Sunday, October 05, 2008

Law and Gospel: Galatians (2)

[continued from here, here, here and here]

The argument started in Gal. 2

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal. 2:11-21)

We have seen that the theme of this epistle the apostle Paul focused on was the Gospel, and he treated it very seriously. Whatever the error was, this error was a soul-damning error which distorts the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ into a false one which does not save. After spending an extended section establishing his apostolic credentials in Gal. 1:11- 2:10, Paul launches into a discussion of the Gospel with regards to the "works of the law", which will in fact continue throughout the next 3 chapters.

In Gal. 2:11-21, the passage starts with Paul taking upon himself to oppose Peter while Peter (or Cephas) was in Syrian Antioch. It must be noticed that this section flows immediately from the previous section in verse 9 in which Paul had named Peter as being a pillar in the church. This is especially remarkable since the original text did not consist of chapter and verse numberings, and paragraphing also, and therefore the whole thing could very well be one chunk of text. This shows us that although Paul uses Peter's name to assert the authenticity of his apostolic credentials, Paul was telling the Galatian Christins, and us, that the Truth of the Gospel is higher than the rank of apostleship. Truth is truth objectively apart from the actions of Apostles, much less Councils, Synods or individuals within the Church, in asserting or denying it.

Gal. 2:11 therefore starts off with Paul stating that Peter stands condemned, and the reason for this can be found in his action in being a hypocrite in living contrary to his convictions and the Truth. Although an apostle, Peter was still a man, and in this instance, he feared Man more than he feared God. Whereas previously he ate with the Gentile Christians, he withdrew and separated himself from eating with them when those who were "from the circumcision party" arrived in Syrian Antioch (v. 12). And such an action causes even Barnabas (who had formerly resisted the Judaists/ Judaizers cf Acts 15:2) as well as the Jewish Christians to follow suit (v. 13), resulting in Paul rebuking Peter publicly for his hypocrisy (v. 14).

This episode was used by Paul as an introduction to lead into the details of what was wrong among the Galatian Christians, and therefore we ought to examine what exactly happened here. It may be recalled that the historical context of the book of Galatians was after the time of the Jerusalem Council, and that the controversy then was over the issue of circumcision (cf Acts. 15:1). Coming over to the book of Galatians, we encouter again, it seems, the same group of false teachers who are described as the "circumcision party". Paul's rebuke to Peter in verse 14 shows us also that the action which the circumcision party requires is the focus on living "like a Jew", as seen in the withdrawal of Peter and the other Jewish Christians who separated from the Gentile Christians who were obviously not living like Jews.

Paul then followed this narrative experience of his with a exposition on the nature of the Gospel with regards to Christian living in light of the Law of Moses, which we have seen is the error of the Judaists in Acts 15 in insisting that believers are to follow the Law of Moses to be saved. Gal. 2:16 shows us that for both Jews and Gentiles, works of the Law can never justify us, but rather we are justified by having faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, those who depend on obeying the Law (νομον) (practicing the works of the Law) can never be justified. Verse 15 further informs us that this is applicable to Jews as well, who are similarly not saved by obeying the Law of God.

The logical argumentation continues in verse 21 — stating that if obeying the Law could constitute righteousness, then Christ had died in vain because we would all have merited eternal life by our own merits. Verse 17 refutes those who may think that removing the Law from meriting salvation would result in Christ giving us a license to sin, yet Paul in turn states that using the Law to merit salvation in fact IS sin (Gal. 2:18). So therefore, far from it to multiply sin, rejecting the Law as meritorious and embracing grace in living to God is the righteous thing to do. The godly life according to Paul therefore is not to be lived according to the works of the Law like what the circumcision party is adopting, but to be lived by faith in Christ and recknoning ourselves dead to sin (Gal. 2:19-20), echoing Paul's sentiments on this issue as seen in Rom. 6:1-2.

The Problem in Galatia

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? (Gal. 3:1-4)

The problem that exists among the churches in Galatia is now revealed. Paul in this passage rebuked the foolish Galatian Christians who it seems are now adding the Jewish works of the Law to their faith, as seen in Gal. 3:3. The deluded Galatian Christians have started off their Christian walk in faith, but now they are turning to the works of the Law to "perfect" their Christian walk.

Here, we can start to see a difference between the 'doctrine' of the Judaists in Acts 15 and the false teachers in Galatians, who are formally given the title of Judaizers. Whether through mutation of their doctrine or that their objection was not exhaustively presented at the Jerusalem Council, the false doctrine of the Judaizers which was believed by the Galatian Christians was a salvation by faith plus works of the Law, not merely doing works of the Law without the necessity of having faith (salvation by works). Gal. 2:18 is thus clearer when seen in this light, and shows us why adding of works of the Law as being necessary for salvation is so detrimental to the Gospel, as it adds transgressions to the person instead of removing it.

Faith and works of the law are thenceforth coupled together as a thesis-antithesis pair in Paul's argumentation, thus setting them as opposite polarities which opposites of each other. Such was already implicitly stated in Gal. 2:16, and is found in Gal. 3:5 even. Gal. 3:12a however makes it very explicit that the law is NOT of faith, and therefore it is impossible for there to have law and faith together, as the presence of law would automatically removes faith, and thus the two could not coexist as instruments of salvation.

Since Law and Faith are stated by Paul to be antithetical to each other, why is the Law given such a prominent position in the Old Covenant in the first place? What is the purpose of the Law, and what exactly is its function for true believers under this New Covenant of Grace?

[to be continued]

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