Lecture 6: Galatians 2:15-3:9
Login to download lecture and curriculum
I. Justification by faith 2:15-16
II. Galatians 2:17-21
A. verses 17-18
B. verses 19-21
C. Question and answer
III. Overview Galatians chapters 3-5
IV. Galatians 3:1-6
A. "Believing what you heard" verse 2
B. Receiving the Spirit
C. The importance of how you finish
D. Difference between sanctification and finishing well
V. Galatians 3:7-9
VI. Galatians 3:10-25
A. Paul and the Jewish Christian missionaries disagree about the role of the Law for a believer
B. Paul's teaching about the law in contemporary language
C. Verses 7-9
Lecture: Galatians 2:15-3:9
I. Justification by Faith 2:15-16
We have the verb that occurs three times in Galatians 2:16 and the noun that we see at the end of the passage in verse 21. These words are closely related. They come from the same Greek root: dikaioo, dikaisoni, and dikaiosis. There are thirteen altogether which we are going to talk about as a concept. Galatians 2:15-16 is justification by faith; Paul introduces this as something important to the situation in Antioch. We have talked about the verse out of its context, but the verse functioning here is part of Paul’s response to Peter at Antioch. Peter separated himself from the Gentiles by refusing to eat meals with them any longer; this was wrong because we Jews, like the Gentiles are now justified by faith and not by works of the law. After this fundamental statement in verse 16, Paul then takes up some questions related to it. If by seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners. Doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? No! If I rebuild what I destroy, then I would really be a law breaker. This verse isn’t easy to understand. One view that is likely, sinners is being used by Paul in a way that is similar to the way he used the word in verse 15, the same word in the Greek that we saw in verse 15 in respect to the Gentiles. So I think Paul is saying, now if we Jews are trying to find our relationship with God through Christ, this apparently doesn’t happen through the law and if our focus is on Christ entirely and we are ignoring the law, aren’t we then just like the Gentiles in terms of being considered sinners. This is because we are not following the law as we should be. So, in coming to Christ, the law no longer has the same place for us that it had before. That seems to be the logic of verses 17 and 18. If I were to rebuild what I had destroyed; if I were to rebuild the law, to put the law back in absolutely determining my conduct and my relationship with God, then I would be a law breaker indeed. Paul said to Peter that he was in a position of doing that. You claim to be justified in Christ; we agree on this. We Jews have recognized this to be the case; justification is found in Christ and not by works of the law. It is not determined by the law or in terms of the Torah any longer. So the Torah is no longer playing that kind of role. Peter, if you now want to reestablish the law by not eating with the Gentiles, you are going to make yourself a law breaker. Then you will be in the category of the sinners and you will justly be considered wrong for that kind of behavior.
II. Galatians 2:17-21
So Paul quickly moves from the antithesis (the opposite of something), the works of the law verses faith in Christ to the issue of the law. We have seen that to be characteristic of Galatians. Paul does this constantly because it is a big issue, the Torah that the Judaizers are trying to impose on the Galatia Gentiles. In talking about these issues, it always comes back to the law. Paul is setting up a kind of antithesis here between Torah and Christ. The agitators are trying to keep those in continuity. Paul says no because there is a fundamental dividing point that we understand even in our justification before God. You can understand why Paul in verses 18 and 19 takes the next step and says remember that I through the law died to the law that I might live for God. He is clearly talking about the contrast in coming to Christ and being crucified with him, I have had to experience some kind of separation from Torah. I have died to it; it no longer constitutes the key authority for me. It is no longer the contract under which I need to live any longer. Coming to Christ means that this has all changed. It fills out the logic of verses 17 and 18 with this claim for exclusivity. In verse 21, it says that I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! There is another antithesis between Christ and the law. If the law was successful in securing ultimate righteousness with God, there would be no need for Christ and no need for God’s grace in Christ. Again, Paul is telling Peter in the context of Antioch, by your behavior, implicitly or by assumption, don’t re-establish the law. You know that your justification is found in Christ alone and to re-establish the law in the sense you are trying would be to contradict that. To the Galatians, obviously, he is saying at the same time that you Galatians need to understand that these Judaizers are trying to re-establish the law in this way and impose it upon you and you are also failing to recognize that justification, relationship with God is solely in and through Christ. If you try to bring the law into the situation, then you are implicitly taking away from Christ’s work because Christ came to do what the law could not do.
