Curse of the Law:
by Christine Egbert
Christians quote Galatians out of context more than any other book of the Bible. Why? Because as Peter wrote, Paul’s writing is sometimes hard to understand, and those who are unstable and untaught (in the Law) often twist what Paul writes to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16-17). That is why Peter warned us to watch out lest we too be led away by the error of the lawless and fall from our own steadfastness.
Contrary to what so many Christian preachers have taught, Paul never taught against keeping God’s Law. When accused of teaching against the Law, he testified in court saying, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything…” (Acts 25:7-8)
In fact, Paul spoke highly of the Law. In Romans 7:12, Paul called the Law “holy just and good”. He equated righteousness with light and lawlessness with darkness in 2 Corinthians 6:14, saying, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership does righteousness have with lawlessness? And what fellowship does light have with darkness?”
In Titus 2:13-14 Paul wrote that Jesus (Yeshua) gave Himself on our behalf to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify us as a chosen people zealous for good works.
I lay these scriptures out to build my case that Paul could not have been teaching against keeping the law, as many claim.
You Must Understand Paul To Understand Galatians
Paul was a Pharisee discipled by Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel the Elder. Christians will continue to misunderstand Paul’s writing until they understand first century Jewish history. Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel were influential teachers. Their theology has shaped Jewish thought for centuries. But Hillel and Shammai held many differing views regarding how one was to walk out the Torah. One of these differences regarded having fellowship with Gentiles.
The school of Shammai taught that Jews must have no fellowship with Gentiles because Gentiles had no place in the world to come. According to Shammai, for a Gentile to have a place in the world to come, he must first convert to Judaism by submitting to circumcision and water emersion. Only then would Shammai teach a proselyte Torah so that he could keep the Law in order to be saved.
Paul railed against Shammai’s teaching because it got the cart before the horse. Paul understood that accepting God’s promise of salvation by grace through faith had to come first. It was the biblical order. After one is saved by grace through faith and has received God’s Holy Spirit, then one can walk in the Spirit and fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law (Romans 8:4). No one can be saved by keeping the Law, but once we are saved, God expects us to walk in the good works He prepared beforehand for us to walk in, and those good works are His Torah commandments (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Keep In Mind That…
God declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).
God never lies. What He says He does (Numbers 23:19).
God does nothing without first declaring it to His servants the prophets (Amos 3:7). And nowhere in Scripture has a prophet declared that the Torah would one day be done away with. Now, we are ready to study Galatians.
Galatians 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.”
Why? Because circumcision of the heart must come first. Need more proof? Read Jeremiah 9:25-26 “Behold, the days come, says the LORD (Yahweh), that I will punish all those circumcised with foreskin (on their heart) … For all the nations are uncircumcised and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.”
The conclusion to this matter is found in Acts 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 forbidden in God’s Law in Leviticus, known as “the heart of the Torah.”) 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 over time they would learn the rest of God’s Law, just the way new believers learn today. It does not mean that Gentiles coming to faith need not obey the rest of God’s instructions. The word translated as “Law” in Greek is the Hebrew word “Torah”. Torah means instruction.
In the New Covenant, God writes His Laws (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 has. 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 exactly that. Need proof? Keep reading.
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.”
Let’s Move On
Galatians 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 (Messiah Yeshua), that they might bring us into bondage.
Did Paul just call the Torah bondage? No. That would have contradicted Scripture, for as David declared in Psalms 119:45, those who seek God’s precepts walk at liberty, not to mention all the wonderful things Paul said (as I quoted earlier in this article) about God’s Torah. Then what did Paul mean by bondage? He was referring to Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) declaration in Matthew 23: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat (i.e. the bema seat, from where they read the Torah aloud in the synagogue), therefore whatsoever they bid you to observe (from the bema seat, where they read the Torah) that observe and do. But do not do their works, for they say (they read from the Torah), and do not do (the Torah). For they bind heavy burdens (manmade oral traditions) grievous to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders…”
Also, notice that Paul said that 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 several places in Scripture where the writer is referring to the Oral Law, but simply states the Law. That is because, while the New Testament was written for us, it was not written to us. It was written to Jews in the first century who understood the difference between oral and written Torah. For instance, in Acts 10:28, we read, “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 forbids Jews to keep company (which included sharing 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 Written Law never forbids fellowship with Gentiles. They, therefore, would realize that Acts 10:28 referred to man-made oral traditions and laws.
Unfortunately, many in the Church have been taught that the first two-thirds of Scripture is old, that it is not important except as history. So, they don’t study it and draw wrong conclusions about what they read in the so-called New Testament.
In the gospels, it was always against these oral laws and traditions that Jesus (Yeshua) ranted. Matthew 15:9 “But in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
Matthew 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.
Colossians 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, all these concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?
Colossians 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 (Messiah).
