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The Problem with Galatians

In Blog, John's Blog, Teachings, Written Teachings | on May, 24, 2018 | by

The Problem with Galatians

What is Paul really saying?

Excerpt from new book by
John Holmes

Wresting the Word…A New “Twist”

Today, many people use excerpts from the book of Galatians in order to show what they believe to be Paul’s point about the law, and, in doing so, ironically miss his point entirely. Peter, speaking of Paul’s letters, addresses this:

2Peter 3:16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

If it was possible to twist (wrest) Paul’s teaching in the first century, are we any less likely to find his teachings wrested today…2000 years later? Judging from common Christian doctrine today, it seems the opposite is true.

Clearly, Paul’s reason for writing the Galatians is stated in the first seven verses: The Galatians were being ushered away from the “gospel of Christ” and toward a perverted one. (1:1-7)
Gal 1:6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
Gal 1:7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

Paul says, in verse 7, it is really not another gospel at all. He then immediately goes on to identify the perversion. He begins by saying the gospel he preached is not man-made. (v1:11-12) In the following two verses (13-14), he continues by naming the offending perversion first “the Jews Religion” and then “the traditions of my fathers”.
Gal 1:11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. 
Gal 1:12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Gal 1:13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:
Gal 1:14 And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.

Notice Paul identifies the perversion as “the traditions of my fathers.” Paul’s condemning of “traditions” as the cause of the offense echoes Yeshua/Jesus’ condemnation of them in Mark 7:13. In this passage Yeshua/Jesus says, “Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition”, and previously in verse 7, He says, “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men”. Through these two statements in Mark 7, Yeshua/Jesus is identifying the religious leaders’ teachings as man-made and in direct conflict with the only “Word of God” in existence at the time: the five books of Torah or the Torah of Moses i.e. the first five books of the Bible.

Paul Explains The Way

Before returning to Galatians, let’s have a look at how Paul himself explains his teachings and religious beliefs. When in Roman hands and before being sent to Rome, Paul explains to Felix, the Roman governor, what he has been teaching. The explanation should clear up most all modern wresting of Paul’s message. It is found in Acts 24:14:

“But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets”

What is he saying? First he identifies the movement to which he belongs as “The Way”. He believes (and obviously teaches), the same God as always as well as the “written law and the prophets”. Key to our understanding of Galatians is understanding how he identifies the “written law”.

Belief is an Action Word

And, one other thing of note: the word believing in Hebrew thought means not just belief but requires action to go with it. As Paul himself explains about Abraham, Abraham believed and followed through on God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. This was Paul’s example of true faith. True faith should always lead to action. We see total agreement from James in 2:20 where he says, “…faith without works is dead.”

The Bondage of the Law…which one?

Returning now to Galatians, in chapter 2, verse 4 Paul identifies those speaking against him as “false brethren” and says their goal is to “bring us into bondage”. The point here is the “false brethren” are undoubtedly those we today would call Judaizers who were teaching the traditions he previously identified. Today this is identified as the “Mishnah, Talmud, Oral Law or Oral Torah”. …More on this later.

Circumcision Requires Oral Law Obedience

In Paul’s writings, we consistently find him identifying those who teach, or abide by, the Oral Torah as “the circumcision”. This is Paul’s trade mark for them. In verse 2:7, Paul gives us the contrast between “the gospel of the uncircumcision” and “the gospel of the circumcision”. Here he is calling the gospel he taught “the gospel of the uncircumcision” because he taught the Torah as the gospel to the non-Jews. (Remember he described it to Felix as written Torah)

Since the Judaizers taught, when one had become a follower of God and Yeshua, they were to be circumcised. And, when circumcised, they were then obligated to obey the Oral Torah. This teaching involved the tying of circumcision to the man-made traditions. It is imperative to understand this concept in order to understand much of Paul’s writings as they frequently deal with the conflict between “the circumcision” and “the uncircumcision.” And this conflict became a heated doctrinal one within the early church as we seen in Acts 15.

