“Not even those who are circumcised obey the law.” Paul’s accusation against the Judiazers here is two sided. Obviously, he is pointing out the inherent hypocrisy of their position. Many of the Jewish converts to Christianity were not necessarily observant of every detail of the law of Moses. Recall Paul’s confrontation with Peter back in Galatians 2:14. Peter was no longer observing the Jewish dietary restrictions, and perhaps never had, living as a fisherman. Paul knew this. Yet Peter was trying to force these restrictions regarding eating upon the Gentiles, who had never had to observe them before. The ironic thing about all the arguments the Judiazers advocated – whether insisting on observing the dietary rules or submitting to the rite of circumcision – is that these rules were as much part of Jewish culture as they were an objective moral code. Paul points out in Romans 2:14-15 that the Gentiles often lived lives that reflected the essence of the law’s moral code, even though they did not “know” the law. It is possible to follow the spirit of God’s rules and not be circumcised, even outside of the concept of the argument of the law versus faith, or law versus promise. The Jewish traditions of Paul’s day even recognized this. Jewish culture begrudgingly accepted the concept of a “moral gentile.” But the insistence on following rules that were really completely outward and completely cultural – that was a matter of convenience for the Judiazers. All of the then, raised in Judaism from birth, had all been circumcised as infants. To require submission to the rule of circumcision in order to be a Christian was no sacrifice to them – it was nothing! They hid their cultural biases behind the concept of “it’s the rule.” What they were really doing was hitting the Gentiles – whom they culturally despised – in a soft spot – LITERALLY! Yet they themselves were not necessarily following the other points of the law. Think about it – the Judiazers insisted that every male Gentile convert to Christianity have the foreskin of his penis surgically removed, while their acceptance of Christianity meant no pain or change in their lives, yet, hypocritically, they were otherwise “ala carte” followers of the law – like Peter back in Chapter 2, picking and choosing himself what they did or did not want to follow in the law of Moses. (Sounds a lot like most evangelical Christians as they hop from church to church). This was covert discrimination, wrapped in the cloak of theology. The same sort of thing happens in American churches all the time. A church with strong ethnic connections wil have the same sort of inclinations – the German Lutherans, the Dutch Reformed, the Irish/Polish/Italian/Hispa
The second angle of Paul’s accusation meets the Judiazers’ arguments even where they might be insisting on total obedience to the law, and such insistence was completely sincere and without hypocrisy. Even those who sincerely try to obey the law in every respect do not “obey” the law, because perfect obedience is impossible (see Galatians 3:10-14). If we fall short in one area we fail completely. So, while I believe that Paul is focusing on accusing his enemies of hypocrisy, even those who were not so inclined could not stand up to the argument.
“that they may boast about your flesh” This is where the accusation regarding hypocrisy sticks. The word translated as “flesh: here is the same word Paul used throughout Galatians Chapter 5 which the NIV translated as “sinful nature.” This is NOT a Holy Spirit inspired concept here – not in the least. Back in Galatians 5:7-12, Paul used the “cutting” metaphor in the circumcision debate to sarcastically suggest that the Judiazers might emasculate themselves in their vigor. That imagery also plays out here – its as if the effort of the Judiazers to achieve some measure of Jewish cultural conformity in the Gentile members of the church has them figuratively presenting the foreskins of the Galatians as trophies to the Temple authorities. Paul spent the bulk of Galatians 5 arguing that the “acts of the sinful nature” need to be avoided by living or walking in the Holy Spirit. Here, he simply shows that the entire Judiazer philosophy is an “act of the sinful nature.” (Galatians 5:19). The “glory” of the Judiazers, that which they seek to “boast” about, is to force the Galatian believers to behave in the manner described in Galatians 5:19-21. That is the ultimate product of ethnic and cultural division within the church.