Columns 633-648 in Migne PG vol. 61

Verses 1-2: Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation.

[1.] His first journey to Jerusalem was prompted by his desire to visit Peter. His second trip to Jerusalem was a response to a revelation of the Spirit.

Verse 2: and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.

What is this, Paul? You would not consult the apostles at the beginning or after three years, but you now consult them after fourteen years are past, to make sure you are not running in vain? Would it not have been better to have done so at first, rather than after so many years? And why did you run at all, if you thought you might be running in vain? Who would be so senseless as to preach for so many years without being sure that his preaching was true?

It only enhances the difficulty when he says that he went up by revelation. This difficulty, however, provides a solution to the former difficulty. If he had gone up of his own accord, it would have been most unreasonable. This blessed soul could not have fallen into such folly; for Paul himself says, “Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:26). If he runs, “not aimlessly,” how can he say, “for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain?”

It is evident from this, that if he had gone up without a revelation, he would have committed an act of folly. But the actual case involved no such absurdity. Who would dare to suspect him of acting foolishly when it was the grace of the Spirit which drew him? For this reason he added the detail that he went “in response to revelation,” so that they would not suspect he acted foolishly. He communicated clearly that this journey was no human occurrence, but brought about by God’s providence in order to bring about something which would affect the future.

Why then did he make this journey? It was not for his own sake, just as previously it was not for his own sake when he went up from Antioch to Jerusalem. He saw clearly that his simple duty was to obey the teachings of Christ. So he undertook this journey to Jerusalem in order to bring harmony where there was an argument. He did not make this journey to satisfy a personal desire to make sure his own race “had not been run in vain;” his goal was to make peace with his accusers. They thought more highly of Peter and John than of Paul, and mistakenly believed that Paul’s preaching differed from theirs by omitting circumcision. They believed that in this matter Paul acted contrary to the law and was running in vain. “I went up,” he says, and set before them my gospel, not so that I could learn anything from them, but in order to prove to these suspicious persons that I do not run in vain. The Spirit foresaw this argument and instructed him to go up and deliver this message.

That is why he says that he went up in response to revelation, taking Barnabas and Titus as witnesses of his preaching. He explained to them the gospel which he preached to the Gentiles -that is, the gospel with the omission of circumcision. “But privately to those who seemed to be leaders.” What does he mean by “privately?” Someone who wishes to reform the common teaching of the church should not teach privately, but in front of everyone. The reason Paul did this privately was not to learn or reform anything, but to disprove the dishonest assertion that Paul differed from Peter and John. All at Jerusalem would have been offended if the law had been broken or if the use of circumcision had been forbidden. As James says, “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.” (Acts 21:20f.)

So his accusers were offended that he did not give them what they wanted by coming forward publicly and declaring what his preaching was. Instead he consulted privately with those who were of reputation in the presence of Barnabas and Titus, so that they might credibly testify to his accusers that the apostles found no differences in his preaching, but confirmed it to be in harmony with their own. The expression, “those who seemed to be leaders,” does not dispute the reality of their greatness. In 1 Cor 7:40 he says the same thing of himself: “And I also seem to have the Spirit of God.” He is not denying the fact, but stating it modestly. In our verse the phrase implies that he agrees with the common opinion that they are leaders.

Verse 3: Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.

What does, “even though he was a Greek” mean? It must mean that Titus was of Greek extraction and not circumcised. He is saying, “Not only did I preach that you didn’t have to be circumcised, but Titus acted in accord with my preaching. And the apostles did not compel him to be circumcised.” This is clear evidence that the apostles did not condemn Paul’s doctrine or his practice. Even the urgent pleadings of Paul’s accusers, who knew of Titus’ situation, could not sway the apostles to command that Titus be circumcised, as the next statement shows:

Verse 4: This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks…

Here we face a very important question. Who were these false brothers? If the apostles permitted circumcision at Jerusalem, why does Paul label others who demanded it as ‘false brethren’? There are two important considerations.

First, there is a difference between demanding an act to be done, and allowing it after it is done. He who demands an act does it with zeal as though it is necessary and of primary importance. But he who allows another to commit an act without himself commanding it does not claim that it is necessary. Rather, he permits it for the sake of some other purpose. We have a similar instance in Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians. He commands husbands and wives to come together again.

[2.] He then adds, “This I say by way of concession, not of command” (1 Cor 7:6) to avoid sounding as though he is legislating. This was not a command given authoritatively, but an allowance because of their lack of self-control. What did Paul wish for the Corinthians? Hear his words, “I wish that all were as I myself am,” (1 Cor 7:7) in self-control.

