The Task of Theology

When using a word like “task”, we must ask what it is that we mean. Can theology itself perform something? Or, by task, are we referring to something that it leads us into? While the majority claims theology helps us understand the Bible, I’ve also considered that theology is for the next generation. If you want to understand your Bible, then read it. You don’t gain insight by reading what others say of it, but by reading the source itself. Theology could be to make the details of theology available to the people, who themselves are not considered to be theologians, and many don’t want to be. It isn’t about self, but about others. Especially over 500 years after the Protestant Reformation, we of all people should no longer be withholding such knowledge of God and His nature to the people of God.

While considering this issue seriously, I have a different answer still. The task of theology, which often is the question of why we study theology, shouldn’t be about passing it on to the next generation either. While that is a subsequent result of its task, I’m no longer convinced that it is the task in and of itself. Rather, the task of theology is to understand that we have touched heaven, and through messiah have been brought into a reality that is tangible. Our hearts were strangely warmed, and the expression of that heavenly reality cannot be denied.

Christian theology is not based upon philosophy. It is based upon truth. It is not based upon reason, but upon experience. While none of these things should conflict with one another, it is only too true of a statement that in many theological circles we’ve been denied the authentic thing for the discussion of that authentic thing. The keys to the kingdom have been received and locked in a small metal box, most likely stored within the catacombs of the Vatican somewhere, and one of the church fathers swallowed the key to opening that box. Now that we’re 1,500 years after those “fathers”, our generation is left to explore new ways of opening the box.

Because we believe in the messiah, or more specifically, that the messiah has come, we must believe that heaven and earth have kissed. “As in heaven, so on earth,” is not simply the prayer to recite. It is the life embodied in messiah, and it is the crux of the issue. As believers, we have tasted of both – heaven and earth are one within us. “We are in the world, but not of the world”. We are “ambassadors of heaven”, “seated with Christ in heavenly places”, and beckoned to “draw near”, having “boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus.”

As believers we have fellowship with these realities. The task of theology is the imperative participation in these realities. The task of theology is to explain the imperative participation in these realities. We are not interested in sound doctrine. We are not interested in “truth”. Intellectual truth is nothing more than trite truism. Yet, the authentic thing, that which is truly true, the expression of eternality itself, is what we’re desiring to partake, comprehend, and explain.

If our theology is merely a piecing together of various themes, and attempting to make them work together cohesively, we have missed the mark abominably. Every denomination and bend have their pet doctrines, by which they shove everything else through. This kind of filter pollutes rather than reveals. In all cases, other than unorthodox liberal theology, sin and depravity are continuously at the forefront. I suppose the reason is found in Hebrews 5 and 6, and shouldn’t be such an enigma. Even these believers were stuck in the “elementary principles”, a Pauline concept from Colossians 2 and 3, which describes the wisdom of the principalities and powers of darkness, that they might usurp and rule over religious man in a way that binds him to immaturity and tradition. While we quibble about such elementary things, the powers of darkness brood over our cities and countries, not content with the authority we’re only too quick to give them. These things we’ve devoted ourselves to, which are only shadows of the the things of Christ, ultimately meaning we’re discussing the discussion of the discussion of God, not finding the substance in Christ, “these things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the Body.”

We rob ourselves of our own humanity through depravity focused theology. The result of dehumanizing self is that we don’t even get to enjoy the benefits of human redemption. The thing that the angels desire to look into we forfeit, even after tasting of the heavenly gift, simply because we desire to continue to aver and banter over the milk, calling it meat, and never realizing our own immaturity. Instead of finding fullness, and coming into that Melchizedek priesthood, where we are under the new covenant, free from the bondage of such “elementary principles”, found in fellowship with God in the Holiest Place, perpetuating the faith of all the saints and greats of all generations, overcoming to a place where the world was not worth, no longer standing before Sinai, but now coming unto Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and ecclesia of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood sprinkled that speaks better things than that of Abel, we must wait for the redemption of all things, for which the creation currently moans and groans, because we’ve reduced being human to being beasts or even creatures.

By our unbelief we must watch as others enter in before us. The very glory that the Church displays in the book of Acts, which is ultimately the intention of God for all humanity from the foundation of the earth, is at best a quandary to us, and at worst something marked up as only for that generation. The task of theology is to take us past all of the mumbo jumbo that we’ve erected in the name of religion, thinking that our Gentile superstition was somehow correct, and that what we’ve now experienced in Christ is only an additive, or even supplement, to the already established pagan means of worship. No longer do we offer our children on altars. No, we do worse by making them two-fold sons of hell.

Theology is supposed to be the study of God, seeking Him whom we’ve been united unto. Because we’ve been brought into relationship with Him, and our hearts have beautifully been united unto Him, our biggest concern in theology would be to make the part stand for the whole, or worded more plainly, taking the worldly system and mindset that we’ve sucked down from our mother’s breast and calling it the same as God’s mindset and wisdom. Theology is about seeking “those things which are above, where Christ is…” Setting our minds “on things above, and not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” If you are dead, then, it isn’t an issue of putting to death, but of putting on life. We put to death our “members which are on the earth…” The point of theology is the recognition that we are no longer “of the earth”, and therefore must now live of a different culture – one that is of heaven.

