In Galatians, Paul teaches his disciples, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law” (Gal 5:18; cf. Rom 6:14-15; 1 Cor 9:20-21). What does Paul mean by “not under the Law”? The traditional answer is that Paul (Shaul) abandoned Torah for an alternative way of living—not a life of legal observance, but a life under “grace” and “faith.” This supposed shift in Paul’s lifestyle assumes that grace and faith are in opposition to God’s Law, but Paul himself denied such an opposition many times over (e.g., Rom 3:31; 4:16; 7:7-16; 10:5). A closer examination of Gal 5:18 shows that Paul does not disdain the Law (far from it), but rather he qualifies the Law’s scope in light of the Messiah’s arrival. I have to warn you, my explanation of the apostle’s words will take you far from the traditional path of reading Galatians.

Shaul’s notion of not being “under the Law” begins earlier in Galatians when he asks, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Gal 3:2-3). Clearly, the Spirit works through faith! Paul adds, “But before faith came, we were protected under the law, being enclosed together to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore, the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Gal 3:23-25).

First, Paul frequently uses the term “faith” (πίστις; pistis) in Galatians as a shorthand for “faith in Messiah,” and the term “promise” (ἐπαγγελία; epangelía) for the promised inheritance given to Abraham (cf. Gen 12:1-3; 15:18-20). The inheritance or promise is something an heir receives once the child matures. According to Paul, his Galatian disciples already received the “Abrahamic promise/inheritance” by the Spirit, without the involvement of Torah (Gal 3:26-29). Jews can receive the same “promise/inheritance of the covenant” through the Spirit in the process of being guided by the Torah.

Second, Shaul compares the custody of a caretaker or tutor (Greek: παιδαγωγός; paidagogós) over a minor to the custody of Torah over Israel. This is not a perfect illustration (because it highlights only one side of Torah), but Paul introduces an idea of “tutor” as an example from the Roman life his audience would understand. In English, a tutor or pedagogue may imply academic instruction, but in Greek or Hebrew, the terms imply practical training in life skills. In Hebrew (מוֹרֶה; moreh) “teacher” or “instructor”, “someone who points to right direction” is related to the word Torah (תּוֹרָה; torah). Greek “law” (νόμος; nomos) is not the best translation for such relationship but translations are rarely perfect or precise. The issue of Torah comes up because Paul addresses his letter to non-Jews who are contemplating circumcision and formal conversion, which would obligate them to live by the Torah’s commandments.

So, keeping this in mind, what does Paul mean by not being “under the Law” or “under a tutor” in his illustration? The answer can be surprisingly straightforward. Mature heirs know how their father wants them to act and do not require the enforcement of rules by a caretaker who already taught them how to live well in society. Galatians are non-Jews, and technically, they were never “under the law” and thus do not require emancipation from it. So applying this scenario to non-Jews is not entirely proper. Paul merely says there are two paths to the inheritance, one through the Spirit and another through Torah which leads one to Christ. (Gal 3:24). But Galatians did not know Torah. They did not even know God before Paul introduced them to Jesus (Gal 4:8; cf. Eph 2:12) so what law could they be under before Messiah?

Indeed, throughout Israel’s history, Torah served as a guide, as a teacher, and custodian who instructs, corrects and even disciplines. Torah preserved Israel as a people living among pagan nations for many generations, allowing them to finally see the days of the Messiah. Now that Messiah has come, those who embrace him are “mature heirs”, they are ready to receive their inheritance/promise. They are guided by the Spirit and thus not “under the tutor”. Yet this does not mean that Israel as a mature heir can now ignore everything she was taught since childhood and now can live however she pleases without any consequences. Torah’s teaching never ceases to be valid and true. Paul’s illustration should not be pressed too far. Illustrations are rarely perfect and simply exist to clarify an idea. In fact, illustrations are not meant to be scrutinized or made into theology. Paul’s original point is that Galatians, who are Gentiles are not supposed get circumcised and quickly acquire a tutor for themselves. Their journey to the “promise” (ἐπαγγελία; epangelía) is different, according to their teacher (Gal 5:18) and that is why they are “not under the law”.

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49 COMMENTS

  1. Does this also imply that Christians should not tithe as it is not instructed in the new covenant as compared to tge the old one

  2. Dear Prof. Pinchas, What is the inheritance or promise? Was Isaac the fulfillment of the promise? What about the seed? What about Jacob, Moses and David? What about the son of David? Isaac is the son (only son in Gen 22) and the Mesiah is also the only son?

    • I think you answered your own question, Fernando. In Galatians Messiah is the seed something that stood beyond the promise to Abraham. Besides the greatness and posterity, God promised Abraham that in him (in his seed) all the families of the earth will be blessed. Those of us who believe in Yeshua connect the dots and see that promise truly fulfilled in Messiah. Redemption, life with God, closeness to God is the inheritance/promise.

  3. For both Jew and gentile, salvation is by faith in Jesus the Christ. For all, a life pleasing to God is by obedience to His Word in Old and New Covenants.

  4. Professor, I am a little bit confused on this issue, since in the Old Testament there were three aspects of Laws the Jews were observing, those are: Civil Law, moral law and ceremonial law. In what aspect of law the Galatians were not under with?

