What’s Wrong in Galatia?

“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 with non-Jewish believers that we keep the Biblical Sabbath, celebrate the Feasts of the Lord and we eat according to Leviticus, we are always referred to the book of Galatians and warned of legalism and Judaizing.  What is it about Judaizing, legalism and the so-called ‘Galatian error’ that incites people to react so defensively toward a non-Jewish 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 this verse, new gentile believers were being compelled to undergo outward flesh circumcision as a requirement to live out their faith in Yeshua of Nazareth.  This happened because some Messianic Jews were fearful of being persecuted by non-believing Jews for their faith in Yeshua.

The Galatian error had nothing to do with faith obedience to the commands of God or Torah, it had nothing to do with the Sabbath, the Festivals or dietary regulations. The Galatian error was about a ‘written code’ that was inhibiting the non-Jew’s freedom to live in obedience to God’s commands and enjoy the blessings, promises and covenants that they now had access to as part of the commonwealth of Israel through faith in Messiah.

Circumcision

“Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts” (1 Corinthians 7:19).   

When studying Galatians and Paul’s teachings, it is important to understand the terminology he used when referring to the Body of Messiah, Jews and non-Jews.  Many times circumcision verses are taught with an anti-circumcision viewpoint along with the idea that  to become circumcised means ‘forcing someone to obey God’s commands.’  This is not how Paul used the terms ‘circumcision’ and ‘uncircumcision;’ this is not what circumcision means.

First Corinthians has nothing to do with the act of circumcising the flesh.  It compares the flesh condition of two different groups of people: the Jews who were known as ‘the circumcision’ and the gentiles who were known as ‘the uncircumcision.’  Putting the verse in the proper terminology, Paul is saying that it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a non-Jew, what matters is keeping God’s commandments.  It can be reasoned from this verse that Paul never taught a gospel that encouraged disobedience to Torah,  but states that both Jew and gentile have the responsibility to keep God’s commandments which include Sabbath, Festivals, and dietary regulations.

Paul uses the same terminology in Galatians 6:16: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” 

Paul is again not speaking about the act of circumcision.  He is saying “Being Jewish or non-Jewish means nothing; what counts is being a new creation [in Messiah].”  He wants all the Galatians (and those who read Galatians) to understand that our flesh condition, our DNA, has nothing to do with our justification before God. All of us, Jew and non-Jew,  need to be born again into the Kingdom of God; everyone,  Jew and non-Jew, needs to be new creations in Messiah (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Redemption from the Law

“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 a world of sin and death just like every other human born of a woman.   He lived under the laws of human nature with the temptation of sin, but remained sinless because his Father was not Adam, but Yahweh.  He never broke one of His Father’s commands as written in Torah.  He lived them perfectly and taught them to his followers correctly.  Because he was completely righteous and without sin, his death was sufficient payment to free all mankind, Jew and non-Jew, from the law of sin and death and give them life now and forever as sons 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).

We all live under the ‘law of sin and death’ until we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and become sons of God.    No one in Galatia or anywhere else at any other time was ever justified by laws – man’s or God’s.   As redeemed sons of God in Messiah, there is no spiritual differentiation between Jew and non-Jew, male or female, slave or free.   When each of us comes to faith in Messiah, we become Abraham’s seed and evidence of the promise God made to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him.

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).

In his own words, Paul admits that before he met Yeshua, he persecuted new Jewish believers regarding Judaism and the traditions of the fathers 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 Road to Damascus experience,  Paul was the greatest persecutor of Messianic Jewish followers of Yeshua who he thought could no longer adhere to traditional Judaism and the religious system that it included.  Acts 7:54-60 records him front and center at the stoning of Stephen receiving the coats of the witnesses at his feet.

Conversion through Circumcision

Before Yeshua’s death and resurrection,  the only way for a gentile  God-fearer to  join the ‘commonwealth of Israel’ was to convert to Judaism.  This was done through a ritual conversion that included circumcision of the flesh.   Though circumcision was initially given as a covenant sign of faith to Abraham, over the centuries circumcision had become an outward symbol of following Judaism which included following all of the manmade traditions, yokes, and burdens that went with it.

In the Temple, a ’wall of partition’ separated the people of Israel from the gentiles.  Though a God-fearer from the nations could come to Solomon’s Colonnade to pray, they could never enter the Temple  area unless they had legally converted to Judaism through ritual circumcision.  It was this ‘wall of partition,’ the traditional ‘law’ to become legally Jewish that Yeshua destroyed in his flesh.

The problem in Galatia was not that Messianic believers from the nations were being forced to obey the commandments of God, but that non-Messianic Jews wanted gentile believers to convert to Judaism.   Paul made it very clear that gentile believers did not have to  convert to Judaism to live out their faith in Yeshua. 

In fact, Paul taught that all believers in Yeshua of Nazareth needed to remain in the flesh condition they were in when they were saved.  If they were ‘uncircumcised,’ they were to remain as gentiles.  If they were ‘circumcised,’  they were to remain as Jews.  It is the witness of Jew and gentile worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob together in a Biblical way that is the testimony of Messiah. 

“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 says that circumcision to become lawfully Jewish has no value because it is completely dependent on observing Judaism and its traditions.  A ritual circumcision has no foundation in faith, but in the traditions of the fathers; the traditions of men.  These traditions or laws are easily broken and then it is as if the person is no longer a convert to Judaism.

Paul understands this thought process more than anyone because he was a ‘Judaizer’ himself.    Moreover, he has learned through personal experience that being legally Jewish, of which he was as a descendant of Benjamin, is not as valuable as faith in Messiah Yeshua.   It is faith in Yeshua that gives all believers – circumcised or uncircumcised – not only freedom from the law of sin that leads to death, but also the burdens of Judaism.

