Galatians 5:2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. <3> Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.
“Mark my words!” The Greek word translated here as “mark my words” etc. turns up slightly different in other English translations of the Bible. For example, the King James Version has this as “Behold, I Paul say unto you.” I think the original Greek comes off better in the context of the NIV, at least to the average American, down to the exclamation point. Paul is emphatic in driving home the concept of RELATIONSHIP and his covenant level connection to the Galatians. He is saying, “Hey! Look! Its ME talking here!” And by doing this, he is calling to mind the credentials he has with the Galatians. These include his experience, depth of relationship with God, his integrity and testimony (see Galatians 1:13 – 2:10) the history of their shared relationship (see Galatians 4:12-19) and even his own investment and personal risk in standing up for what is true (see Galatians 2:11-21). Paul’s integrity and reputation WAS Christianity in the Gentile World. It would be a little bit like the Pope addressing Catholics, or Billy Graham addressing evangelicals today – but more so, because Paul was directly and personally involved with the Galatians, and had introduced them to Jesus, had personally planted these churches. Authentic, lateral brotherly relationships based in the Holy Spirit and upon the Word of God are the currency of the Christian life.
Then, in both verse 2 and 3, Paul gives us a double barreled ultimatum of truth. Verse 2 phrases it personally – “if you let yourselves be circumcised.” Verse 3 broadens it to universality – “every man.” Repeating a principle in successive verses/sentences like this for emphasis – even making the second statement broader and more emphatic than the first – was a common Hebraic and rabbinical argument technique. The book of Proverbs, even Jesus himself used this concept many times in the scriptures.
Of course, the Jews of Paul’s time had a concept that Gentiles could be “saved.” A righteous, God fearing Gentile could be “saved” by keeping the seven laws/principles God gave to Noah (I tried to look at this concept in a general sense back in the our discussions in this Journal involving Galatians 3). But to truly be a part of the covenant, if a gentile was to convert to Judaism, he would be required, like all devout Jews, to keep all 613 specific commandments given to Israel at Mt. Sinai (well, that’s 613 by rabbinical count). The Jewish tradition – even before Paul’s day – was that the law was a symbiotic whole. Each piece was dependent upon the other. A devout Jew was required to keep every commandment. Rejecting any single part was a rejection of the whole.
The point Paul wants to make is another “legal argument” and is found here in verse 3 – by accepting circumcision, the Galatians were obligating themselves to strict obedience to the entire Jewish law. However, Paul has already noted the impossibility of this standard -- no one can possibly keep the entirety of the Mosaic law (see Galatians 3:10-12) and how the Galatians had really adopted an “ale carte” view of Jewish law, tradition, and culture, leading to a strange blend of pagan and Jewish rules and customs (see Galatians 4:8-11). Clearly, the Galatians' approach wasn’t working.
In the midst of this discussion, Paul sums up the entire purpose of the letter. If you submit to the rules of circumcision – an outward physical change that really has no bearing on your heart or your interrelationship with God or man – then Jesus has no value.
“No value?” Wait a minute, that’s pretty heavy! But its absolutely true, and, it works on two levels.
The first is the more obvious. To rely on something outward, on something we do in and of ourselves as a behavioral action to make ourselves acceptable to God invalidates the promise. If, by obeying a rule, we can be made right with God, then we don’t need the sacrifice of Christ for redemption or salvation. Jesus truly is of “no value.”
The second level is more subtle, but all the more heretical. Circumcision was as much a cultural concept in Judaism as a spiritual principle. Every Jewish male received circumcision as a right of passage. I do not want to seem to belittle this as a cultural concept, but it served as an initiation ceremony – in some ways not unlike the “cloak and dagger” secret initiation ceremonies in college fraternities, or Fred Flinstone putting on the horned hat to be a member of the Water Buffalo Lodge. This is because the essence of fraternities, lodges, even street gangs, is relationship! But like street gangs and fraternities, the Judiazers insisted on conformity to an outward, cultural standard to be acceptable. These are all corruptions of the truth, which requires a mere acceptance of the promise and then the fruit is a living relationship with God. To rely on a cultural concept as trivial as an initiation ceremony to define our acceptability to God and each other is to reject Christ. If we use this standard in any way to define who is acceptable to God, or to us, we reject Christ. Skin color, language, ethnicity, neighborhood, educational level, musical style/genre, denomination, economic strata, size of family, political view, anything – If these become our measuring standards for God’s kingdom, Christ truly has “no value!”