Consecrating Firstborns – Exodus 13:1-16

When we read this whole segment, you’ll notice that it begins and ends with regulations regarding the firstborn. However, sandwiched between this are verses regarding the first fruits. This has significance for a couple reasons. First, after Passover comes First Fruits, which is celebrated three days after the Passover – the day that Israel crossed the Red Sea, and that Jesus would have resurrected. Second, this is the season. It is early spring, when the flowers are blooming, the winter crops are being harvested, the animals are giving birth, and nature itself shows the reality of resurrection.

Therefore, I don’t see the consecration of the firstborn as something altogether separate and distinct from the rituals mentioned regarding first fruits and Unleavened Bread. The consecration mentioned in Exodus 13:2 is later expanded in Numbers 3:12, 8:16, and 18. The firstborn are seen at the Tabernacle performing Levitical duties. Here in verse 2, that which is consecrated is specifically that which was dealt with in the plague. Men were affected, and therefore they must be consecrated. Beasts were affected, and therefore they must be consecrated. God has spared the firstborn of Israel, and therefore the firstborn is considered holy unto the Lord.

Therefore, with verse 3, we have “Remember this day…” Why? It isn’t just the date that is commemorated, as if this event is a single event. This event is eternal. It is a pattern by which we can comprehend the glory of God, and His intentions throughout all generations. It is a prophetic perception, and not merely something that we “believe” that gives this kind of testimony. Passover is seen throughout the whole Scripture, and not just the actual event, but the eternal pattern of pesach.

Passover represents the coming out of darkness and into light, the coming out of “the house of bondage” (a phrase Moses uses frequently in Deuteronomy as well) and into the beautiful freedom of God’s House. Therefore the unleavened bread is more than just a sing of remembrance. It is more than a matter of leaven meaning “sin”. “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees” was a warning regarding their doctrine, and not simply their practices. There is a spirit behind the words, and an attitude that conveys whether they are truth or only factual.

“For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread…” Seven is the number of perfection, and not simply completion. Yes, I know that that the creation was completed in seven days, but it was also made perfect. There were seven nations “greater and stronger than” Israel that they must dispossess from the land. Why? Because there was completion? No, because the Land is perfect, and from it the glory of the LORD is to go forth, but the enemy has desired to take hold of that Land. This is a perfecting of the saints. We hold the feast of Unleavened Bread through the bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor 5:6-8) – that is, from living, speaking, doing, and having all of our life governed by authenticity in Christ.

Notice the rest of that verse. it isn’t merely that we are forced to eat without leaven, and oh what a burden that is. We celebrate with a feast on the seventh day. It isn’t like God is trying to make us eat the bread of affliction (Deut 16:3), or that we’re required to eat the bread of adversity (Isaiah 30:20), or the bread of tears (Psalm 80:5), but that we’re to have a massive party and celebrate that God is not causing us to live in that any longer. The point isn’t oppression, but freedom.

In regard to explaining to the children, this particular verse is not directed at when the children ask. This is spoken to the parents to simply explain it, whether the child initiates the conversation or not. In the following verse (9), the wearing of tefillin is mentioned. The Jews have translated this verse as wrapping a leather cord around your arm (traditionally, the left arm, but it’s not specified), and a box upon your forehead. In the box are four verses, and this is one of them. Personally, I don’t quibble against the phylacteries (tefillin), but I believe that the command has to make sense in the context.

What is it about unleavened bread that has to do with the arm or forehead? It makes sense that in our mouth the command of God shall be – for we’re eating it in observance. When we’re released from bondage, it is a release from that which constrains. Therefore, the sign is upon our hand/arm because we are no longer held back, and upon our head because it takes the mindset of freedom to recognize freedom. If you hold an animal in captivity from its youth, even when you let it free, it won’t realize that it can move beyond whatever leash it was given in captivity. There must be more than a breaking of chains, but also a mental recognition and ascension unto freedom. And let us not forget the last bit of the verse, that it was “by the strong hand of the LORD” that we were let out.

In our final section (verse 11-16), we deal again with the firstborns. Here we have God again speaking regarding how the firstborn is His, not only now, but also when they inherit the Land. The means by which you can have your firstborn back is through what is called “redemption”. Redemption is not merely being free from sin, or being “saved”, or making it to heaven, or whatever other silly things we typically think. Redemption is deeply rooted in the patriarchal system. When a family member is injured, stolen, or lost, it is up to the patriarch of the family to “redeem” them – to bring them back into the family safely, whatever the cost, and whatever the need.

When we’re dealing with redemption from the Lord, we’re speaking specifically in flesh and blood manner. If you want to keep your firstborn son to continue your family name, then you must purchase him back from the priests/Levites for an allotted price. Once again, this isn’t to be “Ra ra fury fury”, but rather to in the Hebrew culture, this was an honor. It was a living means by which they could perpetuate the remembrance of what God has done for them, and such demand is a grace that should reveal to us that God is not an elitist. Yes, the Levites and priests are the only ones allowed to be near the tabernacle… except for the firstborns who are consecrated unto God.

