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Galatians 2:1-5 (ESV):

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

In verse 4, Paul alludes to false brothers who were spying out their freedom in Christ, in order to bring them to slavery.

Question: What is meant by "freedom in Christ" and "slavery" in this context?


Some personal reflections

If we look at the context, verse 3 mentions circumcision. Hence, one could feel tempted to equate slavery with circumcision. However, I'm skeptical of that interpretation. Getting circumcised only takes a few minutes to be accomplished, after which the person can simply forget about it for the rest of their life. It's not such a big deal if think about it, especially for women who don't even need to worry about it for obvious biological reasons. In other words, I fail to see how circumcision, in and of itself, could be considered equal to "slavery". For me, slavery has the connotation of restricting one's freedom for a significant period of time -- it entails much more than just a few minutes of surgical foreskin removal.

As for the concept of freedom in Christ, we get the hint from verse 4 that it has to be something that can be spied out by others. In other words, someone's freedom in Christ manifests outwardly through their actions. Others can pick up on your freedom in Christ by observing your outward behavior. Hence, I believe the concept of freedom in Christ is linked to visible, observable outward behavior somehow.

Those are my insights so far, but my comprehension of these concepts is far from thorough. I would greatly appreciate answers explaining what is meant by "freedom in Christ" and "slavery" in a way that is as concrete, illustrative and unambiguous as possible.

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  • I guess it's freedom from the many ritualistic physical practices, Paul asks them if they received the Holy Spirit by hearing with faith or by practising something. The orthodox Jews have a lot of these practices even today, like not using elevators on the sabbath because they're to refrain from creating 'sparks or fire' as a type of work and this has extrapolated to electrical equipment. Aren't these types of things enslaving?
    – snoopy
    Apr 13 at 13:08
  • @snoopy - where do you draw line between what is enslaving and what isn't? Actually, I have a question precisely about that for those who are sabbatarians: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/82490/… Apr 13 at 13:24
  • well if you have to do things like not pushing electrical buttons, praying in a certain direction with certain types of movements, eats 497 grams of rice instead of 496 or 498, stretch your leg more than 1m and 23cm for every step, etc...(a bit of exaggeration on the end for emphasis). Then I'd guess that's not freedom, that the person who has to pratice such is enslaved to them.
    – snoopy
    Apr 13 at 15:20
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Paul draws a contrast in Galatians 2:

4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

On the one hand, there were false brothers who were slaves. On the other, there were true gospel believers in Christ. Freedom is the opposite of slavery.

Paul elaborates on this freedom in Colossians 2:

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. ...

21“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Jesus has freed us from all these religious human rules.

Where do you draw line between what is enslaving and what isn't?

Note that we haven't received the freedom to do anything. We have received the freedom in Christ. If the command is not according to Christ, then it is enslaving. If it is according to Christ, then we apply Philippians 2:13

for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

God causes us to want to do. We are free in Christ and not slaves of religious human rules.

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The NT speaks about four different types of Freedom. The reference in Gal 2 is discussing the freedom from the ceremonial law as given through Moses.

The New Testament labors the idea of freedom at some length in the sense of freedom from the entanglements of sin that easily hinders us” (Heb 12:1), and a mind freed from the veil of Moses; these two ideas frequently overlap. This Christian freedom is granted by Christ and imparted by the Holy Spirit as set out below.

Freedom from the Ceremonial Law (“of Moses”)

Freedom from the ceremonial law of Moses is essentially freedom from a legalistic approach to salvation - always needing to satisfy an un-satisfyable law with no assurance of salvation - a true slavery indeed. While always trying to satisfy the legal requirement for salvation, such people are blind to the whole concept of Christ's grace and free salvation.

  • 1 Cor 3:12-17 describes Christians “being bold” and non-Christians whose “minds were made dull” and “covered by a veil” and that “only in Christ is it taken away”. Paul concludes with, “where the Spirit of Lord is, there is freedom.”
  • 1 Cor 6:12, 13, “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, ‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.’ The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”
  • Eph 3:12, “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”
  • Acts 13:38, 39, “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.”
  • Gal 2:4, “This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” (see v3).
  • Rom 6:14, “Sin shall no longer be your master because you are no longer under law but under grace.”

It will be observed from the above that Christian freedom psychologically overlaps with “Freedom of Choice” (which see below) but is logically and theologically distinct. Indeed, one must be free in order to freely choose.

Freedom from Sin

The Bible uses the metaphor of slavery to sin and freedom frequently. The slavery of sin involves the shackles that bind us to bad habits, addictions, bad associations, unnatural obsessions and other sinful practices. 1 John 2:15-17 summarizes this contrast between the freedom of Chrst vs the slavery to the world:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not from the Father but from the world. The world is passing away, along with its desires; but whoever does the will of God remains forever.

