The Jewish Paul: A Running Commentary on Galatians (Part 5)

This running commentary on Galatians demonstrates that Paul remained an observant Jew throughout his life. He neither advocated the abandonment of Judaism or Torah for himself nor for any Jew, whether they believed that Jesus was the Messiah or not. We complete the commentary on Galatians with this final post, picking up with one of Paul’s two major allegories: the allegory of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. It probably doesn’t mean what you were told it meant.

4:22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one [Ishmael] by the slave woman [Hagar, Gen. 16] and the other [Isaac] by the free woman [Sarah, Abraham’s wife, Gen. 17:19]. 23 But one [Ishamel], the son by the slave woman [Hagar], was born by natural descent [sexually], while the other [Isaac], the son by the free woman [Sarah], was born through the promise [i.e., miraculously].

4:24 These things may be treated as an allegory [Paul creates this unique allegory, practicing a Jewish form of exegesis called midrash.], for these women represent two covenants [In accord with Paul’s target audience, this allegory has nothing to do with Jews. These covenants are described in terms of how they affect Gentiles.]. One is from Mount Sinai [where the Torah was given to Moses] bearing children for slavery [Those who refused to follow Torah when it was given, i.e., Gentiles, became slaves of sin and idolatry]; this is Hagar [a pagan/Gentile (Egyptian)]. 25 Now Hagar represents Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children [Once, again, Paul is describing the condemnation of “sinners” (non-covenant people, Gentiles) by Torah. According to Torah, Gentiles are idolaters and slaves to sin and thus condemned for being outside the law. The present Jerusalem is the symbolic seat of the Torah-faith that condemns them.]. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother [Paul said earlier that his Christ-believing Gentiles have become adopted sons and heirs of God. Here he adds that they are also heirs of a new, or spiritual Jerusalem, something many apocalyptic Jews believed would replace the earthly city at the end of the age. In any event, none of this has to do with Jews or the abrogation of any Jewish covenant. The “second covenant,” which Paul does not further describe, is Paul’s new covenant which, as we said before, has to do with the writing of God’s laws on the hearts of his people (including Gentiles – the Spirit will instruct them how.].

4:28 But you, brothers, are children of the promise like Isaac [Again, a reference back to the promise made to Abraham about the nations which Paul links to the promise made about the birth of Isaac. The one reenforces the other as one was fulfilled according to Torah and one is being fulfilled according to Paul. He compares the Christ-believing Gentiles to Isaac: promises made to Abraham about Isaac as well as promises made about the nations both proved true. Paul does not say the Gentiles are Isaac.]. 29 But just as at that time the one born by natural descent [sexually] persecuted the one born according to the Spirit [miraculously], so it is now [Paul means that the Galatian syncretists (see earlier posts on this blog) are like Ishmael, they are “under the law” in the negative way. They remain condemned Gentiles. And they are persecuting the “children of the promise,” that is, those Gentiles loyal to Paul’s gospel. As Paul indicated above, the syncretists were rejecting Paul’s loyal Gentiles for not accepting their religious interpretations.]. 30 But what does the scripture say? “Throw out the slave woman and her son [i.e., throw out the syncretists!], for the son of the slave woman [syncretists] will not share the inheritance with the son” of the free woman [Paul’s loyal, Christ-believing Gentiles]. 31 Therefore, brothers, we [Paul is again speaking inclusively here but would certainly also include himself in this case.] are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman.

