Galatians 2:15 MEANING

Galatians 2:15
(15-21) The section which follows is, in form at least, still a continuation of the rebuke addressed to St. Peter; but the Apostle soon drifts away from this, and begins imperceptibly a comment upon his own words, which is addressed directly to the Galatians. We are thus led, without any real break, from the historical and personal to the doctrinal portion of the Epistle. It is impossible to say exactly where the speech at Antioch ends and where the comment upon it begins; the Apostle glides from one to the other without any conscious division in his own mind. A similar mingling of narrative and comment is found in St. John's Gospel: compare, e.g., John 3:14-21; John 3:31-36, the first of which sections formally belongs to the discourse with Nicodemus, and the second to the reply of John the Baptist, though it is clear that much after comment of the Evangelist's is interwoven with them. If we are to draw a dividing line at all in the section before us, it might be said that Galatians 2:15-16 were still most nearly a paraphrase of the words actually addressed to St. Peter; while from Galatians 2:17 onwards the Apostle is giving the rein more freely to his own reflections. The sequence of the thought seems to be somewhat as follows:--

We belong by our birth to a privileged people. We are not of Gentile descent, and therefore abandoned to our sins. And yet, with all our privileges, we found that we could get no justification whatever from the Law; and this sent us to Christ. We thus abdicated our privileged position; we put ourselves on the same level as the Gentiles, and became (in the eye of the Law) sinners like them. Sinners? Must we then admit that all Christ has done for us is to make us sinners? Far be so irreverent a thought. Our sin consists not in quitting the Law, but in returning to that which has once been abandoned. The function of the Law was preparatory and transitional. The Law itself taught me to expect its own abrogation. It was a stage on the way to Christ. To Him have I given in a complete adhesion. In His death I am severed from ancient ties. In His death I ceased to have any life of my own. All the life I have, man as I am, I owe to Christ, my Saviour. Thus I accept and do not reject and frustrate the gift so freely offered me: whereas, by going back to the Law for justification, I should be practically declaring the death of Christ useless and unprofitable.

(15) Who are.--It will be seen that these words are in italics, and have to be supplied in the Greek. The Received text, which is followed in our version, also I omits a connecting particle, found in the best MSS., at the beginning of Galatians 2:16. Restoring this, a better way of taking the whole passage appears to be to supply only the word "are" in the present verse, and make the next mark a certain opposition to it: "We are (indeed) by birth Jews . . . but" (or, and yet), "knowing as we did that the Law cannot justify any one, we believed on Christ." The first clause is concessive: "We grant you that we were born Jews, and not Gentiles: members of the chosen race, and not sinners." The next clause explains why it was that, with all these privileges, the Christian, though thus born a Jew, transferred his allegiance from the Law to Christ. The reason was that the Law failed in the one great object--to justify us or obtain our acquittal in the sight of God.

By nature--i.e., by birth. The privileges of the Jew belonged to all Jews alike, simply by the more fact that they were Jews.

Sinners.--The word was almost a synonym for "heathen" in the mouth of a strict Jew. Hence there is a slight irony in its use by St. Paul. "I grant you that from our lofty position we can look down upon those poor Gentiles, sinners by virtue of mere descent."

Of the Gentiles.--"Of" in the sense of natural descent: "Of Gentile parentage (and therefore) sinners."

Verse 15. - We who are Jews by nature (ἡμεῖς φύσει Ἰουδαῖοι); we being Jews by nature; or, we are Jews by nature. In point of construction, it may be observed that, after εἰδότες in the next verse, recent editors concur in inserting δέ. With this correction of the text, we may either make this fifteenth verse a separate sentence, by supplying ἐσμέν, "we are Jews by nature," etc., and begin the next verse with the words, "but yet, knowing that... even we believed," etc.; or we may supply in this verse" being," and, conjoining it with "knowing," take the two verses as forming one sentence; thus: "We being Jews... yet knowing that... even we believed," etc. For the general sense, it is quite immaterial which mode of construing we adopt. The Revisers have preferred the latter. The former makes the passage run more smoothly; but this, in construing St. Paul's writings, is by no means a consideration of weight. "We," that is, "I Paul, and thou Cephas," rather than "I Paul, and thou Cephas, with those who are acting with thee;" for we read before, "I said unto Cephas," not" unto Cephas and the rest of the Jews." "By nature;" because we were Jews by birth. But the two expressions, "by nature" and "by birth," are not convertible terms, as is evident from ch. 4:8 and Romans 2:14; the former covers wider ground than the latter. The prerogatives attaching to the natural position of a born Jew were higher than those which appertained to a circumcised proselyte. This is why he adds," by nature." "Jews;" a term of honourable distinction, closely by its etymology connected in the mind of a Hebrew with the notion of "praise" (comp. Genesis 9:8; Romans 2:29); a term, therefore, of theocratic vaunting (Romans 2:17). And not sinners of the Gentiles (καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἐθνῶν ἁμαρτωλοί); and not of the Gentiles sinners. The word "sinners" must be here taken, not in that purely moral acceptation in which all are "sinners," but in that mixed sense in which moral disapproval was largely tinged with the bigoted disdain which the theocratic Israelite felt for "the uncircumcised;" the Levitically purist Jew for them who, having no" Law "(ἄνομοι), wallowed in every kind of ceremonial pollution, "unclean," "dogs" (comp. Matthew 15:27; Philippians 3:2; Acts 2:23). As a notion correlative to that of "Jews," the word is used by our Lord himself when he spoke of his being delivered into the hands of "sinners" (Matthew 26:45; comp. Matthew 20:19). As correlative to that of persons fit for the society of the righteous and Levitically holy, it is used by Christ and the evangelists in the phrase, "publicans and sinners," in which it is nearly equivalent to "outcasts." So the apostle uses it here. With an ironical mimesis of the tone of language which a self-righteous legalist loved to employ, he means in effect, "not come from among Gentiles, sinful outcasts." May not the apostle be imagined to have quite lately heard such phrases from the lips of some of those Pharisee-minded Christians to whom Cephas was unhappily now truckling? For the right appreciation of the train of thought which the apostle is now pursuing, it is important to observe that both Cephas and Paul had reason to regard themselves as having been, before they were justified, sinners in another sense of the deepest dye. St. Paul felt to the very end of his days that he had once been, and that therefore in himself he still was, a chief of sinners (ἀμαρτωλούς ῶν πρῶτός εἰμι ἐγώ); and surely the wickedness into which Cephas precipitated himself on the morning of his Lord's passion must have left ever alter in his mind too a similar consciousness.

