Gal. 5:2: Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.
Here is the outward manifestation of the yoke of slavery, circumcision. But here we see clearly the relationship that is being missed by many today. Why would Paul say to anyone, “Christ will be of no benefit to you” if, in fact, those he is warning are not claiming to believe in Christ and to rely upon Christ for salvation? Some are asserting today that the error of the Judaizers in Galatia involved a complete rejection of Christ’s atoning death; that in fact they were denying faith in Christ as important, and that they were not simply adding something to faith in Christ, but denying that Christ’s death was relevant to their salvation en toto. But not only is such a view almost without precedent in the exegesis of the text of Galatians itself, standing firmly against a wide realm of scholarly, conservative exegesis, but it simply has no meaningful basis in the text itself. Obviously, the false teachers of chapter two were baptized individuals who had made an outward profession of faith (and who, in fact, obviously had been baptized upon that profession of faith). There is no evidence whatsoever that they had renounced that profession. Instead, they were seeking to enslave believers from inside the fellowship itself. They were claiming that true faith in Christ included receiving circumcision. They were claiming faith in Christ was vital and central, for obviously they believed they were receiving a “benefit” from Him. Somehow they needed some profit, some advantage from Christ, that circumcision alone could not provide, and Christ, seemingly, provided it. But Paul denies that there can be any benefit from Christ for one who joins to Christ anything, even something found in God’s law, like circumcision. Christ’s work has done away with this, and Christ cannot, and will not, be joined in some synergistic fashion to the works of men.
Notice as well that another argument that is often put forward falters upon consideration of the text. Paul never directly refers to the false teachers in Galatia. He talks about them, but he never addresses them directly. He is speaking to the Galatians who are in danger of falling under their spell. The conditionality of this verse bears this out. “If you do this…, then this” is the form he uses. They had not yet followed the Judaizers down that path, but they were being tempted to do so. But this again substantiates what was said above: obviously the Judaizers were not saying “abandon your professed faith in Christ and become a Jew.” Nowhere do you have Paul offering the same kind of defense of the supremacy of Christ that you find in Hebrews, for example (where that was the very issue being faced). Instead, obviously, these teachers were adding circumcision to a pre-existing claimed faith in Christ, as the context will bear out. [continued in part 4]