Galatians 2 — If We’re Dead to the Law, How Can We Continue to Keep It?

circumcisionPicking up in Chapter 2 verse 3, following along with Jim Staley, we read about Titus, an “uncircumcised” Greek, whose appearance in the narrative baffles Jim—he says its like we ‘walked in on the middle of a conversation and there is missing information.’  But the following verses explain why circumcision is being discussed, and the next verse “it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage is incorrectly interpreted by Staley as meaning “bondage to legalism”, not “bondage to the Law”.  But bondage to the Law is bondage to legalism, as will be seen below in regards to circumcision.

Admittedly, Jim is clear that salvation does not come from the works of the Law but through faith in Yeshua’s sacrifice.  We are in complete agreement on that.  It’s how we walk out our faith that is in dispute—Staley says we keep the Law to “prove” we are followers of Christ, ala James’ “I will show you my faith by my works”.  So then I will ask why in v4 does Paul plainly state that “not even Titus… was compelled to be circumcised”?  If we are to follow the Law, then males must be circumcised per Leviticus 12:3 and elsewhere.  In fact, if Christians ought to follow the Law, then no other day than the eighth day after birth is acceptable for circumcision, per the commandment! Certainly if a non-Jew (Israelite) wants to “celebrate Passover” (i.e., join Israel) he must be circumcised per Exodus 12:48.

Staley attributes the meaning of Paul discussing Titus’ lack of obedience to the Law over a battle in the New Testament about “what it means to be saved”—Jim says 2/3 of the NT is about this battle.  I would also agree with Staley that “what it means to be saved” is a big topic in the NT, but I must ask:  If we “prove” we love God by obedience to the Law (Jim’s words, 31:45 on video), why didn’t Titus feel compelled to be circumcised?

Titus was in a quandary if indeed we ought to keep the Law as Christians—he couldn’t get circumcised because that would play right into the party of the circumcision’s hands, but yet now he is not in obedience to what YHWH desires, if indeed we should keep the Law to prove we are followers, because the Law requires circumcision!  Staley seems to struggle with this issue (about 26 minutes into the video). I suppose Staley must believe at a later time, after the “party of the circumcision” left, Titus had himself snipped.  This serves to illustrate the sorts of issues we run into if we believe every OT command is still to be followed.

“The circumcised” are referenced three times in verses 7-9 (see more discussion in the Chapter 1 study)—“the circumcised” are Israel/the Jews. In verse 12 the “party of the circumcision” were “men from James”, the brother of Christ and leader of the Jerusalem church (Gal 1:19, Acts 15:13-29).  These were Jewish converts who believed Christians must keep the Law to be saved and taught that “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).  These people might have also been teaching obedience to non-Mosaic Law traditions (Staley believes this is the sole issue), but here they are only requiring what the Law prescribes.

When the “certain men from James” would not eat with the Gentiles in verse 12 Staley does not see a violation of OT food laws (i.e., eating pork) as it is not explicitly stated—he sees only a transgression of oral traditions such as hand washing or in this case, not being allowed to eat with non-Jews.  I would counter that this is also not explicitly stated. However, consider this:  Paul jumps on Peter’s (Cephas) case in v14 for compelling the Gentiles to live like Jews, so how can simply violating tradition be the question here? Jim fails to recognize that the Gentiles will never be able to meet the tradition of not eating with Gentiles, since they are Gentiles!  On the other hand, if what is meant is that they need to follow Moses’ food rules, then they are able do that.  So I think that again Paul is getting back to the basic thesis that will be seen throughout Galatians and elsewhere: we have died to the Law and are wed to another—we are not required to keep the written, Mosaic Law as an evidence of belief in Christ and salvation (see also Eph 2:15; compare with Col 2:14).

Staley admits that “it seems” like Paul is saying to Peter in verse 14 “if you live like a Gentile not keeping the Torah, why do you compel the Gentiles to keep the Torah?” I would answer, it seems like he’s saying that because he is saying that.  I think its funny, tragically funny, that even Staley sees that there are two sides—he has to have “bad guys” and “good guys” because the text demands it—but he bifurcates those keeping the Torah from those keeping the Torah and oral traditions, rather than as Paul does very clearly later in Galatians, differentiating those living under the Law with those walking by the Spirit (5:3&16).

Verses 17-21 are foundational to the Christian life; here is the correct interpretation, and the one Staley says as a “former Christian apologist” he used to put forth:

v17: We seek to be justified in Christ by faith and are no longer abiding by every requirement of the Law (for instance circumcision, see discussion above)—so now, per the Law, because I am no longer keeping its every requirement, I’m a sinner! Does that make Christ a “minister” of sin? Paul says “No!”

v18: If I went back to the Law and tried to keep it because I found I’m sinning, I would be rebuilding the old system that led me to Christ in the first place.

v19: The Law led me to Christ; in Him I’ve died to the Law so that I can live to God.  In other words, I can’t live to God if I’m alive to the Law.

v20: When Christ was crucified, I was too. I’m now “dead”, including to the Law (Rom 7). But Christ now lives in me and I live by faith in Him.

v21: If I believe I should be living by (keeping) the Law now that I’m dead to it, Christ died for no reason; I should have just kept living by the Law.

Staley says several times in his presentation that we need to be clear that when Paul talks about not keeping the Law he means only in regards to salvation; beyond that we are to live according to it.  I don’t see that in Paul’s writings; I see someone saying we were 1) led to Christ by the Law, 2) in Him we died to the Law, 3) now we live by faith, not by keeping the written commands of the old covenant.


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