10-11. Summary; Conclusions - Torah: Negative, Neutral, or Positive?
In my historical research into this book by Sha’ul (Apostle Paul), I have discovered that much of the social fabric of the 1st Century Judaisms that we read about suffered from a sickness I like to call Ethnocentric Jewish Exclusivism. I have written about this concept in another paper that dealt with studies on group prejudice. I believe it nicely summarizes our study on Galatians and helps to form the necessary social background required to properly understand the book in its original historical and religious context, and therefore have decided to include a quote from that work here:
The New Testament writer Paul of Tarsus (a.k.a. Apostle Paul) had much to say about the Judaisms of his day and the ethnocentric cultural requirements they were imposing on the non-Jews. To be sure, Paul is traditionally misunderstood by the Christianities of today as teaching an abrogation to Torah, circumcision, and Jewish culture as a whole—in a word—ethnic genocide. A proper understanding of 2nd Temple Judaism will uncover many of the true motives driving the ethnic competition between Jews and non-Jews.
Group-level stereotyping of Gentiles by Jews as pejorative pagans, with no viable and positive contribution possible for the Jewish community, can clearly be seen in this research. Negative attitudes by the Jewish community turned into prejudice against non-Jews, which lead to discrimination against non-Jews as an ethnicity, and eventually provided the Jewish leaders with a mechanism for installing anti-Gentile group policies that were racially driven. Indeed, the power to enforce group prejudice and discrimination is what gives racism its social advantage over subjugated minorities.
The book of Galatians obviously includes an ongoing drama involving two social groups (Jews and Gentiles) not so much over the identity of Jesus the Christ, but perhaps more over who has the right to join Isra'el (who is a Jew?) and subsequently follow after the Torah of Moshe. Recall that the Torah was historically given to Isra'el nearly 3500 years ago, but realize that Isra'el’s post-Egypt beginnings included both native-born sons of Jacob, as well as those mixed racial multitudes that God delivered out of Egypt during the Passover. These two groups came to the foot of Mount Sinai, received the Words of God, and were collectively called “Isra'el” by the text (read the Exodus narratives carefully again). Paul later reveals that the “mystery of the Gospel” is that according to Rom. 11 and Eph. chapters 2 and 3 and specifically 6:19, Gentiles are “grafted into the commonwealth of Isra'el via Messiah, and become fellow heirs sharing in the richness of the root of the Olive Tree and inheriting the blessings spelled out in the Torah for all of obedient Isra'el.” Therefore, since Isra'el is actually a multi-ethnic entity, Torah actually applies to all who name the name of the LORD as their one and Only God. This naturally includes Gentile believers in Yeshua.
So, those of us who claim membership in an existing Torah community, the One Law Movement (a.k.a., the Messianic Jewish Movement) confidently affirm and teach obligation to Torah commands for both Jews and Gentiles in Messiah. And yet Paul says in Rom 6:14 that we are not under Law but under grace. The difficulty in correctly interpreting Paul is in understanding that his uses of the word Law in many of his letters applies the definition from the context, which means the root Greek word used (nomos=law) can apply to a variety of definitions. Paul’s “not under Law” phrase is preceded by “For sin shall not have dominion over you...” In this verse, Law does not mean we are not under obligation to Torah commands. Rather, it most naturally functions in this verse as shorthand for “not under the bondage of sin and therefore under the condemnation of the Law,” a just condemnation reserved for unrepentant sinners. The reason we are not under [the] condemnation [of the Law] is because we are not under bondage, and the reason we are not under bondage is because we have been set free and are under [the] grace [of Yeshua’s blood].
In my estimation, Galatians and Romans share some similarities worth noting, especially in regards to the technical phrasing we find in both books. Allow me to single out the phrase “works of the law” for our summary here.
