The MOST Theological Collection: Commentary on the Pauline Epistles (The Thought of St. Paul)
"Chapter 4. Letter to the Galatians"
Paul had written the two Letters to Thessalonika during his 18 months stay at Corinth, on his second missionary trip, probably in 51 A.D. Then he soon went back to Antioch, which had been his base of operations.
After some time at Antioch, Paul set out on his third expedition, which was in 54-57 A.D. (See Acts 18:23-21:17). He first went overland through north Galatia and Phrygia, and came to Ephesus, which was his center for about three years. It was probably there that Paul wrote to the Galatians in about 54 A.D.
This is true on the theory -- most likely true -- that Paul wrote to north Galatia, to communities he founded in the interior on his second journey (Acts 16:6) and visited on his third journey (Acts 18:23). However, as we said in the introduction to the Letters to Thessalonika, it is possible Paul wrote to south Galatia, communities he founded on his first expedition (Acts 13:13-14:28). Then the Letter to Galatia might have been as early as 48 A.D., and then would have been the very first part of the New Testament to be written.
Paul had already attended a meeting of the Apostles in Jerusalem, probably in 49 A.D. which decided that the gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia need not be circumcised and keep the law of Moses. This question had become acute since Paul had made so many gentile converts. Just as a means to appease those who wanted to impose the Mosaic law, the council did call on the gentile converts to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, and from strangled animals. These were just a few points of the Mosaic law, rather small. It also called for what general morality requires, that they abstain from loose sex.
But the Judaizers -- those who had wanted to impose the whole Mosaic law -- did not give up easily. They still tried to impose the law on even gentile converts. They seem to have caused much trouble in Galatia on this score. Hence this is the chief reason why Paul wrote to Galatia. In it he stresses heavily his teaching that justification (getting right with God) comes not by keeping the law, but by faith (let us recall from the glossary the sense in which Paul uses the word faith). Paul will return to the same theme in Romans. Luther claimed he had made a great discovery, justification by faith, in Galatians. It was really a great mistake, for, as is explained in the glossary, Paul did not mean by faith what Luther thought he meant. More on this in the Supplement, below, on Luther.
Since the Judaizers said in effect that Christ alone is not enough -- one must also add the law -- Paul naturally reacted by saying: We are free from the law. This caused great confusion. 2 Peter 3:15-16 said that in Paul's letters there are many things hard to understand. He was very right! As we shall see, Paul really meant that keeping the law does not earn salvation, though violating it would earn punishment (cf. 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:16-21; Eph 5:5).
Some have said Paul did not understand Judaism -- a ridiculous claim, for Paul was a Jew, trained by the great teacher Gamaliel in Jerusalem, and was a zealous Pharisee. Some want to say we get into the covenant community, the Church, without earning it (justification by faith) but that to stay in, one must observe the covenant law. Paul has no such distinction. We get justification (which brings entry into the people of God) by faith, without earning it. Reaching final salvation is equally, in the basic sense, without earning it -- hence Paul often speaks of us as "inheriting the kingdom." When we inherit from our parents, we do not say we have earned it -- though we could have earned to lose it (cf. again 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:5). In that sense, we cannot get by with violating the law, even though keeping it does not earn salvation. There is a secondary sense in which we merit heaven: the fact that we have become (without earning it) sons of God, gives us a claim to inherit. A claim can be called a merit.1
A student some time ago summed up this matter of salvation neatly: You can't earn it, but you can blow it.
A lesser, but important reason for his writing was to answer the claims of some there that he was not a real apostle, just a second-stringer, not sent out by Christ Himself.
Everyone today agrees that Galatians is really by St. Paul.
Summary of Galatians, Chapter 1
Paul who is an Apostle, not sent out by men, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, along with his companions, wishes grace and peace to the churches of Galatia, from Jesus Christ who died for our sins, to free us from the present wicked age.
Paul is surprised that the Galatians can be so easily separated from the one who called them, into a different Gospel -- which, yet, is not another Gospel, for there is only one. But there are certain people disturbing the Galatians, and trying to change the Gospel of Christ. However, no matter who would try to change the Gospel -- whether it be Paul, or even an angel from the sky -- cursed be such an angel! Paul repeats: If anyone tries to change the Gospel, let him be cursed!
Paul insists that he does not preach in such a way as to try to please humans, but God. To try to please humans instead of God would make him no slave of Christ. For he did not receive what he preaches from men, nor from teaching -- he got it by revelation from Jesus Christ (on the road to Damascus). He recalls how zealous he had been for Judaism, more than his associates, even to the point of trying to overthrow the Christian Church. But then it pleased God, who had planned for it even before his birth, and called him in love, to reveal His Son to Paul so he would preach Christ among the gentiles. Paul did not right away go to consult any human being, not even the Apostles in Jerusalem. Rather, he went to Arabia for a time, then came back to Damascus. Then after three years he traveled to Jerusalem to get to know Peter, with whom he stayed 15 days. While in Jerusalem he did not see any other Apostle except James, the brother of the Lord. Paul swears he is telling the truth. After that he went north to Syria and Cilicia. The churches in Judea did not know what he looked like. But they had heard he who once was a persecutor had turned to preaching the Gospel he once tried to destroy. So they praised God because of Paul.
Comments on Chapter 1
We notice how excited Paul is in opening this letter. He usually says some nice things to the recipients, to put them in a receptive frame of mind. Here he is excited by the false charges against him, and so he omits all that and starts at once to say he is an Apostle sent out directly by Christ -- not sent out just by men. Christ is the one who died to free us from our sins, and from the present evil aeon. That word aeon is ambiguous. He most likely means here the present evil period of time, when Satan exerts so much influence, but yet the time in which Christ has indeed died for us, and so begun our liberation, but that freedom and salvation will not be complete until the age to come. The world does not really operate on the principles of Christ.
It can also, less likely, mean aeon, which refers to a type of spiritual being imagined by the Gnostics. God himself produced the first pair of aeons, male and female. They produced the second, and so on, each pair less perfect, until one pair went bad, and was thrown out of the pleroma, the full assembly of the aeons. This initiated a line that created our world. Paul often has to combat various errors. In Colossians it is fairly likely, even though not certain, that he is writing against such opponents. It is not very likely that he had such opposition in Galatia.
He next goes right into the chief message of this letter -- about the Judaizers, who try to teach a different Gospel. Even though they claimed they were Christian, and merely wanted to add a requirement of keeping the Mosaic law, yet Paul speaks strongly against them. He means that if they are right, then Christ is not sufficient, for we would have to add to faith in Christ the keeping of the old law as well. So he vehemently imagines an angel coming down from the sky with a different Gospel than what he preaches. Such a Gospel would be false. Hence, he curses the imaginary angel and even repeats the curse.
Then he returns to defending himself, and says he learned Christianity not from any man, not even the Apostles, but from the appearance of Christ on the road to Damascus. He compares himself by implication to Jeremiah (cf. Jer 1:5) of whom God said: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you . . . I dedicated you as a prophet to the nations." After this vision, Paul did not feel any need to consult the Apostles in Jerusalem.
Even though the Acts of the Apostles (9:3-19; 22:6-16; 26:12-18) reports few words were said by Jesus to Paul in that vision, yet Paul learned all Christianity from it. How? Throughout the centuries, many holy people have experienced what are called interior locutions. In them it is as if God touches the brain. By one touch He can convey any amount of information He wishes.2
Instead of consulting others, he went to Arabia. We do not know what area he has in mind -- the name covered much territory. Perhaps he made a pilgrimage to Mt. Sinai. Perhaps he merely went into the area across the Jordan. Nor does he tell us how long a time he spent in Arabia. After that he went back to Damascus. After three years he went to Jerusalem. Does he mean three years after his conversion or three years after returning from Arabia? We cannot tell. And more chronological vagueness will follow in chapter 2. No wonder there is a problem of figuring out the timetable for Paul's activities!
