Is God’s Law a Curse?
by Christine Egbert
Galatians is not a textbook. It’s a letter written to a specific group of new (formerly pagan) believers two thousand years ago, and it addresses a specific problem. If two millennia later, we are to correctly interrupt Paul’s letter, it’s imperative we understand exactly what that issue was. I will, therefore, cite other books in the New Testament, from time to time, to provide the proper context. And I will deal only with those verses from the book of Galatians that are so often and egregiously taken out of context.
BUT BEFORE WE BEGIN
Before we begin, I want to point out certain scriptures, which I hope will build my case that Paul could NOT have been teaching against keeping the Torah as so many falsely claim. So what was this one issue? . . . this one false doctrine that Paul always railed against, and not just in Galatians?
It was the heresy that Jews (and converts into Judaism) could be saved by simply keeping the Torah (as interpreted by their Rabbi’s), apart from faith in Israel’s Messiah, Yeshua. Once this vital fact is understood, Paul’s letters become clear. Claiming otherwise makes Paul confused or a liar. Further more, it would reduce the Bible to a collection of self-contradictory verses. If God–who Isaiah declared “knows the end from the beginning” and who Malachi said “never changes” later changed His mind without even once declaring it in His Word, if He reversed everything He commanded, over and over, in the first three-fourths of His Word through some (seemingly) contradictory statements made by only one man, Paul of Tarsus, it would not only render the Holy Scriptures irrelevant but the Most High a liar.
NEVER FORGET PETER”S WARNING!
According to the apostle Peter (2 Peter 3:16-17), some of Paul’s writing can be hard to understand, and those who are untaught (in the LAW) and unstable pervert what Paul writes to their own destruction. Peter warned those reading Paul’s writings not to be led astray by the “error of the lawless.”
Unlike Paul, Yeshua–the WORD of God made Flesh–was quite clear. He said he did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. He came to fulfill them. Now as a Hebrew idiom, fulfill means to correctly interpret (see my article “A Misunderstood Hebrew Idiom”). But far too many Christians have been taught to interpreted “fulfill” to mean “Christ fulfilled His Father’s Law and then did away with.”
They ignore the pesky fact that Yeshua went own to say, “…not one iota or point would pass from the Law or the Prophets until heaven and earth pass away.” Well, heaven and earth are still here! The bulk of biblical prophecy, which deals with Yeshua’s return, has yet to be fulfilled. And Yeshua went on to warn that anyone who relaxes even one of the commandments (and teaches others to do so) will be least in the Kingdom. But those who keep (and teach others to keep) them will be great. (Mat 5:17-19)
Yeshua, the HEAD of the body (the church), also said: “If you keep My commandments you will continue in My love, as I have kept My Father’s commandments and continue in His love. (John 15:10) When He was about to be taken up, Yeshua instructed His disciples to go into every nation and teach believers to observe (to do) everything He had commanded. (Matthew 28:20). Well everything He had commanded includes Yeshua’s warning not to relax and teach others to relax even one of the least of the Commandments. If Paul had taught the law was nailed to the cross, as so many denominations falsely preach, then the apostle Paul would have been a heretic.
Law is truth!
Psalms 119:142 “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth.” Psalms 119, the longest chapter in Psalms, is devoted entirely to praising the Law. In verse 18, David, a man after God’s own heart, asks God to open his eyes that he might see the wondrous things from God’s law.
OTHER POINTS TO CONSIDER
According to Scripture, James 4:12, the one who is able to save and destroy (Yeshua) is the lawgiver. “One is the Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy.”
Sin is transgression of the LAW. 1 John 3:4 “Whosoever commits sin transgress the law: for sin is transgression of the law.
SATAN IS THE LAWLESS ONE
The antichrist is often referred to as the Lawless one. “And then the lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.” (2Th 2:8)
The New Testament actually has quite a lot to say about lawlessness. Yeshua, himself, gave these warnings:
And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, those working lawlessness! (Matthew 7:23)
The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all that offends, and those who practice lawlessness. (Matthew 13:41)
Paul equates righteousness with light, lawlessness with darkness. He connects lawlessness with unbelief.
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership does righteousness have with lawlessness? And what fellowship does light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)
YESHUA DIED TO FREE US FROM LAWLESSNESS
Paul went so far as to declare that Yeshua died so that we might be redeemed from all lawlessness.
Titus 2:14 “who gave Himself on our behalf that He might redeem us from all lawlessness and purify a special people for Himself, zealous of good works.”
Yeshua Loves Righteousness, Hates Lawlessness.
Hebrews 1:9: You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; because of this God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness beside Your fellows.”
In Romans 7:12, Paul, the same Paul we will be studying in Galatians, called the law holy. He called the commandments holy, just and good.
