Explanatory Notes on Galatians
by Ken Schenck
The very first word of this letter tells us that its author
is the apostle Paul, and the rest of the letter gives us no reason to think
anything different. It is addressed to “the
The exact location of these Galatians, as well as the date when Paul wrote this letter, are both a matter of debate. Three primary options have emerged. One sees Galatians as the first letter Paul wrote, just after his first missionary journey around AD48. The destination in this case would be the churches of the “southern” part of the Roman
A second option agrees with this destination, but dates the letter to the early 50s AD, perhaps from
It is clear both from Galatians 4:8 and from the very topic of the letter that the audience consisted of Gentile believers. At some point after Paul’s departure, some other Christian or Christians had begun to exert influence on the Galatians in a way contrary to what he had taught them (cf. 5:7-12). They apparently claimed that the Galatians needed to be circumcised in order to be “justified” before God. Perhaps they even went so far as to claim that Paul agreed with them in obedience to the
Paul’s response is vigorous, angry, and exasperated. He omits the standard thanksgiving section of an ancient letter and instead launches a serious interrogation of the Galatians (1:6-10). He suggests that their agitators, since they are so concerned about circumcision, might emasculate themselves (5:12). His letter is one of pain and perplexity (4:19-20).
1:1 Paul—an apostle, not [originating] from humans, nor through a human but through Jesus Christ and God [our] Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers,
No one questions the literal Pauline authorship of Galatians. The debatable issues in Galatians have rather to do its precise destination and when Paul wrote it, as well as debates about exactly what Paul meant at various points.
An apostle was a representative sent on someone else’s behalf. In this case, Paul is sent as an ambassador of Jesus the Christ to carry the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and lordship.
The origination of Paul’s apostleship is not the
It’s very interesting that Paul says, “not through a human but through Jesus Christ.” The wording puts Jesus in a different category than the human. However, Paul’s meaning is clear enough. Jesus has a different authority than any human authority.
The statement that God raised Jesus from the dead is of course the foundation of Jesus’ identity as Lord (
Paul’s reference to those with him as “all the brothers” is curious, as Paul usually mentions those with him. Perhaps in this case the Galatians would not know any of those with him. Others suggest that Paul does not wish his authority to stand with anyone but him alone.
1:2 ... to the assemblies of
When Paul speaks of the churches of
A good deal of debate has ensued over the years regarding the exact location of the Galatian churches to which Paul refers. The Roman province of
From these possibilities emerge two proposals for the location of these Galatians. The first is the “South Galatian” theory, which sees the destination as the towns and villages that Paul visited in the southern part of the Roman province in Acts:
The second proposal is the “North Galatian” theory. It sees Paul writing primarily to churches in the middle of Asia Minor in the environs of
The dating of Galatians can be a key factor in one’s decision on the location. The earlier you date Galatians, the more likely you are to go with the South Galatian theory. Those who do not identify Paul’s meeting in Galatians 2 with the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 typically see Galatians as Paul’s earliest letter written around AD48 before the Jerusalem Council. On this reconstruction of events, you might see the Council as resolving the issues of Galatians.
Accordingly, the destination of Acts on this hypothesis can hardly be other than southern Galatia if we follow Acts, for we have no evidence that Paul had yet ministered anywhere else in that part of Asia Minor.
But would Paul have referred to this group as Galatians, following the Roman way of referring to the region? And Paul’s statement in 4:13-15 seems to indicate that he only ended up preaching the gospel to this region because of an unscheduled stop due to eye problems he was having (or else did he go there to seek out a doctor?). This scenario does not fit well at all with Acts’ portrayal of Paul’s visit to southern
On the second scenario, we would probably date Galatians to the mid-50s while Paul was ministering at
All three hypotheses are plausible. We favor the north Galatian proposal, which was also the traditional perspective throughout most of Christian history. However, most evangelicals favor the early, South Galatian theory, and would consider Galatians the first of Paul’s letters.
1:3 Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
“Grace and peace” is Paul’s characteristic greeting, and it seems to combine a word similar to the standard Greek letter greeting (chairein, “greetings,” similar to charis, “grace”) with the typical Hebrew greeting (shalom, “peace”). If so, then Paul’s letter greetings in themselves embodied his gospel of the inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God.
God is of course the ultimate source of “grace,” God’s unmerited favor, or more precisely, God’s willingness to serve as our Patron. Grace was the propensity of someone to give without proportionate return, although such gifts often did come with expectations and such patronage might be cut off if such things were not fulfilled.
We should take note of the fact that Paul strikingly joins the Lord Jesus Christ with God the Father as the source of this grace. As various scholars have pointed out, this joining of a human individual with God the Father in this way is unprecedented in prior Jewish literature.
1:4 ... who gave himself for our sins so that he might rescue us from this present, evil age...
Paul has already mentioned the resurrection. Now he alludes to Christ’s death for sins. In other instances Paul speaks of God offering Christ or Christ being given over. But here he refers to the willingness of Christ himself to surrender to death, much as Philippians 2:8 speaks of him being obedient to the point of death.
Some scholars have highlighted the fact that Paul refers more to Christ’s atoning death in Galatians and Romans than in his other letters. It appears that he saw this theme as relevant common ground that he shared with his Christian opponents, common ground he can build on in the points where they disagree. Some have suggested that we have in the idea that Christ’s death atoned for sins the very earliest Christology of all.
We should not overload the phrase “for our sins” with later debates about substitutionary atonement, especially some highly developed sense of penal substitution. The statement only indicates that Christ died to address the problem of sins. Paul probably has in mind here primarily the sins of those who believe in contemporary
The use of the plural, “sins,” is not characteristically Paul, who more often uses the singular “Sin” in relation to the power of Sin over flesh and this material world. We may once again have Paul using “common ground” language that he shares with his Christian opponents. But beyond this common ground, we know from elsewhere that Paul saw Christ’s death for sins as the effective cause to bring about the new age, a decisive turning of the ages beyond the mere atonement of the sins of particular individuals.
Paul’s language of Christ rescuing the Galatians from the present age is apocalyptic in nature. It evokes the idea of the change of the ages from the current one in which the forces of Satan and the demonic rule to the coming
1:5 ... according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Paul has significantly identified Jesus Christ with the grace that is being dispensed to all who believe. However, Paul’s ultimate monotheism shows up in the final part of the greeting. Here Paul ends with a doxology to God the Father, the only doxology at the end of a prescript in his letters. Despite the highly exalted place that Christ has in his writings, Paul reserves final place to God the Father.
Statement of the Basic Problem (1:6-10)
1:6 I am amazed that you are turning so quickly from the One who called you in grace to a different gospel,
Paul’s letters characteristically have a thanksgiving section at this point, where he thanks God for his audience. But Paul does not thank God for the Galatians here. Instead, he chastises them for what he sees as their turning away from the gospel. The body of Paul’s letter thus begins with his focal indictment rather than with the usual pleasantries of a typical letter introduction.
While some manuscripts read “the One who called you by the grace of Christ,” we have opted for those that simply read “by grace.” Both readings are ancient, although perhaps the shorter reading (ca. AD200) is even older than the one with “Christ” (ca. 300). Paul would think more of God’s grace rather than Christ’s. If the reading is “by the grace of Christ,” it would still likely refer to God’s grace as dispensed in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 1:4) rather than to grace as dispensed by Christ.
1:7 ... which is not another [gospel], but some are troubling you and wanting to change the gospel of the Christ.
The gospel is the good news that Jesus is the Christ, the
messianic king, along with all that his kingship entails. The point of conflict between Paul and his
Christian opponents in
1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel to you other than the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
Paul invokes some of the strongest language he could to reject the competing understanding of the gospel. He calls it “anathema,” a word used in Greek contexts for something offered to a God. But in the Greek Old Testament it referred to things set apart for destruction by God. Paul in effect consigns to destruction any Christian who preaches a gospel that does not include the Gentiles by faith.
The mention of the possibility of an angel appearing with a different version of the gospel is intriguing. We should not be too quick to think of this statement as hyperbole, as an extreme statement meant simply for emphasis. Paul’s experience of the risen Christ was not unlike the visits of angels in biblical and apocalyptic literature. Paul did not use the word angel only in reference to good spiritual powers but to evil ones as well (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:3).
1:9 As we have said previously and I say again now, if someone should preach a gospel other than the one you have received, let him be accursed.
The fact that Paul repeats his curse on those who would in his view pervert the gospel message shows how serious he is. Its repetition approaches a kind of formal curse on those who are teaching contrary to him.
We should see this comment to reflect the focal reason Paul is writing Galatians. Certain believers have come to
1:10 For am I now trying to convince mortals or God? Or am I trying to please mortals? If I were still trying to please mortals, I would not be a servant of Christ.
The second question helps clarify the first. Obviously Paul wants to convey the idea that he is not interested in pleasing humans but God. We should thus understand the first question in the same way. Paul is not trying to persuade humans but God.
Paul is a servant of the king, Christ, and thus it is he that he aims to please. It is God that he is trying to persuade of his faith and obedience, not those who seem better connected to the
Body of Letter (1:11-6:10)
The Background Story and Thesis of Galatians (1:11-2:21)
1:11-12 For I make known, brothers, the gospel that was preached by me was not of a human sort. For I myself neither received it from a human nor was I taught [it] but [it came] through [the] revelation of Jesus Christ.
Paul will argue strongly in the verses that follow that his
message came directly from Christ. We
already saw in 1:1 that Paul sees himself as an apostle in his own right. He is not an ambassador under the apostles in
Paul’s opponent or opponents in
Those who date Galatians early see this sort of controversy over circumcision as part of the lead up to the Jerusalem Council, where such issues would be laid to rest. In this scenario, the meeting of Galatians 2 was a private meeting between Paul and the
Paul’s gospel came through revelation. This statement heightened Paul’s authority as a direct recipient of divine revelation. However, this statement has also provided opportunity for modern scholars to distance Paul’s teaching from the
The phrase “revelation of Jesus Christ” has the usual ambiguity of Greek “of” statements (genitives). Is it Jesus Christ who is being revealed—revealing Jesus Christ? Or is Jesus Christ the one doing the revealing—Jesus Christ revealing? The latter—where Jesus is the subject doing the revelation—seems prominent, although we cannot rule out a double entendre.
1:13 For you have heard about my conduct formerly in Judaism, that I used to persecute the assembly of God intensely and was trying to destroy it...
Although Acts gives us a picture of Paul the persecutor, the brief allusions to this phase of Paul’s life in his own writings are particularly valuable (cf. also Phil. 3). Paul’s allusion to the “assembly of God” in Roman Judea likely hints of a particular understanding the early Judean church had of being the “end times” gathering of God’s people.
But why did Paul persecute them? This question has brought several suggestions, ranging from opposition to their devotion of Jesus to their attitudes toward the Torah to the attitudes of some toward the temple. The mention of Judaism, as we will see in the next verse, implies that issues of Jewish Law were involved, particularly those that most distinguished Jew from Gentile.
Yet if we are to take Acts at face value, it was the high priest who authorized Paul’s trip to
It is quite plausible that we see in some of Paul’s most vigorous positions an “anti-type” of those that he resisted the most as a persecutor. Among these must surely be a “lax” view of boundary issues like the importance of purity rules and those aspects of the Jewish law that presented the greatest difficulty for Diaspora Jews, while also most excluding non-Jews from God. That Hellenistic Jews would feature as more prominent targets for Paul in this regard makes sense.
However, we probably cannot explain any official authority Paul might have had to persecute the early Christian movement on this basis, especially if the high priest extended political authority to Paul. Presumably some early Christians did rail against the temple administration in the manner of Jesus’ temple action and, apparently, Stephen’s sentiment. We can imagine the high priest giving Paul authority to track down such subversives, once again leading him presumably to focus more on Hellenistic Jews than otherwise.
Finally, we can imagine that Paul personally was not pleased with the notion that the Messiah had been crucified by the Romans, although the idea that the resurrection was beginning might have been attractive.
1:14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many contemporaries in my generation, and I was incredibly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
The word Judaism at this time seemed to connote especially the zeal most associated with the Maccabees. This was a zeal that books like 2 Maccabees associated with standing up for those Jewish practices that most distinguished Jews from non-Jews, things like circumcision, food laws, and sabbath observance. The word Judaism thus does not have the meaning we now give it as a reference to common Jewish identity and religion.
The mention of “fatherly traditions” reminds us that Paul self-identified himself at this time as a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5). The Pharisees were a Jewish sect that seemed to have the most popular influence at the time in
1:15-16 But when the One who separated me from my mother’s womb and called [me] through His grace was pleased to reveal His Son through me—so that I might preach his gospel among the Gentiles—
Paul here echoes the calling of Jeremiah the prophet (Jer. 1:5). Paul
wishes the Galatians to know that he is not some emissary of the
On the whole, the word conversion is more likely to create false connotations than authentic ones. Because of the potential confusion it can bring, it is probably best for us to avoid using the term.