5:1 For freedom [from sin and the idolatrous powers] Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery [to sin and the idolatrous powers – Rom. 7:14]. 2 Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised [as the syncretists were advising along with returning to worshiping their pagan gods], Christ will be of no benefit to you at all [This is a very important statement! On one level Paul is advising his loyal Gentiles not to fall for the syncretistic teaching advocating their circumcision. If they attempt to acquire righteousness by (at least symbolically) converting to Judaism, they will fail because they are not prepared to live the way of life prescribed by Torah (Gal. 5:3). But Paul is also implying, if not outright stating, that Christ’s death is of no benefit to circumcised Jews. This is not a knock on Jews! According to Paul, Christ died for the redemption of the ungodly (Rom. 5:6; see next). Jews have had in place for centuries various means of atonement as provided in Torah. Paul does not mean that Messiah Jesus is not the Jewish Messiah, but that Jews benefit from him in other ways.]! 3 And I testify again to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law [Exactly! Circumcised Jews do follow the entire Torah, it is a way of life. No one in Galatia seems to have made that point with the Galatians demonstrating that whoever is suggesting Paul’s baptized Gentiles get circumcised was not Jewish.]. 4 You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law [Pay attention here: “You who have been trying to be declared righteous.” These are Gentiles. Jews don’t try to be declared righteous by the law. They are already in a righteous covenant with God and by faith and obedience they remain so] have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace! 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we [Gentiles] wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight [This is not a repudiation of Judaism, Jewish practices, or circumcision for Jews. Paul is adamant, however, that “in Christ” the status of Jews and righteous Gentiles is equal.] —the only thing that matters is faith working through love [Faith matters as much for Jews as for Gentiles. Paul makes this, as well as obedience, the key means for entering the kingdom. See below.].

5:7 You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion does not come from the one who calls you! 9 A little yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise [Paul likes this adage (see also 1 Cor. 5:6). It can mean any number of things. Here he may mean that by staying true to the course Paul put them on, they will bring others to right thinking, even those who have slipped up. Or he may mean that the “one who calls” them (Christ? The Spirit? Paul?) can make all of them righteous.]! 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will accept no other view. But the one who is confusing you [This may just be a rhetorical use of “the one,” a cypher for all those who are misleading his converts but could refer to a single leader of this movement calling for both circumcision and worshiping the idols.] will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. 11 Now, brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted [This is a fascinating line. It seems to imply that Paul once taught that Gentiles must be circumcised in order to be made righteous. By agreeing with that common Jewish belief, he remained immune to persecution from fellow Jews. Now, he teaches that Gentiles need not be circumcised as long as they are “in Christ.” For that, he is persecuted, probably by some Jews who don’t accept Paul’s gospel but also by pagans whose Christ-believing neighbors and family members have entered into a limbo state exclusively worshiping the Jewish God yet without the political cover given by the empire to Jews (after all, they are not circumcised). But these Christ-believing Gentiles also refuse to honor the pagan gods. The syncretists may be advocating a return to honoring the pagan gods and/or circumcision so as to find relief from such persecution.]? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed [According to Paul, it is the death of Christ (“the cross”) that makes salvation without circumcision possible for Gentiles]. 12 I wish those agitators [the syncretists] would go so far as to castrate themselves [Paul is so angry with losing some of his flock that he spews a very troubling invective. Nevertheless, it is good rhetorical strategy.]!