Oral Torah Required Separation From Gentiles

In Galatians 2:14 where Paul relates his encounter with Peter, we find evidence Peter was observing the Oral Torah tradition forbidding contact between Jews with gentiles because the Oral Torah viewed gentiles as unclean due to what they ate. Remembering the sheet vision in Acts (10:11), what Paul relates regarding his encounter with Peter is the same behavior the Father corrected in Peter’s observation of the Oral Torah dictate requiring this separation from Gentiles. One sees, in this conflict of ideas, one of the foundational conflicts between the two houses…the House of Israel (Northern kingdom) and the House of Judah (Southern kingdom). This conflict has to do with blindly following the dictates of the rabbis whether or not it contradicts what is written in the Torah of Moses. The House of Judah generally says follow the rabbis, while most who consider themselves grafted into the House of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-12), choose to pattern their lifestyles after the written Torah just as Paul explained to Felix.

Two Laws

In verse 2:16 Paul gives us his identification of the two laws as he will call them for most of the rest of the letter (as well as throughout much of his other letters). Here he begins with the “faith of Yeshua/Jesus Christ” and says we are “justified by the faith of Christ and not by the works of the law”. Throughout Paul’s writings we find him usually short-cutting the former to simply “the law of faith” while he calls the latter “the law of works” or sometimes simply faith and works as in the third chapter of Romans. This shortcutting of dropping “law of ….” in his various letters may be an indicator he has previously introduced the term “law of faith” or “law of works” and therefore assumes they recipients already know he’s speaking of “law of …” and therefore can simply state which law.

Continuing in chapter 2, we find what seems to be complete contradiction where he says, “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.” However, the confusion is eliminated when we understand he’s contrasting the two laws. More completely, his statement might be, “For I, through the law of faith (Torah) I am freed from the bondage of the man-made Oral Torah and can live as God would have me live.”

He then sums up his thought in verse 21 where he says, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” 

Grace and Righteousness

Clearly this verse is again referencing the Oral Torah or law of works. Notice too, he ties the law of faith to grace. This connection should not be overlooked. There is another aspect of 21 which needs to be addressed. The word righteousness in this context indicates it too is in direct conflict with the Oral Torah.

To further provide evidence that the law referenced in 21 is the Oral Torah, we need to bring our attention to the rules of interpretation. In them it says, direct conflict between scriptures indicates either mistranslation or misinterpretation. Based upon this, we can find what righteousness means to us. It is defined in Deut. 6: 25 where it says, “And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he hath commanded us.” Obviously, if following God’s commandments invalidates the reason for Christ’s death, there is a major conflict here. Resolving the conflict only requires us to understand Paul is indicating the other law, the man-made law…not God’s.

Resolving the Conflicts

Already we have run into some confusing things in Paul’s letter. As previously stated, it might come from mistranslation….or it might be because the Greeks didn’t have an adequate vocabulary to express the ideas properly…or it might come from yet another source.

The vocabulary issue is a valid point. Using Strong’s as a source, we find 8674 Hebrew words used in the Old Testament while the Greek words number 5624. With 3050 more Hebrew words being used, one can see clearly specific ideas and concepts can more clearly be expressed with the availability of more words to express them succinctly. 

The possibility of still another source for the confusion in Paul’s writings is a distinct one. Suppose someone had an anti-Torah agenda and was able to edit some of Paul’s letters. And suppose this happened at such an early point in history, the edits grew to be considered the real thing. The latter, in fact, did happen. 


In the second century, Bishop Marcion, assembled the first known New Testament consisting of Luke and Paul. As a gnostic whose beliefs included mediation as a source of religious truth, Marcion came up with his own version of God’s doctrine and felt empowered to edit both Luke and Paul to reflect his new doctrine. Marcionite doctrine includes the view that the God of the Old Testament was different from and inferior to the God of the New (dualism or duality). He also concluded the rules of behavior given in the Old are in direct conflict with and in opposition to grace. Thus, in his eyes, grace was a New Testament concept only. Some commentators indicate his edits completely confuse Paul’s distinction between God’s Law and the man-made one by blending the two laws together into something Marcion considered bad and a thing to be avoided. Although he was labeled a heretic by his contemporaries, his following continued on for several hundred years. Some of his teachings survive, simply because some feel any writings from the early church age are more authoritarian simply due to their age. Marcion’s doctrine is still found in the church today. And some Bible translations indicate a Marcionite source as the distinct separation between the laws becomes blurred in Galatians.