I confess that I have not the sufficient insight to understanding why certain things are the redemption of certain animals. Nor do I fully grasp why you must break the neck of the donkey if you don’t redeem it. If any of you have some suggestions, I would be honored to hear them.

Christian Liberty – Galatians 5:1-6

Paul likes to repeat himself. He likes to make the same statement twice, both with different ways of stating and different contexts. By somewhat progressing from this subject, to that subject, and then to that one, and then tying them together with similar wording and phraseology, Paul helps us to build a larger view than to be stuck assuming that it all has the exact same meaning, or that he is speaking in regard to completely different subjects.

We’ve examined the justification through faith (3:1-9), the eternal covenant (3:10-18), the purpose of the law (3:19-25), sonship and adoption (3:26-4:7), the principalities and powers (4:8-20), and the two covenants (4:21-31). Notice here that we have a few subjects that are interlocking. Justification through faith and the purpose of the law seem at polarity with one another, and the eternal covenant is the subject to interlock them. We have then again the two covenants repeated later after the issues of adoption and the principalities and powers. Within the text examining how the powers of the air are at work within “law”, we find Paul explaining that we shouldn’t return to “beggarly elements”, thus being brought again into bondage. Here in Galatians 5:1, we have Paul addressing the issue of putting ourselves back in “bondage”.

It is for freedom that Christ has made us free, therefore don’t go back into the miserable principles, those “beggarly elements” that brings you into bondage. Notice again, especially if you haven’t been keeping up with these posts, that the whole point of “law” and “beggarly elements” isn’t specifically the words of the Torah (five books of Moses). It isn’t specifically the Old Testament. There is something at work behind it, a righteousness that comes from works, that because we have the “manual” of how to live (the Bible), we can attempt by our own abilities and our religious systems and institutions to be “righteous”. Yet, the whole mantra that Paul explains in every single one of his epistles is that righteousness comes by faith, and not by works.

The works are not to be what make you righteous, but simply what the righteous do. The righteous do righteously, not because the works make them righteous, but because they already are righteous, and so why would they do unrighteously? Therefore, when we read Paul’s assertion that they who become circumcised are somehow “fallen from grace”, it isn’t to mean that they who do one or two things of the law (like grow peahs or keep kosher) are indebted to the law entirely, but that they who find the necessity to do such in order to maintain righteousness are indebted. I have peahs (the curls on your sideburns), but I don’t find righteousness within my peahs. My wife and I attempt to eat kosher, just not the Leviticus 11 kosher diet. We try to eat healthy, caring about where our food comes from, and in that keep kosher. Does that mean that our righteousness comes from law? God forbid. It’s about maintaining my body – which is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Let us not forget that Paul continues to explain that both the circumcised and the uncircumcised wait for the righteousness that comes through faith. It isn’t like one is somehow more righteous than the other based upon what they do or don’t do. My walk with God is not based upon my adherence to Scripture and how well I keep the commands (even within the New Testament). My walk, and the proximity to God that I have, is totally based upon the faith in Christ Jesus, and the relationship that I cultivate through that faith.

If the Spirit tells me to not watch television because I’ll spend five hours watching shows, but I won’t spend five minutes reading and/or praying, then I need to give up watching television. That isn’t about law or commandment, but about relationship. Imagine if your best friend told you they love spending time with you, and yet every time that you ask if they’re available they give you some lame reason they aren’t available. I’m not talking about legitimate reasons, but lame excuses. If my best friend said that he can’t spend time with me because he wants to make sure that he knows his job schedule for next week, that’s a pretty lame excuse. You look up your job schedule when your at work, not when you’re at home. Who do you know that purposefully goes to work to check their schedule unless they’re coming back from vacation or something? (By the way, Jesus got at this too when he gave the reasons for why people refuse to come to the wedding at the end of the age – Luke 14:16-24.)

Our Christian liberty, as my Bible has the subtitle for this passage, is not found in our “liberty” from the law, but that in Christ we have been set free from the things that have kept us in bondage. In Romans 8:1-2, we find that there is a law of the flesh and a law of the Spirit. There is no condemnation for they who walk according to the Spirit, but for they who are working according to the law of the flesh, you stand condemned. Do you see the importance of this? It isn’t freedom from the law, but freedom from the death. It is freedom from the flesh.

In Colossians 3:1-7, Paul puts it this way (to paraphrase):
You have been raised with Christ, resurrected and no longer dead, and therefore are no longer of the earth, but now in heaven. As such, think upon and live out the things that are of God, that which is heavenly and eternal, and put off the old mindsets and lifestyles that you inherited from the death that you’ve lived in. You are no longer dead, but alive in Christ; therefore act like it.

Does that sound like freedom from law? With one breath Paul speaks about freedom from the law, and righteousness by faith, and salvation of grace. With the next breath he speaks of works, of do this and don’t do that, and of judging whether you’re truly saved by that which you do or don’t do. This is the way Paul writes, because it is exactly what I said earlier. I shall repeat it, and finish with the statement:

The righteous do righteously, not because the works make them righteous, but because they already are righteous, and so why would they do unrighteously?