Here is a brief sample of bible statements about freedom from sin and its hold of slavery to sinful desires.

  • John 8:32, 34-36, “…the truth will set you free…whoever sins is a slave to sin…so if the Son sets you free you are free indeed.”
  • Gal 5:13, 14, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use our freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
  • Gal 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
  • Gal 3:22, “But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.”
  • Ps 118:5, “Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free.”
  • Ps 119:45, “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.”
  • Acts 13:38, 39, “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.”
  • Rom 6:14, 18, “Sin shall no longer be your master because you are no longer under law but under grace. … And, having been set free from sin, we have become slaves of righteousness.”
  • Rom 6:22, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”
  • 1 Peter 2:16, “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.”
  • 2 Peter 2:19, “promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.”
  • Rom 8:1-4, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
  • Rom 8:20, 21, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
  • Luke 4:18, 19, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” See also Isa 61:1ff.
  • 2 Tim 1:7, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
  • 2 Tim 2:26, “and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”
  • James 1:25, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
  • Isa 58:6, 7, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
  • Acts 8:23, “For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”

APPENDIX 1 - Freedom of Choice

Freedom of choice is another of the implicit teachings of Scripture. However, a few passages come close to being explicit. Let us examine a sample of the Bible data.

  • Gen 2:16, 17 – the original choice given to Adam and Eve to choose service to God.
  • 1 Cor 10:13 – God is gracious enough to only allow temptations that we can bear. This reveals that God recognizes the effect that sin has on our will; sin weakens our will but God helps by both strengthening our will and only allowing temptations that we can bear.
  • 2 Peter 3:9 – God is patient wanting all people to decide for Him.
  • Gal 5:13 – We are given freedom by God but the privilege should not be abused.
  • John 7:17 – People can choose to do the will of God and such a choice bring further enlightenment.
  • Josh 24:15 – The Israelites were encouraged to choose God.
  • Mark 8:34 – Choosing to serve God involves personal sacrifice which is why it is such a serious decision.
  • Rev 3:20 – God wants to be with us but we must choose to allow Him into our lives.
  • Gal 5:16, 17, John 8:34-36 – Sin enslaves but the Christian life by the Spirit gives freedom.
  • Isa 55:6, 7 – Isaiah encourages the people to choose service to God over all else.
  • Deut 30:19, 20 – Moses encourages the people to choose between life and death.
  • Exe 18 – an entire chapter about the consequences of choice which ends with the plea, “Repent and live!”

Thus, while Biblically implicit, the concept of the freedom to choose to serve God or otherwise is woven into the very fabric of scripture.

In addition to the above, there is a more fundamental reason why freedom of choice is essential to the plan of salvation. Observe the following:

  • John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
  • John 15:12, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
  • 1 John 4:7, 8, 11, 16, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love … Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another … No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us … And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them … We love because he first loved us.”

It is immediately apparent that love is the very essence of God and our relationship with Him and each other. Now, here is the point; love cannot be forced else it is not love. A programmed machine can recite loving sentiments but does not love. Thus, love can only be love when there is a free choice to love.

Therefore, for love to exist there must be freedom of choice. Stated the other way, if God were to force us to love and obey Him, we would not love God at all and God would be saving machines.

APPENDIX 2 - Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion gives all people the right to practise their beliefs without interference by others, especially the state. This idea, leads directly to the concept of the secular state where all people are granted religious freedom, protection under the law and access to the “public square”. The Bible provides a number of good examples of religious tolerance.

  • Mark 9:38-40, Luke 9:49, 50. Jesus tolerated other groups disconnected from His own.
  • Luke 9:52-56. Jesus refused to curse non-believers
  • John 4:7-27 (Samaritan woman at the well) is a remarkable example of tolerance where Jesus made no attempt to make the woman a Jew and call her “one of us” before she became a very effective missionary.
  • Rom 2:14-16 clearly says that some pagans will be saved. This should make Christians very tolerant of unbelievers.
  • Rom 14:1-23 provides an extended passage about being non-judgmental and tolerant about others’ beliefs and practices.
  • 1 Cor 10:31, 32 advises Christians to give no occasion for offence to Jews or gentiles.

In much of the western world, secular government has been implemented with the aid of the modern doctrine of the separation of church and state.

