Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

A moment of stillness, photograph by Tobias Mayer, 2020

Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?
Galatians 4:21

Jesus spoke out against the pharisees and scribes who put on a show of living strictly according to the law. He pointed out that they had taken the law of God, and added so many conditions as to make it man's law, and one very difficult to follow unless you were privileged, as the pharisees and scribes of course were. Jesus further points out that the embellishments added to the law were for self-gratifying purposes, and nothing to do with serving God.1

Paul picks up this theme in his letter to the Galatians, sarcastically asking them if they wish to be slaves to the law, as they once were, or to be free of the law through their faith in Jesus Christ. Neither Jesus nor Paul came to undermine the law.

Jesus: Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.2

Paul: Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.3

This sounds contradictory, until we recognise that "the law" has two essential components: the letter and the spirit. Paul here is speaking out against following the letter of the law, without really understanding the law. This is just compliance, doing what you are told. Paul questions whether the Galatians being persuaded back to the law have really read the law, or are simply listening to self-appointed legal experts who interpret it for them.4 Paul (and Jesus before him) would like people to understand and embrace the spirit of the law, not get caught up in detailed implementations. The spirit of the Torah is simple. Jesus captured it in two sentences, and Paul continues to carry the message.

... The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.5

1 Read Mark 7:1-13, and What does Corban mean in Mark 7:11?
2 Matthew 5:17
3 Romans 3:31
4 See What does Galatians 4:21 mean? and What law is referred to in Galatians 4:21?
5 Mark 12:29-31. See also Matthew 22:34-40, Luke 10:25-28 for parallel stories, and consider reading the recent article How does Jesus summarise the law in Mark 12? by Ian Paul, 27/10/2021