Barry Newman's Blog

August 26, 2009

Freedom (part V)

Filed under: Ceremonies,Freedom,Gospel,Law,Spirit — barrynewman @ 11:16 am

Ceremonies and Regulations

Circumcision

We should now be able to answer the question, “Why, in the Galatian letter, was Paul so concerned with circumcision?” Centuries before the Mosaic Law was introduced, God instituted male circumcision to be observed by Abraham and his descendants as a sign of the contract that God established between himself and his people (Gen. 17: 10). It later found a place in the Law given to Moses (Lev. 12: 3). The law and practice of circumcision was exceedingly significant. It seems from the letter that Paul wrote to the Galatians that certain Jewish people were insisting that Gentiles who had responded to the gospel needed to be circumcised, just as they were circumcised. Perhaps they argued that no one could legitimately call himself a child of God unless he abided by that ancient law that had indicated that God had chosen them. And the Galatian Gentiles who had become recipients of God’s kindness listened and Paul was greatly disturbed! He did not give thanks to God for them. Instead he exclaimed, “You foolish Galatians who has bewitched you?” (Gal. 3: 1) and “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1: 6, 7). In his letter to the church at Rome Paul appealed to Abraham to demonstrate that before the law was ever given Abraham was justified by faith. In the Galatian letter, he appealed to the two sons born to Abraham, to make a point about slavery and freedom. One son, Ishmael was born to Hagar, a slave. The other son, Isaac, through whom the promises of God were fulfilled, was born to Sarah, a free woman. By analogy he argued that those of the Judaism of his day are children of Hagar, in slavery, while those who are the recipients of the promises of God are free, children of Sarah. They are free from the Law, even the law of circumcision (Gal. 4: 21 – 31).

Food Laws

Circumcision was not the only item of Jewish Law that caused difficulties in the early churches. The people of Israel, in observing the ancient Mosaic Law, recognised some foods as clean and others unclean, not to be eaten. For example, the camel, the rabbit and the pig were to be regarded as unclean along with insects and certain birds (Lev. 11: 1 – 47). With the coming of the gospel, the Law having played its part, such matters could be understood differently. Even Jesus declared, that it was not what went into the mouth that made a person unclean it was what came out of the mouth from the heart (Matt. 15: 17 – 20). Paul was concerned however, that those, perhaps mainly Gentile believers, who felt free to eat whatever they choose, did not endanger the faith of those, perhaps mainly Jewish believers, who had restrictive eating practices (Rom. 14: 1-15; 1 Cor. 8: 1 – 13). Indeed when it came to eating meat that had knowingly been offered to idols, his instruction seems to be that the meat was generally off limits for everyone, perhaps because the knowledge of what they were doing would very likely cause problems of conscience (1 Cor. 10: 23 – 11: 1). Though the spiritual welfare of others was always to the fore of his thinking, Paul had never the less come to realise that the Jewish food laws no longer strictly applied. In his letter to the church at Rome, he declared that no food in itself, was unclean (Rom 14: 14) and in a letter to the church at Corinth, he stated or agreed that, “Food does not bring us nearer to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat and no better off if we do” (1 Cor. 8: 8).

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