“They stirred up the people, as well as the elders and the Torah-teachers; so they came and arrested him and led him before the Sanhedrin. There they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops speaking against this holy place and against the Torah…” (Acts 6:12-14).
Whenever we share our faith walk with gentile believers and say that we keep the Biblical Sabbath, celebrate the Feasts of the LORD, and eat according to God’s instructions in Leviticus, we are always referred to the book of Galatians and warned about legalism and Judaizing. What is it about Judaizing, legalism, and the so-called ‘Galatian error’ that incites people to react defensively toward a gentile believer who desires to obey God’s commands out of a heart of love, commitment, and devotion?
The Word is Compel
“Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. They only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Messiah. They want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh” (Galatians 6:12-14).
According to Paul, new gentile believers were being compelled to undergo outward flesh circumcision as a requirement to live out their faith in Yeshua. This happened because some Messianic Jews were fearful of being persecuted by non-believing Jews for accepting Yeshua as Messiah.
The ‘Galatian error’ had nothing to do with faith obedience to the commands of God, it had nothing to do with the Sabbath, the Feasts of the LORD or dietary regulations. The ‘Galatian error’ was about a ‘written code’ that inhibited the gentile’s freedom to obey Torah and enjoy the blessings, promises, and covenants they now had access to as part of the ‘Commonwealth of Israel’ through faith in Messiah.
‘Circumcision’ and ‘Uncircumcision’
“Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts” (1 Corinthians 7:19).
When studying Paul’s teachings, and especially Galatians, it is important to understand the terminology he uses when referring to Jews and gentiles. Many times his ‘circumcision’ verses are taught with an ‘anti-circumcision’ viewpoint with the belief that if gentiles become circumcised, they are obligated to obey God’s commands. This is not how Paul used the terms ‘circumcision’ and ‘uncircumcision.’
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians has nothing to do with the act of circumcising the flesh. He uses ‘circumcision to compare two different groups of people: the Jews who he called ‘the circumcision’ and the gentiles who he called ‘the uncircumcision.’ Putting his words in their proper context and terminology, Paul is saying that it doesn’t matter if you are a ‘circumcised’ Jew or an ‘uncircumcised’ gentile, what matters is keeping God’s commandments. It can be reasoned from this understanding that Paul never taught a gospel that encouraged disobedience to Torah, but believed that both the ‘circumcised’ Jew and the ‘uncircumcised’ gentile have the same responsibility of keeping God’s commandments which include Sabbath, the Feasts of the LORD, and dietary regulations.
“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.”
Paul uses the same terminology in Galatians. He states that being a ‘circumcised’ Jew or ‘uncircumcised’ gentile means nothing; what matters is becoming a new creation. He wants all of the Galatians (and those who read Galatians) to understand that neither our outward flesh condition nor our DNA has anything to do with our justification before God. All of us, ‘circumcised’ or ‘uncircumcised’ need to be born again to enter the Kingdom of God; everyone, Jew and gentile needs to become a new creation in Messiah (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Redemption to Sonship
“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4).
Yeshua, who was fully God, humbled Himself and came down to earth as a human being. He was born into the world of the ‘law of sin and death’ just like every other human born of a woman. He lived under the laws of human nature being tempted to sin; however, he remained sinless because his Father was not the Adversary, but the Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh. He never broke any of His Father’s commands in Torah. He lived them perfectly and taught them correctly to his disciples. Because he was completely righteous and without sin, his death was sufficient payment to redeem all mankind, ‘circumcised’ and ‘uncircumcised’ from the ‘law of sin and death’ and give them the hope of eternal life as sons and daughters of God.
“You are all sons of God through faith in Messiah Yeshua, for all of you who were immersed into Messiah have clothed yourself with Messiah. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua. If you belong to Messiah, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 5:26-29).
Each of us live under the ‘law of sin and death’ until we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. No one in Galatia or anywhere else at any other time was ever justified by laws –– man’s or God’s. As redeemed sons and daughters of God, there is no spiritual difference between ‘circumcised’ or ‘uncircumcised,’ Jew or gentile, male or female, slave or free. When we put our faith in Yeshua, we become Abraham’s seed and heirs to the promise.
Zealous for ‘the law’
“For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:13-14).
Paul admits that before he met Yeshua, he persecuted new Jewish believers regarding Judaism and the traditions of the elders that he called ‘the law.’ If anyone lived contrary to the ‘traditions of Judaism,’ they were persecuted and even put to death by his authority. Until his experience on the road to Damascus, Paul was the greatest persecutor of Messianic Jewish followers of Yeshua because he believed they would no longer adhere to traditional Judaism and its religious system. Acts 7:54-60 records him front and center at the stoning of Stephen, receiving the coats of the witnesses at his feet.
Gentile Conversion through ‘Circumcision’
Before Yeshua’s death and resurrection, the only way for a gentile God-fearer like Cornelius to join the ‘Commonwealth of Israel’ was to convert to Judaism. This was done through a conversion process that included circumcision of the flesh. Though circumcision was initially given as a covenant ‘sign’ to Abraham, over the centuries circumcision had become an outward show of following Judaism and all of its man-made traditions, yokes, and burdens.
