Galatians 5 – Liberty Threatened by Legalism & Magic in the Greco-Roman World

Father, I just can’t understand how people can be so stupid not to accept Jesus, but I had been one of them stupid people.  

When He was on earth the people saw all the things He was able to do through You and each thing He did, from feeding the 5,000 to healing the cripple to giving sight to the blind, etc.

But when they see someone else managing to fool them through trickery or the devil’s evil power they disregard Jesus and claim that He is of the devil.  

Now days they aren’t called magicians, but politicians.

Yet, there are some people that say great things about Jesus, tomorrow we’ll look at… 

Galatians 5
Liberty Threatened by Legalism

Ivory Wands
Metal wands representing the snake goddess Great of Magic were carried by some practitioners of magic.

Semi-circular ivory wands – decorated with fearsome deities – were used in the second millennium B.C.

The wands were symbols of the authority of the magician to summon powerful beings, and to make them obey him or her.

1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

“Made us free” – the freedom spoken of here is freedom from the yoke of the law.

“Yoke of bondage” – the burden of the rigorous demands of the law as the means for gaining God’s favor – an intolerable burden for sinful man.

2 Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

“Debtor to do the whole law” – the Old Testament law is a unit; submission to it cannot be selective (see Jas 2:10).

4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

“Fallen from grace” – placed yourself outside the scope of divine favor because gaining God’s favor by observing the law and receiving it by grace are mutually exclusive.

5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

Angry deities, jealous ghosts, and foreign demons and sorcerers were thought to cause misfortunes such as illness, accidents, poverty and infertility.

Magic provided a defense system against these ills for individuals throughout their lives.

6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

“Faith which worketh by love” – Faith is not mere intellectual assent but a living trust in God’s grace that expresses itself in acts of love.

7 Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?”

Ye did run well” – before the Judaizers hindered them.  Paul was fond of depicting the Christian life as a race.

8 This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.

“Persuasian” – by the Judaizers.

9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.

A proverb used here to stress the pervasive effect of Judaism. When the word “leaven” in the Bible is used a as symbol, it indicates evil or false teaching, except in Matt 13:33.

Horus
A type of magical stela known as a cippus always shows the infant god Horus overcoming dangerous animals and reptiles.

Some have inscriptions describing how Horus was poisoned by his enemies, and how Isis, his mother, pleaded for her son’s life, until the sun god Ra sent Thoth to cure him.

10 I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.

11 And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? Then is the offence of the cross ceased.

12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you.

“Were even cut off” – the Greek word can also mean “to castrate.”  The Galatians would be better off if these Judaizers who are preaching circumcision were themselves “cut off.”

In Phil 3:2 Paul uses a related word to describe the same sort of people as “the false circumcision.”  His sarcasm is evident.

13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

“Use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh” – see Rom 6:1; 1 Pet 2:16.  LIberty is not license but freedom to serve God and each otehr in love.

14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

“All the law is fulfilled” – doing to others what you would have them do to you expresses the spirit and intention of “the law and the prophets” (Matt 7:12; cf. Mk 12:31).

15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.

“Bite and devour one another” – opposite vv. 13-14.  Seeking to attain status with God and man by mere observance of law breeds a self-righteous, critical spirit.

16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.

“Walk” – present tense – “go on living” (used of habitual conduct).  Living by the promptings and power of the Spirit is the key to conquering sinful desires.

17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

Ancient Egypt Magic and Corruption
The gods themselves used magic and charms against one another.

The literature of Egypt is full of magicians of wizards who dry up lakes with a word, or cause severed limbs to jump back into place, or raise the dead.

The king had magicians to help or guide him; and he himself was believed to have a magical power to make the rain fall, or the river rise.

Life was full of talismans, spells, divinations; every door had to have a god to frighten away evil spirits or fortuitous strokes of bad luck.

Children born on the twenty-third of the month of Thoth would surely die soon; those born on the twentieth of Choiakh would go blind.

“Not under the law” – not under the bondage of trying to please God by minute observance of the law for salvation or sanctification.

Or in other words if you walk with Jesus and sin your punishment/chastisement (Heb 12:3-11) will not be under due to the Mosaic law, but done so through God’s grace.

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,

20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

“Walk in” – a military term meaning “keep in step with,” or “walk in the line with.”  A different Greek word for “walk” was used in v. 16, meaning “live,” involving one’s conduct.

26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

Magic in the Greco-Roman World

Various types of magical practice flourished in the Greco-Roman world. Spells, charms, amulets, potions and even voodoo-type dolls were used to procure the favor of supernatural powers.

Real lector priests performed magical rituals to protect their king, and to help the dead to rebirth.
By the first millennium B.C., their role seems to have been taken over by magicians (hekau).

Healing magic was a specialty of the priests who served Sekhmet, the fearsome goddess of plague.

The borders of magic were fluid; some “magical potions” may have been legitimate attempts at pharmacology, while certain “magical spells” had a strong component of prayer and worship.

Nonetheless, the idea of magic as manipulating supernatural beings for one’s personal benefit still accurately represents this underground spirituality.

Various substances—anything from bits of the hair of a desired lover to baboon dung or drowned field mice—were employed in spells.

These substances, combined with the “right” ritual practices and the proper magic words, supposedly guaranteed the compliance of the deity who was to accomplish the task.

The words might be nonsense syllables or secret names of the gods. It was not unusual for such spells to end with an abrupt command such as “Quick! Quick! Do it! Do it!”

While practitioners commonly called upon evil spirits of the underworld to do their bidding, any divinity was likely to be invoked.

Some magicians even attempted to manipulate the God of Israel. Indeed, he is invoked frequently in the magical papyri, generally under the name”lao,”a possible pronunciation of the name Yahweh by 1st century Christians.

…ten (41-50) more quotes about Jesus.