What is the curse of the law?


Clarify Share Report Asked July 01 2013 Mini Anonymous (via GotQuestions)

Ari Ariel HaNaviy Messianic Jew and Torah Teacher with Messianic Congregation 'The Harvest'
*adapted from my Galatians commentary available in the Reading Plans at eBible here:

This verse when misunderstood from its larger context will invariably lead the reader to the incorrect conclusion that Sha'ul (Paul) is advocating complete and mitzvah-by-mitzvah (commandment-by-commandment) Torah submission for everyone wishing to attain right-standing with the Almighty. That the 1st century Judaisms did not advocate a view that required complete Torah obedience before one could be counted as a covenant member is attested to in the later rabbinic compilations that survived the destruction of the Temple. Put simply, no one in Paul’s day thought that a person must practically walk out each and every single commandment in order to receive covenant membership into Isra'el (viz, salvation). Nor did anyone in Paul’s day believe that God expected such obedience of Isra'el.

Our verse is a contrast to the previously statement made in verse 6 where Avraham (Abraham) is said to have been considered righteous on the basis of his faith. By comparison, those who do not imitate Avraham, but instead seek to circumvent God’s method of declaring a person righteous actually fall into the trap of legalism.

Such individuals, instead of living within the blessing of God, were in reality found to be the object of God’s curse, because instead of submitting to God’s way of making a person righteous through objective faith in Yeshua (Jesus), they were said to be setting up their own way of righteousness through ethnic status/Isra'elite membership, a charge leveled against unbelieving Isra'el by Sha'ul himself in Romans 9:31, 32-10:3.

The phrase “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law" is lifted from Deuteronomy 27:26, indicated by the familiar “for it is written.” The key to correctly understanding the verse from Deuteronomy, and thus Paul’s use of it here in Galatians, is in understanding that “everything written in the Book” also—and primarily!—includes faith in Yeshua as the Promised Messiah. For indeed, Yeshua is the very conclusion, the very goal that “everything written in the Book” is pointing to! (cf. Romans 10:4) 

God is not asking his followers to try to keep every commandment in the Law as some sort of simplistic grocery list of do’s and don't’s in order to avoid being cursed. Paul sees another “gospel” being presented by his detractors (the gospel of Jewish identity and proselyte conversion for Gentiles) and he is out to set the record straight in this section of his letter by using Avraham as an example. Paul is going to prove his argument—that genuine and lasting covenant membership is granted exclusively to those exercising objective faith in the Promised Messiah of the Law—by directly quoting from the Torah itself. 

The reference here by Sha'ul however is neither a direct quote from the Masoretic Hebrew text, nor a direct quote from the Greek Septuagint (LXX). He may be paraphrasing the general meaning of the verse for his readers. The meaning is nevertheless captured by Sha'ul: the genuine and lasting covenant member to be, as well as the existing covenant member, must follow after all that God has spoken to do, which includes “listening to all the words of the Prophet that God raised up among them” (cf. Deuteronomy 18:15)—namely Yeshua! Picking and choosing which commandments are relevant and which ones aren’t is not left to the covenant member. 

Each and every covenant member bound himself to pursue the “Righteous One” promised by the Torah, as already mentioned above. The very thing that a covenant member was expected to do was to exercise faith in God and in his Messiah to come, who by Sha'ul’s writing had already arrived! The individual who failed to matriculate to the “Messianic conclusion” ultimately found himself a candidate for being “cut off” by God himself due to his lack of faith.

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