Galatians - Lesson 14

Law of Moses in Galatians

To what extent does the Law of Moses provide specific direction for the way we should live as disciples of Jesus?

Douglas Moo
Lesson 14
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Law of Moses in Galatians

Law of Moses in Galatians

I. Transitional verse - Galatians 5:25

II. Community Life

A. Verse 1

B. Verse 2

C. The Law of Christ

D. To what extent are we as Christians under the law of Moses?

1. Divide the law of Moses into three parts

2. Under the Law

3. Believe into

E. Question and Answer

F. Danger of moralism

Class Resources
  • Galatians is about how you get yourself right with God and also how the Gospel is an inclusive power. 

  • Paul's autobiographical reasons for why you should listen to him.

  • Paul's interaction with the apostles in Jerusalem and an encounter with the apostle Peter. Dr. Moo challenges you to define the Gospel in light of the themes in the text so far. (The handout on the Gospel that Dr. Moo mentions at about the 44 minute mark is not available.)

  • Paul framed his preaching of the Gospel in the context of both the fulfillment of promises of God to Israel and the contemporary images of the Greco-Roman tradition. The Good News is not simply a matter of individuals experiencing a relationship with God, but also a broader theme of God establishing his rule over the universe through Jesus. [There is some intermittent static in the audio for about the first 30 minutes]

  • Introduction of the term, "justification." Also a discussion of the meaning of the phrase, "works of the Law."

  • Paul contrasts the ideas of faith and the Law. One way to describe the Galatian controversy is to determine who has the correct reading of the Old Testament. 

  • The meaning and implications of the doctrine of justification. One notable distinction is whether you are justified apart from your works, according to your works or on the basis of your works.

  • Discussion of the metaphors of the Law as a guardian, and being adopted into God’s family. 

  • Paul uses rhetorical techniques that were common in his day to persuade people. He also refers to Old Testament passages to instruct the Galatians in theire conduct. Dr. Moo discusses the process of translation.

  • Appropriation of the Old Testament in the New Testament includes both explicit and implicit quotations.

  • Discussion of the meaning and application of the term, "by faith alone" as it relates to the subject of justification.

  • Paul reminds the Galatians that they started well and need to finish well. The Spirit-led righteous life results in authentic community. Discussion of the idea of freedom to live as we are created to live.

  • To what extent does the Law of Moses provide specific direction for the way we should live as disciples of Jesus?

  • Discussion of what the Bible teaches about the extent to which your eternal destiny is tied to your behavior and the meaning of the term, "new creation."

Dr. Douglas Moo, Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School, is an acknowledged expert in the writings and theology of Paul. His commentary on Romans is among the best ever written, and he is working on a new commentary on Galatians. In this class, Professor Moo will walk you through the book of Galatians and will spend considerable time summarizing Paul's basic theology.

We do not offer this class for credit. The comments that Dr. Moo makes regarding assignments and credits refer only to students who were taking the course for credit at the time of our filming.

Dr. Douglas Moo
Law of Moses in Galatians
Lesson Transcript


I. Transitional Verse – Galatians 5:25

What does the word Janus mean? It means looking both ways; verse 25 sums up where Paul has been and sums up what is coming next. Paul is saying that he assumes that the Galatians are truly in Christ and that is the direction of their lives; you are in the Spirit and led by him generally but let us now make sure we keep in step with the Spirit. It is more of a practical specific exhortation here. The Spirit is the influence in our lives, but there is still a responsibility on our part to make sure that we are keeping in step. There are certain forms of Christianity where the Spirit is viewed as automatic; you just sort of sit in the right place or read the right book and it all happens. It just takes place as God’s Spirit does the job. But Paul is clear in saying that the Spirit is in charge, it is dominating and leading but we do have to respond to that leading. We have to keep in step with that leading. The NIV makes good use of the verb here; a verb that you would perhaps use for an army that was marching in order, making sure you are in the same sequential stepping as everyone else is. That is what Paul is saying here. It seems to me again that the chapter heading in probably in the wrong place. There are Bibles that avoid these heading but not so in the NIV where we have a paragraph break with a bold heading. I would recommend using a Bible without these breaks so that you can make your own decisions as to where a break should or should not be. I would choose verse 26 as a heading of the next section: let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. This is kind of parallel in verse 15; you can see how these are operating along the same lines; Paul’s concern about the community. This is a dominate focus throughout the remaining of this part of the letter.

