Galatians 5:2 MEANING

Galatians 5:2
(2-6) There can be no compromise between Christianity and Judaism. If you accept the one you must give up the other. Circumcision is a pledge or engagement to live by the rule of the Law. That rule must be taken as a whole. You are committed to the practice of the whole Law, and in that way alone you must seek for justification. Our position is something quite different. We hope to be admitted into a state of righteousness through the action of the Spirit on God's side, and through faith on our own. The Christian owes the righteousness attributed to him, not to circumcision, but to a life of which faith is the motive and love the law.

The whole tenor of the Epistle shows that the Apostle viewed the attempts of the Judaising party with indignation; and at this point his language takes a more than usually stern and imperative tone. He speaks with the full weight of his apostolic authority, and warns the Galatians that no half-measures will avail, but that they must decide, once for all, either to give up Judaism or Christ.

This is one of the passages which have been insisted on as proving a direct antagonism between St. Paul and the other Apostles; but any one who enters into the thought of the Apostle, and follows the course of his impassioned reasoning, will see how unnecessary any such assumption is. Nothing is more in accordance with human nature than that the same man should at one time agree to the amicable compromise of Acts 15, and at another, some years later, with the field all to himself, and only his own converts to deal with, should allow freer scope to his own convictions. He is speaking with feelings highly roused, and with less regard to considerations of policy. Besides, the march of events had been rapid, and the principles of policy themselves would naturally change.

(2) Behold, I Paul.--The strong personality of the Apostle asserts itself; instead of going into an elaborate proof, he speaks with dogmatic authority, as though his bare word were enough.

Shall profit you nothing.--"Profit," i.e., in the way of justification, as producing that state of righteousness in the sight of God by virtue of which the believer is released from wrath and received into the divine favour. The Apostle says that if this state of justification is sought through circumcision, it cannot be sought through Christ at the same time.

Verse 2. - Behold, I Paul say unto you (ἴδε, ἐγὼ Παῦλος λώγω ὑμῖν); lo, I Paul say unto you. The adverbial exclamation ἴδε, found in St. Paul's writings only here (in Romans 2:17 it should be εἰ δὲ), seems to be more abrupt than ἰδού, pointing to the immense importance and yet possibly unexpected character of what follows. The Galatians might be surprised to hear it; but that which they seemed disposed to take in hand was fraught with utter ruin. "I, Paul:" he thus puts forward his personality, as solemnly gaging his whole credit and responsibility upon the truth of that which he is about to affirm. The turn of thought is somewhat different in 2 Corinthians 10:1 and Ephesians 3:1. There is no reason to suppose that he is glancing at the use which might have already been made or might be made of the fact of his having himself circumcised Timothy. That if ye be circumcised (ὅτι ἐὰν περιτέμνησθε); that if ye set about having yourselves circumcised. The present tense is used also in the next verse and in Galatians 6:12, 13; 1 Corinthians 7:18. Compare the present tense, δικαιοῦσθε, in ver. 4. In Acts 15:1 the πωειτέμνηαθε of the Textus Receptus is replaced by recent editors by περιτμηθῆτε, which is better suited to the posture of mind of those Pharisee Christians who had in view the abhorrent uncleanness attaching, as they considered, to those described as ἀκροβυστίαν ἔχοντες (Acts 11:3); upon whom themselves the Jews fastened the epithet of ἀκροβυστία, not as a mere colourless anti-theton to περιτομή, but as a selected term of reproach as objects of offence and disgust. The apostle, on the other hand, is here not thinking of outward corporeal condition; for he presently (ver. 6) affirms that in Christ Jesus it mattered nothing whether a man were in περιτομὴ or in ἀκροβυστία, as indeed he proved to be his feeling by circumcising Timothy (Acts 16:3). It is the posture of mind that the apostle-is thinking of exclusively. What was this? The very warning of this verse shows, that, in wishing for circumcision, these Galatians did not intend to withdraw from Christ; and it appears from the next verse that they did not, either, contemplate the doing of the whole Law. But then, too, the fourth verse, in which apparently the apostle means to explain and justify the assertion of this second verse, indicates that they sought circumcision with the view of being justified by the Law; not, as has just been remarked, by obeying the whole Law, but by submitting themselves to the Law so far as undergoing this one rite prescribed by it. The conclusion to be drawn from these premisses is that what the apostle means is this: If ye have yourselves circumcised with the view of thereby obtaining righteousness before God, ye forfeit all hope of receiving benefit from Christ (see note on Galatians 4:10). In comparing the present passage with Galatians 6:12, 13, we observe that, while here he is dealing with those who sought circumcision with the view of assuring their righteousness before God, he is there referring to persons actuated by an altogether different set of motives. Christ shall profit you nothing (Ξριστὸς ὑμᾶς οὐδὲν ὠφωλήσει). "The future tense marks the certain result of their being circumcised: 'Christ (as you will find) will never profit you anything'" (Bishop Ellicott). The future time is not, in particular, for example, the time of Christ's second coming; but that which follows upon their receiving circumcision - the hour in which their distrust in Christ eventuated in the overt act of having themselves circumcised for the purpose of gaining righteousness thereby, would decisively cut them off from Christ. Their circumcision would be for them the sacrament of excision from Christ. We may compare with this the awful passage referring to the consequences accruing to Jewish Christians from their relapsing to Judaism, in Hebrews 10:26-30. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this passage, in determining the relation between trust in Christ's atonement and participation in the benefits of that atonement. It is at his extreme peril that a Christian allows himself in misgivings as to whether Christ's mediation is all-sufficient for the securing of his peace with God and his part in God's kingdom. It is by reliance upon Christ's work that his salvation through Christ is secured; by distrust in it his salvation is brought into peril; by definite unbelief his salvation is forfeited. This is in perfect accordance with the apostolic doctrine in general; but rarely is it so strongly and incisively asserted as it is here.