The Son is of course the “Son of God,” a royal title that indicates that Jesus is the messiah. Although Paul does not use this expression for Jesus often, it was clearly part of his repertoire of beliefs.
The expression “through me” is somewhat peculiar. We might have expected Paul to say that God revealed the Son “to me,” but Paul uses the expression, “in me.” We have concluded that Paul was speaking of his commission to spread the gospel rather than to himself as the recipient of revelation here.
The statement Paul makes immediately following supports this reading. Paul saw his calling as a commission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. He presents this call as a matter of the very beginning of his Christian life. This is a quite remarkable claim. It probably implies that issues of inclusion (and thus purity and “Judaismos”) were indeed the main sticking points for Paul personally in relation to the Christian movement.
Perhaps Paul—more clearly than other early Christians—had seen where “laxity” on such issues led. It meant that not only impure Jews could be included, but that the Gentiles too were of concern to God. When he saw the risen Christ and placed faith in him as messianic Lord, the need for Gentiles to hear the good news followed naturally.
1:16b-17 ... immediately I did not consult with flesh and blood. Nor did I go up to
Although Paul accepted Jesus as Messiah, he did not thereby
submit automatically to their understanding of what that meant or what its
implications were. Perhaps he had seen
even before he accepted Christ that the implications were far more extensive
The mention of Arabia almost certainly refers to the Nabatean kingdom just to the east of
1:18 Then after three years I went up to
It would seem that New Testament authors in general rounded up as soon as they passed a number. So “three years” in general would indicate some amount more than two up to three. At the same time, it is also possible that Paul rounded symbolically as well. So 14 years—two sevens—might cover an even larger range of years. This approximate quality to numeration makes it difficult to date writings and events.
However, a good guess for Paul’s trip to
This would place Paul’s conversion in the years AD33-34, within 3-4 years of Christ’s death and resurrection. The proximity of Paul’s conversion to the central Christian events reminds us of the peril of divorcing his teaching from that of earliest Christianity. Paul was aware of what the earliest Christians believed and knew the key players personally, even if he was not on intimate terms with them.
The fact that Paul goes to see Peter is intriguing. We don’t know who initiated the visit, although the fact that Paul was pressured to leave
1:19 ... but I did not see another of the apostles except James the brother of the Lord.
The details of Paul’s version of this visit are not the same
as the account of Acts 9 (26-29), where Paul’s visit involves Barnabas
introducing him to the collective apostles. Paul then preaches to Hellenistic Jews about
Christ until he is forced to flee
Paul perhaps hints in this verse of what we also see implied in Acts, namely, that James has come to be the leader of the Christian movement in
The gospels only know James as an opponent to Jesus’ ministry. But Paul includes James among those by whom the risen Jesus was seen.
1:20 Behold, before God I am not lying about the things that I am writing to you.
Paul once again distances himself from the authority of the
1:21-22 Then I went into the regions of
Paul interestingly never mentions that he was from
We are not surprised that Paul spent little time in
So unlike the impression we get from Acts, Paul gives us a sense of a somewhat secretive visit to
“In Christ” is a fundamental category for Paul. Believers are incorporated “in Christ.” They die with Christ they will rise with Christ.
1:23 But they were only hearing, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now preaching the faith that he used to be destroying,”
Faith here likely has its early, more limited sense of a belief. Paul was preaching the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord, the confession of faith of the earliest Christian community.
1:24 And they were glorifying God because of me.
We notice the priority that God the Father consistently receives in Paul’s theology. The Christian Jews of Judea glorify God the Father for delivering them from Paul’s zealous quest to destroy the Christian movement.
2:1 Then at the end of
fourteen years I went up to
If it weren’t for Acts and issues related to it, I doubt
anyone would take “through 14 years” to mean anything but that Paul’s next trip
The problem is that this interpretation comes into tension with Acts in two ways. First, Acts 11:27-30 tells of a famine relief trip that would have occurred around the year AD46. Paul is said to go on this “gift trip” from
This scenario would also account for the second problem Acts presents, namely, the fact that the meeting Paul describes in Galatians takes place on a rather small, private scale. The “Jerusalem Council” of Acts, on the other hand, is a large, official meeting after which an official document is produced and sent.
Those who argue for the early dating of Galatians also suggest that a letter like Galatians would hardly have been written after the Jerusalem Council. Its central issue—do Gentiles need to be circumcised—was already answered and an apostolic letter existed to prove it. This meeting must further date to around AD49 if we are to place Paul in
These are all strong reasons to go against the most natural reading of Galatians 2:1. However, we should also remember that, if we had other accounts of the history of the early church, they would probably differ as much from Acts as Luke differs at times from the other gospels. Any detailed comparison of Luke with Mark and Matthew points to a freedom on Luke’s part to move things around and present events in a creative fashion (e.g., compare Luke 4:16-30 with the material in Mark 6:1-6 it is probably based on).
Paul’s account in Galatians 2 does not differ from Acts 15 any more than some of Luke differs from the other gospels. Further, Paul nowhere mentions the apostolic decree of Acts 15 even though it would have been very apropos his discussion of meat offered to idols in 1 Corinthians and Romans 14. We should probably conclude, therefore, either that he did not think it would be convincing to the Corinthians, that he did not agree with it, or that it did not yet exist at that time.
Those who opt for a later date for Galatians should probably conclude that Acts 15 captures in a nutshell what was historically a more complicated and drawn out process.
At the same time, identifying Paul’s version of the event in
Galatians 2 with Acts 15 does not necessarily mean that Paul did not go to
Acts presents background for the relationship between Paul and Barnabas. Although Paul does not mention him in Galatians 1, Acts sees Barnabas as instrumental in Paul’s first meeting with Peter. Then Acts tells us it was Barnabas who went to
Paul does assume that his Galatian audience knows of Barnabas and Titus. Their knowledge of Barnabas would fit with the southern Galatian theory for the audience. However, Acts nowhere mentions Titus, a conspicuous absence that begs for speculation. But we simply do not have enough information to reach any firm conclusion.
On the early dating of Galatians and a southern (Roman) Galatian audience, Paul and Barnabas would conduct their first missionary journey. Then some other Christian or Christians would come to
On the later dating of Galatians, Paul would have the somewhat private assurance of the
Into this ambiguity certain Christians come, arguing the importance of circumcision for salvation from God’s wrath. They could point to the ambiguity of Paul’s circumcision of Timothy to argue that he too recognized circumcision as the best course of action, while claiming this to be the position of the
2:2a And I went up because of a revelation and I put to them the gospel that I was proclaiming among the Gentiles,
The revelation to which Paul refers was almost certainly to put his understanding of the gospel before Peter, namely, that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised to be saved.
The revelation to which Paul refers thus would not be that of the prophet Agabus that led to the “gift trip” of Acts 11. This is a complication for those who think Galatians 2 took place during that trip.
At the same time, Paul’s trip to
2:2b ... and privately to those seeming [to be something], lest somehow I was running or had run in vain.
Paul gives somewhat mixed signals about the authority of the
2:3 But not even Titus, the one with me, although he was Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.
Perhaps Paul brought Titus with him to
2:4 But [the issue was raised] because of false brothers brought in secretly who came in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus so that they might enslave us,
Presumably Paul means that the
Of course the reason Paul is writing Galatians is because the very same thing is now happening in
Paul calls such individuals “false brothers,” but it is important to recognize that Acts does not. Acts speaks of certain from the Pharisees who had believed and, indeed, has Paul identify himself as a Pharisee as late as Acts 23:6. Paul, on the other hand, questions whether they are really brothers in Christ. He sees these individuals as “spies” who snuck into the
Paul depicts this approach as “freedom” and includes himself under that same heading. Paul likely means “freedom from the law” versus enslavement to the “elements,” a theme he will unfold later in the letter. Acts of course depicts Paul himself as law keeping (Acts 21:24) and focuses freedom from the law more in terms of Gentiles. Paul probably did continue to keep much of the Jewish law. But it is also clear that when his mission and the broader principle of Christian unity came into play, Paul felt free from the particulars of the Jewish law (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-23).
2:5 ... to whom we did not even yield in subjection for an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain for you.
Whoever these individuals were, Paul was not buying it. He apparently opposed them at
2:6 But from those seeming to be something—of what sort at some time they were differs nothing to me. God does not regard human appearance—for to me those who seem [to be something] added nothing,
Paul’s tone now gets more combative. He has already referred to Peter, James, and John as “those who seem.” But with the mention of false brothers, his emotions get more stirred up. A lot of people may think they are something, but in Paul’s view they are no more authoritative than Paul himself.
So they were disciples of Jesus “at some time” when he was on earth? Paul does not care. God does not show favoritism. Of course these comments have the ring of “he doth protest too much methinks.” Paul does consider himself a greater authority than many others and would not have sought out the
But they added nothing to his theology. They apparently consented to the way he was preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. But Paul’s somewhat hostile tone toward them may imply that they had some reservations about his approach. It is possible that they are more allowing for what Paul preaches than preferring it.
2:7 But on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision just as Peter was with the circumcision,
This comment presents us with yet another difference in emphasis from Acts. Acts seems quite keen to locate the Gentile mission in relation to Peter (Acts 10), and Acts 15 has Peter lay claim to its origin (Acts 15:7). Paul’s writings say nothing along these lines. Rather, Paul claims that Peter recognized the mission to the Gentiles as Paul’s territory rather than his own, and Paul at least gives us the impression that Peter had little interest in it.
Similarly, we get the impression from Acts that Paul’s mission was more evenly aimed at both Jews and Gentiles. But Paul himself did not see himself as a missionary to Diaspora Jews but as apostle to the Gentiles (e.g., Rom. 15:16). In Acts, however, we get the impression that Paul primarily turns to Gentiles after he is rejected by Jews.
2:8 For the One who worked in Peter the apostleship of the circumcision worked also in me toward the Gentiles,
We cannot know for sure how Peter himself would have put it.
Paul at least left the meeting claiming
More significantly, this statement implies that both Peter and Paul were having fruitful ministries. Peter’s ministry apparently had a very large impact on the Jewish community in
2:9 And when they recognized the grace given to me, James and Cephas and John, the ones seeming to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, so that we [might go] to the Gentiles, as they also to the circumcision.
Paul interestingly has not mentioned what role Barnabas
might have played in the discussion thus far. If this meeting took place in AD49, then Paul
and Barnabas would have recently finished their first missionary journey. By giving them the right hand of fellowship,
Paul and Barnabas at least enjoy the official approval of the
The image of “pillars” makes us think of a new temple. The fourth pillar was presumably James the son of Zebedee, who had been put to death by Herod Agrippa I some time around AD44. This implies that it was not just Paul who saw the body of Christ at
We are reminded of the Jesus saying about tearing the temple down and rebuilding it in three days (cf. Mark 14:58) and the statement in Matthew 16:18 that Jesus will build his assembly on the “rock” Peter. Although Acts presents the early church participating in the life of the
2:10 Only [they urged] that we remember the poor, which I was also eager to do.
Presumably Paul does not mean the poor in general, but the
poor of the
We have no basis for connecting this comment with the famine
relief of Acts 11. Rather, the pillars
seem to be tasking Gentile converts with
responsibility to share their abundance with the poor of the
Many think that this meeting may have set in motion what would eventually become the collection Paul raised among his churches to take back to
So the one thing they did want Paul to do was something he had already hoped to do anyway. The effect is once again to show that the gospel he preached came directly from God, that his authority is equal to the so called leaders of the
2:11 But when Cephas came to
At some point, apparently not long after Paul’s meeting with
But Paul does not bring up Peter’s visit to commend him. Paul brings him up to show his shortsightedness and to undermine his authority on the question of the Gentiles. Despite Peter’s acknowledgement of the right course of action on the topic of circumcision, he had shown himself inconsistent at
2:12 For before certain individuals came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they came, he began to withdraw and separate himself because he feared those of the circumcision.
With this comment we catch a glimpse of a difference between
James and Peter on law keeping. On his
own, Peter did not seem so concerned about the fine points of purity laws. The issue at
Perhaps we can see a “slippery slope” argument lurking here. We have made allowances for Gentile believers not to keep the particulars of the Jewish Law. But if we are not careful, Jews will take this as an excuse to slide on their law keeping as well. So James, not trusting Peter to keep the line, sends people he trusts to make the point.