So also in this situation the apostles allowed circumcision, not to vindicate the law, but to condescend to the weaknesses of Judaism. Had they been vindicating the law, they would not have preached to the Jews in one way, and to the Gentiles in another. If unbelievers needed to be circumcised, then it would have been necessary for all the faithful. But when they decided not to harass the Gentiles on this point, they showed that the practice of permitting circumcision in Jerusalem was merely condescension to the Jews. The purpose of the false brethren was entirely different: to cast the Gentiles out of grace and place them back under the yoke of slavery. This is the first difference, and a very wide one.

The second difference is that the apostles allowed circumcision in Judaea, where the Law was in force, but the false brethren demanded it everywhere. After all, the distant Galatians were influenced by them. From this it appears that their intention was not to build up, but entirely to pull down the gospel, and that circumcision was permitted by the apostles for one reason and zealously practiced by the false brethren for a totally different reason.

Verse 4: to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.

He points out their hostility by calling them spies. After all, the sole object of a spy is to obtain for himself the means to devastate and even destroy his enemy by becoming acquainted with his enemy’s position. This is what Paul’s adversaries did, when they tried to bring the disciples back to their old servitude to the law. This shows how very contrary their purpose was to that of the apostles. The apostles made concessions for the Jews in order to gradually free them from their servitude, but the false brethren plotted to subject them to a more severe servitude. To do this, they paid close attention to those around them and made themselves busybodies to find out who was uncircumcised. When Paul says, “they came in sneakily to spy on our freedom,” he points out scheming, not only by the term “spies,” but by this expression “infiltrating”.

Verse 5: we did not yield in submission to them, even for a moment [NIV: we did not give in to them for a moment].

Observe the force and emphasis of the phrase; he says not, “in argument,” but, “in submission,” for their object was not to teach good doctrine, but to subjugate and enslave them. Therefore he would not yield to them, though he had yielded to the apostles.

Verse 5: so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.

Or, “That we may confirm by our deeds what we have already declared by words,” – that the “old has gone; the new has come” and that “if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation;” (2 Cor 5:17.) and that “if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all” (Gal 5:2). It is as though he is saying, “In maintaining this truth we will not back down in the slightest.” Then, since he had directly encountered the apostles’ practice regarding circumcision, and he anticipated that his readers would wonder why he permitted them to circumcise, he proceeds to treat this objection in advance. This he does with great skill, for he does not give the actual reason, which was, that the apostles were condescending to those with weak understanding, employing a scheme (oikonomia),1 as it were. If he had been so blunt, his hearers would have been offended. The people who are to benefit from a scheme of this sort cannot be in on the scheme or it would defeat the purpose. Only those involved in carrying out the scheme should be involved in it. Those who are to benefit from being schemed should not be aware of the scheme.

To make my meaning more evident, I will take an example from the life of Paul. The blessed Paul, who intended to do away with circumcision, circumcised Timothy before he sent him to teach Jews. He did this so that his hearers might receive him more readily. He began by circumcising, that in the end he might abolish circumcision. But Timothy was the only one who knew of this scheme. He did not tell the disciples about it. If they had known that the very purpose of his circumcision was the abolition of circumcision, they would never have listened to his preaching, and the whole benefit would have been lost. But their ignorance was of the greatest use to them, for their idea that his conduct proceeded from a regard to the Law led them to receive both him and his doctrine with kindness and courtesy. They gradually received him, then became instructed, and eventually abandoned their old customs. This would certainly not have happened if they had known his plans from the moment they first met him. They would have turned away from him. They never would have had the opportunity to give him a hearing, and so they would have continued in their former error. To prevent this, he did not disclose his reasons at first. Here too, writing to the Galatians, Paul does not explain the reason for his scheme, but uses a different line of reasoning:

Verse 6: As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—

Not only does he refuse to defend the apostles, he even criticizes harshly those holy men, for the benefit of the weak to whom he is writing. His meaning is this: “Although they permit circumcision, they shall render an account to God. God will not accept their persons, simply because they are great and in high standing in the church.” He doesn’t put it that bluntly; he speaks cautiously. He does not say that if they weaken their teaching by swerving from the appointed practice of their preaching, they shall be judged with the utmost rigor, and suffer punishment. Instead he alludes to them more reverently, in the words, “As for those who seemed to be important – whatever they were.” He does not say, “whatsoever they are,” but “were,” showing that they too had already ceased to preach circumcision, now that the teaching had spread throughout the empire. The phrase, “whatever they were,” implies that if they preached circumcision they would have to render account, for they had to justify themselves before God, not before men.

