Rebuilding Walls

The third chapter of Galatians is pivotal to Paul’s larger argument, in which he stresses the oneness of God’s people. The old social divisions existing under the Mosaic Legislation are inappropriate in God’s one covenant community since the promised “Seed of Abraham” has arrived, namely, Jesus of Nazareth. In his Body, “there can be NEITHER Jew nor Greek.”

The Torah was intended to keep Israel distinct from the surrounding Gentile nations. By adopting the requirements of the Mosaic Law, we rebuild the “middle wall of partition” between Jewish and Gentile believers, a wall removed by Jesus at great personal cost. However, Paul presents an alternative to the Law for defining and demarcating the people of God - the “faith of Jesus Christ” – (Ephesians 2:11-22).

Broken walls - Photo by micheile henderson on Unsplash
[Photo by micheile henderson on Unsplash]

Under the Law, any uncircumcised male regardless of ethnicity was outside the covenant, and therefore,
NOT a “son of God.” Moreover, he could only become a member of the community by undergoing circumcision and otherwise adopting a Torah-observant lifestyle.

  • (Galatians 3:26-29) - “For you are all sons of God through the faith of Christ Jesus. For you, as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 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.

The Torah also distinguished between slaves and freemen, and males and females. Because of their periodic uncleanness due to menstruation, women could not participate fully in the worship rites of the Temple, being restricted to the Court of Women at some distance from the Sanctuary and the presence of Yahweh. Under the Law, they were second-class citizens, and if the Galatians placed its members under the Mosaic Legislation, it would restore that inequity to its female members.

The “all” in Verse 25 refers to Gentile AND Jewish believers. The Scriptures declared that everyone was confined under the Law before the “Seed” arrived. Since his arrival, neither group remained under said confinement; both became sons of God “through the faith of Christ Jesus.”

If adoption into the family of Abraham is through the “faith of Jesus,” then logically, we do not qualify as the “children of Abraham” through the deeds and rituals required by the Torah. This does not mean that ethnicity and gender no longer play roles in our daily lives, but such distinctions have no bearing on our standing before God. Faith and obedience matter, not ethnicity.

THE CUSTODIAN


The Apostle presents the analogy of the Law as the custodian and steward of a minor child. In Greco-Roman society, a minor did not enjoy full liberty and civil rights until he came of age. Though by right destined to be the master of the household, until the child reached his majority, he was no freer than any household slave - (Galatians 4:1-7).

Custodians and stewards” performed two different functions. First, they took charge of the heir. Second, they managed his estate. This condition continued until the “time appointed by his father,” and in Paul’s analogy, this corresponds to the “fullness of time” when God sent Jesus to redeem us - (Galatians 4:1-10).

The term “elemental principles” translates the Greek noun stoicheion (Strong’s Concordance #G4747), which refers to the basic components that comprise a larger whole. Hence, the idea of “element, first principal, rudiments.” From it came the notion of “elemental principles.”

To adopt circumcision now that the “Seed of Abraham” has come would mean our regression to something rudimentary, a return to an earlier and more rudimentary stage in God’s redemptive plan.

Jesus came to redeem those “under the Law,” so they could receive the adoption as children. This refers, firstly, to Jewish believers. The need to redeem or ransom them implies that being “under the Law” was a form of bondage, or at least the Torah was incapable of justifying them before God. 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 everyone who 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 this redemption was “adoption.” We are not God’s “children” through physical birth. All humans are His creatures but not all are His children. The implication is that Jews, likewise, become His sons through grace, faith, and the work of Jesus on the Cross, not DNA or the rituals of the Torah - (Romans 8:15, 8:23, 9:4, Ephesians 1:5).

Because we are “children,” God sent the “Spirit of his Son into our hearts”. This rounds off the long argument that began at the start of Chapter 3 when Paul reminded us that we received the Spirit from a hearing of faith, and not from the “deeds of the Law” – (Galatians 3:1-4).

The term “spirit of his Son” refers to the work of the Holy Spirit conforming us to the Image of the Son, the same Spirit that prompts us to cry out, “Abba, Father!” What greater proof of our acceptance into the covenant community could we have than the Gift of the Spirit?

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

Paul concludes his argument: “
You are no longer a bondservant but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” In Christ, Jews and Gentiles become “heirs” of the Abrahamic Covenant. Since we are “sons,” filled with the Spirit and heirs of the Patriarch, why attempt to seek what the Law could never deliver by subjecting ourselves to the requirements of the Mosaic Legislation?

Adopting the deeds and rites of the Law would mean dividing the Body of Christ along ethnic lines. However, since the “Seed of Abraham” has arrived and redeemed us, the old social divisions are wholly inappropriate in the covenant community. Men and women are justified before God from the “faith of Jesus,” and every disciple is a “child of God” and an “heir of Abraham” regardless of biological descent. Why do some still insist on rebuilding the old walls dismantled by Jesus Christ?



RELATED POSTS:
  • Ekklésia, the Assembly - (The Christian use of the term church or ekklésia is derived from the Assembly of Yahweh gathered for worship as described in the Hebrew Bible)
  • One Spirit, One People - (By his death and resurrection, Jesus formed one covenant community - One New Man - based on faith in him, not ethnicity or nationality – Ephesians 2:11-22)
  • Salvation for All - (The Good News announced by Jesus of Nazareth offers salvation and life to men and women of every nation and people)

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