Galatians 3:6-14

Righteousness By Faith and The Curse of the Law

By David M Rogers

www.BibleTruth.cc

Published: August 2010

Table of Contents

Abraham Believed

Relying On the Law

The Curse of the Law


Galatians 3:6-14

Consider Avraham: "He believed Elohim, and it was credited to him as righteousness."  Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Avraham.  The Scripture foresaw that Elohim would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Avraham: "All nations will be blessed through you."  So those who have faith are blessed along with Avraham, the man of faith.  All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law."  Clearly no one is justified before Elohim by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."  The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them."  Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."  He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Avraham might come to the Gentiles through Messiah Yahusha, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

This passage of Scripture is among the most difficult to understand of all Paul's writings.  So it should not surprise us that this teaching is greatly misunderstood and widely misinterpreted.  After all, Peter said of Paul,

Bear in mind that our Master's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that Elohim gave him.  He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:15-16)

This is one of those letters.  Those preachers and teachers who are ignorant of the Law, and therefore unstable in interpreting Scripture, are teaching error about what Paul is explaining here.  This error will ultimately lead to their own destruction, as Peter says here, as well as to the destruction of many others, who feed off their destructive heresies.

Abraham Believed

So, let's get some understanding about what is being said here.  Let's consider Abraham, just as Paul invites us to do.  What does the Scripture say about Abraham?  Yes, "he believed Elohim and it was credited to him as righteousness."  This was recorded in Bereshith  [Genesis] 15:6.  Elohim had just told Avraham that his heir would be a son from his own body and that his offspring would be as many in number as the stars in the sky.  This is what Avraham believed.  He believed to be true what Elohim told him.

But the problem we have here is that of understanding what it is to believe.  In our cultural mindset, to believe something is merely a passive mental exercise.  For example, I believe that I am sitting in a chair.  This belief does not require any response or any action to take.  I simply believe it.  Or, I believe that God exists.  This statement means that in my mind, I acknowledge something I think to be so.  Believing in God, in this sense, does not require anything of me, nor does it need any kind of response from of me.  I simply acknowledge it to be so.  It is in this vein that James says,

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  You believe that there is one Elohim. Good! Even the demons believe that-- and shudder. (James 2:17-19)

Simply believing in something accomplishes nothing.  The demons believe in Elohim, but that does not save them, nor bring them into proper relationship with Elohim.

This is the kind of faith that most Christians think Abraham had.  They think that the mere passive exercise of his mind in believing Elohim was what was credited to him as righteousness.  No.  This is not what believe means.  The Hebrew language is not an abstract language.  All of the verbs (action words) are concrete in nature.  All of the verbs in Hebrew speak of tangible, concrete entities; which is to say, to believe is not passive, but active.  To believe means that he took action on what Elohim told him.  He did not merely believe it in his mind.  He changed his behavior because of what was said.

The word believe comes from the Hebrew !m;a' (aman) to confirm, support, uphold (Qal); to be established, be faithful (Niphal); to be certain, i.e. to believe in Hiphil).  And the Hebrew word for faith is hn"Wma/ (emn) firmness, fidelity, steadiness.  Avraham was commended for his steadfastness to Yahuwah his Maker.  Avraham was credited with righteousness because he was faithful to the covenant Yah had made with him!  He trusted everything Yah told him, and thus obeyed everything Yah told him!

It was this quality of Avraham - his fidelity to his relationship with Yah, resulting in full compliance (obedience) to all that Yahuwah commanded him - that was the basis for crediting Avraham with righteousness!  Thus, "Avraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness" should be understood to be saying, "Avraham trusted Yahuwah, resulting in full compliance to Yahuwah's will, and it was credited to him as righteousness." 

This is what James is talking about when he says that faith without works is dead.  To believe in something and then not act in accordance with that belief is no belief at all.  It's worthless.  It's stupid.  So James says,

You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our ancestor Avraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Yitzchak on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Avraham believed Elohim, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called Elohim's friend.  You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. (James 2:20-24)

James is saying what I am trying to explain.  The passive kind of faith being spoken of here does not justify.  Avraham was not considered righteous by passively believing.  Abraham's faith was not just passive mental acknowledgment of the thing.  Faith is completed as one responds to the thing, the statement, the truth that is believed.