In the Temple, a ’wall of partition’ separated the people of Israel from the gentiles. Though a God-fearing gentile could come to Solomon’s Colonnade to pray, they could never enter the Temple area unless they had legally converted to Judaism through the ritual of flesh circumcision. It was this ‘wall of partition,’ this ‘law of hostility’ to become legally Jewish that Yeshua destroyed on the cross.
The problem in Galatia was not that Messianic gentiles were being forced to obey the commandments of God, but that non-Messianic Jews wanted Messianic gentiles to convert to Judaism. Paul made it very clear that Messianic gentiles did not have to convert to Judaism to live out their faith in Yeshua.
In fact, Paul taught that all followers of Yeshua needed to remain in the spiritual condition they were in when they were saved. If they were ‘uncircumcised,’ they were to remain as gentiles with a calling to make the Jew envious for Yeshua. If they were ‘circumcised,’ they were to remain as Jews with the calling to be a light to the nations. It is the witness of Jew and gentile worshiping the God of Israel in unity that becomes the full testimony of Yeshua.
“Circumcision has value if you observe the law [of Judaism], but if you break the law [of Judaism], you have become as though you had not been circumcised” (Romans 2:25).
Paul states that ‘circumcision’ to become legally Jewish has no value because it is completely dependent on observing Judaism and its traditions. A ritual circumcision does not necessarily have its foundation in faith, but in the importance of the traditions of the elders; the traditions of men. These traditions and rules are easily broken, and then it is as if the gentile is no longer a convert to Judaism.
Paul understands this entire process more than anyone because he had been a Judaizer and believed gentiles needed to convert to Judaism. Moreover, he learned through personal experience that being legally Jewish, of which he has the most extensive credentials, is not as valuable as faith in Yeshua. It is faith in Yeshua that gives all believers –– ‘circumcised’ or ‘uncircumcised’ –– not only freedom from the ‘law of sin and death,’ but also the burdensome laws of Judaism.
Titus and Timothy
Enter Titus. Titus was a Greek believer, a gentile. He did not feel compelled to be circumcised. He was quite content to remain in his gentile condition, but it created some problems within the Jewish congregation that needed to be addressed.
“This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Messiah Yeshua and to make us slaves” (Galatians 2:4).
Notice Paul doesn’t say Jewish believers in Messiah are creating the problems, but rather ‘false brothers’ who had infiltrated the body of believers in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem ‘false brothers’ would either be Jews who had rejected the Messiah and were Judaizing the new gentile believers, Jewish men who bore ‘false witness’ to the Messiah. The purpose of these ‘false brothers’ was to infiltrate the Body of Messiah and compel the Messianic gentiles to convert to Judaism through ritual circumcision.
Titus was the test case. Though he personally did not feel the need to be circumcised, he was still being compelled to become legally Jewish. If Paul allowed him to be circumcised and become legally Jewish, then the whole message of salvation by faith for gentiles would have been nullified. It would have changed justification by faith in Yeshua to works of the flesh –– heritage or conversion. The gospel to the nations with which God entrusted Paul would have ended abruptly.
But what about Timothy? He was circumcised.
Timothy had a Greek father and a Jewish mother. His mother and grandmother raised him with the Hebrew Scriptures and he understood his Jewish heritage. For him to be circumcised was not an issue of conversion to be ‘legally Jewish’ because he was already ‘legally Jewish’ through his birth mother. Furthermore, Paul was going to take Timothy with him on missionary journeys to places where there were unbelieving Jews. Being an uncircumcised Jew would have been a huge a stumbling block for those Jews to hear and receive the message of salvation in the Jewish Messiah.
Did Titus not keep God’s Torah while Timothy did? Of course not. Paul has already answered this question: “Circumcision [being Timothy] is nothing and uncircumcision [being Titus] is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts” (1 Corinthians 7:19). For Titus to believe that he had a different set of commandments than Timothy or did not have to obey God’s commandments like Timothy would have amounted to not only ignorance, but also gentile arrogance.
Foolish and ‘Bewitched‘
“You foolish Galatians! Who has betwitched you?” (Galatians 3:1).
I cannot count how many times this verse has been quoted to correct us and our walk of faith. It would be funny, if it wasn’t so sad. We have met and known people who sincerely believe that obedience to God’s Torah is foolish, and we are somehow being led astray by a “bewitching spirit” and have ‘fallen from grace.’
Justification for sin comes through Yeshua’s atonement on the cross and by faith in Him alone. There is no argument there. To compel someone to become legally Jewish through circumcision is most definitely a foolish error when it comes to the message of justification. However, anyone who loves the God of Israel and desires to obey His commandments is neither ‘bewitched’ nor foolish. They are not compelling anyone to legally convert to Judaism. In fact, it is quite the opposite. They are sharing a fuller message of salvation that includes sanctification. Yeshua Himself said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands” (John 14:15).
