I had to pause as I came to chapter four in Galatians, because it said something to me that I had not seriously considered before. In fact, in several earlier blogs I had written differently, believing the Jews practiced circumcision and purity rituals throughout the Empire. However, I may have been wrong, and, if I am wrong, it would explain a few private questions I have had about these very things.
Paul argues in Galatians 3 that the Law—the whole Law, whether the Decalogue or the civil and ceremonial laws—wasn’t even a part of Jewish life until 430 years after God made the promise of salvation to Abraham (Galatians 3:17). He concludes that this Law—the Torah—could not, therefore, affect the covenant God had already made with Abraham.
In chapter four Paul continues in this argument, saying the Law (Torah) acted as a school-master for the Jews (Galatians 3:24; 4:1-5). It preserved them until the coming of Jesus, and taught them that they needed a Savior, because there is no man who sins not (1Kings 8:46), and therefore all men are concluded as good as dead, as far as the Law is concerned. The Law cannot give life, and men cannot cause it to say so. Neither could anyone legally change the unconditional covenant God made with Abraham concerning the salvation which is obtained by trust (faith) in God. Since no man can add to or take away from this covenant, and since all men are sinners, worthy of death, how can one obtain the grace of God and inherit salvation when the Law of God requires our lives? Somehow there must be agreement between the unconditional covenant God made with Abraham and the conditional covenant God made with Moses, because God will not—cannot—contradict himself. There must be an answer that validates the hope we see in the Abrahamic Covenant without violating the seriousness of the Mosaic Covenant that requires the life of every sinner.
The answer, of course, is the Seed of Abraham. The promise was given to both Abraham and the promised Seed, which is the Messiah. Just as Abraham was accounted righteous because he believed or trusted God, so too, we can enter into that same trust and believe or trust the Seed of Abraham or Jesus the Messiah and Savior of the world. He was made a curse for us, taking upon himself the responsibility of all that we have done, just as the LORD had taken upon himself the total responsibility of his covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. Abraham slept (symbolizing death) and when he awoke the LORD ratified the covenant all by himself. According to the culture at the time, both parties making a covenant were required to walk through the slain animals, but Abraham could only witness the LORD walking through the sacrifices alone—which declared… “let this occur to me if either one of us breaks the covenant we make this day.” Thus the LORD made himself solely responsible for Abraham’s salvation, and by association, our salvation as well.
Paul shows all who are under the Law are bound (slaves) to obey the Law. The Law is their master. However, when Jesus, our true Master, came we don’t have to place ourselves under the Law anymore. Jesus offers us the advantage of the freedom of adoption as sons—heirs according to the promise made to Abraham. Paul’s question to the Galatians is: since the bondage of circumcision couldn’t avail anyone to the promises, for what logical reason had they abandoned the freedom through adoption to embrace the bondage of living under the Law, i.e. observing the Sabbath, new moons and annual Holy Days, and sabbatical years? Their behavior made no sense at all!
Paul then says: “…be as I am, for I am as you are.” In other words, Paul, while he was with the Galatians, embraced their own cultural traditions in so far as those traditions didn’t dishonor God. Paul lived as a gentile among them. Therefore, they should be themselves—gentiles—and not Jews, which they are not. If this argument is sound, then it appears to me that Jews in the Diaspora may have embraced much, if not all, of the gentile traditions, save sacrificing to idols and such like. When they came to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage, they would have obeyed the laws of the land, including all the ceremonial and dietary laws of the Mosaic Covenant. Nevertheless, when among the gentiles, most Jews lived according to their neighbors’ customs, unless those customs overtly dishonored God. They may have honored only the Sabbath and adhered to the physical rite of circumcision which separated the Jew from the world and placed him in a covenant relationship with God, but even this may not have been done by every Jew as Acts 16:1-3 seems to indicate.