And last, but not least, in court, when accused of teaching against the Law (Acts 25:7-8), Paul testified , “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything…”
NOW LET US BEGIN IN GALATIANS
Gal 1:6-7: I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.
In the above verses, “some who trouble you” that want to “pervert the gospel of Christ” refers to the circumcision group mentioned in Acts 15:1 “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” It goes on in verses 8-9 to say, “And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.”
The conclusion to the matter is found in Act 15:19-21: “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.” (These are all forbidden in God’s Law in Leviticus.) “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”
The reference to Moses being read every Sabbath in the Synagogues shows that it was assumed that these new believers would attend these services every Sabbath (not Sunday), and learn the rest of God’s Law over time, just the way new believers learn today. It does not mean that Gentiles who come to faith, who are saved, need not obey the rest of God’s law.
Remember that the word translated as LAW in the Greek is the Hebrew word TORAH. TORAH means instruction. In the New Covenant, God writes His Law (instructions) on our hearts so that we will obey them. We do not obey them to be saved. It doesn’t work that way! It never did! We are given a new (circumcised) heart of flesh so we can obey God’s instructions (after we are saved by grace through faith), and we are given the Holy Spirit to empower us to do so.
Remember what Paul wrote in Romans 8:3-4 “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
NOW LET’S MOVE ON…
Gal 2:3-4: Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in, who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.
Notice that Paul says Titus was not compelled to be circumcised. Remember that according to the circumcision group, unless a man was circumcised, he could not be saved. (Acts 15:1) Those in the circumcision group followed the Jewish Oral Law written by Rabbis. It gets confusing sometimes because there are places in scripture where the writer is referring to the oral law, but simply states the law, for instance in Acts 10:28. Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me [in Peter’s vision] that I should not call any man common or unclean.”
Peter’s vision had to do with abolishing the man-made oral Law that forbid Jews to keep company, share meals, with Gentiles. God was NOT overturning his own dietary laws laid out in Leviticus 11. Anyone who has studied the first five books of Scripture would KNOW that God’s WRITTEN LAW NEVER decreed it unlawful to share a meal with Gentiles (except Passover), and therefore would realize that it Acts 10:28 referred to the (man-made) Oral law, which did.
In the gospels, it was always against these oral laws and traditions that Yeshua ranted.
Matthew 15:9 “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
Mat 15:2-3: “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?”
Matthew 15:6 …Thus have you made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.
Mark 7:9: And he said unto them, “Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.”
Even Paul warned against following these commandments and doctrines of men.
Col 2:20-22: “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—”Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?”
Col 2:8: Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
Mat 23:1-4: Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat [they teach God’s TORAH]. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, observe and do [Keep God’s written law], but do not do according to their works; for they say (teach Torah from Moses seat) and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens (manmade regulations), hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders.
It is pure madness to assume that God would inspire the writer’s of the so-called New Testament to disparage HIS OWN LAWS!
Here is a word picture for you. The US Constitution is to Congress’ legislation as God’s TORAH is to the Rabbi’s ORAL LAW.
Gal 2:11-14: Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles [not following the Oral Law] and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?
Peter deserved Paul’s rebuke. He of all people knew that God had baptized these Gentiles with the Holy Spirit. Peter gave the correct interpretation of his vision in Acts 10:28. Yet, succumbing to peer-pressure from the oral law-keeping circumcision group, he separated himself from eating with the Gentiles.
Gal 2:19: For I, through the law, died to the law that I might live to God.
To correctly understand what Paul, a TORAH scholar, meant about dying to the law one must read:
Romans 8:1-2: There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
Romans 8:6-7 “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.
He then, in verses 10-13, goes on to explain, “And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Gal 2:21: “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”
Many believe that in the Old Testament, people got saved by keeping the Law. But this was never the case. Salvation has always come through faith in the living GOD. Abraham’s heart was circumcised years before his foreskin. He believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness (James 2:23). But by faith Abraham also “obeyed, when he was called to go…”
WHAT IS BIBLICAL FAITH?
Biblical faith has an action component. It is not mere mental assent. That is why James wrote that “faith without works is dead.” For even demons believe and tremble. (James 2:19). That said, there were those Jews (referred to as the circumcision group), who trusted in their ability to follow the Oral Torah for salvation.
Yeshua said these people draw near to him with their mouth, but that their hearts were far from him. (Matthew 15:8). And quoting Isaiah, in Matthew 7:6, Yeshua called those who honor him with their lips while their hearts were far from him hypocrites. Likewise Paul, throughout the book of Galatians, railed against the influences of the circumcision group, who taught that salvation came by keeping the oral law.
