Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (ESV)
Galatians 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. (KJV)
What has Christ set us free from?
What bondage is Paul referring to, that those in Galatia should not submit to again ? Who is Paul talking to and why? What is the context of the surrounding verses AND chapters?
What do the next two verses say?
Galatians 5:2-3 2Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. 3I testify again to every man who gets circumcised that he is bound to keep the whole law.
Circumcision is the topic of discussion for a very good reason. There were some in Galatia who were coerced into believing that if they got circumcised in the flesh, that was all that they needed to be justified in the eyes of God. They “thought” they could go about their lives as they used to, without worrying about being justified before God Almighty.
Now, read the next verse out loud ~
Galatians 5:4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
There is nothing new here that Paul doesn’t say a dozen or more times in most of his letters; we are not ‘justified’ by works of the Law. This is not a new doctrine; the Law doesn’t justify, it never has and it never will. The Law of God given through Moses is the Creators’ Instructions in righteous behavior, they are not instructions in justification (please read ‘Justification vs. Righteousness‘ to understand the difference between the two).
The believers in Galatia were duped into believing that the way to be justified was to get circumcised. They were “attempting/trying“ to be “justified” before God by their own works; “you who ‘would be‘ justified“…
The disconnect is this: because Paul chastised those believers who “tried to be justified” by keeping the Law, we have assumed he’s telling “everyone, everywhere” that keeping the Law is by default “trying to be justified”; this is a ‘Straw man argument’, and a false assumption.
Paul is railing against the ‘Circumcision Party’ and their “salvation/justification by circumcision” doctrine. This ‘Party’ is mentioned in ‘Acts’ and in some of Paul’s letters ~
Acts 15:1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
They taught unscriptural dogma, that in order to be saved one had to get circumcised. The Torah/Law of Moses, NEVER states, teaches, or proclaims “salvation/justification” by circumcision (or any work of the Law); that is man–made doctrine. The ‘Circumcision Party’ was only interested in the outward “boasting of righteousness” that man could see, and Paul reminded the Galatians of this in the next chapter ~
Galatians 6:12-13 12As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, ‘these’ would compel you to be circumcised, only that ‘they’ may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. 13For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but ‘they’ desire to have you circumcised that ‘they’ may boast in your flesh.
The ‘Circumcision Party’ were not following the Law of God given through Moses themselves, as Paul stated right here. They taught that the ONLY way to achieve justification/salvation was through circumcision, which is a man-made unscriptural doctrine. Again, the Law of Moses does not teach this! In fact, the command of circumcision doesn’t even originate in the Law of God given through Moses, it was given way before that, to Abraham.
The command of Circumcision was never given to justify nor save; it was given as a “sign“ of the ‘everlasting‘ Covenant that God made with Abraham and his seed.
What does the text say?
Genesis 17:10-13 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. [‘reaffirmed’ in Leviticus 12:3]
Just like with the Pharisees and Sadducees that Jesus railed against for regarding mans laws/traditions over God’s Law (Mark 7:9), Paul was doing the same thing here. He was railing against the man-made dogma of ‘justification by works’.
The CRITICAL point that is never considered is ‘context‘. How did Paul come to make this statement of Galatians 5:1? What was Paul’s thought process that led up to the point that he made in this verse?
Mainstream theology would have us believe that Paul was scolding the Galatians because they are ‘turning back again’ to the Law of Moses, and thereby returning to the ‘yoke of slavery of the Law once more’.
That is a HUGE error of interpretation, and found to be impossible if one just reads the prior chapter.
For context, let’s read the verses that lead up to chapter 5:1.
What does the text say?
Galatians 4:8-9 8Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
In no way can this be referring to the Law of God given through Moses for two very simple reasons:
- Verse 8 distinctly states “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were “enslaved“ to those that by nature are not gods”.
- Before Paul brought the good news to these Galatians, they were pagans worshiping false gods, which Paul states they were “enslaved to”. They ‘never’ knew the Law of God, much less who Moses was. It was impossible for them to “turn back again” to something they never knew.
- Verse 9 tells us the Galatians were returning to “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?”.