We can hear what they might say to Peter. “Peter, you have to set the tone. You’re the apostle, the one to whom the risen Lord appeared first. You have to keep to a higher standard than others because if you let things slide then everyone will.” So Peter does what he thinks he must and stops eating with the Gentile believers. Nothing personal, it is just a matter of following principles.
This action by Peter is all the more remarkable if we take the story of Cornelius at face value in Acts 10. The very point of that story as it now appears in Acts is that Peter is not to consider Gentiles unclean. Despite the common wisdom of his day that says it is against the law for him to be in their home, God has other things in mind.
2:13 And the other Jews joined him in the act so that even Barnabas was carried away by their pretending.
So Peter’s withdrawal has the effect that James wanted it to
happen. The Jewish leaders at
Barnabas decides to submit to Peter and James’ position. Some of those who see Galatians being written before the Jerusalem Council see these issues as a lead up to the letter that is issued from the Council in Acts 15. In that letter, the Gentiles are told to abstain from 1) sexual immorality, 2) food sacrificed to idols, 3) meat from strangled animals, and 4) blood.
This list does not look complete if it is all that is required of Gentile believers. It does, however, look like the kind of list Gentile believers would need to follow in order for Jewish believers to eat with Gentiles and remain clean. Paul of course never mentions such a letter and, in any case, would not have agreed with it.
It is probably significant to note that Paul does not mention Peter or Barnabas coming to agree with him. In short, Paul almost certainly lost this argument at this point. And although Acts does not mention this particular argument—in keeping with its tendency to de-emphasize these sorts of tensions—it conspicuously notes a vigorous argument between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark at about this time. This argument is so contentious that Paul and Barnabas end up going their separate ways.
2:14 But when I saw that they were not walking in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “If you who are a Jew are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like a Jew?”
Paul calls Peter out before the entire group. Paul had been a Pharisee, a zealous Pharisee. The kinds of concerns that James was bringing were once his concerns. It no doubt looked silly to him for someone like Peter or James to be talking about keeping Jewish purity laws in the light of how extensively he himself had kept them at one time. Indeed, his change of direction specifically involved the recognition that Christ as Messiah seriously reformulated some of these concerns.
Meanwhile, Peter was a fisherman from the Galilee, probably from
So to Paul, Peter and the others were playing games and were a joke. Peter did not “live like a Jew.” The word here probably evokes images of the kind of zeal for the law that Jews associated with the Maccabean revolt. Certainly Peter did not live with such concerns! He probably did not really “live like a Gentile” either, but no doubt this is something Paul would have said in critique of Peter and other Christians before he believed.
So for Peter of all people to insist that Gentile converts follow the Jewish purity laws was a joke. Even worse, it was hypocrisy. It was pretending to be something even he was not.
The point to the Galatians and their situation is clear. Not only are their agitators not an authority on what is required for a Gentile believer—Peter and James are not either. Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul is the foremost authority and recipient of revelation on what God requires of Gentile believers. And not only are the missionaries in town wrong to push circumcision, but Gentiles do not even need to follow Jewish purity regulations.
Paul’s Thesis (2:15-21)
2:15 We who are Jews by nature and not sinners from the Gentiles,
Paul has been recounting the story of his calling to the
Gentiles and his subsequent interaction with the
He starts with common theological ground that he shares with Peter and James. All three were born as Jews, “Jews by nature.” They were not born as Gentile sinners. It is tempting for contemporary Christians to put the word sinners in quotation marks, as if Paul could not seriously imply that Gentiles might be sinners simply because they are Gentiles in distinction from Jews.
On the one hand, it is true that by the time Paul completes his thought, he will conclude that all—both Jew and Gentile—are sinners (2:17). But we should not shrink from the blatant equation of Gentiles with sinners in distinction from Jews here. For what is sin in this discussion if not violation of the Jewish Law, the Pentateuch, and of course Gentiles by definition do not keep the Jewish Law. Thus they are sinners by the very fact that they are Gentiles.
2:16a ... since we know that a person is not justified by works of Law except through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ,
The common theological ground continues as Paul indicates
that Peter and James would agree that the “faith of Jesus Christ” was essential
for a Jew to be justified. Not only was
being a Jew not enough to secure justification, but even works of Law could not
Justification in this context has to do with God considering a person “righteous” or innocent. It is a legal term that evokes images of the law court. Paul is not clear in this verse when this pronouncement takes place, whether at the time when a person first believes that Jesus is the Messiah or at the time of the final judgment, when “we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10).
One matter of debate is whether the verse should read, “except through... Jesus” or “but through... Jesus.” On the second reading, Paul presents two paths to justification—works of Law and faith of Jesus. The second path is the only one that works. On the first translation, “works of Law” might play some role in justification, but they are inadequate by themselves. Whatever works might be involved, it is “faith of Jesus” that is essential.
We have opted for the first reading at this point of the text for more than one reason. For one, it is the usual sense of the grammatical expression Paul uses: “unless” or “except.” The grammatical burden of proof thus lies on those who would take it to mean “but.”
But secondly, Paul at this point is presenting things that Peter and James would also affirm. The notion that they might see both Jesus and Law keeping to play a role in justification seems more than possible. Are not the issues at hand—circumcision and purity laws—practices that some are claiming are essential to justification?
Perhaps we should also remember here that Paul himself seems to indicate on more than one occasion that some sort of works play a role in final justification (e.g.,
However, the phrase “works of Law’ here probably does not refer to deeds in general. The specific works Paul has in mind in this context are practices of the Jewish Law like circumcision and purity laws, the kinds of Jewish Law practices that led Peter and Barnabas to separate from Gentile believers at
What is absolutely essential to justification is “faith of Jesus Christ.” The traditional way of taking this phrase is as “faith in Jesus.” We are justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Certainly the next line makes it clear that this is part of the equation.
However, a large number of scholars have come to see the first statement here as a reference to the faithfulness of Jesus, namely, his faithful obedience to the point of dying. Peter and James agree that concern for things like circumcision and purity laws do not make a person acceptable to God unless one further trusts in the faithful death of Jesus Christ.
This reading has much to commend it. First, it is clear from passages like Philippians 2:8 and especially Romans 5:19 that the obedience of Jesus played a role in justification for Paul. Secondly, if we take the traditional reading of Galatians 2:16a, then Paul very redundantly says, “Since we know a person is justified... through faith in Jesus, we have put faith in Christ to be justified by faith in Christ.” If the first statement referred to the faith of the earthly person, Jesus, the sequence is no longer redundant.
Other arguments can also be brought to bear, such as the apparent train of thought in 2 Corinthians 4:13 that moves from Jesus’ faith in the God who raises the dead to our faith in the one who raises the dead. Others point out that the wording faith of “Jesus” might point more naturally to the earthly person in the first phrase, whereas the other two phrases have the title, Christ, Messiah, the “office” of Jesus that we believe him to hold.
If we take the expression this way, we see perhaps a traditional agreement of the earliest Christians like Peter and James that Christ’s faithful death is what has made it possible for God’s people to be acceptable before Him.
Into this void, the death of Jesus was like a cosmically amplified version of the deaths of the Maccabean martyrs that effected an end to the wrath of God toward
Paul builds on this logic, starting with the common ground he shares with Peter and James. We Jews know that attention to the finer points of the Jewish Law has been unable to justify
2:16b ... even we have placed faith in Christ Jesus,
So we Jews—not just Gentiles—have put faith in the Messiah, Jesus. The first expression recounted the sense of the earliest Christians that the faithful death of Jesus had made it possible for God’s people to be accepted before God. Now Paul points out that even though Jews are not sinners like the Gentiles, “even we Jews” have believed on Jesus for justification.
If we have correctly identified the train of thought, the word faith has a slightly different connotation in this statement than it did in the first. The first clause referred to the faithfulness of Jesus, one of the meanings the Greek word pistis can have (cf.
We should perhaps understand this statement in terms such as Paul makes explicit in Romans 10:9—”If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and have faith in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” “Placing faith in Christ Jesus” is thus confessing that he is the Messiah, the risen Lord, which of course assumes submission to one’s master.
2:16c ... so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ and not by works of Law,
Paul now proceeds to his more characteristic phrase “from faith.” For Paul it is a principle that justification takes place “from faith.” He drew this expression from Habakkuk 2:4—”the one who is righteous from faith will live.”
Scholars debate whether Paul understood this verse to be a prophecy about Jesus—the Righteous One will live because of his faith”—or a statement about our justification by faith. Perhaps it is not necessary to choose. The New Testament understands Jesus to be saved from death because of his obedience and reverence (e.g., Phil. 2:8-9; Heb. 5:7).
It is thus possible that Paul now includes both the faith of Jesus and faith in Jesus in this third expression. We are justified on the basis of the faithfulness of Jesus appropriated by our faith that Jesus is Lord. Keeping the fine points of the Jewish Law will not justify. Because we Jews know that we need to confess faith in Jesus and be justified through Jesus’ faithful death, we have done so, to be justified by Christ-faith.
2:16d ... for no flesh will be justified by works of Law.
The final part of the verse sums up Paul’s conclusion by way of Psalm 143:2: “No one living is righteous before you.” Paul has of course felt free to modify the verse a little. He does not understand the verse to mean that no one can be considered righteous before God. He understands it to mean that no one can establish his or her righteousness before God on the basis of their own good actions. We can, however, be considered righteous on the basis of Jesus.
The connotations of “works of Law” here may be more general than they were initially. One of the difficulties of interpreting Paul is the way he seems to glide unannounced from one connotation of a word or phrase to another. The introduction of the word “flesh” into the psalm evokes images of Paul’s understanding of flesh as a hindrance to keeping the essence of the Law. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (
At the same time, later in Galatians Paul does associate intra-Jewish type concerns with the physical realm, with the “elements of the world” (Gal. 4:9). So it is possible that “works of Law” here still has a substantial connotation of the particulars of the Jewish Law that especially distinguished Jew from Gentile.
2:17 But what if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were also found [to be] sinners? Is Christ then a minister of sin?
The phrase “seeking to be justified” gives us a sense of the
timing of justification Paul has in mind. Paul certainly can speak of justification in
the past and present tense (e.g.,
Paul and Peter are seeking to be justified “in Christ.” This characteristic Pauline phrase parallels Paul’s earlier comment that “we Jews are justified through the faith of Jesus Christ” and “from faith.” 2:20 below will speak of living life “in the faith of the Son of God.” We are justified by participation in the actions of Jesus, Messiah.
In 2:15, Paul has matter of factly referred to “Gentile sinners.” We’ve mentioned that this expression would hardly have caused a Jew to bat an eye, because Gentiles were by definition outside the Law, “law-less.” Indeed, some have suggested that those from James themselves may have used this language—we cannot eat with these Gentiles because they are sinners, outside the Law.
Paul does not argue that they are not sinners; he accepts this label. But he goes on to suggest that the Jews are sinners too. We see in the train of thought here a similar progression to Romans 1-3, where after exploiting the common sense that Gentiles are sinners concludes that Jews are sinners too. All—both Gentile and Jew—have sinned.
But there may be a more specific connotation to these words as well. What happens if we Jews eat with these Gentile sinners and thus are found sinners too, contaminated by their uncleanness? Does that make Christ a minister of sin? Does that make Christ a servant to sin, a propagator of sin? It is quite possible that this remark also reflects something that those from James have said.
Perhaps there is a memory here also that Jesus himself ate with sinners. It is somewhat ironic that Paul is now being criticized for eating with sinful Gentiles given that Jesus was similarly criticized. And perhaps James criticized Jesus for this practice too!
2:18-19 Absolutely not! For if I should again rebuild what I destroyed, I establish myself as a transgressor. For I, through the Law, died to the Law so that I might live to God.
Paul does not deny or reject the claim that to eat with the Gentiles is “sinning” according to the Jewish Law. His claim is far more revolutionary and drastic than that. His claim is that he and other Christians are no longer to be judged on the basis of their keeping of the Jewish Law. The Jewish Law is no longer the standard against which transgression is measured.
We should remember that Paul once again is primarily thinking of those aspects of the Jewish Law that naturally distinguish Jew from Gentile. A serious tension in Paul’s ethics is the fact that he does not see more universal elements to the Law abrogated, like love of one’s neighbor.
But in this context, since Paul died with Christ, he has died to the Law—“The Law rules over a person for as long as s/he lives... but if the husband dies, [the wife] is released from the law of the husband” (Rom. 7:1-2). He is no longer under the Law because he is dead.
On the other hand, if a person were to rebuild the Law as the basis for justification, then one simply reconfirms that you are a sinner, a transgressor.
2:20a I have been crucified with Christ, and I myself no longer live. But Christ lives in me.
