Galatians Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern
1. You stupid Galatians! Who has put you under a spell? Before your very eyes Yeshua the Messiah was clearly portrayed as having been put to death as a criminal!
You stupid Galatians! Elsewhere Sha'ul displayed his amazement at their going astray (1:6) and his pain and confusion over what to do with them (4:19-20). Here, expressing his exasperation, he tries to arouse his charges with ridicule and shame. Yet all this is in the context of his loving them dearly; one piece of evidence for this is that he calls them "brothers," a favorite term of endearment among the early believers, no less than nine times in this letter (1:11; 3:15; 4:12,28,31; 5:11,13; 6:1, 18).
Who has put you under a spell? The Judaizxrs (see 2: !4bN), whom he sees as under demonic influence. The Adversary (Satan; see Mt 4: IN) uses human instruments to turn believers away from God's truth to "some other so-called 'Good News'"(1:6). In every chapter of this letter Sha'ul condemns these deceivers, often in very strong language (1:7-9; 2:3-5, 12; here; 4:17-18; 5:7-10, 12; 6:12-13).
Before your very eyes Yeshua the Messiah was clearly portrayed by me, Sha'ul, as having been put to death on the stake as a criminal (see Mt IO:38N) in your place. This is the central fact and the faith seed of born-again living. Its significance is unpacked in the next four verses, and more generally in the rest of the letter. The main implication is that the Judaizers' legalistic rule-following is a tragic exercise in futility (2:21): the Galatians should wake up from their stupor and not be taken in by it.
2. I want to know from you just this one thing: did you receive the Spirit by legalistic observance of Torah commands or by trusting in what you heard and being faithful to it?
I want to know from you just this one thing. What Sha' ul does here is very Jewish — he announces that he is about to ask just one question and then asks five!
The Holy Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh, was given through trusting in what was heard about the Messiah (Ac 1:8, 2:1-38; Yn 14:26, 15:26; Ro 10:17), not through legalistic rule-following.
Legalistic observance of Torah commands. See 2:16bN.
Trusting and being faithful. See 2:16cN.
3. Are you that stupid? Having begun with the Spirit’s power, do you think you can reach the goal under your own power?
4. Have you suffered so much for nothing? If that’s the way you think, your suffering certainly will have been for nothing!
If that's the way you think, your suffering certainly will have been for nothing. The highly elliptical Greek says only, "If indeed for nothing," which obviously requires interpretive expansion of some sort just to make sense; other interpretations are possible.
5. What about God, who supplies you with the Spirit and works miracles among you — does he do it because of your legalistic observance of Torah commands or because you trust in what you heard and are faithful to it?
6. It was the same with Avraham: "He trusted in God and was faithful to him, and that was credited to his account as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6).
It was the same with Avraham as with Jews and Gentiles today — any legalistic rule-following he might have done availed him nothing. What counted was this: "He trusted in God and was faithful to him, and that was credited to his account as forensic righteousness" (Genesis 15:6; see above, v. 2:16aN). As Sha'ul makes even more clear at Romans 4, no actions which Avraham did apart from trust ever gave him an iota of righteousness-credit in his account with God. This destroys point (1) of vv. 6-9N.
7. Be assured, then, that it is those who live by trusting and being faithful who are really children of Avraham.
This verse takes care of point (2): It is those who live by trusting and being faithful. both Jews and Gentiles, who are really children of A vraham Even those physically descended from him — that is, Jews — are not truly his children, in the sense of being eligible to receive what God promised them, if they lack trust (see Ro 9:6b&N). Aspects of this idea are developed further in Romans 2 and 4, as well as later in this letter (3:26-4:7,4:22-31).
8. Also the Tanakh, foreseeing that God would consider the Gentiles righteous when they live by trusting and being faithful, told the Good News to Avraham in advance by saying, "In connection with you, all the Goyim will be blessed" (Genesis 12:3).
Point (3), connected with the doctrine of z'khut-avot, the "merit of the fathers" (see Ro 11:28-29N), is overturned by this verse, wherein Sha'ul says that God gave a hint (remez, Mt 2:15N) in advance of his universalism (which ultimately found expression in the Good News of Yeshua) by telling Avraham, "In connection with you (Greek en xoi, "in you," see 2:17-18N) all the Goyim (Greek ethne, corresponding to Hebrew goyim, "Gentiles, nations") will be blessed." Thus Genesis 12:1-3, the seminal passage announcing the creation of the Jewish people, is seen by the emissary to the Gentiles as also the seminal passage for the creation of the Body of the Messiah, in which Jews and Gentiles are equal (see v. 28; this theme is elaborated in Ro 3:27-4:25, 9:25-10:21).
9. So then, those who rely on trusting and being faithful are blessed along with Avraham, who trusted and was faithful.
So the point of vv. 6-9, stated here, is to show that believing Gentiles are already blessed along with Avraham, already his children, because they rely on trusting and being faithful. By trusting and being faithful, they have done as much as Avraham, the father of the Jewish people, did. They have no need to add to their trust and faithfulness an alien culture, no need to become Jews or to observe Jewish rules. However, they, along with Jewish believers, are subject to the real Torah, "the Torah, as upheld by the Messiah" (6:2&N).
