perceive as he chooses through his own mental agility over the simplicity of truth in God’s Word.
    (been there – done that – KNEW I was right. NOT!!!)
    Yet there are none so blind as they who will not see, not the legalist, the Judaizers, the unbeliever in Jesus as the true living God.
    The method of Paul as led by God the Holy Spirit is to present the truth which calls all else error. When he pointed out error, he did so by presenting the truth it offended without personal attacks.

  23. Way to go.. Michael! I’ll bet the gentle insight you just shared….and you are dead on…will allow you to tread more ‘gently’ on the errors and doctrines of mega evangelists who, like the rest of us, are trudging ‘uncoordinately'(new word maybe) along our paths to righteousness in God.

    >>>> 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

    Whoa! Bet that verse leaves many Rapture buffs shaking their heads in confusion. Yip, since we are all one in Christ, we are Abraham’s offspring. We are all Israel. We will all see the time of Jacob’s trouble. Yip…yip..yip.yip!

  24. Josh…..
    The Law came forth so that as man’s immoral behavior is contrasted against moral behavior desired by God, man is proven, because of sin, to be an enemy of God with a death sentence in effect (Tree of Knowledge/death penalty). You are correct..not one word of the perpetual Law will be changed. It’s still in effect and continues to do its work. But those who choose to participate in His ‘fulfillment’ plan…are transformed in their hearts to ‘want’to practice the moral behavior desired by God. This new birth from death to Life in God… the ‘fulfilling’ or completing of the Law. Now, with His love placed in our hearts..We can love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. And we CAN love our neighbor as our self. At this point, one is no longer under the Law….but under Grace. ‘Faith’ simply means we acknowledge that He is God..and we yield our hearts to the spiritual transformation that only Love can accomplish.

  25. Thanks for all the responses. I have to say, Carolyn’s response rings truest with me. Faith should, in my mind, lead to us not just to wanting to do good, but doing it without even considering whether or not we want to. It just flows out. Sadly, many Christians seem to claim the faith, but do show no sign of what should be the natural fruits of it. Jesus warned us about these folks, of course, but it sometimes seems that they are the rule and not the exception. More concerned with external intellectual assent to having “faith in Christ” than with seeing any of spiritual residuals that should come along with that faith, were it genuine and not merely external and intellectual.

    I will continue to attempt to the best of my ability to follow the prescriptions of Jesus, such as that in Mark 10 to the rich young man: “Go and sell all that you have and give the money to the poor,” “Judge not lest you yourself be judged,” “If a man steals your coat, give him your shirt too,” etc. It works for me, and in me; and for me that is all the proof I require of the truth of Jesus’ message.

    One last thought: whether one is “saved” by good works or by faith is a recurring debate within Christianity. In Hinduism, this topic is discussed by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Both good works and faith can lead one to God, he says. One can either focus on performing good actions (so long as one doesn’t attach oneself to the results of that action), or one can simply devote themselves to the love of God. The first path is that of Karma Yoga, the second that of Bhakti Yoga. In the end, he says, both lead to the same place. Two paths both leading to the same mountain top, so to speak, that of salvation, of union with God.

    Perhaps it is that the performance of good works and abiding by the law (so long as one doesn’t become self-righteous or think that they are purchasing salvation) will lead one to faith and devotion to Jesus or to God; and also that faith and devotion to God and Jesus will lead one to performance of good works and to the fulfillment of the law. Could it be that both roads lead to the same place? Could it be that the debate over salvation by works or by faith is nothing more than a misunderstanding of the various ways in which God works, trying to force all onto one path or the other, when both, in fact, lie open to humanity?

    Prem ra Shanti : Love and Peace

  26. Josh,
    You seem like a great guy, but the idea that there are multiple paths to God that it sounds like you are promoting in your last statement is a dangerous and false one. The only path to God is Jesus. There is no other name by which salvation has been given to man. (Acts 4:10-12)

  27. “I will continue to attempt to the best of my ability to follow the prescriptions of Jesus.” – Josh Davis

    Dear Josh, good luck with that, but you never can and never will. You are picking the prescriptions to follow, but if you violate one, you violate them all. The law needs to be kept in its entirety. If you’ve failed once, it’s too late for you, and the penalty is death. Your attempts are not good enough. God requires perfect righteousness.