So, James says that Abraham was justified when he offered his son Yitzchak on the alter.  He believed Elohim that his son would be his heir and so he offered his son in accordance with Yahuwah's directive.  In fact, the record of Bereshith [Genesis] tells us that Elohim fulfilled his promise to Abraham precisely because he did obey Elohim's every commandment and not because he merely believed (passively acknowledging) Elohim.  When Elohim appeared to Yitzchak (Isaac), he told him,

Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Avraham.  I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Avraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws." (Bereshith 26:3-5)

For those who know Hebrew, we might translate this, He shema-d my voice, and guarded my guardians, my mitzvot, my chukim and my torot

Elohim did not say he would fulfill his promises through Yitzchak because Abraham believed!  He said he would do so because Abraham obeyed!  This is what true biblical faith or belief is:  Faith means obeying what Elohim has said is so.

So, here's the bottom line.  And here is where we begin to understand the difficult things of Paul.  When Paul says believe or faith, we have to understand that he is talking about the active faith which results in obedience.  He is not speaking about passive mental acknowledgment, which amounts to nothing. 

With this in mind, the whole passage reads differently than what we have been led to think all along.   Let's retranslate and reread what Paul has written.  I will substitute the phrase obediently believed in place of believed so that we can see the fullness and richness of the Hebrew concept of believe:

Consider Avraham: "He obediently believed Elohim, and it was credited to him as righteousness."  Understand, then, that those who obediently believe are children of Avraham.  The Scripture foresaw that Elohim would justify the Gentiles by obedient faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Avraham: "All nations will be blessed through you."  So those who have obedient faith are blessed along with Avraham, the man of obedient faith. (Galatians 3:6-9)

This takes on a whole new meaning now, doesn't it?  And now it actually makes sense, because what Paul says about faith and what James says about works now dovetail into a beautiful picture of righteousness in action.

Relying On the Law

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law."  Clearly no one is justified before Elohim by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."  The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." (Galatians 3:10-12)

This text is a favorite of those Christians who love to bash God's law.  They use this to mock at Elohim's law and denigrate it as a worthless body of rules.  Certainly, if Elohim's Torah were evil, then we would all be trashing it.  But Elohim's law is not what these Christians interpret Paul to be saying here.

We have explained earlier in our studies in Galatians that Paul's many years studying as a Pharisee exposed him to the errors of holding up the man made Oral Torah of the Rabbis as the path to righteousness.  Thus, when Paul met Messiah on the road to Damascus, his whole world of understanding changed.  He realized that the law which he was raised to put his trust in - the Oral Torah - has no merit toward righteousness before Elohim.  Man made commandments and its derived human effort do not bring anyone closer to Elohim.  On the contrary, following man's religion, no matter how well intended, drives a person further from the Creator.

So, in much of his teaching throughout his letters, Paul continues to make these stark contrasts between man's law and Elohim's law.  Above he commended Avraham for his obedient faith.  Here he condemns all those who rely on law.  But what law?  Clearly he is writing here about man's law - the law of the Pharisees.  All of those who obey the Pharisees man made Oral law are disobeying Elohim's law.  The two cannot co-exist. If you obey Elohim's written Torah, you cannot also obey the Rabbinic law.  And if you obey Rabbinic law, you are breaking Elohim's law.

The quote, "cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law" is found in Devarim 27:26

"Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"

When a person obeys the Pharisees law, they have stopped obeying Elohim's law.  This is what Paul is saying.  Those who rely on Oral Torah are cursed because they have stopped obeying Elohim's law.

Next, Paul writes,

Clearly no one is justified before Elohim by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."

So we see that a man can never be justified before Elohim by man's law.  Once we understand Paul is talking about two laws here, this becomes self evident.  No one can be brought near to Elohim by obeying man's commandments.  Only Elohim's commandments are righteous.  This is what he means when he says, "the righteous will live by faith."  Faith, as above, is the obedient faith of believing Elohim and doing what he commands.

So, when Paul next writes,

The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them."

we can agree with him.  Man's law is not faith based, which is to say, it is not based in faithfulness to Elohim's commandments.  But obeying Yahuwah's commandments are an act of faith (faithfulness) towards Elohim.  This is what the Torah says.

Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am Yahuwah. (Vayiqra [Leviticus] 18:5)

When Mosheh finished reciting all these words to all Yisrael, he said to them, "Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law.  They are not just idle words for you-- they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Yarden to possess." (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 32:45-48)

Where it says, "the just shall live by faith," this is what is means: faithfulness to Yahuwah's instructions which give life to those who obey them.

Man's laws are based on man's own opinions about what is good and right, not on Elohim's declaration of what is good and right.  So, while oral law is not based on faith, obedience to Elohim's law is based on faith.  "The man who does these things will live by them" is speaking of Elohim's commandments, not man's.  Whoever faithfully walks in all of Elohim's commandments will live because of them.  This is exactly what "the righteous will live by faith" means.  It is saying that the one who is righteous will live by faithfully obeying the voice of Elohim.  Elohim's instructions are that word which doing them, the righteous man will live.

So, let's provide an expanded translation of these verses so that we may see Paul's reasoning at a glance.

All who rely on observing the Pharisaic law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law."  Clearly no one is justified before Elohim by the Pharisaic law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."  The Pharisaic law is not based on faith; on the contrary, about Elohim's Law, the Torah says, "The man who does these things will live by them." (Galatians 3:10-12)

The Curse of the Law

Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."  He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Avraham might come to the Gentiles through Messiah Yahusha, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:13-14)

The term "curse of the law" was made famous by the apostle Sha'ul's (Paul's) use of it in Galatians 3:13, "Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law."  It is the common teaching of Christianity that the Law itself is a curse, that is, the very thought that one could or should be required to obey all the law is absurd in their thinking, and that one who sets out to obey all of Elohim's Law is cursed.  But this is utter nonsense.  Christians have misinterpreted this phrase for centuries, because they don't know and understand Elohim's Torah.  They have taught us that the Torah is a curse for all those who try to obey it.  They say, God gave the Torah to Israel so that they would learn that they cannot keep it, and would turn to the redemption of Messiah for salvation!

That is a most ridiculous scenario.  These people are saying that God made his people try to obey a law code which he knew they couldn't.  I've actually heard many sermons in which the preacher said these things.  This would make God decidedly an unrighteous Elohim.  But nothing could be further from the truth  Those people twist and distort Paul's writing to their own destruction.

If any of those preachers masquerading as ministers of Christ would actually take the time to read the written Torah from their own Bible, they would see that Elohim attached blessings and curses to the Torah.  Elohim grants blessings of all sorts to those who would obey the Torah he gave them.  And he attached curses on those who refuse to obey the commandments of Yahuwah.  It's up to the individual to decide whether he will obey or not.

The Torah and the Prophets are unambiguous about the importance of Covenant loyalty to Elohim Yahuwah as expressed by fidelity and obedience to all of his Torah.  Again, Christian theologies have not understood the Law because they regard it as having been done away with.  Also, they misunderstand the context of Sha'ul's statement earlier in Galatians 3.  Sha'ul wrote:

For all who rely on doing the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not abide in all the things written in the book of the law, to do them."  Now it is clear no one is justified before Elohim by the law, because the righteous one will live by faith.  But the law is not based on faith, but the one who does the works of the law will live by them.  Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:10-13).

In previous interpretations of this saying, the cultural and religious context has been left out of view, and thus this statement of Sha'ul has been grossly misinterpreted.  Sha'ul is contrasting the life lived in obedience to the Pharisees as opposed to living according to the Scriptures.  The Pharisees coined the phrase "works of the law" as a reference to the doing of their own man-made commandments. 

The commandments of the Pharisees frequently contradicted the commandments of the Scriptures.  So much so, that Messiah confronted them and rebuked them for holding their own commandments and traditions over the commandments of Elohim:

He (Yahusha) answered them, "And why do you disobey the commandment of Elohim because of your tradition? (Matthew 15:3)

and

You have nullified the word of Elohim on account of your tradition (Matthew 15:6)

Thus, to obey the "works of the law" which are the commandments of the Pharisees, inevitably causes one to nullify or break the commandment of Elohim.

The "curse of the Law" is not the Law itself (as some misguided theologians would have us believe).  The curse of the Law is the curse put on those by the Law for transgression of the Law.

Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 27:26, NIV).

Anyone who obeys the Torah (Law) of Mosheh inherits blessings.  But those who stubbornly refuse to obey the instructions of the Almighty inherit a curse.  This is made abundantly clear in the two accounts of the declarations of the blessings and the curses.  Those passages are found in Vayiqra [Leviticus] 26 and in Devarim [Deuteronomy] 28-30.

The blessings of the Torah are stated thus:

"'If you walk in my rules and are sure to obey my commandments, I will give your rains in their time so that the land will give its yield and the trees of the field will produce their fruit.  Threshing season will extend for you until the season for harvesting grapes, and the season for harvesting grapes will extend until sowing season, so you will eat your bread until you are satisfied, and you will live securely in your land.  I will grant peace in the land so that you will lie down without anyone terrifying you. I will remove harmful animals from the land, and no sword of war will pass through your land.  You will pursue your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword.  Five of you will pursue a hundred, and a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.  I will turn to you, make you fruitful, multiply you, and maintain my covenant with you.  You will still be eating stored produce from the previous year and will have to clean out what is stored from the previous year to make room for new. "'I will put my tabernacle in your midst and I will not abhor you.  I will walk about among you, and I will be your Elohim and you will be my people.  I am Yahuwah your Elohim who brought you out from the land of Mitzrayim, from being their slaves, and I broke the bars of your yoke and caused you to walk upright (Vayiqra 26:3-13)

These blessings are stated as conditional upon walking in Yahuwah's rules and obeying his commandments in all of their detail. 

But the curse of the Torah is placed upon those who do not walk in Yahuwah's rules and obey his commands:

"'If, however, you do not obey me and keep all these commandments-- if you reject my rules and abhor my regulations so that you do not keep all my commandments and you break my covenant--  I for my part will do this to you: I will inflict horror on you, consumption and fever, which diminish eyesight and drain away the vitality of life. You will sow your seed in vain because your enemies will eat it.  I will set my face against you. You will be struck down before your enemies, those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee when there is no one pursuing you (Vayiqra 26:14-17).

So, the "curse of the law" as used by Paul, is referencing the Torah itself which applies a curse upon all those who disobey and rebel against Yahuwah's commandments.  Quite contrary to the way most Christian theologians and teachers have interpreted Paul, Paul is saying just the opposite as they think.  Paul is saying that the curses imposed by the Law itself fall on those who disobey the Law!

The Torah was never too difficult to obey.  This is made clear by Elohim.  He would never give his people a law which they would be unable to keep.  The problem is in the people who refuse to obey Elohim.  So Mosheh wrote,

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.  It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, "Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?"   Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, "Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?"  No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.  See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love Yahuwah your Elohim, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and Yahuwah your Elohim will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 30:11-16)

The Torah is the righteous way of life Elohim wants his people to walk in.  The Torah shows us what is right from what is wrong, what is clean and what is unclean.  The Torah shows us how to live a holy life before Elohim.  The Torah is our righteousness if we will walk in it.  And it is not too difficult for anyone.  It is within our reach to do it and obey it.  And Messiah is the walking Torah.  He redeems us from our transgressions of the Torah and he came to explain to us the correct understanding of the Torah walk so that we may walk it with him.

So, what did Messiah redeem us from?  He redeemed us from the curse of the law; that is, he redeemed us from sin and its consequences!  We are NOT redeemed from the written Torah.  The written Scriptures show us the righteous way of life which pleases Yahuwah.  But the curse of Torah is placed on those who do NOT obey the written word!  We are redeemed from sin!  And through the atonement of the Messiah, we are redeemed from the curse of the Torah in order that we might obey it to the full so that we may please Him in every way.

And where Paul says, "by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit," here's what he means.  In Acts 5:32 says that the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey Elohim:

We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom Elohim has given to those who obey him.

So, Paul is here saying that "by obedient faith, we might receive the promise of the Spirit."  When we obey Elohim, his response is to give us his Spirit.

Therefore, what should be our response to this redemption?  Should we abandon Elohim's righteous way of life as depicted in the Law?  Of course not.  Our response ought to be one of obedience to Elohim's commandments as an act of demonstrating love and appreciation for the redemption he has provided by his Son.

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