Judaizing is Not a Faithful Response

Paul’s comments in Galatians 3:11-12 are often read as contrasting the Mosaic Law with the Christian gospel, or Judaism and Christianity.  I’ve noted recently that I think this is a misreading, both of Paul in general and Galatians in particular.

In my opinion, Paul is arguing with reference to the specific choice before his Galatian converts.  That is, he isn’t making timeless theological claims about the Mosaic Law but situation-specific assertions about gentiles converting to Judaism in order to be fully accepted before God.

I’ll have lots more to say about this over the next few months as I work through Galatians, but for now, here’s my expanded (albeit somewhat clunky) translation of Gal. 3:11-12:

Now because one’s ethnic identity—in this case being Jewish—is irrelevant for justification before God, it is obvious that God’s approved response to the gospel of Christ is faithfulness.  And to respond to the gospel by being circumcised and converting to Judaism is not how you ought to be embodying faithfulness, which brings God’s approval; rather, the one who responds to the revelation of Jesus Christ with faithfulness will enjoy life from God.

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10 responses to “Judaizing is Not a Faithful Response

  • joey

    Judaism (the actual thing and not how we moderns have construed it) was about faith and faithfulness.
    And Galatians 2:15-16? Is that on your list of items to discuss?

  • lamehousewife

    I can’t quite figure out what the term Judaizing means because when I hear or see a concept that I have never seen or heard before I have a hard time getting my mind wrapped around it at first, BUT I wanted to pass on this paragraph from the Catechism to support you in your efforts:
    “When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish people, “the first to hear the Word of God.” The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ,” “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (CCC 839).”
    There is also quite a bit in paragraphs 577 to 582 about Jesus and the Law if that is more what Judaizing is talking about. The Vatican website has the Catechism in its entirety. Thank you for the thought-provoking post!

    • timgombis

      “Judaizing” refers to gentiles converting to Judaism. It’s something non-Jews do, not Jews. So, to convert to Judaism in an effort to gain justification before God is the wrong response to the gospel.

      But, like you indicate, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with Judaism or Jews–far from it!

      • lamehousewife

        Thanks for clearing that up. I found a couple of different meanings after I googled it. So as far as Scripture goes, you are trying to discern how the Apostles dealt with Gentiles and Jews in regards to the Gospel since the two groups come from two different backgrounds. Am I understanding it correctly? I think I am starting to understand. I will be interested to see what you discover. God bless….

  • Patrick

    What were the Judaizers doing that for?

    IMO, because they assumed Israel were “God’s people” and they assumed circumcision( and other Torah works) was part of what made one “Israel”. Faith in Jesus as Messiah was good, but, one still needed to be circumcised to become the Israel of God.

    Whereas Paul said “NO”, it is not necessary to be physically circumsized to be the Israel of God and he used Abraham as an example.

    Abraham was circumcised 13 years after his first belief wherein he was said to have had righteousness imputed to him by Yahweh upon first belief.

    The “mystery” of exactly what is a Jew is also part of this , IMO.

    Some see current baptism as the NT = for OT circumcision. Shows who’s side you’re on . Paul felt the physical circumcision was an OT sign only, never needed to prove your were God’s people, IMO.

    Then and now, it was always the circumcision of the heart that meant you were authentic Israel, the outward sign was just a declaration such as infant baptism would be now to those who do that.

    In fact, there are OT passages where Yahweh declares (Jeremiah I think) the Jews of that era are not circumsized in their hearts where it counts.

    • timgombis

      “Judaizers” is sometimes mistakenly taken for the teachers who have tried to influence the Galatians, but it’s more accurate to use it to refer to the gentiles being influenced. “To Judaize” is something only gentiles can do, since Jews are already Jews–they can’t “Judaize.”

      And it does appear that they are advocating that one must be circumcised and be part of ethnic Israel in order to be fully part of God’s people–in addition to faith in Jesus.

      But I’d stop short of Paul saying that circumcision is irrelevant. It is indeed important for Jews to honor their God-ordained ethnic heritage and its associated behaviors as they follow Jesus, but it is wholly inappropriate for Jewish Christians to pressure non-Jews to take on Jewish identity. That’s the error that provoked angry rhetoric and harsh denunciation from Paul.

    • timgombis

      I’d just add that you’re right that circumcision of the heart was what God wanted, but that was in addition to Jews’ physical sign of circumcision. So God wanted more than that, not the spiritual instead of the physical.

  • Patrick

    Tim,

    Pretty much agree except I think Torah was over with even for ethnic Jewish Christians post 70 AD. At that point, it appears anyway, following the Torah of Christ(love God, love mankind) made old Torah anachronistic.

    I realize this is controversial ground though.

    • timgombis

      That is indeed controversial! That’s the traditional assumption, I think, but it doesn’t quite fit with what it means to be Jewish, even as Jesus-following Jews. It isn’t really even possible, given what it means to be Jewish, for Jesus-following Jews to be done with Torah, even after 70. Certainly, however, following Jesus meant more than merely being (using Paul’s terms) “hearers of Torah.” Being a “doer of Torah” meant being obedient to Scripture with the end that one would be a follower of Jesus, and that would take place “within Torah” for Jews.

      Looking back, what needs to be explained is how this can be so. From the perspective of the first-century, however, what needs to be explained is how non-Jews like us can be followers of the God of Israel without being Jewish!

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