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"The Curse of the Law"

   In the book of Galatians, Paul writes that “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Gal. 3: 13).   Many people construe this to mean that the law itself is a curse---or that you are under a curse if you try to keep God’s law.  They reason that because Christ kept the law, we don’t need to keep it---nor should we try to keep it!

     Yet, is that what Paul is actually saying? 

 

     First, let’s notice what the scripture in question does not say:  

     (1) It does not say that if you keep the law, you’ll be under a curse.  To the contrary, Jesus Christ Himself showed that just the opposite is the case!   In Matt.13: 40, Christ was speaking of the end-time---“the end of this age.”  He said that at that time, angels “will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire”! (verses 41-42).   Therefore, how could keeping God’s law bring a “curse”?   It is the law-breakers who will end up in the lake of fire!    (Also see Matt. 7: 21-23; 19: 16-19; Rev. 14:12.)

     (2)  Notice what else the scripture in question does not say:  It does not say that we don’t need to keep God’s law!   “Yet,” some might ask, “didn’t Paul teach elsewhere against the law?”

 

      Actually, Paul’s teachings are very much in support of the keeping of God’s law!   In Romans chapter 7, Paul said this: “the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (verse 12).   A couple verses later, Paul stated that “the law is spiritual”! (verse 14).   It was also Paul who said, “the doers of the law will be justified”---not “cursed,” but “justified”! (Rom. 2:13). 

     And what about John, who was the last to die of all the New Testament apostles?   Many years after Christ’s crucifixion, John wrote this:  “For this IS the love of God, that we keep His commandments”!  (I John 5:3).

     With all this evidence---and more---why is it that so many people teach that Paul was saying that the law is a “curse”?   Paul himself answers this question:  “Because the carnal [natural] mind is enmity against [hostile to] God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).   Furthermore, Paul warned of “false teachers” who would “bring in destructive heresies” (II Peter 2:1).   He said that such teachers would transform “themselves into apostles of Christ.  And no wonder!   For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.  Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness” (II Cor. 11:13-15).  

     Yes, Satan is the arch-deceiver (Rev. 12:9), and he inspires deceived ministers into teaching erroneous and harmful ideas to their listeners.  And this teaching that God’s law is a “curse” (or that you’re cursed if you try to keep God’s law) is a prime example of that!   Yes, Satan would love to have people believe that God’s holy and righteous law is a curse!

 

What Paul Was Actually Referring To

     Now that we’ve seen proof of what Paul was not referring to when he spoke of “the curse of the law,” let’s now see what he actually was referring to. 

     Simply put, “the curse of the law” refers to the penalty incurred for breaking the law.  And what is that penalty?  Death!

      God’s word says, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23; Ezek. 18:4).  “Wages” are what you earn.  So you earn death whenever you sin.  And what is “sin”?   “Sin IS the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4, KJV).  Therefore, whenever a person transgresses God’s law, he earns the death penalty.  And so, it is the “death penalty” that Paul is referring to as “the curse of the law”! 

     Whenever we sin---whenever we transgress God’s law---we earn death; and death could certainly be considered “a curse”---a curse OF the law---a curse incurred as result of breaking God’s law!

     Now notice something else about the scripture in question.  It says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law.”   (Whenever the writers of the New Testament refer to “us” or “we,” they are referring to converted Christians; whereas the unconverted are referred to as “them” or “they.”)   So, the sacrifice of Christ has redeemed those who are converted, from the death penalty.   It redeems those who are now converted---and, in the future, it will redeem those who become converted.

     Jesus Christ took our place and died in our stead.  He voluntarily took upon Himself the curse that you and I incurred.  And that’s why verse 13 says that Christ became “a curse for us.”

     Now notice the last part of verse 13, which is in parenthesis: “(for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’).”   Where is that “written”?   It is written in Deut. chapter 21: “If a man has committed a sin worthy of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree…” (verse 22).   

     “Hanging” was not the normal means of execution in ancient Israel.  But for those who had committed some particularly heinous sin, after they were executed---normally by stoning---then, according to God’s word, their corpse could thereafter be hung on a tree, in full view of the people, as a form of ultimate public disgrace.

     Now, was Jesus Christ subjected to a disgraceful death like this?   Yes!   He was hung on either a stake, or, more probably, a tree with a horizontal beam attached to the tree.  He was put to death as if He were a common criminal---and scripture speaks of the shame He endured on the cross (Heb. 12:2). 

     Yes, Christ died a criminal’s death, in or stead!   He became a curse, for us.  He took upon Himself the curse which you and I earned! 

     Finally, consider that common sense tells us that we are not cursed for keeping God’s spiritual law.  To the contrary, keeping God’s spiritual law---as summarized by the Ten Commandments---brings us blessings!   We are blessed for loving our fellowman, instead of murdering him (or having the spirit of murder toward him).   We are blessed for not stealing, for not committing adultery, for having no other gods before the true God.

     You can read in the 5th chapter of Deuteronomy where God says that if His people would keep His commandments, then it would go well with them (verse 29).   Also, we are told in Psalms that there is great reward in keeping God’s commandments!  (Ps. 19:10-11).

     In conclusion, when Paul spoke of “the curse of the law,” he was referring to the death penalty.  The keeping of God’s law does not bring us a curse.  Remember, it was Paul himself who said that the law is spiritual---that it is holy, just, and good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

Vince Szymkowiak, “Just What Is ‘the Curse of the Law’?”  Good News magazine, Jan. 1986