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Examining Paul’s letter to the Galatians

The letter to the Galatians, one of the most misunderstood sections in the bible, have become one of the main sources used to label God’s law as a “curse which was annulled through Christ”. This post will attempt to analyse, review and explain this letter written by Paul, using the overall context and try to put to rest many of the misinterpretations and misunderstandings that are floating around in modern Christianity.

The following study is broken down into these key parts for your ease.
1. Exhortation
2. Background
3. Summary
4. Explanation
5. Conclusion

1. Exhortation
It is important to keep in mind the audience and their background as we read this letter, so that we do not read any of our preconceived notions into the text. We must not pluck verses out of a letter meant to be read as one single document. Even though verses and chapters have been divided for us by translators of the Bible, it is important to remember that there were no such divisions made in Paul’s original letter. Furthermore, it is mandatory to keep in mind Peter’s warning regarding Paul’s writings (2Pe 3:15,16) where he states that some things written by Paul are hard to understand and that they are distorted by people who are unstable and unlearned.

2. Background
Authored by Paul – “the misunderstood Apostle”, this letter was written around 50 – 60AD to the congregation of believers in Galatia, a ancient district in what was known as Asia Minor(modern day Turkey), which was occupied by Celtic tribes, from as far as 3rd century BC. The Gauls – of Celtic origin, who were called “Galatae” (Galatians) by 3rd-century writers, settled in the territory in 3rd century BC, and became part of the Roman protectorate in 85 BC.

Statuette of Cybele on a cart drawn by lions - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Celts who worshiped nature with the help of their druids, are believed to have worshiped the Phrygian form of the nature deity of all Asia Minor, known as “the great mother of the gods”. Known also as Cybele and Magna Mater, the pagan goddess had a holy week in March and a Festival named “Megalesia” in her honor. Various other pagan deities such as Zeus, Hercules, Hermes and Artemis were also worshiped in Galatia according to Coins found from the province.

Paul who had at least visited Galatia twice in his journeys according to the Acts of the Apostles (16:6, 18:23), writes this letter soon after their conversion, as per his complaints of their speedy apostasy (Gal 1:6). The Galatians had believed the Gospel, but were now being influenced into thinking that they were not truly saved until they were circumcised as per the beliefs of some 1st century Jewish believers of Christ. This question was the main subject matter of the meeting of the Jerusalem Council, mentioned in Acts 15. It is important to note that just like there is a debate today as to whether or not we need to obey God’s Law, in Paul’s day, the main debate revolved around whether a person is truly saved if he is not circumcised. (Acts 15:1-2, 15:5-7, 21:20-24)

While many a time Paul refers to all Jews as “the Circumcision”, (as they were all circumcised on the 8th day after their birth by their parents, unlike the Gentile believers), It is important to note that the group usually known as the “Circumcision Party” were a group of Jewish believers of Christ who held to the view that Gentiles could not be saved unless they were Circumcised. This religious view originated from the Pharisaic sect and their Oral Laws (also known as the Traditions of the Fathers/Elders). Circumcision was a statute given to the parents, starting with Abraham(Gen 17:11-12) and became part of the Mosaic Covenant later(Lev 12:3). Nowhere was it a pre-requisite for Salvation, as Abraham himself walked with God for 25 years before he received the sign of Circumcision as part of the Abrahamic Covenant and was adjudged righteous before the act of Circumcision(Rom 4:3,10,11). Paul is seen standing up against their teachings both in his letters (Tit 1:10,14, Gal 6:12,13, Philip 3:2,3) and in person(Act 15:1,2, Gal 2:11-14). Gal 2:13 proves that not all Jews were of the Circumcision Party. Peter himself had a run in with this group previously(Act 11:2-18). It must be pointed out that Paul did not take issue with the act of Circumcision, circumcising Timothy(Act 16:3) and saying it is of “much value” in Rom 2:25 & 3:1,2. His whole argument revolved against the idea of “Circumcision as an act for justification/Salvation” which will become apparent as we move through the letter to the Galatians.

3. Summary
The main subject of the letter is the question of “whether one should be circumcised to be saved?”. This point will become evident as we start dissecting the letter further. The letter starts off with a greeting (Gal 1:1-5) followed by a brief account of his calling (Gal 1:6- 2:10). Then he proceeds to tackle the issue at hand “does anyone need to be circumcised to be saved” (Gal 2:11- 5:12), and ends with additional guidance, final words and a blessing (Gal 5:13 – 6:18).

4. Explanation
Key areas of importance will be underlined for your benefit.

Gal 1:1-5
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia: Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Short greeting by Paul to the brothers of Galatia, introducing himself and glorifying Messiah Yeshua(Jesus’ true name) with Father God in Heaven.

Gal 1:6-7
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

Paul starts by admonishing the Galatians for removing themselves from Christ unto another Gospel. The “Gospel” or “Good News”, as per the apostles was simply that there was life after death through the resurrection of Christ (1Cor Chap 15). Even though he writes of Galatian believers turning to another gospel, he is quick to call it “not another”, in the very next sentence. There are some who have been bringing confusion to the congregation, by teaching them some thing contrary to what Paul had been teaching. These teachers were believers in Yeshua, as they were preaching the same Gospel, but they were also perverting the gospel with their ideas. We will find about these ideas, as we proceed.

Gal 1:8-12
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Paul explains that anyone (whether it be man or an angel from Heaven) who preaches a gospel contrary to what is taught by the Apostles, would be under a curse. And that He obeys God rather than men – as a true servant of Christ does not try to please the whims of men. Furthermore, he confirms that the Gospel he preached came to him by revelation – pointing to the revelation he had on his way to Damascus (Act 9:3-7, 22:6-10). It is apparent that Paul goes on to explain his calling, because certain people had questioned his ministry and whether he can be trusted to deliver truth. According to Paul,not even an Angel from Heaven can change God’s Word/Good news.

Gal 1:13-24
For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. And they glorified God in me.

Paul provides a detailed account of his work as an apostle after he believed in Yeshua as Messiah. It is important to note that he mentions “the Jews’ religion” or Judaism of his day and that he was above many in the faith. (We know that Paul was part of the sect known as the pharisees – Phil 3:5). He also reports that he was “exceedingly zealous of the traditions of the fathers”. The “traditions of the fathers/elders” is a key dynamic which needs to be understood when reading this letter. It is a known fact that the Pharisees observed a set of laws/rules known as the “Oral Law”, in addition to the written Law of God given through Moses. This “Oral Law” is known as the “traditions of the fathers/elders”(Mat 15:2, Mar 7:3,5) . This same set of laws live on to this day, among a sect of Judaism known as “Orthodox” – and is in the form of a book called the Talmud/Mishnah, today. As per the name, “the tradition of the elders” are traditions that have been handed down by the Elders/Fathers/Rabbis which was considered as Law, and equal to, or more important than God’s Law. The importance of knowing this information will become apparent as we proceed through the study. (For further study on this topic, please refer “Who were the Pharisees” & “What are Phylacteries”).

Gal 2:1-2
Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;  (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.

Paul continues his account from the chapter before, explaining that he communicated what he taught, his gospel, his good message to the Apostles of repute, privately. It is clear that he wanted to make sure his work was done according to the Apostles in Jerusalem, as he communicated his gospel with them privately, so that he knew he had not run in vain. This shows that he had the approval of Jerusalem, when it came to what he taught. This becomes even more clearer when you read Acts 21:17-26, where James conveys how some thought Paul taught against God’s Law, but it was only a misunderstanding. James makes it clear that they have passed judgement, proclaiming new believers among the gentiles to be subject to 4 laws before they are accepted into the fold. His judgement was that the rest would be learnt at synagogue, every Sabbath day(Acts 15:21). Please read this study for more information on the judgement given in Acts 15.

The very next sentence takes a sudden turn from all that Paul was explaining so far, and brings us to the issue at hand. “But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek”. This sentence needs close examination, as it will reveal the underlying issue of “forced circumcision”. It is apparent that some taught the gentiles that “without being circumcised, one cannot be truly saved”(Act 15:1). This was the addition to the Gospel Paul spoke of, in his introduction(Gal 1:6-9). Some were adding to the Good news of “everyone being saved through Christ”. Their addition was that even though we are saved through Messiah, Gentiles should be circumcised to be truly saved. Jews were circumcised on the 8th day after their birth. Gentiles who underwent no such thing, were uncircumcised – hence the issue of whether one needs to be circumcised or not.

While circumcision is a statute of God, it has never been a prerequisite for Salvation. God’s grace alone saves us – this has been the case, even in the time of the Old Testament. So, where did this teaching of “Salvation not being possible unless you are circumcised” originate? It is not a teaching that originates from the Old Testament Scriptures. Reading Acts 15:1&5, we receive another clue into the origins of this idea. This idea was known as a “custom of Moses” and it was promoted by the believers in Messiah, who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees. The words “custom/manner of Moses” draws direct attention to the “traditions of the elders/fathers” mentioned before by Paul(Gal 1:14), and is evident by the fact that it was backed by the sect known as the Pharisees. It is important to note that “custom of Moses” is clearly different to “Law of Moses”.

Coming back to the study, we see Paul defending the liberty in Christ, which is obedience to God’s Word and no other extra teachings such as the “traditions of the elders”, and accuses of false brothers who are trying to put the congregation back in bondage. The traditional understanding of this verse among today’s Christian is that “God’s Word/Law” is bondage. I would like to challenge this preconceived idea – as per what we have gathered so far from the letter – and present that the bondage Paul is speaking of is, none other than man-made teachings such as the “traditions of the elders”. In other words, “liberty” is obeying God’s Word, while “bondage” is obeying man-made teachings as God’s Word.

Paul then goes onto explain that the Apostles understood that he was entrusted the work of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles/uncircumcised, while the likes of Peter were entrusted the mission to the Jews/circumcised. He goes on further to say that the Pillars in the faith, such as James, Cephas & John had also given Paul the “right hand of fellowship” towards his mission/teaching to the gentiles, asking additionally only that he remember to take care of the poor.

Gal 2:11-15
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,

As Paul reports a past event where he corrected Peter, the circumcision question is raised again. As Paul describes, Peter and all the other Jews had been eating with the gentile believers in Antioch. This was an unusual act for the Jews, as it was not a social norm at the time. It was considered unlawful for a Jew to keep company with gentiles (Act 10:28). This was a custom which had no root in God’s Word, but had become a norm by the 1st century. In fact, God had shown the error of disassociation with gentiles through a vision to Peter. Additionally, Peter had been accused of eating with Gentiles by the group named the “Circumcision” before (Acts 11:2,3).

We see Paul reporting that Peter had withdrawn from having fellowship with the gentile believers, fearing this “Circumcision” group. Other Jews had also followed suit (this shows that the “circumcision” does not refer to all Jews, but only a specific group in this case just as in Acts 11;2,3). Paul writes that he saw them going astray from the “truth of the gospel”. By disassociating with the Gentile believers, Peter was effectively promoting that “Circumcision” played a key part in Salvation. The “truth of the Gospel” was that a believer was saved through the Grace of God. Peter and the Jewish believers were exhibiting that the Gentiles who had not being circumcised were not truly part of their fellowship and were not walking uprightly according to the Gospel. This had led Paul to admonish Peter by explaining that Paul & Peter who were both Jews by birth, born to the faith of God in Heaven, were different from the Gentiles who are sinners as they did not have God. Paul goes on to say that if he was a true Jew(A Circumcised Child of God), he would not act as a Gentile(Uncircumcised Sinner) and try to compel Gentiles to live as Jews. In other words, he would not compel (through his disassociation with Gentile believers) the Uncircumcised Gentiles to be Circumcised – as his actions gave the idea that without Circumcision, the Gentiles were not truly part of the congregation.

