Will you take a moment to look closely at what Paul writes, in context with the entirety of Scripture?
Paul talks about his “former manner of life in Judaism,” and how he tried to destroy the church of God. He says he “was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” But what is Judaism?
Most don’t stop long enough to ask that question. A very good practice in Bible study, and in any study, is to slow down, really read what is written. In the Bible, there is no filler. Every word is there for the purpose of the God who gave the words to His prophets. Yahweh said through Isaiah, in Isaiah 55:11
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”
At this point it would be good to remember that it was the Spirit of Messiah Yeshua, whom most call Jesus, who spoke to the prophets, according to Peter, in 1st Peter 1:10-12.
It was the same Spirit of Messiah who spoke to Isaiah who spoke to Paul. It was the Voice of the LORD (Yahweh), who is Messiah Yeshua/Jesus. He is the Word that proceeded from Yahweh’s mouth. And He spoke to Paul and inspired Him to write what we read in Galatians. So when Paul writes about Judaism, what is he talking about? It is important to know, because this is the premise of the entire letter, and it is the issue that he is dealing with, in one way or another, in every letter he wrote.
Now, notice that Paul says that he was”extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” He says this in connection with his “former life in Judaism,” that he “advancing in.” Paul was on a fast track in the ruling circle of Pharisees and the Scribes. Judaism was the big politico-religious party of the day, and Paul was a rising star, until He met Yeshua on the Damascus Road.
To know what Judaism is we need to see who the proponents and practitioners of Judaism were. We need to see what Yeshua thought of them and their Judaism.
We’ve been taught that the Pharisees and Scribes were strict adherents to Torah, and that they mandated such strict obedience to Torah. But is that true? What is the testimony of Yeshua concerning their practices?
Notice that the Pharisees were not accusing Yeshua’s disciples of breaking the commandments of Torah. They were accusing them of breaking the tradition of the elders. Now, what was Paul “extremely zealous” for? He was “extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” Are the “ancestral traditions” synonymous with the Torah commandments of Yahweh? What is the testimony of Yeshua/Jesus, concerning this question?
Yeshua’s response to them is very clear, concise and direct. He responds to the question about the disciples breaking the “tradition of the elders,” by asking them, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition.” A clear contrast between two laws is revealed in Yeshua’s question to the Pharisees and Scribes. One law is Judaism, which is a lawless mix of Torah commandments and “ancestral traditions.” Judaism is codified in the Talmud, in thousands of “ancestral traditions” that break the commandments of Yahweh’s Torah. It is filled with additions to Torah, and subtractions from Torah, in violation of the Torah commandment of Deuteronomy 4:2. The law that is contrasted with the “traditions of the elders” is the Torah of Yahweh, that they were breaking by their zealousness for the “ancestral traditions,” just as Paul once was “extremely zealous” for them. The issue of washing the hands, that they were condemning the disciples of Yeshua for, is not a Torah commandment. It is a ritualistic addition to Torah, and is lawless, or Torahless.
Paul’s practice of Judaism saw him trying to destroy the church of Elohim. It was not of Elohim, who is the Godhead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who spoke to the prophets, everyone. The context of his letter is that those who practice Judaism are the ones who are trying to draw the Galatians away from the true gospel of Messiah Yeshua to another gospel, as he writes in Galatians 1:6-9. Judaism is the false gospel.
Lawless Judaism believes that access to Yahweh is only through the Jews. Through the rite of the proselyte, a gentile joins himself to Israel, and then becomes eligible, at least in part, to the God of Israel. That’s the false gospel of Judaism, and is why the subject of circumcision is a big part of all of Paul’s letters. When he refers to “the circumcision” he is referring to the proponents of lawless Judaism; the Judaism that is juxtaposed with the just, holy, righteous, spiritual Torah.
Sadly, the lawless elements of Judaism have formed the core of the foundation of the lawless traditional church. The lawless rabbis began teaching that gentiles didn’t need to keep Torah, other than what they called the Noahide laws, to have a relationship with God. Judaism is their elite club. If you join their club, then you must adhere to the laws of Judaism. But Judaism believes that their traditions become a part of Yahweh’s Torah. Not so. They simply added to and subtracted from Torah, in transgression of Torah.
Isaiah 56 tells us clearly that Gentiles are to join themselves to Yahweh. We aren’t told that we are to be joined to Israel. And we are to keep the commandments of Torah, instead of keeping the “traditions of the elders” of Judaism.
Now, read the Book of Galatians with this in mind; Paul is dealing with the law of Judaism that is competing with the Torah of Yahweh, in Messiah Yeshua, for the hearts and minds of the Galatians. It is a flesh versus Spirit war, where the flesh is hostile to and cannot submit to Torah, whereas in the Spirit we are able to, just as Paul says in Romans 8.
Paul did not teach that the Law/Torah of Yahweh was bondage, or a burden. He taught that the lawless “traditions of the elders” of Judaism was bondage, and was a burden. Yeshua came to set mankind, both Jew and Gentile, free from that bondage. Free from sin into the glorious Law of Liberty, Torah!
It is by His work of grace, in the New Covenant, when His Holy Spirit writes His Torah on our hearts and puts His Torah in our minds, and causes us to walk in His statutes and keep His commandments, of His Torah.
I love Him, because He first loved me, died for me, and was resurrected, conquering death hell and the grave (whose power is sin/lawlessness), and gave me of His newness of resurrected life by His Spirit in me. I obey Him because I love Him. And His grace is His divine power in me, causing me to obey. I keep His Torah because He saved me and I’m free to walk in His perfect Torah of Liberty.