Two Covenants – Galatians 4:21-31

This is one of the passages used to say that Israel has been replaced by the Church; after all, didn’t Paul plainly say that the woman of bondage is the Jerusalem which is now? In regard to this, all I can say is that such an exegesis can only come from arrogance. To interpret this passage so shallowly astounds me. This would be likened to someone standing before God in all His radiance and saying, “Yeah, but that guy over there is just a normal guy…”

When I read this passage, such hope fills my heart. Can you vision it? We aren’t any longer bound by this Jerusalem upon the earth, but are of the heavenly Jerusalem, which is free. Maybe a little bit of historical culture might help.

In the time of Jesus and Paul, Judea was ruled by the Herods. Herod the Great (given the name by Romans, no doubt) taxed the people of Judea to such a point that people could not afford to live. The normal tax across the board, unless you were in Jerusalem, was 80%-90% of your income. You had to tithe 10%. Then, there was the temple tax on top of that. There were taxes from the money changers to buy the sacrifices necessary. By the time you finish paying just the religious taxes, you’ve spent about a third of your paycheck. On top of that is the fact that Jerusalem didn’t have any kind of agriculture accessibility. So, the question is, how do you, if you’re in Jerusalem, eat? You force those who are making a living from agriculture (which was about 80%-90% of the people, so I’ve been told) to pay a “tax” that gives their produce to Jerusalem.

Thus, after the religious taxes, there were political taxes to Herod, and then beyond Herod there were political taxes to Caesar.

To live in Judea during the time of Paul or Jesus was to live in utter bondage. In fact, there are historical records of Herod being reprimanded because of the poverty of the common people in his governance. There was such poverty that there was only hopelessness among the people of Israel. And, if you can’t afford to pay your taxes, you’re evicted from the family land – which you inherited from Joshua’s generation. If you’re evicted, you have to find a city and move there, taking up some sort of trade to figure out how to make ends meet. Can you imagine the guilt and shame?

Essentially, there are only three groups of people in Jerusalem. There were the religious leaders under Herod, who served as political leaders as well. These were the Sadducees, also sometimes called the chief priests and elders/rulers. Then, there were the religious elite, who could afford to live in Jerusalem because they were the leading scholars who taught at the Temple – known as the Pharisees. Lastly, there were the poor who had nowhere else to go, and were essentially the homeless of Jerusalem.

What kind of religious system is it that is built upon oppressing the people for the benefit of wealth and security? (I want to remind you that Paul’s own testimony was of being a Pharisee.) It is the religion that is built upon law, rather than faith. The oppressive Jerusalem is directly the result of a religion that is founded upon “do this; don’t do that”.

Here in Galatians 4:21-31, what is important to gather is that we are no longer bound by that. For example, in regard to paying tithes, Jesus asks Peter, “Do the sons of the king pay taxes or the common people?” Peter answers, “The common people.” Thus, the sons are exempt (paraphrase). Do you see how radical Jesus’ statement is here? The sons of God are exempt from the Temple tax and the tithe. If you suggest something like that today, you’d not only be labeled a heretic, you’d be cast out with furor! Yet, because we’re not of the oppressive Jerusalem, but of the freedom of New Jerusalem, we are no longer in bondage to the religious infrastructure ruled by the principalities and powers!

Does that statement make you want to turn to Israel and be like, “Yeah, but… they don’t have this, right?”

Do you see why I find replacement theology about as detestable as it comes? It takes the very promises of God and tosses them aside, simply because it would rather show that God has chosen the Church instead of Israel. How about we look at what is being proclaimed here and rejoice to the uttermost. (For the record, I don’t believe that this passage, nor Galatians 3:16 or 3:28-29 suggest that Israel has been replaced. After all, if we take Galatians 3:16 to mean that Jesus is the only seed of Abraham, then that excludes you and I, which ironically defeats replacement theology anyway. Paul expressly claims that you and I are part of Abraham’s seed, so obviously the “seed” versus “seeds” point can’t be about whether Abraham’s seed is only Jesus or plural.)

What would it mean for us to take this seriously?

For my wife and I, we’ve pretty well proclaimed that the thing that calls itself church, the fathers promoting such bitterness and spite against the Jew and women that you can barely read their words without feeling the venom, isn’t our mother. That thing that calls itself the real deal, but is only a brick and mortar system isn’t really my mother. My mother is beautiful, has compassion, and weeps for her children. That thing that calls itself church, but is only too quick and willing to cast away the marginalized and perplexed is not. It is at best to be likened to the woman who rides the beast; at worst the beast itself.

Those Which Are Not Gods – Galatians 4:8-20

Within this passage of Scripture, Paul is conveying a connection with the kingdom of darkness and the “elements” that has already been defined as law. Notice where this passage comes. We’ve been noticing how Galatians 3 is Paul’s excursus on Genesis 12-17, and we’ve noticed that the conclusion of that exegesis is our adoption as sons and daughters through faith in Christ Jesus. Now Paul turns focus again upon the law and the notion of salvation through works, and identifies such a notion with demons.