Paul is saying something like this, ‘Peter, you and I are now focusing on Christ as the sole source of our justification. Does Christ then promote sin? In other words, if my focus is solely on Christ and in that focus if I do not follow the law anymore, is Christ then promoting sin. Is Christ encouraging me as a Jew to be a sinner like the Gentiles because I am breaking the law?’ And Paul’s response then is no that would only be the case if we rebuild the law again. If we continue to view the law as setting the standard for sinfulness, Christ would then be promoting sin. Thus, in following Christ, I am actually committing sin by not following the law. That is only true if the law is still in place as the key determiner of what sin is. And Paul’s whole point is that it isn’t. Paul seems to be using the language of is Christ then a servant of sin, Christ promoting sin? Is the inclusivity of Christ for justification then leading me as a Jew to be a sinner, because I am not following the law? I don’t think so; I think it is talking about implications of being found in Christ and looking to him exclusively for the source of justification.
III. Overview Galatians Chapter 3-5
The central theological argument of the letter seems to be framed by two exhortation passages that are somewhat parallel. The first is chapter 3:1-6 and then chapter 5:1-12. In the context of biblical scholarship, the Latin word Inclusio is used to describe this kind of Phenomena. This is kind of a bracketing arrangement for the presentation of an argument. It is where an author begins in a certain way and then comes back to end a certain way. Other people call this the book ends of the argument. I think that is what we have here. It is framed by these similar appeal passages where Paul turns directly and forthrightly to the Galatians warning them. You have a similar kind of an appeal passage in the middle (chapter 4:8-20) and in the midst of that you have two similar theological arguments. Both of them have to do with Abraham to some degree; so clearly Abraham is a key issue in the debate. Again, this is how I think the text sort of lines up here from 3:1 to 5:12. Galatians 2 sets up a lot of the points that Paul will make. Paul has described how at Jerusalem he and the other apostles got together and agreed on the law free Gospel. That law free Gospel was disputed in Antioch with Peter’s behavior leading to these problems. Paul then at the end of the chapter asserts and explains this law-free Gospel by bringing in justification and other things. He uses the language of being crucified with Christ in 2:20. Now at the beginning of chapter 3, Paul is turning to the Galatian Christians, arguing for the law-free Gospel linking it with the crucifixion of Christ again. This language of crucifixion comes to play again in chapter 3:12 and also in chapter 6 where Paul focuses on the crucifixion as marking a key transition moment in salvation history. To some degree, the dispute between Paul and the agitators is about how significant the cross really is. That is why Paul brings the Cross in these important ways that he does. The agitators probably hold the view that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was an important thing and that it provides for atonement, forgiveness of sin can now be found in Christ, but they are seeing continuity in that the law continues and there is no need to think that there has been that kind of shift in salvation history.
For Paul, the cross is more fundamental than that. It has a further reaching implication. It transforms all of existence; Paul portrays Christ as crucified and the language he uses in pictorial language. I portrayed Christ as crucified in vivid detail, like a picture to the Galatians. The implications of this were that the Galatians didn’t fully appreciate the significance of the crucifixion of Christ for the issue of the law.
IV. Galatians 3:1-6
‘You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you head? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain – if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’
In verse 2 and 5 the NIV says, ‘by believing what you have heard’ and other translations say ‘hearing with faith.’ So hearing with faith as opposed to believing what you heard. This is very different. In the NET Bible, it says, ‘are you not trying to finish by human effort?’ The NKJV says, ‘the hearing of faith.’ There are different options for that phrase which makes you think about what the original Greek says. This is another one of the genitive constructions. One of the confusing things about this genitive construction is that the initial word can either mean the act of hearing or what is heard; it is the activity of hearing or what you hear in terms of a report for example, in what you heard. Paul uses the word both ways, so that is confusing and then the genitive is confusing. So you again, you have faith-hearing or faith-report. So, is it faith that is characterized by hearing or hearing characterized by faith or the report about faith or faith in the report? Do you see all these options? They are all coming from that same Greek phrase. All of them are options that the commentators take. You end up with five or six different options for this phrase. Some emphasize the activity of hearing as in the ESV, ‘hearing with faith.’ This is taking the initial word in the active sense. You are hearing and listening to the message of the Gospel and that hearing is accompanied by faith. On the other hand, the NIV takes that first word more in the sense of report or what someone has heard, namely by believing what you heard. The report is characterized by faith in the sense that the report is responding to by faith. So the idea is that you have heard the Gospel proclaimed and responded to that report of the Good News by faith.
