Galatians Commentary – What is the Law in Galatians?

What is the law in Galatians by Bible Commentary

As we drawer nearer to this earths final history, there seems to be more and more misunderstandings on what law the Bible is referring to at times. It is also very sad that there are many who would prefer to believe that the law being referred to is the Ten Commandments when it speaks of that law in a negative light. The Ten Commandment law of God is a reflection of the very character of God and choosing to view it in such a negative manner is not true love for God or a desire to live a righteous life. Every single late theologian all had no difficulty in noting that the book of Galatians is referring to the Law of Moses that contained sacrifices that were part of the various holy feasts days and yearly sacrificial Sabbaths that were implemented only until Christ ended them at the cross. Passover and the Day Of Atonement for example are two such sacrificial Sabbaths that can only be to do with sin. The Bible Commentaries below on Galatians reveal that the law being referred to was the Mosaic Law only all through the book of Galatians and not the Ten Commandments.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible (1798-1870)
“It is easy to discern from the Epistle itself that the following circumstances existed in the churches of Galatia, and that it was written with reference to them.

(1) That they had been at first devotedly attached to the apostle Paul, and had received his commands and instructions with implicit confidence when he was among them; Galatians 4:14-15; compare Galatians 1:6.
(2) That they had been perverted from the doctrine which he taught them soon after he had left them; Galatians 1:6.
(3) That this had been done by persons who were of Jewish origin, and who insisted on the observance of the rites of the Jewish religion.
(4) That they claimed to have come directly from Jerusalem, and to have derived their views of religion and their authority from the apostles there.
(5) That they taught that the apostle Paul was inferior to the apostles there; that he had been called more recently into the apostolic office; that the apostles at Jerusalem must be regarded as the source of authority in the Christian church; and that, therefore, the teaching of Paul should yield to that which was derived directly from Jerusalem.
(6) That the laws of Moses were binding, and were necessary in order to justification. That the rite of circumcision especially was of binding obligation; and it is probable Galatians 6:12 that they had prevailed on many of the Galatians to be circumcised, and certain that they had induced them to observe the Jewish festivals; Galatians 4:10.
(7) it would seem, also, that they urged that Paul himself had changed his views since he had been among the Galatians, and now maintained the necessity of circumcision; Galatians 5:11. Perhaps they alleged this, from the undoubted fact that Paul, when at Jerusalem Acts 21:26, had complied with some of the customs of the Jewish ritual.
(8) That they urged that all the promises of God were made to Abraham, and that whoever would partake of those promises, must be circumcised as Abraham was. This Paul answers, Galatians 3:7; Galatians 4:7.

From this description of the state of things in the churches of Galatia, the design of the Epistle is apparent, and the scope of the argument will be easily seen. Of this state of things the apostle had been undoubtedly apprised, but whether by letters, or by messengers from the churches there, is not declared. It is not improbable, that some of his friends in the churches there had informed him of it, and he immediately set about a remedy to the evils existing there.

I. The first object, therefore, was to show that he had received his commission as an apostle, directly from God. He had not received it at all from man; he had not even been instructed by the other apostles; he had not acknowledged their superiority; he had not even consulted them. He did not acknowledge, therefore, that the apostles at Jerusalem possessed any superior rank or authority. His commission, though he had not seen the Lord Jesus before he was crucified, he had, nevertheless, derived immediately from him. The doctrine, therefore, which he had taught them, that the Mosaic laws were not binding, and that there was no necessity of being circumcised, was a doctrine which had been derived directly from God. In proof of this, he goes into an extended statement Galatians 1, of the manner in which he had been called, and of the fact; that he had not consulted with the apostles at Jerusalem, or confessed his inferiority to them; of the fact that when they had become acquainted with the manner in which he preached, they approved his course Galatians 1:24; Galatians 2:1-10; and of the fact that on one occasion, he had actually been constrained to differ from Peter, the oldest of the apostles, on a point in which he was manifestly wrong, and on one of the very points then under consideration.

II. The second great object, therefore, was to show the real nature and design of the Law of Moses, and to prove that the peculiar rites of the Mosaic ritual, and especially the rite of circumcision, were not necessary to justification and salvation; and that they who observed that rite, did in fact renounce the Scripture method of justification; make the sacrifice of Christ of no value, and make slaves of themselves. This leads him into a consideration of the true nature of the doctrine of justification, and of the way of salvation by a Redeemer.

This point he shows in the following way:
(1) By showing that those who lived before Christ, and especially Abraham, were in fact justified, not by obedience to the ritual law of Moses, but by faith in the promises of God; Galatians 3:1-18.
(2) By showing that the design of the Mosaic ritual was only temporary, and that it was intended to lead to Christ; Galatians 3:19-29; Galatians 4:1-8.
(3) In view of this, he reproves the Galatians for having so readily fallen into the observance of these customs; Galatians 4:9-21.
(4) This view of the design of the Mosaic Law, and of its tendency, he illustrates by an allegory drawn from the case of Hagar; Galatians 4:21-31. [See the section on the bond woman and the free woman above]

This whole discourse is succeeded by an affectionate exhortation to the Galatians, to avoid the evils which had been engendered; reproving them for the strifes existing in consequence of the attempt to introduce the Mosaic rites, and earnestly entreating them to stand firm in the liberty which Christ had vouchsafed to them from the servitude of the Mosaic institutions, Galatians 5; 6.

The design of the whole Epistle, therefore, is to state and defend the true doctrine of justification, and to show that it did not depend on the observance of the laws of Moses. In the general purpose, therefore, it accords with the design of the Epistle to the Romans. In one respect, however, it differs from the design of that Epistle. That was written, to show that man could not be justified by any works of the Law, or by conformity to any law, moral or ceremonial; the object of this is, to show that justification cannot be obtained by conformity to the ritual or ceremonial law; or that the observance of the ceremonial law is not necessary to salvation.” Bold Parentheses are added.