It seems harsh, but is there something to this? For the sake of not putting forth too many words in this blog post, let me just put up some key passages for you to read at your leisure. Notice the theme here. All of them revolve around “law”, and all of them are letters of Paul:
Romans 6:7
Romans 6:11-14
Romans 6:8 (out of order on purpose)
Romans 6:23-7:6
Romans 7:7-12
Romans 7:14
Romans 7:21-25
Romans 8:1-4
Romans 8:7-9
1 Corinthians 15:25-26
1 Corinthians 15:51-56
Galatians 1:4
Galatians 1:13-16
Galatians 2:4
Galatians 2:14
Galatians 2:16
Galatians 2:19-21
Galatians 3:2-3
Galatians 3:10-13
Galatians 4:17-18
Galatians 4:4-9 (out of order on purpose)
Galatians 4:21-26
Galatians 4:31-5:5
Colossians 2:11-23

Aside from the list being rather large, it is neither thorough nor exhaustive. You’ll notice that not all of the passages use the word “law”, but there does seem to be a common interweaving of themes throughout all of these passages. It doesn’t take long before you begin to realize that Paul sees the law and the principalities and powers side-by-side. For Paul, the law is not simply about letters and commands written on stone at Sinai, but instead an entire system of religion that has been established in order to “do for God” what we think He requires. The law is about righteousness through our own ambition and ability; because we have zeal to memorize what the Law says, and because we have the gumption to attempt to live accordingly to it, we feel as though we’ve attained a certain righteousness through observance of the law.

Now, what Paul is not saying is that the law is the work of the devil. Nor is Paul saying that the law is not to be observed. Rather, the point is pressed that righteousness comes through faith, and through faith alone. To be under the law is to use the wisdom of the principalities and powers, which is to say, to use our own strength and endurance, in order to attain unto righteousness. However, it is a false righteousness. This is why Paul tells the Galatians not to submit again under the law, because the law is not simply the written words of the Old Testament, but a wisdom that promotes self-righteousness according to deeds and accomplishment. Through the wisdom of the principalities and powers, we formulate a conception of righteousness, and we thus pursue that end through our own strength, but the Law of Christ is freedom in the Holy Spirit – to walk according to the fruits of the Spirit.

This is why Jesus tells us that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees. That sentence should strike fear into our hearts. Yet, we don’t fear because we don’t realize the absolute righteousness that the Pharisees had. If you wanted to know who to model your life after, you modeled it after the Pharisees. They were the ultimate example of godliness. Only the most elite and the most learned could possibly be considered a Pharisee. Then Jesus tells those He is speaking to – most likely common folk – that their righteousness needs to exceed that. It isn’t humanly possible, and that is the point. Our righteousness is not according to the works of the Law, but rather according to the Spirit.

How it is that the law is the wisdom of principalities and powers? What do I mean to imply?

We can look to passages like Isaiah 14 or Ezekiel 28 to find the fall of “Lucifer” (which is Latin for morning star). In both places, what is acknowledged is the pride of this ‘angel’s’ heart. The reason that law and self-righteousness through the law is the very mindset and pattern of demons is because it formulates a pride in the heart. It is thinking outside of the command of God; it is concluding that what I believe to be true and good must indeed be that which is true and good. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents this fully. It isn’t that God doesn’t want us to have knowledge, nor that He doesn’t want us to discern (such things are commanded of us even in the New Testament), but that this kind of knowledge is a humanly contrived knowledge rather than revelation.

In Colossians, the Greek word used representing these “basic principles” is stoicheia. It is a neuter plural from the root, which means “first principles”. When Paul uses this word, he seems to be drawing a parallel between the principalities and the basic principles of nature. Here we have “principalities” and “powers”. The prinipalities are the very demonic forces demanding worship through the medium of these unseen “forces” (powers) that dictate nature. Now, for the Hebrew, the forces that dictate nature are not simply contained to nature. The Hebrew mind sees emotion, societal culture, and aspects of daily life all under the same kind of “powers”. For the true Hebrew, it is God who is in control, who gives and takes away. For the idolatrous Hebrew of the Old Testament, they attribute such things to beings that are not god.

Ultimately, when we attempt to plunge into the depths of understanding the law in the mouth of Paul, we end up finding difficulty because it so heavily depends upon the principalities and powers, and the power of sin. Often Paul mentions the law and sin right next to one another. Sin and death are also mentioned side-by-side. The mystery being expressed is that the bondage of the law does not come from the law per se, but from the law of sin at work within the person. We are enslaved by these powers, whether powers of morality, powers of nature, or powers of religion. The powers demand worship, and many are still worshiping the powers that be. It is upon the freedom found in Christ Jesus that we find liberty from the oppression of these powers.