Galatians 3:1-9 has Paul reminding them that the Holy Spirit was given to them by faith. These verses need no further discussion since they have already been covered elsewhere in this article. So let’s move on to verses 10-12.
Gal 3:10-12: For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT CONTINUE IN ALL THINGS WHICH ARE WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO DO THEM.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “THE MAN WHO DOES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.”
Once again, Paul is warning them against the teaching of the circumcision party, who believe they are saved by keeping the law. Paul makes two points here.
1. No one can keep the law perfectly.
2. Even if they could keep the law perfectly it would not matter, because without faith, no one will be justified in the eyes of God.
NOW WE COME TO THE VERSE FOR WHICH I NAMED THIS ARTICLE:
Galatians 3:13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law…
Paul, a TORAH scholar, who elsewhere wrote that the Law was good and spiritual, and that we were given God’s Holy Spirit so that we could fulfill its righteous requirements, was referring to Deuteronomy 11:26-27. God set before the people both a blessing and a curse. If they obeyed God’s law they would be blessed. If they did not, they would be cursed. Paul was not telling the Galatians that God had redeemed them from the LAW. The LAW can NEVER be a curse! He was explaining that the Messiah had redeemed them from the curse attached to breaking God’s law. To believe that Paul meant the law itself was a curse would make Paul a liar, and the Bible a book of contradictions.
It is FOLLY to believe that just because we are saved by grace through faith that God does not expect us to be obedient, to keep HIS Commandments! Yet so many Christians teach this hellish heresy. Don’t they realize that it is HIS instructions they are disparaging?
Let’s move on…
Galatians 3:23-24: But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
ALLOW ME TO ASK SOME QUESTIONS?
What is the purpose of a tutor?
Is a pupil expected to dismiss everything he learned after he no longer requires a tutor to learn the subject?
Is tutoring which leads one to the Messiah something to be shunned or only temporary? Or could Paul be making the point that keeping the law externally guards us from committing sin (it does not save us) until we come to faith in the Messiah?
Once we are saved by faith, we begin to produce fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against which there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).
Galatians 4:8-10 But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. [Remember that Paul is addressing former pagans.] But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years.
You can be certain that Paul is not chastising the Galatians for keeping God’s Sabbaths’ and Feast Days, as many in the Christian church wrongly teach. Before coming to the Messiah, these former pagans never kept the Appointed Times of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore, they could not turn again to them. Rest assured, Paul was referring to pagan days, months, and years.
READY FOR ANOTHER?
Gal 4:21-26: Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a free woman. But he of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the free woman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.
This in no way disparages God’s Law! It simply illustrates a comparison between those who think keeping the law will save them, to Abraham who tried to bring to pass God’s promise for a son through Hagar. Both are of the flesh, and not of the Spirit. Likewise, the majority of the Jews that lived in Jerusalem had rejected true salvation through faith in Yeshua, while seeking an impossible salvation by keeping the Law.
Gal 5:2-6: Behold, I, Paul, say to you that if you are circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man being circumcised, that he is a debtor to do all the Law, whoever are justified by Law, you were severed from Christ; you fell from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness out of faith. For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor un-circumcision has any strength, but faith working through love.
Please remember that Paul is writing this letter to stop the influence of the circumcision group. I assure you Paul was not against circumcision as an act of obedience, only against circumcision as a means to salvation. After all, it was Paul who had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3). And Paul also said this: (Romans 2:25) For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become un-circumcision.
Galatians 5:14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The command to love your neighbor as yourself comes from the Old Testament Law: Leviticus. 19:18. Rest assured it does not mean that if you have warm feelings toward people, you can break the rest of God’s laws with impunity. Scripture must always interpret Scripture. This is what it means: 2 John 1:5-6: And I now request you, lady, not writing as a new commandment, but one which we had from the beginning, that we should love one another. And this is love that we should walk according to His commandments.
As I bring this article to a close, allow me to explain that the Galatians were no longer Gentiles. Ephesians 2:12-13 makes the point that Gentiles, once coming to faith in the Messiah, are part of the Commonwealth of Israel. Those who were once wild olive branches get grafted into Israel’s cultivated Olive Tree! (Romans 11:24)
Do you know why Paul calls Israel’s Olive tree cultivated? It is because Israel had been taught Yah’s TORAH, His instructions! The wild olive branches had no such cultivation, so they had to be grafted into Israel’s cultivated tree.
In closing, I will leave you, the reader, to decide if Paul was teaching that God’s law is a curse, or was Paul reinforcing his teaching that salvation comes ONLY through FAITH? I say it was the latter. For the very same Paul, who asked, “Do we then make the law void through faith?” answered, “Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the Law!” (Romans 3:31).