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Two difficult verses in Galatians 2

11-06-2017 - Posted by Andre Piet

On Sunday, May 28, 2017, I spoke in Zoetermeer about the last few verses in Galatians 2. Paul answers to Peter who initially ate with non-Jews in Antioch, but subsequently retreated because he feared the Jews who had come from Jerusalem. Paul openly denounced Peter’s behaviour as hypocrisy. For also Peter knew that a man is not justified by works of law, but by faith of Jesus Christ:

16 having perceived that a man is not being justified by works of law, except alone through the faith of Christ Jesus, we also believe in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by the faith of Christ and not by works of law, seeing that by works of law shall no flesh at all be justified.

In my speech I only spoke briefly about verses 18 and 19, and noted that these verses are probably the most difficult of the entire Galatians letter. Maybe it is good to give some extra explanation in this blog. Below a fairly literal translation of these verses:

17 Now if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves also were found sinners, is Christ, consequently, a dispenser of sin? May it not be coming to that! 18 For if I am building again these things which I demolish, I am commending myself as a transgressor.

What is the line of thinking here?

We must remember that Paul is talking about “we, Jews”. (: 15) We Jews, who seek to be justified in Christ. Such Jews were assessed to be sinners, at least… that was the perception of those whose heresy got a foothold in Galatia. According to them, justification in Christ meant a license for sin. Because, the works of law were passed by it. But, and that is Paul’s argumentation, who says that in practice justification in Christ would make us sinners, says also that Christ is in the service of sin. Of course, that can never be the case.

In verse 18, Paul transfers from the third person to the first person. He makes it personal by imagining that he is Peter. Peter, by withdrawing from his non-Jewish brothers in Antioch, reconstructed the wall of separation, that he had previously broken down. But by re-establishing himself on the bottom of the law, he is commending himself as a transgressor. Because, who places himself under the law, will necessarily become a transgressor. (Galatians 3: 19).

The consequence of Peter’s hypocritical behaviour, but also of the doctrine that had come into Galatia, is that the message of righteousness in Christ becomes a meaningless phrase. That message means that one has been identified with Christ, and that one has died both  through and for the law. The ‘I’ doesn’t count anymore, it is the life of the risen Lord who gives meaning to our life. That is not a poor attempt to become righteous, on the contrary, one is justified in advance. Therefore, it is no longer ‘I’ or what I try, but ‘living in me is Christ’.

19 For I, through law, died to law, that I should be living to God.” 20 With Christ have I been crucified, yet I am living; no longer I, but living in me is Christ. Now that which I am now living in flesh, I am living in faith that is of the Son of God, Who loves me, and gives Himself up for me.