He says he went to Jerusalem to historesai Cephas. (He regularly says Cephas for Peter). That word could mean to consult him -- or just to visit him and get to know him. The second is what he must mean, for he is stressing that he did not learn Christianity from any human. He stayed with Peter for fifteen days, during which time he saw no other Apostle but he did see James. We could also have translated: "I did not see any other Apostle [except Peter], I just saw James, the brother of the Lord." There was a James, the brother of the Lord, who seems to have acted as Bishop of Jerusalem. But he was not one of the twelve. However, the word 'Apostle' often is used more broadly than to apply only to the twelve. As to the word 'brother' of the Lord, it means only some kind of relative, not another son of Mary. The Hebrew word for brother is very broad -- for that matter, so is our English word. We can call everyone in a fraternity brother, etc. Hebrew has no word for cousin, or for most kinds of special relatives. And even though the New Testament is in Greek, which does have such words, yet the writers of the New Testament often are affected by their Hebrew habits. Thus Paul who knows Greek well, could say in 1 Corinthians 1:17: "Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach." Then why did he baptize? There is a Hebrew way of thinking showing up, which lacks the degrees of comparison -- even though Greek has them -- and so instead of saying more for preaching than for baptizing, he says not for the one, but for the other. And there are numerous other instances.
Then he went up to Cilicia -- his home-town, Tarsus was there. He also went to, or passed though, Syria, in which was Antioch, which was to become an important base of operations for him soon.
Summary of Galatians 2:1-14
Paul continues the story of his early years in the faith. After 14 years he went to Jerusalem again, with Barnabas and Titus, because of a revelation. There he compared notes with the Apostles, privately, and checked on the accuracy of what he preached. They did not even ask to have Titus, a Greek, circumcised. However, some false brothers got in, unfortunately, to oppose the freedom the Galatians had in Christ, to enslave them and Paul, by making them subject to the Mosaic law. Paul did not give in to them even for a moment. Those who were important did not add anything to what he was preaching. (Paul observes in passing that it makes no difference in the sight of God of whatever sort they were -- probably he means, of what sort they had been during the earthly life of Jesus -- the Gospels reveal their weaknesses in that time. Or else, that the fact that they had been with Jesus on earth did not make them any more Apostles than he was, for he too was sent out by Christ). Rather, seeing that God had given him a mission to the gentiles, while Peter was sent to the Jews, and seeing the grace given Paul, James and Peter and John shook hands in fellowship, asking only that Paul should remember the poor -- which he was already doing.
After the meeting, Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch. (Paul had gone on ahead). At first Peter ate with the gentiles (ate foods prohibited by the Mosaic law). But then some men came from James, and he stopped. Other Jews with him fell into the same hypocrisy -- even Barnabas was misled. So Paul seeing the danger, told Peter in front of everyone that if he, even though a Jew, had been willing to live like a gentile (not following Mosaic law) -- how could he force (by his example) the gentiles to act like Jews?
Comments on 2:1-14
After 14 years Paul went to Jerusalem again. From what point did he count the 14 years? We do not know. The Greek could also be translated "in the course of a period of 14 years." He says he went because of a revelation. Acts 15:2 says the community at Antioch sent him because of the debates over the Mosaic law. Of course, there is no conflict -- both things can readily be true. This was the council of the Apostles, probably in 49 A.D., described in Acts 15:1-30, at which Peter spoke first, saying the gentiles need not keep the law of Moses or be circumcised (the two things go together, for circumcision was a sign of being under the law). Then James spoke, and agreed. So the council wrote to the churches of Syria and Cilicia, telling them they need not be circumcised or keep the law of Moses, but asking them not only to avoid loose sex (required by basic moral law) but also, seemingly to appease the feelings of Jews, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, and from strangled animals. It is important to notice that the letter went just to the churches of Syria and Cilicia. Today if the Vatican writes to one or two episcopal conferences, the letter applies only to those areas, not elsewhere. Similarly, the letter of the council of Apostles did not apply elsewhere. Hence we have the answer to a difficulty some think insuperable -- they note that Paul did not hesitate in 1 Corinthians 8-10 to permit the Corinthians to eat meat sacrificed to idols, as long as they watched out for scandal. Then the objectors wonder how Paul could disregard the letter of the council. The answer is what we have just indicated -- requests to observe three items of the Mosaic law did not apply outside of Syria and Cilicia. We know from Acts 16:4 that Paul did preach in accord with the letter when he was in the area to which it applied.
We notice that Paul privately compared his teaching with that of the Apostles -- it was not that he had doubts. He insisted so strongly in chapter 1 that he received his knowledge of Christianity directly from the Damascus road vision. No, this was just to reassure those who might not believe what he had said in chapter 1.
In passing, we might note that in verse 4 Paul starts a sentence, but never finishes it. He usually dictated his letters, and especially when he was worked up, he could easily forget where he was at in a long sentence. Grammarians call this pattern anacolouthon (a Greek derivative meaning: not following up). More of the same pattern starts in verse 6. But the sense is clearly what we gave in the summary.
Paul says some Judaizers came from James. But we know from Acts 15 that James agreed with the council decision that gentiles need not keep the Mosaic law. So we wonder about the mention of James. It could be a different James, for that was a very common name among the Jews -- there were two Apostles of that name, and another James, the "brother of the Lord." Perhaps it means merely they came from James' place, Jerusalem.
Paul also says the Apostles added nothing to his preaching. Some have charged contradiction here with Acts 15 in which, as we just saw, the council did add three rules from the Mosaic law to the general moral rules. But the answer is easy. Paul is speaking of the basic doctrine -- this temporary sop to the feelings of Jews was not a matter of doctrine. The Apostles did not ask him to change anything in his doctrine. So, James, Peter and John shook hands in fellowship -- the Greek is koinonia, a state of having all things in common.
When Peter came to Antioch, he at first followed the decision he had helped make in the council, and so ate, with gentiles, foods not permitted by the Mosaic law. But then he returned to his well-known vacillation, which we saw in the Gospels -- how he started out to walk on the waves when Jesus told him he could, but then doubted and began to sink -- and how he swore he would never deny Jesus -- then did it three times.
Paul does not tell us Peter's reaction after Paul confronted him. Many today assume -- with no evidence -- that Peter and Paul were on the outs after this. As we said, there is no evidence of it. It was just a case of Peter's well known weakness in conduct. The objection supposes Peter began to teach false doctrine, that gentiles must keep the Mosaic law, and this even after he himself had taken the lead at the council in teaching the true doctrine! But the promise of Christ to protect the teaching of Peter and the Church rules that out completely. After receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost he could still be weak, but would not waver in doctrine.
Similarly, Paul's correction was not about Peter's doctrine, which he had not changed, but about his conduct, too weak. But because of Peter's special importance -- for the Gospels so many times show Peter as in first place -- his example could be dangerously misleading. Hence Paul felt he had to correct Peter. So it is also foolish to cite this incident as a case in which an Apostle corrected a Pope on doctrine. It was not a matter of doctrine, but of vacillation in practical conduct.
Summary of Galatians 2:15-21
In verse 15, Paul seems to be quoting his opponents who say: "We are by nature Jews. We are not sinners from the gentiles." But Paul says he knows that a person is not justified, or made right with God by doing the works of the law -- no, it is by faith in Jesus Christ that people become just. Christians have believed so as to be in Christ (probably, not certainly, implies: they are members of Christ; Paul will develop this idea more in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and especially in Colossians and Ephesians), and so are justified by the faith of Christ, and not by doing what the law calls for. For no one will be justified by carrying out the law.
