Galatians 3 needs to be addressed because many quote it to “prove” the Apostle Paul taught that the Law of God no longer applies to Christians. When evaluating this chapter, as well as those discussed in the book of Romans, a few facts should be kept in mind. The sacrificial system was introduced in ancient Israel for two reasons: (1) Sin offerings were given as a reminder of sin, and pointed toward the coming Messiah, whose offering would take away the sins of the world; and (2) Sin offerings allowed the sinner to be reconciled to the community. Given as a reminder of sin, they were never intended to grant righteousness. Righteousness can come about only by faith in Christ, the acceptance of His sacrifice as payment for one’s personal sins, followed by repentance and baptism, and obedience to the Law of God.
The Jews had perverted the purpose and meaning of the sacrificial system and came to believe that the Law of Moses, along with circumcision and the offering of sacrifices, constituted righteousness. By these “works” they regarded themselves justified and in good standing with God. The Apostle Paul referred to these sacrificial laws and rituals as the “works of the law.” A number of examples of this Jewish flawed thinking were addressed previously in the book of Romans. Paul tells us that the works of the law were of no lasting value. So what was of lasting value? Paul wrote in Hebrews 9:11-12, 25-26: “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. . . . Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
In Galatians 2:16, Paul plainly stated: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Again in Romans 3:20: “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Then Paul makes a shocking statement in Galatians 3:10, a statement that was bound to infuriate those Jews who were zealous for the law. Paul wrote: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Now if any Israelite lived a perfect life, there would have been no need to make sin offerings, but the fact is few, if any, continued in all things written in the law.
The Gentiles, on the other hand, had no knowledge of the law at all. So Paul stated: “But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe” (Gal. 3:22). “What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:9-10). The Law of Moses required physical obedience only – that is, the letter of the law — but the Israelites could not even live up to that. That is why they were under a curse. Moses warned, “And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart . . . The LORD will not spare him, but then the anger of the LORD and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the LORD shall blot out his name from under heaven” (Deut. 29:19-20).
Where are the curses written in the book of the Law? They are cataloged in Deuteronomy 27, and they are summarized by this statement: “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. . .” (Deut. 27:26). The ancient Israelites failed to understand that they could not be justified by lawkeeping. The law was not given for that purpose; it was given to them for the knowledge of sin. “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. 7:7). God intended for the ancient Israelites to look forward to the future for the Supreme Sacrifice that would expiate their sins, as we look back at the historical Christ who did that very thing. The sacrificial system was to remind them of what was coming. “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith” (Gal. 3:11) — faith in the sacrifice of Christ. “For he hath made him [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13).
Paul tells us that the Law of Moses had no bearing on the promises given to Abraham. The Scripture is clear on this, yet many pay little attention to what is stated.
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. (Gal. 3:16-19)
Paul states further:
But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster [custodian] to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:23-27)
Because we no longer need a schoolmaster, does that mean there is no need to keep the Commandments of God? Many think so, but what folly! Paul rejects this notion by telling us: “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13). “Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (Rom. 3:30-31). “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein (Rom. 6:1-2)? Faith in Christ requires obedience to the Law of God. To think otherwise denies the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice. This sacrifice was given to pay the penalty for our past sins. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:24-26). When one repents, his past sins are forgiven. Grace does not allow one to continue in sin (Rom. 6:1-2). But what has taken place? They have turned the grace of God into lasciviousness [license to do evil] (Jude 4).
According to history, the Galatians were Gauls who had migrated into Asia Minor. They were Gentiles who had little knowledge of the true God. They were steeped in pagan concepts when Paul introduced them to Christianity. The problems Paul faced in Galatia were Judaizers who were attempting to turn the Galatians away from the gospel and teaching them to keep the “works of the law.” And, in addition, there was the tendency for the Galatians to revert back to their pagan ways, and this is what Galatians 4:8-11 addresses. Paul wrote: “Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.” These texts have been interpreted to mean that since Paul was the Apostle who emancipated Christians from the Jewish yoke, the Galatians were keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days, a practice that should not be done. But is this interpretation correct?
The problem is the meaning of the word “observe.” Of the several sources in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon which describe the meaning of the word “observe,” only Josephus refers to it as “keeping scrupulously as a requisite to a religious observance.” This definition is in the minority and flies in the face of New Testament usage. In every New Testament example where it is used, it means “to watch” in the sense to “look closely.” Only in Galatians 4:10 is it translated “observe.” The following texts illustrate its proper usage: Mark 3:1-2, Luke 6:7, Luke 14:1; 20:20, Acts 9:23-24. What these Galatians were doing was looking for specific signs on these days. These were not God’s Holy Days or Sabbath. Rather the Galatians were scrutinizing days, months, times, and years in some sort of special manner that had been a part of their pagan past. This is why Paul told them in Galatians 4:8, “Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods . . . . how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage” (Gal 4:8-9)? The Galatians had not previously known the truth of the Sabbath and Holy Days, so verse 9 cannot be referring to these. Paul was concerned that they were turning from the truth of the Gospel by reverting to paganism.
Next, let us consider Galatians 4:21-31. Paul addresses the matter of Judaizers who were influencing the Galatians to keep the works of the law. Notice what he tells them, illustrating the difference between the works of the flesh and the promises of God.
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and the other by the freewoman. The one born of the bondwoman was a result of the flesh, but the one born of the freewoman was by promise. Paul explains this as an allegory, one representing the Old Covenant, and the other representing the New. The Old Covenant is represented by Hagar, the bondwoman; the New Covenant represented by Sarah. The Old Covenant gendered to bondage and is represented by Mount Sinai, answering to Jerusalem which is still in bondage to the works of the law. The New Covenant is represented by the Jerusalem above, which is free, free from the rituals and works under the Old Covenant. While rejected by those who belong to the Old Covenant, the Jerusalem above has many more children than those engendered to bondage. And as the one born of the flesh persecuted the one born by promise, the persecutor was cast out and the true heirs are those who are born by promise. That promise was that the seed of Abraham [Christ] would be heir to the world and would bring salvation to all men. Christians are admonished to stand by the liberty granted by the gospel and not to return to the bondage offered by the Old Covenant. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith” (Gal. 5:1-5).
The last Scripture to be examined in this article is Ephesians 2:14-16. These verses supposedly mean that the Ten Commandments are abrogated. The texts reads: “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.” As with the Galatians, Paul is speaking to Gentiles, those who had little or no knowledge of God’s Commandments. The context of this chapter makes this plain as verses 11 and 13 illustrate: “Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
An important key in understanding the meaning of “the middle wall of partition between us” is found in Acts 10. Recall that Peter was the first Apostle sent to the Gentiles. While in a trance he “. . . saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (vv. 11-15). Later when Peter realized the meaning of the vision he said: “. . . Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (v. 28).
The Jews had many laws that prohibited contact with the Gentiles. These laws were man-made as Gentiles were regarded as unclean. This is why Paul wrote: “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances [dogmas]; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace” (Eph. 2:15). These man-made decrees or dogmas were the “law of commandments contained in ordinances” which were were done away by the sacrifice of Christ. Peter aptly expressed what had taken place when he said: “. . . Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35).