Posted by: mattcolvin | March 6, 2012

The Choice of Two Covenants in Galatians 5


Tuesday of the 2nd week in Lent: Galatians 5:2-end.

2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.

So much in this passage!

2 – The problem with Galatians choosing circumcision, as Tim Gallant points out in These are Two Covenants, is not that they are trying to earn their salvation, but that they are choosing the wrong covenant. The Torah leads to bondage. Christ leads to freedom.

3 – The obligation to “do the whole Torah” is not accompanied by any promise of reward for doing so. There is no “covenant of works” here. Paul simply means that the Galatians are not at liberty to cherry-pick the parts of the Torah they want to be bound by. It is a package deal: if you submit to the initiatory ritual of the Torah-covenant, then you are obligated by kashrut, Sabbath, and everything else. (Obviously, modern non-Jewish circumcision for “hygiene” is as irrelevant to this passage as ancient Egyptian circumcision was. Neither is intended as initiation into the Torah covenant, and intention is crucial to sacraments.)

4 – “You have fallen from grace” – On the one hand, this verse can come in quite handy for debating “once saved, always saved.” But really, it is not about election or predestination at all. Like Hebrews 10:26-27, it is talking about the choice of covenants: Christ, or the Torah? If we choose the Torah, there is no more sacrifice for sin there, and thus no salvation.

Don’t read this chapter in isolation. It follows immediately from chapter 4, with its allegory of Hagar and Sarah, who are “two covenants.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories