Sometimes, like today, I am battling with insecurities and wondering why I think anyone needs another commentary. But maybe, you’re just like me and find yourself overwhelmed by the high theology of some; the convoluted approach of others, and the shocking oversimplification that you encounter in many of the Bible translations.
When it came to Galatians two things stood out in my mind. The radio pastor who seemed to be fixated on the phrase, “you foolish Galatians!”, and pointed those words at his listening audience, which included me. I don’t value that approach. The other came from a Sunday morning adult class which used some “Christian” book on Galatians. The questions the authors asked were leading and poorly formed. Both of these instances left me with a lack of desire to pursue Galatians any further; and yet, here I am.
What have I learned? I have learned that Galatians was written explicitly to the Jewish converts if I can call them that. Can I apply the principles learned here in Galatians, even if I am not a Jew, to myself? Indeed, and we would be wise to do so with frequency.
So, let’s see if we can find something in Galatians from which to learn.
Galatians 3:22 NASB But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
The phrase, “But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin,” is confusing at best. Some, would take this confusion and preach it, out of context, as though it is truth and the final word on our lives.
Why would it be confusing?
Scripture to me, a former Gentile, means the New Testament. Some would act as though we do not need to spend any time in the Old Testament; not true. Since scripture, especially, at the time of this writing, would have been the Torah and Tanakh. These “scriptures” would only be found in the form of valuable, fragile scrolls, which were exclusively kept in the synagogues. So, from Paul’s statement, I have another assertion of the Jewishness of this letter.
If I apply the elements of Paul’s letter to myself, what I find is freedom; a freedom that goes far beyond the limitations of my consciousnesses. Did not Christ’s actions on the cross set us free (primarily regarding our freedom from the burdens of Sin; a condition which would shut us up under sin.)
So, am I shut up under sin?
Some will try to tell you that you are. However, because I have learned who I belong to, and what Christ did too and for me; not a chance.
Why then would Paul say such a thing?
The entire context of Galatians has been enveloped in Jewish believers returning to the Law (scriptures.) The Complete Jewish Bible translates this verse this way:
Galatians 3:22 CJB But instead, the Tanakh shuts up everything under sin; so that what had been promised might be given, on the basis of Yeshua the Messiah’s trusting faithfulness, to those who continue to be trustingly faithful.
This Jewish understanding of being caught up in the Tanakh is why Paul opened what we call chapter three, with:
Galatians 3:4-5 CJB Have you suffered so much for nothing? If that’s the way you think, your suffering certainly will have been for nothing! 5 What about God, who supplies you with the Spirit and works miracles among you—does he do it because of your legalistic observance of Torah commands or because you trust in what you heard and are faithful to it?
Notice something else about Galatians 3:22.
“But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
The Gentiles did not live under the laws of the Tanakh; how then did the “scripture” apply to them. The same way it applied to Adam. The partaking of the fruit brought about the knowledge of GOOD and EVIL. Therefore an understanding that there was a moral authority existed since the beginning. Even without “the law” there was an understanding that God expected certain things, and He would carry out, faithfully, what He had promised. This idea is the underlying reason that we see Abel making the sacrifice of a lamb with no apparent instructions. The instructions were passed down from his father who had watched God himself perform the same process. This sacrificing wasn’t done because God liked roast lamb, but because it was symbolic and the only method of maintaining a just relationship with the creator until the Lamb of God, the Son, would come and end the need for all this blood.
The Tanakh, in its original state, was universal, and satisfactorily passed along for generations by oral tradition, or it was held solely within ten commandments engraved in stone, that plainly told Israel, to love God only and treat your fellow man decently. The Tanakh then put everyone under the same rules, efficiently leveling the playing field.
This idea that we are all on an equal basis under sin is something we have seen before. While we have used this verse to stimulate people into a state of repentance.
Romans 3:21-24 NASB But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
The Tanakh, which was not just commands or demands written in scrolls, they were an understanding that God was the moral authority and compass. And, man, because of the fall, was broken and incapable of following this discipline and needed a savior, Jesus – the Son, was meant to demonstrate that God’s mercy and grace were poured upon all people if they should accept it.
I sometimes find myself thinking if Christ’s actions paid the price for sin, and redeemed us out of the hand of the enemy, then why do we need to accept anything? Because, still operating under those same laws that shut us up under sin, brings about our freedom through our ability to choose. Haven’t you wondered how a God that would go through all this, to save a world that admittedly does not seem to love Him, would merely acquiesce to letting so many of them just go to a fiery hell? Well, He doesn’t simply assent to the idea but honors the choices we make and allows us to serve whomever we choose. Freedom, peace, and a life with the Father in the Eden of eternity is available to all who choose to follow God as their master. The other path becomes painfully evident in time.