But Paul has died with Christ. “In Christ,” Paul undergoes the resurrection and dies, and is freed from the Law. Not only is Paul “in Christ,” but Christ is “in Paul.” It is Christ now living in Paul rather than Paul himself. The Spirit of Christ is within him.
2:20b And what I live now in the flesh, I live in faith, [the faith] of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Paul’s wording here is perfectly set up in Greek for a double entendre. The life that Paul lives now, he lives “in faith” or more woodenly, “by faith I live.” The first thought an audience has is probably to Paul’s earlier statement in 2:16 that “even we have directed our faith toward Christ Jesus.”
But after saying, “in faith I live,” he follows with “the [faith] of the Son of God.” Now the audience’s mind switches from thinking of their faith in Christ to the faithfulness of Christ. The life I now live, “I live in the faithfulness of the Son of God,” in his faithful death, as Paul has just said. Paul has died with Christ.
That Paul primarily has the faith of Jesus in mind is confirmed by the description of the Son of God Paul gives—he loved me and gave himself for me. Paul does not use the expression, “the Son of God” too often, but he clearly maintained it. It is of course a reference to Jesus as the divine Son, the appointed king, the Messiah.
2:21 I do not reject the grace of God. For if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died for no reason.
The opportunity for justification, for righteousness, comes by way of God’s grace. We should remember that the word righteousness (dikaiosyne) is the noun form of the verb “to justify” (dikaioo). To justify is thus to declare righteous or to pronounce the righteousness of an individual.
Grace is the propensity to serve as a patron, to give to someone disproportionate to what that person might be able to give in return. It is, as the cliche goes, “unmerited favor.” God has graciously offered Christ’s faithful death as a path to justification, as an atonement for the sins of
The Argument (3:1-5:1a)
3:1 O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes public notice was given of Jesus Christ, crucified.
With 3:1 the argument of the letter proper begins. Before this point, Paul has introduced the letter (1:1-10) and he has given background information to the current situation (1:11-2:14), culminating in his fundamental thesis (2:15-21). Now he will dig into defending this thesis.
The tone of these first few verses is one of puzzlement and exasperation. He suggests that someone has perhaps put the Galatians under a spell. On the one hand, Paul surely doesn't mean that someone has tried to use magic on the audience.
Yet many have suggested that this is the language of the "evil eye," the idea that someone out of envy has brought bad fortune on someone else. Paul has used language of people "spying out our freedom" earlier in the letter, so it is quite possible that the imagery here is of the "Judaizers" in a sense casting a spell on the Galatians.
The rest of the verse plays into such an interpretation, for the audience "has seen" the crucified Jesus displayed before them. That "look" should have been more powerful than the envious "look" of the Judaizers.
Paul uses a word that has the sense of "giving public notice" of the crucified Jesus. This seems not a little ironic, since a primary purpose of crucifixion was to shame not only the victim but all who were associated with the victim. In Paul's thinking, however, the public display of Jesus is a matter of honor and power.
Paul seems to confirm here that the cross was the centerpiece of his preaching. We will see some of the inner dynamic of his message later in Galatians. The cross involved Jesus becoming a curse for us, an idea that Paul once may have used to shame believers. Now he wears it as a matter of honor, something that every believer participates in. His use of the perfect tense—"having been crucified"—implies a completed event whose effect remains.
We can debate whether the reference to the audience as
"Galatians" in 3:1 makes it more likely that the audience is
ethnically Galatian, and thus from the north, or whether Paul refers here to
the diverse peoples of Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe from his "first" missionary journey. Some have suggested that "Galatians,"
which would then mean inhabitants of the Roman district of Galatia, is about
the only term Paul could use to gather these diverse peoples under one heading.
Others point out that Acts regularly uses "
3:2 I only want to learn this [answer] from you: Did you receive the Spirit on the basis of works of Law or on the basis of hearing with faith?
Paul's start off argument is an experiential one. He reminds the Galatians of their initial conversion. In Paul's writings, as in Acts and Hebrews, the effective ingredient in salvation is the Spirit. It is the sine qua non, the "that without which" you cannot truly be considered a child of God in the ultimate sense. It is the Spirit, as Paul will say, that implies "sonship."
Paul seems to refer to an experience of a sort that the Galatians would remember. They knew when they received the Spirit. Some have suggested that signs of some sort may have accompanied the experience, things like miracles, prophecy, tongues, etc... This would not necessarily mean that everyone had such dramatic experiences or the same kind of experience. But Paul surely is not referring to a mere cognitive assent or saying of a mild prayer.
Some debate exists over how to take the phrase "hearing of faith." Some think, for example, that it refers to the message of [Christ's] faithfulness. The strength of this suggestion is the fact that Paul quotes Isaiah 53:1 in Romans 10:16. The meaning of this word in Isaiah is clearly a "message" rather than the act of "hearing" ("Who has had faith in our message?").
However, since "hearing" is parallel to "works," it seems more likely in 3:2 that Paul means active hearing rather than simply a message or report. And, even if the faith of Jesus is in view in 2:16a, Paul's focus from this point on seems to be rather on the human act of faith.
So we take the phrase to suggest that the path to receiving the Holy Spirit is by "hearing with faith" and not by keeping the Jewish Law, particularly those parts that are at issue in Galatians: circumcision and the "ethnic particulars" of the Law that most obviously separate Jew from Gentile.
3:3 Are you so foolish that after you have begun with the Spirit you are now trying to finish with the flesh?
Flesh here, as in 2:16d, does not quite have the connotation of "the physical body under the power of Sin" that it will have later in Galatians and in Romans. But it is moving in that direction. Paul will indeed associate the Law later in Galatians with the physical realm and the evil powers that hold sway over it. In Romans 7 he will of course clarify that the Law in itself is not evil.
With this verse we see the first hints of Paul's dualism of flesh and spirit as the two basic kinds of "stuff" in the universe. Flesh in itself is not evil for Paul (like the later Gnostics), but it is weak and is susceptible to the power of sin. To try to please God "in the flesh" is thus a hopeless venture, absurd.
3:4 Have you suffered so much in vain, if indeed [it is] even in vain?
With this statement Paul implies hope that the Galatians still have a chance. Their chance lies in returning to the gospel Paul preached to them, to rely on the cross and the faith of Jesus Christ for their justification before God. They have apparently suffered because of their decision to follow Christ. Such suffering is honorable and worth it in the light of being accepted by God at the judgment. But they have suffered for no reason if they rely on works of Law like circumcision for their justification.
3:5 So [is] the One supplying you the Spirit and working wonders among you [doing it] on the basis of works of Law or on the basis of hearing with faith?
Here is evidence that miracles accompanied the reception of the Spirit for the audience. God provided them with the Spirit and worked wonders among them. Obviously they were not concerned about the Jewish Law and its particulars at all at that time. The Jewish teacher or teachers who followed Paul introduced that issue. So how can such "works of law" be the basis for acceptability before God when God was happy enough to give them the Spirit simply on the basis of their faith?
This statement reminds us of the story of Cornelius in Acts 10. In that story, the Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit after Peter proclaims the message of Christ to them. They receive the Spirit as uncircumcised Gentiles, indeed, as un-baptized individuals. At the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, Peter uses this fact to make his point. God made no distinction between Jew and Gentile on that occasion. He purified their hearts by faith when they did not follow the Law.
Certainly these words would seem more natural coming from the lips of Paul. This is a fair summary of what Paul is arguing here in Galatians 3.
3:6 ... just as Abraham "had faith in God and it was reckoned to him toward righteousness."
Paul will use Genesis 15:6 in Romans as well (
This verse indicates what we will see subsequently. In his main argument Paul is concerned with human faith rather than the faith of Jesus to the point of death. We are thus right to take the expression, "hearing with faith," as a reference to the faith of the believer rather than to Jesus' faithfulness to death, even though we have argued that Paul does have Jesus' faith in view back in 3:16a.
3:7 Know then that those who are on the basis of faith, these are the sons of Abraham.
If Abraham "believed" God (pisteuo)—"had faith" in God—and was thereby "considered righteous"—was "justified"—then he gives us the paradigm for justification by faith. Those who are justified "from faith" or "on the basis of faith," these are the individuals that are truly the children of Abraham.
Paul's use of the word "these" probably emphasizes that Jews who do not have faith in God are not truly "sons of Abraham." This is a point of great irony and, no doubt, dispute. But Paul will make the case in Romans 2 as well. Those who are circumcised in the flesh are not the truly circumcised but those who are circumcised in heart. A Gentile with faith is more circumcised than a Jew who might keep all the "works of the Law" and yet not have faith.
3:8 And Scripture, since it knew beforehand that God would justify the Gentiles on the basis of faith, proclaimed the good news to Abraham that "in you all the Gentiles will be blessed."
And it was all part of God's plan to begin with. Since Genesis (12:3/18:18), Scripture has plainly promised that all the nations/Gentiles would be blessed by way of Abraham. And here is the fulfillment. Abraham showed the way to justification before God by having faith in God. Those Gentiles who have faith that Jesus is Lord will be blessed by justification. Scripture proclaimed this "gospel," this good news, long ago.
3:9 So that those who are on the basis of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham.
Jewish tradition drew attention to the faithfulness of Abraham to be willing to offer Isaac as a sacrifice as a key to his acceptance before God. Paul here puts the order a little differently. Long before Abraham showed himself faithful, he had faith or believed God's promise. He was thus justified by his faith long before his keeping of "works." Those who are "from faith," those who are justified on the basis of faith are the ones who can claim to be of his lineage.
Paul's opponents may claim and argue for being "sons of Abraham" by getting circumcised and doing works of the Law. But Paul counters that those with faith that Jesus is Lord are his true sons.
3:10 For as many as are on the basis of works of Law are under a curse, for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all the things that have been written in the book of the Law, to do them."
This verse has caused some debate. The traditional understanding since the Reformation has focused on the word "all" in the quotation from Deuteronomy 27:26. No person can keep all the commandments of the Law and therefore, everyone is under a curse. Even if a person kept 98% of the commandments, the impossibility of keeping all of them means that everyone has sinned and is cursed.
Others have raised questions about this very mathematical and legalistic understanding of God's expectations. Further, do not some of the "things written in the Law" have to do with sacrifices to atone for sins. Would not a person who failed at keeping much in the Law still be acceptable to God by repenting and offering the right sacrifices, at least according to the Old Testament? How would this person be under a curse when they had kept the parts of the Law that address atonement for violations of the Law?
Nevertheless, Paul's basic point would seem to be that, since all Jews have broken the Law, they are under a curse on the basis of works of Law. The Law functions for Jews to show them that they are transgressors. It does not function to make them right with God, which is ultimately a matter of His grace no matter how much of the Law you might keep.
At the same time, Paul gives us no indication that he is focused on the word "all" in making the quote. His point is simply that even every Jews has broken the law at some time. Thus, as far as being considered righteous on the basis of law keeping, no one can pass muster. Justification is thus a matter of God's grace.
We have noticed several places thus far in Paul's argument where the phrase "works of Law" primarily referred to issues that divided Jew from Gentile and, indeed, Jewish sect from Jewish sect. However, the phrase here seems to refer more broadly to those who would try to be justified strictly by their keeping of the Jewish Law in general, including commandments that Paul would still consider part of what God required of His people.
3:11 And that no one is justified by the Law before God is clear because, "The righteous person on the basis of faith will live."
Besides, Paul continues, Scripture outright tells us what the basis of righteousness is. It is faith, as we see from Habakkuk 2:4. The person who is righteous is the person who lives "by faith," by trusting in God and His grace. If this is the basis of justification, then "works of law" are not.
3:12 And the Law is not on the basis of faith, but "The one who has done them will live by them."
So if the person whom God accepts is one who lives by faith, s/he is different from the person who tries to be accepted by Law-keeping. The person who tries to be justified by works of Law lives by them, modifying the sense of Leviticus 18:5.
This argument must surely have seemed strange from a Jewish perspective. After all, the sense of Leviticus 18:5 is that a person can keep the Law adequately to be accepted before God, indeed that a person must do so. Certainly Leviticus understands such acceptance to be a matter of God's grace, but God has set up the sacrificial system as well to atone for sin. We can wonder how many Jews Paul convinced, although perhaps he convinced some Gentiles.
It is tempting, although perhaps not finally convincing, to find some alternative way of understanding Paul's train of thought. Perhaps, for example, the Jewish missionaries who opposed him might agree that
3:13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law because he became a curse for us, for it has been written, "Cursed is everyone who has hung on a tree" ...
Whatever the precise circumstances of the curse, the solution was clear. Christ became a curse by dying on a tree and had transferred our curse to himself. This is an interchange of cursedness between Paul's audience and Christ.
