Under the law redemption

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Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I've been mulling over John Brown's Galatians commentary and in Galatians 3:14 and 4:5, he seems to think only Jews are addressed and having been redeemed from the curse of the Mosaic law. This seems to open up a lot of questions. In what sense were Gentiles saved by penal substitution, if we were not under the Mosaic law curses as the Jews were? Fulfilling the CoW for Gentiles, Mosaic for Jews? Do believing Jews circumcise only due to matters of conscience;e ethnicity; should it be advocated against only on religious grounds since it carries a sign of rejection of Christ?
In what way is Paul advocating against any works righteousness and not just those in the Mosaic law?


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
First, I should declare that Brown on Galatians may be updated, but never surpassed. There could be a place or other where I differ from him, but he is a faithful guide, and I learned well from him.

The Israelite people were the ones who took the oath at Sinai, no other (Gentile) people did that. So, as pertains to the curses specifically of that covenant, only they who are condemned by it can be reprieved. The covenant of works in a more general sense, "in the day ye eat therof ye shall surely die," is a law that condemns all mankind. Israel's failure in its own national covenant simply compounds their guilt.

Exegetically speaking, if 4:4 refers to the Mosaic law as that under which Christ was born, it stands to reason that 4:5 refers to the same law in a specific sense. However, it may be pointed out that the language "born of a woman, born under the law" is just as applicable, and could be Paul's ultimate meaning, if referred to Genesis rather than Exodus.

At 3:13-14, there is a better argument that Paul's primary referent is the OT law of Moses, mainly because he quotes Dt.27:26 in v10 and Lev.18:5 in v12, and again Dt.21:23 in v13. So, in terms of "the curse of the law," Paul marshals a scriptural argument to establish God has inflexible standards to which he holds men accountable who have entered into covenant with him by their oath. Note, then, he goes on to describe two different sorts of covenants in the subsequent vv, one where men promise to obey, and another in which God alone promises unconditionally.

The principle of obedience, therefore, applies just as forcefully in the case of the original covenant of works as in the case of Sinai. We learn from the example of Israel what it is to be obligated to obey, and how failure under those conditions brings about judgment. And that sign is applicable to the universal condition in which all men, Jews and Gentiles, find themselves. Sinai fleshes out with detail the simpler expressions and results of Eden.

The WCF 19.1-2 explains that the original moral law was bound up in the covenant of works and presented to Adam; and then later "this law," the same moral fundament, "was delivered by God upon Mt. Sinai," in the 10C; not as a covenant of works, and yet the legal essence was the same. Because it was the same essence, Christ fulfilling the exacting Mosaic minutiae as one born to those additional demands also cleared the obligation of all men under the original covenant of works.

As for circumcision: today, that ancient rule has zero religious significance (as far as a Christian ought to regard it). If a Christian of Jewish extraction receives or regards the rite as one he is conscience-bound to keep, if Paul is to be still regarded as inspired then the ritualist is in danger. Such a person needs to understand what Paul says here, and the argument of the writer to Hebrews. "In for a penny, in for a pound;" goes the saying, and Paul says one may not take the Mosaic law piecemeal. He is "debtor to the whole law," who takes circumcision as a meritorious, non-negotiable work.

If, however, such a Jew only honors his heritage and a temporal identity by his marking in the flesh, or takes a hygienic perspective on the operation, that does not seem to fall foul of Paul's warnings. But, even a Christian of Jewish extraction should be able in the extremity, to "let goods and kindred go." He can afford that cost, no matter how high, if heaven is the reward.

Paul wants the Galatians (mostly Gentile church members) not to adopt the Judaizers' teaching: that to finish the matter of coming to God, after faith in Christ they need to accept Moses into their hearts, and show it by the mark of circumcision. Paul understood that embracing such a teaching was adding works to free justification. The Gentiles did not need to become Jews in order to BE right with God, or in order to get on the inside-track, i.e. the top-level covenant relation.

I think you will find that Brown does not say different.
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