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Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Gal 3:13 ESV)

This verse has always intrigued me, especially the way the word “curse” is used. I know that the Law is as Paul says in Romans 7:2 (ESV)

So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

So then in which way , I asked myself was the Law a curse ? I concluded that it must refer to the reference found in 1 Cor 15:56 (ESV)

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

Which meant that the Law though not itself a curse caused the sin which lay dormant in the flesh to manifest, that this was in fact the curse. As Paul illustrated in Romans 7:7 to 9 (ESV),

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.

I then turned back to Gal 3:13 and decided to investigate the word “curse” in the Greek. And this is what I found, the word “curse” (κατάρας; lexical form = κατάρα), according to a Word Study said the following; 2671 katára (from 2596 /katá, "according to, down" and 685 /ará, "a curse") – properly, what has "to go down" (penalties received) due to condemnation, i.e. the penalty-curse that results when God Himself curses (condemns) something.

Could this be a reference to the Old Testament blessing and cursing found in Deu 28:15 (ESV)?

But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.

And so finally to my question: is the word “curse” (κατάρα) according to the Greek in Gal 3:13, “the holistic list of curses” that Deu 28:15 talks about (note that κατάρα is a noun and indicates that it is a reference to something specific) that Christ has redeemed us from, or is it referring to the manifestation of sin in the presence of the Law, or is it both?

Please note that I am not trying to formulate or espouse doctrine (that is personal),but am interested in word usage only.

  • "Curse" is not a synonym, or even a synechdoche, for "sin", if that's what you're asking. In the Deut passage, the "sin" is to "not obey...or...do", and the "curses" (defeat, disease, drought, death) are an effect of that, not the sin itself. – fumanchu Aug 2 '14 at 18:58
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    I want to point out that when Paul mentions Law he speaks not fully of the Ten Commandments. "I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin." (Romans 7:25 NKJV) As Moses was directed to show the Israelites the Laws of the Flesh (Life for Life) instead of the perfect (Do Not Kill). For they are contrary to each other. Also the contrast between the regular "Knowledge of Evil" response of Flesh, or Faith in Hope. A response of the flesh however is under the curse. As from the beginning when not to eat the fruits. – Decrypted Aug 4 '14 at 20:34
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    So by being told to respond to the "Knowledge of Evil" with their flesh it was a curse. In fulfillment of when When Moses tried to pray for them when they made the calf of gold."...Nevertheless, in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin." (Exodus 32:34). So the Truth to the Knowledge of Evil does in deed continue to punish, and is an everlasting curse. – Decrypted Aug 4 '14 at 20:39
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I've always understood it as the "manifestation of sin in the presence of the Law," but more specifically "the penalty of sin the the presence of the law."

Here's how I've explained it in teaching this passage: If there were no speeding laws you could drive fast and recklessly — and although dangerous and potentially harmful, there's no "curse." But once there's a speeding law made, you are now under judgment by the government which placed that law when you break it.

The word "curse" is used because "all have sinned" (Rom. 3:23) and broken the laws which God has placed upon us. So we all deserved judgment which leads to death.

Of course Jesus became that "curse" by taking the judgment for us.

The curses in Deut. 28 are the specific curses that are mentioned proceeding that verse. These are harsh and direct curses that are designed to make the people take the law seriously.

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Paul's polemic is clearly an allusion to Deuteronomy 21:22-23 which says "has been cursed" and not "became a curse" and Paul quotes it properly (though not verbatim). So it can be construed as him creating a euphemism in order to avoid saying that Jesus was accursed by God though I don't personally think that is in view at all, particularly since he says the equally disturbing, "Christ became a curse".

The person who has been killed because of God's curse (as found in the sanctions of the Torah in Deuteronomy 28 is said to be accursed, himself. However, the passage goes on to say that if, after being executed by hanging from a tree he is not taken down before sundown then the promised land will be defiled, effectively making the unburied corpse into a curse upon the land:

NET Bible Deuteronomy 21:

22 If a person commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang the corpse on a tree, 23 his body must not remain all night on the tree; instead you must make certain you bury him that same day, for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

In the LXX (I'm looking at Rahlf's) it specifies that they must take down the body of him that "sleeps" from the wood of the tree and place it in a cemetery:

Rahlf's LXX Deuteronomy 21:23 οὐκ ἐπικοιμηθήσεται τὸ σῶμα αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τοῦ ξύλου ἀλλὰ ταφῇ θάψετε αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ ὅτι κεκατηραμένος ὑπὸ θεοῦ πᾶς κρεμάμενος ἐπὶ ξύλου καὶ οὐ μιανεῖτε τὴν γῆν ἣν κύριος ὁ θεός σου δίδωσίν σοι ἐν κλήρῳ

So just as it was urgent for the Jews to bury those they hanged for their own safety from the cursed corpse so must the believer be certain to bury their messiah in a cemetery lest the curses of the law defile them, which we see done here:

KJV Mar 15:43 Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly [τολμήσας: "gathered up the courage"] unto Pilate, and craved [αἰτέω - "demanded?"] the body of Jesus.

So in my view, in addition to the obvious bio-hazards it addresses I see the passage in Deuteronomy as a messianic prophesy filled with important symbolism.

Paul is engaged in a fierce polemic ("war of words") with the Jewish believers. Their argument is not that the gentiles cannot be saved but rather that they must be circumcised and obey Torah. His argument, or at least one is, I believe, that if the believer continues to live by the Torah or if they rebuild it then they are under a curse:

KJV Galatians 2:

17“But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

19“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.

The believer is joined to Christ. As it was necessary for Christ to be entombed in a cemetery to not be a curse to the land so the believer must be moved from the wood of the tree and be placed in the cemetery ("sleeping place") and die to the works of the Torah or else partake of the curses thereof:

KJV Galatians 3:10 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.

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