Avraham is the archetypical example of one who trusted and was faithful. Sha'ul picks precisely him because the Judaizers in all likelihood put him forward as their hero and example. Here are three of their points which Sha'ul addresses in these verses:
(1) Legalistically oriented Jews thought of Avraham as the archetypical legalist. They even tried to show that he obeyed the Oral Law — which didn't yet exist! For example, efforts are still made to prove that Avraham followed the rabbinic prohibition against serving milk with meat, even though Avraham, displaying lavish hospitality much like the Bedouins of 4,000 years later, served his three guests butter, milk and a dressed calf (Genesis 18:8). Rabbi Hertz's commentary on the
Pentateuch explains it thus: "The verse may be understood as meaning that the guests were given curd and milk to slake their thirst and refresh them (cf. Judges 4:19), and then followed the meal proper, which consisted of the calf. This procedure would be quite in accord with the dietary laws" of the Oral Torah, which allow dairy foods to be served before meat but not with or after it.
(2) Some Jews claimed Avraham as exclusively their father and not father to the Gentiles.
(3) For these two reasons, Jews thought of Avraham as having merit which provided benefits, even salvation, to his descendants. For an example, see Mt 3:9; see also Roll:28-29&N.
The notes to the separate verses show how Sha'ul demolishes these counterclaims of the Judaizers.
10. For everyone who depends on legalistic observance of Torah commands lives under a curse, since it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the Scroll of the Torah" (Deuteronomy 27:26).
I take Sha'ul to be arguing as follows: Everyone — both legalists and those who trust — will agree that God's Torah requires obedience to all of its commands — or, looking at it from another angle, God does not gloss over sin. This Sha'ul proves here by quoting a verse from the Torah itself, Deuteronomy 27:26.
However, despite the contrary opinion of many Christian interpreters, his point is not that imperfect human nature is incapable of keeping all the commands of the Torah; for he neither says this nor proves it. On the contrary, the Torah itself, anticipating that people will fall short of complete obedience and thereby go out of fellowship with God, states what those who disobey Torah commands must do in order to restore such fellowship — they must repent, and sometimes they must bring a prescribed sacrifice. King David provides a good example: obviously he was less than perfectly obedient to all of the Torah's commands — he committed adultery and murder. Nevertheless, God forgave him after he repented (2 Samuel 11:1-12:25; Psalms 32.51). Not only does the Torah expect disobedience but it makes explicit provision for it, mentioning sin offerings in twenty chapters of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers and some 120 times in the Tanakh.
Sha'ul proves not that the Torah can't be obeyed perfectly, but that legalists in particular, merely by being legalists, violate at least one of the Torah's commands: and therefore, on the basis of Deuteronomy 27:26 and the other verses cited, they (1) do not attain life, (2) are not righteous, and (3) come under a curse.
11. Now it is evident that no one comes to be declared righteous by God through legalism, since "The person who is righteous will attain life by trusting and being faithful" (Habakkuk 2:4).
12. Furthermore, legalism is not based on trusting and being faithful, but on [a misuse of] the text that says "Anyone who does these things will attain life through them" (Leviticus 18:5).
Which is the command that legalists violate (v. ION)? A good case can be made for its being nothing less than belief in the Sh'mal The Sh'ma says, "Hear, О Israel, Adonai our God, Adonai is One" (Deuteronomy 6:4). But if legalists, posing as believers but actually being Judaizers, insist that Gentiles must submit themselves to the non-Messianic Jewish version of the Torah, then they are saying that God is God of Jews only, and not of Gentiles (compare Ro 3:29-30), and therefore that God is not one but two! This is a central issue in Galatians and Romans, perhaps the central issue.
Although legalists' violating the command of the Sh 'ma is implied, 1 think what Sha'ul is referring to here is not that, but simply the command to trust in God, to base all one's actions on trusting God and being faithful to him. No verse is cited from the Five Books of Moshe, though in his similar argument in Romans, written later, Sha'ul makes a midrash on Deuteronomy 30:11-14 and uses it as a suggestive proof (see Ro 10:6-8&N). However, to prove that trust is essential for being declared righteous by God, he does in v. 11, as also in Ro 1:17, quote Habakkuk 2:4. This verse is not from the Five Books of Moses. but it is part of the Tanakh, God's Word, inspired "Torah" ("teaching," Mt 5:17N) and therefore authoritative.
Legalism is the exact opposite of trust. Verse 11 assumes this, but v. 12 proves it. The proof is that legalism uses a wrong hermeneutic. That is, instead of "letting the Torah" as a whole "speak for itself (2:19) and thus guide behavior, legalism selects one verse, takes it out of context, and elevates it above the rest of the Torah, so that it replaces the Torah as the ultimate authority, it becomes "a canon within the canon." The verse is indeed part of the Torah and therefore has God's authority behind it, but only provided thai it is understood along with and in relation to the rest of the Torah. By being removed from the modifying effects of the rest of the Torah, it becomes the basis for a heresy, the heresy called legalism. (The heresies based on Scripture verses taken out of context are beyond number, and the misery they cause is beyond measure.)
