Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunday Meditation: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law

Gal 3:13-14: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree," in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith

The Bible is clear-blessing comes to us by faith, and not through any other means. Abraham believed God and was blessed. Today, those who believe God through the gospel of Jesus Christ are blessed, be they Jew or Gentile. The truth is rather simple. But the false applications that now abound have so confused this matter that even those who have believed the gospel are convinced that they must seek information from their own past, sinful lives to break curses and find the key to blessings. We often hear from such persons, Christians whom false teachers have convinced that they are cursed. Why do they seek help? Because of symptoms that trouble them which are then attributed to their failure to adequately identify the sources (whether demonic or in past experiences) of their troubled situation.
Paul wrote three epistles to churches in Asia Minor-Colossians, Ephesians, and Galatians. The people in Asia Minor were known to practice various forms of syncretistic, magic arts in the hope of averting bad fate. The last CIC article (Issue 122) showed how this was described in the book of Acts and explained how it applies to the interpretation of Ephesians. Galatians was written to churches who faced the same issues-this time in a form more distinctly Jewish-yet mixed with elements from pagan sources. This is not surprising, given the ample evidence from Acts and other historical sources that uncover the prevalence of religious mixture that characterized Judaism in Asia Minor.

Paul's message is clear enough: To go back to practices that had never delivered anyone from the curse of the law would be to go back to being cursed, and not blessed. The only issue is one's status vis-a-vis Christ through faith. To change that would be to go back under the hostile powers from which they had fled through the gospel. Galatians 3:13, 14 teaches substitution: "for us" (huper in the Greek). This word is often used in the New Testament for the substitutionary atonement (on our behalf). Paul sternly rebuked his Galatian readers, when he told them that if they proceeded in their Christian life on some different basis than they began, they were "bewitched." This we shall see as we study Galatians 3:1-3.

Blessing and cursing are relational, and not symptomatic. That means that what appears to be a bad situation caused by curses due to anything-past sins, ancestors, demons, hexes, past occult involvement, misinterpreted past memories, chronic sickness, strange feelings, demonic oppression, demonic manifestations in one's home, or an unlimited number of other possible symptoms of being cursed-are not an issue for those in Christ. We are blessed-period. Paul claimed that those who rely on any "works of law" (i.e., whether the Law or other practices that are law-works for Christians) depart from the only means of blessing-faith.

--Critical Issues Commentary

ξύλον is an extremely difficult word to translate, although from its entry in BDAG you wouldn’t think so. It gives three basic meanings:
  1. Wood
  2. Something made of wood, such as a pole, club, stocks, cross
  3. Tree
Gal 3:13 in the NIV reads, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’” The use of “pole” is, shall we say, unexpected since we know the shape of the cross. Since there are always reasons for a translation, you have to ask yourself why the NIV did this. How could Jesus have been hung on a pole when the wounds in his hands require a cross?

The other translations use “tree” (NASB [footnotes it could also be “cross”], ESV, HCSB, NRSV, NET, NLT, KJV). Of course, Jesus never hung on a tree. The cross was made from wood, but it wasn’t a tree. And he wasn’t “hung” in the sense that someone familiar with American culture would assume from the words.
Paul is referring to Deut 21:23: “you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.” The Hebrew עֵץ is defined by HALOT as “tree,” and all translations use “tree” except for the NIV. But executed criminals were generally impaled on a pole, which explains the NIV translation. By saying “hung on a tree” it creates an image that most assuredly is incorrect.

This illustrates how difficult it can be to connect a NT to its OT allusion, and how the specifics of the ancient OT culture can make the translation even more difficult. By using “pole,” the NIV is uniquely calling attention to the fact that Jesus was not hung on a tree as in the wild west, but that his body was displayed for all to see on a pole, a pole in the shape of a cross made of wood.
The translation of a person hung on a tree creates an incorrect image of the crucifixion. Hung on a pole is not much better, but how else can you say Jesus’ body was displayed on something made of wood in a way that reflected ancient practice and fulfillment of Deut 21:23?  --William Mounce