But if, in trying to reach justification in Christ, Christians turn out to be sinners, then Christ would turn out to be a minister of sin (for failing to justify them)! Heavens no! He is not that!
Again, if Paul were to return to what he had left, that is, the observance of the law, he would thereby make himself a sinner (either by turning to what cannot justify, or by admitting he should not have left).
For Paul died to the law through the law, with the result that he lives to God. He is crucified along with Christ. It is no longer Paul that lives: Christ lives in him. He lives his present life in the faith of Christ, even though he, Paul, is still in the flesh. Christ loved him, and gave himself for him.
So Paul does not put aside the regime of grace, for if justification came by the law, Christ would have died for no reason.
Comments on 2:15-21
Here we are at the heart of Paul's great thesis: justification through faith, and not through the works of the law. He opens, it seems -- there were no quote marks in use in his day -- with a quote from his opponents, who proudly say: "We are Jews. Gentiles are sinners." Or else we could also say, probably, that Paul here is using a focused picture ( see comments in the glossary on focusing).
But now, before going ahead, because of its vital importance, we add a supplement on the ideas of Luther.
Supplement on LutherI.
That Luther was scrupulous is admitted even by Lutheran theologians: "In their situation, the major function of justification by faith was . . . to console anxious consciences. . . . The starting point for Luther was his inability to find peace with God . . . terrified in his own conscience."3 That is, he thought he was always in mortal sin. He got peace only by making what he thought was a great discovery in Galatians and Romans: justification by faith. The sad thing is he did not do enough study to see what those two key words mean.
First, he thought justification leaves one totally corrupt, and without even free will.4 Consequently, he held for an absolute blind predestination. He compared a human to a horse, which could have either God or Satan as rider. The man has no choice. But according to the rider he does good or evil, goes to heaven or hell as a result.
He said after justification it is as if a white cloak of the merits of Christ were thrown over us: God will not look under the rug. In contrast, Scripture teaches that by justification we are "partakers in the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). And that we are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16 & 6:19) Who would surely not dwell in total corruption. Paul teaches that after death we will see God face to face (1 Cor 13:12). Now of course God has no face and the soul has no eyes. But it means we will see Him as directly as I might see you. I look at you, but I do not take you into my head: rather, I take in an image of you. Images are finite or limited, so are you. But no image could let me know what God is like, He is infinite. So it must be that He will join Himself directly to the created soul or mind, so that by that means it can know Him as He is. But in Malachi 3:2 we read: "Who can stand when He appears? He is like a refiner's fire." So He will not join Himself forever to total corruption (cf. Apoc/Rev 21:27), or if He did, that refiner's fire would have to cleanse it -- that would be purgatory.
Secondly as to the word faith: Again Luther did not study to find what Paul means by faith. He thought it meant confidence that the merits of Christ are credited to me. (Take Christ as one's personal Savior). Then on a ledger for myself I could write infinity for the merits of Christ; on the debit page, the number for my sins, past, present and future. No matter how many, how great, they would always be outbalanced by the infinite merits of Christ. So the person has infallible salvation. So even if he sins much, no problem. In Epistle 501 to Melanchthon: "Sin bravely, but believe still more bravely." And in a letter to the same Melanchthon of August 1, 1521: "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. . . . No sin will separate us from the Lamb even if we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day." In contrast, St. Paul includes three things in faith: believe what God says, have confidence in His promises and -- it is this third one Luther omitted and denied -- obey His commands. Thus in Romans 1:5 Paul speaks of the "obedience of faith," that is, the obedience that faith is. The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, a standard Protestant reference work, in the fifth volume, a Supplement, on p.333 says precisely this, that Pauline faith includes "the obedience that faith is." But faith which includes obedience cannot justify disobedience. Therefore Luther made a huge mistake.
If anyone ever took Christ as his personal Savior, it was St. Paul himself. Yet St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 compares Christian life to a great race at Corinth. Anyone who hoped for the prize had to go into athletic training, and so deny himself much. Only one could get it, but all Christians can get it, and their prize is eternal life, not just a crown of leaves. Some Protestants say Paul is just urging them to gain something extra. But no, in context, Paul has been urging them for some time to avoid scandalizing another by eating meat offered to idols when the other thinks it forbidden. In 1 Corinthians 7:11-13 Paul pleads: "The weak one will perish [eternally] because of your knowledge [that the eating is not wrong in itself], a brother because of whom Christ died." Paul himself even with his heroic work for Christ, does not think he has infallible salvation. Rather in 1 Corinthians 9:26-17 he said (literal version): "I hit my body under the eyes and lead it around like a slave, so that after preaching to others, I may not be disqualified [at the judgment]." And right after that in chapter 10, Paul gives many instances when the first People of God did not have it infallibly made: rather, many were struck dead by God for sin. So in 10:12: "He who thinks he is standing, let him watch out so he does not fall."
Yet in his Exposition on Psalm 130:4 Luther wrote, speaking of justification by faith: "If this article stands, the church stands; if it falls, the church falls." Sadly then, his church never did stand, for he greatly misunderstood both key words, faith and justification.
Some Protestants add a requirement of being "born again." Now Baptism really is being born again (Jn 3:5), since it gives justification which makes us children of God. But Protestants mean that when one takes Christ as his Savior, he must have an experience, usually a feeling. But there is no scriptural requirement for that. Emotion is neutral in religion.
This shows the error of his belief in Scripture alone. Really that idea is antibiblical. For the Second Epistle of St. Peter in 3:16, speaking of the Epistles of St. Paul -- where Luther thought he found such errors -- says: "In them there are many things hard to understand, which the unlearned and the unstable twist, as they do the rest of Scripture, to their own destruction." Luther did just that. He insisted Scripture is so clear that anyone can understand it. St. Peter says no, it is very hard.
Further, Luther had no means of knowing which books are inspired, are part of Scripture. He thought that if a book preached justification by faith strongly, it is inspired. But most books of the Bible do not even mention the subject. And he could write a book to do that, and so could I, and it would not be inspired. A Baptist Professor, Gerald Burney Smith, in 1910 at the national Baptist convention, reviewed in his paper every means he could think of to find which books are inspired5 He discarded one after another, and said if we had a providentially protected teaching authority, that would tell us -- he of course did not think we have such a thing. So he was left trying to appeal to Scripture but not able to know for certain which books are Scripture. Hence, not strangely, later in his article he said it is not surprising that today we do not so often meet talk of anything infallible: "Nothing is more noticeable than the gradual disappearance of that word 'infallible' from present-day theologies." Of course, when one cannot know which parts are Scripture. Gerhard Maier, in a book called The End of the Historical Critical Method published by the great Lutheran house of Concordia, said (1974, pp.61 & 63):". . . only scripture itself can say in a binding way what authority it claims and has. . . . Scripture considers itself as revelation."6 What a perfectly vicious circle! Scripture is inspired because inspired Scripture says inspired Scripture is inspired.
Luther's mistake led to another impasse: He believed that we are totally corrupt by original sin, so we cannot avoid sinning almost constantly. But that belief logically led to an impossibility, as we see in the Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod7 (emphasis added): "As to the question why not all men are converted and saved, seeing that God's grace is universal and all men are equally and utterly corrupt, we confess we cannot answer it." They saw the next step would be to say that God predestines and reprobates blindly, with no condition in the humans. Calvin did say that. Luther also did, as we saw above in his work The Bondage of the Will. Most Lutherans, including the Missouri Synod, seem not to know, or not to want to know what Luther really taught on this matter.8
II. Earning salvation: We do not earn salvation, or justification. We get justification, (the state of grace for the first time) without any merit at all, it is purely a gift.9 But secondly, having that state, since it makes us sons of God, gives us a claim to inherit the kingdom. Now a claim to a reward can be called a merit. So only in this sense can we be said to merit heaven.10 Thirdly, having that status as sons of God and sharers in the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4) means our works after that point have a special dignity that calls for added reward. So we can be said to merit additional degrees of grace, i.e., of capacity for taking in the vision of God in heaven.11
We could put it this way: we by our own power cannot merit anything at all. But inasmuch as we are members of Christ and like Him (cf. the syn Christo theme, especially in Romans 8:17: "we are heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him") we get in on the claim, or merit, He generated.