Gal 2:16-21
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. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

In the previous section, Paul went on to challenge Peter for his lapse in judgement where Peter indicated that an “uncircumcised Gentile was not saved” through disassociating with the Gentiles. In this section, Paul explains this teaching to the Galatians. No man is justified through the “Works of the Law”. No man achieves salvation through the “obedience to God’s Word”. Salvation is a free gift given through the faith we place on God and the sacrifice of Messiah. Turning God’s Law/Word into a set of rules that can be obeyed to achieve righteousness/salvation was what Paul stood against, calling it “Works of the Law”. In other words you were working to attain salvation through the Law, by saying a Gentile is saved through the act of Circumcision. There is no backing for this idea in the Old Testament Scriptures. No one achieved salvation through Circumcision. No one is justified/made righteous/ saved through the observation of Law.

Paul explains that the “uncircumcised gentiles” who are seeking justification/salvation through Christ, does not mean that the Messiah serves a sinful congregation(because the uncircumcised gentiles were seen as sinners still in need of salvation which could be achieved through the observation of circumcision). Paul talks next about not building again which he destroyed. This is surely “the traditions of the elders” mentioned in Gal 1:14, which he says he was extremely zealous for. The “Work of the Law” in discussion in this letter which is “Salvation through Circumcision” is a “tradition of the elders” which Paul says he “destroyed” in himself.

Taking the the above as context, it is clear that Paul speaks of two Laws in the next verse. “Gal 2:19  For I through the law(God’s Law) am dead to the law(Oral Law/Traditions of the elders) , that I might live unto God”. Both the Oral Law and Written(God’s) Law were considered Law in the 1st Century, especially by the “Circumcision Party” who seeked to enforce it on Gentiles. Verse 13 provides the context, to which Law was destroyed by the Other. True Salvation was from God and not by Works done by the individual.

If a person was seeking salvation through obedience to the Law, he ideally neutralizes the Grace given by God freely, which comes through the death/sacrifice of Messiah. The Grace of God is what makes all righteous – and is a free gift which cannot be earned.

Gal 3:1-6
O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

Paul admonishes the Galatians for being led astray by these vain teachings. He questions the Galatians whether any of them received the Holy Spirit through the obedience of Law or the faith they had in God? He questions them asking whether after they have received the Spirit of God, they believe “circumcision” could make them perfect/righteous/justified. It is clear that the Galatians have suffered some sort of persecution, and Paul asks them to make sure that it was not in vain. He wants the Galatians to ponder on the question of “Circumcision for Salvation” by looking at the physical signs/miracles done by the Spirit amongst them. If they were not saved, how could the Spirit of God be working miracles in their congregation?

Gal 3:6-9
Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.

Paul brings the example of Abraham and how he was justified through faith(Gen 15:6). As God promised that the nations would be blessed through Abraham who was made righteous through Faith, Paul makes the case that the Galatians who are part of the “uncircumcised gentiles” would also be blessed through faith.

Gal 3:10-14
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. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 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: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

A critical misunderstanding must be addressed and resolved in this section. Most Christians believe that the Law is a Curse. Nothing can be further from the truth. Please read this study if you want to know more about the “Curse OF the Law”.  Paul tells the Galatians that whoever wants to achieve salvation through “Works of the Law” are under a curse, as the Law says that whoever disobeys the law is under a curse(Deut 27:26). Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 saying that we are justified before God through faith. No one can be justified before God by the Law, as all have fallen short(Psa 143:2, Ecc 7:20). The Law is there for 3 reasons – to show what sin is, to curse us when we break it & to bless us when we obey it. Faith is what brings you into favour with God. Faith is all you need to receive salvation. Law is there to guide you afterwards, on how to live life. That is why Paul says “And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.” Faith first, Law second. Since no one can keep His Law perfect, we are bound to be cursed with the curses written in the Law. These curses written in the Law are what Messiah took on Himself. So as we have faith in God, He moves us from death to life, and as we obey Him, if we are to fall short, Christ has already taken the curses meant for us.

♦ Blessings & Curses of the Law: Deu 11:26-28, Deu 30:15,19, Deu 29:21 Dan 9:11, Jos 8:34
♦ List of Blessings for obedience(keeping His Covenant by obeying God’s Law) in Deut 28:1-14 & Lev 26:1-13
♦ List of Curses for disobedience(breaking His Covenant by disobeying God’s Law) in Deut 28:15-68 & Lev 26:14-39

Gal 3:15-18
Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. 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.

It can never be emphasized enough here of the reason for the Galatians to consider Circumcision as a valid reason for salvation. When they were taught (much like in Antioch – Acts 15) that without circumcision you are not saved, they were scared that the promise comes after circumcision. The belief was that “Circumcision” comes from Moses – indeed it was given to the people by Moses – but it was instituted through Abraham(Joh 7:22). But nowhere did it say that it was a requirement for Salvation. Abraham himself walked with God for 25 years and received the promises before circumcision. So Paul used Scripture to explain this truth to the confused Galatians. (It is important to note that we must not think less of the Galatians, as this was a genuine doctrinal issue which was not easily settled. Paul and Barnabas had a hard time settling this matter in Acts 15:1,2 which is why they had to get the issue settled in Jerusalem)

In Gal 3:15, Paul makes an important point which is missed by many readers. He says that “even when it pertains to a man-made covenant, no one can add or take away from it”, and then explains that the Covenant made by God through Moses cannot be dis-annulled by the  Covenant God made through Abraham. The Abrahamic Covenant will not be broken because of the Mosaic Covenant which followed. Food for thought, for whomever believes that the Mosaic Covenant is broken because of the New Covenant.

Paul continues explaining that the Promise of Salvation came through the Abrahamic Covenant and that the “terms” were given through the Mosaic Covenant. One did not cancel the other. Abraham, and the nations through him, were to be blessed – which was a promise made before the Mosaic Covenant, to which the believing Gentiles were now qualified through Christ – the Promised Seed of Abraham. The Inheritance or heir-ship in the Kingdom came through the Abrahamic Covenant and not through the Law.

Gal 3:19-22
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. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

Since Paul has now said that the inheritance and heir-ship comes through the promise made to Abraham, he then explains the reason for God’s Law. He says that it was given because of transgression. In other words, it showed how to not live contrary to God’s ways. In the same stroke, Paul declares that the Promise is not against the Law either! He says “God Forbid” such a thing! According to his words which restates Scripture, he says that God’s Law was never meant to give life or make us righteous. The Scriptures themselves say that all are under sin(1Kin 8:46, Ecc 7:20, Psa 130:3). No man can make himself righteous through the Law as the Scriptures correctly conclude. Righteousness comes through the promise made to the Faithful. The Promise made to Abraham. That promise was Christ, and Abraham also had faith in Him(Joh 8:56).

Gal 3:23-29
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 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.

Before faith came, that is Christ – the promised one, who even Abraham put his faith on, everyone was kept under the care of the Law. They were guarded by the Law. (Some emphasize how “kept under the Law” showcases the harshness of the Law and how it kept us under its thumb – I would like to point out that the word “kept” used here is “G5432 – froo-reh’-o”, meaning a watcher, to mount guard, to hem in, protect.)

The next verse explains Paul’s words further. The Law was a Schoolmaster who brought us to Christ, till we were justified by Faith. After Christ gave us the promised justification through faith, we are no longer accountable to the Schoolmaster but Christ Himself. (Some point at this verse as proof that we are no longer this harsh Schoolmaster which is the Law. It is advantageous to know that the word used by Paul was “G3807 – pahee-dag-o-gos’ (Thayer Definition – a tutor, i.e. a guardian and guide of boys. Among the Greeks and the Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood). As per Paul we were entrusted to the guardian of the Law till Christ came. The Law was a tutor which supervised and guided the life and morals of the Children of God till the promise of God came to fruition. We were supposed to learn from the tutor till we were old enough to put the learning to practice without supervision. It is erroneous to say that “the Law is done away”, using such a verse when Paul himself said that the Law was never against the Promise a few pen strokes before.

Paul concludes the first section of his teaching by saying, that we become Children of God through faith in Messiah. For whoever is baptized into Christ puts on Christ, becoming one body, so that there is no more division such as Jew/Greek, etc. If we are part of Christ, we are part of Abraham (from who’s seed Christ came), which means we are partakers of the promise of our Father Abraham.

Gal 4:1-7
Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Paul has already made the case that Gentile converts are heirs through the promise made to Abraham – who is Christ. Now he explains that an heir is under guardians and overseers, nothing but a servant – till he/she come of age. Paul explains that all (inclusive of himself) were under worldly principles when we were yet children in the faith – being under various teachers and overseers as we did not know any better. (It is important to note that “elements of the world” denote worldly teachings and not the word of God. As we read the next few verses, it will become clear that these “principles of the world” included
1.”traditions of the elders/fathers” for the Jew (from which the idea of Salvation through Circumcision comes)
2. “Pagan worship” for the Gentile

Paul goes on to say that when the Father discerned it was time, he sent Christ, who was also under the supervision of the Law, so that He could redeem/buy us, so that we could be justified through faith (which the Law could never do). In Gal 3:19-22 Paul had already explained that the Law, which is not against God’s Promise, could never make anyone righteous. “Justification/Salvation/The Promise” was through Faith all along.  If we were to stay under the supervision of the Law, no one could ever be justified, as the Scriptures say that “all are under sin”. Our adoption happens not by keeping of Law, but through Faith in Messiah – which is the Promise. The Law is there to only let us know what Sin really is. Remember, that the core theme is still justification through the Law – especially Circumcision.

The Holy Spirit, was the guarantee of this fact. Paul explains that the Galatians who had seen the power of the Holy Spirit were to know that they had already received justification/son-ship through Faith, and had no need to justify themselves through the Law – especially Circumcision.

Gal 4:8-16
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. Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all. Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me. Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?

Next, Paul explains being in bondage under the elements/principles of the world in the sense of the Gentile first. He says that when you (Galatians) did not know the one true Creator, they served them that are not gods (Trees/Sun/Statues/etc). Then Paul questions how they are turning back to the same weak and worthless worldly principles of pagan worship after they came to know the true creator. Paul is alarmed that they have started observing days, months, times and years. Some rush to say that these are Sabbaths and Feast days from the Scriptures. The context is clear that the Galatians were Gentiles involved in Pagan Worship, and after they came to be known by God, they have returned back to their old ways. Could this be the Festivals and Holy weeks celebrating Magna Mater/Cybele, to which the Galaltians were participating?). Paul is afraid that all his work has been in vain, and begs the Galatians not to think that Paul is speaking through anger or offense. He explains that they had done nothing wrong against him and that they had showed him kindness and being a blessing to him, even helping him through his infirmities. So, Paul questions, just because he speaks truth and admonishes the congregation – whether he has become an enemy unto them.

Gal 4:17-25
They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.
But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you. My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you. 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.

Next, Paul moves onto explain being in bondage under the elements/principles of the world in the sense of the Jew. Unlike the Gentile, the Jew was brought up knowing the Creator, but they were still in bondage because of the way they handled the Law. Through their own traditions, known as the “Traditions of the Fathers/Elders” they had made the Law into a mode of reaching justification/righteousness/salvation. And they were now imposing the same on the confused Galatians. Paul starts by saying that they(the Circumcision Party who taught that Gentiles could not be saved unless they are circumcised) are affecting the Galatians in Zealousness – much like the zealousness Paul had(Gal 1:14). But they themselves refuse to hear/learn or be affected by the Galatians. Paul explains that it is a good thing to be affected by zealous teachings if they were good, whether he be present with them, or not.