II. Community Life

A. Verse 1

It starts out with brothers and sisters as an example of this community life: ‘if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.’ This is a great reminder about how the community is to operate, how the body of Christ is to function. We are to watch out for each other and when we see a brother or sister caught in a sin as Paul says here, we who have the Spirit, Paul isn’t talking about a special group of people here, that is all us Christians who have the Spirit should both restore them gently. So restoration can certainly have some negative aspects to it. We may need to confront a person about a sin, we may need to engage in that awkward conversation with someone who is a friend of ours and talk about an issue we see in their life. So the process of restoration can certainly have its negative side but obviously restore has a positive sense. The goal to be not the rebuke, rather the goal is to rather bring this person back into full fellowship with other Christians and their relationship with the Lord.

B. Verse 2

Verse 2 provides sort of the grounds for verse 1. ‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.’ Enter into this experience in the life of other believers and in this way you carry each other’s burdens. This is one form of entering into other people’s lives and helping them by our own association and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ, trying to carry the burden as Paul puts it here we fulfill the law of Christ.

C. The Law of Christ

The law of Christ can be taken in two different ways. We have a relationship in Christ’s law. It could be taken as a parallel to the Law of Moses as he was mediating to the people. So now, you have a different law that Christ is the author of or mediates to the people. So in this view, the Law of Christ would be Christ’s own law, perhaps distinct from the Law of Moses. The other view is to take this to mean, the Law of Moses from the Old Testament, the old covenant law as interpreted by or filters through Christ. In this sense, Paul is saying you will fulfill that Old Testament Law as it has come to expression in and through Christ. My own thinking on this; it is a little more natural to take this in the first sense and the reason for doing that is that it seems to match what Paul says in 1st Corinthians 9:19-21. This is the only other place there is language like this. In regards to this, the Greek is slightly different but it comes to much the same thing. In 1st Corinthians Paul is defending his approach to ministry and particularly in this context you remember the idea of Paul becoming like others in order to successful evangelize: ‘I’ve made myself this way to persuade everyone in order to win as many as possible. For the Jews I became like a Jew to win the Jews; to those under the law, I became like one under the law, though I, myself, am not under the law. So those not having the law, I became like one not having the law though I am not free from God’s law but I’m under Christ’s law so as to win those not having the law.’ This is very difficult to read and understand because of all the parentheses and all the references to law in various ways. But what seems to be going on here is the language of law here is referring to the Old Testament Law, the Law of Moses. That is how Paul normally uses the language law. And the connection with Jews in the context certainly suggests this.

When I am working with Jews, those who are under the law, I live accordance with the law myself, even though I don’t have to because I am not under it. Believers in the New Covenant era, I think Paul is saying that he is no longer under the Law of Moses. But in order to win Jews, I want to identify with them; I don’t want to cause unnecessary offence, so I put myself under the law and live under the law. But when I am ministering with gentiles, those who don’t have the law, namely the Law of Moses, I also become like one not having the law; I don’t feel any need to follow the Jewish law when I am ministering to gentiles. But Paul wants to make it clear that he isn’t free from God’s law in any sense. I am still obliged to Christ’s law. Paul seems to be talking about God’s law as sort of a broad category. God’s revelation of his will for people which in this context comes in two different forms: the Law of Moses, that govern the people of Israel in the Old Covenant period but now has come in the form of Christ’s law to God’s new covenant people. This seems to suggest a sort of discontinuity between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ corresponding roughly to the move from old covenant to the new covenant. In Galatians 6:2 then, it seems to me the reference to this second, the law set forth with reference to Christ with perhaps a particular focus on the love command; this is the law of love for the neighbor and for others as we love ourselves. This could include the example of Christ if we think of law in a kind of broader sense, the pattern of Christ’s own life. It might even include the teachings of Christ and the apostles, focused on love. The purpose of Paul here is not to defend this idea of the law; he doesn’t elaborate here but only uses the phrase sort of in passing almost. He does reflect this move in salvation history from an old covenant where the Law of Moses governed the life of people of God to the new covenant where God has now brought a new law, the law of Christ into being in order to govern the life of his people now.