The heresy of legalism, when applied to the Torah, says that anyone who does these things, that is, anyone who mechanically follows the rules for Shabbat, kashrut, etc., will attain life through them, will be saved, will enter the Kingdom of God, will obtain eternal life. No need to trust God, just obey the rules! The problem with this simplistic ladder to Heaven is that legalism conveniently ignores the "rule" that trust must underlie all rule-following which God finds acceptable (see Section (3)of 2:16cN). But trust necessarily converts mere rule-following into something altogether different, in fact, into its opposite, genuine faithfulness to God. Therefore, "legalistic obedience to Torah commands" (that is, "works of law") is actually disobedience to the Torah1. The false doctrine of legalism which Sha'ul is fighting is one which he himself once believed, and it must be presumed that he was not alone. While it is unfair, indeed antisemitic, to condemn all of first-century non-Messianic Judaism as legalistic, there can be no doubt that the legalistic heresy was a major way of relating to the Torah. Furthermore it remains a heresy sometimes seen within non-Messianic Judaism today. But it is not only a Jewish heresy; it is also a Christian heresy, and in fact it can be found in all religions, and in non-religions too, that is, among atheists, agnostics, and apathetics. The heresy says: "If I do this, this and this" (some self-determined agenda), "then God will accept me, he will applaud my deeds and be obligated to reward me for them. Whether I trust him, am faithful to him or even believe he exists is of no importance." Or, to state the same heresy, the same false hope, in secular language that avoids God-talk, "If I do such-and-such, everything will be all right." Psychologists and sociologists have a name for this approach to life: "magical thinking."
Legalism — that is, legalistic obedience to Torah commands — is disobedience to the Torah. One could be obeying every single mitzvah (except, by assumption, the mitzvah of trust), but if these things are being done without heartfelt trust in the God who is there, the only God there is, the God who sent his Son Yeshua to be the atonement for sin (v. I), then all this outward "'obedience" is hateful to God (Isaiah 1:14), and the person doing it, the legalist, "lives under a curse," because he is not "doing everything written in the Scroll of the Torah" (v. 10). He is not "doing" the trust which should motivate all doing (compare MJ 11:6). This leads to v. 13.
13. The Messiah redeemed us from the curse pronounced in the Torah by becoming cursed on our behalf; for the Tanakh says, "Everyone who hangs from a stake comes under a curse" (Deuteronomy 21:22–23).
Everyone who hangs from a stake comes under a curse (Deuteronomy 21:22—23; on "stake" here see Ac 5:30N). The curse spoken of applies to legalists (w. 9-12&NN) and is stated in v. 10, which quotes Deuteronomy 27:26. The elements comprising the content of the curse are detailed in Deuteronomy 28:15-68. But those who are not legalists, those who do have trust, are not under the curse, because the Messiah redeemed us who trust in him and in God from the curse pronounced in the Torah at Deuteronomy 27-28. How? By becoming cursed on our behalf, in our place. This he did by his own choice (Yn 10:17-18), out of his love for us (Ro 5:6-8). That God's justice is consistent with the Messiah's atoning vicariously for our sins through undergoing death and being cursed, is not proved here, but it is proved elsewhere in both the Tanakh and the New Testament. See, for example, Isaiah 53:5-6, 12, quoted with further references at I Ke 2:24-25&N; also Ro 3:25-26&N.
What is proved by citing Deuteronomy 21:22-23 at the end of v. 13 is that the Messiah's being crucified implied his becoming cursed. The idea that the Messiah can be cursed contradicts some traditional Jewish notions about the Messiah, but not all. For the curses prescribed in Deuteronomy 28:15-68 are physical and emotional sufferings, not spiritual, and certainly not eternal removal from God's presence. The idea of a Messiah who suffers in sympathy and in company with the people of Israel is well known in Judaism. The Tanakh describes this most explicitly at Isaiah 53, which clearly pictures the Messiah undergoing the curse of suffering and death on behalf of others' sins (on whether Isaiah 53 applies to the Messiah see Mt 2:15N). For a number of quotations from later Jewish sources, see Chapters 12 and 17 of Raphael Patai's The Messiah Texts. The following example of such a citation is from the Babylonian Talmud and assumes two Messiahs. The Messiah, son of Yosef, is thought of as suffering vicariously and dying for Israel, that is, being "cursed"; while the other, Messiah, son of David, is regarded as the one who will establish peace on earth.
'"And the land shall mourn1 (Zechariah 12:12). Rabbi Dosa and the other rabbis differed on what this verse means. The one said that they will mourn over Mashiach Ben-Yosef, who will be slain [in those days]; while the other said the mourning is over the yetzer hara' [the evil inclination], which will be slain... The Rabbis taught that the Holy One, blessed be he, will say to Mashiach Ben-David, 'Ask anything of me, and I will give it to you, for it is written, "The Lord said unto me, You are my son, this day I have become your father; ask of me, and 1 will give you the nations as your inheritance "'(Psalm 2:7-8).' When Mashiach Ben-David sees that Mashiach Ben-Yosefhas been slain, he will say to God, 'Master of the World! All I ask of you is life!' God will say to him, 'Even before you said, "life," your father David prophesied about you, as it is written, "He asked life of you, and you gave it to him'" (Psalm 21:5)." (Sukkah 52a)
The New Testament, of course, shows that Mashiach Ben-Yosef and Mashiach Ben-David are the same person, Yeshua, whose human descent was from King David, whose legal but not physical father was Yosef, and whose resurrection has made it possible for him to come twice and fill both roles. For more on Zechariah 12:10-14 see Yn 19:37&N, Rv 1:7&N.
