In Part 1, I stated that although Paul is discussing the Law of Moses in Galatians, his logic tells us that the conclusions he reaches apply to all efforts to be saved by works rather than by faith. I’ll explain this further as we work through what Paul wrote.
But we can see that Paul is speaking of more than the Mosaic Law in other ways as well. Consider, for example —
(Gal 2:15-16 ESV) 5 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
Paul is concerned that he might be falsely accused of encouraging sin by declaring that we are justified “by faith in Christ and not by works of the law.” If we don’t have to obey the law, does that mean we can sin freely?
Well, if by “law” Paul means “ceremonial law of Moses,” he could immediately respond by saying, “I’m not talking about the moral law — just the ceremonial law.” But that’s not his response. Rather, he speaks in terms of the meaning of our salvation into the crucifixion of Jesus!
(Gal 2:18-21 ESV) 8 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
That’s not an easy argument to make, and not one you’re likely to hear in a typical Church of Christ Sunday school class. Rather, what you’ll hear is that the ceremonial law is nailed to the cross but the moral law remains in effect. Paul doesn’t say that. (He gives a more complete response in chapter 5, regarding the Spirit — which is another reason we in the Churches of Christ have trouble hearing what Paul says.)
(Gal 4:3-9 ESV) 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But 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 v. 3, Paul speaks of the “elementary principles” that once enslaved his readers. In v. 9, he returns to the identical thought: “the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world.” This series of verses is all connected as part of a single argument (which I’m not going to cover in detail). In v. 5 he describes certain people “who were under the law.” Are these Jews or Gentiles? Well, it sure sounds like he’s speaking particularly of Jews, doesn’t it? Who else would have been “under the law”?
But v. 8 says that “you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.” What’s that? Well, it has to be false gods: idols. And v. 9 says “now that you have come to know God” — hardly something you’d say about a Jew. So he’s actually speaking of Gentiles! And, of course, he’s speaking of Gentiles — because it was the Gentiles who were having to decide whether to be circumcised. The Jews already were circumcised!
Therefore, Paul has said that the Gentiles “were under the law,” meaning “the law” is much more than a law binding just on the Jews.
(Rom 2:14-16 ESV) 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Romans and Galatians greatly overlap in their themes and thoughts, with Romans being longer and more detailed on most questions. In Rom 2, Paul speaks of Gentiles who don’ t have the law nonetheless having “the law … written on their hearts” as shown by their consciences. Plainly, the “law” here is at least the moral law, not just the ceremonial law.
He then addresses the Jews —
(Rom 2:21-23 ESV) 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.
“The law” includes “Do not steal” and “Do not commit adultery” — moral laws. Plainly, Paul makes no distinction between the moral law and the ceremonial law when he speaks of “the law.” And therefore the Gentiles who don’t yet know God and who’ve never read the Torah nonetheless know a part of God’s law — and may be fairly charged by God without violating it.
(Rom 4:2-3 ESV) 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Ponder this one. Let’s translate it in the 20th Century Church of Christ way —
(Rom 4:2-3 ESV) 2 For if Abraham was justified by works [of the ceremonial Law of Moses], he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
The Law of Moses came hundreds of years after Abraham died! Obviously, Abraham wasn’t and couldn’t have been justified by the ceremonial Law of Moses — or all the Law of Moses. But he might have been justified by works of the law. You see, “the law” is whatever God’s commands are — whether known from nature, from our consciences, from culture, from the Law of Moses, or even from the voice of God himself. It’s all “the law.”
Abraham had to be saved by faith, not works, even though the Law had not yet been written. He had to be saved by faith because even a great man such as Abraham sinned against what he knew of God’s will. And that’s enough to damn — but for salvation by faith.
In short, there are many reasons we have to conclude that “the law” is not just the ceremonial law of Moses or even the entirety of the Law of Moses. Yes, the manifestation of God’s law Paul has primarily in mind in Galatians is the Law of Moses. They were arguing over circumcision. But Paul arguments in Galatians and in Romans apply to “the law” in all its forms — any effort to seek salvation by works — indeed, to any effort to find salvation other than through faith in Jesus.
And that’s the biggest point. Both books plainly teach that salvation is only found through faith in Jesus. Whether you seek salvation through the Law of Moses or Hammurabi’s Code or the Napoleonic Code or the Five Acts of Worship — it’s still not salvation through faith in Jesus — making it law.
You see, when Paul wrote Galatians, circumcision was no longer God’s law. It used to be God’s law, but it was God’s law no more. Paul could have simply declared the law requiring circumcision repealed and written a tract instead of a book. But he wanted to deal with all forms of law — all gospels other than the gospel that saves through faith in Jesus. All other gospels are false gospels, regardless of what you call them.