SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
All right. There's so much going on here. First of all, just recall that the letter to the Galatians, it's one of it is his angriest letters because he is seriously upset about the fact that some people are leading the Galatians to believe that in order to be justified, or in order to be saved, they have to be circumcised. You can hear some of the passion and the strong language that Paul uses in this passage, it is very characteristic of the letter to the Galatians.
Second, within that context of Paul arguing against the idea that you have to be circumcised in order to be saved, in that context is where he's using this language or imagery of slavery to the law, as well as the yoke or the burden of the law. The whole point, the overall point of this passage, is he's calling the Galatians to freedom in Christ. And what he means by freedom is freedom from having to be circumcised in order to enter into the covenant. That's the basic point that he's trying to make in this passage. That if you are in Christ, you are free from the law. You do not need to be circumcised in order to be saved. That's the primary meaning within the whole context of the letter.
However, with that said, it's important to highlight a couple of points here about the implications of what he's saying. Because you can imagine right off the bat, that if Paul's saying, "Oh, that you are free from the law," some people are going to take that to mean, "Well, I'm free to do whatever I want.” Now, some people might misinterpret that as freedom to sin. He's going to have to strike a balance here between emphasizing freedom from the law of circumcision, but also emphasizing at the same time that this doesn't mean license or freedom to sin.
The way he does that is, as you would expect with Paul, in a very Jewish way. He draws on the language of Jewish tradition, of Jewish scripture, in particular, the pharisaic tradition to shed some light on this mystery. Let's just walk through a couple of images here. First, notice at the beginning, he says:
do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Now, remember, a yoke is not the yellow thing inside of an egg. A yoke is the bar or the beam that would be worn on the shoulders of an ox or on a pair of oxen in order to pull a plow, in order to plow a field. The imagery of a yoke of slavery would mean a burden of servitude that's being put on someone's shoulders. Now in context, Paul clearly means this image of a yoke of slavery to refer to the yoke of the law of circumcision. Now, some people might find that a little too strong, maybe even possibly offensive. How could Paul compare God's law or the law of circumcision, which is given by God in the Old Testament, to that kind of a burden. Isn't that a very negative image?
But what we have to remember is that he's actually not the only ancient Jew to use that image to describe the law. For example, in ancient rabbinic literature, the same imagery of a yoke is used to describe both the law of Moses as well as the keeping of the commandments in general. Let me give you a couple examples just to put Paul in his Jewish context.
In the Mishna, which is an ancient collection of rabbinic writings from around the second century AD, it uses the same language of yoke in this way:
R. Joshua b. Karha said: “Why does the section, ‘Hear, O Israel’ precede ‘And it shall come to pass if you shall hearken?’—so that a man may first take upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven and afterward take upon himself the
yoke of the commandments.
Now, without getting into the exact meaning of what the rabbi's saying there means in its overall contact, the basic point for us is notice he uses the metaphor of the yoke of the kingdom and the yoke of the commandments to describe the burden of following the law of God and keeping the commandments of God. And that's not unheard of because if you go back and you read through the Pentateuch in it's entirety, you're going to find that there are a lot of commandments there and that it would be difficult to keep them all without ever breaking one. The imagery they use here is the image of a yoke, but also remember something important. Although the yoke was a burden, one of the reasons the yoke would be placed on the oxen is not just so that they can pull a plough, but so that the farmer can direct them to plow in straight lines. So the oxen aren't just wandering all over the place. The yoke is both a burden, but it's also a guide. So it's an apt metaphor for describing the commandments of the Old Testament.An
d sure enough, if you look later on in rabbinic tradition, they'll explain why this is a yoke, why this is a burden by enumerating just how many commandments the law contains. In one rabbinic tradition, it identifies there being 613 laws altogether in the Pentateuch. And I'm quoting here:
Rabbi Simlai when preaching said: Six hundred and thirteen precepts were communicated to Moses, three hundred and sixty-five negative precepts... and two hundred and forty-eight positive precepts...
Notice, what the rabbi is saying here is if you're going to keep the law, then you have 613 commandments that you have to pay attention to, that you need to avoid violating. And you can imagine that would be a burden to keep them all straight and to make sure that you not violate any of them. That rabbinic tradition of talking about the 613 commandments of Moses as a yoke, although those texts are from later, we already see Paul in the first century being one of the earliest witnesses to that language, to that metaphor, that imagery of the yoke of the law.
Except Paul's using it in the context of telling the Galatians, "you don't have to keep the law of circumcision. That yoke has been broken, so to speak. You don't have to carry that burden. Therefore:
meaning freedom from the law of circumcision
Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
In other words, don't give into the teachers who are telling you that you have to take the yoke of all 613 commandments upon yourself in order to be justified.For full access subscribe here >