09a. Excursus: Additional “Tough Phrasing” (covers 1:6, 7, 13)

09a. Excursus: Additional “Tough Phrasing” (covers 1:6, 7, 13)

9. Excursus: Additional "Tough Phrasing"

*This extended excursus focuses primarily on the verses from Galatians that have traditionally divided the Messianic Movement from Historic Christianity or have proved to be difficult interpreting in historical context.  It does not examine every single verse of the book of Galatians.

In this extended excursus to Exegeting Galatians and its famous “tough” verses and phrases I wish to draw the student’s attention to various verses that have traditionally led Christianity towards a passive or negative view of Judaism, Torah, or both.  Such verses, when removed from the larger context of either Paul or the situation facing the new believers in Galatia, will usually make Paul out to be the inventor of a new religion called Christianity, a religion viewed as superior to Judaism and the Torah that upholds it.

However, since we have indeed shared the proper historical and theological background to the Apostle and his circumstances, we are now ready to read these verses—indeed the whole letter—afresh with new understanding.  To be sure, the context will reveal that in the end Sha’ul personally championed the cause of biblical Judaism and Torah-true obedience to God and his Messiah.  What is more, when properly interpreted along their 1st century theological and sociological lines, these p’sukim clearly envision a closely-knit Torah community unified under one Messiah and one Torah for both Jew and Gentile alike.

I will spend only enough time on each verse so as to unlock the meaning for the student.  If a verse contains multiple issues and warrants more attention then I will allow more information to be subpoenaed.  For this exercise differing versions of the Bible may be utilized, but the New International Version (NIV) will be my primary source.  My own comments, and when necessary, paraphrasing, will follow immediately after each passage.

Chapter One

1:6, 7 - I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

Comments:  By his “astonishment,” taken to be rhetorical, we learn that Sha'ul has invested previous time and effort in these Gentile believers, perhaps having visited them twice before finally penning this letter around A.D. 55 or 56.[1]  The villains of the piece, identified variously as “Judaizers,”[2] “Legalizers,” or “Influencers”[3] have succeeded in persuading the new Gentiles that covenant-standing (read in Christian parlance as “saved”) was not granted via faith in Yeshua alone, but rather, conversion to Judaism was needed to finalize the membership.  Sha'ul saw this persuasion and its apparent successful campaign as a “deserting of the one who called you,” namely, the Mashiach.  Because this new, errant theology (that Gentiles must become Jews before they can achieve full and lasting covenant status by God, viz, be saved) ran counter to the genuine Good News (that in Messiah both Jew and Greek are on equal covenant footing) Sha'ul refers to this as “another Gospel” (Greek yoo-angelion=news of good), which is really not good news when compared to the Truth.  Pertinent for our study is the historical fact that the 1st century Judaisms were not teaching salvation by following Torah (as the later emerging Church might assume).  The “other gospel” that gave Sha'ul such consternation was the prevailing proto-rabbinic view that only Isra'el alone shared a place in the World to Come, that is, only Jews were granted covenant membership.  In this view Gentles must convert before they were considered full-fledged members.  In this view Torah was not the means of salvation; “works of the Torah” (defined elsewhere in this commentary) were the prerequisite to “salvation.”  In this view Torah simply helped to maintain membership granted to native born and proselyte alike.  I, Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy, personally disagree with the central tenets of this view.

1:13 - For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.

Comments:  It is critical to a proper understanding of Sha'ul that we recognize the syntax of the Greek of this verse.  The word order shows that “previous” modifies the phrase “way of life” and not “previous Jewish life” as some might presume.  The careful observation is made to show a shift within the paradigms of Judaism and not outside of them.  Paul did not leave Judaism for a new religion called Christianity.  What he did do was switch party lines, from a non-believing Jewish Pharisee, to a believing (in Yeshua) Pharisee, all within the confines of 1st century Judaism.  Tim Hegg states it well,

We should note carefully that that word “former” (pote, which, when functioning as a particle means “once, formerly) functions to modify the word “manner of life” (anastrophe, “lifestyle”).  It does not imply that Paul formerly lived within Judaism but that as of the time he wrote the Galatians, he was no longer living within Judaism.  What he is contrasting is his personal “halachah” before and after his faith in Yeshua as Messiah, not his former life in Judaism as opposed to his present life apart from Judaism.[4]


[1] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study New Testament, Commentary to the Book of Galatians (AMG Publishers, 1991), p. 613. 

[2] Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary (TSBD): ee-oo-daizein=to adopt Jewish customs and rites, imitate the Jews, Judaise.

[3] “Influencers” is a term coined by Mark Nanos, and popularized by Tim Hegg.

[4] Tim Hegg, A Study of Galatians (torahresource.com, 2002), p. 30.

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