5:13 For you were called to freedom [from sin and condemnation brought about by the law which brings status equality with Jews], brothers; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh [i.e., sin; just because the law no longer condemns you for not being Jewish, you are still called to obedience], but through love serve one another [love will help them obey]. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself” [Supersessionist Christians would like to interpret Paul as saying, “Forget Torah. Just love each other. That’s all you need.” He means no such thing. He is quoting Torah (Lev. 19:18). If Torah was obsolete, this saying would be meaningless.] 15 However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, live by the Spirit [Contrary to some modern, feel-good interpretations of Paul that understand him here as saying “live as the spirit moves you,” Paul is referring to the new covenant in which the Spirit will write the laws of God on the hearts of his people (Jer. 31:33). How do we know? Read on.] and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh [you will not sin]. 17 For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires [i.e., Torah requirements] that are opposed to the flesh [sin], for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want [Yes, there are restrictions and they are found in Torah]. 18 But if you are led [as in “taught obedience”] by the Spirit, you are not under the law [Remember, this does not mean that the law is obsolete or of no meaning for Gentiles. “Under the law” means condemned by the law. Paul is saying that Gentiles in Christ are no longer under the law’s curse. But they must obey the law as the Spirit directs. He will now cite some Torah rules.]. 19 Now the works of the flesh [sinful, anti-Torah behavior] are obvious: sexual immorality [Ex. 20:14; Dt. 5:18; Hos. 4:2; Dt. 27:20-23; Lev. 18:6-7, 20:14-17], impurity [Ex. 19:6; Lev. 11:45, 18:30, 20:26], depravity [see the former], 20 idolatry [Ex. 20:3-5, 23; Dt. 5:7, 6:14], sorcery [Ex. 22:18; Lev. 19:26-28, 31, 20:6, 27; Dt. 18:11; 1 Sam. 15:23; 1 Chron. 10:13; 2 Chron. 33:6; 2 Kgs. 21:6; Micah 5:12], hostilities, strife, jealousy [Ex. 20:17; Prov. 6:34, 14:30, 27:4], outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions [for these four, see, e.g., Lev. 20:9; Prov. 10:6, 11, 12:18, 15:1, 18:21, 29:22; Dt. 6:4; Psa. 133:1-3; Eccl. 4:9-12], 21 envying [see jealousy], murder [Ex. 20:13, 21:12; Lev. 24:17; Num. 35:31; Dt. 5:17; Prov. 6:16-19; Hos. 4:2], drunkenness [Lev. 10:9; Dt. 21:20; Prov. 20:1, 23:20-21, 29-35], carousing [see drunkenness, sexual immorality], and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! [For all those who would say Paul preaches a law-free gospel, re-read passages like this one (including 1 Cor. 5:11, 6:9-10; 2 Cor. 12:20-21; Rom. 1:29-31; etc.). Paul does indeed hold his Gentiles accountable to the parts of Torah they can obey. While he largely leaves it up to the new covenant Spirit to guide his Gentiles, he is sometimes moved to list some of the laws applicable to Gentiles. For those who say that Paul teaches only the moral provisions of Torah, why does he prohibit idolatry? Sorcery was not unequivocally amoral in the Greco-Roman world. Why are Paul’s rules for sexual morality (1 Cor. 6:9; Rom. 1:26-27) based on Torah rather than the prevailing Greco-Roman sexual mores? The cost of disobedience for violating these laws is the kingdom itself. Faith plus obedience: this is Paul’s Jewish rule for Gentiles.]

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit [meaning that the Spirit will teach them obedience], let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit [that is, the Spirit’s teaching of the law, now written on the hearts of believers]. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another [for Torah’s teaching on jealousy, see above].

6:12 Those who want to make a good showing in external matters [i.e., the syncretists who seemed to have been trying to spare the Christ believers in Galatia from persecution] are trying to force you to be circumcised. They do so only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ [See?]. 13 For those who are circumcised do not obey the law themselves [This indicates that the syncretists are not Jews but Christ-believing Gentiles who espouse a different gospel that includes some Jewish ritual practices, including circumcision, as well as a return to some form of honoring the pagan gods.], but they want you to be circumcised so that they can boast about your flesh [that is, the syncretists can demonstrate that the Christ-believers have been circumcised and so should not be persecuted (by Jews?) but thought of in some way as “Jews”]. 14 But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that matters is a new creation [This line has been interpreted by Christian supersessionists as demonstrating that, according to Paul, being a Jew no longer has any value – Judaism has been replaced. “Don’t be a Jew! Be a ‘new creation’!” That is definitely not what Paul is saying. As he wrote several times before, being “in Christ” gives the same status to a Gentile as that of a Jew when it comes to being righteous before God and entering the kingdom. The Gentiles become a “new creation” in Christ once they are baptized – they are no longer “Gentile sinners.” They become “clothed with Christ” – Gal. 3:27] 16 And all who will behave in accordance with this rule, peace and mercy be on them, and on the Israel of God [Paul prays for peace and mercy on both Christ-believing Gentiles and Israel. Does any more need to be said to defend Paul against baseless accusations of his denunciation of Judaism? Of his supposed anti-Jewish behavior? Of his “law-free” gospel? And, finally, Paul is not saying that Christ-believing Gentiles become Israel and replace Jews. This line of thinking is found absolutely nowhere in the letters of Paul though it quickly arose in early Christianity, sometimes defended by misreading Paul.]