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Galatians 5:3 (KJV)

3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law

Galatians 5:4 (kJV)

4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace

It seems like Paul is saying to the Galatians that if they sought to be justified by the law (circumcision) then they would have to keep the whole law, but a verse down he seems to do a turnabout that whosoever seeks justification by the law has fallen from grace Why would they be obliged to keep the whole law if there is no justification

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Actually, I believe that it is correct to read verse 4 as saying that ye are fallen from grace not solely for seeking justification by the Law, but rather for turning from Christ back to the Law.

The full passage reads:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

An alternate literal translation found in the Orthodox New Testament reads:

Keep on standing fast therefore in the freedom with which Christ set us free, and cease being held fast again with a yoke of slavery.

Behold, I Paul say to you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

And I testify again to every man being circumcised, that he is a debtor to the whole law.

Ye are deprived of all effect from the Christ, ye who are trying to be justified in the law; ye fell from grace.

One of Paul's purposes in writing to the Galatians was to extinguish a heresy of Judaizing that had arisen within the community. At the time, Jews were coming to the Galatians - who were Gentiles - and telling them that they must observe the Judaic customs. John Chrystostom (4th c.) explains the background at the beginning of his Homily on the Epistle:

What then was the offense which roused him? It was grave and momentous, one which was estranging them all from Christ, as he himself says further on, Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if you receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing [5:2]; and again, You who would be justified by the Law, you are fallen away from Grace [5:4]. What then is this? For it must be explained more clearly. Some of the Jews who believed, being held down by the preposessions of Judaism, and at the same time intoxicated by vain-glory, and desirous of obtaining for themselves the dignity of teachers, came to the Galatians, and taught them that the observance of circumcision, sabbaths, and new-moons, was necessary, and that Paul in abolishing these things was not to be borne. For, said they, Peter and James and John, the chiefs of the Apostles and the companions of Christ, forbade them not. Now in fact they did not forbid these things, but this was not by way of delivering positive doctrine, but in condescension to the weakness of the Jewish believers, which condescension Paul had no need of when preaching to the Gentiles.

Homily I on Galatians

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1. Question Restatement

Why would Christians who are circumcised be required to keep the "[Israeli] Law" - even though there is no justification through it?


2. Answer : Christian Israeli Nationals were (are) Obligated to Observe Israel's National Laws:

Circumcision, in Judaism, is called the "Brit Milah", (Wikipedia).

At that time, "Israeli Law" was essentially the same as "Religious Law" - with Roman obligations thrown in. Even though there would be no justification - before God - in keeping Israeli law, there is still a requirement to perform it, and keep the vow made. It is quite literally the "Covenant of Circumcision": a legal contract/covenant binding someone to observe the stipulations/demands of that contract - proven and evidenced by a very literal "cutting" of the flesh, (a permanent testimony).

Circumcision is a part of conversion to Judaism, and when officiated by a Rabbi, (especially today), there is a commitment to acknowledge the authority of Rabbinic Tradition, and to observe Rabbinic Halakha, (Legal Decisions). During that time, and in Scripture, it was a part of becoming a recognized "Israeli".

But even more - "Circumcision", performed religiously, is also a covenant between oneself and God - to observe the laws of the nation of Israel - given by God, and administrated by the authorities appointed over it.

You cannot simply "revoke" a "covenant"/"contract" made with God.

Once that is done, and one becomes "Israeli" - there is then an obligation to submit to the authorities. This is something that even Jesus affirmed.

All of that being said - this verse does not at all apply to the common practice of circumcising infants - outside of Judaism, without the aid of a Mohel. One could even argue that children wouldn't even be obligated under their parents' actions anyway - and can only affirm their covenant at the age of 13, (in Judaism).

3. The Context - Messianic Judaism:

I am very aware of the implications of this - especially in Messianic Jewish communities where "Christian Gentiles" convert to Judaism, (through actual Rabbi's), but still asserting a secret faith in Christianity. This is exactly what Paul is talking about.

The problem is - Christianity defines Rabbinicism as "Anti-Christ", so a Christian subjecting themselves to the approval of that authority is "dissonant" - at the very least. However, I very much believe that the majority of these people are being deceived and acting in ignorance, and Paul's judgment might not necessarily apply in these cases. For the rest, Paul is very clear: Once you have made that covenant with God - keep it. But, be prepared, because the requirements of that law are impossible to keep, but you are still required to perform it, under penalty of the law. To be able to do this, while confessing Christ is ... err ... problematic.

I interpret Jesus and Paul to be saying something very similar: "It is very difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven." And then Paul, "If so, then how is it possible to be a Christian AND have Rabbinic approval?" (Both sayings pertain to someone's status and double-mindedness.)

A Christian even trying to do this, for the approval of man - is doing so in "Bad Faith", inwardly rejecting that authority, and a breach of their own faith.

4. Conclusion:

Circumcision, in Judaism, is essentially the legal act of binding oneself to the laws of that nation, and then subject to all of the penalties of violating that contract. "Circumcision" was analogous to today's understanding of "Immigration" - binding one to all of the laws of that nation. Obviously, circumcision does not have the same legal affect in Israel today. But, it was certainly the understanding at that time. One cannot simply "reverse" a legal immigration.

This is essentially a "legal opinion", intended to clarify Paul's own.

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  • This was written on a mobile - and hope to fix this up. May 18 '17 at 0:42
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As for telling the Galatians "if they sought to be justified by the law (circumcision) then they would have to keep the whole law" you have to consider who Paul is talking to. He opens up the letter to the Galatians in 1:6 "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto ANOTHER GOSPEL (emphasis added). Which is NOT ANOTHER (emphasis added), but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ." The key here is there are 2 gospels that are both truth at this time but to 2 different people groups. Look at Galatians 2:7-10. Paul had the gospel of the uncircumcision (gentiles) was committed unto me (Paul) AS (with equal authority) the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter. You see here, there are 2 different gospels, both true but the 2 different people group (gentiles and Jews). Paul is talking to Jewish people whom were saved into the Body of Christ (according to the gospel committed unto him Rom 16:25, 2 Tim 2:8, 1 Tim 1:11) and are now going back under the Jewish program and gospel of works and circumcision and the kingdom program.

We have to be sure to study and believe the Word how God intended it to be studied as it tells us in 2 Tim 2:15 rightly dividing the word of truth. It is important to know who the bible is talking to and dealing with. Context context context.

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  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange Grace, thanks for contributing! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites.
    – Steve Taylor
    Feb 28 '17 at 12:42
  • This answer happens too rapidly to easily follow its line of thinking. I'd suggest expanding this somewhat and adding a little formatting to make it clearer what exactly you are trying to communicate.
    – Steve Taylor
    Feb 28 '17 at 12:45

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