- In the Greek the word ‘weak’ is G772 ἀσθενῆ/asthenē; and ‘worthless’ is G4434 πτωχὰ/ ptōcha; and ‘elementary principles’ is G4747 στοιχεῖα/stoicheia. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states these words to mean: a.) asthenē – without strength, feeble, infirm; b.) ptōcha – to cower(ardly) down, roving about in wretchedness, afflicted, lowly; c.) stoicheia – of the heavenly bodies, because times and seasons, and so sacred seasons, were regulated by the course of the sun and moon; and/or the elements, rudiments, primary and fundamental principles.
- Paul blatantly stated that those people throughout Galatia were returning to the “slavery” of their feeble, wretched and afflicted ways that they observed before they knew the real God. They were observing rudimentary principles of the world, not principles of God. How anyone could believe, much less preach, that the ways and principles of God Almighty could ever be weak, cowardly, wretched, and afflicted is beyond me.
As Paul stated in verses 8 & 9, those Galatians were wanting to return to the ‘yolk of slavery‘ they once were under before they knew the one true God. The Galatians thought that they were ‘justified’ now, by their own works of the flesh. They somehow reasoned then, that they could go back to their old wicked ways of man-made gods (sin) and pagan rituals (sin) which they formerly observed, now that they were circumcised.
Paul was chastising them for believing this, and for returning to the slavery of their sinful pagan ways, now that they “thought” they were justified by getting circumcised. The “yolk of slavery” of Galatians 5:1 is that ‘yolk of slavery‘ from verses 8 & 9, in chapter 4. The Galatians were ‘returning’ to their sin now that they “thought” they were justified. ‘Sin‘ is the slavery/bondage Paul constantly warns us not to let ourselves go back under the dominion of; please read ‘Freed from the law of Sin and Death‘.
Once again, the disconnect: because Paul chastised some believers for “trying to be justified” by keeping the Law, we have assumed that Paul is telling everyone, everywhere that ‘keeping the Law’ is by default “trying to be justified”. That assumption is utterly false. The Law is ‘Instructions in Righteousness’, not ‘instructions in justification’; please read ‘Justification vs. Righteousness‘ to understand the difference.
It’s a HUGE understatement to say that the Apostle Paul can be misunderstood. Galatians 5:1 is one of ‘the’ most misunderstood verses in the entire bible.
The two BIG stumbling blocks that you have to get past, are two of the biggest errors in mainstream theology ~
- The First Big Error: “The Law of Moses is bondage and slavery”.
- The Second Big Error: “Before Christ, the Israelites were saved/justified by obeying the Law of Moses”.
We have been taught incorrectly for generations, as I will let the Scriptures prove.
We will go over the 1st Big Error in this study and cover the 2nd one in the next.
Almost every mainstream Christian denomination assumes that Paul was telling the Galatians that “the Law of God given through Moses” is bondage and slavery, but is that what the verses actually say? These are all errors of biased interpretation, eisegesis, handed down from our fore-fathers. Eisegesis is the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text.
What Paul stated over and over and over again in his letters, was that we were ‘enslaved to sin’, and ‘don’t be a slave to sin again’; Please read “Free from the Law of Sin and Death“.
What does the text say?
Romans 6:6 We know that ‘our old self was crucified with him’ in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
Romans 6:16 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
This is not new doctrine. Paul learned this from his Master, Jesus ~
John 8:34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”
What is sin?
1 John 3:4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.
Back to Paul ~
Romans 6:17-19 17But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18and, having been “set free from sin”, have become slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, “so now present“ your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
Paul states in v.19 directly above, that we were ‘lawless’, not obeying God’s Law, when we were in slavery to sin. Paul is reminding us, and defining for us what condition we were in before we were “set free from sin“ by the blood of the Messiah and before we ‘crucified our flesh with Christ’. We were under the dominion of sin, disobedient to the Law, unrighteous and unsanctified.
Romans 6:22 But now that you have been “set free from sin” and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
But now, Hallelu Yah, we have been “redeemed”, our freedom from the ‘dominion of sin’ has been purchased. Now we can be forgiven of those past sins, reconciled to the Father and walk in His ways without being condemned for those sins.
Take notice that Paul stated twice within 5 verses that we “have been set free from sin”, not set free from the Law of Moses, as we have been taught.