So, we are free from the law in the sense that keeping it does not earn justification. But if we break it we earn punishment. Again: We can't earn it, but can blow it.12
We return to the line by line commentary: Galatians, Chapter 2, verse 15: Protestants like to point to the verb dikaioo and to say in ordinary Greek it means only 'declare just' -- for a human court could not do more. But that is a natural situation, for no human judge could do more than declare a man just. But God is not so limited, He can make one just, not in the sense of making it true that the man never sinned, but in eradicating the effect of sin. Sin leaves a soul incapable of the vision of God in the next life; justification, as we saw above, makes one capable, gives him a participation in the divine nature. This is a radical interior transformation, not just something legalistic and extrinsic. (As to that verb dikaioo, other verbs that have the -oo ending mean to make one to be what the root indicates. E.g., leukos is white, leukoo means to make white; delos is clear, deloo means to make clear. So it is only that no human can make one just that causes the shift from the usual meaning of -oo verbs in the case of dikaioo).
Paul adds that it is impossible to keep the law: no one is justified by the works of the law -- seeming to imply: it cannot be done. (Probably echoing Psalm 143:2). Here we need to recall the pattern of two ways of looking at the law -- we mentioned them in the comments on 1 Thessalonians 4:5, and in the glossary. We said that the two ways could be called focused and factual. In the case of the law, the focused view would be this: The law makes heavy demands -- it gives no strength to keep them -- so inevitably the person falls -- then he is dead and even cursed, for the law curses those who do not keep it (Deut 27:26). We called this a focused view by a metaphor -- imagine we are looking through a tube of any kind and we see only what is framed by the circle of the tube. Something just a bit outside the circle is not seen. What is not seen in the focused view of the law is the fact that even before Christ, divine help, grace, was offered to people (in anticipation of Christ). If they used that, then we would have the factual picture, thus: The law makes heavy demands, and gives no help -- but help is available from the grace of God -- if a person uses it, then he does not inevitably fall -- he may choose to keep out of sin and please God instead. So, in the factual view, it was possible for Paul to say that he himself, even before his conversion, kept the law perfectly (Phil 3:6).
This twofold way of looking at the law makes it possible for Paul to have two kinds of statements about the law -- most commonly, he speaks almost harshly (in a focused picture, e.g., 2 Corinthians 3:7 & 9; 1 Corinthians 15:56); at other times, in a factual picture (e.g., in Romans 3:2 and 9:4) he can even speak of the law as a great privilege for the Jews. We need to keep this double pattern in mind often, for it is needed to understand many things in St. Paul. (Incidentally a sort of focused way of speaking appears also in 1 John 3:9 which says "Everyone who is born of God does not commit sin, for His seed remains in him. And he is not able to sin since he was born of God.")
In verses 17 and 18 Paul gives as it were confirmations of his thesis that justification is by faith. But he makes the wording so extremely compact that we must fill in, in order to follow him. If we fill in verse 17 it will mean: If someone tries to find justification by faith in Christ and then turns out to be a sinner, that would mean Christ had failed to provide the justification sought through faith -- which would make Christ the minister of sin -- which is of course absurd. (Paul writes in Greek me genoito -- literally: "Let it not be." We paraphrased: Heavens no!)
We could fill in verse 18 in two ways: If I go back to depending on the law for justification, I make myself a sinner, because either (a) That would amount to an admission I was sinful in leaving the law in the first place, to depend on Christ or (b) I put myself in the impossible position of depending on the law for justification -- which it cannot give, since it only makes heavy demands but gives no grace, so I must fall and wind up a sinner, in a hopeless state (cf. the remarks on the focused picture of the law).
Paul also says that through the law he died to the law so as to live to God. Most likely it is to be understood in this sense: The law called for death as penalty for sin. Christ died. But Paul -- and all Christians -- are members of Christ. So in that sense, if He died, they too died. (This is the Mystical Body concept -- will see more of it in 1 Corinthians 12 and still more in Colossians and Ephesians). So Paul can also say in 2 Corinthians 5:14: "I am convinced of this, that one died for all, therefore all have died."
Here is an interesting possibility: St. Paul surely knew of mystery religions, very common in his day. In them if a man went through, at least in a ritual, the same things a god had gone through, he would get the same effect. For example, the Egyptian god Osiris died, was made into a mummy, then by having his mouth opened with the right words, he became the god of the dead. So, others could get the same effect the same way. At one point in the rituals of some of these mystery religions, the one initiated would be given a cloak to put on, then he was "putting on the god."
Now Paul of course would not mean to turn Christianity into a mystery religion. But he might well, in line with his policy of being all things to all men (1 Cor 9:19-23), use the language and thought system of such mysteries to help to put over Christianity. So if Christ died, we died. Paul has a syn Christo theme: we do all with Christ (some things in sacramental ritual, some in living our lives). If we suffer with Him, we will be glorified with Him. We were baptized into His death. We were buried with Him, and rise with Him. We should live a new life with Him. We should set our hearts on heavenly things (Rom 6:3-8; 8:9 & 17; Col 3:1-4; Eph 2:5-6).
Some Protestants say that Christ was punished for sin, that He took the punishment we should have had. This is an outrageous notion, that the Father would punish an innocent one, even His own Son! We can clarify the picture by making a distinction. There are two things: (1) To punish can mean to inflict evil on another so it may be evil to him -- that is hatred. Of course the Father did not do that. (2) We could explain the word thus: The Holiness of God loves all that is morally right, and so will punish to rectify the objective order of goodness.
We could picture the objective order of things -- the whole moral picture to be seen in the world -- as a two pan scales. An early Rabbi, Simeon ben Eleazar (c.170, citing Rabbi Meir from earlier in the same century), wrote: "He [anyone] has committed a transgression. Woe to him. He has tipped the scale to the side of debt for himself and for the world."13 The sinner takes from one pan what he has no right to take. So the scale is out of balance. The Holiness of God loves what is right, and so wants the balance restored. How? If the sinner stole something, he begins to rebalance by giving it back. If he stole a pleasure, that is used up, but he can begin to rebalance by giving up some other satisfaction he would have legitimately had.
We have been saying "begins" since the imbalance from one mortal sin is infinite. No creature could produce an infinite value to fully rebalance even one mortal sin. So IF the Father willed -- He did not have to of course -- but if He so willed, if He wanted to fully rebalance, that could be had only by sending an Infinite Person, His Son, to rebalance. That Son gave up what He could have lawfully had, even to the death of the Cross. This infinitely rebalanced for sin.14
Punishment even in civil affairs, if rightly thought of, is such a rebalance. (It is good to try for rehabilitation, but not always workable. And often jail is needed to protect society from habitual criminals). But the essential aspect of punishment is this rebalancing of the objective order, which should not, as we said, include a desire that it be evil to the other out of hatred for the other. That would be vengeance. Rather the concept is like that of Hebrew naqam, action by the one in charge of the community to rectify things, i.e., the objective order.