14. Yeshua the Messiah did this so that in union with him the Gentiles might receive the blessing announced to Avraham, so that through trusting and being faithful, we might receive what was promised, namely, the Spirit.
The key to this paragraph is in sorting out when the Greek word "nomos" means God's Torah and when it means legalistic perversion of it, as discussed in 2:16bN and 2:19N. In my judgment, most translations fail to make this essential distinction, are not "rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Ti 2:15, KJV), and thus both misrepresent Sha'ul and foster antisemitism. The following expanded translation of vv. 10-13a is rendered along these traditional but mistaken lines:
v. 10 For everyone who depends on trying to obey the Torah [in order to be declared righteous by God| lives under a curse; since it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the Scroll of the Torah."
v. 11 Also it is evident that no one comes to be declared righteous by God through trying to obey the Torah, since "The person who is righteous will live his life by trust."
v. 12 Furthermore, the Torah is not based on trust but on the idea that "The one who does these things will attain life through them."
v. 13 The Messiah redeemed us from the curse, which consists in having to live under the Torah...
From such a rendering, it is all too easy to reach the following antisemitic conclusions:
(1) According to v. 10, since the Jewish people depend on the Torah, but (by assumption) no one is capable of doing everything written in it, the entire Jewish people lives under God's curse.
(2) According to v. 11, by trying to obey the Torah, Jews are condemned to the impossibility of being considered righteous by God.
(3) According to w. 1 lb—12, the Torah itself is defective, because it is not based on trust, but on legalism, on "doing these things," as proved by quoting one of the Torah's own verses. (Logically, this reasoning impugns God himself; but antisemitic illogic arrives at a different consequence: that if Jews obey a defective Torah, then Jews themselves must be defective.)
(4) Finally, according to v. 13a, Jews are cursed already just by having to live under the Torah.
Fortunately, very few who claim to be Christians hold all of these false views, stated here in their most blatant and offensive form. But to hold even one of them, even in a weaker form, and even unintentionally, is a sin.
Since most people do not read the Greek text of the New Testament and are propelled in the direction of antisemitic conclusions by the translations generally available (which, in turn, are influenced by the conscious or unconscious theological presuppositions of their translators), it is all the more important to demonstrate, verse by verse, that Sha'ul's intended meaning, not found in the traditional renderings, is correctly expressed in the Jewish New Testament.
The Messiah must come under the curse (v. 13) in order to pay the full penalty for sin required by God's justice. Why did he do this? Why did he trouble himself? Verse 14 gives the answer, so that the Gentiles might receive the blessing announced to Avraham, promised in Genesis 12:1-3, which is cited above in vv. 8-9; and not only the Gentiles, but also "we," which includes Jewish believers. How is this blessing appropriated? Once more, as at 2:17, Sha'ul brings out that it comes through being in union with him, so that when Yeshua receives what is promised to him, believers receive it too. And this, once again, comes about through trusting and being faithful, not through legalism.
What was promised, namely, the Spirit (see vv. 2,5). However, the Greek says, literally, "the promise of the Spirit," which could alternatively mean, "what the Spirit promised," to wit, that all the Goyim would be blessed (v. 8).
15. Brothers, let me make an analogy from everyday life: when someone swears an oath, no one else can set it aside or add to it.
16. Now the promises were made to Avraham and to his seed. It doesn’t say, “and to seeds,” as if to many; on the contrary, it speaks of one — "and to your seed" (Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 17:7; 24:7) — and this “one” is the Messiah.
In the Tanakh the term "seed" (Hebrew zera'), like English "posterity," is used in the singular as a collective noun to refer to all of a person's descendants. Thus the p'shat (simple sense, Mt 2:15N) of this text has "seed" referring to Avraham's descendants. But Sha'ul is not expounding the p'shat; rather, his emphasis on the singular form of the word allows the seed to sprout into a richly layered midrash:
(1) Israel is God's son.
(2) The Messiah is God's Son.
(3) Israel is descended from Avraham, is Avraham's seed, the children of Avraham.
(4) The true children of Avraham are those who trust.
(5) Those who trust in Yeshua are united with him by that trust — they are part of his Body, one with him, one, singular.
(6) In the thinking of the Tanakh, a king represents his people to the point of being one with them; and the king of Israel is treated as representing Israel, standing for them, being one with them.
(7) The Messiah Yeshua is the King of Israel, the promised Son of David, one with Israel.
(8) By trusting. Gentiles become identified with and in some sense a part of Israel.
(9) All of God's promises reach their culmination and fulfillment in the Messiah, who is Avraham's "seed."
All nine of these truths lead to this verse, and this verse leads to these nine truths, each of which is expressed at greater length elsewhere in Galatians and the rest of the Bible (see, inter alia, Hosea 11:1; Mt 2:15&N; Yn 17:20-26; Ro 9:6-13&NN; 2C l:20&N; and below, 3:26-4:7&NN, 4:21-31 ANN).
17. Here is what I am saying: the legal part of the Torah, which came into being 430 years later, does not nullify an oath sworn by God, so as to abolish the promise.