The Old Testament background here and I am particular moving to the last point in a moment; the law in the Old Testament, Paul is reflecting broader Biblical theology and so he is grounded in the Scriptures at that point. The law in the Old Testament is given following Israel’s election. The pattern is that God brings his people into existence, he creates them via the Exodus, bringing them out of Egypt forms them as a people and then he gives them the Law now that they are his people. The Law was given especially to secure Israel’s life, Leviticus 18:5 that Paul quotes earlier. It was Israel’s life in terms of security in the land and all those things that Deuteronomy talks about. Psalm 19 says that it was light for the people of God. It was to be obeyed, particularly when the heart was transformed. Moses called upon the Israelites to circumcise their hearts, to make sure they are right with God from within and will lead to obedience. The problem the Old Testament reveals about the law is the remaining hard heart of God’s people. Obviously the history of the Old Testament to some degree a history of Israel’s failure and God’s renewed promise to the people despite their failure and his commitment to them to be their God so that they might be his people despite their failure and the exile God has to send them into. So their disobedience has led to exile and death but God will intervene to circumcise the heart and write the law on the heart of his people. There will be an internalization of God’s will that comes in the context of God’s new covenant work. That is where the Old Testament leads us and if we see Paul in light of this, we understand that he is proclaiming implicitly in Galatians the fulfillment of those promises. God has sent his Spirit so that people may now truly obey God in a way they never have before. The sin problem can be overcome by the means of God power Spirit operating in the lives of his people. And the law now is being written on the heart. There is a shift in the focus of law itself as Paul is talking about it.

In the Old Testament, the focus is on the Torah, although there is an extended category of law that we realize sometimes as we have talked about this before. Looking at Galatians 6:2 some find continuity in content so that the Law of Christ is a sort of subset of the Law of Moses. It takes the Law of Moses and reduces it to one command to love; perhaps it is Christ own filtering or fulfilling or interpreting of the Law of Moses. There is some kind of continuity in content where I am arguing for continuity in form. There are different bodies but they have similar forms that they both involve God addressing his people showing his will for them and giving them the commands and prohibitions that should regulate their covenant life. The Law of Moses was intended to regulate the covenant life of Israel so the Law of Christ is given to regulate the covenant life of Christian church, the people of God in the era of fulfillment. I realize that when we talk about these things, we are in controversial territory. I am just kind of amused to see two Christian scholars making such opposite claims on the matter.

D. To What Extent Are We as Christians Under the Law of Moses

You may know that various theological traditions take very different views on the continuity of the Law of Moses. To what extent are we still under the Law of Moses? To what extent does the Law of Moses still provide specific guidance for the way we live as Christians? The so-called third use of the law as some of you will know in theology about the three different uses of the Law. The identified use of the law to govern the people of God in a kind of civil way, to stimulate repentance and indicate our need for Christ and then the third use of the law to govern, to guide, to be giving directives to the people. It is that third issue that has so much in debate that you see reflected here in these two quotes. Diagrammatically then, there are three views that we might think about particularly. What I think is the standard view particularly in the reformed tradition of Christianity but extending beyond it because that reformed tradition particularly through the American Pilgrims, Johnathan Edwards and New England’s theology had a big influence on evangelicalism as a whole.

