KJV - 1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1) What exactly IS the slavery that Paul speaks of here? To be “in Messiah” is to be truly free (recall Yeshua’s (Jesus’) declaration from John 8:36, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (KJV). How is then that these Galatian Gentiles wish to return to the slavery that marked their former manner of life? Can’t they see that anything less than a complete commitment to the true Gospel is not good news at all, and will eventually result in slavery? As is to be expected, historic Christianity interprets the slavery of verse one as a return to Judaism, a return to living in the confines of Torah (Law) observance, a return to Sabbaths, keeping kosher, keeping the Feasts, and of course, circumcision. However, when we go back and study the historical and sociological context of the book of Galatians more closely, we will discover that the standard Christian interpretation of this verse does not fit with Paul’s view of Torah, and most importantly, it does it follow from the Scriptural view of Torah. The Torah is not bondage. However, if one places their trust in ethnicity and/or Torah obedience, then that person is truly a slave to their old nature—whether they know it or not. The battle lines were being drawn, not between the relevance of Torah vs. The relevance of Yeshua. The lines were being drawn between the necessity of Jewish identity for covenant inclusion vs. The necessity of falling on the mercy and grace of Messiah for genuine covenant membership and forgiveness of sins. Paul doesn't need to denigrate the Torah by calling it a yoke of slavery because that is not the focus of the argument in the first place. As we shall see in the next verse (needed to develop the context of verse one), circumcision is the fulcrum by which membership into 1st century Isra'el was being weighed. The Galatian Gentiles were at the crossroads of decision. Would they invest their faith in Jewish ethnicity? Or would they invest their faith in Jesus Christ— the one who died and rose again? In Gal. 2:21, the contest in the mind of the Galatians used the verbiage of Christ vs. The Law. Here in Gal. 5:2, the contest uses the verbiage of Christ vs. Circumcision. After studying the Jewish background to Paul’s life and knowing his propensity for carefully reasoned arguments, it should be amply clear that Paul did not mean Torah observance when he used the word “Law” in Gal. 2:21. By the same token, it should be amply clear that he does not simply mean physical circumcision when he uses the word “circumcision” in Gal. 5:2. Conclusions: In Gal. 5:1, 2 (as well as Gal. 2:21 from earlier), Paul states that if the Galatians wish to continue down the road constructed by those false teachers—the road described by the 1st century Judaisms as “the law,” “under the law,” works of the law,” and “circumcision,”—and reject the free offer of genuine and lasting covenant membership into Isra'el as offered by God and outlined in the TaNaKH (OT), then (using the language of Gal. 5:1, 2) the work done by Yeshua’s cross will indeed have no value for them at all. Biblical freedom does not mean free from Law. Again, knowing that Yeshua set us free from sin, its proclivities, its bondage, and its ultimate penalty, helps us to understand Paul’s teachings on this subject. The paradigm set by the Exodus narrative teaches us that sin (bondage) prevents us from truly worshiping God the way he deserves to be worshipped. Speaking for God, Moses said, “Let my people go so that they may serve me!” Once Yeshua makes us alive in him and sets us free indeed, we are then free to worship God properly without the fear of condemnation or bondage to sin. This means we are free to walk into Torah the way God intended it to be walked out: in imitation of Messiah, by the Spirit, and to the glory of God the Father.