Galatians is one of the biblical books most often quoted to
refute the following of God's law in our daily lives.
It is not uncommon for someone to say, "the law of God is
abolished, just read Galatians." This is unfortunate
for the law of God is our friend and teacher. It is designed to
protect us and keep us safe. When we don't follow
God's law we reap natural penalties. There are many
passages in scripture that are taken off point and out of
context to say that God's law does not apply for today.
Most of them are easily refuted; however, the book of
Galatians is one of the more difficult passages to
understand. This is mostly due to the length of time
the Apostle Paul takes to make his points. Instead of
just a few verses misquoted to make the false claim that
God's law is abolished, the entirety of Galatians is taken
off point and out of context to make that claim.
Please read the entire article to get a full understanding
of what Paul the Apostle is trying to say in the book of
Galatians. Please read Galatians chapter one and two
Before we start, the Apostle Peter gave us a warning
regarding the writings of the Apostle Paul. Peter
said, "And think of the long-suffering of our Lord as
salvation, as our beloved brother Paul also has written to
you according to the wisdom given to him as also in all his
letters, speaking in them of these things; in which are some
things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and
unstable pervert, as also they do the rest of the
Scriptures, to their own destruction" (2 Pet. 3:15-16).
Remember, Peter is not refuting the writings of Paul, but
warning us to make sure we have a correct understanding.
Peter says the "unlearned and unstable pervert" the
scriptures, which implies that Paul was apparently learned
and stable. We might ask, what was Paul learned and
stable in? Here is a quick resume of the Apostle Paul;
he was "Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel,
of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as
touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting
the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law,
blameless" (Phil. 3:5-6), and educated at the "feet of
Gamaliel" (Acts 22:3). The Apostle Paul was well
educated in the Mosaic law. He would be what we would
call today a prosecuting attorney for he was sent out by the
High Priest to prosecute the church (Acts 9:1-2). We,
however, have a hard time understanding his writings because
we are, "unlearned and unstable" in the Mosaic law.
Those who say Paul advocated the abolishment of the Mosaic
law are "unlearned and unstable" in that law. It is
important for us to use the Mosaic law to properly understand Paul's writings. In so doing we will see
that he never once advocated the abolishment of God's law,
but rather endorsed the proper understanding and practice of
The purpose of this series of articles is to go through the
book of Galatians and try to understand God's law in light
of Paul's superior legal mind. We will move quickly
throughout the book, but spend more time in the sections
relating to the law of God. Chapter one is an
explanation of where the Apostle gets his doctrine from.
He is, "an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus
Christ" (Gal. 1:1). Paul is concerned because the
Galatians have been "removed from him that called [them]
into the grace of Christ unto another gospel" (Gal. 1:6).
The Galatians are troubled by some that "would pervert the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:7).
The purpose of this whole letter is to refute "another
gospel" which is false and defend the true gospel which Paul
received directly from the Messiah (Gal. 1:9-12). Paul
then defends himself and his apostleship by showing his past
of persecuting the church (Gal. 1:13-14) and how God Himself
called him (Gal. 1:15-16). Paul did not go to the
Apostles before him immediately, but rather went to Arabia,
and three years later went to see the Apostles (Gal.
1:17-19). The end result was that the Apostles
"glorified God in [him]" (Gal. 1:24).
The place of circumcision:
Chapter two begins with Paul describing his trip to
Jerusalem fourteen years ago (Gal. 2:1). Paul then
states the purpose of his visit to Jerusalem was to
communicate the Gospel he preached to the Gentiles (Gal.
2:2). This visit is recorded in Acts chapter fifteen.
The whole crux of the discussion was regarding the place of
circumcision and the law within salvation. There were
those among the Jews who believed circumcision and keeping
the law was necessary for salvation (Acts 15:5). The
Apostles and elders came together to discuss this matter
(Acts 15:6). The answer to the question was given by
Peter in Acts 15:7-11. The proof of the Gentile's
salvation before circumcision is that of the Holy Spirit
(Acts 15:8). The Holy Spirit was the evidence of their
salvation, which they had. Why then should they, "tempt God"
and put a, "yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which
neither [their] fathers nor [they] were able to bear" (Acts
The problem the Jews were having, was distinguishing the
difference between Justification and Sanctification.