1. Divide the Law of Moses into Three Parts

We basically can divide God’s law into three parts: we have the ceremonial law, sacrifices that need to be offered and how to observe the Passover; we have civil laws to govern the life of Israel, for instants the cities of refuge, legislation and how Israel should set itself up as a nation. And then the category called moral law and how to describe is difficult; moral law is a funny way to talk about it because the opposite would seem to be immoral law, but general laws of the life of the people. One here would think of the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments would be a place where a lot of people would see key dislocation of the moral law of the Old Testament. The coming of Christ brings the ceremonial law to an end. Christ is the ultimate Sacrifice and we no longer need to follow the ceremonial law; Christ brings the civil law to an end because Israel is no longer a theocracy as a nation in that sense. But the moral law continued that Christ and the apostles basically endorsed this moral law and that continues into the New Covenant era as continuing to be applicable to the life of the people of God. A kind of extreme reformed view that doesn’t seem to popular anymore says that the civil law hasn’t come to an end; the so-called civil law, the laws about how God’s people should govern themselves continue and we should try to influence the world to follow those laws. Some say that there is clear evidence in the New Testament that the ceremonial law has kind of reached its end as being fulfilled in Christ. There is no evidence in the New Testament that the civil laws fall into this category. God gave that law and there is no reason we should think that it has been revoked.

The view I am arguing in effect with the coming of Christ, there is in one sense a new law put into place; there is now the Law of Christ where there used to be the Law of Moses. In my view, Christians are not under the Decalogue, we are not obliged to directly obey the Ten Commandments but nine of those Ten Commandments are obviously taken up and repeated in the Law of Christ. You don’t end up with a huge difference in terms of how we live because there is that continuity in content but it is now Christ and the apostles who are the originators and mediators of the Law of God that I am under as a new covenant Christian. The parallel here would be a very large number of laws that are the same in the Law of Christ as in the Law of Moses. So as a new covenant Christian, we are obliged obey the new covenant law, the Law of Christ rather than the old covenant law, the Law of Moses.

2. Under the Law

So this relates to a phrase we have seen several times in Galatians under the law, Galatians 4:4 Christ was born under the law. In other words, he was born while the old covenant was still in effect. He was under the regime, the authority of the Law of Moses. That was true for the nation of Israel; they were under the law in that way. Now, Paul says that you Galatians in 4:21 are being tempted to come under the law, to put yourselves under the Law of Moses, under its regime and he is warning them not to do that. So Paul uses the phrase, ‘under the law’ as a way of talking about generally being under the authority of the Law of Moses which is no longer the case for Christians. The negative, no longer under the law, matches the positive that Christians are under the Law of Christ. This is not the only way to read this material; there is a lot of controversy about this. Good interpreters have a lot of disagreements on this and some of our theological traditions go in very different ways here.

E. Questions and Answer

Paul has no fundamental quarrel with Jews who might want to continue living by the law they’ve grown up with as long as they don’t view it as something they need to do for salvation or think that they are finding atonement in those ceremonies rather than the Cross of Christ. I think Paul fills free quoting certain Old Testament laws such as in Ephesians 6, the commandment to honor your parents is used by Paul. Some would argue that we are still under that law and I see why people would think that. Using the wording of the old covenant law, bringing it into a new covenant context; I think the New Testament writers continue to take principles from the Old Testament law and see it as very useful in filling out New Testament law. I like the New Testament prohibition of sexual immorality. But the New Testament doesn’t spell out what is including in that category. Here, we go to the Old Testament law and ask what the categories of sexual immorality are. If we are going to argue that new covenant believers are under the Old Testament moral law and the Ten Commandments are a summary of that law; I find it difficult to be consistent with that view and not end up again with a seventh day observance. That is kind of a problem for the reformed view that on one hand want to take the Ten Commandments as law that we are still under but then say there is one of the commandments that we are not under. I don’t see how you single out one that way and leave the other nine as it were. As many reformed people will say that the Sabbath command still applies but in a transferred sense, now that Christ has come. This is the usual view, and then they are in fact saying that they are not under the Ten Commandments directly because the Sabbath command is very clear. But there are a number of passages that talk about the usefulness of the law for the Christian believer. There is a continuity there that we should lose sight of, but in terms of ultimate authority, we are under the new covenant law.

