This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Galatians

I’m sharing an article from Brian Franco were he explains based on the Book of Galatians, about the law of Moses vs. grace. And if (as some people claim) it’s required from Christians after we are saved by grace to follow the ‘law of Moses’  (the first 5 books written by Moses) in order to stay saved.  -You can also  find more information about the subject in the article Commandments of Jesus.


By Brian Franco  (Used with permission).

We can continue to analyze the proper context, and the other 3 instances of the phrase, in chapter 3 of Galatians:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth? Before your eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified. I want to learn only this from you: Did you receive the Spirit through the works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Have you endured so many things for nothing, if indeed it was for nothing? Does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by hearing with faith?


Paul is fired up again in his disappointment. He asks the Galatians who has fooled them, and whether their salvation (which is symbolized by receiving the Spirit) or miracles they apparently are witness to came from their keeping of Torah, or whether it was through the faith they had upon hearing the true gospel message. Paul continues with the questioning, and has begun the comparison that you will see throughout the rest of the book: faith versus works.

Some doctrines may want to point out how they are in agreement that justification starts with faith, and that following Torah is not what gets you saved, however I find this to be a bait and switch tactic since it is still then disputed afterward that to truly prove or show that you have received justification/salvation, then you still have to follow it.

Imagine you’re thirsty and have been wandering for hours in a desert when you come across an oasis. You approach it to have a man interrupt you for a moment to explain how he is the keeper of the oasis, and to drink from here all you need to do is wear a bracelet which you graciously accept. Being told after you’ve begun drinking the water that there are now some expectations in place should you wish to continue to drink would be very deceptive! Honestly, I think it’s worse than just being told at the start that you’d need to meet these expectations to have or maintain the bracelet, since at least that way you are aware of the deal.

I believe the issue at hand in Galatians encompasses both the “start” of the Christian life, as well as the Christian life itself. This idea is well elaborated by the scholar Richard Longenecker who states in his Galatians commentary (emphasis mine):

On a practical basis, the opponents at Galatia must also have included in their message an emphasis on the Jewish law as the divinely appointed way to check libertinism within the church. Paul’s emphases on (1) the pedagogical function of the law coming to an end with Christ, in 3:19–4:7, and (2) living by the direction of the Spirit (as opposed to life directed by law) as the antidote to libertinism, in 5:13–26, suggest that not only did the opponents argue circumcision as a prerequisite for being fully accepted by God but also that they asserted that life lived under the Torah — which meant for them a Jewish lifestyle — was the only way to bring the excesses of the flesh into line.

The repeated mention of “the flesh” (ζάνλ, or “the sinful nature”) in 5:13–21 implies quite clearly that the Galatian churches were having ethical problems or at least were acutely conscious of ethical failures. For such problems the Judaizers offered a rather straightforward and seemingly God-honoring solution: accept a Jewish nomistic lifestyle and you will have clear guidance as to what is right and wrong, and so be able to live a life that pleases God. Just as Paul’s message, they probably added, being only elemental in nature, was not able to relate you properly to Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant for full salvation, so it failed to relate you to the divine Torah and a Jewish lifestyle for proper Christian living.

Thus you need to accept circumcision to be fully accepted by God into the Abrahamic covenant,** and you need to take on a Jewish lifestyle** in order to live in a manner that checks the excesses of your sinful, Gentile natures and enables you to please God in your lives. Their message was, therefore, in effect, one of both legalism for full salvation and nomism for Christian living (cf. my Paul, Apostle of Liberty, 78–83, on the use of “legalism” and “nomism”).

Word Biblical Commentary: Galatians, pg 44

To clarify, when Longenecker speaks of libertinism and the way to keep it in “check” or the “antidote” to it, it is in reference to how the Galatians should “live their life” in a way that isn’t free (liberty, hence libertinism) of all moral obligations. The logical suggestion a Jew could make would of course be to follow/live by Torah (nomism, or religious conduct based on law), as they had done for so long. Surely it would be of benefit to the lawless Gentiles, who now with the freedom of Christ, may take their freedom as some license to continue in sin. It’s not that the idea is void of logic, or that it couldn’t have been made with good intentions, but it is clear that, in Galatia, the Judaizer’s pressure and obligation to do so has gone beyond this and into the realm of a false gospel.

Even Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Therefore know that those who are of faith are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel in advance to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.

For all who rely on the works of the law are under the curse. For it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the Book of the Law, to do them.” Now it is evident that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, for “The just shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, for “The man who does them shall live by them.” Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us—as it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” — so that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.


