Perhaps because Scripture presents Christ as the second Adam (see Rom. 5:19; 1 Cor. 15:22), a church tradition developed that the actual skull of the historical Adam was buried at the foot of the Cross on the Mount of Golgotha. This is the reason why classical art sometimes depicts the Crucifixion with a skull at the bottom of the painting.
Though no evidence supports this tradition, it does capture an important doctrinal truth: Through His death and resurrection, Christ overcame sin and death, the results of the Fall. As Paul explores the gospel—what it is and what it isn’t—he keeps coming back to the Cross: We’ve been crucified with Christ (2:20). We should boast only in the Cross (6:14). And in today’s reading, the Cross is an offense or stumbling block to those who prefer works to grace (5:11).
Two pictures describe these false teachers. First, they are like runners who cut off other runners in a race (vv. 7–8; cf. 1 Cor. 9:24). They prevent others from following and obeying God. Second, they are like yeast permeating bread dough. It takes only a little to have a large negative impact (v. 9). They had thrown the Galatians into confusion and would one day pay the penalty and face God’s justice (v. 10).
The Cross offended the “circumcision group”—at whose expense Paul was sarcastic—not only because it was a shameful instrument of criminal execution but also because it means we can do nothing to save ourselves (vv. 11–12). Christ did it all! Merit is not a factor, which hurts our pride. To say it another way, obedience to the Law can never accomplish salvation. Justification, as we’ve seen, is by faith alone in Christ alone.
Apply the Word
The Cross has become a powerful and beautiful symbol of Christianity. Artists have celebrated it in words, images, and music throughout church history. You can see some of these artistic works online, if you aren’t close enough to visit an art museum, you can search specifically for paintings that show a skull at the foot of the Cross.