Did the Prodigal Son, after he repented and was forgiven, return to his ‘self-sovereign’ and ‘wicked’ lifestyle once he reconciled with his father? Did he tell himself, “Now that my Father has forgiven me, I can go back to my own ways and do what’s right in my own eyes and my Father will be okay with that”? Or did he recognize his sin, repent, and honor his father by seeking forgiveness and submission to his Father?
As he stated in most of his letters to the churches, Paul is reiterating to those in the Galatia, that trying to keep the Law for “justification” is futile. Getting circumcised ‘in order to be justified’ separates you from the grace, mercy and love God has shown us through the Messiah. We don’t obey our God to be justified in His sight; we obey Him because He is God! We are His bond-servants, grateful, faithful and wanting to show our love by behaving righteously as our Master Jesus did (again, please read “Justification vs. Righteousness“).
This error of not understanding the difference between ‘Justification vs. Righteousness’ and ‘Faith vs. Law’ is why Paul expounded to the Galatians (and us) with the allegory in chapter 4. Just like Abraham trying to make God’s “promise” happen by his own works of the flesh, the Galatians thought that they would be “justified” by their own works of the flesh ~
Galatians 4:21-25 21Tell me, you who desire to be under the law (please read ‘Subject to the Power of the Law‘), do you not listen to the law? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.
Contrary to what we have been taught, this is not comparing the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ covenants. Paul’s comparing the “Covenant at Sinai with Israel” vs. the “Covenant of Promise with Abraham”; he’s comparing Hagar vs. Sarah; comparing Ishmael, the son of the slave vs. Isaac, the son of the free woman; comparing work of the flesh vs. faith and trust.
This is an allegory. By the words of his own mouth Paul told us it’s an allegory. An allegory is “a figurative sentence or discourse, in which the principal subject is described by another subject resembling it in its properties and circumstances; a continued metaphor” (Webster’s Dictionary 1828).
It is a metaphor; i.e. not literal.
Paul is telling us, in a metaphor, that “those who desire to be justified“ by the Law are just like Hagar, the slave woman; (yolk of bondage). The Galatians are unable to be heirs of the promise because they are seeking to be justified by their own works just like Abraham did with Hagar. Paul is telling us ‘if you seek justification through the Law the result is bondage because you can’t satisfy it for justification’. It’s not because the Law itself is bondage, but because we fail to keep it, which is sinning; Sin is the bondage.
The Law cannot redeem you, it cannot save you and it cannot justify you, because it was not designed to. The Law given at Sinai did not redeem, save or justify Israel.
1.) ‘First‘ they were redeemed/delivered/saved out slavery in Egypt by faith and trust in God ~
Exodus 6:6 Say therefore to the people of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.
Micah 6:4 “For I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.”
2.) ‘Then’ they went to get the Law, the instructions, at Sinai. The word Law is ‘Torah’ in Hebrew, and in Hebrew the word ‘Torah’ means ‘instructions’.
If you seek to be justified before God by the works of the Law you are cursed because you fail(ed) to obey it. Then, in your ‘self-justified’ failure to obey the Law, which is sin, you remain in bondage/slavery to your sin, having forfeited the mercy and grace offered by God to justify you by the blood of the Lamb. This is what Paul is saying about those in ‘his’ current Jerusalem because most of them did not believe in the Messiah.
We have been lied to. The Law is not bondage or slavery; Sin is.
What does the Word of God tell us the Law is?
What does the text say?
Deuteronomy 6:25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.’
Psalm 19:7-11 7The law of the LORD is “perfect”, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. 10More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Psalm 119:42-44 42And do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for I wait for Your ordinances. 43So I will keep Your law continually, forever and ever. 44And I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts.
Psalm 119:142 Thy righteousness is an ‘everlasting’ righteousness, and thy law is truth.
Psalm 119:160 The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures ‘forever’.
Psalm 119:172 Let my tongue sing of thy word; For all thy commandments are righteousness.
John 17:17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
Romans 7:12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Is God a liar?
Are David, Jesus and Paul all liars?
Paul was railing against a works-based justification, that’s all. The Law doesn’t justify, it never has; we are justified by faith.
Final thought: Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. | Paul – Romans 3:31
- For further study of Paul’s teachings, as well as the original Greek, please see the ‘Page Links’ at the top of this page or blog posts at the bottom. Be a Berean, and test Paul’s doctrines to the “Scriptures”. Please ‘share’ this study. Thank you for your time!