There is another way to take that; it is the report that is about faith and now guess what happens for some. It is the report about Christ’s faithfulness. If in 2:16 there is the idea of the faithfulness of Christ and then here also it might have the meaning, ‘the report about Christ’s faithfulness,’ the preaching of the Good News that Jesus has been faithful in providing atonement for our sins. Wright thinks in these terms. So, this is a difficult Greek phrase here. Ultimately, I think the ESV rendering is perhaps the closest to what is being said. There is focus on the activity of hearing. Remember how important this is in the Hebrew Old Testament using the Hebrew verb shuma. It’s hearing that is not just listening, it is hearing in the sense of obedience. It is hearing in the sense of obedience, in the sense of taking the message in, responding to it appropriately; it is a hearing that transforms. This is the call in the Hebrew Old Testament and I suspect that Paul is reflecting on that here. ‘You received the Spirit, not by responding to the law, you received the Spirit when you came to Christ by this hearing which was characterized by faith; by faithful hearing, by responding to the message you heard with a deep seeded response, characterized by hearing in faith again. Paul talks about receiving the Spirit. On the one hand, it implies for Paul, receiving the Spirit is so much a part of becoming a Christian. To become a Christian is to receive the Spirit, etc. These are juxtaposed together and it is interesting how it brings the Spirit into the issue. Words and phrases included is bit of a surprise, did you become Christians by, did you find yourselves justified by, did you get saved by; all those different expressions and others Paul could have used but instead he talks about how did you receive the Spirit. It goes on to talk about within this context, the working of miracles. It is as if Paul wants to appeal to something that they have seen and experienced in the community.
The Spirit is now something that is marking them as individuals and as a community. And Paul’s point is that this is how you began! You began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? And then we have this Greek word, ‘sarx’ or the flesh, that which has an external reference. This is the first time it is used in a significant way. The Spirit and flesh antithesis is an important point for Paul which we will talk more about later. Flesh is one of those words that Paul uses that has a very distinctive technical sense. And while flesh isn’t the literal translation of the Greek word; it is perhaps the best starting point and the reason why it is important in Galatians, it is a kind of double entendre, a double meaning that Paul is intending here. Are you trying to finish by means of the flesh, meaning both circumcision and the broader concern of human effort? Flesh in terms of that which is especially human and apart from God. Paul may be playing on this word a bit here, trying to get both ideas as it were. To me, the rhetorical situation is fairly well touched on here by Paul. It is a matter of how they are finishing, how they are completing, not how they are beginning. This text is clear and there are others that substantiate the point; Galatians then is not fundamentally how a person initially gets right with God; there are implications for that, surely. But it is not the getting in, nor is it about sanctification; how we get to see people becoming like God in holiness. It is rather about how a person stays right and ultimately will be declared right in the Day of Judgement. The Galatians have begun; they have begun by the Spirit. They have entered into this Christian relationship by faithful hearing. Now the agitators have come in and suggested that is where they began but now they need to close out the matter. You need to continue the race you’ve started by bringing in the law and circumcision. Paul’s point is to say no; you need to finish as you began. As it was faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone at the beginning, so its faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone as you move through your Christian life and look toward that ultimate decision on the Day of Judgement.
The ESV takes a verb in the Greek that could be either middle or passive. The ESV is taking it as a passive. Most versions take it as a middle which usually gets translated as an active in English. That is the difference between, are you finishing as opposed to are you being finished. It is a question of which way you take a verb which could go either way in English. Sanctification seems to me is talking about the being holy before God. The initial process of coming into a relationship with God and being holy people, saints because we are related to God, but also the progress then in holiness that needs to be happening throughout our lives. Ultimate justification or judgement has to do with status and it might take into account sanctification but it isn’t the same.
Verse 6 probably belongs to verses 1 to 5. It could go either way; versions go both ways in where they put verse 6. In some ways it concludes verses 1 to 5. It is hearing faith that is important, even as for the case of Abraham where belief was central. You can see how verse 6 could relate to that. At the same time, verse 6 introduces Abraham onto the scene where he becomes a key figure in the argument to the end of the chapter. It points both ways.
The heart of Paul’s argument, he turns to the question of Abraham. The reason for this, first, they seemed to have been the terms the agitators were using. They were basically saying to the Galatians Gentiles, look let me help you understand what God is doing and what the Old Testament teaches. The people of God are those who are related to Abraham; he is the founding father of those who are the people of God. So to be a child of Abraham, you must be among the people of God, those who belong to God and who are now in a relationship with him and can obviously look forward to ultimately be saved on the last day by him. To be Abraham’s child is a must and Scripture is very clear about how that happens. Abraham is circumcised (Genesis 17) and he is told that all his descendants need to be circumcised. And God gave his law to the people of Israel. Now, if you want to be child of Abraham and belong to the people of God, your faith in Christ is fine, but it has to be supplemented by circumcision and Torah observance. That is the way the history works. That is what God has clearly revealed in Scripture, the Old Testament. So Paul has to meet that argument and in a sense argue on their own terms. The other reason Paul talks about Abraham is because Abraham is a key figure in the story of how God’s people were formed. He sees that Genesis 15:6 is a very critical verse as it brings faith and righteousness together. Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. He was considered to have done what God ask for in terms of righteous behavior.
