Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Haven't You Ever Read Galatians - Part I

1. Galatians 3:10

The verse reads as follows:

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.’

This passage is often cited to support the idea that justification by works is unattainable, since no one can obey the law perfectly.  At first glance the verse seems to be saying that those who are trusting in their observance of the law are under a curse because no one consistently keeps the entire (pasin) law.

According to this view, Paul's argument runs as follows:

(1) All who do not keep the law perfectly are cursed (cf. Deut 27:26 cited in Galatians 3:10b).

(2) No one can keep the law perfectly (implied premise).

(3) Therefore, all who rely on the works of the law are under curse (Gal 3:10a).

It is immediately apparent that some folks were working to convince Paul's Gentile converts that as a condition for receiving the Biblical promises they had to accept the Law i.e. the Torah of Moses.  In other words, this group maintained that Gentiles could only become part of the people of G-d and be considered true sons of Abraham on the condition that they were circumcised and accepted the yoke of the Torah.  To be considered true sons of Abraham, they argued, they must do as Abraham did and be circumcised (Genesis 17:9-14, 26f.).

Their position was not unreasonable.  The passage in Genesis 17 clearly states that Abraham and his seed must be circumcised and that any male who is not circumcised will be destroyed.  This group could also find a strong basis for their claims in Isaiah 56:6-8, where foreigners who join with the people of G-d are expected to adhere to the covenant and observe the Sabbath.

Most of Paul's arguments, as we shall see, will find their basis in the Scriptures, where he will forcefully demonstrate that observance of the Biblical commandments are not a necessary condition for being declared righteous before G-d i.e. justified.

It is critical to understand that Paul was not arguing against or disparaging Judaism or the Law in Galatians; instead, his arguments are directed primarily against the view of some Jewish believers in the Messiah who vehemently maintained that Gentiles must accept the law as a condition of or a basic requirement for being considered righteous and true sons of Abraham.  Paul’s main objection to the position of these Jewish believers was their insistence on the rite of circumcision and the Mosaic law as a condition for justification before G-d and subsequent membership in the covenant community.

The main problem that we encounter in Galatians is determining the conditions for admitting the Gentiles into the fold.  It is therefore important to understand that the argument of Galatians 3 is directed against the view of this group of Jewish believers who maintain that Torah observance and circumcision are "entrance requirements" for the Gentiles who wish to join with the people of G-d and become heirs of the promises along with them.

Paul's argument is, not against Judaism, the Torah, or circumcision, but rather against the view that Gentiles must accept the Law as a condition of or as a basic requirement for acceptance.  Paul opposes requiring Gentiles to keep the law in order to be considered true sons of Abraham.

One of the reasons for the misconception that Paul is refuting or rebutting Judaism and the Torah may be due to Paul's argument about righteousness by faith or by "works of the law" in Galatians 2 and 3, where it appears as if he were arguing that an individual cannot merit salvation by achieving enough good deeds to present a favorable balance before G-d.  Many hold to the view that Judaism holds such a position.  However, a careful and thoughtful study of the Torah and related Jewish material does not reveal such a position and that is not the thrust of Paul's argument in any case.

In the view of many prominent and respected Bible scholars and commentators, Galatians and Galatians 3 in particular is Paul's rebuttal of Judaism itself.  But this is to miss the point entirely and is careless exegesis.  The quality and the character of Judaism is not the focus; the real issue is simply addressing the question of how one becomes a true son of Abraham, particularly if you are a Gentile.

In other words, Paul insists that faith in the Messiah, not obedience to the Torah, is the condition for acceptance by and justification before G-d.  The question remains: Does Paul argue in Gal 3:10–12 that the Mosaic law is not the basis for justification because no one can keep it?

The question is not about how many good deeds are required to be declared righteous before G-d, but again, whether or not Paul's Gentile converts must accept the Jewish law to be considered righteous and justified before G-d.  What is the essential element that is required in order to be considered a true son of Abraham?

Paul will argue that faith (emunah) is the sole requirement, and his opponents will argue that circumcision and Torah observance are also required.  No where does Paul ever take issue with 'doing the law' nor does he declare that 'doing the law' is wrong, however, it is wrong when Torah observance and circumcision are made essential requirements or conditions for justification.