Coming back to the main point in concern, he says that it is like he is experiencing birth pains till these children – his children, the Galatians come to maturity in Christ. He questions why they desire to be guarded by the Law, when we should be subject to Christ, and why they do not understand the Law of God. He then relates a story from the Law (Torah or the 5 books of Moses) to explain why we should not be justified by the Law and to show them the bondage, the Circumcision party is trying to put them in. His example from Gen 16 & 21, is as follows:

Abraham had 2 sons. one from a servant(Hagar) and one from a freewoman(Sarah). Isaac, the one from Sarah was born according to the promise of God, while Ishmael was born from Hagar according to the will of Abraham & Sarah because of their lack of faith. Paul explains that this has a hidden meaning, and was a picture of things to come. He explains further, that Isaac through Sarah and Ishmael through Hagar were symbols for the two Covenants. The Covenant which was given at the mount of Sinai gave birth to bondage – this was Hagar. Hagar was the mount of Sinai in Arabia (where most of the Ishmaelites dwelt) and corresponds to Jerusalem on earth, and its children – all the inhabitants who were the Jews. Paul says that just like Hagar, they are in bondage, while the heavenly Jerusalem is the mother of us all, and is free. (The majority of Christians use this example to show how God’s Law brings bondage, and how the New Covenant mentioned by Jeremiah and the author of Hebrews is what frees us from Law. This is a misunderstanding in several fronts, as the whole objective of Paul is to show that we are not justified by Law. Not that the Law is done away. In his own words “Is the Law against God’s Promise? God forbid!”. So what did he mean by this example?)

First of all, we must understand that the two covenants Paul is speaking of, are the Mosaic and Abrahamic. He had previously in Chapter 3, spoken in length, about the 2 covenants and how the Mosaic does not cancel the Abrahamic. His whole premise throughout has been that we are justified by faith through the promise given to Abraham, and not through the Law – especially circumcision, as the Galatians had been taught that they cannot be saved unless they get circumcised – as per the Circumcision party.

Paul explains that the Mosaic Covenant had given birth to Fleshly children who are still in bondage with their mother – earthly Jerusalem. Jews who were trying to be justified through the Law, and who were teaching “salvation through Circumcision” were the ones that symbolized Ishmael – born of flesh, and not promise, who were now under bondage with Jerusalem, as the Law could not save anyone. It must be stressed here that Paul is NOT saying that God’s Law is Bondage. He is saying that the current state of bondage that the religious Jews are in, has come about from the Law – The Mosaic Covenant. This does not mean, it is a fault of God or the Covenant itself, but of the ones who received it and put it into practice.

The Abrahamic Covenant was what gave birth to the children of Promise, who are free with their mother – heavenly Jerusalem. Believers, whether Jew or Gentile, who came to be justified through the faith they put in God and the work of Messiah resembled Isaac, born of faith and promise of a freewoman.

In simpler terms:-

Mosaic Covenant

Abrahamic Covenant

Mother of Flesh – Hagar = Earthly Jerusalem

Mother of Promise – Sarah = Heavenly Jerusalem

Ishmael = Ones who try to be justified through Law

Isaac = ones who are justified through faith

Has given birth to children in bondage

Gives birth to children of promise (heirs)

Gal 4:26-31
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.

Paul, then quotes Isaiah’s words in Isa 54:1, which speaks of the 2 houses of Israel. The House of Israel which was said to have been divorced (Isa 50:1) and was exiled for their adultery was the desolate woman. The House of Judah, who was punished with a 70 year exile period was the one with the husband. Isaiah prophesied that there would be many more children of the desolate House of Israel than of the married House of Judah. The return of the House of Israel was prophesied, and the gentiles who were coming into the fold of the Messiah were part of that woman who was called desolate. (For an in-depth study into the 2 houses of Israel, read this study)

As promised to Abraham, the nations or the Gentile world were to be blessed by the Abrahamic Covenant. Paul explains that just as Isaac was of promise, we are also of promise. And that just as Ishmael (the flesh) persecuted Isaac (the spirit), the fleshly Jews, who are trying to justify themselves through the Law are persecuting the Gentiles who are trying to be justified through faith. Paul goes further on quoting Gen 21:10-12 speaking of how the servant and her son was put out without receiving heirship with the freewoman and her son. He explains that in the same way, the Galatians are to put out the teachers and teachings of “salvation through Law”/”salvation through circumcision” as those will not receive heirship along side the ones who claim “Salvation through Faith”/”Salvation through promise”. Paul exclaims that we are not justified by Law but by faith – we are not of the servant, but of the free.

Gal 5:1-5
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.

Bondage came through making the Mosaic Law into a way for salvation. God’s Law was simply the way to know what sin is, the way to obey Him. God entrusted the Law to bless who obey Him with Life and Curse who disobeys with death. This was the curse that Messiah took upon himself. This was the liberty we received. A person who tries to keep God’s Law perfectly, will still fall short and be cursed according to His Word. We can be released from such a curse only through having Faith that he will forgive us through the sacrifice of Messiah. A person who believes in himself to keep God’s Law for Salvation is in bondage, as there is no way he can redeem him/herself from the curse of death. Paul tells the Galatians not to try and receive salvation through the Law (specifically circumcision in their case) after they have been redeemed from the curse of death through Christ. Paul makes himself crystal clear by telling them that whoever practices circumcision for the reason of justification (as he says Justified by the Law) has made Christ’s sacrifice worthless. Moreover, if you are circumcised so that you believe you will receive salvation, that means you are trying to be justified by the Law, which means you must keep the whole law perfectly, without error – as one mistake, and it is in vain, as you are judged a transgressor and cursed with death. A person who puts his/her faith in the Law for salvation makes Christ’s sacrifice a vain thing thereby falling from God’s Grace. Paul explains that all we can do is have hope through the Spirit that we will be judged righteous through faith, as we are unable to save ourselves.

Gal 5:6-12
For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. I would they were even cut off which trouble you.

After explaining the reason for the Law and explaining the justification through faith, Paul now gets back to the point in question – Circumcision for salvation. He declares that circumcision does not add anything to whoever is justified through Christ – nor does it take away anything from the uncircumcised. Paul questions the Galatians about the person who is bringing these unsettling doctrines to them, and states that he will be accountable for what he teaches. He warns that just as a little leaven puffs up the whole dough, these wrong doctrines can affect the whole congregation. Paul is confident that the Galatians will consider his words and turn back to correct doctrine. Paul who had believed and taught these principles of “Circumcision for salvation” through the “traditions of the elders” as a pharisee, questions the Galatians, “If I am still preaching Circumcision, why am I still persecuted?” In other words, if he was preaching the religious doctrines of the Pharisees according to the “Traditions of the fathers” there would be no need for him to be persecuted. If he was preaching the same doctrine as the “Circumcision party”, then there is no need of preaching salvation through Christ. Paul hopes that these trouble makers would be removed swiftly from the Galatian congregation.

Gal 5:13-18
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

Even as at one extreme Law is used for Salvation, the other extreme is to say there is no Law. So Paul warns the Galatians about using the freedom received through faith in Christ, wisely. To never make it an opportunity to be subject to the flesh/sin, but to love and serve each other. And to remember that the whole Law pertaining to each other, hangs on Love thy neighbor, as thyself. Paul begs them to stop arguing and being at each others’ throats on these matters. He asks to follow God’s Holy Spirit, as it will lead you away from the flesh/sin. And if you are in harmony with God’s Spirit, that means you are obedient to Him in every way – which means the Law does not need to guard you, as you know what is right from wrong. In other words you are not under the supervision of the Law, if you have God’s Spirit in you, as you will be obedient anyway.

Gal 5:19-26
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

Paul makes himself clear that people who engage in sin/fleshly desire such as adultery, fornication, uncleanness and the like, would not be allowed entrance to the Kingdom of God. He urges them to practice love, joy, peace and the like which are the fruits of the Spirit. Towards all good and obedient things towards God and man, there is definitely no Law, as the Law shows Sin, and is against sin. The Law is never against righteousness, that is why there is no law against all good fruits which proceed from God. He explains further that fleshly lusts and affections are put to death by those who are truly Christ’s. Paul urges the Galatians not to provoke or envy each other, and not to desire vain glory, such as that comes from saying “I am Circumcised, so I am better than you”.

Gal 6:1-10
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

Paul comes to the end of his letter and gives advise in several matters, asking the congregation to bring back a person in sin or wrong doctrine back in love, being careful not to be tempted by the same. He asks them to become part of each other’s lives fulfilling the path that Messiah took. He implores them not to be high minded, thinking of themselves above others. Paul asks each of them to test their own doctrines and ministry, so that no one rejoices in the effect they have had on others, but in his/her own life. Teachers should teach the goodness of the word. Paul asks none to be deceived. Who engages Sin will receive rewards of Sin – which is death, and who engages in Spirit receives rewards of Spirit – which is Life.  He asks the Galatians not to be weary of doing good – especially towards believers in Christ.

Gal 6:11-18
Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand. As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Paul points to the long letter he has written to them, and concludes his answer to the question of “Salvation through Circumcision”. He explains that “they” are compelling you to be circumcised for outward reasons, so that they will not be persecuted by the Jewish religious authority, as Paul is. They desire Gentiles to be circumcised so that they can boast about the people they have brought into their doctrine, and not because they keep God’s Law (as they were breaking most of it through their oral law – the traditions of the fathers/elders). Paul says that he does not glory in anything that he has done or the countless congregation he initiated, but in Christ’s sacrifice and the justification he receives through grace from God. Paul once again pronounces that in Christ what benefits is a new man who has changed his ways, and that being circumcised or being uncircumcised adds nothing to this redeeming work. He bids peace and mercy of God towards them who would stick to this ruling. And asks the Galatians not to trouble him further on this question. With final salutations, he completes his writing.

5. Conclusion
Reading the Letter written to the Galatians as such, a letter, from start to end – helps clear out many misconceptions and misunderstandings that have risen up through Paul’s words. Peter was correct in warning the believers to be careful of Paul’s Letters, as many were misinterpreting his words even in the 1st Century. Is circumcision required for justification? is it a pre-requisite to being accepted as part of Messiah’s Congregation? These were the questions raised in Acts Chapter 15 as well as this letter to the Galatians. Paul dissects the Abrahamic Covenant and explains the essence of the sign of Circumcision as well as the theme of faith and righteousness. If righteousness came through a personal act, one could boast in receiving salvation through what he had done. Paul explained the error of this idea which was being taught by the Circumcision Party being a religious ritual coming down through the Oral Law (Traditions of the Fathers/Elders), existent even today. Erroneous teachings such as “The Law is a curse“, “If you obey the Law, you fall from Grace“, “the Law is done away” and “Law is bondage” are all exposed, while the true purpose of the Law, which was never given for Salvation, but was a light towards the path of Obedience comes out in the arguments of the Misunderstood Apostle – Paul, who was falsely accused of teaching against the Law of God.

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Paul – falsely accused of breaking God’s Law

130093-004-9B9100F0Did Paul break God’s Law? Did he teach believers to do the same? one third of the New Testament writings consist of Paul’s letters, and it is a fact that his letters create most of the central doctrine of Christianity today. So it is advantageous for us to know whether Paul was indeed a breaker of God’s Law written in the Old Testament, and whether he taught the same to other believers. Or are all of these false accusations against a Law abiding Child of God? Let us look at the evidence.

Act 21:18-24 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.

It is fairly clear that the accusations against him, such as – “Paul is teaching the Jews outside Judea, to forsake Moses (God’s Law), not to circumcise their children & walk after their customs” – were all false. According to James, Paul was “walking orderly, and keeping the Law”. But since there were rumors and accusations against Paul, the elders along with James wanted to publicly announce and demonstrate the truth to his accusers.

Now many would not really understand the deep meaning of the act that was performed to exhibit that Paul was obedient to God’s Law. Let us take a closer look at what Paul actually did to showcase his obedience.

Vows & Purification
It is clear that James asked Paul to “purify” himself with four others that had made a vow. But what was this “vow”, what was this “purification” and why did Paul purify himself along with these people?

Paul had made a Nazarite vow
In Acts 18:18 we see that Paul shaves his head because he had made a vow. The only vow made to God that had instructions to shave ones head was – a Nazarite Vow specifically mentioned in Numbers Chapter 6.

Nazarite Vow
The only vow of its kind mentioned in God’s Law, the Nazarite vow was all about separation and being consecrated (Nazarite – Nawzeer in Hebrew, means separation/consecration). Mentioned in detail in Numbers chapter 6, the Nazarite vow consisted of these specific instructions;

  • The Nazarite was to abstain from wine, intoxicating liquors and eating or drinking any substance that contains any trace of grapes.
  • He/she had to refrain from cutting the hair, and allow the hair to grow.
  • He/she could not become ritually impure by contact with corpses or graves.
  • At the end of the period of the vow, the Nazarite was to be purified by bringing one male lamb as a burnt offering, a female lamb as a sin offering and one ram as a peace offering along with a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil, with a drink offering to the priest at the Temple in Jerusalem.
  • Finally the Nazarite should shave his head at the courtyard of the Temple, take the hair and put it in the fire as part of the peace offering.