When Paul says "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me," he probably means that Christ, through His Spirit, has become the principle that dominates his life, so that Paul does the things Christ would do, in the way He would do them, out of love for Christ. He has become the "spiritual man" of which he writes in 1 Corinthians 2:14-16. He produces the "fruits of the Spirit" of which he will speak in Galatians 5:18-25.
Paul himself is in the upper reaches of this third level. For there are three levels of guides a person may follow in making his decisions: On the first level, a person is guided in his decisions by the whim of the moment. Aristotle (Ethics 1.5) calls this a life fit for cattle. On the second level, one's guide is basically reason, even though that reason is as a matter of fact aided by actual graces. But on the third level one is guided by the Holy Spirit through the gifts and so can be led to do things not contrary to reason, but higher than what reason would lead to.
Paul continues, saying, in verse 20, he lives his life "in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." This is a tremendous statement. We appreciate it most fully if we put it into the framework of the covenants. At Sinai, God said to the people through Moses (Ex 19:5): "If you really hearken to my voice, and keep my covenant, you will be my special people." That is, if you obey, you will be specially favored. It brought into being a people of God, to have special favor on condition of obedience.
That ancient people did not do well in obeying. So many times over, God had to send a foreign nation to oppress them, until they would come to their senses. The chief invaders were Amalek, the Philistines, Assyria, New Babylonia. Finally came the great smash: Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon swept down in two waves, 597 and 587 B.C. He wrecked the temple and the city, took most of the people away into captivity to break their national spirit.
It was during that captivity that God spoke again through the great prophet Jeremiah (3l.3lff.): "I will make a new covenant. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers, for they broke my covenant, and I had to show myself their master. But this is the covenant: I will write my law on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people."
The new was to be different in that the new would be written on hearts, the old was on stone tablets. The old had been broken, it was implied that the new would never be broken. But the two essential things about Sinai were still there: there would be a people of God, who would receive favor on condition of obedience.
Jeremiah hardly could foresee how this would be fulfilled. Vatican II tells us (On the Church §9) that Jesus Himself made that covenant in the Upper Room the night before He died. He took bread here, wine there, and said: "This is my body . . . this is my blood." It was as if He said: "Father, I know what you have commanded: I am to die tomorrow. Very well, I turn myself over to death -- represented by the seeming separation of body and blood in the two species of bread and wine -- I accept. I obey."
He made the pledge that evening, and fulfilled it the next day.
But now we notice this: in a covenant -- which in that way resembles a contract -- each party gives something in return for what the other gives. Of course the things given are at least of approximately equal value -- surely so in the mind of the receiver -- otherwise there would be no agreement made. But the "price" of redemption (cf. 1 Cor 6:20) given by Jesus is of infinite value. Therefore, what the Father gives in return must be similarly infinite, namely, an infinite treasury of grace and forgiveness for the human race.
Is that title, as it were, established just in favor of our race as a whole? It is for us as a whole, but there is more -- and that is the great point of what St. Paul says here: "The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me." That is: there is an infinite title -- to use the language of contract/covenant -- established by the price of redemption in favor of each individual human! Could it be that this is true just of Paul, a very special person? No, for Vatican II15 taught: "Each one of us can say with the Apostle: The Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me."
How could anyone fail to be saved then, as long as he would pull up from sin just before death? The answer is: one can become hardened or blind from repeated mortal sin -- then even if God gives graces, they are not received. The sinner is as it were impermeable. And if he set out to have a spree of sin, and finally pull up, when he did stop sinning, that would not be a change of heart (repentance), but something preplanned.
Such is the love of the Heart of the Father, revealed to us in the Heart of His Son! For love means to will or wish the well-being and happiness of another for the other's sake. So when The Father loves us, it means He wills us happiness, even eternal happiness.16
Paul continues saying he does not "set aside the grace of God." We need to notice that Paul has several expressions, which to him are equivalent: grace of God means the setup, or regime of grace, that is, the setup of justification by faith, leading to final salvation by faith (on sense of the word faith, please see the glossary).
So Paul means here: He is not going to leave the regime of justification/salvation by faith/grace, to go back to trying, in vain, for justification/salvation by law. So he adds that if one could get justification by the law, there would have been no need for Christ to die. (It is in vain to try for justification by law, for the law has no power to save, and no one can keep it -- this Paul says in the focused sense).
Summary of Galatians 3:1-22
Paul is still disturbed by the Galatians who want to go back to the law, to leave the setup of faith. So he asks: Who has put a magic spell on you to make you act this way? Jesus was pictured to you as crucified to rescue you -- the law could not save you.
So he appeals to the charismatic, miraculous gifts they received at Baptism -- these were routine in Paul's day, but became scarce later, certainly by 150 A.D. So he means: You could see by your experience that faith brought you such spiritual things, such mighty deeds. Was it then by keeping the law that you got them? No! It was by faith, by the "hearing (that is, obedience) that is faith."
Now Paul points to the example of Abraham, who was justified by believing (Gen 15:6) even before circumcision was ordered (Gen 17). So Abraham becomes the father of those who imitate his faith. Hence gentiles receive the blessing, as sons of Abraham. For God said to Abraham that all nations would be blessed in him (Gen 18:18). But anyone who depends on works, instead of on faith, will be under a curse, since the law (Deut 27:26) says anyone who does not keep the law is cursed. And no one can keep the law (in a focused picture).
But the Old Testament says, in contrast, "The just man will live by faith" (Hab 2:4). But, the law says: He who carries out this law will live by it. But Christ bought us from the curse of the law, by becoming a curse for us. For the law says that he who hangs on the tree, dies that way, cursed (Deut 5:14), so in that sense Paul could say Christ was cursed or a curse. But He overcame that curse. We as His members (cf. also 2 Cor 5:14: "One has died for all, therefore all have died") therefore also have overcome the curse.
Hence we receive the blessing of justification by faith through Him, not through the law.
Paul says there might seem to be a conflict: if anyone makes a will, that is valid, and is respected. God made such a will for inheritance to Abraham and to his "seed." Since "seed" is singular it must mean Christ. That was a valid will. Hence the law which came 430 years later does not make the grant by the will invalid. If our claim to inherit from the Father depended on law, it would no longer be an inheritance, it would be earned. But God made His pledge to Abraham by way of a promise or will, not by way of a law.
So there is a question: Why was the law added at all? It was in view of transgressions, until that descendant, Christ, should come, to whom the promise given to Abraham about his "seed" really referred.
We can see this fact also by noticing that there was a two-sided arrangement made with the law -- for there was a mediator, Moses, and the law was given through angels. But in a one-sided arrangement, like the will or promise given to Abraham, there is no mediator, there is just one party, God.
Did the giving of the law then go against the promise or will given to Abraham? Of course not. If the law had been able to give life, (that which was promised to Abraham), there would be a conflict. But the law could not give life. Rather, Scripture shows that all are caught under sin, but they will be rescued by the basis of faith in Christ.
Comments on 3:1-22
Paul thinks the Galatians must be either out of their mind (anoetoi) or under a magic spell. How else could they, for whom he pictured Christ as crucified to save them, now want to think He is not enough? How could they think they must add the old law, which has no power to save anyway! Furthermore, they should know by experience! By experience at Baptism they found they received miraculous gifts by the obedience that is faith (akoes pisteos). How could they now want to go back to the law?
Look at the case of Abraham, Paul says. God promised him a great progeny, and Genesis 15:6 says Abraham's faith justified him. Paul notes that this happened before Abraham was ordered to take on circumcision, (Gen 17) which stands for the yoke of the law. So Abraham was justified without the law. Why not the Galatians? God really promised all nations would be blessed through Abraham -- by being his children, not by carnal descent, but by walking in the steps of his faith.