The legal part of the Torah came into being in the days of Moshe, 430 years later than Avraham. In Judaism, the word "Torah" usually means one of the following:
(1) the Chumash (Pentateuch, Five Books of Moses),
(2) the Tanakh (the Hebrew Scriptures),
(3) the Tanakh (Written Law) together with the Oral Law, or
(4) all true religious teaching (see Mt 5:17N). In any of these senses the Torah includes the promises to Avraham. But here "the Torah" means none of these. Rather, Sha'ul is distinguishing the characteristic element of Torah that was received on Mount Sinai at the time of Moshe, its specifically legal portions, from the elements which existed previously. He is contrasting the Torah's commandments with its promises, or, to use Jewish language from a couple of centuries later, contrasting halakhah (what to do, how to live) with aggadah (narrative).
Therefore, even if the legal part of the Torah had required legalistic obedience without trust, it could not nullify an oath sworn (or: "a covenant established"; see above, vv. 15-17N) earlier by God, so as to abolish the promise to Avraham, which says that Gentiles will be blessed through Avraham (vv. 8-9) without having to become Jews or be subject to the Torah as non-Messianic Judaism expounds it.
Oath. Greek diatheke does not mean "oath" but signifies either
(1) "covenant," equivalent to Hebrew b'rit, or
(2) "will, testament."
Thus "swears an oath" (v. 15) is literally either "ratifies a covenant" or "draws a will"; likewise "an oath sworn by God" (v. 17) is literally "a covenant previously ratified" or "a will previously drawn." But, for the following reasons, neither "covenant" nor "will" is a good rendering here.
In the Bible, a covenant is made unilaterally by a superior party, either God or a conquering king, with the inferior party, God's people or the conquered vassals, who only submit to the terms announced. In the present case, God made promises to Avraham in a covenant. But in modem English one thinks of a covenant as a contract, drawn between equals and alterable by either party. I avoided the term "covenant" here because the modern connotations conflict with Sha'ul's point.
Likewise, even though the word "inheritance" appears in v. 18,1 did not use "will" because a person can change his will by adding a codicil. But an oath, once sworn, cannot be altered by anyone, not even by the one who swore it. And since God did swear an oath when he made the promises to Avraham (Genesis 22:16-17, MJ 6:13-18), the rendering "oath" is consistent with the biblical record.
18. For if the inheritance comes from the legal part of the Torah, it no longer comes from a promise. But God gave it to Avraham through a promise.
If, contrary to fact, the inheritance (there is a punning connection in meaning with the word translated "oath" in vv. 15, 17, because that word, "diathike" can also be rendered "will"; see w. 15-17N — inheritances come through wills) comes from (is promised in) the legal part of the Torah, the halakhic part (see v. 17N), which sets up conditions to be met. then it no longer comes from an unconditional promise. But the fact is that God gave it not to Moshe but, earlier, to Avraham through an unconditional promise which affects Gentiles as well as Jews, and not through a legal code intended for Jews only.
Although I believe that in this verse "nomos" means "the legal portions of the Torah." since that specifically is what was promulgated at the time of Moshe, "nomos" here could instead mean "legalism" without significantly altering Sha'ul's argument, which would then be: "If the inheritance comes by legalism, that is, by meeting the condition of legalistically following the Torah's prescriptions, then it no longer comes from an unconditional promise." In any case, "nomos" cannot simply mean "Torah" in the sense of the first five books of the Bible, because the very promise referred to is set forth in the Torah itself, in the book of Genesis.
19. So then, why the legal part of the Torah? It was added in order to create transgressions, until the coming of the seed about whom the promise had been made. Moreover, it was handed down through angels and a mediator.
So then, why the legal part of the Torah (see v. 17N)? Why was it needed at all, if the promise (v. 18) is independent of it? It was added to the promise — and to the environment of Jewish history in particular and human history in general — in order to create transgressions, literally, "because of transgressions." The latter could mean, "in order to contain and limit transgressions," in order to keep the Jewish people from becoming so intolerably sinful that they would become irredeemable. But instead of this, I think it means, as Sha'ul explains in Romans 7, that a key purpose of the commandments was to make Jewish people ever aware of their sin — not that Jews were more sinful than Gentiles, but that, like Gentiles, Jews too "fall short of earning God's praise" (Ro 3:23). The Torah "creates" transgressions by containing commandments which people break, indeed, which rebellious human nature perversely wants to break (Ro 7:7-12&NN). But at least in some cases the guilt they feel causes them to despair of ever earning God's praise by their own works, so that they come to God in all humility to repent, seek his forgiveness, and trust him (see Ro 3:19-20&NN. 4M3-15&NN. 5M2-21&N, 7:5-25&NN).
Until the coming of the "seed," Yeshua (v. 16), about whom the promise had been made. From the time of Moshe until the coming of Yeshua, the Torah had this "consciousness-raising" role. The Torah still exists, is still in force (see 6:2N), and for those who have not yet come to trust in Yeshua it still has this function. But for those who do trust in Yeshua and are faithful to him, the Torah need no longer serve in this capacity. Sha'ul explains why in vv. 21-25. It, the Torah, was handed down to Moshe on Mount Sinai through angels, a point made three times in the New Testament (see Ac 7:53&N) and through a human mediator, Moshe. An often heard Jewish objection to the New Testament's teaching a that Jews don't need Yeshua because they don't need a mediator between themselves and God. This verse refutes the claim with its reminder that Moshe himself served as such a mediator — as, for that matter, did the cohanim and the prophets. See MJ 8:6, 10:19-21; 1 Ti 2:5; Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 5:2, 5; and this citation from a Pseudepigraphic work dating from the first or second century B.C.E.:
"Draw near to God and to the angel that intercedes for you, for he is a mediator between God and man...." (Testament of Dan 6:2)