[3.] He did not say this because he was doubtful or ignorant of the rightness of their conduct, but (as I said before) from a sense that this was the best way to approach the matter in this letter.

Then, he immediately adds this correction: “As for those who seemed to be important…those men added nothing to my message.” He added this so that he wouldn’t seem to take the opposite side and to accuse the apostles, leading his readers to assume he disagreed with them. This is his meaning: “And don’t know what you will say; but I know well that the apostles did not oppose me. Quite the opposite, we shared the same sentiments and agreed.” This appears from his expression, “they gave me the right hand of fellowship.” But he does not say this yet. For now he only says that they neither informed or corrected him on any point, nor added to his knowledge.

Verse 6: As for those who seemed to be important…those men added nothing to my message.

That is to say, when they were told of my practice of not circumcising, they had nothing to add. They corrected nothing. They were well aware that the reason for my journey was to share communion with them, that I had come by revelation of the Spirit, and that I had Titus with me who was uncircumcised. And yet they neither circumcised him, nor imparted to me any additional knowledge.

Verse 7: On the contrary…

Some hold his meaning to be, not only that the apostles did not instruct him, but that they were instructed by him. But I would not say this, for what could they have learned from him when each of them was himself perfectly instructed? He does not therefore intend this by the expression, “on the contrary.” Here is the contrast: they were so far from blaming that they praised him. After all, praise is the contrary of blame.

Some would probably here reply: If the apostles like Paul’s strategy of not circumcising so much, why didn’t they go ahead and abolish circumcision themselves? Paul considered it too bold, and inconsistent with his prior admission, to assert that they did in fact abolish circumcision. On the other hand, if he admitted that they had sanctioned circumcision, it would expose him to another objection. For it would be said, if the apostles praised your preaching, yet sanctioned circumcision, they were inconsistent with themselves. What then is the solution? Is he to admit that they acted this way because they were making allowances for Judaism? To say this would have shaken the very foundation of the scheme. So he leaves the subject in suspense and uncertainty by saying, “As for those who seemed to be important…those men added nothing to my message ” Which is in effect to say, “I do not accuse or criticize those holy men; they know what it is they have done. They must render their own accounts to God. I only want to prove that that they neither reversed nor corrected my method of preaching. They did not add to it as though they thought it was defective, but gave it their approval and assent. To this Titus and Barnabas bear witness. Then he adds,

Verse 7: they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcision [NIV: Gentiles], just as Peter had been to the circumcision [NIV: Jews].

The circumcision and uncircumcision does not mean the things themselves but the nations known by these distinctions. Therefore he adds,

Verse 8: For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the circumcision, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.

He calls the Gentiles the uncircumcision and the Jews the circumcision, and declares his own rank to be equal to that of the apostles. By comparing himself with their leader, Peter, not with the others, he shows each was of the same dignity. After he had established the proof of their unity, he takes courage, and proceeds confidently in his argument, not stopping at the apostles, but moves on to Christ Himself, and to the grace which He had given him, and calls the apostles as his witnesses, saying,

Verse 9: James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me.

He says not when they “heard,” but when they “recognized.” That is, they were assured by the facts themselves. “They gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship.” Observe how he gradually proves that his doctrine was ratified both by Christ and by the Apostles. If his preaching had not been approved by Christ, grace would never have been implanted in him and would not have become operative. Earlier he mentioned Peter alone when his purpose was comparison with himself. But here, when he calls them as witnesses, he names the three together, “Cephas, James, John,” and with a tribute, “who were reputed to be pillars.” Here again when he says, “who were reputed” he is not denying the reality of the fact. No, he is referring to the high opinion in which all held these apostles. His implication is that such great and distinguished men as these, whose fame was universal, testified that his preaching had been ratified by Christ and that they themselves had been informed of it and convinced by experience that his preaching was right. “Therefore they gave the right hand of fellowship” to me, and not to me only, but also to Barnabas, “that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they to the circumcision.” Paul is exercising caution while offering incontrovertible proof that he agreed with the apostles. He shows that his and their doctrine was interchangeable, and that both approved the same thing, that they should so preach to the Jews, and he to the Gentiles. Therefore he adds,

Verse 9: They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcision.

