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Please read the Introductory Notes to this commentary.

For a glossary of unfamiliar terms, CLICK HERE. For assistance in
pronouncing Hebrew terms, a pronunciation guide is located HERE.

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Sections of the Apostolic Writings
The Gospels and Acts • The “Pauline” Letters • General Letters • End Times



Rav Sha'ul’s Letter to the
Messianic Community in

Galatia

Introductory Comments

Author: Rav Sha'ul of Tarsus[GN]
Theme: Messianic Goyim Do Not Need to Convert to Judaism
Date of Writing: c. 50 CE
Place of Writing: Antioch
Target Audience: The Messianic Community in Galatia

Original Recipients

The letter is addressed to a group of Messianic Communities in Galatia, which was located in the middle of Asia Minor, or present-day Turkey. The original inhabitants of the region were Phrygians, with a religion of nature worship. Many Jews lived in these cities, which were not far from Sha'ul’s home town. The Galatians in general were well known for their impetuosity, fickleness, and love for new and curious things. There were four classes of people who lived in the region: Jews who believed that Yeshua was the Messiah, non-Jews who believed that Yeshua was the Messiah, Jews who did not believe that Yeshua was the Messiah, and non-Jewish pagans who did not believe that Yeshua was the Messiah. Each of these groups of people had different societal norms by which they lived. The “Messianic Community” to which the letter is addressed consisted of both Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Yeshua as the Messiah. Sha'ul had visited Galatia on both his first (Acts 13:51; Acts 14:8; Acts 14:20; Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe) and third (Acts 18:23) missionary journeys, and his letter was written to the community of Believers who were facing a very specific challenge, for which they had sought his guidance.

Social and Historical Context

The first and most important thing to know when trying to understand someone else’s correspondence is the social and historical context of the letter. If we get the context wrong, we have no hope of correctly understanding the content. Who wrote it? To whom was it written? When was it written? Why was it written? What are the issues being addressed?

If I write a personal letter to my friend and centuries later you find it and take one or two sentences out of the middle of the letter, there is absolutely no possible way that you will ever understand either the content or the intent of the whole letter. Even if you carefully read the entire letter, you don’t know me; you don’t know my friend. You have no idea of what was going on in my life or the life of my friend at the time the letter was written. The only way you can possibly know when it was written is if I dated the letter or you found it in a postmarked envelope. You don’t know why I wrote the letter. You don’t know my concerns nor those of my friend. You certainly have no idea of what conversations my friend and I shared in the months and years preceding the writing of the letter. And the things that I have to say to my friend almost certainly have absolutely no application to you or your life.

Fortunately, we know at least a little bit about the context of this letter. We know it was written by Rav Sha'ul of Tarsus, because he tells us so in the beginning of the letter. While he didn’t date the letter and we don’t have a postmarked envelope, we can extrapolate a fairly accurate estimate of the letter’s date from the events we know.

Sha'ul supervised the execution of Stephen in about 35 CE (Acts 6:8-15), and he severely persecuted the Messianic Community for two years until he met the Messiah on the road to Damascus in approximately 37 (Acts 9:3-25). From 37 to 40 he spent time in Arabia (Gal. 1:17) trying to get his head wrapped around the idea that he had been persecuting the very God he had spent his life so desperately trying to serve, and figuring out how he needed to adjust his carefully developed theology to accommodate this new information. He then returned to Damascus to preach his version of Good News of the Kingdom, something he calls “My Gospel.” In 40 CE Bar-Nabba [Barnabas] took him from Damascus up to Jerusalem to meet Kefa [Peter] and the Emissaries (Gal. 1:18-19), but they were afraid to meet with him because of his reputation, so he only met with Yeshua’s brother Ya'akov [James]. But Bar-Nabba vouched for him and told them how powerfully he had been preaching in Damascus. The Emissaries sent him down to Caesarea, then back to Tarsus (Acts 9:26-30).

Meanwhile in Caesarea, the Roman centurion Cornelius became the first Gentile to come to Messiah (Acts 10) in 41 CE, and the Good News of the Kingdom was first preached in Antioch that same year (Acts 11:19-24).

In 43 Bar-Nabba went to Tarsus, got Sha'ul, and brought him to Antioch, and they spent about a year there (Acts 11:25-26). In 44 Bar-Nabba and Sha'ul were dispatched by the Elders at Antioch to take relief to the Messianic Community in Jerusalem because of a local famine. Ya'akov, Yeshua’s brother, wrote his letter in about 45, making it probably the first of the Apostolic letters to be written. In 45 Barnabas and Sha'ul returned from Jerusalem to Antioch, taking John Mark with them.