So, those who depend on faith, receive the blessing promised to Abraham. In contrast, those who depend on the law, fall under a curse (they cannot keep the law -- cf. the focused picture described in chapter 2). And in Deut 27:26 we read: "Cursed is everyone who does not keep all the things written in the book of the law." The regime of faith however is also taught in the Old Testament -- in Habacuc 2:4, where we find that: "The just man will live by faith." (In the original context, Habacuc meant that those who trusted in God would be protected from the Chaldean invaders -- Paul adapts the saying to his own purpose, as Rabbis often did. But Paul does literally mean -- no mere adaptation -- that we are saved by faith).
We got away from the law because Christ paid a terrible price, the price of redemption! He even became a curse for us. This is vehement language. The law says (Deut 21:23) "Cursed is everyone who hangs on the wood," that is, everyone who is executed that way is cursed. That happened to Christ, so, He came under a curse. Paul makes it stronger, saying He was not just under a curse, but became a curse. This sounds like the kind of language we sometimes find in the Old Testament, where we meet a noun where we would expect an adjective, e.g., Psalm 147:14: "He makes our boundaries peace," instead of "peaceful."17 Besides, Hebrew is not at all rich in adjectives, hence such a usage as this becomes possible.
Paul uses similar language in 2 Corinthians 5:21 where he says that God made Christ to be sin for us. Please see comments there. (In 1 Corinthians 1:23-2 Paul said Christ crucified was a stumbling block to the Jews, and nonsense to the gentiles. The Jews found it a scandal that their Messiah should die, and die under a curse; the gentiles thought it impossible that a god would associate with men, and still more impossible that he would die for men: Plato, Symposium 203; Aristotle, Ethics 8.7).
In saying, "Christ bought us," Paul refers to the price of redemption (cf. 1 Cor 6:20 and 7:23). The Old Testament, Intertestamental literature, the New Testament, and Rabbinic literature see that sin is a debt which the Holiness of God wants to have paid. A comparison given by Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar is helpful18: "He [meaning anyone] has committed a transgression. Woe to him. He has tipped the scale to the side of debt for himself and for the world." The sinner takes from one pan of the two-pan scales what he has no right to take: the scale is out of balance. It is the holiness of God that wants it rebalanced. How? If the sinner stole property, he can begin to rebalance by giving the property back; if he stole a pleasure, he can begin to rebalance by giving up some corresponding pleasure. But we keep saying "begins," for even one mortal sin means an infinite imbalance, for the Person offended is infinite. The Father did not have to arrange for this rebalance, but in His holiness, or love of all that is good, He willed to do so. That He could do only by sending a Divine Person, His Son, to become man. A divine Person incarnate could generate an infinite value, to really rebalance the scale. That is what the redemption was. Christ by His horrible sufferings put back into the scales more than all sinners had taken.19
Further, in line with the policy of being all things to all men, as we saw above, Paul may at times use the language of mystery religions to help explain and sell Christianity. In those religions, one went through, ritually, the same experiences that a god went through, and so got the same result. Christ because a curse, and overcame it. We as His members have therefore overcome the curse of the law.
Next, in 3:15 and following, Paul asks if there is a conflict or contradiction between two events: 1) God gave something to Abraham unilaterally, that is, God took on an obligation by a promise. Abraham did not have to do anything (this was before circumcision was commanded, and before the law was given). 2) But then, 430 years later at Sinai, God promised the same thing, but then added strings, conditions to be fulfilled, i.e., the law.
About the first event: Paul compares the gift to that given in a valid will or last testament. We do not earn what we get through our parents' will. We get it because they are good, not because we are good. Further, in regard to the first event, Paul insists the promise was to Abraham and his seed, that is, his descendant. Paul makes an issue of the fact that the word seed is singular, not plural, and says therefore it refers to Christ.20
As to the second event: This is the covenant of Sinai, in which God said (Ex 19:5): "If you really hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you will be my special people." So Paul means it seems that God went back on his promise -- of course He could not really do that -- by at Sinai adding conditions to what had been a stringless promise.
Paul solves it, in a rabbinic way, in 3:21: There is no conflict, since the law cannot give eternal life, while the promise, by faith, can do it.
We would solve it in a different way: What God promised to Abraham was not eternal life, but the land. At Sinai He promised the same, plus much more. Hence, no conflict. (As the Old Testament period went into its later part, there was a tendency to reinterpret things to mean eternal life, as Paul does. Please see comments on Philippians 1).
We need to comment on some details within this passage. In 3:19 Paul asks why was the law given (if it could not justify). He says the law was given "in view of transgressions." The phrase is very ambiguous, having three possible meanings. First, we could translate as purpose: the law was given for the purpose of turning ordinary sin (hamartia) into transgression (parabasis). Hamartia is the kind of sin one can commit even without having a revealed command of God. Sins between Adam and the time of the law were such. They were still sins, but not as evil as a sin committed after a revealed command. Paul often uses the word parabasis which we rendered "transgressions." (English does not always observe the distinctions of which we are speaking). But there are objections to this 'purpose' translation: Would God really want to make things worse, give a law to make it worse? Of course not. We could, however, recall that the Jews often said God directly did things when He only permitted them. But that would mean changing the purpose expression to mean result. We could also translate the words to mean cause: then it would be: the law was given because there were transgressions. But this does not seem good, for before the law, there were no transgressions, if we take that word in the strict sense. So we had better translate the words to mean result: "The law was given, with the result that ordinary sins were made into transgressions."
In 3:20, the next verse, Paul is not very clear. But we can see the sense: the Sinai covenant was bilateral, i.e., both God and the people took on obligations. We see this because there was a mediator, Moses and the angels. There is no mediator in a one-sided arrangement -- a mediator is used only with a deal between two parties.21
We need to comment too on the fact that Paul speaks of 430 years coming between the promise to Abraham and Sinai. Actually, the Rabbis of his time were discussing what that time was. The chief difficulty comes from Exodus 12:40: The Septuagint, the old Greek version of the Old Testament, said there were 430 years between the time of Abraham and the Exodus from Egypt. But the Hebrew text of Exodus 12:40 says the 430 years mean only the time spent in Egypt. Which is correct? They did not know in Paul's day. Neither do we. The date of the Exodus is much controverted. Paul of course does not pretend to solve the problem, he merely uses the figure given in the Septuagint text, for he normally quoted the Septuagint, for the benefit of his Greek readers.
We note the expression "valid will." The Hebrew word berith meant only covenant. But the Septuagint picked the Greek word diatheke which could mean either last will or covenant. It almost always means covenant in the New Testament. But a few times it is used in the sense of last will, as in this passage.
Summary of Galatians 3:23-4:20
In earlier times before the new regime of faith came, all humans were kept under the law until the regime of faith would be revealed. The law was like a slave that takes children to school, it merely prepared the way for Christ, prepared for the justification of faith. But now the regime of faith is here, and so people are no longer under that slave. Instead, Christians are sons of God through faith in Christ. In being baptized into Christ, they have put on Christ. So now there is no difference of Jew or Greek, slave or free, or male or female -- all are in Christ Jesus. By belonging to Christ, Christians are the children of Abraham, and so can inherit the promise once given to Abraham.
While the heir is a minor, he might as well be a slave, he has no freedom of action, even though he is in a way master. But he is subject to administrators until the time comes that his father has set. In the same way all people used to be like minors, slaves, under the elements of the world. But now in the fullness of time God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to buy back, to redeem, those who were under the law, so they could be adopted as sons. Because Christians are sons, the Father has sent the Spirit of His Son into their hearts, who cries out, Father. So now instead of being slaves, they are sons. That means Christians also can inherit, are heirs.