Justification is a one time act where the believer is
pardoned from his sins (see article on
Sanctification is the life of the believer after
Justification whereby the believer works with God to become
the person he ought to be (see article on
Jews were not allowing for grace during the Gentile's
conversion. The Gentiles believed and were justified
and forgiven of their sins. This was evidenced by the
Holy Spirit. The Jews saw the evidence of their
conversion and wanted them to be immediately circumcised.
Remember that the Jews were trying to destroy the believers
through persecution and the spreading of false doctrines. James stood up to answer this question by
Prophets (Acts 15:14-18) and concluding, "trouble not them,
which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we
write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols,
and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from
blood" (Acts 15:19-20). James, being level headed,
suggested not to start the Gentiles off with circumcision,
but with the idolatry laws, adultery laws, and dietary laws.
Afterall, "Moses of old time hath in every city
them that preach him, being read in the synagogues
every sabbath day" (Acts 15:21). They had
every Sabbath day to continue to learn the law of
God in the synagogues. It is unreasonable to
expect someone to quit cold turkey their old way of
living and start immediately following every
commandment, statute and judgment of God.
There is need for Grace as they learn. The following example might help clarify what was
happening in Acts fifteen.
Forgive me for this crude example, but it makes the point
very well. Image if you will, a missionary going to
far off country and preaching the Messiah and the
forgiveness of sins. This group has never heard the
Gospel and do not know anything of God's law. They receive the Messiah and are
Justified and immediately you line up all the males and say,
"Now drop your pants so we can start cutting." How
effective is this going to be? The Jews were
circumcised on the eighth day as a baby. They did not
do this as an adult. Perhaps a little grace is
necessary for them to see the benefits of God's law before
they are circumcised. In fact, you can even argue that
this is a private matter and not anyone elses
business. Each male should decide when and
where they will do this. This is the point James is
making. It is not that circumcision is a bad thing.
On the contrary, those who are circumcised virtually never
get diseases such as penile cancer, but this is not
necessary for salvation. Circumcision is a health
statute. The Gospel of the Messiah is
that of Grace. Grace to learn God's law and apply it
to our lives. It is not up to anyone to judge but
yourself (Col. 2:16).
With this in mind, let's continue in Galatians chapter two.
"Titus, being a Greek, was [not] compelled to be
circumcised" (Gal. 2:3). For circumcision was not
necessary for salvation, Titus would determine when he would
take care of his own circumcision. There are over
seven hundred laws in God's Holy Law. Trying to stop
sinning cold turkey and start following every statute in
God's law is impossible. The Greek word for
"compelled" is anagkazō which means
necessitate: - compel, constrain" (Strong's Concordance
G315). This is a legal term used to enforce law, but
with God's grace each believer is accountable for their own
practice of God's law. This is evidenced in the next
verse where, "false brethren unawares ... came in privily to
spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus" (Gal.
2:4). This liberty we have in Christ is not permission
to break God's law, but rather it is liberty to learn God's law.
James calls the law of God "the perfect law of liberty"
(James 1:25, James 2:12). We have liberty in the Law
of God. Believe it or not, Grace is found throughout
God's Law (Ex. 34:9, Num. 32:5). All through the Old
Testament, God demonstrated His Grace to Israel and Gentile
alike (Ezra 9:8, Psalm 84:11). God has given us
liberty to learn His law and practice it. This is
Sanctification. Paul was so emphatic in his position
that he states he did not give place by subjection even "for
an hour" (Gal. 2:5).
Paul then elaborates on who these "false brethren" were.
They "seemed to be somewhat" (Gal. 2:6), they were
circumcision" (Gal. 2:7-9), they were from Judea (Acts
15:1), they were of the "sect of the Pharisees" (Acts 15:5),
they claimed to be believers, but were false brethren (Acts
15:5, Gal. 2:4), they believed you must be circumcised prior
to salvation (Acts 15:1), and they did so that they may "glory in their flesh" (Gal. 6:12-13). It appears the
circumcision they were offering was quite different than the
circumcision God was offering. The term circumcision
in the book of Galatians refers to a group of people, not an
act of obedience to God. In Gal. 2:6-9, Paul clearly
distinguishes between the circumcision and the
uncircumcision. The circumcision spoken of here is not
simply the act of circumcising a man, but becoming part of a
group from the Pharisees, of which the Messiah was in
conflict with His whole ministry. By circumcising into
this group the Pharisees could "glory in the flesh" (Gal. 6:12-13).