3:14 ... so that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles in Jesus Christ, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
The result of this curse transference is that the promised blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, Gentiles who do obviously do not keep the Jewish Law. But they can receive the promise of the Spirit through their faith, like Abraham.
The mention of the blessing of Abraham returns to the place where Paul was when he started this paragraph. The promise to Abraham was that in him the Gentiles would be blessed, and the basis of that blessing was his model of a faith that leads to justification. And the content of that blessing is the reception of the Spirit.
3:15 Brothers, I am speaking in human terms. Nevertheless, no one rejects or supplements a will [διαθηκη] of a person that has been enacted.
Paul begins this new paragraph with an illustration based on the fact that the Greek word διαθηκη has two distinct meanings. The one is a "covenant," which is the meaning that the Hebrew word berith has. But here Paul plays on another meaning the word can have, namely, that of a "will" or "testament." Hebrews makes the same play in Hebrews 9:16-17.
The "will" that Paul has in mind here is the promise to Abraham that, "in you all the nations will be blessed." The intent of the will is that the Gentiles will be blessed by following Abraham's example of faith and finding justification before God.
3:16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. It does not say, "and to the seeds," as for many but as for one: and "to your seed," which is Christ.
Paul now makes a play on the singular of Genesis 13:15. The
promise is there said to be to Abraham and his seed, singular. Now obviously
the Genesis text itself uses this word as a collective noun referring to the
many descendants of
But here Paul takes the singular reference as a reference to Christ. The promise was to Abraham and to Christ. Abraham was justified by faith. If "faith of Jesus" refers in 2:16b to the faithfulness of Jesus, then perhaps there is the implication that Jesus himself shows the promise of justification by faith as well (compare also Rom. 3:26 and 4:16). And certainly those who are "in Christ" are in the faith of Jesus (Gal. 2:20) and are justified by faith themselves.
3:17 And I say this: A will [διαθηκη] that has been enacted by God is not nullified by the Law that came into existence 430 years later, so that the promise is cancelled.
The will Paul has in mind is not the Mosaic covenant, but
the promise God confirmed with Abraham to bless the Gentiles through him. The
Mosaic Law came 430 years later, Paul says. Abraham's will had been set in
place by God and could not be set aside or supplemented at this time. Paul's
point is thus that "works of Law" cannot set aside justification by
faith, where works of Law must refer especially to the particulars of God's
3:18 For if the inheritance [comes] on the basis of the Law, it is no longer on the basis of promise. But God has bestowed grace on Abraham through promise.
Continuing to play on the metaphor of a will, Paul speaks of the inheritance. The inheritance is a matter of God's grace to Abraham. It was something Abraham did not pay for or earn, but that God gave him. But if you have to earn the inheritance, work for it, so to speak. Then it is not a matter of promise, as Genesis says, nor is it a matter of grace.
3:19 Why then [does] the Law [exist]? It was added because of transgressions until the seed that had been promised should come,
Paul now begins another paragraph. He has been arguing that justification comes through faith, through a promise to Abraham, and by God's grace. Works of law do not effect justification and those who try to be justified on the basis of them only find themselves under a curse.
But this raises a serious question, especially for a Jew. If Paul is correct, what in the world was the Law for? Why did God institute it at all?
Paul's answer is that it was an earmark, a reminder that something was coming later. It served for over a 1000 years to say that something better was coming. And it did this by showing us our need for that something, by showing us that we were transgressors and could not be right with God on our own merits.
... [and it] was enacted through angels in the hand of a mediator.
The idea that the Law was delivered to Moses through angels appears three times in the New Testament, here, in Stephen's sermon in Acts 7:53, and in Hebrews 2:2. It is generally agreed that Moses is the mediator Paul has in mind, following the phrasing of the Greek Old Testament.
It is more difficult to figure out just whom Moses was
mediating between. Was it between God and humanity? That would make the most
sense—until we read the next verse. But what would it mean to say that Moses
was mediating between God and the angels? Paul can refer to angels in terms of
fallen angels (1 Cor. 6:3), but such angels hardly seem to be what Paul has in
mind here. In the end, we favor the mediation being between angels and
3:20-21a Now a mediator is not of one [party], but God is one. [Is], then, the Law against the promises of God?
It is at this point that it becomes very difficult to see
the mediation being between God and
However, if Paul has in mind the multiple intermediaries between God and Israel when it comes to the Law—angels and Moses as a further mediator between them and Israel—then the direct relationship between God and humanity makes a little more sense as the pattern more in keeping with the oneness of God. Moses mediates the Law through angels to
But because the Law involved a couple middle hands between God and
3:21b Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that was able to give life, righteousness would certainly be on the basis of Law.
The problem with the Law is not that it opposes the promises of God. It simply is powerless to effect the promise of life. Rather, the righteous on the basis of faith will live. Those who pursue righteousness on the basis of Law will not live but find themselves under a curse.
3:22 But Scripture has enclosed all things under Sin, so that the promise might be given on the basis of the faith of Jesus Christ to those who have faith.
In all likelihood, Paul has in mind Scriptures like those he quotes extensively in Romans 3:10-18. Alternatively, Paul could have in mind the Law as a part of Scripture, which because everyone is a law breaker, leads to the conclusion that all have sinned.
The fact that the Law provides no path to justification confirms that grace is the basis of righteousness before God, and this great gift is a matter of God's promise, rather than something we might earn by Law-keeping. It comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to the point of death to those who trust in him as Lord. The alternate translation would be pointlessly redundant—"on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ to those who have faith." So we probably have yet another reference to the faithfulness of Jesus here.
3:23 Now before faith came, we used to be guarded under Law, enclosed for the faith about to be revealed.
Faith came in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham when Jesus Christ was faithful to the point of death. Certainly many Old Testament believers might have had faith prior to Christ, but they could not yet have faith in Jesus as the risen Lord. In both respects, therefore, both in terms of Jesus' faith and human faith in Jesus as Lord, faith did not arrive until the cross and resurrection.
From the time of Moses to Jesus, the Jews were guarded by the Law. The Law put an earmark in their lives that said, "I am a sinner," and I need the promise of justification by faith. Paul is not talking about the "order of salvation" in an individual person's life, but about epochs in salvation history.
3:24 The result is that the Law has served as our pedagogue for Christ so that we might be justified on the basis of faith.
A pedagogue was a slave that escorted a wealthy Greek child
to school. It was a "guardian" of sorts for a child until that child
came of age. The image is thus of the period of Law as a time of childhood, in
3:25-26 But since faith has come, we are no longer under a pedagogue, for you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus, through faith.
With Christ, however, faith has arrived and we are no longer
under the pedagogue of the Law. Through the faith of Jesus Christ,
and through the Galatians' faith in Jesus as risen Lord, they are sons and
daughters of God. They no longer need the slave guardian of the Law to show
them their sinfulness, for the Spirit has set them free from the law of sin and
Although the sequence of the words is "through faith, in Christ Jesus," the word for "in" is not the word Paul would normally use for having faith in something. It is thus best to think in the way we have separated out the two phrases. The Galatians are sons "in Christ Jesus," and this has taken place "though faith," perhaps meaning both through the faithfulness of Jesus to death and their faith in him as risen Lord.
3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
How does one get "in Christ"? Certainly the Spirit is the most specific answer one could give. However, as in Acts, the outward ritual that is associated with the reception of the Spirit in all likelihood is baptism. As Paul puts it in Romans 6:4, "we were buried with him through baptism." They are now "in Christ" or, as the metaphor here, they have "put on" Christ as new clothing.
3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Given the context of baptism here and in 1 Corinthians 12:13 (see also Col. 3:11), some have suggested that this verse might have been uttered in some form during the act of baptism. The verse is a statement of equal "sonship" in Christ. Both Jew and Gentile are equally justified by faith. Those in both groups have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and are equally in need of justification. Whether one is a slave or a free individual, both stand equally justified before God in Christ.
Further, Paul's slight shift in wording, "male and female," may allude to Genesis 1:27, where God creates them male and female. In that sense, the distinction between male and female, which Paul observes in 1 Corinthians 11:3, is not relevant to justification. Both are equally justified; both are equally "sons of God" in Christ Jesus. No matter of earthly identity—race, family, or gender—makes any difference in terms of one's need for justification or the path thereto.
3:29 And if you (pl) are of Christ, then you are seed of Abraham, heirs according to promise.
It is thus those who are "of Christ," who are in Christ, who have put on Christ, who are the true seed of Abraham. Christ is the singular seed of Abraham, so those in him are the seed too. It is those who are "of faith" who are heirs of Abraham according to promise, the promise of justification by faith. This verse forms an "inclusio" with 3:7 at the beginning of the chapter. It thus marks the end of this particular subsection of the argument of the letter.
4:1-2 And I say that for as much time as the heir is a child, he is no different than a slave, even though he is master of all things. But he is under stewards and guardians until the time set by [his] father.
Paul continues the metaphor of the child under the pedagogue's care. Before Christ, when the Jews were under the Law, they were like slaves, in this case slaves to sin.
Perhaps there is an allusion here to Paul's theology of Psalm 8, also probably reflected in Romans 3:23. Although God created humanity to have glory in the creation, they lack that glory of God. Humanity was created to be "master of all things." But they currently do not, and
The time set by the Father was of course now for Paul. For him and his audience, now was the time of inheritance and sonship, not the time of the guardianship of the Law.
4:3 So also we, when we were children, we had been enslaved under the elements of the world.
We probably see a small glimpse of Paul's view of the world here, his cosmology. Paul did not seem to think that the created realm was evil in itself, as the Gnostics later would. But he did believe that the material realm was weak and susceptible to evil spiritual powers. Certainly Sin had power over such things.
His use of the perfect tense here points to an ongoing state of enslavement that was formerly true for Jews and of course for all humanity. It was true during not only the time of the Law, but even before since the time of Adam. The Law, while not evil in itself, became an accomplice to this enslavement.
4:4 But when the fullness of time came, God sent His Son, who came from a woman, who came under Law,
The fullness of time is none other than the time of Jesus' coming to earth, a reminder that Paul's analogy here is not the life of every Christian but the transition from one age to another in the story of salvation. God sent His Son, the promised king who would reign over the house of David. And, as the early Christians had come to understand the messiah, he would reign over the whole cosmos.
It is not clear from this statement whether Paul had heard of Jesus' virgin birth or not. Nor does the verse make any clear statement one way or another in relation to Christ's pre-existence. One's conclusion on Paul's knowledge of these things elsewhere will determine how much you think he presupposes here in this statement. Paul only says that Jesus came from a woman, just as all humans have.
He came under the Law; that is, he was born as a Jew, a member of the house of
4:5 ... in order that He might redeem those under Law, in order that we might receive sonship.
Paul used the word redeem
back in 3:13 where he argued that Christ's cursed death on a tree has redeemed
humanity from the curse of the Law. The same idea is surely stated here in
slightly different terms. God sent Jesus to
The parallel with 3:13, as others have pointed out, indicates that Paul is not thinking of the incarnation as that which redeems but still Christ's cursed death on a tree. We are reminded of how little place Jesus' earthly teaching overtly plays in Paul's teaching. Rather, it is Christ's death on the cross that Paul finds most significant about Christ in relation to his earthly mission.
The end result is that "we," not just Jews like Paul, but the Galatian Gentiles too, might become the sons and daughters of God.
4:6 And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba, Father" ...
Once again we see the connection in his thought between being sons and daughters of God and having the Holy Spirit. Paul does not seem to distinguish very clearly between the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of God, while at other times he does seem to distinguish the Spirit from God and Christ (e.g., 2 Cor. 13:13). Whatever his precise thinking here, Christians have the Spirit of the Son in their "hearts" and thus, like the Son, they call God their Father.
Although some have made a good deal out of the term "Abba," it would be anachronistic to think of it as something like "Daddy." Ancient fathers simply did not have the vastly informal relationship some Western fathers have with their children, where the father can almost cease to be any authority figure at all. Roman fathers had the absolute power of life and death over their children.
At the same time, Jesus and Paul did seem to indicate a special relationship by this term that was more than the mere biological relationship between a father and son. The book of Wisdom makes a connection between a righteous person who knows God and calls him or herself a child of God (
4:7 ... so that you are no longer a slave but a son. And if [you are] a son, [you are] also an heir through God.
Thus the Jew who receives the Spirit of Christ by hearing the gospel with faith is no longer under the Law, and the Gentile who also hears that message with faith is no longer enslaved to the powers of this world. These individuals are now children of God, as Jesus was the Son of God. And as children, all these of faith are heirs of God's promise, the promise of justification before God. In other places Paul will develop the redemption of our bodies in resurrection also as part of the inheritance to which we look forward (e.g., Rom. 8:23).