Observe that here again he means by “the circumcision,” not the rite, but the Jews. Whenever he speaks of the rite, and wishes to contrast it, puts it in opposition to the word “uncircumcision,” as when he says, “Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as uncircumcision” (Rom 2:25). And again, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value” (Gal 5:5). But when he is referring to the Jews and not the deed of circumcision, he does not put it in opposition to the word “uncircumcision” in its literal sense, but the word “Gentiles”. For the Jews are the opposite of the Gentiles, the circumcision are the opposite of the uncircumcision. Thus when he says above, “For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the circumcision, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.” and again, “I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the circumcision.” he means not the rite itself, but the Jewish nation, thus distinguishing them from the Gentiles.

Verse 10: All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

[4.] This is his meaning: In our preaching we divided the world between us. I took the Gentiles and they the Jews, according to the divine decree. Nevertheless I contributed my share to the sustenance of the poor among the Jews. If there had been any dissension between us, they would not have accepted my gifts. And who were these poor persons? Many of the believing Jews in Palestine had been deprived of all their goods, and scattered over the world, as he mentions in the Epistle to the Hebrews, “you joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property” (Heb 10:34). In writing to the Thessalonians, (1 Th 2:14) he extols their resilience, “For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews.” And he shows throughout that those Greeks who believed did not suffer such a persecution from their fellow Greeks as the believing Jews suffered from their own kindred. For there is no nation of a temper so cruel as the Jews. It is clear from Paul’s letter to the Romans (Rom 15:25-27) and Corinthians (1 Cor 16:1-3) that Paul was very eager to have these persecuted Jews receive special attention. Not only did Paul collect money for them, but himself delivered it, as he says, “Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there” (Rom 15:25). For they had to go without the necessaries of life. Here he shows that because he had resolved to assist them, he had undertaken and would not abandon his task.

Now that Paul has declared the unanimity and harmony between himself and the other apostles, he is obliged to mention his debate with Peter at Antioch.

Verses 11-12: When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned [NIV: he was clearly in the wrong]. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.”

Many, on a superficial reading of this part of the letter, presume that Paul accused Peter of hypocrisy. But this is not so, indeed it is not. Far from it. We shall discover that hidden in this account is great wisdom, both of Paul and Peter, for the benefit of their hearers.

But first a word must be said about Peter’s free manner of speaking, and how it was ever his way to outstrip the other disciples. Indeed it was upon one such occasion that he gained his name from the unbending and impregnable character of his faith. For when all the disciples were asked [of Jesus, “Who do you say I am?”] he stepped before the others and answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mat 16:16). This was when the keys of heaven were committed to him. So too, he appears to have been the only speaker on the Mount [of Transfiguration] (Mat 17:4). When Christ spoke of his crucifixion, and the others kept silence, he said, “This shall never happen to you!” (Mat 16:22). These words demonstrate, if not a cautious temper, at least a fervent love. In all instances we find Peter more vehement than the others, and rushing forward into danger. So when Christ was seen on the beach, and the others were pushing the boat in, he was too impatient to wait for its coming to land (John 21:7). And after the Resurrection, when the Jews were murderous and maddened, and sought to tear the apostles in pieces, he first dared to come forward, and to declare, that the Crucified was taken up into heaven (Acts 2). It is a greater thing to open a closed door, and to commence an action, than to be free-spoken afterwards.

How could Peter, who had risked his life before the great populace that day, later hide under a false appearance? Consider how he was whipped and bound yet did not lose an ounce of his courage. And that happened at the beginning of his ministry, in the heart of Jerusalem, the chief city where there was so much danger. How could he possibly feel any apprehension of the believing Jews, long afterwards in Antioch, where no danger was at hand, and his character had received luster from the testimony of his actions? In the beginning of his ministry, in their chief city he did not fear the Jews while they were still Jews. How could he fear the Jews who had been converted, after a long time had passed, while in a foreign city? Paul therefore does not speak this against Peter, but with the same meaning in which he said, “as for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me.” To remove any objections to our interpretation, we must now examine the reason that Paul uses such harsh sounding expressions.

The apostles, as I said before, permitted circumcision at Jerusalem, because it was not practical to abruptly sever the observance of the law there. But when they come to Antioch, they no longer continued to observe the law, but lived indiscriminately with the believing Gentiles. This included Peter. But when some Jewish Christians came from Jerusalem who had heard the teaching Peter had delivered there, he no longer mingled with the Gentiles. He feared that his new behavior would confuse the Jewish Christians, and so he changed his course of action. He held two secret goals: he wanted to avoid offending those Jews, and he needed to give Paul a pretext to rebuke him in front of the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem.