Paul uses the terms circumcision and uncircumcision to refer
to the Pharisees and the new believers throughout his letter
to the Galatians, so keep this explanation in mind as you
read the rest of the book.
Dispute between Peter and Paul:
We now move into a section of scripture many use to
challenge the practice of God's law.
Galatians 2:11-15 contains a dispute between Peter and Paul.
In verse eleven, Paul describes how he had to "with[stand
Peter] to his face" (Gal. 2:11). Why, because Peter,
out of fear of "them which were of the circumcision," only
ate with Gentiles when the Jews were not around (Gal. 2:12).
It gets worse, Peter also brought other Jews, including
Barnabas, along with him in this manner (Gal. 2:13).
The result is Paul saying to Peter, "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?"
(Gal. 2:14). At first glance, it appears Paul is
suggesting that Peter should not compel Gentiles to follow
God's law because he cannot himself follow God's law.
This, however, is not the case. A look at other
translations might shed some light. The Weymouth New
Testament says, "If you, though you are a Jew, live as a
Gentile does, and not as a Jew, how can you make the
Gentiles follow Jewish customs?" Using this
translation you might conclude that Peter's efforts to get
Gentiles to follow God's laws, like the Jews do, are
hindered because he is living as the Gentiles. The
Nestle-Aland translation reads, "If you, being a Jew, live
like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you
compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" The latter two
translations make the phrase "live like the Gentiles" a
negative statement and the phrase "compel the Gentiles to
live like Jews" a positive statement. Viewing this
verse in this manner helps the next verse make more sense.
"We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles"
(Gal. 2:15) means exactly what it says. Remember, sin
is the "transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4). A Jew,
that practiced the law, was not a sinner, but a Gentile, was
a sinner because he did not practice God's law (Gal. 2:15).
With this in mind, Paul is saying to Peter, how can you
convert Gentiles to stop sinning and follow God's law when
you yourself are sinning as a Gentile does? After all,
leaders in the church are to be "above reproach" (1 Tim.
3:2, Tit. 1:6-7) and examples to
follow (Heb. 13:7, 1 Pet. 5:3). Peter's job as the
"Apostle to the Circumcision" (Gal. 2:8) was to lead them by
example, but instead, he was being hypocritical and living
one way to the Jews and another way to the Gentiles.
We can expect the Gentiles to sin for they do not know God's
law yet, but Peter and the Jews do know God's law and should
be examples for the Gentiles to follow.
The remainder of the chapter solidifies this understanding.
Paul reminds us of the Gospel that we are, "not justified by
the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ ...
for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified"
(Gal. 2:16). This is our Justification where we are
pardoned for all of our sins. Our Sanctification is
next, for if, "while we seek to be justified by Christ, we
ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the
minister of sin? God forbid" (Gal. 2:17). God forbid,
if we are justified by Christ, that we continue in sin and
break God's law. For if we, "build again the things
(sins) which [we] destroyed, [we] make [ourselves] a
transgressor" (Gal. 2:18). The Messiah mentioned how some would
come to Him and say, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in
thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy
name done many wonderful works" (Matt. 7:22)? But the
Messiah replied, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that
work iniquity" (Matt. 7:23). The word for
is the Greek word anomia which means "illegality,
that is, violation of law" (Strong's Concordance G458).
Apparently, many people who profess the Messiah will be
turned away because they refused to practice God's law.
This is a serious issue for Paul to be addressing.
The end result is that we are "dead to the law, that [we]
might live unto God" (Gal. 2:19). How are we,
the law?" We are "crucified with Christ" and
liveth in" us and we now "live by the faith of the Son of
God" (Gal. 2:20). We are dead to the law so we can
live in Christ and fulfill the law. Those who continue
in sin will, "frustrate the grace of God: for if
righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain"
(Gal. 2:21). We will frustrate God's grace by gaining
righteousness by faith in the Messiah, but not walking as
He walked by following His law (1 John 2:6). To
continue this study in chapter three click