The Jewish Paul: A Running Commentary on Galatians (Part 3)

We continue here with Part 3 of my running commentary on Galatians, attempting to demonstrate that Paul remained an observant Jew throughout his life. He neither advocated the abandonment of Judaism or Torah for himself nor for any Jew, whether they believed that Jesus was the Messiah or not. We left off with Paul’s account of an earlier conversation with Cephas/Peter in Antioch. We pick up with Paul speaking directly to his Gentile readers in Galatia. He begins now to reiterate the content of his gospel message to Gentiles. This includes condemning as futile the effort of some Gentiles trying to achieve righteousness by acting Jewish, that is, by performing selective works (rules, laws, instructions) of the Torah. Paul also explains why Christ’s death is beneficial for Gentiles. [My comments in brackets in bold.]

Galatians 2:16 (cont.) And we [Paul uses the inclusive “we” – an example of a Greek rhetorical device known as pluralis societatis, the social plural. He does this a number of times in his letters to better identify with his audience in an effort to persuade them. It does not mean that he considers himself a Gentile.] have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we [Gentiles] may be made righteous by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be made righteous [This makes perfect sense only in a Gentile context. Jewish faith and obedience include Torah and to suggest that it does not is to misunderstand Paul. Paul professes that the Torah is holy, righteous, spiritual, and good (Rom. 7:12-16). Gentiles, however, must stop “Judaizing,” that is, trying to attain righteousness through selective obedience to Torah’s instructions. It is no longer necessary (nor was it ever effectual, according to Paul) now that Christ has come. Remember, Jews do not have to be “made righteous” or “justified.” Jews are, from infancy, members of a righteous covenant; their obligation is to maintain that righteous status through continuing faith and obedience. Gentile lives are characterized by sin and so they must be “made” righteous (justified) to begin with.]. 17 But if while seeking to be made righteous in Christ we ourselves have also been found to be sinners [Gentiles seeking to be made righteous through Torah discover that they were condemned as sinners by Torah], is Christ then one who encourages sin [What Paul is probably responding to here is the accusation by some (in Galatia?) that by being made righteous in Christ, without becoming Jews, Gentiles were ignoring God’s will as presented in Torah]? Absolutely not! 18 But if I build up again those things I once destroyed, I demonstrate that I am one who breaks God’s law [Paul is reaffirming, using inclusive language (he is not talking about himself), that if the Galatians go back to Judaizing and reject the righteousness made available to them through the faithfulness of Christ, they will be returning to their flawed notion that they can earn righteousness by following a few rules of Torah. Such a process will fail, demonstrating that they are, once again, nothing more than faithless sinners who do not properly live according to Torah]. 19 For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God [by living according to the law as the Spirit has directed them (new covenant provision – see below), Gentiles are no longer condemned by the Torah as people who do not adequately live by it. The Spirit makes it possible for Gentiles to live in obedience without becoming Jews.].

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