If the Jewish Christians had seen Peter’s change in practice upon their first arrival in Antioch, they would have assumed that this change stemmed from the influence of Paul. They would have criticized Peter as changing his doctrine too easily. This would have been very offensive. But Paul, who was well acquainted with all the facts, would have known the intention with which Peter acted. Thus Peter’s withdrawal would have raised no such suspicion. Therefore Paul rebuked Peter, and Peter submitted, so that Peter’s disciples from Jerusalem would more easily accept the practice of mingling with Gentiles when they saw their master rebuked yet keeping silent. If this hadn’t happened, Paul would have had little effect when he exhorted them. But this incident gave him a chance to deliver a stern rebuke and impress Peter’s disciples with a more lively fear. If Peter had disputed with Paul’s speech, Paul could have justly blamed him for upsetting the plan. But because Peter kept silent when rebuked, the Jewish party was filled with serious alarm. This is why Paul used Peter so severely.

[5.] Observe too Paul’s careful choice of expressions, with which he points out to the discerning, that he uses them in a scheme and not from anger.2 His words are, “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had been condemned.” Not condemned by Paul, but by others. If Paul himself had condemned him, he would not have shrunk from saying so. The words, “I opposed him to the face,” imply a scheme (oikonomia). If their discussion had not been staged, but in earnest, they would not have rebuked each other in the presence of the disciples. That would have been too great a stumbling block for them. But now this apparent contest was much to their advantage. As Paul had yielded to the apostles at Jerusalem, so now they yield to him at Antioch. The cause of censure is this, “For before that certain came from James,” who was the teacher at Jerusalem, “he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision.” He was not afraid for himself – for if he had no fear at the beginning, much less would he now – but he feared that they would defect from the faith. As Paul himself says to the Galatians, “I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” (Gal 4:11) and again, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor 11:3). Thus, the apostles did not know the fear of death, but the fear that their disciples should perish agitated their inmost soul.

Verse 13: The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

Do not be surprised that he calls this “hypocrisy,” for he is unwilling, as I said before, to make plain that this was a scheme put on for the benefit of the disciples. He calls Peter’s action “hypocrisy” and severely rebukes it on account of their vehement attachment to the Law, in order to completely drive out their prejudice. And Peter too, hearing this joins in the trick, as if he had erred, that they might be corrected by means of the rebuke administered to him. If Paul had reproved these Jews, they would have spurned at it with indignation, because they did not regard Paul highly. But now, when they saw their teacher silent under rebuke, they were unable to despise or resist Paul’s argument.

Verse 14: When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.

Do not let this phrase disturb you either, for in using it he does not condemn Peter. Rather, he expresses himself in this way for the benefit of those who were to be reformed by the reproof of Peter.

Verse 14: I said to Peter in front of them all

Observe his mode of correcting the others; he speaks “before them all,” that the hearers might be alarmed. And this is what he says,–

Verse 14: If you are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

It was the Jews and not the Gentiles who were carried away together with Peter. Why then does Paul allege Peter acted against the Gentiles in a way which he did not, instead of directing his remarks against the hypocritical Jews? Why does he accuse Peter alone, when the rest were hypocritical together with him? Let us consider the terms of his charge; “If you are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” In fact, only Peter had withdrawn himself. Paul’s aim, then, is to keep the Jewish Christians from detecting the scheme. If he had simply blamed Peter for observing the Law, the Jews would have criticized him for his boldness towards their teacher. So instead of bringing an unprompted attack, he charges Peter on behalf of his own disciples, the Gentiles, and by doing so he makes it easier for the Jewish Christians to receive what he has to say. The fact that he abstains from reproving the others, and addresses Peter alone, also makes it easier for them to receive his message.

The phrase “If you are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew,” is almost an explicit exhortation to imitate their teacher Peter, who, himself a Jew, lived after the manner of the Gentiles. But he doesn’t say this, for they could not have accepted such advice. Rather, as he seems to rebuke Peter on behalf of the Gentiles, he makes Peter’s true sentiments known. On the other hand, if he had said, “Why do you compel these Jews to Judaize?” his language would have been too severe. He has set about correcting the Jewish Christians by taking up the case of the Gentile disciples. Rebukes are most easily received when they are moderate.

None of the Gentiles could complain to Paul that Peter had defended the Jewish Christians. All potential problems were avoided because Peter submitted in silence as Paul accused him of hypocrisy, in order that he might deliver the Jews from their actual hypocrisy. At first Paul directs his argument to the character which Peter played, “If you, being a Jew:” but he generalizes as he goes on, and includes himself in the phrase,

Verse 15: We who are Jews by nature [NIV: Jews by birth] and not ‘Gentile sinners’

These words are really an exhortation for the Jewish Christians, put in the form of a rebuke.