Knowing then that there is no room to read the “oral law” into the context of Galatians, and understanding therefore that the Judaizers aren’t simply focusing on Torah at the start, but also as the way to continue living, let’s recap the instances here:

  1. 2:16 – yet we know that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. Even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, rather than by the works of the law. For by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
  2. 3:2 – I want to learn only this from you: Did you receive the Spirit through the works of the law, or by hearing with faith?
  3. 3:5 – Does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by hearing with faith?
  4. 3:10 – For all who rely on the works of the law are under the curse. For it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the Book of the Law, to do them.”

These are the 4 places Galatians uses works of the law. Moving forward, Galatians will transition to just explaining the history and purpose of the law, and considering the smoothness of the texts we’ve had since the end of chapter 2, it would make sense that whatever the law is in these 4 verses is the same law expressed in the rest of the letter (as well as across all 4 verses, of course). Otherwise, we would be claiming that Galatians is alternating between definitions of a single word (with no clear contextual indications) in a very incoherent manner.

With that in mind, 2:16 gives us our first instance of the phrase. It serves as an introduction to the concept, primarily by presenting it as antithetical to “faith in Christ”. I believe there are some extra parallels to be drawn from this, but I will mention those in a separate section and only point out the initial contrast for now.

Verses 3:2 and 3:5 simply continues the contrasts, this time to “receiving the Spirit/work miracles among you” by hearing with faith versus works of the law. Neither of these verses specifically (nor 2:16 if we ignore the future parallels) add any direct indication to what law is being referenced, which implies to me that it should be obvious upon reading. I believe that is really the first hint to all of this, and initial impressions for anyone who has read or is simply aware of the Bible’s history will probably justly synonymize “the law” as being “the Torah”.

That being said, 3:10 should be the one to secure that notion. Importantly, it indicates an important consequence: those relying on works of the law are under a curse. So there is an effect (curse) in place for the people who depend on this law. Where does this curse come from? Paul is quoting Deuteronomy 27:26 which specifically states:

“Cursed is he who does not confirm all the words of this law by doing them.” And all the people shall say, “Amen.”

Deu. 27:26

In other words, this law (as stated in Deuteronomy) has a curse for those who can’t confirm all the words it contains. What is “this law”? The Torah, which Deuteronomy is a part of, of course! Therefore, “those who rely on works (can’t confirm all the words of) the law (this law, Torah)” would be the way to define what Paul is trying to say. Paul is literally (“for it is written”) defining it for us through his reference to Deuteronomy!

Paul reaffirms then (in v11) that it is evident no man is justified by the Law (Torah, which should be clear by the context now since we’re still talking about the justification through it) but rather by faith. This creates a specific contrast between law and faith. Note in particular that the contrast is “live by faith”, which I believe implies a contrast against (living) by the Law. This supports the “legalistic and nomistic” context that we elaborated on above.

Paul confirms this again in v12 by quoting a part of Leviticus 18:5, “The man who does them shall live by them.” In other words, the man who does (works) them (the law) shall live by them (and not by faith). The issue at hand is not simply a prerequisite the Judaizers are imposing on Gentiles, it is a lifestyle. Christ has fortunately taken this whole situation into his own hands, when He died for us. By doing this, He has enabled the blessings of Abraham (promise of salvation) to be received by the Gentiles (who did not have or live by the Law, and therefore not know of God and their sinful state) through (living by) faith in Jesus Christ.

Defining which “law” through the proper contexts within Galatians.

Brothers, I am speaking in human terms: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is ratified, no one annuls or adds to it. Now the promises were made to Abraham and his Seed. He does not say, “and to seeds,” meaning many, but “and to your Seed,” meaning one, who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not annul the covenant that was ratified by God in Christ, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise. But God gave it to Abraham through a promise. 3:15-18

I want to re-quote this portion in the NET, as I think it gives an easier read of what is being said here:

Brothers and sisters, I offer an example from everyday life: When a covenant has been ratified, even though it is only a human contract, no one can set it aside or add anything to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his descendant. Scripture does not say, “and to the descendants,” referring to many, but “and to your descendant,” referring to one, who is Christ. What I am saying is this: The law that came four hundred thirty years later does not cancel a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to invalidate the promise. For if the inheritance is based on the law, it is no longer based on the promise, but God graciously gave it to Abraham through the promise. 3:15-18 (NET)

The point is two-fold: first is that covenants are solid when they are by humans, and so especially when they involved God. Second is that the path of the promises leads to Christ. In other words, Paul is clarifying how the promise of inheritance (which we can also understand spiritually as salvation and justification) were ultimately done and given to Abraham through Christ, and not by “the law that came 430 years later” which, if that isn’t about as clear as it gets, was the Torah given to Moses. Once again Paul adds another key point in the thread of this law he speaks of. The inheritance therefore has no basis (i.e. they are totally unrelated in this area) whatsoever on Torah, if it did, it would be making void the promise to Abraham, and you can’t void one of God’s promises!


Series Navigation<< Galatians- Chapter 2