4:8 But, on the one hand, back when you did not know God, you served things that by nature are not gods.
The fact that circumcision is the point at issue in itself points toward a Gentile rather than Jewish audience. This verse makes that point overwhelmingly clear as well. Before their acceptance of the gospel, the Galatians were polytheists who worshipped many gods. At that time they did not know the one true God.
4:9-10 But now that you know God—or rather have been known by God—how are you returning again to the weak and impoverished elements, to which you [apparently] want to be enslaved all over again? You are observing days and months and seasons and years.
This is an astounding statement. Paul so much as equates keeping some of the particulars of the Jewish Law with the audience's polytheistic past. The reference to "observing days and months and seasons and years" must surely refer to observing various items of the Jewish calendar like sabbaths and the Feast of Tabernacles. Paul equates such practices to enslavement to elements of the world: earth, air, fire, and water.
As we have already seen in Galatians, Paul considers the physical elements of the world "weak," susceptible to evil powers like the power of Sin. For a Gentile to keep these elements of the Law, the ones that most sharply divided Jew from Gentile, was to open yourself to the powers of this world. It was to open up yourself to enslavement again.
God had freed them from these things. The idea of "being known by God" is probably an allusion to the audience's election and predestination. God had known them first and thus now they knew Him.
4:11 I am afraid about you, that somehow I have labored for you in vain.
In keeping with what we have said before, if 4:10 has a strong statement of predestination, 4:11 has a statement strongly implying human responsibility. The Calvinist system logically recognizes that if God strictly determines who will choose Him, then such individuals can hardly not make it. Paul, however, does think about predestination in such a systematic way and so disappoints the logician at this point.
Although the audience knows God because God has known them, it is still possible that they might not make it in the end. Paul indicates that it is still possible at this point that these who have been known by God might not turn out ultimately to be saved. It is still possible that Paul's work with them might turn out to be in vain, a total loss, if they end up merely enslaving themselves to the Law and thus putting themselves under a curse again.
4:12a Become as I [am], that as I [am] you [will] also [be], brothers, I ask of you.
Paul never shrinks from telling his audiences to imitate his attitude and conduct. This fact is one of many indicates that Paul did not think of himself as a miserable failure when it came to doing what God required of him. He was confident before he accepted Christ (cf. Phil. 3:6), and he was confident after he had.
This verse perhaps implies that Paul himself did not keep some of the particulars of the Jewish Law when he was with Gentiles. He says to be sure in 1 Corinthians 9:20 that he behaved as the Jews when he was with the Jews. But then when he was with the Gentiles he behaved as Gentiles, although he followed Christ's Law (1 Cor. 9:21). Paul thus had died to a strictly Jewish or Gentile identity when he became "in Christ."
In a context where Paul is telling them to become as he is and is telling them not to be enslaved to certain practices of the Jewish Law, it is difficult not to conclude that Paul himself was sitting loosely to those practices of the Jewish Law that were considered most ethnically distinctive.
4:12b-13 You did me no wrong. And you know that I preached the gospel to you the very first time because of a weakness of my flesh,
Paul now gives us some tantalizing hints about his first
encounter with the Galatians. He indicates that he first preached to the region
In our opinion, the scenario that Paul hints at in this and the next few verses fits much better with a northern Galatian audience than a southern one. In Acts, Paul and Barnabas go to southern
By contrast, Acts presents Paul and Silas passing through northern
4:14 ... and you did not despise your testing in my flesh, nor did you spit at [me], but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.
Again, we should not understand this statement as a reference to temptation, but to a physical ordeal. As mentioned in the previous verse, the Galatians did not despise Paul even though he was undergoing physical difficulties. Some might have considered his trials a sign of God's judgment.
Instead, they received Paul as a messenger from God. They received him with the kind of honor they would have given to Messiah Jesus himself. Paul of course considered himself to be an ambassador of Jesus the Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5), an apostle sent from him to carry the good news of reconciliation to God and of the coming
4:15 Therefore, where is your blessing? For I witness to you that [at that time] you would have gauged out and given me your [own] eyes if [that had been] possible.
In other words, they blessed him, honored him, despite his trials. Here we get our best hint at what his physical ordeal was, likely his "thorn in the flesh" that he mentions in 2 Corinthians 12:7. It apparently had to do with his eyes, and we suspect that Paul struggled with them throughout his ministry. Acts perhaps carries a memory of this difficulty in the blindness that accompanies his vision of Christ (Acts 9:8).
The Galatians so honored Paul at his first visit that they would have given him their own eyes so that he could overcome his difficulty. But now, they were questioning him. They were apparently being convinced by those who had followed Paul to the region and, accordingly questioning Paul's authority and understanding of the gospel.
4:16 So have I [now] become your enemy because I have spoken the truth to you?
Here is a clear indication of what we might have inferred.
Paul is not only in conflict with the Christian Jews who were teaching the
Galatians contrary to his teaching, but he is also in conflict with the
Galatians themselves. Paul's detractors in
What was ironic is that Paul had offered them salvation with freedom from the Jewish particulars of the Law. But now they questioned whether he had watered down the message and requirements. Surely that was how Paul's detractors understood his message—a watering down of what God required.
4:17 They are not zealous for you in a good way, but they want to round you up so that you will be zealous for them.
But Paul sees the conflict as a personal one. He does not believe, in the end, that the fundamental issue is really over ideas but over personalities. The other side wants followers to give them prestige. They cast an evil eye Paul's way because of his missionary successes. They, in Paul's mind, are not zealous for the benefit of the Galatians, but they are zealous to make a name for themselves by making followers of the Galatians.
4:18-19 But it is always good to be zealous for good and not only when I am present with you, my children, whom I am again having birth pains over until Christ should be formed in you.
Paul wants them to be zealous for Christ and the gospel of freedom from enslavement to the elements of the world. And Paul wants them to have this zealousness whether he is present or absent. In a patron-client world, clients can take on a superficiality that is nevertheless enjoyed by the patron. The recipient of the patron's graces honors the patron with words and flattery, as well as doing whatever tasks the patron might ask. Such flattery may or may not be heart felt, and the client may just as easily give such honor to the next patron when he or she comes to town, even if the two patrons are in conflict with one another.
Paul does not want that kind of following. He does not want honor for his views when he is present. He wants them to follow Christ whether he is in town or not. He wants Christ to be formed in them. The language is of a child in the womb, that is in the process of being formed. Paul is the one trying to give them full birth, and the process is paining him like childbirth. Then Paul turns the image somewhat on itself, for although he is having the birthpains, he then shifts the metaphor to Christ as the baby being formed inside them.
4:20 And I wish I could be present with you now and might change my tone, because I am at a loss over you.
Behind Paul's anger at what is happening to the Galatians is a deep troubledness. Everything we know suggests that letters for Paul were a second best option when he could not physically be present with a church. They were a substitute for his physical presence. But his frustration with being absent is of course our boon because we have these letters as a result.
In the case of the Galatians, he particularly wishes that he could be present to sort out the issue in person. He would no doubt like to address their detractors in person and debate them in person. We know from 2 Corinthians that Paul preferred to carry the strong stick from a distance so that he could be more conciliatory in person (2 Cor. 13:10).
He is perplexed that they are even tempted by the alternative teaching. He would like to be present and exchange his scolding tone from a distance for a bond of fellowship in person.
4:21 Tell me, you who want to be under Law, do you not hear the Law?
By "you who want to be under the Law," Paul refers
to those Gentiles in
Paul shifts the referent of the word Law slightly when he shifts from the Law as primarily a reference to the Jewish legal particulars of the Pentateuch to the Pentateuch itself. He is about to present an allegorical interpretation of those Genesis passages dealing with Hagar and Ishmael. The "Law" here thus refers to Genesis as part of the Law, the Pentateuch, the first part of what had become the Jewish Scriptures for people like Paul.
4:22 For it has been written that Abraham had two sons, one from the slave woman and one from the free [woman].
The slave woman is of course Hagar, from whom Ishmael was born. The other, free woman is Sarah, mother of Isaac. Paul may say that there is neither slave nor free in Galatians 3:28, but in this passage his bias against the enslaved woman is clear.
4:23 But the one from the slave woman has been born according to flesh; the one from the free woman through promise, which things have been allegorized.
This passage and others like it in the New Testament are an embarrassment to that hermeneutic that insists the Bible must only be read literally. If, as these traditions strongly assert, the Bible is the authority for Christian faith and practice, we ironically find that the Bible itself employs non-literal modes of interpretation. The notion that only the literal or even the plain meaning of the Bible can be authoritative for faith and practice thus deconstructs when we find that the literal meaning of this passage and others finds authority in allegorical interpretations of the Old Testament.
In this allegory, Hagar represents the slavery of the flesh by being under the Law. Sarah represents the promise of faith, presumably including within it all the things associated with faith—principally the faith of Jesus Messiah and the possibility of justification by faith.
4:24-25 For these are two covenants. The one is from
Paul does not explicitly use new covenant language too often, even within his occasional discussions of faith versus works of Law. Here, however, we would argue, Hagar and Sarah allegorically represent respectively the first covenant at Sinai and the "new" covenant made by Jesus' blood. The use of the word covenant here is thus different from the use Paul has made earlier in Galatians 3, where it refers to God's covenant promise to Abraham to bless the Gentiles through faith. Here it refers to the Mosaic Law as covenant, the more usual Jewish sense of the word.
The connection of the Law at
Certainly the current
4:26-27a But the
Here Paul draws on the apocalyptic sense that the earthly
But Paul clearly indicates that those who are children of promise are members of a city that is superior to the earthly
4:27b Rejoice, O barren woman who is not bearing,
cry out and shout, woman who is not having birth pains,
Because many more are the children of the desolate woman
Than those of the one who has the man.
Paul here quotes from Isaiah 54:1, which of course was not
about Sarah and Hagar but about
In the context of Isaiah, the "man" is perhaps an allusion to a husband. But brought into connection with the Sarah-Hagar story, the "man" comes to refer to a child, namely, Ishmael.
4:28 And you, brothers, are children of promise according to Isaac.
Building on the allegory, those who are "of faith," who are heirs according to God's promise to Abraham, a promise to justify by faith and thus to bless the Gentiles by including them on the basis of faith, these are like Isaac. Those who, instead, continue to submit to the slavery of the Law, are like Ishmael, who will not inherit with the true heir.
4:29 But as then the one who was born according to flesh persecuted the one according to Spirit, so [it is] also now.
Presumably Paul would include within such
"persecutors" anyone who would try to force those "of
faith" to keep the Law, to submit to their slavery. It would thus not just
include non-believing Jews who might oppose believers but Paul probably has
especially in mind his opponents in
4:30 But what does the Scripture say: "Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman will never inherit with the son" of the free woman.
Just as Abraham eventually forced Hagar to leave his household, so Paul hints that the Galatians should expel the Christian missionary or missionaries who are trying to enslave them. He considers them false brothers who will never inherit with those who are "of faith" and thus free from the slavery of the Law.
5:1a … for freedom Christ has set us free.
This line either concludes the previous section or begins the next with the general conclusion of what has gone before. Usually interpreters put the whole verse with what precedes or with the section that follows. Rightly or wrongly, we have put the first part of the verse with what precedes and the second half with what follows, thinking that a listener lacked any clear clue to consider the first part as the beginning of a new section, while the “therefore” in the second half would have provided more of a clue for transition.
The Exhortation (5:1b-6:10)
5:1b Therefore, stand and do not become entangled again with the yoke of slavery.
Paul now begins a new section of the letter in which he will draw the practical implications of the theology he has been arguing thus far in the letter. He begins to walk the ethical tightrope so typical of him. On the one hand, he will argue freedom from Law. But he primarily means freedom from those parts of the Law that most separated Jew from Gentile. At the same time he argues freedom from Law, he will urge success against the temptations of the flesh.
So he begins the "exhortation" section of the letter (5:1b-6:10) with the admonition for the audience to revel in the freedom from the Law that is afforded by the grace of God. They should not become entangled again with the yoke of slavery again. The context points to the Law as the slave master, but of course the audience is Gentile and so was not previously enslaved to the Law. The implication seems that the enslavement the audience had to sin before they came to Christ is similar to the enslavement that Jews might experience to the Law in its particulars.
5:2 Look, I myself, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will not benefit you at all.
If we are to accept Acts, Paul circumcised Timothy in
What Paul says here is thus similar to what he already said in 2:21—"I do not reject the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through Law, then Christ died for no reason." To become circumcised as a Gentile seeking justification was to slap Christ in the face and to trivialize the importance of his death.