James’ instructions
Even though Paul would have gone to the Temple to complete his Nazarite vow, by offering the necessary sacrifices and shaving his head once again, James saw that this was clearly not enough to make a declaration. He asked Paul to pay for the four other men as well for their purification, so they can also get their heads shaved.

Paul’s purification
In Act 21:26 Luke records “Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.” Paul finished the vow and paid for the necessary sacrifices for purification, for himself and the four men. Later Paul would tell the Governor Felix that “Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult”(Act 24:18).

Conclusion
It is fairly clear that Paul was obedient to God’s Law, both because of James’ declaration that “the accusations/rumors were nothing because he walks orderly and keeps the law” as well as Paul’s act of taking a Nazarite vow and purification at the temple. Even today, the majority of Christians believe in the rumors and false accusations that were laid against Paul. If we would only read James’ words regarding Paul’s walk with God and understand the acts that Paul did, we would clearly see that he did not teach against God’s Law or break it in anyway.

What about the Gentiles?
Now most of us who read the above and agree that Paul indeed kept God’s Law and did not teach against it, would have a question about the need to obey God’s Law as Gentiles. In Acts 21:25, James himself says that they have written to the gentiles about their decision on what they should compulsorily observe, alluding to the judgement made in Acts 15. (A lengthy discussion can be found on this topic as a complete study by clicking on this link) This decision pertained to the believers coming in from the Gentile nations, and was the absolute minimum which they had to do, to be considered part of the congregation. The four key commandments which were, abstaining from food sacrificed to idols, strangled animals, blood & fornication, are all specifically taken from Leviticus chapter 17 & 18.

What has led to this big confusion and misunderstanding about Paul and his letters?
Paul is definitely one of the most misunderstood people in the New Testament. Being so far removed from the time and circumstances, as well as reading with proper context could be pointed out as the main reasons for this confusion.

Even the apostle Peter warned the congregations about Paul’s letters when he wrote “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest(pervert), as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked(lawless), fall from your own stedfastness (2Pet 3:16,17). Peter said that Paul’s letters are hard to understand, and his words are being twisted by the unlearned and unstable to be led to lawlessness.

Food Laws or Fasting? Misunderstandings regarding Romans 14

When I was confronted with the idea that “Christians must keep God’s Food Laws” for the first time, my immediate knee-jerk reaction was to quote Paul. Why… didn’t Paul say that we could eat anything as long as we don’t make anyone else stumble?

A few years later, I read the same verses from the Apostle Paul’s letters, and think to myself – how did I misunderstand his words? and why did I misuse them so carelessly? It was for this very reason Peter was quick to warn the congregations about Paul’s writings.

“And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”2Pet 3:15,16

I was an unlearned person, as Peter says, perverting Paul’s words to suit my needs, doctrines and agendas. The “Misunderstood Apostle”, as I call him – Paul kept and obeyed the Law (Acts 21:24). To argue or teach that Paul taught against God’s Law in his epistles, is to corrupt his teachings and even the memory of all he did for the faith.

Putting Romans 14 under the microscope
Even though mainline Christianity uses Romans 14 as a means to argue that Paul taught against the food laws and showed a more tolerant way, closer study will reveal that Romans 14 has nothing to do with the clean/unclean food laws established by God.  So let us start from the beginning of the Chapter where he starts to advise on a particular topic, and walk down to see what his words really speak of.

Rom 14:1  Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
It is clear that there has been some sort of dispute happening in the congregation of Rome, to which Paul is trying to provide his advise. Paul’s writing in Romans Chapter 14 revolve completely around a “dispute which is doubtful” – this is the context! We must remember that there is no doubt or dispute when it comes to God’s Word. We know that not even one jot or tittle will in anyway pass from the Law till heaven and earth last. God’s eternal Word cannot be called a “doubtful disputation”. If God’s Food Laws was the main subject matter, this would make God’s Law and Word (which was kept by Paul) a “doubtful disputation”. In Paul’s own words “God Forbid”!

Rom 14:2-6 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
Now to deconstruct this debatable “dispute”. Paul Speaks of 2 categories of people. One eats all things, while the other only eats vegetables. One regards a certain day, while the other does not. One eats, while the other doesn’t. The dispute is hence, regarding eating or not on woman-with-empty-platespecific days. “Fasting” in other words! As we know, eating vegetables or a basic diet that did not include any meat, wine or anything pleasant was constituted by Daniel when he fasted (Dan 10:2,3 & Dan 1:12,16). It is a known fact that fasting was practiced heavily in the 1st century (Mat 6:16; 9:14,15, Mar 2:18-20, Luk 5:33-35). And historical documents reveal that Monday and Thursday were considered fast days in the second temple period (Ta’an. 2:4) The pharisee who prayed in Luke 18:12 about fasting twice a week, would have been keeping these fast days.

It is important to note that these fast days were traditions, and did not have root in Scripture. The “dispute” of Romans 14 is surely whether or not to fast on these days. Some believers were fasting on these days, and some were not. Paul’s advise was, not to judge one another and be thankful whether you eat or fast – or keep the traditional fast days or not – as these were doubtful disputes as they did not have Scriptural backing. It was not wrong to fast. It was not wrong to eat either. It was not wrong to fast on specific days. It was not wrong to fast on other days either. Be fully persuaded in your own mind, of what you do – was Paul’s advise to the congregation.

Rom 14:7-13 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
Paul reiterates that no one should judge or become a stumbling block to his brother on this issue.

Rom 14:14  I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 
This verse is sometimes used to point out that this issue is none other than “clean”/”unclean” foods, as Paul seems to be saying that he is persuaded that there is nothing unclean.

It is worth mentioning the word “unclean” in Rom14:14 in our English versions of the Bible comes from the Greek word “koinos” (G2839 – κοινός – koinos) meaning “common”. The word “unclean” is actually a different Greek word “Akathartos” (G169 – ἀκάθαρτος – akathartos). Both these words can be read in Act 10:14  “But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common(koinos) or unclean(akathartos)”. In fact this is the only place where “koinos” is translated as “unclean” in the whole of the New Testament.

While unclean(akathartos) was used to denote something unclean like “unclean foods”, common(koinos) was used to indicate something “ritually impure”, such as in the case of eating with unwashed hands. “Ritual impurity” was not part of God’s Law, but was connected to Tradition. (Read this study for a in depth look at the difference of God’s Law & Tradition). Basically, unclean(akathartos) was part of God’s Law, while common(koinos) was part of tradition.

So with the above information, let’s try to understand the point Paul is trying to make. In the context of the issue of fasting, he must be reiterating the fact that there is no “common”/”ritually impure”/”wrong way” of fasting. That he believes there is no wrong way of practicing fasting – but if a person concludes he/she should not fast in a particular way, for him/her, the act of fasting in that particular way becomes “common”/wrong way”. In other words, if we fast, we must do it in the way we are led to do it, rather than adhering something that you do not fully agree with.

Rom 14:15  But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
One of the reasons that people believe the earlier verse speaks of “unclean food” is the fact that this verse contains the word “meat”. Yet again, we must dig into the original words of the Greek Manuscripts, to find the truth for ourselves.

The word translated as “meat” in many of our English translations of the Bible, originates from the Greek word “Bromah”(G1033 – βρῶμα – brōma) which means “food”. The Greek word “Kreas”(G2907 – κρέας – kreas) is the word which means “meat” and is used in verse 21, further down in the chapter. “Bromah” is extensively used in the Septuagint for general food, while “kreas” is the word used for meat. It is a grave error in translations that lead to this erroneous teaching of “don’t eat unclean meats if you become a stumbling block to your fellow brother” – leading all to believe that Paul is giving leeway for believers to eat unclean meats as long as others don’t take issue with it.

Paul’s whole discussion which revolves around fasting is yet again what he is addressing in this verse. Basically what he is saying is “you are not walking in love, if your brother takes issue in the fact you eat, while they fast. Don’t allow food to be a factor which can destroy their faith.

Rom 14:16-19 Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
Paul continues his advise, asking them to not allow anyone to defame them because of this issue – whether you fast or not, whether you fast on a particular day, or not. He explains that the kingdom of God stands on “righteousness”, “peace” and “joy” in the Holy Spirit, and not on disputed issues of “food and drink”. He asks to serve Christ in whatever personal decisions they take on the issue at hand, as this is the only criterion to be acceptable to God. He advises that we must all strive to edify each other, and take a path of peace rather than engage in disputes/arguments on the matter of fasting.

Rom 14:20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.
Paul goes onto finish his advise on the matter of fasting by explaining that “food”(Bromah) should not cause the destruction of the work of God – meaning it should not hinder the work of salvation. All manners of Fasting, whether on a specific day or not, is pure. But it is evil if someone eats and becomes a stumbling block to others through doubtful disputes.

Rom 14:21  It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak
The fact that he is speaking of fasting, is cemented by this verse as he speaks of refraining from meats(kreas), wine and any other thing that makes others stumble, brings them displeasure or make them weak in the faith. The parallels between Paul’s words here and Dan 10:2,3 where Daniel refrains from meat, wine and delightful bread should be noted.

Rom 14:22,23 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
Paul’s final words on the matter, is to instruct them to not cause disputes because of personal faith. Whatever a person believes, must be kept to himself in front of God, in such a situation according to Paul. He exhorts not to fall into condemnation by what each person sees fit to do. And to not doubt yourself if you decide on eating rather than fasting, as your decision must be made in faith without doubts.

Conclusion
Romans chapter 14 is commonly used as an argument to say that Paul endorsed the eating of unclean foods – as long as we don’t make anyone else stumble. Reading the chapter from the beginning provides much needed context and clarity to this misunderstanding. It is clear that Paul is addressing a dispute in Rome. While God’s Word and Law cannot be called a “doubtful disputation”, we know that Paul himself walked orderly and according to God’s Law(Act 21:24).

Rom 14:6 is clear – “He that regards the day, regards it unto the Lord; and he that does not regard the day, he regards it not to the Lord. He that eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he that eats not, does not eat to the Lord, and gives God thanks”. Some are eating, some are not eating. And some are regarding a particular day above the other. It appears to be a dispute about fasting. some eat. some fast. some fast on a particular day. some eat vegetables only(a kind of fasting like done by Daniel). So what is Paul’s advice? avoid doubtful disputes as there are no laws on fasting. Let people eat or fast so that they do not make other brothers stumble. Be sure of your decision, but do not create disputes on the matter. Making the issue addressed by Paul here, into one about God’s Food Laws does not align with the entirety of Scripture, nor does it support the context of the chapter. We must be careful in jumping to conclusions when reading Paul’s words, and try our best to deconstruct them without giving way to our preconceived notions.

Should we stone sinners, if we obey God’s Law?

It is part of God’s Law – So, should we? As a means of showing the impracticality of God’s Law, many pose the question, “if we are keeping God’s Law, why don’t we stone adulterers and other sinners specified by the Law?”. A recent comment I received from a dear brother read “If we cannot pick and choose which ceremonial law applies to us, then when keeping the OT law after being saved, we should be sure to stone adulterers.” He went on to ask why Christ forgave the woman who was accused of adultery. And to reiterate the point by commenting that “We should stone. Stone, stone, stone.” While I completely understand the point of view, and the hint of frustration in this brother’s words, I believe this common view among Christians is quite a misinformed one at best. The “issue of stoning” is taken as one of the easiest argument against keeping God’s Law – in a haphazard way, with little to no understanding of how the Law functions.

StoneBut is it a pointless question to ask? Absolutely not. In fact, understanding this subject could bring any Christian who can look at theology in a critical fashion, a bit closer to God’s Word. While this post will focus on the “issue of stoning”, if you would like to read into God’s Law a bit further – please go here.

