The following note is inspired by a discussion with a Christian who represents the common view found in the Church with respect to Paul’s writings and our relationship to the Torah. Italicized quotes are his statements.
“Paul was horrified that the Galatians were considering returning to the law and getting circumcised, thinking they could be saved or even just bettered by it.”
If Paul was talking to Galatians who never had the law, then how could they “return” to it? Paul wasn’t concerned that they would be learning obedience to God’s instructions (Torah). He was concerned that they were returning to the “elementary principles of the world” (see Gal 4:3).
“Paul was explicit that the law cannot save us.”
I agree wholeheartedly. That is the crux of this message in my opinion. The new converts in Galatia were falling into a trap of religiosity…thinking that adherence to a religious program could “save” or “justify” them. This is the same as his message to the Colossians (Col 2) who came out of a culture of aestheticism. They believed inflicting physical harm on the body would make them more spiritual. For example, fasting and abstaining from foods on certain holidays (a modern day example would be Lent).
“The law, in fact condemns us if we try to keep it.”
You reference 2 Corinthians 3:6 which says “the letter kills but the Spirit gives life”. He is differentiating between letter and spirit, not LAW and Spirit. The law does not contradict the Spirit. The Torah was written by the Spirit of Yahweh.
Imagine you have 2 children. The older one knows how to operate the home security system. If the alarm is activated it will call the police, which will cost the family money as there is a fee if the police show up and it was a false alarm. Now, the older child disobeys his parents and is told to go into his room until he is sorry for what he did, repents and decides to become a beneficial member of the family. The parents leave the house. The mailman accidentally sets of the alarm. The younger child doesn’t know how to turn the alarm off so he tells his older brother to come out of his room to turn it off. He responds by saying, “I can’t come out. Mom and Dad said to stay in my room until I have repented and I just don’t feel that I have repented enough yet. So I am going to obey what my parents told me to do and stay in the room. I don’t care if the police come and it costs the family money because I am doing what they told me to do.” Was the child obeying the letter of the law or the spirit?
The law doesn’t kill us if we try to keep it. On the contrary it blesses us and causes us to live. It helps with understanding if you substitute “live” with “prosper” in your mind.
“Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.”
Paul was quoting Leviticus 18:5
“You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.”
And consider Nehemiah 9:29-30!
“And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them, and they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey. Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.”
Please see also: Ezekiel 20:21, Luke 10:8, Matthew 19:17.
“The law was to show people how fallen they were (Gal. 3:19).”
“Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.”
The law does teach us what sin is. It allows for a covenant people to live together as a society. Did Abraham need a codified document? No. Neither did Adam or Noah, yet they all knew Yahweh’s instructions and obeyed Him. And yes that included a knowledge of sin (Adam was ashamed, Noah was “righteous”), as well as dietary laws and sacrifice (Noah knew which animals were clean and unclean, and he kept enough clean animals for food but only enough unclean animals to ensure their survival).
The law does much more than that though! See Psalm 119. Remember we will LIVE by keeping it, but we must keep it in trusting faithfulness to Yahweh / Yeshua.
It is common for Christians to pit “faith” AGAINST “law” because of a misunderstanding of Paul’s words and a refusal to acknowledge the context of the passages that Paul is actually quoting. For example let’s look at Galatians 3:10-12.
“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.””
Paul quoted Deuteronomy 27:26 which says
“‘Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”
Are we now to say that this passage is telling us to stop obeying the law???
Paul then is continuing to make the point that we’ve all fallen short and need a Savior. He is really saying that trying to keep the commands by letter and not spirit, like the disobedient child in the example above, will get you no where but hell. On the contrary we are to be FAITHFUL, obedient children. He makes this point by quoting Habakkuk. If you want to understand Paul here, you HAVE to read Habakkuk because that is where the context is found, PLUS this old testament scripture is misquoted in our translations….it’s obvious. Let’s look at it.
“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.””
““Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.”
****The Hebrew here for “faith” is actually בֶּאֱמוּנָת֥וֹ which means “faithfulness, firmness, steadfastness, fidelity”!! The word is pronounced “emunah”.
Now ask the question: was the older child in the example above being faithful or faithless?
Ok so now Paul makes another point about the law and faith.
“But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.””
Of course the law is not of faith! The law has no power in and of itself. It is simple. If you obey it you will prosper. Just like any law of the universe. Even an atheist will benefit from keeping God’s commandments, but that does not make him a FAITHFUL child!! We cannot be faithful to laws because they exist whether or not we want them to or not. Gravity exists…we cannot be faithful to it, however, we are subject to it. Just like we were all “under” the law. This means we are subject to the penalties of breaking the law. Because of Messiah we are no longer under the law, yet we live within the framework of Torah because we are faithful children. We are faithful to our groom, Messiah.