5:3 And I witness again to everyone who becomes circumcised that each one becomes indebted to keep the whole Law.
Paul pictures two attempted paths to justification. The one is the route of Jewish Law, with a special emphasis on those features of the Jewish Law that marked out the Jews from the Gentiles. It is not simply an attempt to be justified by effort or by works alone, since the Law included means of atonement and allowed for repentance. Paul considers the entire path of "works of [Jewish] Law" misguided, even for Jews to take. The path that God sanctioned was through trust in the faithful death of Jesus and confession of his Lordship.
Of course the Galatians would have known that following the Jewish Law involved more than simply circumcision. Paul simply reminds them that they are changing their entire path if they take the conversion to Judaism route. It seems doubtful that Paul here is emphasizing a need for moral perfection in every aspect of the Jewish Law, since no Jew advocated such a necessity. Many Christian traditions have seen in verses such as this one and 3:10 an emphasis on "all" or "the whole" in an absolute sense that would not have made any sense to any Jew at the time of Christ. Paul is thus not likely telling the Gentiles they will need to be morally perfect if they choose to follow the Law but that they are turning to a completely different path to righteousness—one that does not actually work.
5:4 You have been cut off from Christ, you who are being justified on the basis of Law. You have fallen away from grace.
This verse confirms that Paul has two distinct paths to righteousness in view, two paths that are mutually exclusive. For a Gentile or Jew to try to be justified on the basis of Law is to reject God's gracious offer of acquittal. It is as if a judge were to offer a guilty person acquittal for a crime they had committed and the defendant were to insist on being judged on how well they dressed for rest of the trial.
There is perhaps lying beneath the surface here some anticipation of Hebrews' theology of atonement here. The Law may have means of atonement built into it, but for whatever reason, God has not considered them adequate for reconciliation to him or acquittal in his law court. God has chosen to reconcile the world through the faithful death of Jesus. Trying to pay for the debt with any other currency is the height of foolishness, for God is only taking payment in terms of Christ's blood. Trust in it, trust in the fact that God has raised him and installed him as Lord, Messiah. That is the currency God is taking, not conformity to the right understanding of the more "in house" particulars of the Jewish Law.
Those who try to be found "not guilty" in God's court on the basis of the ethnic particulars of the Jewish Law are foolish, for they reject God's gracious offer. They cut off the very power cord that makes the system work. They cut off the only line of air by which they can breathe.
5:5 For we, by means of the Spirit, are awaiting the hope of righteousness on the basis of faith.
The "hope of righteousness" here is the hope of justification on the Day of Judgment. The English look of the words hides from our view the fact that the word righteousness (dikaiosyne) is a noun related to the verb to justify (dikaioo). To justify is thus to declare righteous or innocent. The key passages in Paul's writings where he especially speaks of this final event are Romans 2:5-11; 14:10-12; and 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. In each of these passages Paul indicates that at least in some way, believers will also be judged on the Day of Judgment for what they have done on earth.
Mention of the "hope" of righteousness implies a reference to final justification in the future on the Day of the Lord. We hope to be found acceptable in God's eyes, first, on the basis of faith. This shorthand certainly refers to our trust in God and what He has done through Christ. It may also refer to the faithful, atoning death of Jesus himself. What it does not refer to clearly is our keeping of the ethnic particulars of the Jewish Law or our own innocence.
But we also await that hope by means of the Spirit. Later in this section Paul will speak of how the Spirit actually enables us to live righteous lives consequent to our (initial) justification by faith. We can thus be judged in part because of our works on the Day of Judgment because the Spirit empowers us to walk with God to the standard He expects of us.
5:6 For in Christ Jesus
neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has power but
faith working through love.
This verse makes it clear that Paul is more focused on human faith in 5:5 than the faithfulness of Jesus. It also makes it clear that Paul does not see faith and action as completely unrelated. True faith, it would seem "works," particularly because it expresses love in action. And at the same time, the verse confirms that the "works" Paul primarily has in mind in Galatians are not good works in general, but things like circumcision.
In some respects, therefore, this verse encapsulates what Paul means when he says a person is justified by faith and not by works of law. A person cannot be deemed acceptable in God's eyes simply because one is circumcised. Meanwhile, what God accepts is faith and true faith shows itself through its love, which as Paul will say in a few verses is an encapsulation of the Law. And with a faith that expresses itself in love we will appropriately await the verdict of "righteous" on the Day of Judgment.
5:17 For the flesh desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, for these are opposed to one another, with the result that whatever you want, these things you do not do.
This one verse is Galatians' encapsulation of Romans 7:13-24—"The good I want to do I do not do" (7:19). The verse is less prone to misunderstanding here because Paul gives his point in one verse. As in Romans 6 and 8, Paul's point in the previous verse (Gal. 5:16) has been that those who walk in the Spirit will not fulfill the desires of the flesh. His point in the verses that follow is once again that those led by the Spirit do not bear fleshly fruit but the fruit of the Spirit.
So in this verse, Paul contrasts what a life led by the Spirit looks like from one that does not flow from the Spirit. The desires of the flesh are not the desires of the Spirit. If a person is not led by the Spirit, if a person does not walk in the Spirit, you may have some desire to do good, but you will fail.
Flesh for Paul has of course to do with the weakness of our skin. Our skin, as part of a creation enslaved to corruption and to the power of Sin after the disobedience of Adam, is weak. It is no match for Sin as it pulls us toward sinning. Only the power of the Spirit can empower a person to do the good.
There is a lot to confuse about what Paul says here, which is why is it very common for Christians to think the failure of this verse is normal for a Christian. For example, is not having the Spirit the hallmark of becoming a Christian for Paul? So must he not be talking about a Christian here? Indeed, would a non-believer even want to do the good in the first place?
In Romans 7 he seems to be picturing a Jew, in which case he could both be speaking of a non-believer and someone who wanted to do the good of the Law. Here in Galatians, however, things are less clear. He does mention the Law, but he is clearly addressing the audience as Gentiles.
To clear our heads, we have to step back and move from the clear to the unclear. First, the context is believing Gentiles. He has been emphasizing their freedom from the Jewish Law in chapters 3 and 4. Now he does not want them to let their freedom become an opportunity for their flesh. He wants them instead to be led by the Spirit, with the result that they will bear the fruit of the Spirit and not the fruit of the flesh.
So we conclude two things. First, he is talking (at least in Galatians) about the possibility of a believer who might let the desires of the flesh be fulfilled. Secondly, a believer should not allow this situation to happen. This is a situation where "wanting to do the good" apparently is in conflict with some broader failure to want to yield to the good.
5:18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under Law. For the works of the flesh are apparent: which are sexual immorality, uncleanness, licentiousness...
The statement "you are not under Law" has of course given rise to some theological rabbit trails. The Lutheran tradition, for example, tends to see Paul as saying we do not so much change in our struggle with the flesh, but that we are simply no longer judged by the standard of the Law.
The context of this statement reduces this interpretation to an absurdity. Paul is talking about "works" of the flesh and saying that those led by the Spirit do not produce such works. Not to be under the Law for Paul thus is much more than simply not being judged by its standard. It implies being led by the flesh and not being led by the Spirit, not walking in the Spirit.
Another important thing to remember that Paul's discussion of the Law always relates to the Jewish Law, although Paul can refer to it either primarily in relation to its Jewish particulars or in relation to its universal core (e.g., love). Not being under the Law for Paul sometimes has something to do with not being required to keep its ethnic particulars. But here it must refer more to the Law as a catalyst for the power of Sin, as in Romans 7. Not to be under the Law in this case refers to not being susceptible to the power of Sin that comes by way of the Law.
The list of works or deeds that Paul goes on to give should be taken as an ancient "vice list." It is not a systematic presentation of sins but a loose collection of bad things, some of which we should expect to overlap in content.
Sexual immorality (porneia) would seem for Paul to be a catchword for all sorts of sexual vices, particularly as found in Leviticus 18. It would seem to be the more generic term, including within it everything from adultery to homosexual sex to incest and so forth. Some scholars have noted its presence in various vice lists where these other sexual practices are mentioned (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:9-10). But as we said, these vices are not meant to be mutually exclusive. In those cases the Greek word porneia effectively covers everything that is not explicitly mentioned elsewhere on the list.
"Uncleanness" may be a surprising element on the list given our inclination to see categories of clean and unclean as undone in the New Testament. However, it is quite clear that however Paul might have dismissed such categories when it came to food, he did not when it came to sex. In this sense, "uncleanness" probably overlaps in content with sexual immorality here.
"Licentiousness" has to do directly with Paul's primary point in this section. Do not let freedom in Christ become an opportunity for the desires of the flesh to run wild. Licentiousness is a lack of restraint, a pattern of giving the flesh opportunity to fulfill its desires.
5:19-21a ... idolatry, magic, hostilities, strife, jealousy, rage, factions, divisions, partisanship, envy, drunkenness, carousing and similar things to these...
The vice list continues. Idolatry and magic both have to do in Paul's mind with evil forces. Idolatry relates to demons and perhaps sorcery/witchcraft did as well. These sorts of activities engaged with the evil side of the spiritual realm.
Hostilities, strive, factions, divisions, and partisanship, as well as jealousy, envy, and rage, all probably have to do with interrelationships between people. Ironically, Christians today strangely seem to ignore these vices that in Paul's mind were even more a focus of his writings than sexual sins. Divisions and fighting among believers were a major concern for Paul and a major indication of not being led by the Spirit. Paul will say in the next verse that people who manifest these vices will have no part in the
Drunkenness and carousing would have likely raised images of the out of control festivities of some in the ancient Mediterranean, most of whom were rich and lived lives of leisure. The festivals of the god of wine, for example, were noted for their out of control licentiousness. Certainly modern "drinking parties" would fall in the same genre, but Paul is not arguing for complete abstinence from wine or hearty fellowship. Wine was a regular feature of the ancient world and those who did not drink at all (e.g., Nazirites) were distinctive exceptions, even if the concentration of wine was significantly less than today.
5:21b ... with regard to which things I and warning you now and have said before that those who practice such things will not inherit the
Some theological traditions are prone to qualify a statement like this one in ways completely foreign to Paul's thinking. For example, someone might suggest that the people Paul has in mind were never truly Christians in the first place. Paul never makes such a distinction despite many situations where such a comment would have been relevant or appropriate. This fact reveals that such concerns are completely foreign to Paul's thinking.
For Paul, there are people who meet in local assemblies who will not be part of the
5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is not a law against such things.
So the life of the person who is led by the Spirit should not be filled with the deeds of the flesh, but with the fruit of the Spirit. This is how a person's life should look concretely. Believers may be free and not under the Law, but their lives should look as if they have "a law written on their hearts" (e.g., Rom. 2:15). There is no law that is against these sorts of things.
Again, we should not think of this list as anything like an exhaustive or systematic list, despite the fact that it neatly divides into three groups of three. This is an ancient virtue list, and the categories blur into each other at times.
Love is of course, as we have seen already in Galatians 5:14, the central ethic for Paul, as it was apparently for Jesus and seems to be for James and John as well. Although we should not think of this list in general as being prioritized in its order, the very first one does seem the overarching and primary one. In some ways it encapsulates most of the rest.
The New Testament itself does not make a distinction between joy and happiness, as some do today. Nevertheless, it is interesting that the New Testament does not use the word happiness very often. It was a standard topic of philosophical debate. Paul does, however, speak of joy and of rejoicing, even in the middle of suffering (e.g., Phil. 4:4).
Peace is perfectly appropriate for someone who is justified (Rom. 5:1), has been reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18), and has the Spirit of God dwelling in them (e.g., Rom. 8:9). Despite external persecutions and troubles, the believer can be content (e.g., Phil. 4:11).
Patience was particularly important for the time waiting for Christ's return. This "now" and "not yet" period when the new creation had begun but had not come completely was a time of trial and suffering. Patience was required as they awaited the redemption of the creation and their bodies (e.g., Rom. 8:18-30).
Kindness, goodness, and gentleness would seem to overlap with one another to various degrees and all relate closely to loving our neighbor. Faithfulness is of course "faith" in Greek. We could at least raise the question of whether Paul is thinking that faith in God is a product of the Spirit, not speaking of course of justifying faith but of faith in our continued walking.
Self-control was one of the four cardinal virtues of Greek philosophy, along with wisdom, courage, and justice. It is perfectly appropriate in a context where Paul is urging the Galatians not to let their freedom become an opportunity for fleshly desires.
5:24 But those who are of the Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Here is yet another clear indication that Christians should not be people who are dominated by flesh or who regularly give in to their flesh. In Romans 8:8 Paul will say that "those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Similarly, Paul says in Romans 7:5-6 that "when we were in the flesh [past tense], the passions of sins used to work in our members through the Law, with the result that we bore fruit to death. But now, we have been severed from the Law... with the result that we serve in newness of Spirit."