First of all, I must explain that I, myself as a Christian who was taught that God’s Law was done away in Christ, had the same opinion as the brother whom I mentioned earlier. I had little understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures, even though I had read parts of it – And was ready to defend my faith against who I believed to be “Judaizers” with comments such as “We don’t need to keep God’s Law. If we do, then we need to stone people”. So enough about me – on to the question in hand!

Capital Punishment
When God led the Children of Israel out of Egypt and gave them His Law, many commandments were set forth. There were commandments for land owners, men, women, soldiers, fathers, levites, aaronic priests, judges, witnesses, etc. – much like the laws that govern us in our own respective countries. Many countries have laws, that if broken can lead to capital punishment. This was the case with God’s Law. There were certain acts which were punishable by death – according to God’s Law. And it involved stoning as an act of putting fear in the Godless.

Can anyone stone a sinner?
Imagine a land which is run on a law that specifies that anyone can give the lethal injection to a person accused of murder or adultery. No trial? No judge? No witnesses? Immediate punishment! What sort of land would that be? But this is exactly how Christianity views the Land of Israel under God’s Law in the time before Christ. Barbaric. It is such a pity that we have been taught to view God’s Law which was called liberty by David(Psa 119:45) & James(Jas 1:25), in such a way. The critical question which needs to be asked is “can anyone stone a sinner?”. And as we will see below, similar to the Law of the secular world, God’s Law (when it came to public matters) was to be put to effect through a system of Law.

The making of a ‘system of Law’
When God led His people out of Egypt, at the helm was Moses. He was the only judge at that time, and did his duties from morning to evening (Exo 18:13). It was his duty to enact fair judgement according to God’s Law and statutes (Exo 18:16). Heeding the advice of his father-in-law, Moses chose God-fearing men of truth, and appointed them rulers of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens – teaching them God’s ordinances and Laws (Exo 18:19-21). These rulers were to judge the people under them, and bring any case which was hard for them to resolve, unto Moses (Exo 18:22). Moses in turn would bring any matter he was unsure about before God for resolution(Exo 18:23, Lev 24:12). This was the system of Law at the time – the god fearing rulers/judges would try the easy cases while bringing hard ones to Moses – the head judge, who in turn went to God, when he was unsure of a matter(Exo 18:26). God was supreme ruler and judge of the children of Israel at the time.

After Moses, the mantle of judge passed onto Joshua (Deut 31:14,23) and then to the judges mentioned in the book of judges(Judg 2:16-18) until the time of Samuel, when God gave the people a king at their request. From Saul onward, the kings acted as the head judge – to whom all hard cases were brought to(1King 3:16-28). This system established at the time of Moses was to continue(Deut 16:18) with the help of the priests according to God’s own command (Deut 17:8-12), and was even in effect after the return from the Babylonian exile(Ezr 7:25, 10:14).

The office of the judge
In the book of Deuteronomy, we see Moses recollecting the event where the judges were selected(Exo 18:13-26) with some more detail. In it, he makes an important statement (highlighted in bold with underlining for emphasis)

Deu 1:12-18 How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife? Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you. And ye answered me, and said, The thing which thou hast spoken is good for us to do. So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes. And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it. And I commanded you at that time all the things which ye should do.

Moses clearly states that the judges should judge righteously, for the judgement would come from God, if they acted/judged according to God’s Word/Law. This same idea is echoed again in 2Chr 19:6. The fact is that judges were to dispense the Law, when it came to public cases. We see this abundantly in the Scriptures – a few examples follow:

Exo 21:22  If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
Exo 22:8 If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods.
Exo 22:9 For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing, which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbour.
Deu 19:17,18 Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother;

The judge who dispenses sentences according to God’s Law needs to be a properly appointed God fearing, righteous person with a thorough knowledge of the Law. Every person could not act as a judge, as it was a position of authority presented to a person, similar to the appointment of a King.

The calling of Witnesses
A judge could not simply put someone to death without hearing a case against him/her. There had to be witnesses called forth, especially in the case of capital punishment. NO ONE COULD BE PUT TO DEATH WITHOUT HEARING 2 TO 3 WITNESSES.

Num 35:30  Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die.
Deu 17:6  At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.
Deu 19:15  One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.

Not only was a judge to hear the case with adequate evidence before putting someone to death, the witnesses had to cast the first stone, when it came to punishment.

Deu 17:7  The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you.

Following proper procedure
Each case was to be judged according to God’s Law – and proper procedure was to be followed for each case. For example, in the case of adultery, both the man and woman had to be punished (Deut 22:22, Lev 20:10) – the case would be heard with 2 to 3 witnesses present, and if found guilty by the judge, both of them would be stoned. If the man had forced himself on the woman, the man would be stoned, while the woman was set free. If the woman was not betrothed or married to another, the man would have to marry her and not be permitted to divorce her till his death. (Deut 22:23-29). Without adequate witnesses or following of proper procedure, the Judge would not be able to give a proper sentence.

The verdict
With the above information in hand, we can see that stoning or any other punishment could not have been dispensed without the use of the proper authorities. According to God’s Law, the common man could not take any action against a sinner without the judge and proper witnesses. Two to three witnesses needed to provide testimony for a judge to dispense proper justice. Anything outside these boundaries would have been “vigilantism”, which was not approved by God. No person could take the Law unto his/her own hand, much like the law of the secular world today. Just like we cannot give a ticket to a drunk driver or put a murderer on the electric chair, God’s Law did not allow everyone to judge & punish the guilty.

Why did Christ let the woman accused of adultery go free?
Many Christians believe that Yeshua(real name of Jesus) reinterpreted or changed God’s Law against adultery, when he let the woman accused of adultery go free. Let us review the words in John 8:2-11.

And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

A few important facts to point out:
1. The pharisees say that the woman was taken in the act of adultery – but the man with whom the act of adultery was committed is not present (both man and woman should be produced before the judge for proper sentencing – Deut 22:22/Lev 20:10)
2. They point to God’s Law given through Moses, and the connected punishment of death by stoning, as part of punishment for adultery – even though without a proper hearing it cannot be determined what action should be taken (the woman would be stoned if it was consensual along with the man/ the woman would be set free, while the man was stoned if she was forced upon / the woman would be given in marriage to the man with no ability of divorce if she is not betrothed to anyone – Deut 22:23-29)
3. Yeshua asked the one without sin to cast the first stone (the one who is familiar with God’s Law would have known that the person to cast the first stone needed to be the witnesses – Deut 17:7) – in light of this, whether any real witnesses were present would have been questionable, and even if they were present, the fact that they were sinful as much as the woman, made it impossible for them to judge anyone.
4. Yeshua asks whether no one passed sentence on the woman, and tells her that neither will He – to go and sin no more (The fact is that Yeshua was not an appointed judge who could carry out a death sentence, let alone punish anyone. He even denies to being any kind of judge in Luk 12:14. This was not the court, the partner who should be accused alongside the woman was missing and whether there were any real witnesses is questionable. It is important to highlight that the Pharisees and Scribes could not put anyone to death under Roman rule anyway, as it was prohibited by Roman Law(Joh 18:31) – this would have been why this situation was used as a way of finding fault with Christ. If Yeshua said “no”, He would have gone against God’s Law. If He said “yes”, He would have gone against Roman Law. Just as with the case of “paying taxes to Rome”, in this situation He showcased God’s Wisdom, in unraveling the plot and silencing the hecklers while putting them to shame by their own acts.

Conclusion
Stoning the guilty, much like the rest of God’s Law, is misunderstood by most. While this specific part is used to make God’s Law look ancient, impractical and even barbaric – it must be noted that dispensing of God’s Law when it came to a public matter, was not open for everyone. People could not stone each other haphazardly for every accusation. There was a system in place for this purpose with witnesses providing testimony and judges determining the verdict – all done according to specifics pointed out in God’s Law. If we stoned someone outside these instructions, our actions would go against God’s Law. For example, Stephen was stoned against God’s Law, as they produced false witnesses(Acts 6:11-14) against him and stoned him without a proper trial or verdict (Acts Chapter 7). While there were many such instances of kangaroo courts, mob attacks & vigilantism – none of it is in accordance to God’s Law, which systematically produces righteous judgement and unbiased punishment. Let us be thankful that Christ has taken on Himself the punishment for sins, which we should be stoned for, and have granted us to live a life full of Grace through walking in His ways/Words/Laws.

Further Reading:
Could anyone in Old Testament times, take “an eye for an eye”?
Is God’s Law a curse?
Defining the terms Sin, Law & Grace

Can we eat all meats? Food sacrificed to idols and misunderstandings regarding 1Cor 10:25

As most of Paul’s words, another common misunderstanding of his writings is the fact that he gave permission to eat anything and everything – effectively making void God’s decree of what is to be eaten and not, written down in Leviticus Chapter 11.

So was he making the law void? If so, why does he say “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law“(Rom 3:3). Is he contradicting himself, or have we misunderstood his words; as Peter wrote “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction”(2Pe 3:15,16). Let us see whether Paul was telling the believers to “eat all meats” or whether we have misunderstood his writings.

The below study is broken down into 7 sections for your ease.
1. A personal connection to this misunderstood verse
2. What happened in Corinth after Paul left?
3. A historical background of Corinth and the environment Paul lived in
4. Examination of Paul’s words: where to start
5. A brief look at 1Cor 8:1 to 10:33 as one topic/theme
6. Now we finally come upon the verse in question 1Cor 10:25-33
7. Conclusion

1. A personal connection to this misunderstood verse
I was brought up in a traditional Christian family background where we were free to eat anything we liked. “Paul had given specific instructions that Christians could eat anything”. “We were free”. “Christ had died so that we could have these freedoms”. These were the doctrines I had learned at sunday school.

When I first understood the Scriptures in their entirety, many of my earlier beliefs were questioned. I struggled within myself to look at things afresh, without preconceived ideas or notions. Putting things into context, both historically and textually, I was met with one question after the other. As I progressed in my studies, proving myself wrong, and coming to the understanding that I had believed in un-scriptural teachings for so long –  one of the questions that kept coming up was “can I eat what I have been eating all this time? Bacon, prawns, cuttlefish, crab and the like?” Instantly, the answer would pop into my mind – Paul said “Whatsoever is sold in the meat market, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake”1Co 10:25. It couldn’t get clearer than that – Paul said we could eat anything! Right? I had to make sure I was right.

In my studies, I learned something obvious. Paul was writing “letters” to specific congregations. These letters were targeted at particular groups in history, with specific problems and questions. You can’t read a line off an epistle such as this, separate! It’s a letter which is meant to be read from beginning to end. Paul did not mark verse numbers and break his letter down into chapters. These were done much later in time, to make reference easier. So now I had to read each of these letters in one go. And that is what I did.

To further understand the Historical context of the Corinthian congregation, I turned to an expert. Namely Dr. Bruce Winter, who has written a book named “After Paul left Corinth”, which as the name suggests, explores the historical atmosphere of Corinth after Paul left the congregation following his stay with them for one and half years (Act 18:11). I would highly recommend every Christian who wants to know the true meaning of Paul’s words, to read this book.

2. What happened in Corinth after Paul left?
It is important to understand the historical context of the Roman Colony named Corinth, at the time Paul wrote this letter. Without understanding what they went through and what circumstances they lived in, how can we, who live 2000 years after them, hope to understand the true context of Paul’s words?

We know that Paul stayed at Corinth for one and a half years(Act 18:11), which would have been enough time to train and teach the believers in the ways of God. He also commends the congregation for still “following the traditions” that he passed on to them(1Cor 11:2). So the question we should be asking now is, why does Paul suddenly have to explain about eating food from the market? Did he not teach them about food for 1½yrs? Why hadn’t he passed on a tradition on what to do in this regard? Or had circumstances changed in Corinth, so that he needed to give them new instructions?