2:15-19 Paul, having thus shown he was not inferior to any apostle, not to Peter himself, speaks of the great foundation doctrine of the gospel. For what did we believe in Christ? Was it not that we might be justified by the faith of Christ? If so, is it not foolish to go back to the law, and to expect to be justified by the merit of moral works, or sacrifices, or ceremonies? The occasion of this declaration doubtless arose from the ceremonial law; but the argument is quite as strong against all dependence upon the works of the moral law, as respects justification. To give the greater weight to this, it is added, But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ the minister of sin? This would be very dishonourable to Christ, and also very hurtful to them. By considering the law itself, he saw that justification was not to be expected by the works of it, and that there was now no further need of the sacrifices and cleansings of it, since they were done away in Christ, by his offering up himself a sacrifice for us. He did not hope or fear any thing from it; any more than a dead man from enemies. But the effect was not a careless, lawless life. It was necessary, that he might live to God, and be devoted to him through the motives and grace of the gospel. It is no new prejudice, though a most unjust one, that the doctrine of justification by faith alone, tends to encourage people in sin. Not so, for to take occasion from free grace, or the doctrine of it, to live in sin, is to try to make Christ the minister of sin, at any thought of which all Christian hearts would shudder.We who are Jews by nature,.... I Paul, and you Peter and Barnabas, and the rest of the Jews at Antioch. Some are Jews by grace, in a spiritual sense, as all are that are Christ's, that are true believers in him, that are born again, and have internal principles of grace formed in their souls, of whatsoever nation they be; see Romans 2:28. Others become Jews by being proselytes to the Jewish religion: such were the Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven, that were dwelling at Jerusalem, when the Spirit was poured down on the apostles on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:5, but these here spoken of were such as were Jews by birth; they were born so, were descended of Jewish parents, and from their infancy were brought up in the Jewish religion, and under the law of Moses, and in the observance of it:

and not sinners of the Gentiles: , "the wicked of the nations of the world", as the (l) Jews call them. Not but that the Jews also were sinners both by nature and practice, were involved in the guilt of sin, under the power of it, and defiled with it, as the apostle elsewhere most fully proves: nor is this said with regard to the vain opinion the Jews had of themselves, as very holy and righteous persons, who in their own apprehension needed neither repentance nor remission; and who looked upon the Gentiles as very unholy and unfit for conversation with them: but this more particularly respects that part of the character of the Heathens, that they were without the law, and were under no restraints, but lived in all manner of wickedness, without hope and God in the world, and so were notorious sinners, filled with all unrighteousness, profligate and abandoned to every evil work, and are therefore called emphatically "sinful men", Luke 24:7. And indeed the word Gentiles, among themselves is sometimes used for , "a certain most wicked part" of Gentiles in a city (m), and so may here design such who lived the most dissolute lives and conversations, to which the Jews are opposed, who had a written law, and were under a better regulation and discipline. The reason of this description, both in the positive and negative branch of it, is to observe, that since they, the apostles, and others, who were born Jews, and so under the law of Moses, and, until Christ came, were under obligation to observe it, but had now relinquished it, and wholly and alone believed in Christ for righteousness and life; then it was the most unreasonable thing in the world, by any means whatever, to lead the Gentiles, who never were under the law, to an observance of it.

(l) Mattanot Cehunah in Vajikra Rabba, fol. 164. 3.((m) Harpocratian. Lex. p. 93.

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