NKJV - 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.
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Paul is arguing that Christians do not have to be circumcised. Circumcision was the sign of the old covenant where salvation was conditional upon strict obedience to the Law of Moses. Christians however are under the New Covenant and the sign of that is not circumcision but baptism. If anyone does not understand that, and insists that Christians should be circumcised in the same way as the Jews under the old covenant were, then they do not really understand the gospel of being saved by faith in Jesus Christ. If they insist on circumcision they need to understand they are really insisting on staying under the old covenant of works and of trying to earn your own salvation by keeping the law, something no one has been able to do. So the law that Paul is referring to is the old testament law of Moses, and he is arguing that if you think you need to be circumcised to be saved then you are really looking to the law to save you, not to Jesus. And if you think keeping the law will save you, then you owe obedience to keeping all the law, not just circumcision. But of course, says Paul, the law can't save anyone. Only Jesus can do that. Regards Philip
This verse is a difficult one to interpret for those who only read the scriptures from a face-value perspective. The verse seems to be implying that once a person becomes circumcised (understandably this must indicate adult circumcision later in life), that person is subsequently obligated to obey every single mitzvah (commandment) found in the Torah of Moshe (Law of Moses). At first blush, it does seem like Sha'ul (Paul) is talking about the Law of Moses when he warns anyone wishing to receive circumcision that they are under obligation to keep the whole Law. But the careful Berean student of God’s Word will discover that the 1st century Judaisms did not speak of the Torah (Law) in monolithic terms. That is, to the Judaisms of Paul’s day—as it is also in today’s Judaisms—there was the Torah Shebichtav (Written Torah) and there was the Torah Sheba’al Peh (Oral Torah). Many of you know the Oral Torah by its other familiar name: Talmud. The problem with this two-Torah idea is that in the 1st century Jewish societies, more and more the Oral Torah (as unwritten sayings transmitted by the sages) was being received as equal to—or in some cases, more important than—the Written Torah. Yeshua (Jesus) did not have very nice words for those who allowed tradition to nullify his Father’s Torah (read Mark 7:13). Now, as a Messianic Jew, I am not saying that I agree with Traditional Judaism in that there truly exists two authoritative parts to HaShem’s (God's) Torah. Quite the contrary. I believe and espouse to only ONE authoritative part to God’s Torah: the Written Torah. Yes, I acknowledge the existence of an Oral Torah, but I do not believe its teachings are binding on believers—whether Jewish or Gentile. Additionally, if we continue to research the history of ancient Isra'el’s views on Torah, we will find that sectarian halakhah can also be interpreted as “laws binding on all group members.” In other words, the term Law in ancient Judaism did not only speak of Written Torah and/or Oral Torah, but quite often, it also designated the specific “by-laws” that separated one sect from another, so that to identify with any particular sect, a follower would naturally come under the jurisdiction of the sect to which he had aligned himself. E.P. Sanders’ remarks about sectarian Judaism in the 1st century are fitting for our study: The Pharisaic/Rabbinic concept of ‘oral law’ shows that they wanted to assert that the law given to Moses was adequate in all respects—even when they were in fact adding to it, deleting from it, and otherwise altering it. Similarly in 1QS a distinction is made between the ‘hidden things’ in the law, which are known only to the sect, and the rest (1QS 5.IIf.). Entrants to the community pledge to keep ‘every commandment of the Law of Moses in accordance with all that has been revealed of it to the sons of Zadok’ (1QS 4.8f.). Thus the sect’s special rules were formally considered to be in ‘the law of Moses’, though from our point of view they are additions and modifications (E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Fortress Press, 1985), pp. 248-249). Relevant to our verse here in Galatians 5:3 is the striking similarity in verbiage between the Apostle Paul and those in the Qumran community of his day! Did you catch it? For those who would seek to be identified by the particular Jewish sect of their choosing, both Paul and the Qumran community spoke of the reality to “keep every commandment of the Law of Moses!” So, instead of Paul warning his Gentile readers away from total allegiance to the Written Torah of God if they undergo proselyte conversion to Judaism, perhaps it is better to understand the verse as a warning against total allegiance primarily to the Oral Torah and/or the sectarian halakhah (group policy) of the Influencers (also called Judaizers by most Christians)—a halakhah that does not include Gentiles in their membership roster.
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