Commentary on "Jew and Gentile"
Day 6: Thursday, July 8, 2010 - The Galatian Heresy
This lesson looks at the problem Paul addressed in Galatians: the same problem addressed in Acts 15. Galatians 1:1-12, the text for this day’s lesson, says in part,
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (vv. 6-10).
The lesson continues by saying Paul was “trying to show [the law’s] true place and function.” The author admits that Galatians and Romans are merely addressing “the moral law”, but that in each book “the argument was whether or not Gentile converts should be required to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses.” He continues by saying some say these book give evidence that the fourth commandment is not binding on Christians.
The lesson becomes convoluted as the author explains that Paul was saying we are saved by faith alone, not be keeping the moral law—“yet that isn’t the same thing as saying that the moral law shouldn’t be kept.” He insists that people who say Galatians and Romans are addressing the Decalogue are reading a contemporary problem back into those books.
The lesson ends with questions about how one can “show the truth of the Sabbath in a way that complements the integrity of the gospel.”
It is true that the problem Paul addressed to the Galatians is the same problem addressed in Acts 15: Judaizing, or the attempt to coerce Gentile converts to be circumcised and keep the whole law as a requirement for being Christians. Both the council of Jerusalem and the apostle Paul emphatically declared this idea to be heresy.
Today’s lesson, however, attempts to divert the reader into a philosophical argument that sustains the Decalogue at the same time it dismisses circumcision and the “ceremonial law”. This artificial distinction is not in the Bible.
The Teachers Comments ask on page 27,
“How can we better acclimate converts to Seventh-day Adventism and the legitimate expectations we have about finances (tithing)? Diet? Health practices (nonsmoking and non-drinking of alcohol, for example)? Sabbath observance? Furthermore, how do we acclimate them to these expectations while, at the same time, protecting them from those who would give them false information about requirements, based more upon personal opinions and preferences than upon the Bible?”
The fact is, there is no biblical way to explain the Adventist requirements of tithing, health practices, and Sabbath observance. If the lesson had examined Galatians 3 and 4, it would be clear that Paul is speaking of the entire Mosaic covenant as being obsolete now that Christ has come. Throughout the rest of Galatians, Paul identifies the “gospel contrary to the one” he preached, and that heresy was the requirement of The Law—all 613 laws comprising the old covenant.
Here’s what Galatians 3:15-26 says:
To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
Why the the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
Hagar and Sarah
The law—the entire Mosaic covenant including the Decalogue—did not exist before Abraham—or until 430 years after Abraham. It was given for a specific time period; it would last until the promised Seed—Jesus Christ—would come. Living by faith in Christ replaces living by the guidelines of the law.
Paul continues in Galatians 4: 21-31:
Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,
“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.”
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
Paul is very clear that the entire law was made obsolete when Jesus fulfilled all the shadows of the atonement, the law, and the prophets and Psalms. An entirely new covenant was put in place.
Hebrews 8:6-7 says,
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.
2 Corinthians 3:7-18 clarifies even further:
Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it is glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Paul was very clear: the Gentiles were not to take on the law—any of it. They were to submit to the Lord Jesus and receive His atonement for their sin and be born of the Holy Spirit. They were to live by the Spirit, not by the law. In fact, the book of Galatians is a severe reprimand to that church, calling them away from the law and asking them to go back to the Spirit who has given them life and the internal reality of God as the living law in their hearts.
It is wrong to combine the old with the new covenants. They are mutually exclusive because the old is shadows, and the new is the reality. To cling to aspects of both is spiritual adultery, as Paul explain in Romans 7:1-6:
Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
The author of the lesson obfuscates when he says that Paul was not saying Gentiles should not obey the Ten Commandments. He was saying that in Christ, we are not under the Ten Commandments. I we try to keep a foot in both covenants, we break the law by refusing to embrace the “end of the law: the Lord Jesus who fulfilled all of the law and has become our new Head. In Him we obey the law of Christ, not the written law. The law—including the Decalogue—is obsolete for Christians.
Now we are obligated to yield to the Holy Spirit and to the words of Scripture instructing the churches how to live godly lives. In the new covenant we still obey—but we do not obey the law. Rather, our first order of business is to surrender to Jesus and accept His blood as payment for our sin and to be born of the Spirit.
After we are born again, then we obey by yielding our temptations and desires, moment by moment, to the Lord Jesus as the Holy Spirit convicts us of our need to honor Him and to apply Scripture to our lives. New Covenant obedience is to a Person, and it is far more demanding than obedience to the Law.
The Galatian heresy was, indeed, the fact that the Galatians were placing themselves under the law after being born of the Spirit. As Paul said, they had been “bewitched”(Gal. 3:1).
We are to trust Jesus alone, and in Him we will be counted righteous because God sees us in Christ, not standing alone. God sees Jesus’ righteousness when He looks at us after we have been born again.
Copyright 2010 BibleStudiesForAdventists.com. All rights reserved. Revised July 7, 2010. This website is published by Life Assurance Ministries, Glendale, Arizona, USA, the publisher of Proclamation! Magazine. Contact email: BibleStudiesForAdventists@gmail.com.
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