Dovetailing what he composed in Galatians in his letter to Rome, Sha’ul wrote in Romans 3:28 that God considers a person righteous on the grounds of trusting, which has nothing to do with the “works of the Torah” (or as in KJV “deeds of Law”). On the surface this seems problematic for my own teachings that consider Torah observance to be of great significance. Yet, the problem here is really more a matter of translation than of theology. What Sha’ul is really talking about when he employs the Greek phrase “ergon nomou,” translated here as “works of Law” is in actuality a technical phrase that the Judaisms of Sha’ul’s day employed to speak of the halakhah, that is, the proper way in which a Jew is to walk out Torah. Indeed, the prevailing view of the sages of the 1st Century held to the common belief that Isra'el and Isra'el alone shared a place in the world to come. Thus, if a non-Jew wished to enter into HaShem’s blessings and promises, such a person had to convert to Judaism first. To be sure, this is one of the primary arguments delineated in the letter to the Galatians.
But for Sha’ul no such ‘man-made” conversion policy existed in Scripture!
By contrast, Sha'ul taught most assuredly that Gentiles were grafted into Isra'el the same way that Avraham was counted as righteous by God in B’resheet (Genesis) chapter 15: faith in the promised Word of the LORD. Thus, the phrase “works of Law” has a Hebrew counterpart: ma’asei haTorah. What meaneth ma’asei haTorah? The Dead Sea Scrolls used this phrase as well, and since the discovery of those manuscripts we have now come to know that it refers to “some of the precepts of the Torah,” as adjudicated by the halakhah and by the particular community wielding the most influence. To be sure, the halakhah that teaches Gentile inclusion only by way of conversion (read most often as “circumcision” in Galatians) was naturally at odds with the True Gospel of Gentile inclusion by faith in Yeshua plus nothing! If we understand that quite often Sha'ul’s use of the term circumcision in Galatians is actually shorthand for “the man-made ritual that seeks to turn Gentiles into Jews” then the letter begins to make more sense Hebraically and contextually.
In essence, “works of the law” refer to those “group requirements” as outlined and delegated by each individual group functioning under the prevailing Judaisms of Paul’s day. Paul, missionary to the Gentiles, had to defend the correct Torah viewpoint in his letters addressed to the Churches at Galatia (specifically chapter 5), as well as to the one in Ephesus. Circumcision, a shorthand way for Paul to say "conversion to Judaism/becoming a Jew,” was historically misused, but there is no reason for us to continue in such a misunderstanding. Nor is there any reason for the emerging Torah communities to shrink back from that which God has clearly given, provided we maintain our primary identity as that of one firmly grounded in Mashiach.
Earlier on in the book of Galatians, most often we found that the technical term “under the law” was used as another way to speak of Jewish identity. For Gentiles wishing to be included into Isra'el, the man-made ritual known as conversion could ostensibly secure this legal identity. By the time we get to the latter half of chapter five of Galatians, however, Paul had changed his polemical tone and was now assuring those truly in Christ that if they are led by the Spirit they are no longer slaves to the old nature—viz—“under the law.” Having the mind controlled by the old nature is death. Conversely, having the mind controlled by the indwelling Ruach HaKodesh is life and true shalom. Those who are controlled by the flesh cannot please God and are destined to suffer the ultimate punishment the Torah spells out for unrepentant sinners, that is, condemnation. This “under the law” condemnation is what Paul meant by its usage in 5:18, and his theology is taken squarely from the Torah proper. Specifically, to be “under the law” is a pejorative position originally hinted at all the way back in Deuteronomy 29:19-21,
“If there is such a person, when he hears the words of this curse, he will bless himself secretly, saying to himself, 'I will be all right, even though I will stubbornly keep doing whatever I feel like doing; so that I, although "dry," [sinful,] will be added to the "watered" [righteous].'
“But ADONAI will not forgive him. Rather, the anger and jealousy of ADONAI will blaze up against that person. Every curse written in this book will be upon him. ADONAI will blot out his name from under heaven.
“ADONAI will single him out from all the tribes of Isra'el to experience what is bad in all the curses of the covenant written in this book of the Torah.” (Emphasis, mine)
The passage clearly teaches us that to have “every curse written in this book upon you” is to be in a state of “not forgiven by ADONAI,” viz, “under condemnation,” viz, “under the law.”