In the question of what it means that the law is the power of sin, we need to understand the problem. What is it about the law that binds us to sin? We don’t simply define sin as an action, but instead a condition that we cannot be made pure apart from Christ. If we say that the Law in itself binds us to sin, then we lie, because the Law is holy and righteous. Yet, if we claim that there is something at work behind the Law, what exactly is it that is at work? If we say that the law is the power of sin, and that the law is defined as a self-righteous system of religion that desires to perform certain religious acts and functions to “be right” before God, then we see quickly how this is binding. We are constantly enslaved to a system of performance. For example, if the gods are pleased with our sacrifices, and we end up with more wealth next year, then we cannot simply offer the same offering because it pleased them last year. We must show our gratitude by offering more. But what if the gods are angry and our crop is devastated? In order to please the gods, we then need to offer more.

Thus, whether we please the gods or whether we upset the gods, we must offer more – more to either keep them pleased or to stay their wrath. In this, we find what the power of sin is. It is that false mindset that tells us we are entrapped in a system of constantly offering more and more until we’re cutting ourselves and offering our children on altars. The Law actually tells us opposite of this – once you have offered the required sacrifices, you are considered right before God. Our sacrifices are fulfilled in Christ. This is our freedom.

But for those outside of Christ, they are entrapped in a system of continuing to offer more and more. Law is a tricky word, because on the one hand it means the true and holy words of God in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, which are indeed freedom and life to those who are justified through faith. Yet, there is another law, which is aimed solely at the oppression and endless cycle of never appeasing the gods. The people who continue to work hours that lead to death are enslaved to that system. Work is their god. The people who continue to find their fulfillment in relationships with others, sex and relations are their gods. Of course, when you find fulfillment in something that does not give satisfaction, you find yourself giving more and more and more until there is nothing left to give – thus resulting in death. Whether our gods are drugs, work, sex, education, religion, or the State, we are entrapped in systems of bondage through that law.

Purpose of the Law – Galatians 3:19-25

In this passage, Paul gives “the purpose of the law”. You see, as we’re reading through Galatians 3, it doesn’t take long before certain questions begin to arise. We begin the chapter with Paul asking who has bewitched the Galatians, because they are beginning to stray from the faith that is indeed of faith, and beginning to in its place cling onto a faith that is of works, specifically the works of the law. Now, in my series, I’ve left the door open on purpose here. With Paul, he is explicitly talking about Leviticus and Deuteronomy (truly, he is speaking of the entirety of Torah and the commands that the Jews believe to be the covenant). I, however, have attempted to point out that “law” goes beyond just the Torah and unto any and every tradition that we’ve developed to vouchsafe our righteousness.

From that first statement, Paul then goes on in explaining how Abraham was not considered righteous because of circumcision, but because of his faith. The argument is powerful and subtle. You are required as the reader to go back to Genesis 12-17 (which Paul assumes you already know well enough for him to just quote and make allusion to), for if you don’t go back to Genesis 12-17 you will not understand the arguments that Paul is making. It isn’t enough to just clap our hands and say Paul is telling us we’re allowed to eat pork, because law is not of faith, and that is bad, and we’re not under that oppression. There is an argument that is being made here, which doesn’t annul the law, but rather all the more embraces it.

Read Romans 2:28-3:5. Paul here as well is expecting the same question. If it is of faith, and if we’re seeing that the promise to Abram was before the covenant established (whether in Genesis 15 or in Genesis 17), then why did God even give the law? Is it now obsolete and we can just throw it away? In both places Paul is telling us, “No; may it never be!” Look carefully at Romans 3:31 (which is reflecting again back upon Romans 2:28-3:5). What we expect is that Paul would say the law is no longer of effect, but instead he proclaims boldly, “On the contrary, we establish the law.”

So, when we come to this particular passage in Galatians, it is important to know that Paul is not telling us to eat, drink, and be merry. He isn’t saying that we are now allowed to neglect the law of circumcision, or the Ten Commandments, or the laws of cleansing, or any of the other commands in the Torah. Rather, Paul is explaining to us that there is a law – given in the form of a promise – that is transcendent of the Sinai command. When we go back to Genesis 17, we see that God promises Abraham an heir through Sarai (soon to be called Sarah), and that it is Isaac who shall be the bearer of the eternal covenant.

Notice Genesis 17:7-8. It is not mentioned anywhere here that Abraham is to circumcise himself or those with him. No, rather a few verses later God says to Abraham that they shall keep His covenant, and here is the covenant: “Every male child among you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.” Now, I have a question. Is circumcision the covenant, or is it the sign of the covenant? The difference is paramount. It says quite clearly that the sign is circumcision, but the covenant itself is declared a few verses earlier: that Abraham’s descendants will eternally be God’s people (God’s nation in the midst of nations), and that they shall dwell in the land of Canaan.

So, in Galatians 3, Paul is intent upon focusing around Abraham. When we go back to Genesis 12-17, we find over and over again that the covenant is confirmed to Abraham that his descendants shall be God’s people, and that they shall dwell in the land of Canaan. That is the covenant – the eternal covenant even. It is about God’s Kingdom established upon the earth, through the seed of Abraham, where Paul’s argument of “seed” versus “seeds” is pointing back to Genesis 3:15 (that there should be one man who will deliver humanity from the curse, and not an entire people), and that one seed is Christ. Yet, Paul is not negating Israel. He is establishing over and over again by pointing back to the promise that it is Israel who are the people of God, and that the covenant was not made at Sinai.

