February 19, 2014

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Tom Lowe

Chapter V.B.1: The Motives of the Judaizers (6:12-13 

Galatians 6:12-13 (KJV)

12 As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.

13 For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.


The Judaizers that insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation came into the Galatian churches on the heels of Paul’s success in converting the Gentiles and establishing churches. “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). When Paul left to continue his missionary efforts elsewhere the Judaizers surfaced, and began to cause trouble and confuse the new Christians. The Judaizers:

1.       Were only men-pleasers, who were only seeking to make a good outward impression. Paul, on the other hand was no man-pleaser: “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” Gal. 1:10).

2.      Were afraid of persecution, and it was clear to Paul, since he accused them of being fearful: “. . . these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution . . .” (Gal. 6:12).

3.      Wanted to boast about the number of Galatians they hoped to win over to circumcision as a religious and merit-earning rite. Once again, Paul was on to them and accused them in this letter: “. . . they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh (v. 13).

The legalists knew that the offence of the cross would be softened if they openly claimed justification by faith and works (that is, circumcision) and if they could claim conversions to that position in Galatia.


12 As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.

13 For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.

“In the flesh” means in outward things. This was the only realm of life they knew, since they did not walk in the Spirit.

“that they may boast in your flesh” refers to the outward change (opposed to the inward change wrought by the Spirit) which they have caused by bringing you over to their own Jewish-Christian party.

This passage states more emphatically what Paul has already alleged in:

·         Galatians 4:17: “They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them.” Judaizing teachers showed great passion for them, but they were not seeking their good.

·         Galatians 5:10-12: “I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is. And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased. I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!” Much of the persecution the apostle endured was from the Jews, and was on account of his teaching that when they were among the Gentiles, to forsake Moses, and that they should not circumcise their children, and follow the customs of the Jewish nation.

The motives of the Judaizers, who were the legalists of the day, are described here by Paul to be threefold (note that Paul doesn’t have anything good to say about legalists):

1.       To play a bogus roll whereby they appear to be truthful and concerned for the souls of the Galatian believers. They were braggarts (windbags). Their main purpose was not to win people to Christ, or even to help believers to grow in grace. Their chief purpose was to win more converts so they could brag about them. They wanted to “make a fine impression outwardly” even though they did no good inwardly. Their work was not done for the good of the church or for the glory of God; it was done for their own glory.

While it is certainly not wrong to want to win people to Christ, or to see the work of the Lord increase, it is definitely wrong to want these blessings for the glory of man. We want to see more people sharing in our ministries, not so that we can count people, but because people count. But we must be careful not to “use people” to further our own selfish programs for our own glorification.

2.      To avoid the persecution of the Jews (who were unbelievers) for all those who proclaimed faith in the new religion of Jesus Christ; particularly those who based their salvation entirely on faith in Him. Today we would call these men “compromisers.” Why did they practice circumcision and all that went with it? As we said before—to escape persecution. By adhering more to the Mosaic Law than to the gospel of Jesus, they hoped to avoid social and financial ostracism from other Jews and maintain their protective status as Jews within the Roman Empire. Because Paul preached the grace of God and salvation apart from the works of the Law he was persecuted—“Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished (Gal. 5:11). The Judaizers tried to make the Christians think they too were Christians, and they tried to make the followers of the Mosaic Law think that they too obeyed the Law. Consequently they escaped persecution by the legalistic group for their identification with the cross of Christ and its devastating effect on the Law.

We are prone to look at the cross (and crucifixion) in a sentimental way. We wear crosses on our lapels or on chains around our necks. But to the first-century citizen, the cross was not a beautiful piece of jewelry; it was the lowest form of death, and the ultimate humiliation. The proper Roman citizen would never mention the cross in polite conversation. It stood for rejection and shame.

When Paul trusted Christ, he identified himself with the cross and took the consequences. To the Jews the cross was a stumblingblock, and to the Gentile it was foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18-31). The legalists, emphasizing circumcision rather than crucifixion, won many converts. Theirs was a popular religion because it avoided the shame of the cross.

3.      To achieve leadership in the churches even at the price of inconsistency and unspirituality. The word “compel” carries with it the idea of strong persuasion and even force. While it doesn’t mean “to force against one’s will,” it is still a strong word. It indicates that the Judaizers were great persuaders; they had a “sales talk” that convinced the Galatian believers that legalism was the way for them. Whenever Paul presented the Word, it was in truth and sincerity, and he used no oratorical tricks or debater’s skills. [See 1 Cor. 2:1-5, and 2 Cor. 4:1-5 to see how Paul presented the Word to listeners.] Paul was not a politician; he was an ambassador.

These men were false teachers who were proud of their Jewish heritage and nationality, and they taught the delusion concerning the possibility of salvation by merit for the good works one has done. When they could, they would compel men to be circumcised. By forcing the Gentiles to be circumcised the Judaizers would receive the credit for bringing them under the law. Paul not only charged them, but all who have ever been circumcised with failure to keep the law. Such a charge would be consistent with his attitude, since although he says in Philippians 3:6, that he is “. . . blameless . . . concerning the righteousness which is in the law.” He also said the commandment not to covet was “death” to him (Rom. 7:9-11). His position was that no man could “keep” the law even if he wanted to do so, to say nothing of half-hearted and hypocritical attempts to keep its demands (Rom. 2). It’s interesting that those who claim they live under the Law are not actually living by the law. Also, many people who say they live by the Sermon on the Mount are hypocrites.

The legalists wanted the Galatian believers to submit to the law, but they themselves did not keep the law. The legalists belonged to the same group as the Pharisees about whom Jesus said, “They say and do not” (Mat. 23:3). Of course Paul is not suggesting that the Judaizers should keep the Law, because keeping the Law is neither possible nor necessary. Rather, he is condemning them for their dishonesty; they had no intention of keeping the Law, even if they could. Their reverence for the Law was only a mask to cover their real goal: winning more converts to their cause. They wanted to report more statistics and get more glory.

The legalists, at least in their initial propaganda, were not telling the gentiles that they would have to observe all the rest of the law, but Paul saw that further demands would follow. Actually, you never get in trouble preaching legalism. It appeals to the natural man, because law is given to curb or restrain him. You may agree with me when I say that the old mature of the other man should be curbed. Legalism is popular. The grace of God is unpopular. It is the offence of the Cross.

The Judaizers arbitrarily selected circumcision out of the whole Law, as though observing it would prevail instead of their non-observance of the rest of the Law. They would glory in this mark made in the flesh of their conv

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