The notion of crucifixion likely implies that, ideally, this disempowerment or "death" of the flesh would take place at "conversion," when we are crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20). But clearly this is not always the case, leading Paul to urge such things of individuals who have been believers for some time. In a perfect world, however, believers would crucify their "flesh" with its sinful passions and desires at the point of being crucified with Christ.
5:26-27 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
In 5:12, Paul had warned the Galatians about biting and devouring each other. His return to this conflict withhin the church reminds us that his comments on walking in the Spirit and not gratifying the flesh is no mere abstract discussion. Apparently the Galatians are devouring one another and provoking each other, and this fact forms the context in which Paul speaks of the power of the Spirit.
We thus get the impression that the Galatian churches were not all on board with the visiting teacher arguing for circumcision. It makes sense to think of those arguing for circumcision provoking others, being conceited in their superior knowledge, just as some at Corinth had been at about the same time (by my dating). Perhaps some were envying the freedom other believers had, as Paul says in Galatians 2:4.
Of course these attitudes provoking unhealthy conflict between believers were contrary in general to the unity Paul constantly invoked, attitudes that put one person as more valuable to another. Attitudes contrary to love, were not to have a place in the body of Christ.
6:1 Brothers, even if a person should be caught in the act of some transgression, you who are spiritual restore such a person with a spirit of meekness, watching yourself so that you yourself should not be tempted.
This is a lovely picture of a redemptive spirit that Paul urged of his churches. The precise sense of "catching in the act," "overtaking," even "apprehending" seems to have the sense of a transgression in progress. One wonders if the danger of hypocrisy is not also in view here, being tempted to think yourself superior to the person you are restoring when in fact you are just as guilty. The teaching of Jesus may stand in the background of not plucking out splinters from others' eyes when you have a log in your own.
In the context of Galatians, it is easy to see this comment in relation to those in the churches who were buying into the teaching of the conservative Jewish missionary and "biting and devouring" others in the churches. Such individuals might have thought themselves spiritually superior to others, as some in the Corinthian church did. Paul would then urge reconciliation and restoration of fellowship within the Galatian communities. And he would urge those doing the reconciling not to take on subtly the same attitude of those they are reconciling.
The mention of those who are spiritual reminds us of Paul's struggles with certain in the Corinthian church. We would date Galatians to the time Paul was in
6:2 Carry the burdens of one another and so you will fulfill the law of the Christ.
In several places, including Galatians 3, Paul indicates that love is the fulfillment of the law. In 1 Corinthians 9:21 he makes a crucial distinction that while he is not under the (Jewish) Law, he is under the law of Christ. He thus can say in Romans 3:31 that he does not make void "law" through faith, for there is an essence to the law, loving your neighbor, that is required of a faithful believer and empowered by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:4).
Carrying the burdens of others here specifically has to do with the work of restoring them after their transgression, an act of love. The kind of transgression in mind is once again likely a sin against the body of Christ, against the rest of the church in biting, devouring, and such. Nevertheless, the verse serves as a general Christian maxim also as a superb expression of a Christian ethic of love.
6:3 For if someone thinks himself to be something, although being nothing, he deceives himself.
This theme certainly reappears several times in Paul's letters (e.g., Rom. 12:3; Phil. 2:1-5). Certainly the problem of unjustified pride is a feature of the modern world, but it almost seems viral in Paul's churches, at least against the backdrop of the meekness Paul taught was appropriate. Interestingly, Paul does seem to allow that a person might legitimately think him or herself something, as we see in the verse that follows.
Masculine language was Paul's default, as we see in his use of pronouns in this verse and his use of "brothers" in 6:1. At times the language is gender neutral, but in those instances where style pushed him to make a choice of gender, he clearly followed the paradigm of his day and defaulted to the masculine. At the same time, he certainly would have meant to include women in his language. And here we remember that these are features of form in this passage rather than substantive gender statements.
6:4-5 For let each one prove [himself] in relation to his own work and then in relation to himself alone he will have the boasting and not toward the other person. For each one will carry his own load.
Paul does allow for boasting. Nothing in these verses gives
us any indication that he is spinning out some circumstance that could never
happen. A person might have room for boasting because he or she carries his own
load and has a "work" that proves worthy upon testing. No effort is
made to reconcile such statements with other places where Paul prohibits
boasting in relation to justification (e.g.,
We are reminded again of Jesus' sayings not to judge others when we ourselves are guilty of the very same things (Matt. 7:1-5; cf.
6:6 Let the person being taught the word share in all good things with the one teaching [it].
The connection between this command and the preceding statements to bear each other's burdens and carry one's own load is not completely obvious. Paul presumably is not thinking of the Jewish missionary here. And he does not mention himself coming to them or receiving support from them anywhere else in the letter. Some have suggested he wishes to balance out the instruction to carry your own load—that does not let you off the hook to support those who minister to you.
Since the command is directed at the person being taught, the thrust of this statement would seem to urge the person taught to support those who teach them. We are reminded of 1 Corinthians 9:11-12, where Paul indicates that the "ox" should not be muzzled while treading the grain. Paul interprets the statement allegorically to mean that those who sow spiritual things among them have a right to material support from them.
Probably the most likely alternative, then, is that Paul is telling the Galatians in general to support their own leaders, possibly in contrast to the Jewish visitor who has been troubling them over issues like circumcision and such. But we cannot know for sure.
6:7-8 Do not be deceived. God is not made a fool. For whatever a person sows, this the person will also reap. Because the one who sows to his own flesh will harvest corruption from the flesh. But the one who sows to the Spirit will harvest eternal life from the Spirit.
The common mention of "sowing" in the context of a church supporting its minister again reminds us of 1 Corinthians 9, which we would argue was written not too long previous to Galatians. It also argues that these verses follow in some way on 6:6.
The contrast between flesh and Spirit shows up again here. Once again, Paul reminds the Galatians that the person who gratifies the desires of his or her flesh is not on a trajectory for eternal life. It is those who sow seed of the Spirit who will eventually harvest eternal life. Those who gratify their fleshly desires, those who bite and devour each other, those who are selfish and do not care for others around them, those who do not carry their weight, these are headed for the same decay that their bodies are. There are consequences to the way a person chooses to behave.
6:9 But as we do the good, let us not get tired, for in its own time, we will harvest, if we do not give up.
It can be tiring sowing seed and discouraging in that you do not see the results of your labors until some time later. Doing the good is an investment that does not always pay off immediately. Indeed, it may not pay off in our earthly lifetimes. The harvest is something to have faith in, to hope for, to believe will come eventually after a life of doing good.
6:10 Therefore, then, as we have opportunity, let us bring about the good for all, and especially toward those in the household of faith.
Interestingly, Paul gives priority of good doing to those in the household of faith. Note that he does not say to ignore the world outside or let believers off the hook in relation to those in the world. He simply highlights the priority of doing good in relation to those in the household of faith, meaning all believers.
We are reminded of the dictum in James 4:17 that if a person knows to do the good and does not do it, such inaction is sin. So also Paul indicates that believers must take advantage of the occasion to do good for others, both believer and non-believer alike. We can perhaps read between the lines in Galatians the temptation for some believers to exclude doing good for certain other believers, as is surely the temptation in every age.
Closing Remarks (6:11-18)
6:11 Look with what large letters I have written to you with my hand.
Paul alluded earlier in Galatians to troubles he had with his eyes (4:15), possibly a thorn in the flesh he had for some time (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7-8). Perhaps the large letters of Paul's verse related in some way to his eye problems. Others have suggested he wanted to emphasize the points that follow.
It is possible that Paul wrote this entire letter by hand. After all, he does not mention any others in his heading, as he does in some cases. On the other hand, 2 Thessalonians 3:17 implies that Paul sometimes picked up the stylus and wrote a line or two at the end of a letter as a kind of authenticating signature. So it is possible that a secretary has written most of the letter and that Paul only picks up the writing tool here. This conclusion would seem to be the one most have reached.
6:12 As many of those who want to make a good showing in the flesh, these people are trying to compel you to be circumcised, [but they] only [do it] so that they might not be persecuted because of the cross of the Christ.
Paul now impugns the motives of the missionaries trying to get the Galatians to be circumcised. He gives two critiques of them. The first is that they are proud of the wrong thing. They will gain "honor" from their peers if they convince Gentiles to go all the way and fully convert to Judaism.
The second is that they are taking the path of least resistance with their Jewish peers, perhaps both "conservative" Jewish believers in Jesus as Messiah and non-believing Jews such as Paul used to be. The "cross of Christ" is thus a shorthand for more than simply faith in the effectiveness of the cross. It implies an understanding of the cross that saw it solely sufficient to reconcile believers, whether Jew or Gentile, to God.
6:13 For not even those who are being circumcised themselves are keeping Law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they might boast in your flesh.
From our vantage point two thousand years later, this verse is ambiguous. Perhaps the traditional interpretation is to hear Paul indicting Jews for being hypocrites. They want these Gentiles to keep the Jewish Law when in fact they themselves do not keep the Law perfectly. They are sinners too.
The present tense, "those who are being circumcised," perhaps points in a different direction, namely, to some Gentiles who have already gone through with circumcision in a process of conversion to Judaism. Could it be that even the "ones troubling them" (5:12) were Gentile proselytes to Judaism? At the same time, Paul does say that Peter "lives like a Gentile and not like a Jew" (2:14).
The omission of the article on "Law" is interesting. Another possibility is that we are to read this statement in terms similar to Romans 2:21-24. Paul would target Jews for their hypocrisy, but not for their lack of perfection in Law keeping. Romans 3:31 also does not have the article on "Law" and seems to refer to the "righteous requirement" of the Law (cf. 8:4), which Paul later summarizes as the love of one's neighbor (13:8-10).
6:14 But for me, may it not be to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Such detractors want to boast in the wrong thing, Paul indicates. They want to boast about something physical, something that was a matter of flesh. Paul suggests that what is rather appropriate to boast in is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Again, Paul surely means to include in this shorthand all the benefits and effects that he sees being accomplished by way of the cross.
Paul seems to say that, through the cross, he is dead to the "world," meaning presumably the sinful world of flesh and its sense of honor and shame. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:20-23 that God has made foolish the wisdom of the world. By contrast, he preaches Christ crucified, which is foolishness to the Gentile and a stumbling block to the Jews. Again, in our dating, Paul has just written these things prior to Galatians.
6:15 For neither circumcision is something, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
Paul here anticipates the better known statement of his on
new creation in 2 Corinthians 5:17. The criterion for what matters is not
whether one is circumcised or not, which is apparently what has become the
focus of justification before God in
6:16 And as many as walk by this rule, peace on them and mercy and on the
This is the rule of walking, of living, then, for the believer. It is not the rule of works of Law, with particular attention to those elements in the Law that distinguished Jew from Gentile, like circumcision. The rule is new creation, that the old things, the old life under the power of Sin, has passed. Instead there is life to God and walking in newness of life, fulfilling the righteous requirement of the Law by loving one's neighbor as yourself.
The mention of the "Israel of God" seems to subtly redefine
But such a reading would be anachronistic. When Paul unfolds such comments further, particularly in Romans 11, we find that he still defines ethnic Israel as the "natural" branches in distinction from Gentiles who have been grafted into the tree of (ethnic) Israel (e.g., 11:21). So while Paul does in effect redefine
6:17 The rest: let no one cause troubles for me, for I carry the marks of Jesus on my body.
Here presumably begins the rather brief conclusion of the
letter. Paul basically says, "Bug off! I've suffered enough for Christ
from non-believers and so certainly don't need trouble from believers like you
all, churches I myself founded, nonetheless!" Of
course if we are correct in dating Galatians not long after 1 Corinthians, he
writes this letter on the heals of opposition at
Paul catalogs some of the sufferings he faced in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 in the course of conducting his mission. Noticeable there are the three times he was beaten with rods and the five times he received a synagogue beating of 39 lashes. He has suffered for the gospel. What marks do his detractors have to show for their faith?
6:18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
The wish of Christ's grace on his audiences is characteristic of Paul's postscripts. Noticeably missing are the usual greetings from others and to others Paul normally includes. Some have suggested this omission, like the absence of a thanksgiving section, is a reflection of Paul's dissatisfaction with the Galatians at this point.
And thus Paul ends this grand defense of the entrance of the Gentiles into God's people, as well as the confirmation that Jews are truly in God's people, on the basis of human faith in the effectiveness of Jesus' faithfulness on the cross. Because of such faith, God recognizes a person as righteous, He "justifies" them.