Dividing the Church

For the church to insist on a Torah-observant lifestyle means the restoration of the old social barriers between Jews and Gentiles

The final paragraph of the third chapter of Galatians is pivotal to Paul’s argument. It stresses the oneness of God’s people. In the covenant community, the old social divisions are inappropriate since the promised “seed of Abraham has arrived.

Among other things, the Law of Moses was designed to keep Israel distinct from the surrounding Gentile nations. In Galatians, Paul presents an alternative to living under the Law for defining and delimiting the church, namely, the “faith of Jesus Christ.”

Previously, any male who was uncircumcised, Jew and Gentile alike, was outside the Abrahamic covenant, and therefore, NOT a “son of God.” Moreover, he could only become a member of the community by undergoing circumcision otherwise adopting a Torah-observant lifestyle.

  • (Galatians 3:26-29) - “For you all 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.

RESTRICTIONS UNDER TORAH

But the Law also distinguishes between slaves and freemen, and males and females. Women cannot fulfill certain requirements because of periodic uncleanness due to menstruation, and they cannot fully participate in the worship rites of the Temple, being restricted to the Court of Women at some distance from the presence of Yahweh.

Thus, under the Law, women become on some level second-class citizens of the nation of Israel. And by placing its members under the Mosaic legislation, the church in Galatia will restore that inequity.

The term “all” in verse 25 refers to Gentile AND Jewish believers. The Scripture declared that all members of the faith community are under confinement, both Jews and Gentiles, before the coming of the “seed.”

But since the arrival of the “seed” – Jesus - neither group remains under confinement. Both are now 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 qualify for it through the deeds required by the Torah, and that includes circumcision.

Paul stresses the word “ALL.” Both Jewish and Gentile believers are “sons of God” through their attachment to Jesus. It is “in Christ” that they become “Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise.”

This does not mean that ethnicity, gender, and the like no longer play roles in the daily lives of disciples or the church. However, such distinctions are no longer relevant to anyone’s right standing before God or membership in the church.

THE CUSTODIAN

Next, Paul presents the analogy of the Law as the custodian 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 reaches his majority, effectively, he is no freer than a household slave - (Galatians 4:1-7).

Custodians and stewards” perform two different functions. First, they take charge of the heir; and second, they managed his estate. This condition continues until the “time appointed by his father.” And in the analogy, this corresponds to the “fullness of time” when God sent Jesus described in chapter 4.

The term “elemental principles” translates the Greek noun stoicheion (Strong’s - #G4747). It refers to the basic components that comprise a larger whole. Thus, the idea of “element, first principal, rudiments.” Often, it refers to the elemental principles of an art, science, or discipline. From this comes the idea of “elemental principles.”

To adopt circumcision now that Jesus has come means regression to something rudimentary, a return to an earlier and more rudimentary stage in God’s redemptive plan.

This is comparable to an adult who chooses to return to the custodianship of his former guardian, and thus, to his previous minority status. In this context, “elemental principles” has in view the regulations of the Torah, and this is borne out by Paul’s usage of stoicheion in verses 9-10 with its list of Jewish calendrical observances.

The phrase “having come to be from woman” points to the genuine humanity of Jesus. “Having come to be under the law” stresses his birth as a Jew under the covenant obligations of the Torah; that is until the fullness of time came. As in chapter 3, Paul applies temporal limits to the jurisdiction of the Law.

CHILDREN OF GOD

Christ came to redeem those who were under the Law, so that, now, they may receive the adoption as sons. This refers, firstly, to Jews, especially to Jewish Christians. The need to redeem or ransom implies that being “under the Law” is 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 God’s “children” through physical birth but by adoption. All humans are His creatures but not all are His children.

The implication is that Jews, likewise, become His sons by adoption. They do not automatically attain that position because of their biological descent. Adoption into His family is based on grace, faith, and the work of Jesus Christ, not DNA or the requirements of the Torah - (Romans 8:15, 8:23, 9:4, Ephesians 1:5).

And because the Galatians are now “sons,” He has sent the “Spirit of his Son into your hearts”. This reference rounds off the long argument that began in Galatians 3:1 where Paul reminds believers that they have received the Spirit from a hearing of faith, and not from the “works of the Law.”

Most likely, the term “spirit of his Son” refers to the work of the Holy Spirit to conform believers to the image of Jesus, the same Spirit that prompts them to cry out, “Abba, Father!” What greater proof of their acceptance into the covenant community can the Galatians have than the presence of God’s Spirit?

Paul concludes his argument with the statement: “So that you are no longer a bondservant but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Jews and Gentiles who are “in Christ” are “heirs.” And since already they are “sons,” filled with the Spirit and heirs of Abraham, why attempt to seek what the Law can never deliver by subjecting themselves to the requirements of the Mosaic legislation?

Thus, adopting the requirements of the Law means division between Jewish and Gentile believers. But that is incompatible with Paul’s position that Gentiles are acceptable members of the covenant community AS GENTILES, circumcised or not.

Since the promised “seed” has arrived in Jesus, the jurisdiction of the “custodian” has ceased, and therefore, the old social divisions are wholly inappropriate. All stand before God from faith, and now, “in Christ,” all are “sons of God” and “heirs of Abraham.”


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