Legalistic Perversion of Torah

And now, getting back to the text of Galatians and the defining concepts of Paul’s letter, we find a modern translator David Stern, in his Complete Jewish Bible, updates Paul’s “works of the law” or “law of works.” Stern calls the Oral Torah, “the legalistic perversion of Torah.”

Chapter three begins with more comparisons of the two Torahs. In verse 1, he tells them they have been bewitched because they don’t want to obey the truth (Psalm 119:142- “Thy law is truth”). One has to wonder here with the use of the word “bewitched”, whether Paul sees the Oral Torah as a form of rebellion and is alluding to the comparison of rebellion to witchcraft. (1Samuel 15:23) Also, here he confronts them with their lack of obedience to (Torah) while obeying the dictates of men.
Continuing his thought into verse 2, he asks them if they received the spirit (Holy Spirit), by the perverted works or as a result of hearing the Torah. Obviously, he is indicating they received spirit when they heard his teaching of the “Law of Faith.”
Through verse 5, he continues to contrast the spirit and miracles to the unproductive man-made (“flesh” v3) law.

A pearl is found next when Paul gives the definition of faith. He states Abraham’s believing the promises of God was considered faith and brought him to righteousness. Thus, faith is the believing the promises of God. Notice too, this is called the gospel! My, how the gospel has changed in our modern day!

Verse 3:10 gets back to Paul’s original point. In quoting Deut. 27:26, Paul points out that following the man-made perversion, one comes under a curse…for not following the WRITTEN TORAH! This verse, by the way, is one place where Marcion’s doctrine can be vividly seen. If a particular translation lacks distinction between the Oral Torah and the Written Torah, it will usually misquote the Deuteronomy passage and will reflect Marcion’s alteration of Paul’s letter.

Tying in Yeshua on the Cross

There is another concept in scripture which Paul seems to bring into the picture in order to understand some of the verses that follow. Paul, in Romans 7, gives us the reason why Yeshua/Jesus went to the cross. He begins by saying this would only be understood by those who understand Torah. What is this all about? Several things…
First, in the book of Acts, the apostles ask, “Will you, at this time restore again the Kingdom of Israel?” They understood from the prophets, one duty of the Messiah was to bring back the Northern Kingdom (House of Israel). They also knew the Northern Kingdom had been divorced by God (Jer. 3:8). Finally, they knew Deuteronomy 24 forbids a husband to take back a wife he has divorced if she has been with another (adultery…following other gods in the Father’s eyes). Factoring in these things, the apostles recognized Yeshua/Jesus as the bridegroom and understood the law against restoring the divorced wife to the household once she had broken the lifetime covenant. They also realized that, in his resurrected state, the bridegroom could legally make a new covenant of marriage with the (now previously) divorced wife. This is the concept Paul tackles in Romans 7. Here, by the way, he connects the law (Torah) to the marriage covenant calling it the “law of the husband.”

Since, in the first century the common vernacular referencing the divorced House of Israel was to call them Gentiles, Paul also calls them Gentiles. A scriptural reference to this terminology is found in John 7:35 where the religious leaders call the House of Israel “the dispersed among the Gentiles” and then, in the same verse, call them simply Gentiles.

It is important, when trying to decipher many of Paul’s writings, to factor this in and decide whether he is talking to the “dispersed among the Gentiles” or just Gentiles.
Also, we know, from Josephus’ history, the whereabouts of much of the dispersed Northern Kingdom was known to the Jewish leaders. That said, it seems most likely the House of Israel would also have known the reason for their dispersion. Many would also have known they could not return to their homeland (and to the household of God) because of the prohibition in Deuteronomy. Also, in Jeremiah 31:31-33, we find a new covenant would be made with them and Yeshua/Jesus’ death and resurrection was the way they could again be part of their heritage Israel. This would have been very good news to all those who wanted to restore their relationship with the Father.

Now we can also see Paul was generally teaching the covenant/law to those who had originally lost their place in God’s plan. This is, by the way, the same gospel the author of Hebrews discusses in Hebrews 4:2. This verse refers directly back to those at Mt. Sinai (Hebrews 3:16) indicating the gospel was given at Sinai. And, these are “the lost sheep of the House of Israel” Yeshua/Jesus refers to. Note: Peter also tells us the Gospel is the Law of Faith in 1 Peter 1:25: “But the word of the Lord abideth for ever. And this is the word of good tidings(gospel) which was preached unto you.” (ASV)

Note, the author of Hebrews, using this example, is telling us the early church taught a gospel message which is different from the one taught in many of today’s churches. If, as Hebrews author says, the gospel was taught at Mt. Sinai (the word of the Lord- 1 Peter above), then the gospel message of Paul’s time was that an individual can become part of the family of God and be actually adopted into the family. The relationship of this individual is as a bride who has agreed to live as the Father requires.