20. Now a mediator implies more than one, but God is one.
It is said that this difficult verse has had some 300 different interpretations. Its literal translation: "Now the mediator is not of one, but God is one." My understanding of it is this: a mediator necessarily mediates between two parties, both of whom desire to affect the final outcome. In this case, Moshe mediated between God and the Israelites because they were afraid to have God speak to them directly (and perhaps they were hoping that through Moshe they could have a hand in shaping the Torah). Also angels served as mediators (v. 19). But God's promises to Avraham were unmediated. Sha'ul's point seems to be that because the promises of the Torah are unconditional and came directly from God without a mediator, they are superior to the legal portions of the Torah, which the legalists seize on. (It does not appear that the phrase, "God is one," has to do with the Sh'ma, which seems irrelevant in context; contrast Ro 3:29-30&N.)
21. Does this mean that the legal part of the Torah stands in opposition to God’s promises? Heaven forbid! For if the legal part of the Torah which God gave had had in itself the power to give life, then righteousness really would have come by legalistically following such a Torah.
22. But instead, the Tanakh shuts up everything under sin; so that what had been promised might be given, on the basis of Yeshua the Messiah’s trusting faithfulness, to those who continue to be trustingly faithful.
Does this mean that the legal part of the Torah stands in opposition to God's promises? Do they contradict each other? Do they say different things? Does the legal part of the Torah offer life through legalism while the earlier part of the Torah, with its unconditional promises to Avraham, offers life through trust? Heaven forbid! (On this strong negation see Ro3:4N.) For if the legal part of the Torah which God gave had had in itself the power to give life, if it had somehow automatically imparted the Holy Spirit to legalists and turned them into people who trust God and are faithful to him, then righteousness really would have come by legalistically following such a Torah.
But such a thing is unimaginable. Instead, on the contrary, the Tanakh shuts up everything under sin, imprisoning all mankind (v. 23; compare Ro 11:30-32), so that what had been promised might be given, on the ground of Yeshua the Messiah's trusting faithfulness, only to those who continue trustingly faithful to him and to God. See 2:16cN, which explains why in this and the following verses the Greek word "pistis" is best translated not as "faith" but as "trusting faithfulness." and why thepistis spoken of is sometimes Yeshua's and sometimes ours, both being necessary for our salvation. Had Sha'ul meant here on the ground not of... the Messiah's... faithfulness to God but of our faithfulness to Yeshua, then the following phrase, "to those who continue trustingly faithful," would be superfluous. But as it is, Yeshua's faithfulness is described as applying only to those who, by being united with Yeshua, have acquired the same trusting faithfulness as his.
23. Now before the time for this trusting faithfulness came, we were imprisoned in subjection to the system which results from perverting the Torah into legalism, kept under guard until this yet-to-come trusting faithfulness would be revealed.
Before the time for this trusting faithfulness (Greek pistis; see 2:16cN) of Yeshua's came, we were imprisoned. The Greek word translated "this" in vv. 23-26 actually means "the." In Greek the definite article is sometimes unimportant and need not be translated at all; however, here I believe it refers not to pistis generally but specifically to the Messiah's own pistis, spoken of in the preceding verse. In other words, "the pistis" is this particular trusting faithfulness which the Messiah demonstrated in his lifetime, especially as he underwent the events leading up to his death. Before the time for it came, before God had presented humanity with this unsurpassable example of what trusting faithfulness really is, we Jews were imprisoned by a specific kind of sin, legalism, that arose from misconstruing the Torah (see v. 23bN). Gentiles were imprisoned by their sins too; see v. 22, Ro 1:16-2:16 and Ro 11:30-32, which develop this topic, the universality of sin and the reason for it, in other contexts.
An alternative sense would be: "Before the time came for us to trust [in Yeshua] and be faithful [to him], we were imprisoned." If the former interpretation is correct, as I believe it is, then Sha'ul is speaking of the period prior to the date of Yeshua's appearance on the scene of human history; if the latter, he could be speaking either of the time prior to the preaching of the Gospel in a particular region or to the time in a person's life before his coming to faith. Translations which eliminate the definite article, which say "Before faith came..." or "Before the time for faith came...," encourage the erroneous and antisemitic notion that prior to Yeshua no one had ever believed in God.
23b In subjection to the system which results from perverting the Torah — specifically, its legal parts (see v. 17N) — into legalism. (The discussion of 2:16bN and Ro 3:20bN is prerequisite and integral to what follows.) These thirteen English words translate two Greek words, "upo потоп" literally, "under law." The usual interpretation of this verse has Sha'ul saying that Jews were imprisoned by the Mosaic Law until Christ came but now are free from it — "so eat a ham sandwich!" However, "upo потоп" used ten times in the New Testament (here, 4:4,5,21; 5:18; Ro 6:14,15; and three times in 1С 9:20), but only by Sha'ul, must be understood as a technical term which he coined in order to analyze one aspect of the concept of legalism. See the reasoning developed in 2:16bN and Ro 3:2ObN in connection with the Greek phrase, "erga nomou" ("works of law").