In 45 the Elders at Antioch commissioned Barnabas, Sha'ul, and John Mark for their first missionary journey (Acts 12:24-13:3). It was on this journey that Sha'ul began teaching “the Good News that I preach [which] does not come from a human perspective.” Rather he “did not receive it from a human source, nor did anyone teach it to me. It came to me through revelation directly from Yeshua the Messiah.” It was for this reason that he referred to himself as the “Apostle from Yeshua to the Goyim.”

Map of Asia MinorThey went from Antioch to Seleucia, and then to Cyprus. From there they went to Salamis, Paphos, Perga in Pamphylia, where John Mark left them to return to Jerusalem. From Perga then went to Antioch in Pisidia. They left Pisidian Antioch due to persecution from the synagogue there, and went to Iconium, then to Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:1-6). In 47 they went back to Lystra, then Iconium and Pisidian Antioch, Pamphylia, Perga, and Attalia (Acts 14:21-25). Then they went to Antioch in Syria, where they stayed for about three years from 47 to 50 (Acts 14:26-28).

In 50 CE, “troublemakers” (perhaps the same ones who were bothering the Gentile believers in Galatia) came to Antioch (Acts 15:1) insisting that Goyim must formally convert to Judaism in order to be saved, just as they (the “troublemakers”) had done at Galatia. These troublemakers were not ethnically Jewish, but were Goyim who, when they had come to faith in Messiah, had gone through the formal conversion process to become proselytes (see the vocabulary below), as was the requirement at the time. They didn’t want new Gentile Believers to be allowed any “shortcuts” into the Messianic Community.

Confirming “Sha'ul’s Gospel”

The Gentile Believers in Asia Minor had been following Sha'ul’s teaching on the matter, and these events prompted Sha'ul and Bar-Nabba to take the question to the Elders at Jerusalem, to see if they would confirm “Sha'ul’s Gospel” as the official halakhah of HaDerek. Since Sha'ul had received the revelation for “his” Gospel directly from Yeshua, it is almost completely unlikely that he was seeking their approval. Since they were, however, the Beit Din, the “Sanhedrin” for Messianic Judaism (HaDerek), Sha'ul would have shubmitted to their authority had thay not agreed with him. The Jerusalem Council was convened and, in agreement with Sha'ul, they passed the final policy on Goyim coming into the Messianic Community (Acts 15:1-21). Go here for a discussion of that Council.

At the conclusion of the Council, the Elders of Jerusalem wrote a letter to the “brothers among the Goyim in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia” (Acts 15:23) outlining the requirements for “table fellowship” between Jewish and non-Jewish Messianic Believers, and dispatched Bar-Nabba and Sha'ul, along with Yehuda and Silas, to deliver the letter to those communities (Acts 15:22-29). Having received confirmation of “his Gospel” from the Elders of Jerusalem (the ultimate authority for HaDerek; the first-century equivalent of what the Vatican is to the Roman Church), Sha'ul would have been eager to let the Gentile Believers at Galatia know that his position had been vindicated. So I believe it very probable that he wrote to the Galatians as soon as he had arrived back at Antioch, about 50-51 CE.

Difficulties in Interpretation

Why has the Church interpreted this letter as a battle between “Law and Grace” for nearly 2,000 years? The misunderstanding of this letter is the primary reason that the Church is not Torah-persuant.

The Emissary Kefa (the Apostle Peter) said of Rav Sha'ul’s letters: “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2Pet. 3:16). This is especially true of the letter before us. “Scripture twisting” of this letter by “ignorant and unstable” early Gentile Christians was largely responsible for the removal of everything Jewish from the early church, and the “twisting” of “ignorant and unstable” modern Christian Bible teachers has only served to perpetuate the original error and fan the flames of Replacement Theolgy and Anti-Semitism within the Church.

The traditional Christian interpretation of this letter (as I was taught in 12 years of seminary and as I taught for over 35 years) is that the Torah brings only slavery, and that Christ has set us free from the bondage of the Law. That being the case, any attempt to live in obedience to Torah after coming to faith in the Messiah is “backsliding,” an abandonment of grace, and may well result in eternal damnation.

As early as the end of the first century, and almost certainly based on a grossly inaccurate interpretation of this letter, the “Church Father” Ignatius (c. 35-108 CE), third bishop of Antioch (see map below), wrote (my emphasis):

“It is absurd to speak of Jesus Christ with the tongue, and to cherish in the mind a Judaism which has now come to an end. For where there is Christianity there cannot be Judaism. For Christ is one, in whom every nation that believes, and every tongue that confesses, is gathered unto God. And those that were of a stony heart [i.e., Jews who placed their faith in Yeshua but continued live according to Torah] have become the children of Abraham, the friend of God; and in his seed all those have been blessed who were ordained to eternal life in Christ.” The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, chapter 10.

