An Exploration of Galatians: Leaven in the Dough
Galatians 5:7-12; Matthew 16:5-12 - False doctrine is easily introduced, so beware!
”You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.“
Galatians 5:7-12 NASB1995
Well, things get interesting now. Paul is still challenging the Galatians about who is calling them into this trap of legalism. This has been going on for almost the entire book of Galatians, but his deep anger at this situation really comes out in chapter 5. You can almost picture him dictating this letter by pacing back and forth, pulling at his hair, pounding his fist into his palm, raising his voice. He knows the churches in Galatia started out well, but someone is now hindering them from obeying the truth. Hinder comes from the Greek word ἐγκόπτω or egkopto and it means to cut into or impede one’s course by cutting off his way.
Paul loved to use the metaphors associated with athletic events, especially race running. Here’s a great commentary from Precept Austin quoting Dan Duncan, who was at Believer’s Chapel in Texas:
[Paul] “compares the Galatians' past progress with their present confusion. Paul was fond of athletic metaphors, and if you read through the New Testament, read through his letters, you read of his statements about running and wrestling and boxing. He mentions these aggressive kinds of athletic endeavors to bring out the fact that the Christian life is an active life. In fact, it's combative in its nature – not in a bad sense; in a good sense. It calls for vigor. It calls for a life of discipline if it's going to be lived properly and well, of concentration and adherence to the rules and to the life of Christ.
And early on the Galatians showed all of that. They were like runners who began the race well. The gun went off, they heard the gospel, they believed it, and they began to run the race with vigor and they were running straight. They were running well. They not only believed the gospel, but they living it. Then someone cut into their lane and forced them off the track, off their course. Now when we see that happen during a sporting event – and occasionally you see in a track meet, runners will collide. It's a violent collision. They fall down, they're sprawled out on the track, they're skinned up, they're hurt, they're dizzy. Well, that's what Paul is describing here, but he doesn't describe it as having happen violently as it might have in a race, but persuasively. It's how he describes this in verse 8. He describes this interference as a persuasion."
This hinderance or persuasion did not come from Christ who called them. Whoever is turning the Galatians away from the Gospel preached by Paul is like the leaven (yeast) that Jesus talked about in Matthew 16; a little leaven or false doctrine goes a long ways:
”And the disciples came to the other side of the sea, but they had forgotten to bring any bread. And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, “He said that because we did not bring any bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.“
Matthew 16:5-12 NASB1995
Paul has confidence in the Galatians if they are in the Lord, but warns about the judgment coming for those who are disturbing them. He notes that he is certainly not in agreement with those who are preaching circumcision (again) because he is being obviously being persecuted. The actions of the Judaizers abolish the stumbling block of the Cross. Why is the Cross so offensive to so many? Here’s a list of reasons from Precept Austin:
1. Its doctrine of atonement offends man's pride. (esp his proud belief in works-righteousness).
2. Its simple teaching offends man's wisdom and artificial taste.
3. It being a remedy for man's ruin offends his fancied power to save himself.
4. Its addressing all as sinners offends the dignity of the Pharisees.
5. Its coming as a revelation offends "modern thought."
6. Its lofty holiness offends man's love of sin. (Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon's Sermon Notes 4:257)
7. It is an exclusive message, not acknowledging any other remedy to the sin question but instead, claims to be the only and exclusive truth.
Now we get to the final verse in this passage. I’ll be honest with you, dear readers - I seriously would not want to get on the bad side of Paul. He is now so blunt in his criticism of the Judaizers that he wishes that they would go mutilate themselves! Whoa! At this point, you know that Paul has prayed and worried and prayed again about the situation and then decided the letter is necessary because he is probably far away from that region and can’t travel there immediately to deal with the problem. According to some sources I read, he was likely on a missionary journey to Macedonia at that time or possibly interred during one of his imprisonments (around AD 56). A letter (strongly worded at that) would have to do at this point.
So Paul is so upset after writing these many verses about the Judaizers wanted to force the Gentile believers in Galatia to get circumcised that he wishes that they would fully mutilate themselves (castration) and become eunuchs! Here’s commentary from Enduring Word:
Sacred castration was known to citizens of the ancient world; it was frequently practiced by pagan priests of the cults in the region of Galatia. Paul’s idea here is something like this: “If cutting will make you righteous, why don’t you do like the pagan priests, go all the way and castrate yourself?” [Leon] Morris rightly observes, “This was a dreadful thing to wish, but then the teaching was a dreadful thing to inflict on young Christians.”
“This word was habitually used to describe the practice of mutilation which was so prevalent in the Phrygian worship of Cybele. The Galatians were necessarily familiar with it, and it can hardly bear any other sense.” (Frederic Rendell)
In writing this, Paul also wished that these legalists would be cut off from the congregation of the Lord as required by Deuteronomy 23:1: He who is emasculated by crushing or mutilation shall not enter the assembly of the LORD.
With such a dramatic conclusion to this point, Paul has made one thing clear: legalism is no little thing. It takes away our liberty and puts us into bondage. It makes Jesus and His work of no profit to us. It puts us under obligation to the whole law. It violates the work of the Spirit of God. It makes us focus on things that are irrelevant. It keeps us from running the race Jesus set before us. It isn’t from Jesus. A little bit will infect an entire church. Those who promote it will face certain judgment, no matter who they are. Legalism tries to take away some of the glory of the cross. In light of how serious all this is, it is no wonder that Paul says he wishes they would even cut themselves off!
Well, hopefully Paul has made his point clear!! Ouch! My next devotional examines the start of the transition of this epistle into a treatise on how to live in the liberty of the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-15).
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Please help me be discerning and wary of false doctrine and of how insidious and corrupting those doctrines can be for those who have faith in Christ. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
The Blue Letter Bible lexicon was accessed on 12/16/2023 for the definition of “hindering”.
The personal testimony of Bruce Hurt, creator of Precept Austin, can be found Here.
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is quoted with written permission.