Whatever law that we are talking about, the point that I am trying to emphasize is concerned with the heart of living as a Christian comes through the work of the Spirit transforming people, renewing their mind from within. That is the focal point and commandments are needed because we are still sinful people and we can misinterpret the Spirit; we can selfishly and sinfully think that the Spirit is leading us in a direction that it’s not. So we continue to need specific concrete commandments and prohibitions. But they should never become the heart of the matter or the focus of how we think people should live successful Godly new covenant lives. I think there is that persistent pull, not necessarily toward legalism as if we are using the law to get saved but a very strong pull toward what we might call moralism. The focus on teaching laws, commandments, prohibitions as if that is sort of the heart of what it means to be a Christian and how to live as a Christian. As I recall in the New Testament in general, the focus is consistently on this work of transformation by the gift of the Spirit; the internalization of God’s will and purposes; the transformation of the molding into the image of Christ, the renewing of the mind and all of these different images that we often think of. When the focus is on the law again, it is still inadequate to cover all the situations we face in life. There are so many situations that we as Christians face for which there is no law; there is no commandment for which we can appeal. The problem when we begin implying that people can live by a set of laws has to do with the inadequacy of those laws to cover all the areas of our lives. The implications in regards to our ministry; I want to have a ministry in which I am helping people to experience the transformed life of Christ. My preaching and teaching and the way I set up ministries in my church, the ministries that I choose to get involved in and the ones I choose not to get involved in; all of this should be judged by whether this material going to enable this work of transformation to proceed. I know it is frustrating because we deal with people for only a very short time; people are often very transient. Pastors can’t assume that they are going to have five or ten years to work with a person.

Another point, we will never be completely transformed; that is why we continue to need commandments to warn us when we stray from the path God has for us. But be aware that I have given you a certain view of things while other scholars may differ in this view. In academic purposes these days and in apologetics as well are the strong commands for the people of Israel to exterminate the tribes of Canaan. What kind of God is this that tells the people of Israel to destroy them, to slay them all, men, women and children. In terms of the law, I don’t think it is a complete answer but it is helpful if we sort of pick up some of conceptualization that Paul uses in Galatians. To think that to some extent some elements of the law were designed for the childhood of Israel. Laws to cover them, to keep them in tact as a nation, to help them avoid contact with other nations around them; some of the law may have seemed ridiculous in some way but had simply been designed to keep Israel intact as a nation so that they would not become assimilated into the nations around them. Just as with our children we may force them to live under certain laws but ultimately we are going to say to them they may not be that important. They needed them as children but specific reasons. There were certain laws God instituted for Israel as it were in their childhood in order to form them as a nation but wasn’t God’s ultimate purpose for them. This is certainly a different era for God’s people with God doing certain things with his people. When we are left in a situation to discern God’s will for us today without the specific commandments that we would like to have.

F. Danger of Moralism

That is why Christians will continue and debate some of these things. People will paint us as legalistic if we come down on the side of any issue involving sin. While we may not be under the specific law of the Old Testament, we are under New Testament Law and there are laws that govern us and we as preachers and teachers have the right if we have Biblical grounds to do so to say this is wrong and that is right. We have to make sure what the Bible says about any particular point. We also must be aware of taking traditions and elevate them to the role of Biblical laws. My wife grew up during a time when it was considered a Biblical sin to go to a movie and most of us would say that there is not law that you can arrive at such a point. The church always need to ask the question in regards to what are legitimate laws that we can derive from Biblical teachings, especially for a pastor in a clear way. We have to make sure that we simply are not allowing the culture to change our understanding of those laws. You might see that something is going on in the culture and it is becoming more and more of a problem. Maybe I need to go back and look at Scripture to make sure that I am correct on this. Often we will conclude that we are right in our judgement on something and things in our culture are making it difficult to obey but that is no basis to erase it. If the argument is that we have misinterpreted Scripture in terms of what it requires in sexual fidelity, okay, make the case to convince me but if the argument is that it is getting harder to obey so maybe we need to shift; that not a legitimate argument to use.