Only the Spirit of the Holy One, writing the Torah on the heart and mind, can bring the participant to the intended goal of surrendering to the Mashiach and out from under the curse pronounced in the law. With our natural mind, we read, "do this…" and "don’t do that…” and we have a tendency to misunderstand the grace behind the words. Yeshua came to explain the gracious intent of every command, by explaining the primary thrust of the Torah in the first place: leading its reader to a genuine trusting faith in the Messiah found therein—namely himself!
Doesn’t Paul explicitly say in Galatians 5 that the Law is bondage? Context shows that Paul is combatting ethnic-driven corporate righteousness and ostensible covenant membership based on the social expectation and maintenance of Law-keeping. The bondage of chapter 5 verse 1 is spiritual bondage spelled out for any believer who might wish to return to a 1st century Jewish worldview of corporate/individual salvation and sanctification based on group membership and maintenance of Torah commands. Recall that in Covenantal Nomism, one “gets in” by belonging to the group (being legally born with or married into Jewish identity, or conversion to the legal status of Jewish), and one “stays in” by keeping Torah. Remind yourself that neither of these two “gets in—stays in” facts are true in God’s courtroom. Thus, Paul is warning the genuine Galatian believers that to “get in” one places his trust in Yeshua, and that to “stay in” one waits for the hope of righteousness by faith. The debt to the “whole Law” of verse 3 is a debt to whatever ethnocentric Jewish conversion policy the hapless Gentile converts would submit themselves to should they venture down that bondage-laden path—a debt that surely excluded group membership and Torah observance for non-Jews. Justification by Law in verse 4 means ostensible justification by the policy that teaches a “Jewish-only Isra'el.”
Grace is indeed needed when sin blinds our eyes to believe that covenant status is granted on the basis of ethnicity, whether natural or achieved. Historic Isra'el of the 1st century genuinely believed that by virtue of being born Jewish they were automatically guaranteed covenant status. What is more, from their point of view, if someone from non-Jewish stock wished to join the covenant people all he or she needed to do was convert to Judaism, hence my use of the terms “natural” and “achieved” respectively. Natural Isra'elites—those native-born—held to the prevailing theology that Torah was given to maintain the covenant status already acquired at birth. The “ger” (Hebrew for stranger, alien, etc.) was deemed as someone in the process of becoming a Jew via the vehicle of proselyte conversion.
Sha'ul went to great lengths to refute such teaching in his letters both to the Romans and to the Galatians. To be sure, if we apply this hermeneutic to those letters, instead of adopting a “grace versus law” hermeneutic, the Apostle begins to make more sense theologically and historically. I am convinced more now than ever that a foundational understanding of Paul’s writings must take into account the historical fact that 1st century Isra'el reckoned herself as right-standing before HaShem on the basis of ethnicity (read as “being Jewish”) alone! She did not feel that keeping the Torah equaled positional (forensic) righteousness; she concluded—albeit incorrectly—that keeping Torah was the vehicle that one used to maintain covenant status already achieved either at birth or by conversion.
11. Conclusions - Torah: Negative, Neutral, or Positive?
Our opinions of Paul and his letters should first and foremost be influenced by the raw data found within the Scriptures themselves, since it only stands to reason that historically when his letters were penned, the TaNaKH was the only inspired corpus of literature available to him. Thus, it is reasonable to presume that Paul would also expect his readers, particularly his Jewish ones, to hold similar views of the TaNaKH. “And just what view would that be?” Should it be:
1) Negative, as in the prevailing Christian view, that Torah was given merely to contain and limit transgressions so that man did not become excessively sinful?
2) Neutral, as in the Messianic Jewish view, that Torah was given to expose sin for what it really was, namely the transgression of God’s perfect standard of holiness?
3) Positive, as in recent Pauline authorship, that Torah was given to provide the means by which an existing covenant member might have his sins covered, with an ultimate view towards the coming eternal Sacrifice, Yeshua the prophesied Messiah?
With these options in mind let us draw our conclusion of Galatians by examining what the Torah has to say for itself, followed by a few quotations from Paul. Drawing from the biblical principle of presenting two or three witnesses to strengthen an argument, I will cite two from the 5 Books of Moshe, two from the Prophets, and two from the Writings. We will then allow these TaNaKH witnesses to either buttress Paul’s statement about the Law, or to pale in comparison to his conclusion in Galatians. So that no “foul play” accusations may be leveled, in my choice of verses from the Chumash, I selected only verses that refer to the written Torah, as it pertains to its historical revelation, viz, “Sinai” (post Avraham, post Egyptian Exodus):
Look, I have taught you laws and rulings, just as ADONAI my God ordered me, so that you can behave accordingly in the land where you are going in order to take possession of it. Therefore, observe them; and follow them; for then all peoples will see you as having wisdom and understanding. When they hear of all these laws, they will say, 'This great nation is surely a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has God as close to them as ADONAI our God is, whenever we call on him? What great nation is there that has laws and rulings as just as this entire Torah which I am setting before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)
"However, all this will happen only if you pay attention to what ADONAI your God says, so that you obey his mitzvot and regulations which are written in this book of the Torah, if you turn to ADONAI your God with all your heart and all your being. For this mitzvah which I am giving you today is not too hard for you, it is not beyond your reach. It isn't in the sky, so that you need to ask, 'Who will go up into the sky for us, bring it to us and make us hear it, so that we can obey it?' Likewise, it isn't beyond the sea, so that you need to ask, 'Who will cross the sea for us, bring it to us and make us hear it, so that we can obey it?' On the contrary, the word is very close to you - in your mouth, even in your heart; therefore, you can do it! (Deuteronomy 30:10-14)
Only be strong and very bold in taking care to follow all the Torah which Moshe my servant ordered you to follow; do not turn from it either to the right or to the left; then you will succeed wherever you go. Yes, keep this book of the Torah on your lips, and meditate on it day and night, so that you will take care to act according to everything written in it. Then your undertakings will prosper, and you will succeed. (Joshua 1:7, 8)
"Blessed be ADONAI, who has given rest to his people Isra'el, in accordance with everything he promised. Not one word has failed of his good promise, which he made through Moshe his servant. May ADONAI our God be with us, as he was with our ancestors. May he never leave us or abandon us. In this way he will incline our hearts toward him, so that we will live according to his ways and observe his mitzvot, laws and rulings which he ordered our fathers to obey. May these words of mine, which I have used in my plea before ADONAI, be present with ADONAI our God day and night, so that he will uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Isra'el day by day. Then all the peoples of the earth will know that ADONAI is God; there is no other. So be wholehearted with ADONAI our God, living by his laws and observing his mitzvot, as you are doing today." (M’lakhim Alef [1 Kings] 8:56-61)
The Torah of ADONAI is perfect, restoring the inner person. The instruction of ADONAI is sure, making wise the thoughtless. The precepts of ADONAI are right, rejoicing the heart. The mitzvah of ADONAI is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of ADONAI is clean, enduring forever. The rulings of ADONAI are true, they are righteous altogether, more desirable than gold, than much fine gold, also sweeter than honey or drippings from the honeycomb. Through them your servant is warned; in obeying them there is great reward. (Tehillim [Psalms] 19:8-12)
For the mitzvah is a lamp, Torah is light, and reproofs that discipline are the way to life. (Proverbs 6:23)
Finally, the witness of the Apostle Paul himself in books other than Galatians:
So the torah is holy; that is, the commandment is holy, just and good. (Romans 7:12)
But you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, recalling the people from whom you learned it; and recalling too how from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which can give you the wisdom that leads to deliverance through trusting in Yeshua the Messiah. All Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living; thus anyone who belongs to God may be fully equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
Nu? Within the context of Galatians 3:19, have you the reader decided which view of the Torah you think Sha'ul held to? Negative, neutral, or, positive?
 Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy, Towards Understanding 1st Century and 21st Century Jewish Attitudes: Studies in Group Prejudice (Tetze Torah Ministries, 2011), pp. 10-12.
 A general-purpose Yiddish word meaning variously, “Well?” “So?” “Indeed!” “I challenge you,” or “If not that, then what?,” with many possible inflections and overtones.