[6.] Elsewhere Paul uses one form of speaking when his motive is something else, as where he says in his letter to the Romans, “Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there” (Rom 15:25). Here his goal was not simply to inform them of the motive of his journey to Jerusalem, but to influence them to imitate him in sending an offering. If he had merely wished to explain his motive, he could have simply said, “I am on my way to minister to the saints.” But he adds, “For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them,” And then, “For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings” (Rom 15:26-27).

Observe how he deflates the pride of the Jews. He prepares for one thing by means of another, and his language is authoritative: “We who are Jews by nature and not ‘Gentile sinners.” The phrase, “Jews by nature,” implies that we, who are not proselytes, but educated from early youth in the Law, have let go of our previous way of life, and now live according to faith in Christ.

Verse 16: [we] know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

Observe here too how cautiously he expresses himself; he does not say that they had abandoned the Law because it was evil, but because it was weak. If the law cannot give righteousness, it follows that circumcision is superfluous. Now that he has proven that, he proceeds to show that it is not only superfluous but dangerous. It deserves special notice how at the outset he says that a man is not justified by the works of the Law. As he proceeds he speaks more strongly.

Verse 17: If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin?

He asks, “If faith in Christ does not bring about our justification, then it is necessary to embrace the Law. If that were the case, then after we forsake the Law for Christ’s sake, we are not justified but condemned for such abandonment. Such circumstances would make Christ the author of our condemnation, since we forsook the Law for his sake.” Observe how Paul has taken the matter to its ultimate, absurd conclusion, and how earnestly and strongly he argues. He argues, “If it was better for us not to abandon the Law, since we have abandoned it for Christ’s sake, we shall be judged.”

Why does he impress this upon Peter, who is more intimately acquainted with it than anyone? Didn’t God declare to Peter that an uncircumcised man should not be judged by the circumcision? Didn’t Peter, in his discussion with the Jewish Christians, base his bold opposition to circumcision on the vision which he saw (Acts 10)? Did Peter not send from Jerusalem unequivocal decrees upon this subject (Acts 15)? Paul’s object is not therefore to correct Peter, but he needed to address his criticism to Peter when it was really aimed at his disciples – not only at the Galatians, but also at others who labor under the same error with them.

Even today, though few are circumcised, there are many who equally exclude themselves from grace by fasting and observing the sabbath with the Jews. If Christ is of no benefit to those who are circumcised, how much less is he of benefit for those who observe fasting and sabbatizing, who keep two commandments of the Law as opposed to those who keep only one. And this is made worse because of the different times in which they lived. The Judaizers circumcized in earlier times while Jerusalem, with its temple and other institutions yet existed. But can any defend that practice today? How can they observe more precepts of the Law than the others did so long ago, since now God has so clearly punished the Jews, and the destruction of their city is before their eyes? How can anyone defend trying to keep the law when today the Jews themselves, in spite of their strong desire, cannot keep it? You have put on Christ, you have become a member of the Lord, and been enrolled in the heavenly city. How can you still grovel under the Law? How is it possible for you to obtain the kingdom? Listen to Paul’s words, that the observance of the Law overthrows the Gospel. Learn how this comes to pass, and tremble with fear, and avoid this pitfall. Why do you keep the sabbath and fast with the Jews? Is it that you fear the Law, and are afraid to abandon its letter?

But you would not have this fear if you did not demean faith as something weak which is powerless to save by itself. A fear of omitting the Sabbath plainly shows that you fear the Law as though it were still in force. But if the Law is necessary, the entire Law is necessary, not part of it. It is not necessary for a few select commandments only. Since the law is meant to be kept in its entirety, little by little it makes impossible the righteousness which is by faith. If you keep the Sabbath, why not also be circumcised? And if you are circumcised, why shouldn’t you also offer sacrifices? If the Law is to be observed, it must be observed as a whole, or not at all. If omitting one part makes you fear condemnation, omitting any part should give you the same fear. If you will not be punished if you fail to keep the whole law, much less will you be punished if you fail to keep part of it.

But the reverse must be true. If you will be punished for failing to keep one part of the law, how much more will you be punished if you fail to keep the whole. If we are bound to keep the whole, we are bound to disobey Christ, or else we will become transgressors of the law when we obey him. If it ought to be kept, those who keep it not are transgressors, but Christ will be found to be the cause of much transgression, for he annulled the Law and encouraged others annul it.

