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 our family tells a Christian 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, legalsim and the so-called ‘Galatian error’ that incites people to react so defensively toward a non-Jew who wants 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 circumcision as a requirement to live out their faith in Yeshua of Nazareth.  This happened because some Messianic Jews were fearful of being persecuted for their faith in Yeshua.

The Galatian error was not about faith obedience to the commands of God or Torah, it was not about the Sabbath, the Festivals or pork. 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 were now theirs through Messiah.

Circumcision

In order to understand Paul’s teachings more fully, it is important to understand some of  the terminology he used when referring to the Body of Messiah.  So often circumcision verses are quoted out of context to defend an anti-circumcision (anti-semitic) doctrine and has come to mean ‘forcing someone to obey God’s commands.’ This is not how Paul used the terms ‘circumcision’ and ‘uncircumcision.’

One example is found in 1 Corinthians 7:19:  “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.”

This verse has nothing to do with the act of circumcision.  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 in the proper terminology, 1 Corinthians states that it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a non-Jew, what matters is keeping God’s commandments.  From this verse it can be reasoned that Paul never taught a gospel that encouraged disobedience,  but states that both Jew and gentile have a responsibility towards keeping God’s commands which include Sabbath, festivals, and dietary laws.

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

Again, Paul is not speaking about the act of circumcision.  He is saying “Neither Jew or non-Jew means anything; what counts is a new creation.”  He wants all the Galatians – and those who read Galatians –  to understand that our flesh condition, our DNA, has nothing at  all to do with our justification before God. We all, Jew and non-Jew,  need to be born again into the Kingdom of God; we all , Jew and non-Jew, need to be new creations in Messiah.

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 he 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 and taught them 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 fullness of 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 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 we come 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 says 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 went against the ‘traditions of Judaism’,  they were persecuted and even put to death by him.   Until his Road to Damascus experience,  Paul was the greatest persecutor of Messianic Jewish followers of Yeshua  who stopped adhering to traditional Judaism and the religious system that it included.

Conversion through Circumcision

Before Yeshua’s death and resurrection,  the only way for a gentile  God-fearer to  join in the ‘commonwealth of Israel’ was to convert to Judaism.  This was done through the ritual of flesh circumcision.   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 adhering to all of the manmade traditions, yokes, burdens, and slavery that went with it.

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

The problem in Galatia was not that Messianic gentiles were being forced to obey the commandments of God, but that non-Messianic Jews wanted gentile believers to convert to Judaism in order to obey the commandments of God.  Paul made it very clear that faith in Messiah is not about circumcision of the flesh and 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’s Body. 

“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 ‘laws’.    A  legalistic 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 was no longer circumcised (a Jew). 

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 legalistic Judaism but the law of sin that leads to death.

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 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 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 they ‘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 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 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 ways of the nations wouldn’t infiltrate and destroy the Messianic faith that was just out of the womb.  The Messianic Jews were well aware that Yeshua didn’t preach a kingdom of legal Judaism, but they also didn’t want to lose their Jewish identity.  In their defense after 2000 years of gentile ‘infiltration’,  there was some merit to their worries and struggles.

In the beginning, there were more Jewish believers than gentile ones.   Gentiles 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 (non-believing Jews) 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 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-semitism crept into the church and edicts from various church councils, including Nicea and Laodicea,   made it illegal for  believers in Yeshua to follow anything that looked Jewish including Sabbath, festivals, circumcision, dietary laws. 

Unfortunately for the 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 turned 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,  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.  Because of the twisting of a misunderstood, first-century problem, the Body of Christ prohibits 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 Scriptures.  In these murky waters, they have lost their identity as Jews and their call to be a light to the gentiles.

Something has ‘bewitched’ the church and it’s not a gentile desiring  to obey God’s commandments. It’s a fear of  distorted ‘legalism’ that paralyzes gentiles from understanding the 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 Tent Stake Ministries (For hard copy and more teachings like this one, read Journey with Jeremiah: Nourishment for the Wild Olive.)

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