By W. M. Ramsay
The Whole Law (Gal 5:2-4)
It is remarkable with what emphasis Paul urges that, “if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing. If you accept that part of the Law, you are bound to obey the entire Law. You cannot accept part, and neglect part. You cannot retain the Gospel of Faith, if you trust to part of the Law.” Compare this with Gal 3:10, where he insists that a curse is pronounced against those who do not continue in all things that are written in the Law.
This seems to point to some idea among the Galatians that they might accept part of the Law, as being a useful help to them in their difficult path (see p. 444 f). Paul would hardly urge that they who adopt part of the Law are bound to adopt the whole Law, except in answer to a plea of the Galatians that they wished to adopt only part. They who are already bent on complete acceptance of the Law will not be deterred by an argument that, if they begin, they must go through to the end.
Probably, the Galatian idea was that it would be good for them to cut themselves off from the heathen society around them by a marked and irrevocable act, constituting an outward sign and symbol of their new profession; and they found such a sign in the Jewish rite. They may have explained this, and added that they would not feel bound to accept the whole Judaic Law. Unless there were some such idea in their mind, it is hard to see any force in Paul’s emphatic assertion that, if they begin, they must go on to the end.
Very often we conceive Paul’s intention clearly only when we picture to ourselves what he is denying or replying to.
This idea in the mind of the Galatians must either have been explained to Paul in a letter, or reported to him by a messenger (§ LIX).