Even though Paul’s letter to Corinth has been preserved, we do not have the letter which the Corinth congregation sent to Paul. The believers had written to Paul about at least six main matters which they needed answers on, which were addressed by Paul in this letter(7:1, 7:25, 8:1, 14:1, 16:1, 16:12) as we see, Paul himself writing “Now concerning the things you wrote about”(1Co 7:1). Furthermore, Paul had received reports of the issues at Corinth, from other sources as well(1:11, 5:1). It is also important to note that this was not the first time he had written on such issues to Corinth, as he says “I wrote to you in my letter….”(1Co 5:9), which they had misunderstood previously(1Cor 5:10)

3. A historical background of Corinth and the environment Paul lived in
1. Jews had been expelled from Rome under the order of Claudius around 49AD (Act 18:2)

2. The imperial cult where emperors and dignitaries were deified, and regarded, as well as, worshiped to as gods were also on the rise[A]. The “gods on earth” mentioned by Paul, in reference to “so-called gods and lords” could be speaking of such worship (1Cor 8:5)

3. The Isthmian games, a festival of athletic and musical competitions in honour of the sea god poseidon, was also held in Isthmus of Corinth[B]. The president of the Games, was known to have given multiple civic dinners to all who had Roman citizenship [C]. The “right” mentioned in 1Cor 8:9, could very well be the right to eat at Poseidon’s sanctuary at Isthmia, which was open to all who had Roman Citizenship at Corinth.

sanctuary-students working

The Santuary of Poseidon at Isthmia (Click to learn about the excavations done by the Ohio State University

“Archeological evidence suggests that the games did not return to Isthmia until about 50 AD. At that time, the temple and the facilities for the games were repaired, and in 67 AD the Emperor Nero took part in the panhellenic games.” (It is more than possible that the Isthmian Games and the dinners at poseidon’s temple started after Paul left Corinth, requiring him to write to them on how to act accordingly in these changed circumstances.)

4. The city authorities controlled the marketplaces, and special provisions were made for Jews to obtain meats which were slaughtered according to their standards[D]. (The Corinthian congregation would have also had to buy the meat separated for the Jews as per regulations made in Acts 15:20,29).

5. There was no such religion called Christianity at the time of Paul. In fact, the name “Christian”, mentioned only 3 times in the New Testament (Act 11:26, 26:28, 1Pet 4:16) would have been a derogatory term, at the time, as we see it’s use being connected to shame by Peter (1Pet 4:16).

6. Even-though believers in Christ, had significant theological differences with Jews who did not believe in Christ, they were all regarded as part of Jews and one belief system, being called a sect (Act 24:5,14, 28:22).

4. Examination of Paul’s words: where to start
As I have mentioned above, it is important to read the whole of the 1st letter to the Corinthian congregation in one go, to really understand the instructions Paul is providing the Church of Corinth. But, as such a study might not be possible in a short post such as this, we will focus our attention to the the particular part of the letter in concern. Even though the verse in question is 1Cor 10:25, Paul starts addressing this single topic in 1Cor 8:1 and goes upto 10:33. As such, this whole part of the letter needs to be read without interruption, to understand the context of 1Cor 10:25.

5. A brief look at 1Cor 8:1 to 10:33 as one topic/theme
As we will see in this study, from 1Cor 8:1 onwards till 10:33, Paul addresses only one topic. And this topic is none other than, “food offered/sacrificed to idols”. In 1Cor 8:1, Paul starts by saying “Now concerning food offered to idols and this theme continues on till the end of chapter 10(besides a deviation in chapter 9) where he is still speaking on the same topic when he writes “But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it”(1Cor 10:28). Following is a summarized version of the 3 Chapters in concern: (Although reading through the complete section is advisable, the main/important sections are marked in red for quick reference) 

1Cor 8:1-3 Paul enters into the topic saying that we all have knowledge regarding things offered to idols. It is important to note that “abstaining from meat offered to idols” was one of the four key judgements that was commanded by the Jerusalem Council to be adhered by all believers (Acts 15:20,29). [please read this study for an in-depth understanding of these four main rulings made by James]. Paul reproves the Corinthians not to be puffed up by the things they know, but to act in love.

1Cor 8:4-5 Paul says that everyone of you know that an idol is nothing, as there are no other gods but ONE. He then goes onto mention that there are many who are known to be gods and lords on earth as well as heaven, possibly making reference to the “imperial cult” which worshiped the emperors as divine beings alongside the other idols which were worshiped, such as apollo, poseidon and aphrodite in Corinth.

1Cor 8:6-8 He then explains that there are no other gods other than the Father, and no other lords other than Christ for them. And that some do not possess this knowledge, being accustomed to idol worship and offering sacrifices in the past, still think eating meat at such a place would be equal to idol worship. (This was exactly what was happening at the Isthmian Games mentioned above in section 3. The President of the Isthmian Games was hosting large dinners at the temple complex of poseidon for the Roman citizens of Corinth. Even-though the food at these dinners were not offered to poseidon, eating at such a place could be seen as idol worship by new Christians because of their “conscience being weak” as per Paul’s words.)
1Cor 8:9 The “Liberty” or “Right” spoken in this verse, would have been the right Christians with Roman Citizenship at Corinth, received to participate at the civic dinners held in honor of the Isthmian Games. Participating at such an occasion would have been a highest honor one could receive in Corinth. Paul advises the people who had this right to be careful that they do not put other believers at risk.
1Cor 8:10 Paul speaks to the ones who had the “right” to participate at the civic dinners to be careful, as a new believer could easily see them at these idol temples, and think that participation in eating of meats offered to idols is an acceptable thing to do. We should especially note that Paul is not approving anyone of eating “meat offered to idols” as this goes against the ruling made by the Jerusalem Council in Act 15:20,29. He was simply saying that the Corinthians who had Roman citizenship should think twice before they participated at the Isthmian Game dinners (which were hosted at the idol temple of poseidon) as new believers could see them dining there, and think that it is acceptable to eat things that were offered to idols. The ones who had this “civic right” knew that the dinners hosted at the temple of poseidon did not have food offered to poseidon, but an outsider would not know this, and could be tempted to think participating in idol worship was acceptable.
1Cor 8:11-13 Paul ends the first part of his argument saying, that just because a seasoned believer understands what is right from wrong, he/she should be careful in how they guide their actions, as they could lead another to sin by what they do and how they act. He furthermore argues that if he is making a brother sin through his actions, he would rather eat nothing at all.
1Cor 9:1-27 Paul diverts for a moment from the subject at hand, to answer the ones who questions his authority (1Cor 9:3) explaining the service he is involved in, expecting nothing in return.
1Cor 10:1-11 Paul returns to the subject on hand, by giving a host of examples from the Old Testament Scriptures. He explains how God was with the children of Israel in the wilderness, the same way He is with them now. And how God was not pleased with many of the israelites because of their lusts, idolatry, fornication, provocation and murmuring. He explains that all of these situations came to pass as examples for them. 
1Cor 10:12,13 Paul advises the Corinthians to be careful of being arrogant to the extent where one thinks that they cannot fall into temptation. And that with temptation, God provides a path of escape.
1Cor 10:14 Paul makes a clear statement, coming back to the topic on hand “flee from idolatry”! basically have nothing to do with idolatry.
1Cor 10:15-18 Paul asks the Corinthians to judge his words, and see whether it is right, explaining how partakers of the wine and the bread become part of Christ. Similarly partakers of the sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple become partakers of that Altar.
1Cor 10:19-21 He explains that an idol is nothing. And that the “sacrifices offered to such idols” are also nothing of concern. But the sacrifices made to these idols by Gentiles are done towards demons, and that a person cannot be a partaker of the body of Christ and also be a partaker of such, done towards demonic beings. 
1Cor 10:22 He points back at the example he gave earlier about the Children of Israel, by asking whether we are trying to provoke God, and attain the same fate as them?
1Cor 10:23-24 He points back at 1Cor 8:9 here, saying things that are “lawful” or received as a “right” (speaking of the right of dining at the Isthmian Games) are not always profitable or edifying in regards to the congregation and other believers. He appeals to the Corinthians asking them to do whatever they do, for the good of their brothers and sisters in the congregation.

6. Now we finally come upon the verse in question 1Cor 10:25-33

1Cor 10:25 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles(meat market), that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: 

In this study so far, we have seen that the topic in concern still remains “meat offered to idols”. As per section 3- point 4, we know that special provisions for meats were made at the markets of Corinth, as the Jews were known to not eat meat offered to idols, meat with blood or animals which were strangled to death. These were the exact requirements set forth by the Jerusalem Council in Act 15:20,29 for all gentile believers to follow. So it is safe to presume that believers in Christ would have also purchased meat from the same vendors who provided meat for the Jews. The Corinthian congregation would have had to buy meats which were specially separated and prepared for the Jews, as eating anything else would have been going against the words of James and the Jerusalem Council.

The fact that Paul who was with the Corinth congregation for 1½ yrs, and had given them many traditions that they were still adhering to(1Cor 11:2), had to now write to them saying “eat anything sold at the market, without question” can lead us to conclude that some circumstances had changed in Corinth. It is possible that the special provision for meat made for the Jews would have been revoked as the Romans were becoming agitated with them. Claudius had deported all Jews from Rome(Acts 18:2) and Gallio the deputy of Achaea was more than hostile towards Jews(Acts 18:16,17). From 40AD onwards there were tension building against the Jews, with uprisings happening in Judea in 46-48AD which were put down by the Roman authorities. All of these factors would have pushed authorities to draw back special provisions provided to the Jews such as what was provided in the meat markets.

If the special meat provision was revoked, the Corinthian Congregation would now need to have questioned Paul whether it would be acceptable to eat from the meat market, as they were unsure of the quality and origins of the meat they bought. The meat could have been brought to the meat markets from the temples, as we see such a case in 1Cor 10:28, where meat offered to idols were served at dinners.

Paul’s judgement was “to eat from the meat market, as their was no way to clearly know what was offered to idols or not”. But then he continues his discussion quoting Psalm 24:1 “For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof”, known to have been a blessing which was recited before meals by all Jews[E]. Then in 10:27,28 he asks the congregation to eat what is set before them if they go for a function hosted by a non-believer, but to not partake if the non-believer informs them that the food is in fact, what is offered to idols as a sacrifice. Paul writes to them saying, not to partake for the sake of the non-believer (possibly to also showcase to the non-believer that Christians do not partake in idol worship, thereby gaining a chance to speak to them about the gospel) and also partly because eating what is sacrificed to idols, knowingly, is a sinful act as per the Jerusalem Council judgement. He further explains in 10:29-33 that the refusal to consume meat that is offered to idols, is not only a personal issue, but something that effects other believers as discussed above under 1Cor 8:10. He ends his words saying whatever you do, to do it for the glory of God, not offending Jew, Gentile or the Church, seeking to save others in all that they do.

7. Conclusion
The letter written by Paul to the Corinthians, like any other letter, needs to be read from beginning to end without pause. Plucking a verse out of context, such as 1Cor 10:25 could be used to argue that eating any food is permissible – but this would not be the reality behind the words of Paul. Like many of his writings which are misunderstood, this verse needs to be examined in its historical and textual context, for us to know its true meaning. The historical background of the Isthmian Games and its dinners hosted at the temple of poseidon as well as the special meat market provisions made for the Jews, shed light on the background of the questions the Corinthians would have written to Paul about. Paul in return explains why believers should not engage themselves in idolatry and eating sacrifices made to idols, and how they should act upon the discontinuation of the specially separated meat in the Corinthian Market. Nowhere does the topic of “eating against God’s instructions” come to play, in this epistle to the Corinthians. The written instructions of Lev 11 was never revoked by Paul; he simply said to eat the meats at the Corinth Market, as there was no way to know whether a particular meat was offered to idols or not. If a believer got to know that a meat was in fact offered to an idol as a sacrifice, he/she was not to partake in such a thing, as per the ruling of the Jerusalem council.