It is pure madness to assume that God would inspire the writers of the New Testament to disparage His own laws. Here is a simple comparison. Think of the U.S. Constitution as a type of God’s Torah. It brought freedom to mankind. Now think of the Oral Torah, all those laws and traditions established by men as the never-ending legislation drafted by Congress, that weakens many of the rights granted to us by our Founding Fathers. Many oral (manmade, not God-ordained) laws and traditions undermine (add to and take away from) God’s written instructions, His Torah.
“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 of the Rabbis] 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.
Galatians 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 (Messiah Yeshua), who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Messiah Yeshua) 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 (Messiah) 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 (Yeshua) from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ (Messiah) 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.”
Galatians 2:21 – I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ (Messiah) 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.
Jesus (Yeshua) said these people draw near to Me with their mouth, but their hearts are far from Me (Matthew 15:8). And quoting Isaiah, in Matthew 7:6, Jesus (Yeshua) called those who honor Him with their lips, while their hearts were far from Him, hypocrites.
Paul, who knew that salvation came through faith in Jesus (Yeshua) (remember that Paul was taught by the House of Hillel), railed against the circumcision group. Why? Because the Circumcision Group were students of Rabbi Shammai, from the House of Shammai. They believed that salvation was only for Jews and that Gentiles had to convert and get circumcised to be saved.
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 been covered elsewhere in this article. So let’s move on to verses 10-12.
Galatians 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 were saved by keeping the Law. Paul makes two points here.
1. No one can keep the law perfectly.
2. And even if they could, it would not matter because, without faith, no one will be justified in God’s eyes.
Christ (Messiah) 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. Paul taught 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’s folly to believe that because we are saved by grace through faith that God no longer expects us to be obedient, to keep His Commandments.
Galatians 3:19 asks “Why the Law then? It was for the sake of transgressions, until the Seed should come, to whom it had been promised, being ordained through angels in a mediator’s hand.” Most Christians have been taught that Paul was saying the entire Torah was given because of transgression, and that it would be in effect only until Jesus (Yeshua), the Seed, should come, and then the entire Torah would be done away with. But what our so often misunderstood Paul was talking about, in his often-confusing manner, was the law that mandated the Levitical priesthood, which replaced the firstborn son’s role. The LORD (Yahweh) instituted the Levitical priesthood due to Israel’s transgression in worshiping the golden calf.
Numbers 3:42-45 states “And Moses numbered, as the LORD (Yahweh) commanded him, all the firstborn among the sons of Israel… of those numbered of them were twenty-two thousand, two hundred and seventy-three. And the LORD (Yahweh) spoke to Moses, saying, take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the sons of Israel… and the Levites shall be Mine.” And Numbers 8:18- “And I take the Levites instead of every firstborn among the sons of Israel. And I have given the Levites to Aaron and to his sons from the midst of the sons of Israel to serve in the service of the sons of Israel in the tabernacle of the congregation, and to atone for the sons of Israel…”
Genesis 26:5 says, “…Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws (Torah).” So we see, the Torah existed before Israel sinned by worshiping the golden calf. The Torah, therefore, because it existed long before the transgression of the golden calf, cannot possibly be that which was “added because of transgression”.
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 (Messiah), that we might be justified by faith.
Allow Me To Ask A Question
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 have been making the point that keeping the Law externally guards us against committing sin (it does not save us) until we come to faith in the Messiah? Then once we are saved, we produce the 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.
Galatians 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 does not disparage God’s Law. It simply makes a comparison between those who think they can be saved by keeping the Law with Abraham when he tried to bring to pass God’s promise for a son through Hagar. Both are of the flesh, not the Spirit. Likewise, Jewish leadership in Jerusalem for the most part rejected salvation through faith in Jesus (Yeshua), while seeking an impossible salvation through keeping the Law.
Galatians 5:2-6 – Behold, I, Paul, say to you that if you are circumcised, Christ (Messiah) 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 (Messiah); you fell from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness out of faith. For in Christ Jesus (Messiah Yeshua), neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any strength, but faith working through love.
Please remember that Paul is writing this letter to stop the influence of the Circumcision Group. Paul was not teaching against circumcision as an act of obedience. He was teaching against circumcision as a “means to salvation,” apart from faith in Jesus (Yeshua), for no one is justified by keeping the Law.
Paul had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3). Paul would not have done so had he thought Timothy would fall from grace and be severed from the Messiah. And in Romans 2:25, Paul said, “For circumcision is indeed profitable, if you keep the law, but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” (Please read Jeremiah 9:25-26 again).
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.
Paul, in Galatians 5:16-21, says this: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, but the Spirit sets its desire against the flesh—for these are in opposition to one another, so that you cannot do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. Now the deeds of the flesh are clear: sexual immorality, uncleanness, indecency, idolatry, witchcraft, hostility, strife, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, just as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit God’s kingdom.”
I will leave you, the reader, to decide if Paul was teaching that God’s Law is a curse, or if he was 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).