The People's New Testament (1891) by B. W. Johnson
“The Epistles of Paul were mostly called out by evils in the churches which he had planted which called for correction. That to the Galatians is not an exception. At a period not long after his second visit tidings came to him that excited his alarm and indignation. That restless wing of the church which clung to Judaism as well as Christianity, which had troubled the church at Antioch (Acts 15:1), which had made necessary the council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:5-30), whose evil work at Corinth we note in both Epistles, but especially in the second, whose continual warfare made one of Paul's sorest afflictions “perils among false brethren,” had sent its emissaries into Galatia and had taught that it was needful that the Gentile Christians be circumcised and submit to the law of Moses in order to be saved. In order to carry their end they also insisted that Paul was not a true apostle, or was at least inferior to the original Twelve who had seen Christ and been instructed by him in person. It is true that in the Council at Jerusalem they had been defeated, but they kept up their work, and it required a life long struggle on the part of Paul to emancipate the church from Judaism. These men seemed to follow him everywhere, and a considerable part of his epistles is devoted to correcting the errors due to their influence.

The Galatian letter is an indignant protest against and refutation of the Judaizing teachers. In the first two chapters he shows that his apostleship was not derived from the other apostles, but from Christ; that the gospel that he taught was not revealed to him by them, but by his Lord; that he had never met them as an inferior, but on an equal footing; that it was agreed between them that Peter, James and John would devote their labors to the Circumcision, while he and Barnabas should go to the Uncircumcision, and that on one occasion it was needful for him to rebuke and correct Peter on the very question of the proper attitude towards Gentile Christians.

In the Second Part of the Letter, chapters 3 and 4, he contrasts the free gospel salvation by a living faith in Christ with the slavish legalism of the false teachers who would virtually place Moses in the stead of Christ. The Third Part, the 5th and 6th chapters, is devoted mainly to practical duties which grow out of the gospel.

The Place where written and the Date of the Epistle can be determined only approximately. It must have been written after Paul's two visits to Galatia, the last of which was in A.D. 54 or 55. See note on Galatians 4:13. It must have been written not very long after the second visit. See note on Galatians 1:6. There are many points of resemblance between Epistle and that to the Romans which indicate that they were written nearly at the same time; since this epistle is the less elaborate, it was probably written first. There are also points of resemblance to Second Corinthians which indicate that they belong to the same period. All these facts point to the last year of the Third Missionary Journey, or about A.D. 57. As we learn from Acts that this period was spent in Ephesus, Macedonia and Corinth, it must have been written at one of these places.”

John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible. Dr. John Gill (1690-1771)
“…But after his departure from them, the false teachers got among them, and insinuated, that he was no apostle, at least that he was inferior to Peter, James, and John, the ministers of the circumcision; and these seduced many of the members of the churches in this place, drawing them off from the evangelical doctrine of justification by the righteousness of Christ, persuading them that the observation of the ceremonial law, particularly circumcision, was necessary to their acceptance with God, and justification in his sight: wherefore the occasion and design of this epistle were to vindicate the character of the apostle as such; to establish the true doctrine of justification by faith, in opposition to the works of the law; to recover those who were carried away with the other doctrines; to exhort the saints to stand fast in the liberty of Christ, and to various other duties of religion; and to give a true description of the false teachers, and their views, that so they might beware of them, and of their principles.”

Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible, LL.D., F.S.A., (1762-1832)
“From the complexion of this epistle it appears to have been written to the Jews who were dispersed in Galatia; see Acts 2:9. And although in Galatians 4:8, it is said that the persons to whom the apostle writes did not know God, and did service to them which by nature were no gods; this must be understood of those who had been proselytes to the Jewish religion, as Galatians 4:9 sufficiently shows; for, after they had been converted to Christianity, they turned Again to the weak and beggarly elements.

These Galatians were doubtless converted by St. Paul; see Acts 16:6; Acts 18:23; but, after his departure from them, some teachers had got in among them who endeavoured to persuade them, and successfully too, that they should be circumcised and keep the Mosaic Law. See Galatians 1:6; Galatians 4:9, Galatians 4:10, Galatians 4:21; Galatians 5:1, Galatians 5:2; Galatians 6:12. And the apostle labors to bring them back from the errors of these false teachers.

The arguments which the apostle uses to prove the truth of the Christian religion, as well as the nullity of the Mosaic institutions, are the following: -

1. That himself, immediately after his conversion, without having any conference with any of the apostles, preached the pure doctrines of Christianity doctrines strictly conformable to those preached by the genuine disciples of the Lord; and this was a proof that he had received them by immediate inspiration, as he could have known them no other way.
2. That he was led to oppose Peter because he had withdrawn himself from communion with the converted Gentiles, and thereby gave occasion to some to suppose that he considered the law as still binding on those who believed; and that the Gentiles were not to be admitted to an equality of religious privileges with the Jews.
3. That no rites or ceremonies of the Jewish law could avail any thing in the justification of a sinner; and that faith in Christ was the only means of justification.
4. That their own works could avail nothing towards their justification: -

(1.) For the Spirit of God was given them in consequence of receiving the Christian doctrine, Galatians 3:2-5.
(2.) That the works of the law cannot justify, because Abraham was justified by faith long before the law of Moses was given, Galatians 3:6, Galatians 3:7.
(3.) That the curse of the law, under which every sinner lives, is not removed but by the sacrifice of Christ, Galatians 3:8, Galatians 3:9.

5. That it is absurd for the sons of God to become slaves to Mosaic rites and ceremonies.”