Titus and Timothy

Enter Titus.  Titus was a Greek believer (non-Jew).  He did not feel compelled to be circumcised.  He was quite content to remain in his non-Jewish condition, but it created some problems within the  Jewish congregation that needed to be dealt with.

“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 that  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 most likely be Jews who had rejected the Messiah and were Judaizing or ‘false brothers’ could imply that these men ‘pretended, bore false witness’ to the Messiah. The purpose of these ‘false brothers’ was to ‘infiltrate’ the Body of Messiah and compel the gentile believers to convert to Judaism through circumcision.

Titus was a test case.   Though he personally did not feel the need to be circumcised, he was still being pressured to become legally Jewish.  If Paul allowed him to be circumcised and become legally Jewish, then the whole message of salvation by faith for the nations 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 knew of his Jewish heritage.   For him to be circumcised was not an issue of conversion from a gentile status to a legal Jewish one because he was already ‘legally Jewish’ through his birth mother.   Furthermore,  Paul was going to take Timothy with him on his missionary journeys to places where there were unbelieving Jews. Being an uncircumcised Jew would have been a huge a stumbling block for the Jewish people to hear and receive the message of salvation in  their own Jewish Messiah.

Foolish and Bewitched

“You foolish Galatians!  Who has betwitched you?” (Galatians 3:1).

I cannot count how many times this verse has been quoted out of context to ‘correct us’ when we share with people that we are obeying God’s commands.    It is almost funny, if it wasn’t so sad.  We have met and known real 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 Messiah Yeshua’s atonement on the cross and by faith in Him alone.   There is no argument there.  To compel someone to become Jewish according to a written code involving circumcision of the flesh is most definitely a foolish error when it comes to the message of justification.  However, when someone is sharing that they love the Lord God of Israel and desire to obey His commands out of that love, they are not bewitched or foolish and trying to compel their friends to legally convert to Judaism.  In fact, it is quite the opposite when Yeshua Himself said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands” (John 14:15).

Zealousness and History

“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 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 and made 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 very possible the Messianic Jews didn’t really know what to do with all the 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 were well aware that Yeshua didn’t preach the kingdom of Judaism, but they also didn’t want to lose their Jewish identity, Biblical heritage.  In their defense, after 2000 years of gentile ‘infiltration,’  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 the Torah (Acts 15:21).   They took on a Biblically ‘Jewish’ identity while retaining their unique calling as gentiles.   As they tried to live out their new faith in a Biblical way with Biblical truths,  they felt the judgment of the Judaizers who wanted adherence to the ‘written code’  that a non-Jew needed to convert to Judaism.  Read in this context Colossians 2:16 takes on a whole new perspective and the freedom the gentile had received in the reality of Messiah:

“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 A.D. 70, the Jewish nation 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 able to be an 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 Israel and Rome took its place.  The Torah no longer came out of Zion nor the Word of the LORD from Jerusalem.   Anti-circumcision or anti-semitic doctrines crept into the church and edicts from various church councils, including Nicaea and Laodicea,   made it illegal for  believers in Yeshua to follow anything that appeared ‘Jewish’ including Sabbath, festivals, circumcision, and 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.  Eventually Rome took the place of Jerusalem, the Hebrew Scriptures became written in Greek and Latin, and the Word of the LORD became the edicts of the Popes. Gentile believers easily fell into Roman catholicism against all warnings by Paul in his letter to the Romans (Chapters 9-14),  while Jewish believers either converted to Roman Christianity or died.  Then, of course, came the Crusades, the Inquisitions and the Holocaust.

The Modern Error in Galatia

Judaizing is a non-issue in today’s Christian church as Christians are no longer part of the Messianic Jewish community.   They do not attend synagogues for their teaching and instruction as did the first century believers.  They are not faced with ‘false brothers’ who compel them to convert to Judaism or be cast away from the God of Israel.  The Christian church no longer teaches Torah as an outline for living a life of obedience.     In fact, most if not all  Biblical truths that were illuminated by Yeshua and lived out by the Apostles and first gentile believers (including some Jewish traditions that Paul commended the gentile believers for keeping) have been eliminated to the point that neither Paul, the Apostles or Yeshua would recognize the Body of Messiah today.

The modern Galatian error is a now a ‘gentile code’ that compels Jews to follow the ways of the nations imbedded in the Christian church.   Jews who come to faith in Jesus Christ lose the vision of the eternal covenants and promises given to them.  They ‘legally convert’ to Christianity through baptism into some denomination.  Through the twisting of a misunderstood, first-century problem, the Body of Christ discourages anything Jewish and Jewish converts attend church services on Sunday and celebrate all manner of holidays that are foreign to them and prohibited by the God of Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures.  In these murky waters, they have lost their identity as Jews and their call to be a light to the gentiles has been snuffed out. 

Something definitely has ‘bewitched’ the church and it’s not a gentile desiring  to obey God’s commandments; it’s a distortion of truth that paralyzes gentiles from entering into the complete promise to Abraham, the fullness of the new covenant, and walking in the commandments of God.   Jew and gentile still remain separated and their testimony to the world of ‘one new man’ is impeded by a misrepresented error that no longer has its roots in Judaizing and compelling gentiles to become legally Jewish through ritual circumcision.  The modern ‘Galatian error’ has become the anti-semitic catch phrase for arrogance and pride over the first century Messianic Jews who dared to allow gentiles to enter the commonwealth of Israel through faith in the Jewish Messiah.

©2012 Tentstake Ministries, chapter from Journey with Jeremiah on amazon.com

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