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What is “a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1)? 

A Yoke of Bondage – Circumcision  

The “yoke of bondage” was discussed by the apostle Paul In Galatians 5:1–15. Paul wrote about the nature of Christian freedom, beginning with an admonition to “stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1, NKJV).   

Circumcision was “a yoke of bondage” that Paul was referring to here and elsewhere in his letters (1 Corinthians 7:19; Romans 2:25-27; 3:30; 4:9-12; Philippians 3:2-3; Colossians 2:11-12; 3:11; … etc.).   

Jewish false teachers had come to the Galatian churches, demanding that Gentiles be circumcised (Galatians 2:3–5). The issue was raised in Antioch of Syria, where Judaizers demanded of the Gentiles, “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). These legalistic Jews were trying to make Christians return to a yoke of bondage of circumcision by requiring them to observe the requirements of the ritual law (Galatians 4:3, 9, 24, 25, 31; 5:1, 2).   

The Judaizers taught that salvation can be earned by conformity to a prescribed code. Thus, they became bondservants of the law, obliged to do “all things which are written in the book of the law” (Galatians 3:10). Should the Judaizers have their way, the liberty of the gospel would be exchanged for the bondage that comes from dependence on salvation by works.  

Paul’s Response to the Judaizers 

The apostle said to the Judaizers, “Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:2–6).  

Paul does not mean that one who has accepted circumcision is thereby prevented from becoming a Christian. He himself was circumcised. If some of the Galatians have already accepted circumcision, they can, like him, consider their circumcision to be “uncircumcision.” But if some are observing circumcision to gain righteousness, let them take warning (Romans 4:9–13).  

Circumcision in the New Testament  

In the New Testament, the Gentiles were not required to keep the ritual law of circumcision or the Mosaic Law. Paul specifically said, “Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (1 Corinthians 7:18, 19).  

Neither compliance with the Jewish rite of circumcision nor failure to do so could affect an individual’s relationship with God through faith in Jesus. Outward ceremonies and observances are valueless without faith in Christ (Galatians 5:6; 6:15). The newborn child of God is accepted by Him, not by reason of any rituals that he may perform, but because of his faith in the great work done for him by Christ on the cross (John 3:16; Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8, 9).  

The Law that Was Abolished at the Cross 

The Bible presents two different laws:

MOSES’ LAW  

    Called “the law of Moses” (Luke 2:22).  

    Called “law … contained in ordinances” (Ephesians 2:15).  

    Written by Moses in a book (2 Chronicles 35:12).  

    Placed outside the ark (Deuteronomy 31:26).  

    Ended at the cross (Ephesians 2:15).  

    Added because of sin (Galatians 3:19).  

    Contrary to us, against us (Colossians 2:14).  

    Judges no one (Colossians 2:14-16).  

    Carnal (Hebrews 7:16).  

GOD’S LAW  

    Called “the law of the Lord” (Isaiah 5:24).  

    Called Ten Commandments-“the royal law” (James 2:8).  

    Written by God on stone (Exodus 31:18; 32:16).  

    Placed inside the ark (Exodus 40:20).  

    Will stand forever (Luke 16:17).  

    Points out sin (Romans 7:7; 3:20).  

    Not grievous (1 John 5:3).  

    Judges all people (James 2:10-12).  

    Spiritual (Romans 7:14).  

    Perfect (Psalms 19:7).  

Circumcision was a ritual law, like the Mosaic law. It was a temporary, ceremonial law of the Old Testament. This law was abolished at the cross (Ephesians 2:15). The New Testament stresses the circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29). Do people still circumcise today? Yes, for health reasons, but this rite holds no more religious value.

In His service,  
BibleAsk Team   

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