I’m sure you’re now wondering about you and I, who are Gentiles, and how we fit into this. Truth is, we fit perfectly. Remember in Genesis 17 that Abraham is called a father of many nations. This promise is given again to Isaac (both in Genesis 17 and later), and we then see in Genesis 48 that Ephraim (the son of Joseph) is called to be “a fullness of nations”. Thus, we conclude quite evidently that the nations are not apart and separate, but that just as Ruth, Rahab, Bathsheba, Uriah (the husband of Bathsheba), Solomon (who was half or quarter-Gentile), and the many more examples of the Old Testament were accepted as God’s people (even though they be Gentile instead of Israelite), so too are we Gentiles in Christ accepted as the people of God – the Israel that God has always intended and embraced (which is not just Israelite or Jewish, but consists of many nations).

To get into the question at hand, the purpose of the law, let us examine Galatians 3:20. “Now a mediator does not mediate only for one, but God is one.” What the heck does that have to do with the law? Again, look at Abraham. In Genesis 15, God made a covenant with Abraham. Here we see the sacrifices cut in half, which was a regular way in which you strike covenant with another party. The two parties would stand opposite one another at either end of the sacrifices. They would then walk through the middle of the sacrifices, and would meet in the middle. It is essentially saying, “Let it be unto me as unto these sacrifices if I don’t uphold my end of the covenant.” Yet, in Genesis 15, Abraham doesn’t walk through. He falls asleep, wakes up, and behold God is going through the sacrifices without Abraham.

Thus, when talking about Moses, we see that a mediator must be between two parties. So, Moses stood between God and Israel as mediator. Yet, in regard to the eternal covenant, God was the only one to go through, hence God being “one” and truly the only party of the covenant. Israel, the descendants of Abraham, is not a part of the covenant who walked through the sacrifices. Rather, the basis of the promise is solely upon God and His faithfulness. As such, we see Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, is God incarnate, mediating to the one party (God) in order to reconcile not just Israel, but all of humanity to Himself (see Gen 12:2-3).

The law, therefore, served as tutor in the sense that it was not mediated by God, but had a different mediator (Moses – Deut 5:5). The law was purposed as a means of covenantal relationship between God and Israel – which was to then go beyond Israel to the nations (Ex 19:6) – through the mediator Moses. It was not the final statement, but a progression toward that final statement when the true mediator, the seed promised to Adam and Eve (Gen 3:15) and Abraham (Gen 17:19) would arise. In Exodus 19-31, we have all the signs of a good Jewish wedding. Sinai was the wedding of God unto Israel (thus making Israel the Bride of Christ). However, Israel instead told Moses to mediate, and that the themselves did not desire to hear from God anymore. Do you see what happened? The law was not intended to be what it was. Rather, Israel desired a mediator other than God Himself, thus being clothed with a set of ‘fig leaves’ called ‘the commandments’.

It held all in sin, because no one is able to uphold all 613 commands in totality. Yet, they who live by faith uphold all these commands through the eternal Spirit, just as Jesus was perfect and sinless (Rom 2:28-29, 3:31, Heb 4:15). It is not that we are commanded to uphold the Torah in Christ, but that through Christ we are again brought back to that Mountain of God to be married unto God. The commands are revealed to us as they were originally intended – not as “law”, but as a revelation of God’s heart. As Jesus taught in Matthew 5-7, so too are we able to go back to these books and understand God’s heart through the law. It is in that way that we keep the law, not by the letter of the law, but by the Spirit of the Law (namely, Christ).

The Eternal Covenant – Galatians 3:10-18

Within the New Testament are nuances that must be noted. More than noted, they must be digested. Why use a certain phrase, or a certain wording, when such a wording seems to bring cloudiness rather than clarity? There absolutely must be some reason for why Paul is saying the things he is saying in this passage, and a reason for why he says them the way he does.

So, here are the questions that I ask when I come to this passage:
Why does Paul speak of Leviticus and Deuteronomy as being law (quoting from them in verses 10, 12, and 13), and yet then say that no one can annul or add to it (verse 15)? If it be law, which is not good, then why can’t it be annulled?
How can Christ have redeemed us from the curse of the law (verse 13), and then Paul go on to explain  how we’re not a part of something new, but rather something from before the law (verses 17-18)?

The chapter in general seems to bring confusion, at least if we take it to simply mean what many have conventionally taught it to mean. I say this because if Paul is saying that Leviticus and Deuteronomy are obsolete, then why do we still have them in the Bible? And why would Paul then quote from these books as though they are authoritative? Doesn’t it seem counterintuitive to use the books to prove that you don’t need these books?

What Paul is explaining to us is something of the eternal covenant.