Formerly, since people did not know God, they were slaves to those beings that were not really gods. But in the present regime, Christians know God -- really, are known, that is, chosen by God. Since that is the case, why would the Galatians want to turn back to the weak, poor previous state in which they once were? They want to become slaves again, for they observe certain days, months, times, years. Paul is afraid he may have worked in vain over them. He pleads for them to be like him, just as he became like them. They did not wrong Paul. It was in weakness of the flesh that Paul preached to them the first time. But they did not reject this temptation of seeing him weak. Instead they accepted him as if he were an angel of God, as if he were Christ Jesus Himself. But now, where is that former welcome? At that time, they would have pulled out their eyes and given them to Paul. But has Paul now became an enemy by telling them the truth? They, the Judaizers, cultivate them eagerly, but not well. The Judaizers want to shut the Galatians out from the gift, the freedom of Christ, so they may cultivate the Judaizers. To be cultivated in the right way is fine -- but that should not be just when Paul is present with them.
Paul cries out: O my children, I am suffering over you as if in birth pains to bring you forth again, so that Christ will be formed in you. I wish I could be with you now, and talk differently -- I don't know what to do with you!
Comments on 3:23-4:20
Paul compares at length two regimes or setups -- being under the law, or being under faith. The law was a slavery in that people had to obey many commands. Yet doing so did not earn salvation. Only faith can obtain salvation. In becoming, by baptism, members of Christ who is God's Son, we become the brothers of Christ -- and so have a claim to inherit a place in the Father's mansions with Him.22
Even though the word inherit (kleronomein) sometimes means merely to obtain, yet here, in view of the setting -- with all the talk of being sons, and of a last will and testament (3:15-18) -- we see it does have the strict meaning of inherit. A son inherits from his Father not because he, the son, is good, but because the Father is good. The son could, of course, earn the opposite of good things, could earn punishment, even to be disinherited. But if he does not do that, he will get his inheritance, a place in the Father's house, not because he earned it -- children who inherit do not say they earn it -- but because the Father is good.
In regard to this, inheriting by faith, there is no difference of free or slave, Jew or Greek, male or female. May we then conclude there are no differences in other respects as well? Certainly we cannot draw that from Paul's words here. Paul in the whole context, at great length, is talking simply about justification and inheriting by faith. So it is not at all legitimate to say that in regard to other things, e.g., ordination to the priesthood, there is no difference of male and female. To say that would be to violate a most basic principle of Scripture study, i.e., we must understand things in the light of the context. We must not take the words as if in isolation, and then apply them to just anything we might want to.
Paul adds -- thinking back to the passage about the promise given to Abraham and his seed -- that Christians are the real seed of Abraham. They need not be racially descended from Abraham. That alone would not suffice for salvation. They must rather imitate the faith of Abraham, and so be justified by faith. So Christians can be called spiritual Semites. (Paul does not use these words, but the sense is the same).
Rabbi Levi (c.300 A.D.) said23: "In the future, Abraham will sit at the gate of Gehenna, and will not permit any circumcised Israelite to go down there." The Talmud, Sanhedrin 10.1, has the same idea: "All Israel will have part in the age to come." The same view was probably around in the time of Christ, and is likely to be behind the response of Christ to the man who asked if most people were saved or lost (Mt 7:13): "Enter through the narrow gate." He meant: Do not say 'we have it made, since we are children of Abraham' (racially) -- more is needed! In contrast, Paul says that physical descent from Abraham is not enough.
Earlier, in 3:16, Paul made an issue of the fact that the word seed is singular, not plural, and so made it refer to Christ. Really, the word in itself is commonly collective, refers to a group. But Paul, like a Rabbi, is free with this point. But now he shifts, and clearly means that the word seed refers not just to Christ the individual, but to Christians.24 Of course, he probably would and could say that Christians are in a way identified with Christ, being His members. In that train of thought, Paul will say vehemently in 2 Corinthians 5:14, "One died for all, therefore all have died."
In stressing that a child who is a minor has two aspects -- he has a legal right to an inheritance -- but also he cannot dispose of it or control it while still a minor -- Paul says that we (we think again of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 and following in which Paul spoke of "we the living" and really meant it in a general sense, not meaning to say he expected to be on hand at the end) once were enslaved under the elements of the world. We are not sure what Paul means by elements. It could mean either of two things: 1) the spirit powers of whom the Gnostics and Jewish apocalyptic speculators spoke (Paul does not believe in them unless he takes them to be the same as the devils, as he does in Colossians 2:15), or 2) religion before Christ, true but imperfect among the Jews, false among pagans. He speaks of the elements again in 4:9, and the question is the same. Either understanding would fit in both places. The second meaning is more likely.
When Paul contrasts two eras, one of slavery under the law, or under the "elements" with the era of the freedom of sons, we must watch out not to misunderstand. There are two possible senses here. First, one could take him to mean that there was darkness before the dawn of Christ, and so no one could be saved. Paul surely does not mean that, as we can see from Romans 2:14-16 and Romans 3:29-30. Secondly, we could take it to mean that all graces granted before the coming of Christ were given only in anticipation of Christ's earning of all graces by His sacrifice, and that even the just of the Old Testament period could not reach the vision of God before Christ actually came and died. That is true. So we have something like a twofold system as system picture (system as system really means the same as focused) here. The first picture is that of the time before Christ: in and of itself, it could not save, gave no means of salvation; the second picture is that of the time of Christ -- salvation has been earned by Him. We get it if we become members of Christ in Baptism and live by faith.
In 4:12 Paul says that he first came to them in weakness of the flesh. Does he mean he was physically sick? Not impossible. In particular, there was much malaria in his world, and one can get recurrent fevers from it. Some have even taken his words about their being willing to pluck out their eyes for him to mean he had eye trouble. This is being too crude, we fear. The weakness of the flesh could merely mean that Paul recognized he was a nobody in the eyes of the world, and physically not impressive -- he seems to have been small. In himself he was nothing; he depended on the power shown by the Spirit in miracles.
Summary of Galatians 4:21-5:1
Paul says that if they really want to be under the law, they should notice what the law, the Old Testament, says. In it they can see that Abraham had two sons, one from Hagar, the slave woman, one from Sara, the free woman. The son of the slave woman was born in the normal course of nature; but the son of Sara came only by way of a divine intervention. In allegory, the women stand for two covenants -- Hagar stands for the covenant of Sinai, which enslaves. Sinai is a mountain in Arabia, which corresponds in the allegory to the earthly Jerusalem, which is in slavery to the law. But there is a Jerusalem above -- for which Sara stands. It is free, and it is our mother. Hence Isaiah (54:1) exhorts the sterile woman to break forth and shout for joy, for the deserted woman has more children than the woman who has a husband.
So Christians are like Isaac, son of Sara, who was born by divine promise. But just as in Abraham's day, the son of the slave woman persecuted the son born according to the spirit, so it is the same in Paul's day. But Scripture reports the words of Sara to Abraham: (Gen 21:10) "Cast out the slave woman and her son." That son will not inherit along with the son of the free woman.
Christians, then, are not the children of the slave woman, but of the free woman, with Christ's freedom. So they should stand firm, and not put themselves under slavery again.
Summary of Galatians 5:2-12
Paul insists strongly that if a person is circumcised, Christ will do him no good. Such a one is under obligation to the whole law. One who seeks justification by the law has been severed from Christ, has left the regime of grace for that of the law. But Christians, by the Spirit, await the hope of righteousness on the basis of faith, not law. For those who are in Christ, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters -- what does matter is faith that works through love.
The Galatians were running well -- but who blocked them to keep them from obeying the truth? Their conviction does not come from God who called them. Rather, a few Judaizers, like a little yeast, can work through the whole mass. But Paul is confident in the Lord that they will agree. Whoever is the source of the trouble, will be judged.