Although the figurative use of the word "upo" and its English equivalent, "under," can be neutral and mean merely "within the framework of (example: "under his tutelage"), it can also have a negative valence and connote oppression by meaning "in subjection to" or "burdened by." But when Sha'ul means "within the framework of Torah" he uses a different phrase, "en nomo" ("in law," Ro 2:12&N, 3:19&N); also note his unique use of the word "ennomos" ("en-lawed") at 1С 9:21 &N. In writing "upo потоп" he is clearly bringing out the subjugative sense of the word, for the phrase always appears in the context of oppression — imprisonment (here), slavery (4:4, 5, 21; Ro 6:14-15), or being controlled by the evil desires of one's old nature (5:18). In 1С 9:20-22 Sha'ul labels four different groups of people with whom he tries to empathize; 1С 9:20bN explains why "those under law" in this passage are oppressed. (Ya'akov uses "upo tou nomou" ("under the law") in a negative context in the phrase, "convicted under the Torah as transgressors" (Ya 2:9); but unlike Sha'ul it is not for him a technical term inherently implying oppression.)
"Upo потоп" does not mean "subject to the legal part of the Torah" which has been the topic of discussion since v. 17, because the legal part of the Torah is not temporary — it is not abrogated by the Messiah's coming (Mt 5:17&N). It is true that specific elements of Torah have been transformed (especially the sacrificial system; see Messianic Jews 7-10), some punishments have been abolished for those who have become united with the Messiah (3:10-13&NN), the role of the Holy Spirit has been made expicit (Yn I4:26&N, 15:26; Ro 8M-13&NN), the relationship of Gentiles to Jews in the united Messianic Community has been spelled out (Ac 15:1-29&NN, Ep 2:11 -22&NN), and the New Testament itself has been given as Torah (MJ 8:6b&N). Nevertheless most of the ordinances and statutes — the civic and ceremonial mitzvot as well as the ethical ones — remain the same, even if priorities among them have been rearranged (2:12bN, Yn 7:22-23). What has been brought to an end by Yeshua's death and resurrection is not the legal part of the Torah but the need for Jewish people to try to earn God's favor through the system which results from perverting the Torah into legalism. This is why nobody needs to be in oppressive subjection to it any more.
This oppressive legalistic system kept the Jewish people imprisoned under guard until Yeshua came. There were two aspects to this guardianship: protection and harshness. Prison is not a pleasant place, but it does provide a measure of protection from the outside world, from certain kinds of temptations, from angry people who might harm the prisoners. Sha'ul evokes the image of both aspects of imprisonment.
24. Accordingly, the Torah functioned as a custodian until the Messiah came, so that we might be declared righteous on the ground of trusting and being faithful.
The Torah functioned as a custodian until the Messiah came. The word translated "custodian" is "paidagogos," literally, "boy-leader." In ancient Greece a paidagogos was a slave who conducted a boy to and from school. It is therefore not surprising that the KJV renders the phrase, "the law was our schoolmaster to bring us [Jews] unto Christ." But although the English word "pedagogy" is derived from it, the paidagogos had no teaching functions (see Amdt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon..., adloc.); and although the Torah had as one of its goals leading Jewish people to the Messiah, as Sha'ul explicitly says at Ro 10:4&N, that is not the import of the present verse. The paidagogos actually would have been a harsh disciplinarian, hired to do a job, with the boy required to obey him. Thus the Torah, because it was perverted into legalism, served in the role of harsh disciplinarian for the Jewish people, providing some protection but generally making the Jewish person aware of many transgressions (see v. 19&N), so that we Jews might turn from legalistic rule-following and be declared righteous forensical ly (2:16aN) on the basis of our trusting and being faithful to Yeshua, whose trusting faithfulness to God the Father purchased our salvation.
25. But now that the time for this trusting faithfulness has come, we are no longer under a custodian.
Therefore, now that the time for this peerless example of trusting faithfulness which Yeshua displayed has come, which same trusting faithfulness we now have too because we are united with him (v. 26), we Jews are no longer under legalism of any sort, no longer under a custodian.
26. For in union with the Messiah, you are all children of God through this trusting faithfulness;
This trusting faithfulness which Yeshua demonstrated belongs not only to Jews ("we," v. 25), but to all of you, both Jewish and Gentile believers in him. If Jews and Gentiles exercise this trusting faithfulness, which belongs to both of us by virtue of our union with the Messiah (see 2:17-18N), then both Jews and Gentiles are... children of God, adopted as God's sons (4:5) on the ground of our union with the Messiah Yeshua, who himself is already God's Son.
27. because as many of you as were immersed into the Messiah have clothed yourselves with the Messiah, in whom
Union with the Messiah comes about through being immersed into the Messiah. The Greek word for "immersed" is a form of "baptize" usually rendered "baptized"; see Mt 3:1N on "Immerser." The word "baptizo" implies immersion so as to absorb the qualities of the immersing substance and thus be transformed. If you are an immersed believer, you have absorbed some of the qualities of the Messiah and are continually "being changed into his very image, from one degree of glory to the next, by Adonai the Spirit" (2C 3:18). This immersion into the Messiah comes about not merely through getting wet, but through prayer to God in which one repents of one's sinful way of life and accepts Yeshua the Messiah's atonement and Lordship. Here Sha'ul says this is equivalent to having clothed yourself with the Messiah.
28. there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor freeman, neither male nor female; for in union with the Messiah Yeshua, you are all one.