V. Galatians 3:7-9
In 3:7-9 those who have faith are Abraham’s descendants. It is faith that matters and Paul comes back and makes a similar point at the end of chapter 3 saying that all who are in Christ by faith are Abraham descendants. So, in both cases, there is a general statement made but one which has special focus on the experience of Abraham and the faith that he showed applicable particular to the Gentiles. Again, this is the key issue. We have to remember that from the new perspective advocates rightly remind us that this was a critical part of what Paul was doing here. It wasn’t just a general argument about the importance of faith for righteousness but a specifically designed to make a point that Gentiles can now be allowed in by their faith and not taking on the law. Within that claim about faith and Abraham in verses 10 through 25, Paul’s focus turns to the law. Paul is going to be suggesting a different reading of that history. He and the agitators disagree on how to read that history. Paul’s focus is going to be on Abraham and faith and to some extent the agitators might not disagree with that. The disagreement comes in regards to what degree that law has to be part of their lives. It very well have been the case that both these Jewish Christian missionaries and Paul thought first to consider Abraham where faith is an incredibly important part of that story and his experience. This has obvious implications for today where we think faith in Christ is absolutely vital also, but it is where the law comes in play. Is the law needed to supplement that faith forever or not? That is where the debate comes and why verses 10-25 are so important in Paul’s argument here.
To put it another way, Paul and the agitators disagree on theology and the practice that result from it. The agitators seem to be arguing that the law still hold sway or rules God’s people. It is still in place as a non-negotiable thing that you have to respond to. So the law is where God’s grace is experienced; right standing with God has to be worked out in terms of the law and the law still defines sin. And the practice that result from that is for Jewish Christians must not eat with Gentiles, the Antioch episode and gentile Christians must observe the law. Paul focuses on a more discontinuous reading here; Christ’s cross introduces a significant new stage in salvation history where the law no longer rules God’s people. The Jewish Christians don’t have to do the law; Peter doesn’t need to separate from the Gentiles at meals nor should Gentiles Christians do the law themselves.
In summarizing the different approaches of the agitators and of Paul; for the agitators God’s people are defined by the Sinai. Abraham comes first but the Sinai was a sort of climax or the center of things where God gives his people the Torah and uses that Torah to form them as a people. So the agitators don’t ignore Abraham but they are giving that experience of law a very central significance in their reading of things. The Messiah has now come and everybody including Gentiles must to do the law to belong to God’s people. So the agitators ultimately are arguing a kind of syncretism; yes, faith is important but it is faith supplemented by works of the law that leads to righteousness. Paul sees the Messiah as more significant. He views the coming of Christ as more decisive and significant transforming event. For Paul then, the law is something that comes along but Abraham continues to be more decisive. So you have Abraham and the law and a sort of apprentices and now the Messiah has come, meaning that everybody, Jews included, belong to God’s people by faith alone leading obviously to faith in itself being adequate for righteousness. I have summarized what Paul is going to be arguing in the next verses to get an overview of the picture here.
So, what does this argument look like translated into contemporary Christian proclamation? The finishing by means of the flesh might come into being here. We have to be careful about taking Paul’s argument too far. He continues to have positive things to say about the law; he doesn’t view it as evil, wrong or bad. There are some extreme interpretations in Galatians 3 that take it that way as we are going to see. Second, there is always the reminder that when we are preaching a passage like Galatians, we have to remember that this is one argument for one particular situation, audience and purpose. Anytime we deal with any text of Scripture, we have to have the broader witness of Scripture in view and not simply focus so much on one text that we miss the bigger picture entirely. Clearly, in Galatia, Paul has to say fairly negative things about the law consistently. He has to do that because he knows the Galatia Christians are thinking too positively about the law, making it too prominent, too central in their experience. So Paul has to bring all weight to bear on one side of the argument to get them back in balance again. But we would be wrong to read Galatians as a kind of a full belief of Paul about the law. It is only one part of his understanding and directed in specific circumstances to this situation. One of things that we need to do as preachers is made sure we are bringing a full Bible witness into view. It might not be the focus of the sermon as it needs to be on the text in front of us. We need to recognize that this text is occasional; that it is written for a particular occasion, a particular purpose and is not going to give us a full orb biblical statement about a matter. We could inadvertently by sticking to that text alone, give our people a wrong impression having them think that the law is a really bad thing. As preaches, we need to be good biblical theologians, to have a good sense of the whole witness of Scripture. So that if we are preaching any single part of Scripture, we can contextualize it in that way; we can put it within that broader framework and not made the mistake of creating imbalance. That is what a lot of the false teachers and heretics do; they seize certain text convenient to their view and those are the only text that you ever hear. They fail to put those texts in the broader context.