[7.] Do you not understand what these Judaizers are trying to do? They are trying to make Christ the author of sin, who is to us the author of righteousness. As Paul says, “does that mean that Christ promotes sin?” Now that he has shown the absurd consequences of their proposition, he had nothing further to do by way of overthrowing it, but was satisfied with the simple protestation,

Verse 17: Absolutely not!

Shamelessness and irreverence need not be reasoned against. It is enough to simply protest.

Verse 18: If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker.

Observe the Apostle’s insight. His opponents attempted to show that anyone who did not keep the Law was a transgressor, but Paul turns the argument around and shows that he who did keep the Law was a transgressor, not merely of faith, but of the Law itself. “If I rebuild the things I destroyed,” (that is, the Law) means as follows: the Law has ceased, and we have abandoned it, and now cling to the salvation which comes of faith. But if we make a point of setting it up again, we become by that very act transgressors, striving to keep what God has annulled. Next he shows how it has been annulled.

Verse 19: For through the law I died to the law.3

This may be viewed in two ways. It could be the law of grace which he speaks of, for he often refers to this as a “law”, as in the words, “the law of the Spirit of life set me free” (Rom 8:2). Or it could be the old Law, of which he says, that by the Law itself he has become dead to the Law. That is to say, the Law itself has taught me no longer to obey the Law, and therefore if I do so, I shall be transgressing even the Law’s own teaching. How has the Law taught him not to observe the Law? Moses says, speaking of Christ, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him” (Deut 18:15). So they transgress the Law who do not obey that Prophet, Christ. Again, the expression, “For through the Law I died to the Law,” may be understood in another sense: the Law commands all its precepts to be performed, and punishes the transgressor. Therefore we are all dead to it, for no man has fulfilled it. Here observe, how cautiously he assails it. He does not say, “the Law is dead to me;” but, “I am dead to the Law.” Just as it is impossible for a dead corpse to obey the commands of the Law, so also is it for me who have perished by the Law’s curse. For I am killed by its word.The Law may not lay commands on those whom it has killed, who are dead not only in their bodies, but in their souls, which has involved the death of the body. This he shows in what follows:

Verse 19 [19 and 20 in NIV]: So that I might live for God, I have been crucified with Christ.

Having said, “I am dead,” he wants to head off the objection, “How is it, then, that you are alive?” He explains how it is that he is alive, and shows that when alive the Law slew him, but that when dead Christ through death restored him to life. He shows that the wonder is twofold: that by Christ both the dead born into life, which was accomplished by Christ’s death. He here means the immortal life, for this is the meaning of the words, “So that I might live for God, I have been crucified with Christ.” How, it is asked, can a man now living and breathing have been crucified? It is clear that Christ has been crucified, but how can you have been crucified, and yet live? He explains:

Verse 20: Yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me.

In these words, “I have been crucified with Christ,” he alludes to Baptism, and in the words “nevertheless I live, yet not I,” he refers to our manner of life after Baptism in which our members are put to death. By saying “Christ lives in me,” he means, “I do nothing which Christ disapproves.” Just as by “death” he signifies not what is commonly understood, but a death to sin, so by “life” he signifies a delivery from sin.

The only way for a man to live to God is by dying to sin. Just as Christ suffered bodily death, so does Paul experience a death to sin. He says, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust…” (Col 3:5), and again, “by dying to what once bound us,” (Rom 7:6), which took place in the bath. After which, if you remain dead to sin, you live to God, but if you let sin live again, you are the ruin of your new life. Paul did not do this, but continued wholly dead. So then, he says, “I live to God a life other than that in the Law, and am dead to the Law, I cannot possibly keep any part of the Law.”

[8.] Consider how perfect was his walk, and you will be led to admire this blessed soul. He does not say, “I live,” but, “Christ lives in me.” Who is bold enough to utter such words? Paul indeed, who had harnessed himself to Christ’s yoke, and cast away all worldly things, and was paying universal obedience to His will, says not, “I live to Christ,” but what is far higher, “Christ lives in me.” Just as sin leads the soul wherever it wants when it is the master and driving principle, when sin is slain and the will of Christ is obeyed, this life is no longer earthly, but Christ lives, which means he has mastery over us.

