FREE booklet : The New Covenant: Does It Abolish God's Law?
The New Covenant: Does It Abolish God's Law?
¬ Introduction
¬ God's Magnificent Series of Covenants
  Did Abraham Keep the Same Commandments God Gave to Moses?
  How Can We Obey God's Commandments?
  The Sinai Covenant and the 'Voice of the Lord'
  God's 'Laws, Statutes and Judgments'
  Key Elements of the Sinai Covenant
  Rightly Understanding 'Justification' and 'Righteousness'
  Did the Ten Commandments Exist Before Moses?
  God's Law: Is It a Burden or a Blessing?
¬ A New Covenant for Transforming the Heart
  What Was the Main Weakness of the Sinai Covenant?
  How God Balances Justice With Mercy
  How Is the New Covenant 'New'?
  The Ten Commandments: Keys in a Law of Love
¬ The High Priest Essential to Salvation
  Grace and Law: Why Are They Inseparable?
  A High Priest Eager to Help Us
¬ Circumcision vs. a 'New Creation' in Christ
  Current Confusion Over Christian Freedom
  The 'Curse of the Law'
  Galatians 4:9-10: Are God's Laws Bondage?
  Did Paul's Words to the Galatians Contradict His Actions?
  Why Paul Used the Term 'the Whole Law' in Galatians 5:3
  What's Wrong With Our Human Nature?
  The Holy Spirit: God's Promise of His Divine Help
¬ The Justice and Judgment of God
  How Paul Put the Law on 'Firmer Footing'
  How Does Justification Relate to Salvation?
  Does Romans 14 Abolish Laws on Unclean Meats?
  Did Paul Teach That All Days of Worship Are Alike?
  Did Paul Tell the Romans One Thing and the Corinthians the Opposite?
¬ Peace and Unity in Christ
  Paul Imprisoned Over a Man-Made Taboo
  The Corruption of Apostolic Christianity
  What Was 'Wiped Out' by Jesus Christ's Death?
  What Does 'Shadow of Things to Come' Mean?
  The Calendar Used by the Earliest Gentile Christians
  The Ascetic Philosophy Affecting the Colossians
  Colossians 2:16-17: Are God's Laws Obsolete?
¬ The Apostles, the Old Testament and God's Law
  Jesus and Paul Emphasize the Law's Correct Focus
  Paul Regularly Used the Old Testament as the Authority for His Teaching
  Acts Shows What the Early Church Believed and Practiced
  What Did Paul Mean by 'Christ Is the End of the Law'?
  The Jerusalem Conference of Acts 15: What Was Decided?
¬ Jesus' Teaching on God's Law
  Other Important Ways Jesus Fulfilled the Law
  Does the New Covenant Abolish the Commandments?
  The 'New' Part of Jesus Christ's 'New Commandment'
  Confusion Over Legalism: What It Is and Isn't
  Does God Set Conditions on His Gift of Eternal Life?
¬ All the World Under the New Covenant
  Liberty Through God's Law
  A Covenant of Marriage
From the publisher of The Good News magazine.
The New Covenant: Does It Abolish God's Law?
Request this FREE booklet
View booklet in PDF format
Related Articles
Why Is the New Covenant Better?
Does the New Covenant Abolish the Commandments?
Did Jesus Christ Abolish the Law?
The Need for a New Covenant
FREE Booklets
The Ten Commandments
Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath Rest

Why Paul Used the Term 'the Whole Law' in Galatians 5:3

When the apostle Paul said, "And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law" (Galatians 5:3), was he implying that the gentiles' exemption from physical circumcision also exempted them from having to obey any of the laws of God?

That is what is commonly taught concerning this passage. But that is not what Paul meant! The laws of the Sinai Covenant varied greatly in their purpose and content. Some laws defined sin—spelled out transgressions. These laws, though included as part of the Sinai Covenant, neither commenced at Sinai nor ended at Jesus Christ's crucifixion.

Other laws included as part of the Sinai Covenant established administrative procedures and penalties for disobedience. They were necessary for the governing of the nation of Israel.

Still others—such as circumcision and sacrifices—had a symbolic purpose. The book of Hebrews explains that, for the most part, those types of laws had only a temporary purpose because they were "concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation" (Hebrews 9:9-10). But Hebrews does not say that everything contained in "the whole law" was temporary.

Paul's point in Galatians about being "a debtor to keep the whole law" is expressed in the context of those who wanted to impose circumcision on the Galatians. Their reasoning implied, maybe even unintentionally, that at least some of the symbolic aspects of the law would be required of the gentiles. That is the false teaching against which Paul forcefully argues in his epistle to the Galatians.

Because of His perfect obedience, Jesus Christ was qualified to lay down His own life so as to free from enslavement to sin and its death penalty all who have faith in Him. So Paul reasons with the Galatians: "And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross [the preaching that Jesus Christ is our sacrifice for sin] has ceased" ( Galatians 5:11).

His point is that demanding that the symbolic ritual of circumcision be required is a denial of the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice and work. He rejected that argument—but he did not reject the whole law.

God's commandments that define sin are written in "the law"—but they don't make up the whole law. Paul used the term "the whole law" to make it clear that the law has within it symbolic aspects that should not be required of the gentiles.

Paul expresses clearly, in a letter to the Corinthians, this distinction in what the gentiles should keep from what was not necessary: "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters" (1 Corinthians 7:19).

Are We Living in the Time of the End? 1997-2007 United Church of God - British Isles
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
All correspondence and questions should be sent to Send inquiries regarding the operation of this Web site to