Gentiles who by trusting in Yeshua and staying faithful to him have become children of God, who have immersed themselves into the Messiah, who have clothed themselves with the Messiah, are equal partners with Jews in the Body of the Messiah, declared righteous by God without their having to adopt any further Jewish distinctives. This is a point Sha'ul makes repeatedly in his writings; see Ro 3:22-23,29-30; 4:9-12; 10:12; 11:32; 1С 12:13; Ep 2:11-22; 3:6; Co 3:11 — and these references do not exhaust the list; many other verses, especially in Romans, express the same idea. Therefore Jewish and Gentile believers must treat each other as equals before God, of equal worth as human beings. So must believing slaves and freemen, and likewise believing men and women. And that is really all this verse has to say.
However, the verse is misused in polemic against Messianic Judaism in the following way: "You Messianic Jews should not separate yourselves from us Gentile Christians by having Messianic synagogues! Don't you know that 'in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek' ? So be like us, give up your Jewish distinctives, stop observing the To-rah and the Jewish holidays, put all that behind you; and worship with us in our Gentile-oriented congregations, living our Gentile lifestyle." The misuse is in concluding that because there is no distinction in God's sight between the forensic righteousness (2:16aN) of believing Gentiles and of believing Jews, therefore Jews are prohibited from observing God-given commandments. Such a conclusion defies both logic and the practice of the early believers.
Further, it defies the grammar of the sentence itself. The sentence contains three parallel pairs: Jew... Gentile, slave... freeman, male... female. Obviously there are still observable physical, psychological and social distinctions between male and female and between slave and freeman (even today there remain in the world tens of millions of slaves), even though in union with the Messiah Yeshua they are all one, so far as their acceptability before God is concerned. The same is true of Jews and Gentiles: the distinction remains; the verse does not obliterate it.
The Bible recognizes such differences between various groups. The Torah has commands which apply to the king but not to his subjects, to colianim but not other Jews, to men but not women. The New Testament too has different commands for men and women, husbands and wives, parents and children, slaves and masters, leaders and followers, widows and other women (see 1С 11:2-16, 14:34-36; Ep 5:22-6:9; Co 3:18-4:1; 1 Ti 3:1-13,5:3-16; MJ 13:7,17; 1 Ke 3:1-7); and it makes special demands of pastors, elders, shammashim (deacons) and evangelists which are appropriate to their offices but are never regarded as undermining the equality of all believers before God.
Similarly there remain differences between Jews and Gentiles, differences in cultural background and religious heritage, differences in what God has promised them as a people (but not racial differences, as antisemites claim), and differences in what they are commanded to do. It is not for Gentile Christians to try to prevent Jewish believers from taking cognizance of those differences and building their lifestyles in a way that reflects them, so long as the lesson of Galatians is heeded, which is that equality and fellowship in the Body of the Messiah between Jews and Gentiles must be nurtured and preserved. It is not that there is to be one race or one nationality, but one Messianic Community.
But nothing in the New Testament prevents a Jewish believer from choosing to worship with Gentile believers in a Gentile-oriented church; likewise nothing prevents a Gentile believer from choosing to worship with Jewish believers in a Messianic Jewish congregation. In either situation what the New Testament mandates is fellowship and equality between Jews and Gentiles in the Body.
Neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor freeman, neither male nor female. The three pairs in this verse reflect the words spoken by (free) Jewish men in their morning prayers (see, for example, J. H. Hertz, The Authorised Daily Prayer Book, New York: Bloch Publishing Company, revised edition 1948, pp. 18-21):
"Praised be you, Adonai our God, King of the universe, because you have not made me a Gentile.
"Praised be you, Adonai our God, King of the universe, because you have not made me a woman.
"Praised be you, Adonai our God, King of the universe, because you have not made me a slave."
(Likewise Gentiles and women were limited to certain parts of the Temple area; see Ep 2:14&N.) The implication that free Jewish men have special status with God is avoided by most Orthodox Jewish explanations of these prayers, although criticism from within Judaism has not been lacking. In any case, Sha'ul, with sweeping finality, says that in the Body of the Messiah, God has abolished such presumptive distinctions of status.
According to Messianic Jewish pastor Mark Kinzer, the witness to the world that the Messiah reconciles Jews and Gentiles requires them not to suppress their Jewish or Gentile identity, but to maintain their identities while relating to each other in love and thus manifesting unity. If Jewish or Gentile identity is suppressed, reconciliation is invisible and therefore is not a witness.
29. Also, if you belong to the Messiah, you are seed of Avraham and heirs according to the promise.
Whether Jewish or Gentile, if you belong to the Messiah, you are seed of Avraham in these senses:
(1) You are one with the Messiah who is the "seed" in the midrashic sense of v. 16.
(2) By having the same kind of trusting faithfulness that Avraham had, you prove yourself his spiritual descendants (vv. 7,9).
(3) You are joined to Israel (6:16), who are Avraham's physical seed. Thus you are heirs according to the promise of vv. 8,18.
Are Gentiles full-fledged children of Avraham, or are they second-class children? Maimonides answered a comparable question from a Gentile convert to Judaism. In his "Letter to Ovadyah the Proselyte," he advised, "You are to say, 'our God and God of our fathers,' because Avraham is your father." The letter is quoted at length in Ro 4:16N. Sha'ul is equally insistent on the full equality of Gentile believers in the Messiah.
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