A reply to a post in Pulpit Bunker 4/8/17

A recent post in the Pulpit Bunker Facebook group highlighted an article on Messianic Congregations.  The initial comments essentially talked about how the Messianic Believers, in keeping Sabbath and may (God forbid) kosher food laws, were missing the fullness of Christ or were putting people back under Torah (Law).  Here is my reply to one post.

You choose an interesting verse to quote. First, most of the Galatians were Gentiles not Jewish believers, so Paul’s condemnation should be seen in context.  The argument in 3:23 -29 is that there is neither Jew nor Greek.  Remember the big problem in Galatia was the men from Judua who were teaching that you had to undergo circumcision according to the traditions of the fathers.  This was a prevalent doctrine among the Jews for 400 years–that you had to first take on the Torah (Law) before you could join in faith.  Paul’s main argument is that Abraham had faith first, then circumcision. You should read Galatians with that overriding concept—you do not need man’s doctrine to have faith, God brings faith then you follow doctrine.

So, the question is what are elementary principles? The Greek word is stoichea. The stoichea are better known as Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. What were known as the four elements of matter in Greek philosophy.

Galatians 4:1–11 (ESV)

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.

This is more Roman law than Torah, which would imply the audience is more Gentile than Hellenistic Jew, but I won’t fall on my sword to defend that thought.

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.

Once again, many Hellennistic Jews followed Torah and would have seen the stoichea as Pagan.  The one exception were Hellennistic Jews who tried to sew Greek and Hebrew cultures together.  The most prominent member of this group was Philo of Alexandria who tried to show how the High Priests garments were representations of the stoichea in an effort to merge Greek and Torah.  As far as we know though, this was a small group of Hellenists, so verse three is clearly geared towards the Gentile audience, not the Jewish community that was trying to enforce non-biblical doctrine (the traditions of the fathers), but were strict Torah (Law) observers on the Gentile believers.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

This is potentially the most confusing of the verses if you think Paul’s view is that the Torah (Law) is done away with. But if you understand the “New Covenent” as described in Jerimiah 31:31-33

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my (Torah) law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.[1]

There were no other scriptures for Paul to reference other the Hebrew, especially since it can be argued by many that Galatians is probably the first of the Greek scriptures to be penned.  So, when Paul is thinking of the Torah (Law), it is with the full force of the Hebrew scriptures in mind.  The New Covenant as defined by God is that His Torah (Law) would be written in the hearts of the believers. So, the Gentile believers, through faith, had the Torah written in their hearts by God. As adopted sons, they are adopted into the Jewish Messianic faith, a son of God or as Paul tells us in Romans, you are grafted onto the root of Abraham.

Second point, what does it mean to be ‘under the law’?  That clearly refers to being under the condemnation of the Torah (Law).  If Gentiles are not ‘under the condemnation of the Law, then there is no need for a Messiah to provide salvation by grace.  If you are not ‘under the condemnation of the law’, you have not sinned.  Grace provides the salvation from sin.

And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

A reference to Jerimiah 31:31-33 and being grafted unto the root.

Paul’s Concern for the Galatians

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?

If Paul is dealing with the Torah observing Hellenistic Jews, this does not make much sense.  While the men from Judea, trying to get the Gentiles to follow the doctrines of men were making errors in the way they practiced faith, they were believers in Yeshua (Jesus). But Gentiles who worshipped the various gods of Rome (Greece) paid homage to the Greek stoichea or elementary things.

10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

If Paul is dealing with Torah observant Jews, why not use the phrases Sabbath and Moedim (Festivals)? There are only two designations for Jews.  Yes, there were new month festivals, and festivals that occurred in specific seasons and the jubilee years, but they are universally known as festivals in Hebrew. Days, months, seasons and years more easily concerns Roman holidays where you had specific days set aside to worship the emperor, every month was dedicated to a different God (our modern calendar is a reference to the Roman calendar), seasons were dedicated to specific Roman gods and special years were dedicated to various emperors. Paul is the Apostle to the Gentiles not the Hellenistic Jews.  His labor in vain is to move them from their Greco/Roman belief system to a Hebraic, monotheistic, God-centered faith.

You certainly may not agree with my reading of Galatians. But I think it is more consistent with the historical context than the Lutheran view where Luther saw in Galatians that Paul was condemning practices like the Roman Catholic church in Luther’s day.

So, when you are looking at Messianic congregations, there are potential issues that could be explored in practice and interpretation, but the first congregations of believers were Messianic and followed Torah to the best of their ability.

Acts 21:20-24

20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law[2] 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.[3]

James, talking to Paul:

21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.

James tells Paul that he has been accused of telling people not to follow Torah. But James instructs Paul to do a public service that proves his obedience to Torah.

24b Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the Torah (law).[4]

If following Torah was not correct, enslaving people again as most Christian commentators would suggest, why doesn’t Paul correct James then and there instead of following the recommendation?

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Je 31:31–33). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 21:20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 21:21–24). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 21:21–24). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.