References ———————————————————————————————
[A] Pseudo Julian Letters 198, 407Bff. Also read ‘Achaean Federal Imperial Cult, Part II; The Corinthian Church’, TynB 46.1 (1995) 169-78
[B] E.R. Gebhard, ‘The Isthmian Games and the Sanctuary of Poseidon in the Early Empire’, in T.E. Gregory ed., The Corinthia in the Roman Period, Journal of Roman Archaeology Supp.8 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1994), pp.78-94
[C] Plutarch Moralia 723A
[D] P.R. Trebilco, Jewish Communities in Asia Minor, SNTSMS 69 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p.17. See also Josephus – Antiquities of the Jews Book 14, Ch 10.24
[E] T. Ber. 4.1.

The middle wall of partition – Misunderstandings regarding Eph 2:14-16

Ephesians 2:14-16 is one of the many verses used to say that God’s Commandments/Law written down in the Old Testament has now been abolished, in Christ. It is popularly taught that the “middle wall” that separated us from God, is God’s Commandments/Laws, and that they were taken down through Christ’s sacrifice, because they were hostile towards us.

Today, we will test this theory, taking archaeological evidence alongside historical context, to understand the true meaning of Paul’s words. It is this authors belief that this verse, like countless other statements made by Paul, has been misunderstood by mainstream Christianity today. And now let’s move on to the verse in question.

Eph 2:14-16 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:

In this study, we will break down this verse and research into what Paul is describing, to better understand what he is trying to teach the Ephesians. This study will focus on the following:
1. Context and background of the verse
2. What is the middle wall of partition/separation?
3. What is the “law of commandments in ordinances” which is called “enmity” by Paul?
4. Connecting the “law of commandments in ordinances” with the “middle wall of partition”

5. What are the “two” that are reconciled (made into one) through Messiah?
6. Conclusion

1. Context and background of the verse
Starting at the beginning of chapter 2, we see Paul making these following points:-
Eph 2:1-3 We were all living in sin and disobedience as Gentiles
Eph 2:4-7 But God who loved us, showed us mercy, by saving us through His grace
Eph 2:8-10 And through grace alone, are we saved – and not by anything that we do
Eph 2:11-14 You were all gentiles, called “uncircumcised” by the “circumcised” (Jews), without God and Christ, aliens to the citizenship of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise – but now have been brought close to God through Christ.

Note that Paul makes a clear statement that the Ephesians were gentiles without hope, living in Sin, till God saved them through His Grace. He says that they had no part in the citizenship of Israel and the covenants of promise, till they were brought near by Christ. In other words, through Christ and God’s Grace, they have been given citizenship of Israel and also ability to partake in the covenants of promise. This is the background and context of the verse in question.

2. What is the middle wall of partition/separation?
Even though most Christians believe that the “middle wall” mentioned in this verse is a metaphorical expression used to speak of God’s Law, this is far from the truth. The context of this verse, lets us know that Paul was speaking of the division of Gentiles and Jews(uncircumcised & circumcised), and how gentiles had no part in Israel before Messiah.

The interesting fact that many Christians are unaware of, is that there was a physical barrier(a middle wall) that separated gentiles and Jews in the days of Paul, at the Temple in Jerusalem. Known as the “soreg”, this partition prohibited gentiles from entering into the temple courts. We will look at a few pieces of evidence on this fact below.

It is important to note at this point, that “Jews” are only a part of Israel – and hence, all Israel cannot be called Jews. Please read the articles, “The Parable of the prodigal Son & the 2 Houses of Israel” , “Defining the terms Jew & Gentile” & “Defining the term Israel” for a better understanding on the above statement.

ESV-temple

Archaeological Evidence
The soreg was a low wall surrounding the Temple in Jerusalem, which served as a boundary/partition wall.

Museo della civiltà romana a Roma (Eur) - Room 15 (Christianity) # 4 - Cast of the plaque forbidding any non-Jews to enter the second precinct of the Temple of Jerusalem. The original stands in the National Archaeological Museum in Istanbul.

Museo della civiltà romana a Roma (Eur) – Room 15 (Christianity) # 4 – Cast of the plaque forbidding any non-Jews to enter the second precinct of the Temple of Jerusalem. The original stands in the National Archaeological Museum in Istanbul.

Beyond this point, entry was permitted only to Jews who were not impure through exposure to death.

The soreg featured signs, in a number of languages, that warned these unauthorized people against entering the area of the Holy Temple.

Some of the signs which were placed on the “soreg” have been discovered, of which one is pictured to the left. The inscription says “No outsider shall enter the protective enclosure around the sanctuary. And whoever is caught will only have himself to blame for the ensuing death” – (Translated by K. C. Hanson & Douglas E. Oakman)

Biblical Evidence
A) It is a known fact, that there were Gentiles who went up to the Temple in Jerusalem to Worship God.
Joh 12:20  And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast:
Act 8:27  And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,

B) The fact that the Gentiles were kept separate from the Jews is also apparent
Act 21:28  Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.

Historical Evidence
In the “Wars of the Jews” written by the scholar Josephus Flavius around 75AD, he says the following:
When you go through these [first] cloisters, unto the second [court of the] temple,
there was a partition made of stone all round, whose height was three cubits: its construction was very elegant; upon it stood pillars, at equal distances from one another, declaring the law of purity, some in Greek, and some in Roman letters, that “no foreigner should go within that sanctuary” for that second [court of the] temple was called “the Sanctuary,” and was ascended to by fourteen steps from the first court. (A description of the temple – Book 5, Chapter 5, Verse 2)

Considering all of the above facts, it is safe to say, that Paul was referring to this “partitioning wall” in his letter to the Ephesians, as it was a prominent feature of the Jerusalem Temple at that time, which restrained gentiles from entering in. It is also important to note that this wall was not part of the design God had given, but was a later addition made by the Jews in authority, to keep gentiles from entering the temple precinct. Nowhere in the Old Testament would you be able to find of such a structure that separates people into two groups. But this had become the norm in the 2nd Temple times, and no Gentile could enter into the Temple precinct because of it. As such, this was a man made barrier, and a man made commandment which kept Gentiles from coming to God’s Temple.

3. What is the “law of commandments in ordinances” which is called “enmity” by Paul?
Most Christians would jump to the conclusion that the “law of commandments in ordinances” mentioned by Paul, is none other than the Law which was given through Moses, in the Old Testament by our Heavenly Father. What most of us fail to see is that this term is completely different to “The Law of God” and “The Commandments of God”. To understand this difference, we must look into the meaning of the word translated as “Ordinances”.

In the Original Greek Manuscripts, the English word translated as “Ordinances”, comes from the following : G1378 – δόγμα – dogma – From the base of G1380; a law (civil, ceremonial or ecclesiastical): – decree, ordinance. This word is seen only 5 times in the New Testament in the following verses:
Luk 2:1  And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree(G1378) from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
Act 16:4  And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees(G1378) for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.
Act 17:7  Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees(G1378) of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.
Eph 2:15  Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances(G1378); for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
Col 2:14  Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances(G1378) that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;

Looking at the above verses, one thing should become apparent to you. The word “ordinance”, means and can even be translated as “Decree” – which means “an official order that has the force of law”. While God had given Commandments and His Law, Decrees were laws that were man-made. If Paul was indeed speaking of God’s Law & Commandments, he would not have needed to use the word “ordinance”/”decree” in his letter. Paul could have only been referring to man-made orders, in this verse through the term “Ordinance”. These “ordinances” were indeed hostile, as they restrained anyone other than “Jews” worshiping God. These ordinances made a clear separation between Jew and Gentile, by elevating one above the other, to the extent where gentiles were looked down upon and disassociated, by Jews everywhere (Joh 4:9,27, 7:35, Act 10:28, 11:2,3, Gal 2:12)

Added on 13th August 2017: Contributed by Joanne Smith
The Greek word dogma (G1378 in Strong’s) is used in the Septuagint (Greek OT) only in the book of Daniel. Daniel 2:133:10,12,29; 4:6; 6:8,9,10,12,13,15,26

4. Connecting the “law of commandments in ordinances” with the “middle wall of partition”
It is a clear fact that Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, spoke of the broken down “middle wall of partition” to be connected solely to the “law of commandments in ordinances”. As we have seen above, if Paul was speaking of the physical wall of partition at the temple, and man-made decrees that enforced such separations, this makes perfect sense, as the partition wall was a man-made decree which separated the Jew from the Gentile. In other words, the Jews in authority at the time of Paul, had made a decree that was regarded as official Law and a Commandment, that Gentiles could not enter into God’s sanctuary, even though it was allowed for Jews. Paul was merely saying that this separation that men had imposed on people was now no more because of Messiah. To understand more about the decrees (which were regarded as Law) imposed on the 1st century people by the ruling Jews such as the pharisees, please watch the this teaching.

5. What are the “two” that are reconciled (made into one) through Messiah?
What puts this argument completely in place, is the idea Paul speaks about in connection with the broken down wall of partition. Paul says that Christ has “made both one” and again, that “twain one new man”. What or who are these two parties which are made one?

Let’s review the facts that we know already
1. The context of the Chapter speaks about how, gentiles had no part in the covenants of promise and they were excluded from the citizenship of Israel, before they were saved through God’s Grace and sacrifice of Christ.
2. History proves that there was indeed, a physical partitioning wall at the Temple which kept Gentiles separate from Jews. Paul spoke of this wall to have been broken down through Christ’s sacrifice.
3. The original Greek wording seen in the verse in question, is specifically speaking of man-made decrees, and not God’s Law. There were many such laws/decrees imposed on people by the ruling parties, such as the pharisees.

If Paul is speaking of this partitioning of Gentiles and Jews, and that this “man-made” partitioning or “middle wall” was not in effect because of Messiah, what are these 2 parties he is referring to? Is he not saying that there is no more division? there are no more jews & gentiles? that no one can keep the covenants of promise from the gentiles? that gentiles are now fellow citizens of Israel?

Consider the following:
1. Christ came to gather Jews & Gentiles into one nation
Joh 11:49 And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.

2. Christ said there would be one flock under one shepherd
Joh 10:16  And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

3. Paul says Gentiles are fellow heirs and partakers of the promises given to Israel
Eph 3:6  This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

4. Paul says that the gentiles are grafted into the Olive tree which is Israel
Rom 11:17  But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, (Please read the whole of Chapter 11)

5. Paul says that there are no more divisions such as Jew & Gentile – we are all one in Christ
Gal 3:28  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.

In short, this is what Paul is trying to say:
As sinful gentiles, we had no part in the covenants of promise, and were also excluded from the citizenship of Israel. But when Christ came and saved us through God’s Grace, the partitioning wall that kept us outside, was broken down. No man-made decree can keep us away from enjoying the covenants of promise or the Citizenship of Israel, as all who believe in God are now made into one people. We were once hostile to God, but now through the blood of Messiah, we have been drawn into His sanctuary, not to be separated ever again.

6. Conclusion
Even though Eph 2:14-16, is usually used as a proof text for “the Law of God being done away”, we have made every effort in the above study to understand this passage in its original historical and biblical context. This has led us to the conclusion that Paul was speaking of a separation of God’s People, rather than an abolishing of God’s Law. Paul used a physical wall of separation to show how Gentiles had no part with God, before Christ. He further showed the Ephesian congregation, that the man-made decrees of separation were no more in power, because of God’s grace, as he had drawn believers, both Jew & Gentile unto Him, to make both one in Him. There are no more gentile. No more Jew. No separate flocks or peoples. Only His people “Israel”. If we consider ourselves His people, we are “Israel” – let us not separate, what God has made one, through the sacrifice of Yeshua.

Essential Reading:
The Parable of the prodigal Son & the 2 Houses of Israel
Defining the terms Jew & Gentile
Defining the term Israel
The betrothal, Divorce & Re-Betrothal of God’s People through Messiah

Paul – the misunderstood Apostle

According to the prevalent understanding of Paul’s teachings amongst Christians, Paul was a major opponent of the Law. He taught that it is done away with, in Christ. That there is no need for us to obey the Law, as we are now under Grace. Are these claims really true? Did he believe and teach that the Old Testament is now abolished? That all who obey it are under a curse? Or is this all a 2000 year old misunderstanding of his words?