    • Actually, traditionally Jews do not separate commandments along such lines. This is something Christian theologians came up with. Jewish tradition believes that some basic laws are universal and should be upheld by everyone. They are self-evident such as an idea of one God, the prohibition of idol-worship, murder, theft, sexual immorality and etc.

  5. “The inheritance or promise” in Gen 12, 13 and 15 are promises. They are “land”, descendants and blessings. The “land and blessings” are for all Christians as well as “Jews”. Non-Jew Christians are not blood descendants. Please elaborate and explain.

  6. Thank you pinchas , do you think the modern church has westernized the gospels and to some degree to their own detriment made the faith only movement, rejecting torah , far to easy to be saved, thusly creating or in danger off luke warmness Christianity.

    • Yes, Paul, I think the Bible has been watered down quite a bit. Jewish voices and Israel’s wisdom have been rejected for many centuries and were replaced with “new and better ideas” It’s OK, people are waking up and seeking to restore their faith. Look at how many people come and study with us!

  7. Many protestants overtly use Galatians 3:23ff to create guilt, to guide Christian living and for civil (social) purposes in Gentile societies! I believe “us” & “we” refer only to Israel. The narrative does not address subjective pschyo/emotional responses for anyone. It’s purely historical. Any comments? Thank you.

    • I think Galatians is a strong rhetorical letter with very peculiar content and has been misused in a variety of ways by ignoring that context.

  8. Clarified some things. Thank you Prof Shir. I agree with what you have explained and what Paul actually meant. I suspected something similar, but not completely. I will join a class once I am able to afford it.

  9. Prof. Thanks for such a great revelation of Apostle Paul. I believe those who still reject Messiah reject God and those who acknowledges God through Abraham still reject God, Abraham and Messiah. Our believe should be more in Christ so that we can receive the Promises of Abraham by faith.

  10. Our Saviour is THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW I understand – Jesus Christ Messiah as shown in Hebrews 9 and 10 became THE PERFECT FINAL SACRIFICE for GOD ONCE FOR ALL TIME! Hebrews 10:4 onwards shows 7: HE offered HIMSELF to do FATHERS WILL….as written of HIM in The Law!

    • I am not sure what Heb 9 and 10 have to do with Galatians. Different book, different point. Sorry, do not see the connection. Everything I do in obedience to God is the “fulfillment of the law”. This means I fulfilled the law too (not competing with Jesus, just making a point) So what? Just because Jesus obeyed the Father, does that excuse me from being obedient?. Is this what you are suggesting? I don’t’ get your logic, Margi.

  11. Galatians 3:24 Very interesting to note that the words ‘to bring us’ are in italics which mean they are not in the Greek. The law can never bring us to Christ – only the Holy Spirit can. So we could say ‘until’ rather than ‘to bring us’.

    • Yes, you are right, Kieth. These words are often in cursive for a reason! Greek says – εἰς (for/in/into/to) Χριστόν. Christ is in the accusative, which means he is the object, and thus εἰς is “to” Literally: “the law has become our pedagogue to Christ” and that is why “to lead” is added, to express the movement implied by the accusative case. The phrase is not really there, but the meaning is absolutely accurate. The Pedagogue guides one into a particular direction.

    • Thank you for sharing your insights about the law. I always saw the commands of the Torah included in the instructions in the New Testament. We receive salvation through faith. We learn to live as Adonai wants us to live by loving G-d and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

  12. I would think a new believer would still need the law as a tutor. So how would a new believer know which of God’s commands to ignore? Churches are of no help, they believe the law is ended.

    • In my opinion, every new believer needs a mentor (or a copuple), who models the lifestyle and a community where examples can be observed and learned. Most people would not be able to derive spiritual principles from biblical texts without seeing how they are applied.

  13. Yes, we need to know “the letter” to figure out its spiritual meaning, as Jesus explains in “Sermon on the mountain”. Good mentor (without religious bias) is hard to find though. I will recommend Holy Spirit, He’s role is to be our mentor (parakletos). Takes longer but is safer.
    Ed

  14. I believe God’s Word is literal truth, and I can trust it. God promises that He will bring us completion in Christ, not because of who I am, (law or no law) but because of who God is and what He has accomplished and will complete through Jesus.

  15. “According to Paul, his Galatian disciples already received the “Abrahamic promise/inheritance” by the Spirit, without the involvement of Torah (Gal 3:26-29). Jews can receive the same “promise/inheritance of the covenant” through the Spirit in the process of being guided by the Torah.” Can you expand on this dichotomy? Separate article?

  16. Hi Prof. 2 scenarios here: Galatians, just like Cornelius, did not receive the Spirit by obeying the Torah, but by having faith in Yeshua. Simply because Galatians were now led by the Spirit, the Spirit led them not live sinful lives but to love neighbors and God.

  17. 2nd scenario. The Jews which Gal 3:25 refers to them, were always protected by the caretaker until Yeshua came. Now that Yeshua had come, the tutor is no longer necessary. Their maturity and faith in Yeshua will make them live righteously without contradicting the former lessons of the tutor.

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