If some claim that Paul too preaches circumcision -- then why do they persecute him? For in that case he has left the regime of the Cross, and gone over to the regime of the law. Paul wishes that those who are disturbing the Galatians would cut themselves off.
Comments on 5:2-12
When he says if you are circumcised, Christ will do you no good, Paul of course means if it is done as a religious rite indicating obligation to keep the Mosaic law. He does not refer to it as a mere surgical procedure, so often done today.
When he adds that one who is circumcised, as a religious rite, must do the whole law -- Paul is probably after the Judaizers who may not have demanded all practices, only some of them.
But if someone is circumcised as a religious rite, he has left the regime of justification by faith, and gone to the regime in which one tries to be justified by keeping the law -- which is impossible, for the law cannot save. Paul says to such a one, "You have been severed from Christ" -- playing on the fact that Jewish circumcision did involve some severing of flesh.
Then he adds that neither being circumcised nor its lack is enough for salvation -- what is enough is faith that acts in love.
When he says, "If I still preach circumcision -- why should Judaizers oppose me?," we suspect some of them had pointed to the fact that he had Timothy circumcised, as we see in Acts 16:3. Paul did that not as a religious rite, of course, but only as a means of avoiding trouble with the Judaizers. Still, one could ask: Is Paul inconsistent here? For as we saw in Galatians 2:14, he reproached Peter for stopping his eating with gentiles -- a thing Peter had done before (we commented on that case earlier).
In the last verse of this section (verse 12), Paul uses some earthy language, when he says he wishes that those Judaizers who are disturbing the Galatians would "cut themselves off." There are several meanings on which he is playing -- cutting off flesh in circumcision, cutting self off from the Galatian community and getting out of the way, and also a jab in comparison with the priests of Cybele, well known in Galatia. They would dance about the altar, get into a frenzy, then cut themselves with their knives, and if they went to an even greater frenzy, some of them would castrate themselves. Of course Paul does not want them to do that. He is enjoying making a strong dig at them.
Summary of Galatians 5:13-25
Paul now finds he needs to warn them. Even though they are called in freedom from the law, they must not take that to mean they can do whatever their fleshy side happens to want. They should serve one another in love, for in doing that, they are actually fulfilling the whole law. Otherwise, if they bite at one another -- they might even eat one another up!
Therefore he tells them to live following the lead of the Spirit -- then they will not carry out the desires of the flesh. Flesh and Spirit have opposite desires. As a result, in weakness, people too often do not do the things they really want to do.25
Those who follow the lead of the Spirit are not under the law.
If one gives rein to what the flesh wants, he will fall into many evils: sexual looseness, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, bickering, jealousies, angry outbursts, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and similar things. He has already told them, and now he repeats it -- that they who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Following the Spirit brings the opposite kinds of fruits: love, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, fidelity, mildness, chastity. There is no law to forbid these things. Those who belong to Christ, instead of letting the flesh rule them, have crucified the flesh.
So if we live by the Spirit, we should follow where the Spirit leads.
Comments on 5:13-25
Paul got himself into much trouble by preaching "You are free from the law." We can imagine the reaction of libertines: "Is that so? Let's go and live it up!" Of course Paul did not mean to give license for just anything. So he tries to answer here. First, he says this should not be an occasion for the flesh. Rather, they should follow the Spirit, or love. If they do, they will not, as a matter of fact, be breaking the moral law.
But, while that is true, it is not so easy to see every implication, every detail of what love would call for. So Paul adds two lists. If you follow the Spirit of Christ, you will produce good fruits, which he enumerates. But if you follow the flesh instead, you will do evil works, which he lists. (We notice the special touch: he speaks of works of the flesh, but fruits of the Spirit).
But there is a clear implication here of what we saw earlier, namely: As to salvation, you cannot earn it (by keeping the law) but you can "blow it," lose it, by violating the law. So there really is an obligatory law. Hence Pope John Paul II said: "Although St. Paul . . . teaches that justification is not obtained by the works of the Law . . . he does not thereby exclude the binding force of the Decalogue."26
Paul tries to make the same point in a different way, by giving the two checklists. If one follows the Spirit, the Spirit never leads to any violation of the law -- rather, the opposite.
We notice that Paul says that those who do such things -- the works of the flesh -- will not inherit the kingdom of God. We spoke of this above. Children inherit because the parents are good, not because the children are good or have earned it. Yet they could earn punishment. Again, as to salvation: You cannot earn it, but you can blow it.
Summary of Galatians 5:26-6:18
Paul advises we should not desire empty glory and thereby provoke and envy one another. Even if someone is caught in sin, spiritual people should correct him in a spirit of meekness, watching out too so as not to fall into the same thing.
If we bear the burdens of one another, we fulfill the law of Christ.
If a person thinks he is something, whereas he is nothing, he deceives himself. So let each one examine what he does, and then he will have something to boast of for what he does -- not trying to raise himself by cutting down others. Let each one carry his own burden.
Those who receive religious instruction should share material goods with their teacher.
For no one can deceive God -- whatever one sows, that is what he will reap. If he sows the things of the flesh, he will harvest corruption thereby. If he sows for the spirit, he will reap eternal life.
So we should not get tired of doing good. We will get the harvest at the right time. Especially we should do good to those who share our faith.
Paul now takes up the pen (he has been dictating), and says: Look at the large letters in which I write.
Those who want to put up a good front, a good appearance in the flesh, are trying to get the Galatians to be circumcised, so they may not endure persecution (as Paul does) for preaching, instead, dependence on the Cross of Christ. Really, these Judaizers do not keep the law. They just want to get others circumcised in order to be able to boast of it. Paul says he will boast over nothing but the Cross of Jesus, through which the world has been crucified to him, and he to the world.
Neither circumcision matters, nor uncircumcision -- what does matter is being a new creation.
Peace and mercy to those who live this way, and to the new Israel of God (Christians). As for the rest, he says he bears the marks of Jesus, and so no one should make trouble for him.
He prays finally that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may be with them. Amen.
Comments on 5:26-6:18
Here we have mostly rather miscellaneous moral exhortations. Paul commonly does this at the end of an Epistle. It is called paraenesis, which is just a Greek word for exhortation.
In 6:3 Paul speaks of a person as "being nothing." He does not mean nonexistence, of course. But he does mean what he says strongly in 1 Corinthians 4:7: "What have you that you have not received? And if you have received it, why boast as if you had not received it," i.e., as if you had generated the good yourself instead of just receiving it from God. St. Augustine says the same thing forcefully (Epistle 194.5.19): "When God crowns your merits, He crowns nothing other than His own gifts." We will see much more on this point in our comments on Philippians 2:13.
In 6:15 Paul says a Christian is a new creation. He says this in several places. It is important, for it shows that we are not totally corrupt from original sin, as Luther thought. After justification, we are remade so completely as to be a new creation. Creation means making out of nothing, or from scratch.
When Paul says in 6:17 that he bears the marks of Jesus in his flesh, he does not seem to refer to what today are called stigmata, the marks of the nails in the body of Jesus. Stigmata in Paul's day often meant the branding used to mark a slave as one's possession. In Paul's case, the marks would come from the beatings he often suffered for Christ.
In the last line Paul prays that the grace of Jesus may be with them. We explained in 1 Thessalonians 1 that the Greek charis can mean either grace or favor. But if we do at times translate as favor, we must still remember that favor does not mean merely that God, as it were, sits there and smiles at us -- and gives us nothing. If He gave nothing, we would do good by our own power -- and Paul will not allow such a thought, it would be the heresy of Pelagianism. So if the translation favor is used, we need to always remember that it includes God's giving something to us -- which is grace. Please recall the comments on 6:3 above.