Consider Peter’s words and his warning regarding Paul’s Words
2Pe 3:15,16   And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest(pervert), as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

If Paul’s words were hard to understand in the 1st century AD, and some were even using his words to teach something different to its original meaning at that time, are we so sure that our current understanding is so accurate?

Note: Let me be clear at the onset of this study, that this is NOT an attempt to say “we must keep God’s Word for Salvation”. On the contrary, God’s Word is clear that Righteousness/Salvation cannot be attained through keeping God’s Law. It is only attained through God’s Grace. As we move forward you will see that Paul’s whole ministry revolved around this idea – We are saved through faith & God’s Grace alone. But after we are adopted into His fold, we have to serve Him in obedience to His Commandments/Laws through the help of His Spirit.

The call for an Audit
If you are keen to learn the truth above all, and you are willing to go the distance and do whatever is necessary in obedience to our Heavenly Father, I call you to an Audit. Evaluate yourself and your beliefs. If what you understand is right, an audit will only strengthen your beliefs. If you see some questions raised that you never thought of, it will still help you to learn more and draw closer to God.

Remember that the first major reformation in Christianity as we know it, which happened in the 1500’s under Martin Luther, was a response to some of the incorrect doctrines that were taught and practiced by the Roman Catholic Church. If such an Audit of Doctrine had not been done, the majority of Christians today could have still been following the Catholic church without question.

My request to you is, that you do not approach this article with preconceived notions. Be like the Bereans(Acts 17:10,11) and search the Scriptures for the Truth. You are more than welcome to disagree with me. But I ask you not to disagree with Scripture. Test everything written in this article. See whether everything falls into place. Remember that there can be no disagreements between the Biblical Authors. There can be no conflict between two verses in the Bible, when taken in context. Our goal is to serve God Almighty in Truth and Spirit.

Fitting it all in – a personal testimony
If any person believes that they have the whole of Scripture figured out, they are only deceiving themselves. The Scriptures are the pieces of a great Puzzle. All of the pieces in the puzzle needs to fit perfectly. We cannot force pieces of the puzzle to fit where we want it to. It needs to be in perfect harmony to all the pieces around it, giving us a complete picture. We have all been taught by someone or the other, where these pieces of the puzzle fit. Personally, for a long time, I did not question the placement. I knew some of the pieces and their placements did not make sense. But I thought, others knew best. I thought who am I to question the placement which has been this way for centuries, approved and taught by great men and women of God. But sometimes, you come across verses that go against YOUR beliefs and doctrines. Now, some people, like me, had the ability to just read over these lines and not even notice them. I was like Paul (but not even 1% as knowledgeable as he was), on my way to Damascus, with my understanding and belief of the Word. All of us need Yeshua(real name of Jesus) to open our eyes. All of us need the guidance of God’s Spirit. No one person, including me, has the whole puzzle figured out. All of us are learning. If you have and open mind to look at the puzzle again, let’s proceed.

As we read above, Peter clearly states that the Beloved Brother Paul writes to the assemblies according to the wisdom given to him. Some of the things that he writes are hard to understand. And that people who do not understand these things, pervert these teachings to their own destruction. This is a clear warning given to the assembly about Paul’s writings. But today, Paul’s writings are key to some of the doctrines in Christianity. Whether it fits or not with other verses in the Scriptures, is overlooked.

Using his words, I myself used to think that we are free from God’s Law/Commandments. I used to think that we should act according to his word, as he was the apostle to the Gentiles. An audit changed my understanding and my life. At the end of the day, we are called to be disciple of Yeshua(Jesus’ true Hebrew name). Not of Paul or anyone else for that matter. Even Paul said that he follows Yeshua (1Cor 11:1). And Paul admonished people who called themselves followers of anyone else other than Yeshua (1Cor 1:11-13).

So let us look at a few instances which sheds light onto Paul the Apostle, his beliefs and his teachings

  1. Contrary to common belief, his Hebrew name which was Saul, was not changed to Paul. He was also called Paul(Act 13:9). This name would have been easier to use in the Greek speaking world of his day, as Paul (Paulus) was of Latin origin.
  2. Paul was a Jew (Acts 21:39) and was brought up as a Pharisee (Acts 26:5)
  3. Paul’s message did not contradict the Old Testament, as the Bereans examined the Scriptures and checked whether it was true. (Acts 17:11)(The Scripture that is spoken here was the Old Testament, as there was no New Testament or Gospels at that time, which were written later and compiled to what we have now, only around 400AD)
  4. Paul’s custom was to go to synagogue on the Sabbath. (Acts 13:14,42,44, 17:2, 18:4)
  5. Paul took a Nazarite vow where one shaves his head (Acts 18:18 – Num 6)
  6. There were many “rumors” that he taught against God’s Law (Acts 21:21)
  7. There was no proof that he broke any of God’s Laws (Acts 24:13, 25:7,8)
  8. Paul kept the Law, and walked according to it (Acts 21:24)
  9. Paul purified himself at the Temple in accordance to the Law (Acts 21:26)
  10. Paul said Ananias was a devout man because he kept God’s Law (Acts 22:12)
  11. He worshiped God believing everything written in the Law & Prophets (Acts 24:14)
  12. He said that he does not nullify the law by faith, but that he upholds the law (Rom 3: 31)
  13. He said that the Law is not Sin, but the knowledge of Sin (Rom 7:7)
  14. He said that the law and the Commandments are holy, righteous and good (Rom 7:12,16)
  15. He said that the Law is not what leads us to death (Rom 7:13)
  16. He said that the Law is Spiritual (Rom 7:14)
  17. He said that he delights in God’s law (Rom 7:22)
  18. He said that He serves the Law of God (Rom 7:25)
  19. He said that the Law is good, and that one must use it properly. (1Tim 1:8) (Please read this article to understand more on what Paul meant, as Pharisees were using God’s Law inappropriately, while the “Circumcision party” used it to earn salvation)
  20. Paul said that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (He did not say some of it is done away, but that all of it is God-breathed)
  21. Paul went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feasts according to the Law (Acts 18:21, 20:16 /Ex 34:22/Lev 23)
  22. Paul used the Law to defend himself. How can he defend himself with something, if he was preaching that it was abolished (Acts 23:3)
  23. Paul signified that he unwittingly broke a law, quoting the specific Law from the Old Testament (Acts 23:5 / Exo 22:28)
  24. Paul taught the Law of Marriage and Divorce out of the Law (Rom 7:2/1Cor 7:39 – Deut 24)
  25. Paul taught keeping of the Passover (1Cor 5:8)
  26. Paul used the Law regarding muzzling an Ox (Deut 25:4) to teach how people who work for the growth of the Kingdom, should be taken care by it, just like an ox (1Cor 9:9-12/1Tim 5:18)
  27. Paul quotes Deut 19:15 – a matter is established by 2 or 3 witnesses (2Cor 13:1/1Tim 5:19)
  28. Paul quotes Deut 27:26 – a person breaking God’s Law is cursed (Gal 3:10)
  29. Paul quotes Hab 2:4 – the just shall live by faith (Gal 3:11)
  30. Paul quotes Lev 18:5 – the man who keeps God’s Law, lives because of it (Gal 3:12)
  31. Paul quotes Deut 11:26-28 & 27:15-26 – the curses of the Law (Gal 3:13)
  32. Paul quotes Lev 19:18 – Love thy neighbor as thy self (Gal 5:14)
  33. Paul quotes Deut 5:16 – Honor thy father and mother (Eph 6:2)

Looking at all of these verses, still some would say, that he kept the Law because he was a Jew. And that we don’t need to, as the Law was given to the Jews. First of all, the Law was not given to the Jews (Please read Defining “Jews” and “Gentiles), but to the whole of Israel. Secondly, as Paul said, there is no more Jew & Gentile(Gal 3:28). And as Yeshua said, there is only one flock(John 10:16). Furthermore God’s Law was for the Native born as well as the stranger (Exo 12:49, Lev 24:22, Num 15:15,16). And by his own words, we are now grafted into Israel (Rom 11:16-26) becoming partakers (Eph 2:12).

Will Apostle Paul be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven?
Mat 5:17-19 records Christ’s Words “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven”. According to the prevalent understanding of Paul’s words, he has broken almost all of God’s commandments as well as taught others, that the law is no longer applicable. If so, according to Christ’s own words, Paul would be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. How can Paul go against God’s words which clearly states, no one can add or abolish any of God’s Commandments (Deut 4:2, 12:32)?

What about the many instances where Paul speaks about the Law in a negative way?
The misunderstandings that exist regarding his teachings, are caused by a few main reasons
1) We have not read/understood God’s Law and the Old Testament
For example, it is taught that when Paul says “curse of the Law”(Gal 3:13), that this means the Law is the curse. While actually the “curse of the Law” means, the curse which comes on whomever who does not obey the Law (Deut 11:26-28/ Deut 27:26/ Gal 3:10). Reading the front of the Bible(Old Testament) first, makes a vast difference when understanding Paul’s teachings, as this is the only Scripture which was available to the 1st Century Church.
2) We do not know the history/context of his epistles
For example, it is taught that when Paul says “Those who are trying to be justified by the law have fallen away from grace” (Gal 5:4), that this means all who obey God’s Law has fallen from Grace. While actually what Paul was teaching against was “justification by the Law”, as no one can gain righteousness by keeping God’s Law – only Christ’s blood can redeem us and justify us. (Gal 2:21). This was the main debate even at the Jerusalem Council – as some said you have to be circumcised to be saved(Acts 15:1), which is a baseless doctrine according to Scripture.
3) We have been handed down inaccurate teachings, doctrines and preconceived ideas
For example, it is taught that when Paul says “Blotting out the Handwriting of ordinances nailing it to the cross”(Col 2:14), that this means the Law is done away at Christ’s death. While actually what Paul teaches is that the ordinances that said, we should undergo the penalty of death for our sins, were nailed to the cross, as He died in our place.
4) We have not understood Biblical Definitions
For example, some of the terms used in the New Testament such as, Church, Israel, Jew, Gentile are not clearly defined Biblically. (please refer links)
5) We have not clearly understood characters/groups portrayed in the Bible
For example, “The Pharisees” are commonly linked as the group who kept the Old Testament, which is clearly not the case. (please refer link)
6) Reading verses out of context
For example, it is taught that when Paul says “you are not under Law, but under Grace” (Rom 6:14), that this means we don’t have to keep God’s Law. While actually throughout the letter to the Romans, Paul teaches that : Law is not Sin, but the knowledge of Sin(Rom 7:7), Law and the Commandments are holy, righteous and good (Rom 7:12,16), Law is not what leads us to death (Rom 7:13), Law is Spiritual (Rom 7:14), that he delights in God’s law (Rom 7:22) and serves the Law of God (Rom 7:25). The problem is that we have forgotten that these are “letters”, written without chapters or verses addressing issues of specific assemblies of people. We cannot, and must not, pick particular verses out of context.
7) Paul’s usage of the term “Law”
In his epistles, Paul talks about several different “Laws”, namely –
1)Law of Faith (Rom 3:27)
2)Law of Sin (Rom 7:23-25)
3)Law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2)
4)Law of Sin & Death (Rom 8:2)
5)Law of Righteousness (Rom 9:31)
6)Law of God (Rom 3:31, 7:22-25, 8:7)
7)Law of Christ (Rom 8:2, 1Cor 9:21)

Conclusion
In conclusion, I ask you to test everything in this study against the Word of God. Do not rely, or place your trust solely on a denomination, a church, a doctrine, a teacher, a pastor or anything/anyone of this world. Put your faith in God, and God alone – The Creator, Redeemer and King! Ask Him to show you the whole Truth through His Word, through the help of His Spirit.

And keep in mind Peter’s Warning when reading Paul’s letters. His words are hard to understand. So we must be diligent in dividing his teachings for the truth. Apostle Paul could not, and would not have gone against God’s Word which is the same yesterday, today and forever. Let us put off all the misunderstandings regarding his teachings and get to know the Paul we never knew.