In Genesis 3:15, God says that there will be enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Then, almost immediately after this, comes Genesis 4 with two sons of Eve. You have Cain, and you have Abel. Cain slays his brother, which is an obvious clue that he is an embodiment of the seed of the serpent. Another son is born to Adam and Eve, and his name is Seth. From Seth comes the righteous lineage of Noah. Here we have the seed of the woman. These two seeds are exemplified between two cities: Babylon and Zion. In Genesis 4, Cain builds a city and calls it Enoch. When you compare the character of Enoch with Babylon in the prophets, you find that the root of Babylon seems to be this city of Cain (please note that Babel is synonymous with Babylon).

So, when we find these two seeds, we find the elementary statements of them in the Garden of Eden and the city Enoch (and later Babel).

Moving on in our understanding of the eternal covenant in the book of Genesis, we find after the flood the first mention of brit olam (eternal covenant). 1 Peter 3:21 speaks of the flood as a metaphor of baptism. Thus, we see baptism, the sacrifice of Noah, and the sign (rainbow) of the covenant. We move onward into Genesis 12 and we find Abram called out of nation, kindred, and father’s house. He is promised the land of Canaan to his descendants. The covenant is confirmed through a sacrifice (Gen 15), and we see the sign of the covenant to be circumcision. What we don’t see is baptism. We do, however, find the eucharist (Gen 14:18). It is important to note here that the sacrifice of Abram has great meaning and significance.

In Genesis 15, Abram cuts up sacrifices. This is a normal practice in his day. The two parties of the covenant would stand on opposing sides, and walk through the middle of the sacrifices to meet one another in the middle. The idea is to say, “May it be unto me as unto these sacrifices if I don’t hold my end of the covenant.” Yet, what does the text say? Abram falls asleep. He wakes up to find God walking through the sacrifices without him. It is not based upon Abram, but upon God and His faithfulness alone, to uphold the covenant. The sign of circumcision, then, is not a ‘law’ in the sense of burden, but more like a signet, a sealing of the covenant.

So, we see baptism, sacrifice, and a sign with Noah. We see eucharist, sacrifice, and a sign with Abram. Jumping forward to Sinai, we find in Exodus 19-31 mention of a mikveh (Jewish term for baptism – Ex 19:10), the Lord’s table (Lev 10:16-20), sacrifice and consecration through sprinkling of blood (Ex 24:5-6), and the sign (Sabbath – Ex 31:17). Even of the Tabernacle and the sacrifices it was said to Moses that they are patterns, reflecting the heavenly reality, and are not the reality in themselves (Ex 25:9).

So, to come back to Galatians, what is it that Paul is going on about?

Paul’s point is that none of this happened because the people obeyed God. Why did God call Noah to build the ark? Did Noah show God his righteousness through his deeds, and therefore God was indebted to preserve Noah? No, for it is written, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Gen 6:8). Did Abram receive the call to be made into God’s nation – as opposed to Babel and the nations that gathered in the plains of Shinar against God – because of his works, and therefore God owed it to Abram? Of course not, for we know Hebrews mentions it was by faith that Abram was called and received the promise (Heb 11:8-16). And what about Israel? Was it because of Israel that God heard their cry, as if they had the magic formula to make God hear? Once again, we read it was not because of Israel, but Ex 2:24 tells us that “God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”.

That is Paul’s argument. It is not through law, as if the letter of the law is the magic formula for God to hear you and answer your cries, but through faith that God has ever and always established and upheld the eternal covenant. It is through Christ Jesus that we have access as Gentiles, originally being afar off and enemies of God. Please read Galatians 3:14-16 very carefully. The point is not that Abraham’s seed is Jesus, and not Israel, but that it is through the seed of the woman, the seed of promise – through Isaac instead of Ishmael, Jacob instead of Esau, Judah instead of the other tribes (Gen 49:10), through David instead of Saul, through Solomon instead of Absolom or Adonijah, through Zerubbabel (even though Jehoiakim was rejected in Jer 22:24 – see Hag 2:23) instead of Shimei (1 Chronicles 3:19), and eventually all the way unto our Lord Jesus rather than the several other ‘messiahs’ of His time.

The argument is powerful when it is properly understood. It is entirely based in the Hebrew Scripture, that the ‘seed’ of Abraham is not simply the people Israel, but ultimately that one who would be born as messiah – of whom all the saints of all generations have hoped in. This isn’t a swift kick to the curb for Israel, but as Isaiah also continuously claims Israel to be the “servant” that would bring redemption, he also then focuses upon one singular man who is called the “servant”, that would redeem Israel. (This is found over and over through Isaiah’s ‘servant songs’ in chapters 42-55 or so.)

In summary, then, I wanted to leave you with a list of Scriptures to read. These are probably what Paul is thinking in his mind when he says, “that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (verse 14). The inheritance (verse 18) is of faith, as it always has been, which the prophets declared numerous times to come with the redemption of Israel, the outpouring of the Spirit, and the restoration of the Land of Israel.

Isa 32:15, 44:5, Jer 31:33, Eze 11:19, 36:27, Joel 2:28, Zech 12:10, John 7:39
(In your leisure, also look at the general context of these verses)