SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE LAW

To pursue a Torah-observant lifestyle is to re-erect the old social barriers – Galatians 3:26-4:7.

The final paragraph of the third chapter of Galatians is pivotal to Paul’s larger argument, for it stresses the oneness of the people of God established by Jesus. In this new order, the old social divisions are inappropriate, especially now that the promised “seed of Abraham” has arrived. To now return to the regulations of the Law would erect the old social barriers.

Christians are free to keep the Law or portions of it if they feel conscious-bound to do so. However, requiring believers to keep the Mosaic regulations will cause social barriers and divisions within the church, putting some members at a disadvantage because of their gender or ethnicity.

Among other things, the Torah or Law of Moses was intended to keep Jews distinct from the surrounding Gentile nations, but Paul presents an alternative to living under the Law to define and delimit God’s people, namely, the “faith of Jesus Christ.”

  • (Galatians 3:26-29) – “For all you are sons of God through the faith in Christ Jesus. For you, as many as into Christ have been baptized have put Christ on, there cannot be Jew or Greek, there cannot be bond or free, there cannot be male and female, for all are one in Christ Jesus: Now, if you are of Christ, by consequence, you are Abraham’s seed, according to promise, heirs.

Previously, uncircumcised Gentiles were outside the covenant of Israel and not “sons of God,” and they could only become members of the community by undergoing circumcision, in the case of males, and otherwise, by adopting a Torah-observant lifestyle.

But the Law also distinguished between slaves and freemen, and males and females. Women could not fulfill certain requirements of the Law because of periodic uncleanness due to menstruation, and they could not fully participate in the worship rites of the Temple, being restricted to the Court of Women at some distance from the presence of Yahweh. Under the Mosaic Law, women were second-class citizens of the people of God. To embrace a Torah-observant lifestyle would restore that inequity. 

The “all” in verse 25 refers to Gentile and Jewish believers in Jesus (“You are allthat the promise should be given to those who believe”). The Scripture declared all things under confinement, both Jew and Gentile, before the coming of the “seed.” Now, neither group is under confinement, both are sons of God “through the faith of Christ Jesus.” And if adoption into the family of Abraham is through the “faith of Jesus,” then logically, believers do not quality to enter the covenant community through the deeds required by the Torah, including circumcision.

Paul stresses the word “all.” Both Jewish and Gentile believers have become “sons of God” through their attachment to Jesus. It is “in Christ” that men become true sons of God and “Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise.” That does not mean ethnicity, gender and the like have ceased to play roles in their daily lives; however, such distinctions are no longer relevant to their right standing before God or membership in the church.

Next, Paul presents the analogy of the Law as the guardian and steward of a minor child until the time assigned by the child’s father. In Greco-Roman society, a minor did not enjoy full liberty and civil rights until he came of the proper age. Thus, though by right destined to be master of the household, until the child reached his majority, effectively, he was no freer than a household slave – (Galatians 4:1-7).

Guardians and stewards” performed two different functions. The first took charge of the heir, the second managed his estate. This situation continued until the “time appointed by his father,” which corresponds to the “fullness of time” in verse 4.

Elemental principles” translates the Greek noun stoicheion (Strong’s – #G4747), which refers to the basic components that comprise something larger, thus, “element, first principal, rudiments.” Often, it referred to the elemental principles of an art, science, or discipline. From this came the idea of “elemental principles.” Commonly, it was applied to a letter in the alphabet or a part of a word (compare Hebrews 5:12).

To adopt circumcision meant regression to something rudimentary, to return to an earlier and more rudimentary stage in God’s redemptive plan. To do so was comparable to an adult who chose to return to the custodianship of the guardian, and thus, the status of a minor child. In this context, “elemental principles” have in view the regulations of the Torah. This is borne out by Paul’s usage of stoicheion in verses 9-10 with its list of Jewish calendrical observances.

God sent forth his Son.” Elsewhere, the New Testament states that Jesus was sent from God. “Having come to be from a woman” points to the genuine humanity of Jesus. “Having come to be under the law” stresses that he was born a Jew under the covenant obligations of Torah; that is, until the fullness of time came. As in chapter 3, Paul applies temporal limits to the jurisdiction of the Law.

Tiny Alpine Church - Photo by Ingmar Nolte on Unsplash
Photo by Ingmar Nolte on Unsplash

Christ came to redeem those who were under the Law so that they could receive the adoption of sons. This refers, firstly, to Jews, especially to Jewish Christians. The need to redeem or ransom implies that being “under the Law” was a form of bondage. Paul’s previous statement is conceptually parallel:

  • Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written: Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree, that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” – (Galatians 3:13-14).

The result of redemption is “adoption.” Men and women are not “children” of God through physical birth, but instead, by adoption. All humans are His creatures but not all are His children. An implication is that Jews, likewise, become sons by adoption; they do not automatically attain that position because of their ancestry. Adoption into His family is based on grace, faith, and the work of Jesus Christ, not DNA or the requirements of Torah – (Romans 8:15, 8:23, 9:4, Ephesians 1:5).

Because the Galatians became God’s sons, He sent the “Spirit of his Son into your hearts,” which rounds off the argument that began in Galatians 3:1 when Paul reminded them that they had received the Spirit from a hearing of faith. Most likely, “spirit of his Son” refers to the work of the Holy Spirit to conform believers to the image of Jesus. What greater proof of their acceptance into God’s covenant community could the Galatians have than the presence of His Spirit?

Paul concluded his entire argument with the statement: “So that you are no longer a bondservant but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” Believers who are “in Christ” are “heirs.” Since already they are “sons,” filled with the Spirit and heirs of Abraham, why attempt to seek what the Law could never deliver by subjecting themselves to the requirements of the Torah?

Thus, to adopt the requirements of the Mosaic legislation means disunity between Jewish and Gentile believers in the covenant community. One purpose of the Law was to keep the Hebrew people distinct from Gentiles, and the Levitical food regulations are a prime example of this.

The Law’s function as the “custodian” was to continue only until the promised “seed” arrived, and thus, it had a temporary function. However, since the promised “seed” has arrived, the jurisdiction of the “custodian” has come to an end, and therefore, the old social divisions are wholly inappropriate. All stand before God from faith, and now, “in Christ,” all are now “sons of God” and “heirs of Abraham.”

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