We need to use the correct language in describing these events for today. There are complications when it comes to Messianic Judaism and their take on things. This says that Jews who come to faith in Christ must continue to do the law; Gentiles must not do the law. Within the Christian faith, within the community of Christ, there is unity but not necessarily uniformity; there is no distinction yet there can still be difference. I think they take it too far, but there is a sense that because of the Jewish heritage, because of the Old Testament roots of Jewish faith and of course the Jewish Christian experience. I think Paul does say that if as faithful Jewish Christians, you want to supplement you faith in Christ by continuing to do the law, not as necessary for salvation, not as in anyway supplanting the full and complete works of Christ, you can continue to work out your faith in the Messiah that way. When Paul addresses the weak in Rome, this is part of the issue there as shown in Romans 14 and 15. He says if you want to continue to observe holy days, you can; if you want to avoid eating certain kinds of foods, you can do that and you gentile Christians shouldn’t judge the Jewish Christians for doing this. But gentile Christians should not take on the law because the law wasn’t given to them. To do so, would be to suggest that the law continues to be in place as a fundamental requirement for the people of God. Paul continues to see it as an option for Jewish Christians but it must not be seen as a requirement. We see that in Rome there seemed to have been mixed congregations. Otherwise I would find it hard to understand Romans 15 talking about one voice to praise the God and father of Jesus Christ. To me, that kind of language says that believers, Jewish and Gentiles, are in the same room worshiping together, not in separate house churches. We can have unity in Christ as a single Christian body, a church while we still have differences. Some people would argue that Rome had both gentile and Jewish house churches but the situation is simply not clear. In Romans 15:7 Paul comes to the climax of his exhortation to both the strong and the weak. Accept one another as Christ accepted you in order to bring praise to God and then in verse 6, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Galatians 3:7-9; ‘Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the Gospel in advance to Abraham: All nations will be blessed through you. So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.’
We saw that verse 6 brings Abraham into the picture. Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 and does the same thing in Romans 4 where he talks about Abraham. There are a number of parallels but differences as well between Galatians 3 and Romans 4 where Paul deals extensively with Abraham. Genesis 15:6 is a really important verse for him and uses it here to make an initial point about faith. Verse 7 sets the pattern, making a thrust against the typical Jewish view. Well, it is those who are biological descendants who are children of Abraham and perhaps the agitators were willing to modify this somewhat to say that Gentiles could be Abraham’s children also but only the condition of observing the Torah. So Paul is emphasizing faith here and not only faith but also Abraham’s inclusiveness. In Verse 8, he goes on to quote another text of Scripture that focuses on the inclusiveness of Abraham. All nations will be blessed through you; this is the language of the Genesis promise to Abraham; first found in Genesis 12:3 but then repeated two or three times further on within Genesis. This is a theme rather than a single text Paul is quoting here. Paul reads the nations in terms of the Gentiles clearly. So, not only is faith significant for Abraham but also Abraham is significant as the one who will ultimately include many nations and the blessings of Abraham. So he concludes verse 9 as those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. You see this idea three times in Genesis that the nations will be included in the blessing God is promising Abraham. So Paul is reminding the Galatians and the agitators that this inclusion of Gentiles goes right back to Abraham and rooted in the initial promises given to him.
The key point again is the introduction of faith as the vital issue. It is possible that the agitators might have agreed with Paul in regards to the ultimate blessings of Abraham being extended to the Gentiles. That was held by a number of Jews in Paul’s and not all that controversial. But the point of controversy came on the basis on how Gentiles be included and on what basis can they be seen to be the people of God and that is why Paul emphasizes faith which he will keep coming back to. So, here, the good news had to do especially with the way in which all the nations would be included. It is not just good news that by faith in Jesus I can be saved. It is a bit broader. The good news is that God is doing something, promising to do something ultimately which includes all the nations of the world. But keep in mind that this discontinuity is not total; continuity is seen in other ways which says that we haven’t done a very good job in being whole Bible Christians. For some, studying the Old Testament is seen as backward; studying something that doesn’t relate to us anymore.
If you are enjoying this lecture, would you consider making a donation so others can learn from it as well?
BiblicalTraining is a non-profit and relies on its users for support.