He was approximately 15 years old when Rav Sha'ul’s letter was written, so it is very possible that his letter was written some years later in direct rebuttal of Sha'ul’s letter. His interpretation was obviously that any form of Judaism was simply totally incompatible with faith in the Messiah. But Judaism has not “come to an end” as he taught. Judaism is alive and well, and the Messianic expression of Judaism is as close as is possible — without the presence of the Temple — to come to the form of faith and practice followed by the first-century Jewish sect known as HaDerek (the Way), which was first referred to as Christianos[1] in Antioch (Acts 11:26).

The problem that keeps dividing the Body of Messiah is a near-total lack understanding of what life in first-century Israel was actually like. And for some reason known only to God, the Christian Church is in absolutely no hurry to educate themselves.

See Important “Pauline” Vocabulary

The “bottom line” of this nearly universally-misinterpreted letter is that the Good News of the Gospel as preached by Rav Sha'ul, what he called “my Gospel” or “my Good News,” is that — as confirmed by the Jerusalem Council just a few weeks earlier — when a Gentile (a non-Jewish person) comes to faith in Yeshua the Messiah, that person is already a fully-qualified citizen in good standing of the Kingdom of God and of the Commonwealth of Israel. There is no need for a formal conversion to Judaism, as was formerly required, nor is obedience to the “Traditions of the Fathers” reqired, for that individual to be fully accepted as member in good standing of the Messianic Community. In fact, Sha'ul argues most strenuously, for such a Messianic Gentile to convert to Judaism may very well place that person’s salvation in jeopardy, if such conversion is for the sake of inclusion in the Community for the purpose of gaining salvation. Such misguided conversion proves that the person’s true faith is in affiliation with the community, and not in the completed work of Yeshua the Messiah. The only way such a person can then be declared righteous by God is by successfully keeping every single commandment of Torah that applies to him (or her). Since the Messiah is the only human to have ever perfectly obeyed the Torah, salvation by obedience to Torah is simply impossible.

I highly recommend Messianic Pastor Daniel Lancaster’s 29-message audio sermon series on the book of Galatians. I also recommend Galatians in Context by Messianic Rabbi Eric D Tokajer.

Outline

I. Introduction and Salutation (1:1-3)

II. Rav Sha'ul Defends His Apostolic Authority (1:6-2:14)

A. No Other Gospel (1:6-9)

B. His Gospel of Divine Origin (1:10-12)

C. His Life in the Traditions of Judaism (1:13-15)

D. Chosen by God (1:15-16)

E. His Gospel Not from the Emissaries (1:17-24)

F. Behind the Scenes of the Jerusalem Council (2:1-5)

G. Sha'ul’ Gospel validated (2:6-10)

H. Kefa Rebuked for Hypocrisy (2:11-14)

III. Faith Justifes (2:15-5:1)

A. Outward Signs of Judaism Do Not Justify (2:15-21)

B. Human Effort Does Not Justify (3:1-5)

C. Abraham’s Faith (3:6-9)

D. Torah Observance Does Not Justify (3:10-14)

E. Inheritance By Promise (3:15-18)

F. Purpose of the Legal Provisions of Torah (3:19-22)

G. Justified Goyim Are Heirs (3:23-4:7)

1. Torah, Our Pedagogue (3:23-29)

2. Adoption As Sons (4:1-7)

3. Justified Goyim Are Adopted (4:4-5)

4. the Spirit Confirms Sonship (4:6-7)

H. Avoid Reliance on the Marks of Circumcision (4:8-11)

J. Sha'ul’s Concern for Them (4:12-20)

K. Sarah and Hagar (4:21-5:1)

L. Danger of the Marks of Circumcision (5:1-12)

IV. A life of Freedom in Messiah (5:13-6:16)

A. The Law of Liberty (5:13-15)

B. Flesh and Spirit (5:16-26)

C. Mutual Responsibility (6:1-6)

D. A Brief Recap (6:11-16)

V. Benediction (6:17-18)

_______________

  1. The Greek equivalent of Hebrew Mashiach (Messiah) is Christos (Christ). If English Bibles were translated directly from the Hebrew originals instead of from the Greek translations, the word “Christian” would simply not exist, and Believers in Messiah Yeshua would all be called “Messianics.” [RETURN]

 2. From a sermon series by Messianic Pastor Daniel Thomas Lancaster on the book of Galatians: message #25, “One Simple Verse,” Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship Audio Library, accessed 28 February 2016. [RETURN]

Originaly posted Sunday, 28 February 2016
Revised Wednesday, 02 March 2016
Revised Sunday, 19 July 2020
Revised Friday, 27 November 2020

Page last updated on Wednesday, 27 October 2021 03:43 PM
(Updates are generally minor formatting or editorial changes.
Major content changes are identified as "Revisions”)

Anxiously awaiting Mashiach’s return
ANXIOUSLY WATCHING FOR MASHIACH’S RETURN,
SPEEDILY AND IN OUR DAY. MARANA, TA!