Galatians 3:13

The Curse of the Law

Galatians_3_13

reproduced from The New Testament Validates Torah

Pastor: Galatians 3:13: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law.

Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE.’”

The pastor is absolutely correct in stating “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law,” because Galatians 3:13a plainly tells us, “The Messiah redeemed us from the curse pronounced in the Torah by becoming cursed on our behalf” (CJB). Paul makes this assertion within a series of remarks where the proper place of the Torah is to be considered (Galatians 3:11-13), where faith in God and His Messiah are placed as being primary to any role the Torah might play.

It should be immediately dismissed that tēs kataras tou nomou, or “the curse of the Law,” is somehow akin to “the curse of having to keep the Law.” This is an extremely errant, populist view, that one can encounter among Christians today, but one which I have never seen explicitly expressed as such in the eleven mainline Galatians commentaries (to date) that I have in my library (see Bibliography)![1] Paul makes it clear that the curse was incurred by disobedience to the Torah. The term katara is explained by TDNT to “[apply] to everybody, not just to the Jew or Jewish Christian. To be a sinner is to stand under God’s wrath and condemnation. Release comes because Jesus became a curse on our behalf.”[2] Elsewhere, Paul confirms that not only is disobedience to God’s Instruction a universal human problem (cf. Romans 2:14; 3:19), but that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The curse incurred from disobedience has been permanently solved because of the Messiah’s execution: for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE’” (Galatians 3:13b; cf. Deuteronomy 21:23).[3]

The “curse of the Law” can by no means be the Torah, as that would actually make Biblical prohibitions like those against murder and stealing in the Ten Commandments—universally agreed to in all religions and societies (and even among atheists) as principles to be followed—to actually be curses upon the human race. The “curse of the Law” principally regards the capital penalty that is pronounced upon sinners, which will ultimately result in eternal punishment for those who are unrepentant. Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) was incarnated as a human being, crucified for the sins of fallen men and women, precisely so that the penalties of the Torah could be lifted from those of us who express faith in Him (Galatians 4:4-5). The fact that the “curse of the Law” is something that has been incurred from disobedience to the Torah, and is something that had to be definitively dealt with on the tree or execution-stake, is appropriately recognized by the following theologians and Galatians commentators—each of which actually thinks that the Law has been abolished in the post-resurrection era:

  • Walter Hansen: “By hanging on a cross, Jesus came under the burden of the curse that all deserve for failure to keep all the law. By bearing the total burden of the curse himself, Jesus set us free from the terrible weight of the curse.”[4]
  • Ben Witherington III: “Christ on the cross endured the curse of the Law, indeed the curse of God that falls on Lawbreakers, his execution being the carrying out of the curse.”[5]
  • Richard B. Hays: “Given the ugly history of Christian attitudes toward Judaism, it is important to recognize that the expression ‘the curse of the Law’ does not mean that the Torah is a curse; rather, it refers specifically to the curse pronounced by the Law, as Paul has just quoted it in v. 10. It is this curse that Jesus has now nullified by his self-sacrificial death.”[6]

Yeshua the Messiah is the final atonement for human sin, and in His death He has abolished the curse of condemnation pronounced upon all Torah-breakers. But even if His final sacrifice has nullified this curse, for those who believe in Him, this does not all of a sudden make the Torah unimportant and irrelevant for His followers. At the very most, as Bruce states, Paul’s “argument would have been all of a piece with his swift and radical reappraisal of the place of the law in God’s ways with mankind.”[7] Until the good Apostle was met by the Living Yeshua on the Damascus road, much of who he was as a Jew was focused exclusively on Torah-keeping (Galatians 1:13-14). Following the dramatic salvation encounter He had with the Messiah, Paul would have to recognize the Torah’s main role in identifying sin and condemning sinners, shutting them up as jailed criminals needing to be freed (Galatians 3:22ff). Those who have experienced redemption in Yeshua are to no longer have the Torah’s curse hanging over them!


NOTES

[1] There are various Galatians interpreters who think that “the curse of the Law” is something that only the Jewish people experienced, such a curse not being a condition for all humanity. This curse might also involve some kind of bondage or slavery to the Torah, but not that keeping the Torah is akin to a kind of “curse.”

[2] F. Büschel, “kátara,” in TDNT, 75.

[3] “If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

[4] Hansen, 96.

[5] Witherington, Galatians, 239.

[6] Hays, in NIB, 11:260.

[7] Bruce, Galatians, 166.

About J.K. McKee 633 Articles
J.K. McKee (B.A., University of Oklahoma; M.A., Asbury Theological Seminary) is the editor of Messianic Apologetics (www.messianicapologetics.net), a division of Outreach Israel Ministries (www.outreachisrael.net). He is a 2009 recipient of the Zondervan Biblical Languages Award for Greek. He is author of numerous books and commentaries, dealing with a wide range of topics that are important for today’s Messianic Believers.

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