Because the sayings “I am crucified with him” and “I no longer live” but “am dead,” seem incredible to many, he adds,

Verse 20: The life I live in the body, I live by faith

The previous verses relate to our spiritual life, but this present life in the body, if considered, will also be found indebted to my faith in Christ. In former times when the Law reigned, I had incurred the severest punishment, and had long ago perished, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23). We who lay under the law’s judgment have been liberated by Christ, for all of us are dead, if not in fact at least by judgment. But he has delivered us from the deserved blow. When the Law had accused and God condemned us, Christ came, and by giving himself up to death, rescued us all from death. So that “the life which I now live in the body, I live in faith.” If this were not so, nothing could have averted a destruction as general as that which took place at the flood, but his arrival halted the wrath of God and caused us to live by faith. That such is his meaning appears from what follows. After saying “the life which I now live in the flesh, I live in faith,” he adds,

Verse 20: in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.

What is this, O Paul? Why do you take a general benefit which was done for the whole world’s sake, and make it your own? For he does not say, “Who loved us,” but, “Who loved me.” But the Evangelist says, “God so loved the world,” (John 3:16) and Paul himself says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up,” not for Paul only, but, “for us all;” (Rom 8:32) and again, “to purify for himself a people that are his very own,” (Tit 2:14). He expressed himself in such personal terms because he is moved to affection for Christ out of consideration of the desperate condition of human nature contrasted with the unspeakably tender kindness of Christ which was shown in delivering us from such a terrible fate, freely giving so much.

Thus the Prophets often claim as their own him who is God of all, as in the words, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you” (Psalm 63:1). Moreover, this language teaches that each individual justly owes as a great debt of gratitude to Christ as if he had come for his sake alone. He would not have hesitated to lower himself even if it had been for only one person, so that the measure of his love to each is as great as his love to the whole world. Truly the sacrifice was offered for all mankind, and was sufficient to save all, but only the believing enjoy the blessing. The fact that now all could come to him did not deter him from lowering himself so far. He acted after the pattern of the supper in the Gospel, which he prepared for all, (Luke 14:16). When the guests did not come, instead of withdrawing the food, he called in others. So too he did not despise that sheep, though only one had strayed from the ninety nine (Mat 18:12). St. Paul refers to this when he says, speaking about the Jews, “What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar” (Rom 3:3-4). Since he loved you enough to give himself up and bring you who were without hope to a life so great and blessed, can you now return to your former way of life? Now that he has completed his argument, he concludes with a strong assertion, saying,

Verse 21: I do not set aside the grace of God.

Let those who even today Judaize and adhere to the Law listen to this, for it applies to them.

Verse 21: For if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!

What can be more heinous than this sin? What is more able to put one to shame than these words? Christ’s death is a plain proof of the inability of the Law to justify us. If it does justify, then Christ’s death is superfluous. Yet how could it be reasonable to say that the death of Christ had been done heedlessly and in vain? It is so awful, so surpassing human reason, a mystery so ineffable, with which patriarchs travailed, which Prophets foretold, which angels gazed on with consternation, which all men confess as the summit of the Divine tenderness. Reflecting how utterly out of place it would be if they should say that so great and high a deed had been done superfluously, (for this is what their conduct came to) he even uses violent language against them, as we find in the words which follow.

Please click on the footnote number to be returned to its call number in the text.

1 This word becomes important in a later discussion on verses 11ff. “Scheme” should not in this instance carry a negative connotation, but means a “design” or “plan.”

2 Origen and Jerome support the interpretation given by Chrysostom, that St. Peter’s behavior was not a sin, but intended as an opportunity for Paul to declare the freedom of the Gentiles. On the other hand, Augustine, Tertullian, Cyprian, Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory and Ambrosiaster all think that Peter acted through wrong motives, and sinned in his behavior. In earlier life Chrysostom had himself practiced such a “scheme” (oikonomia) as that which he here attributes to Paul. In order to induce his friend Basil to be consecrated as a bishop, he gave him the false impression that he himself had already been consecrated. Neander (Life of Chrysostom, p. 22) says: “In the first book of his work On the Priesthood Chrysostom defends the principle that a falsehood is permitted for a good object. An invention which has for its sole object the advantage of another is rather a ‘scheme’.” This view respecting truth was not peculiar to Chrysostom but was consistent with the prevailing spirit of the Eastern Church. There were a few exceptions however to this view, among whom were John of Lycopolis in Egypt, and Basil of Caesarea [this note is a revision of a note from the NPNF translation].

3 Note Chrysostom ends the sentence here whereas the NIV includes the final phrase of verse 19 in this sentence. Yet compare the Nestle Aland 27 and UBS which include “I have been crucified with Christ” in verse 19.

John Chrysostom on Galatians – main page

John Chrysostom on Galatians 3

Revised by AJW

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