What does “under the law” mean?

In Gal 3.24 it says that the Law is our tutor and now that faith has come we are no longer under a tutor. Does that mean we are no longer under the law? This term ” under the law” is “upo nomon” in Greek and Paul uses it many times. He says in Gal 5.18 that we are not “upo nomon” (under the law) if we are led by the Spirit.

Now, the main theme of Galatians is whether or not Gentile believers had to be ritually circumcised according to the tradition of the elders (18 Edicts of the School of Shammai) to be saved. They taught that a person had to become a Jew through ritual circumcision. You see this in Acts 15.1 as well. In other words, you had to be circumcised (become a Jew) to be saved. This was a major issue in the first century. Now, a system of works righteousness was developed by the Rabbi’s from 300 BC to about 50 BC (Rom 9.30-33). What Paul is saying by using the term “not under the law” is that a person is not “under indictment” or “under arrest” for breaking the oral law of the Rabbi’s, in this case, ritual circumcision. In addition, he also uses this term to say we are not under the law of sin and death once we become a believer.

Now, let’s go back to the original question about the “tutor” in Gal 3.24-25. The tutor in Greek is “paidegogos” and it meant a guardian and disciplinarian over the master’s children until they reached maturity. That is why Paul uses it. You see, the Torah (Scriptures) has a double nature. It acts as a “tutor” (paidegogos) in its judicial role, but only until a believer comes to the Lord. The “tutor” (Scriptures) points out that we are sinners and calls for punishment. We are “under arrest” and in custody. Both the Jew and Gentile are under sin (Rom 3.9) but when we become a believer (reach maturity) the role of “tutor” is no longer valid and is “done away with” as far as that aspect is concerned.

The Law (Scriptures) can no longer demand our death because there is no record of our transgressions anymore. That’s what “remission” of our sins means. By doing this we are no longer under the curse of the Law, which is death.

This brings us to the second aspect of the Torah, which is instructional. That is exactly what the word Torah means, instruction. The Torah reveals God’s ways to us and guides us in the way we should go. It reveals the will of God in all areas. When we don’t follow the Torah, then that is what is called sin, or missing the mark. But, we know we have forgiveness if we confess our sins because we are no longer “under a tutor” (1 John 1.9).

So, what Paul is saying is this. The Law was our tutor before we were saved and it pointed out our sins and the results of them. When we became a believer we were no longer under the judicial aspect of the Law (tutor) because we were born again and all things became new. Now the Torah (Scriptures) show us how to please God and to govern our lives. It doesn’t save you but it does show you what the Lord thinks and desires.

Paul is saying to the Galatians that they have moved out from under the tutor (judicial role) to an instructional role of the Torah (Scriptures) and that they should not fall prey to the false teachings concerning ritual circumcision and having to become a Jew to be saved.  They were already saved. This was a man-made doctrine according to the 18 Edicts of the House of Shammai, therefore, they were under no obligation to obey it. That is the whole point of the Book of Galatians.

This ritual circumcision is not to be confused with what is called “Abrahamic” circumcision (Gen 17), which says that any male descendant of Abraham had to be circumcised eight days after birth. That is a commandment of God and Paul observed it and had Timothy circumcised when he became a believer because his mother was Jewish. Apparently, Timothy’s father was Greek and did not allow his son to be circumcised. But once he believed, Paul had it done in obedience to the commandment.

But, this is not ritual circumcision because it only applied to Gentiles and they were told that that had to become a Jew (circumcised) to be saved. God had already shown Peter in Acts 10 that this doctrine was false but it didn’t go away totally among believers. It cropped up again in Acts 15 and also Galatia and that is why Paul is dealing with it here.

So, in conclusion, the bottom line is this.  The Torah has two aspects to it, judicial and instructional. If you are an unbeliever you are still “under the tutor” but once you believe you are no longer “under the tutor.” Now, the Torah is instructional and we should be going go on to maturity (Heb 5.11-14).

Posted in Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Questions, Understanding the New Testament

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