    It is much better to follow the prescriptions of Jesus by being clothed with Him as our righteousness, and then by living and walking according to the Spirit. But that can only come through faith in Him. You may not realize it, but your comments here make it very obvious that you are not a Christian. You do not realize yet who you are, or how much you need Him. I say this not to offend you, but to provoke you to keep seeking Him. Don’t try to be a good person – you’re not. My suggestion, for what it’s worth, is that when you read Paul and have a hard time understanding him, ask God to reveal to you the true meaning of the passage.

  28. This reminds me of something I’ve been wondering for a long time. Why do Christians feel bound by the Ten Commandments, but not the other laws of Moses? In Acts 15 the apostles decide that the sexual rules still apply to Christians, but also a couple of dietary rules that Christians no longer follow. Neither they nor Paul, in any of his lengthy discussions of “the law,” ever break out the Decalogue from other Jewish laws, that I recall.

    I apologize if this is too far off the topic, but it seems relevant to the question of Jesus’ relationship to Jewish law.

  29. Josh,

    I can identify with your questions. They show you to be an honest seeker. I’m sure you’re familiar with Jesus words, “Seek, and you will find.” Through personal experience, I am fully convinced that if you are not simply looking to find a “truth” or “god” that fits whatever it is you would like to find, and you are genuinely open to a God who is True, He will reveal Himself at the right time.

    After seven very intense years of seeking God (one that led me many places outside Christianity), and in a moment of deep frustration, I prayed to God telling Him that the Jesus Christians spoke about did not make sense to me. That I was told I should believe in Jesus simply because he died on a cross and rose again seemed nonsensical. I wanted to believe, but one cannot believe what one does not believe. And so I prayed telling God I could no longer waste time trying to believe, and so was going to throw my hat into the ring for a guru named Meher Baba. I went on to pray telling God that if the one I was to follow should instead be Christ, I would trust Him to let me know. But in the meantime, I was going this other way.

    Within four years from that prayer, He answered me that it was Jesus I was to follow. I am fully convinced my prayer of faith was heard and answered by the Father in heaven. Though I had chosen the wrong name, the small amount of faith I had was used by God to eventually direct me to Christ.

    No one knows how God is working to reveal Himself to you. That you follow with interest the conversations here is surely one of the ways. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened.

    I pray for your continued openness to the One you seek.

  30. Camassia,
    The passage in Acts 15 can’t be seen in isolation. It wasn’t intended as a prescription for the entire church. The letter that was sent was only sent to a handful of churches that were involved in the original dispute. I think it actually reflects the attitude that Paul describes in Romans 14:19-21. The prescriptions there were designed to eliminate offenses between brothers and sisters in the Lord.
    When it comes down to it, the best way to understand the law is the way Jesus taught. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength and the next is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. All of God’s commandments hang from these two. And frankly two are a lot easier to remember than 613.

  31. Thanks, Jeff, but your answer makes me think that I should rephrase the question. I didn’t bring up Acts 15 to argue in favor of those rules, but to point out that, when faced with the question of which Mosaic laws to apply to gentiles, the apostles did not break off the Ten Commandments and treat them differently from the others. Yet that is what most Christians seem to have done since then. So my question is, how did that happen?

  32. Love ya…Josh. You are so on the right track to what you seek. He, also, is seeing you.

  33. Camassia,
    I get where you are going I think. I had a class last year that sort of dealt with this issue, but it didn’t focus as much on how it came to be as how to handle the issue itself. The thing about the OT laws that makes them so difficult is that some of them pertain directly to sacrifices and such and so they became an obvious exclusion in NT times since Christ is the end of sacrifice so to speak. Some have tried to segregate the laws into three categories: ceremonial, civil, and universal (actually the term escapes me at the moment but the idea is those laws that are generally understood as still in force for all people). Frankly, it is tricky to try and do so in the least and I have no good answer for what brought it about. My own opinion of the matter is what I stated earlier. Those parts of God’s Law as revealed in the OT or NT that are upheld/fulfilled through love of God and neighbor are the parts that we are obliged to keep because of our love for God. This doesn’t mean we never fail to keep them, that’s where Jesus comes in. Does that help any or am I going off the rails completely?

  34. Yeah Jeff, your description of civil and ceremonial law sounds familiar (comes from Calvin, I think?). Probably this is a bigger topic than can be properly dealt with in a comment thread. But thanks for the response!