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    First of all, I applaud the effort to compile so some many relevant references. Yet, I still feel this answer lacks an argumentative connection to the text at hand. What I gather from the answer is that you understand slavery as having to obey the ceremonial law and freedom in Christ as not having that obligation. This begs some questions: 1) what do you mean by ceremonial law? where do you get that concept from? 2) how do you know Galatians 2:4 is talking about freedom from and slavery to the "ceremonial law"? Apr 13 at 3:49
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    In other words, this answer is quite expositive, and could be greatly improved in my opinion if it included paragraphs that helped the reader see how the dots connect, by developing a logical argument step by step. That said, thanks for the answer. Apr 13 at 3:57
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Paul is teaching the difference between the Law of Sin & Death (Letter of The Law) and The Law of The Spirit of Life (punishments covered) & using the example of circumcision to do so.

In this new covenant Messiah fulfilled The Law (not abolished it) by raising The Law to a higher standard, that of spiritual intent or attitude of the heart. Sin was no longer defined as the physical act but expanded to include the attitude of our hearts.

Matthew 5:27 You have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that a man who even looks at a woman with the purpose of lusting after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

This higher intent exposed those Pharisees who outwardly appeared to be just but were filled with jealousy and hatred.

Applied to circumcision the physical act to be circumcised is a commitment to keep The Laws. Paul is arguing the equivalent spiritual circumcision is having a loving heart for The Laws.

The Law in covenant with Moses was described as The Law of Sin & Death as the concept of grace had not been introduced and we therefore feared the Law & its penalty of death. Paul uses the terms of bondage & slavery as we felt obligated to keep The Law out of fear of death.

Paul, by contrast describes The Law of The Spirit of Life as setting us free from the death penalty in The Law as we now have an eternal High Priest offering sacrifices for our sin eternally on our behalf. Our God accepts this sacrifice on our behalf which is of course the definition of grace or mercy.

Any following discussions should recognize scriptural definitions: Righteousness: Keeping The Laws, Romans 2:13, Deuteronomy 6:25.

Spirit of Life: The Spirit of loving obedience to keep The Laws. Ezekiel 36:25-27 "...I will give you a new heart for My Law (& write My Law on it). & put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone (legalistic observance of the Laws out of fear of death) & give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My Decrees and be careful to follow My Laws.

A loving heart for the Law & The Spirit of Life which moves us to keep the Laws. This is how we know we are in this new covenant.

The concept "freedom in christ" would be better described as freedom from the death penalty under the Letter of The Law as this new covenant introduces The Law of The Spirit of Life.

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In [Galatians 2:1-5] we are reminded of events from [Acts 15] in which "Paul" (Παῦλον) disputes "circumsion" (περιτέμνειν) as simply the everlasting "custom" (ἔθει) [or] "law of Moses" (νόμον Μωϋσέως) based on [Genesis 17:10-14] for Avraham's descendants - but not required based on the new "covenant" (διαθήκης) in [Mark 14:24] / [Matthew 26:28] to convert each "Gentile" (ἐθνῶν) soul by blood (αἷμά) as a redeemed children of God.

Paul may have analyzed the terms of "circumcision" in Torah where it states

[Genesis 17:12] :

"And at the age of eight days, every male shall be circumcised to you throughout your generations, one that is born in the house, or one that is purchased with money, from any foreigner, who is not of your seed." ( וּבֶן־שְׁמֹנַ֣ת יָמִ֗ים יִמּ֥וֹל לָכֶ֛ם כָּל־זָכָ֖ר לְדֹרֹֽתֵיכֶ֑ם יְלִ֣יד בָּ֔יִת וּמִקְנַת־כֶּ֨סֶף֙ מִכֹּ֣ל בֶּן־נֵכָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹ֥א מִזַּרְעֲךָ֖ הֽוּא )

[Genesis 17:13] :

" Those born in the house and those purchased for money shall be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant. " ( הִמּ֧וֹל | יִמּ֛וֹל יְלִ֥יד בֵּֽיתְךָ֖ וּמִקְנַ֣ת כַּסְפֶּ֑ךָ וְהָֽיְתָ֧ה בְרִיתִ֛י בִּבְשַׂרְכֶ֖ם לִבְרִ֥ית עוֹלָֽם ).

The Law of Genesis 17:12-13 required both descendants of אַבְרָהָ֔ם Avraham to become circumcised (יִמּ֥וֹל) as God's people - and also Gentile "slaves" ( וּמִקְנַת־כֶּ֨סֶף֙ מִכֹּ֣ל בֶּן־נֵכָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹ֥א מִזַּרְעֲךָ֖ הֽוּא ) in order for God to redeem their soul.

Perhaps Paul became inspired that Gentile believers in the Jewish Messiah were bought not "with money" but "by the blood" of Jesus based on teachings learned in [Mark 14:24] / [Matthew 26:28].

Making the new "covenant" (διαθήκης) specifically for Gentiles who were not accepted as Israelites or allowed into synagogues - no longer feeling the need to become "slaves" to descendants of Avraham in order "to be saved" (σωθῆναι) through circumcision, but through a new symbolic blood oath.

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