It is primarily on the basis of Galatians 3:10-12 in conjunction with 5:3 that people argue that Paul objected to the Law because it could not be satisfactorily fulfilled.   A related argument that is commonly advanced is that the law should no longer be accepted because it is impossible to do all of it.  According to this view, Galatians 3:10-11 contains two arguments against the law: 1) the Law cannot be fulfilled (implied, not stated, in 3:10); 2) even if it could be, righteousness comes only by faith.

And although Paul nowhere explicitly states that the Law cannot be fulfilled, many hold that this view is implied and presupposed in Galatians 3:10-12.  In order to augment this position, Romans 1:18 - 3:20 and Galatians 5:3 will be cited as proof texts, although neither of the passages say that the law could not be fulfilled.  The passage in Romans contains the charge that everyone commits heinous sins, but does not purport the view that the law is so difficult that it cannot be fulfilled. 

It is interesting to note that Paul is careful to use proof-texts which contain terms such as “Gentiles,” “righteous,” and “faith” to support the idea that Gentiles are justified by faith.  Paul is careful in his selection of passages from the Tanakh, passages which contain the terms which serve to sustain his view that Gentiles are heirs of Abraham by faith.

Another question follows: Did Paul cite Deut 27:26 because the verse contains the word “all” (which would presumably demonstrate that no one is able to obey the law) or is it possible that he employed this verse because it is the only passage in the Septuagint in which nomos is connected with word 'curse'?

The passage in Deuteronomy 27:26 contains two key terms which serve to augment Paul's position, viz., nomos (law) and epikataratos (curse).   It seems more likely that Paul chose to cite Deut 27:26  because it contained the words “law” and “curse,” not because it contained the word “all.”

One of the keys to understanding the proof-texts employed by Paul is not to focus on interpreting the meaning of the proof-text, but rather Paul’s explanation of the proof-text.  In other words, understanding what Paul says in his own words often helps elucidate Paul's understanding of the proof-texts he is citing, which in turn serves as an aid to our own understanding. 

No where in Galatians 3:10 does Paul make any statement about the possibility of fulfilling the law; he simply condemns the notion that the law be kept as a condition for justification and acceptance. Paul is not giving reasons to support his idea that no one can be justified by the law; rather, Paul, who was a master of Jewish exegetical arguments, uses the Tanakh to demonstrate the validity of his position.

The reason Paul maintains that justification is not by the law is because justification is only through faith in the Messiah. The issue with the law, then, is not that it cannot be fulfilled, but that G-d’s intention excludes Torah observance and circumcision as requisite conditions for righteousness.  

From the outset, then, Paul’s position that salvation comes only through faith in the Messiah excludes the possibility that salvation could come via the law. Paul did not argue in Galatians 3 that righteousness was not by law because it was impossible to fulfill all of it; instead, one of Paul’s main purposes was to demonstrate that both Jews and Gentiles are saved by faith and that righteousness is equally accessible to both groups.

To be continued . . . 


  1. You may interested in a book by messianic Gentile author D.T. Lancaster. He has similar interpretations. The sermons it's based on are also free on the audio section of bethimmanuel.org.


    Also, Mark Nanos, a reform Jewish NT scholar, has similar interpretations in his book. He takes Paul's opponents to be non-Messianic Jews though.


  2. Thank you for the references. That is very kind of you.

    I own Nanos' works "The Mystery of Romans" and "The Irony of Galatians", but it has been quite a number of years since I have read them. May be time to re-visit them.

    BTW, I also briefly scanned over the website at ourrabbis.org Looks very interesting. I will be spending some more time over there when as my schedule allows.

    Thanks again.

  3. Ah cool. I was doing a Romans study, and Mystery of Romans was one of the 3 books that caught my eye enough to get for my study. I was enthralled with his thesis that I start searching online for critiques and those that agreed. That's when I came across Messianic Jewish theologians.

    In particular, and with excellence, MJ Rabbi Derek Leman has written a book and blogs on Nanos' proposals in agreement, and he brings it down to a popular level really well. I'll post 2 examples of his blogs on your part 2 post as they are relevant to something you said there.