Now Back to the Divorce

Understanding the divorce gives us insight into Galatians 3:16 where Paul says Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the law.” Instead of living under the curse of never being able to return to right relationship because of their sin, the House of Israel was now restored to their previous state (bought back from slavery)…redemption.

Paul continues through the end of chapter 3 saying there is no conflict between God’s covenant with Abraham and the observance of Torah. In addition, it appears in verses 3:13-29, Paul is explaining those previously “divorced” the rules (Torah command) about not taking back the divorcee actually was instrumental in bringing them back to God. Paul sees it as a paradox, but then the Father does work in mysterious ways. (v 24-29)

Liberty vs Slavery and Sinai

In the forth chapter of Galatians, Paul gives further proof he links the Oral Torah to slavery and the written Torah to freedom (liberty-KJV). The religious leaders then as well as the Rabbis of today all say the origin of the Oral Torah is Mount Sinai. They say when Moses was on the mount with God for 40 days, he was given the written Torah first, and then for the remainder of that time, he was given the details which they identify as the Oral Torah.

If one believes this then one has to question the continuing additions to the Oral Torah. The Sinai origin of Oral Torah teaching is clearly fantasy as. even in our times, we see things being added to the Oral Torah. For instance, Orthodox Jews following the Oral Torah today will not turn a light on or off on Sabbath. This rule is not recorded in the early Talmudic writings. Obviously it didn’t show up until there was electricity in homes…so much for Moses being given the entire Oral Torah on Mt. Sinai.

Paul says both the slave and free originated at Sanai. He sees Hagar as representing the slavery of the Oral Torah while Sarai represents the freedom one gains by following God’s rules.

To conclude, there is a bit more in Galatians, but Paul’s main point of writing concerning the Jew’s religion has been made. Paul’s writings, in general, record an ongoing battle with false doctrines. He was trained in Oral Torah and probably was destined to be the next High Priest. And then Yeshua stepped in. With his Damascus Road experience and during his 3 years in Arabia, he made a 180 degree reversal. Now he was fighting the very thing he had been raised to teach and enforce.
More importantly for us today, we find Paul using his vocabulary consistently and this helps us to understand the concepts of the first century. His terminology for Torah includes Law of Faith, Faith, Spirit, and Righteousness. Oral Torah is generally called Law of Works, or Works, or Works of the Law or traditions.

Understanding these terms can help us bridge the gap from the First Century to the Twenty-first Century.

In these End Times, as the time of destruction nears, it seems it behooves all of us to reach a point of understanding so we do not bring about our own destruction as Peter said.

And one final thought to consider, it was not just Paul who fought the battle of man-made religion versus God-made religion. This conflict is recorded from the Garden of Eden right on through to the end. The next to the last verse of Malachi says:
Mal 4:5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.”

The point: Elijah, when he faced the priests of Baal in Carmel, told the people of the covenant assembled there to choose between God and their man-made religion.

Then God proved himself.

Elijah, or the spirit of Elijah as Yeshua identified John the Baptist, will be heard again in the End Times…before the Day of the Lord. Truth or tradition. Man-made or God-made.

Shouldn’t we be making the same decision Paul was laying before the Galatians?

2 Responses



Thank you for this article. It would be helpful to have a list of sources for your references. Could you please list the? It would be much appreciated.

Thank you.


The article is the culmination of studying many sources from early church to the excellent writings of Avi ben Mordechai where he details the society of the first century. In the first 100 or so pages of his book, Galatians, he presents the foundation for Paul’s vocabulary. This book’s information cannot be underestimated if one wants to understand Paul’s writings. Of course, the greatest source for the article, besides the scriptures themselves, was the leading of the Ruach Ha Chodesh (Holy Spirit) who helped with the recognition of the relationship of the various scriptures to each other. As Brad Scott says, “Words mean something!” Thank you for your kind words. John

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