The Zeal of the Judaizer
“Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them” (Galatians 5:17).
The unbelieving Jews, the Judaizers, only wanted gentile believers to “mutilate their flesh” so they could boast about them. They liked the idea of multitudes following them and their rules. It boosted their egos making them feel important and in control of this new movement of God. They wanted to be able to say, “Look how many gentiles are converting to Judaism!” Simply put, this was the ‘Galatian error’ in Paul’s day –– forced gentile conversion to Judaism.
It is highly probable the Messianic Jews didn’t really know what to do with the number of gentiles coming to faith in Yeshua. Though the Council in Jerusalem outlined the responsibility of a gentile turning to God, there was no guarantee that the pagan ways of the nations wouldn’t infiltrate and destroy the Messianic faith that was just out of the womb. Messianic Jews like Paul were well aware that Yeshua didn’t preach the kingdom of Judaism, but they also didn’t want to lose their Jewish identity and Biblical heritage. In their defense, after 2000 years of gentile infiltration, councils denouncing everything Jewish about faith in the Jewish Messiah, and the melding of pagan gods with Biblical holy days, there was some merit to their concerns and struggles.
In the first century, there were more Jewish believers than gentile. Gentiles who came to faith in Messiah grafted into the ‘Commonwealth of Israel‘ and became part of the ‘Olive Tree of Israel.’ They met in synagogues on the Sabbath and were taught Torah (Acts 15:21). They took on a Biblically Jewish identity while retaining their unique calling as gentiles to make the Jew envious. They tried to live out their new faith celebrating the Feasts of the LORD and eating according to God’s instructions. Read in this cultural context Colossians 2:16 takes on a whole new perspective.
“Therefore do not let anyone (Jew) judge you (gentiles) by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Messiah.”
When the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, the nation of Israel was scattered all over the world. Jerusalem was no longer central to Judaism, the Jewish people, and the Messianic faith. The Jewish congregation of believers led by James was no longer the example of faith (1 Thessalonians 2:14).
As the centuries passed and the number of gentile believers increased, there was a loss of identity with Jerusalem and Rome took its place. The Torah no longer came out of Zion nor the Word of God from Jerusalem, but from Rome and the Popes. Anti-circumcision and anti-Jewish doctrines crept into the church and edicts from councils like Nicaea and Laodicea made it illegal for believers in Yeshua to follow anything that appeared ‘Jewish’ including the Feasts of the LORD, Sabbath, circumcision, and Levitical dietary regulations.
Unfortunately for the growing Body of Messiah, everything in the Bible looked ‘Jewish’ because God had entrusted His Torah to the Jewish people to guard and protect. As Rome took the place of Jerusalem, the Pope spoke in the place of God, and the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Latin, gentile believers easily fell into Roman religious practices against warnings by Paul in his letter to the Romans (chapters 9-14). Jewish believers either converted to Roman Christianity or died. Then, of course, came the Crusades, the Inquisitions, and the Holocaust Nazis that just murdered Jews because they believed them to be ‘Christ killers.’
The Modern ‘Galatian Error’
Judaizing is a non-issue today as Christians are no longer part of the Messianic Jewish community. They do not attend synagogues for teaching and instruction as did the first-century gentiles. They are not confronted by ‘false brothers’ who compel them to be circumcised and convert to Judaism. The Christian church no longer teaches Torah or the Prophets as the foundation of the spiritual Temple, let alone as an outline for living a life of obedience. In fact, most Biblical truths that were taught by Yeshua and lived out by the apostles and first-century believers have been eliminated to the point that neither Paul, the apostles, nor Yeshua would recognize the Body of Messiah today.
The modern ‘Galatian error’ has become a gentile code that compels Jews to follow the pagan ways of the nations embedded in Christian theology. Jews who come to faith in Jesus Christ ‘legally convert’ through baptism and confirmation into one of hundreds of Christian denominations. Christiandom discourages anything remotely Jewish and their Jewish converts attend church on Sunday, celebrate pagan holidays that are prohibited by the God in the Scriptures, and eat the flesh of swine. In these murky waters, many of the ‘circumcised’ have lost their Jewish identity, and their call to be a light to the nations has been snuffed out.
Something definitely has “bewitched” the church and it is not a Messianic gentile obeying God’s Torah; it’s a distortion of Paul’s teachings (2 Peter 3:16). This distortion has paralyzed the ‘uncircumcised’ from walking in the commandments of God. The ‘circumcised’ Jew and ‘uncircumcised’ gentile still remain separated. No one Judaizes and compels gentiles to become ‘legally Jewish’ through circumcision. The ‘Galatian error’ has become the anti-semitic catch phrase for arrogance over first-century Messianic Jews who dared to allow the ‘uncircumcised’ to enter the ‘Commonwealth of Israel’ through faith in the Jewish Messiah.
©2012 Tentstake Ministries Publishing, all rights reserved. No copying or reproducing of this article without crediting the author or Tentstake Ministries Publishing. For a hard copy of this article, please purchase Journey with Jeremiah: Nourishment for the Wild Olive.