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.].
2:20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me [Paul is writing as if he were a Gentile. This is the Greek rhetorical device known as prosopopeia, speech-in-character. He uses this technique a number of times in his letters. It does not mean that Paul thinks of himself as a Gentile. As Paul will clarify below, Christ was condemned by the law as is the Gentile. But as Christ’s violation of Torah was overturned by God, so the Gentile, crucified with Christ through baptism, has his sins redeemed]. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me [This is essentially a prayer that a Gentile might recite. They have died to their sinning ways and the Spirit (of God or Christ) guides them now. This is possible because Christ died for Gentile sins – the sins of the (rest of) the world. We know that Paul does not mean that Christ gave himself up for Paul because in Rom. 5:6 Paul wrote that “Christ died for the ungodly,” i.e., Gentile sinners (ungodly = those without God). Paul was not a Gentile sinner nor was he without God.]. 21 I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through [obedience to] the law [without faith], then Christ died for nothing [In fact, as Paul states, Christ died for Gentile sinners]!
3:1 You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before your eyes [i.e., in the physical world] Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified! 2 The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard [Again, Paul chastises the Galatians by reminding them that Judaizing did not work. They lacked the means to properly follow Torah (absent the Spirit) and lacked the faith necessary for righteousness which they learned about through Paul’s gospel]? 3 Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort [Paul tells the Gentiles that they were made righteous by the Spirit (their sins redeemed). Now they are going back to “working the Law” in an effort to be (more?) righteous. Paul argues they have it completely backwards]? 4 Have you suffered so many things for nothing? — if indeed it was for nothing [The Galatians who adopted Paul’s message and came to faith suffered in their community – probably by persecution. See below.]. 5 Does God then give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard [Once again Paul reminds the Galatian Gentiles that they did not witness the power of the Spirit by trying to “work the law” but by coming to faith.]?
3:6 Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, 7 so then, understand that those who believe are the sons of Abraham [Jews who share in the faithfulness of Abraham become sons of Abraham, that is, children of God]. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would make righteous the Gentiles by faith [now it’s the Gentiles’ turn], proclaimed the good news to Abraham ahead of time [i.e., prior to the time of Paul but not until Abraham], saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” 9 So then those who believe are blessed along with Abraham the believer [Paul interprets apocalyptically the prophecy given to Abraham about the nations as being fulfilled now.]. 10 For all who rely on doing the works of the law [only Judaizing Gentiles have been relying on “works of the law,” or working the law, to achieve righteousness. Jews have long been sharing in the faithfulness of Abraham and are already children of God as Paul just said] are under a curse [Gentiles are sinners and doomed to die, according to Torah] because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the book of the law” [Again, these are Gentiles (and apostate Jews, but Paul is not writing for Jews). Observant Jews do keep on doing the things written in the Law. Gentiles who can only selectively do the things required by Torah do not redeem themselves because Torah demands complete obedience. They either need to become observant Jews or they need another way to obtain righteousness].
3:11 Now it is clear no one is made righteous before God by the law because the righteous one will live by faith [In this often-misused verse, Paul is saying what was obvious to any Jew: the law alone, without faith, does not make anyone righteous. Paul does not say that the Torah is no longer valid or has been superseded. It is Gentiles who require being “made righteous,” or justified.]. 12 But the law is not from faith, but the one who does them will live by them [Paul is distinguishing Torah observance from faith, the two requirements for Jewish righteousness. He affirms that the one who follows Torah (the Jew), lives by Torah, reaffirming that Jews are perfectly situated to obey all of Torah; Gentiles are not.]. 13 Christ redeemed us [Gentiles (pluralis societatis)] from the curse of the law [It is Gentiles who are cursed by Torah because they don’t live by it. It is they who need to be made righteous, not Jews who obey the Torah and live in the righteous covenant.] by becoming a curse for us [Gentiles] (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”) 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles, so that we could receive the promise of the Spirit by faith [Let’s unpack these two verses. First, Paul is the only known ancient Jew to make the argument that a Jew was cursed if crucified by a foreign oppressor as Jesus was. Crucified Jews at the time were considered victims, even martyrs, by other Jews. But Paul needs to explain how the death of Christ can affect salvation for Gentiles since Gentiles are cursed by the way they live their lives. In Paul’s somewhat tortured exegesis, Christ himself became cursed by violating a provision of Torah, that is, by being hung on a tree. At least that is how Paul interprets the passage from Deuteronomy (it did not originally indicate crucifixion). But, according to Paul, God undid this curse and redeemed Christ from the condemnation he would have otherwise deserved. More than raising Christ from the dead, God exalted him (as Paul says elsewhere – Phil. 2:9). In a similar way, cursed Gentiles can also be redeemed from condemnation (that is, “the wrath” – Rom. 1:18, etc.). Gentiles who get baptized into Christ’s death are therefore redeemed from their condemned status like Christ was. The promise made to Abraham about the nations (i.e., Gentiles) being redeemed (3:8) is made possible in this way.].
3:15 Brothers, I offer an example from everyday life: When a covenant has been ratified, even though it is only a human contract, no one can set it aside or add anything to it [This is such a critical passage in light of supersessionist claims that the Mosaic covenant had become defunct. Paul is clear here: new covenants do not displace or invalidate older ones. The covenant with Abraham did not invalidate the covenant with Noah. The covenant with Moses did not invalidate the covenant with Abraham. Thus, the new covenant, which we will discuss below, does not invalidate the covenant with Moses.].
Be with me next time when we begin Part 4 of our commentary on Galatians in which Paul explains how the promises once made to Abraham were coming true for Gentiles and how Jews and Gentiles can both be righteous before God.