Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? Paul’s Smackdown of the Galatians

AN EMAIL

Dear brothers and sisters in Messiah!

All believers listen up!

In Galatians 1, Paul says that there is only one gospel and those who teach a different one are under a curse.

In 2 Peter 3:14-17, Peter warns that many will misinterpret Paul’s difficult to understand writings, resulting in lawlessness and destruction.

  • Paul always kept the Sabbath (Acts 17:2; Acts 18:4)
  • Paul kept the Feasts (Acts 20:6; Acts 20:16)
  • Paul instructed us to keep the Feasts (1 Cor 5:7-8)
  • Paul believed all of the Torah (Acts 24:14)
  • Paul stated that we establish the Torah (Romans 3:31)
  • Paul taught from the Torah (Acts 28:23)
  • Paul obeyed the Torah (Acts 21:24; Romans 7:25)
  • Paul took delight in the Torah (Romans 7:22)
  • Paul told us to imitate him (1 Cor 4:16. 1 Cor 11:1)

There was no New Testament when the disciples were preaching the good news, they were using the Old Testament to prove who Yashuah is.

Please take this Shabbat and study the above…

Blessings to you and your families!

Shabbat Shalom!

Sincerely,

Xxxx Xxxxx

A Response

Above is an email a friend shared with me. He works for a large corporation, and what’s good to hear is that within the corporation some Christians started a group for believers to meet, fellowship, and study the Bible with their coworkers. The bad news is that when the former volunteer organizer of the group stepped down, the person who stepped in started using the group as a platform to promote his own fringe beliefs. Essentially, he highjacked a cross-denomination Christian group to push these fringe beliefs instead of focusing on the shared, essential beliefs all Christians hold in solidarity.

As you can guess from his email above, he is promoting a type of Christianity that still follows the Old Testament (OT) religious laws. I have spend time before writing about how Christians should understand the OT Law—as well as the importance of the OT in understanding the New Testament—but let’s get more specific in this article (and future ones) as we respond to this man’s views.

Note: Since I’ve been told this man also seems to be a “King James Only-ist,” I’ll be using the King James so to remove one barrier in communication.

GALATIANS: Paul Get Livid

To begin, it’s ironic that one would start an argument that Christians should follow the Old Testament (OT) Law by citing Galatians 1 when Paul’s letter to the Galatians—easily one of his most stern and vehement letters—argues the exact opposite! I recommend reading the whole letter yourself, but here are some highlights:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:6–9)

Paul begins his letter with very strong language and a strong condemnation of anyone who preaches another gospel than the true gospel of Christ, which Paul received from Christ himself (Gal. 1:11-12). So, what is this other, false “gospel” Paul is addressing? As we continue in the letter, it becomes clear: 

But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. (Gal. 2:3–5)

Paul speaks of Titus, who was not “compelled to be circumcised” in accordance to OT Law. Thus, immediately we see that circumcision, which was commanded by God for all male Jews in the OT Law, is not something Titus must do. This shows us immediately to start that not everything in the OT Law carries over to Christians under the new covenant of Christ (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). The covenant Christians are under is not the same covenant Israel was under. (Let me point out that Christians are still under God’s moral law that we find in the OT, since God’s moral law is unchanging because it’s grounded in God’s unchanging character and his divine design for creation. If there’s any question, most of these moral commandments are repeated in the New Testament. This is not the case with the OT religious and ritual law.)

In the above Scripture, Paul also speaks of false brothers that wish to bring them into bondage (i.e. slavery), but they resist them for “the truth of the gospel.” Surprisingly, even the apostles Peter and Barnabas were taken in by this faulty theology, which leads to Paul having a confrontation with Peter:

11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. 12 For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. 13 And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. 14 But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? (Gal. 2:11–14)

Along with circumcision, the Jews had strict rules based on OT Law about ritual purity. These included laws about what they could and could not eat and even who they could and could not eat with. Since Gentiles didn’t follow these ritual purity laws, Jews were forbidden to eat with them. Yet, because of the life and death of Christ, these purity laws are fulfilled and now defunct. Peter and Barnabas knew this, but essentially gave into the peer pressure of their fellow Jewish Christians and once again stopped eating with Gentiles. Jumping ahead in the letter, this injustice leads to Paul pronouncing:

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:28–29)

Thus, all those who proclaim Christ as their Lord and Savior are the true descendants of Abraham and the receivers of the promise God made to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). But continuing right where we are in Chapter 2, Paul says, 

15 We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (Gal. 2:15–16)

Paul couldn’t be clearer: Christians are justified by faith in Christ alone, not by doing works of the OT Law, nor any law. He goes on to say that to believe otherwise is to “frustrate the grace of God,” and if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died for nothing:

21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Gal. 2:21)

As I said, this is one of Paul’s most blunt and vehement letters! He doesn’t mince words, going on to call the Galatians “foolish” for buying in to such things, and, thus, they’re under a curse:

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?… 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:1–2, 10–13)

In 3:10 above, Paul even references the OT (Deut. 27:26) in saying that the person who lives by the Law, must do all of the Law or else he or she is cursed. So, if you’re going to follow some of the Law, you must follow all of it, according to the Law itself. But we already know that Christians don’t have to be circumcised, so Christians are not required to keep all or even some of the Law, according to Paul’s own thinking. But—all glory to Jesus—“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law.” We receive the Holy Spirit and righteousness, not through doing works of the Law, but through faith (Gal. 3:2, 5).

24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:24–26)

Above, Paul refers to the OT Law as a “schoolmaster.” This word can also be translated “tutor” or “guardian.” The idea is that the OT Law was preparing and teaching the people of God. The implication is that the OT Law was preparing the people of God for something to come later. After all, children have a “schoolmaster” but eventually grow to adulthood. Yet, we don’t even need to go into the significance of the meaning behind “schoolmaster” here; we only have to see that Paul states that Christians are no longer under this “schoolmaster.” We are made children of God, not by following the OT Law, but by faith in Christ. To say otherwise is to preach another gospel, for the gospel of Christ is freedom from slavery:

 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal. 4:6–7)

Paul continues with his strong language, asking why would the Galatians want to become slaves again after being set free by Christ:

But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? 10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. (Gal. 4:9–10)

Notice, Paul considers it slavery to be observing “days, and months, and times, and years.” This is likely—based on the clear context of the letter—to be a reference to special days and times observed by Jews according to the OT Law. Based on this and other New Testament Scripture, I believe Christians do not have to observe OT festivals and holy days like the Sabbath and the Passover. Again, Christ fulfilled these. In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul writes,

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. (Col. 2:16–17)

(Perhaps we will explore the Sabbath more in the future. In the meantime, here are some more passages to consider: Matt. 11:28-30; Mark 2:27; Rom. 14:5; Heb. 4:1-10; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; Rev. 1:10.)

I think you get the point of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul goes on to emphasize his big ideas, stressing again that we are free in Christ and not to be under the yoke of slavery again (5:1); to do one part of the Law means we have to keep all of the Law (5:2-3), and if you live to keep all of the OT Law, it means you have fallen away from God’s grace (5:4). Paul closes the letter by saying those who push for circumcision do so to glory in (or boast in) the flesh, but we are only to glorify in (or boast in) the cross of our Lord and Christ (6:13-14).

To conclude, I close where we started with Paul’s words:

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. (Gal. 1:6 ESV)

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