5:1-6 Christ will not be the Saviour of any who will not own and rely upon him as their only Saviour. Let us take heed to the warnings and persuasions of the apostle to stedfastness in the doctrine and liberty of the gospel. All true Christians, being taught by the Holy Spirit, wait for eternal life, the reward of righteousness, and the object of their hope, as the gift of God by faith in Christ; and not for the sake of their own works. The Jewish convert might observe the ceremonies or assert his liberty, the Gentile might disregard them or might attend to them, provided he did not depend upon them. No outward privileges or profession will avail to acceptance with God, without sincere faith in our Lord Jesus. True faith is a working grace; it works by love to God, and to our brethren. May we be of the number of those who, through the Spirit, wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. The danger of old was not in things of no consequence in themselves, as many forms and observances now are. But without faith working by love, all else is worthless, and compared with it other things are of small value.Behold, I Paul say unto you,.... The apostle proceeds to give some reasons and arguments to enforce the above exhortation and dissuasion: the first of which is introduced with a note of attention, "behold"; what he was about to say being matter of great moment and importance; and also mentions himself by name, as the assertor of it; and that, either because his name was well known to them, and the rather because of his apostolical authority; and to show his full assurance of this matter, and his intrepidity, and that he was no ways ashamed of it, they might, if they pleased, say it to whomsoever they would, that Paul the apostle affirmed,

that if ye be circumcised Christ shall profit you nothing: he speaks of circumcision, not as when it was an ordinance of God, but as it was now abolished by Christ; and that got as singly performed on some certain accounts for he himself circumcised Timothy for the sake of the Jews; but as done in order to salvation, or as necessary unto it; which was the doctrine the false apostles taught and these Galatians were ready to give into: now circumcision submitted to on this consideration, and with this view rendered Christ unprofitable, made his death to be in vain, his sacrifice of no effect, and his righteousness useless: besides, Christ is a whole Saviour, or none at all; to join anything with him and his righteousness, in the business of justification and salvation, is interpreted by him as a contempt and neglect of him, as laying him aside, and to such persons he is of no profit; and if he is not, what they have, and whatsoever they do, will be of no advantage; wealth and riches, yea, the whole world could it be gained, their works and righteousness, whatever show they make before men, God has declared shall not profit them; and trusting to these renders Christ unprofitable to them. This is directly contrary to the notions of the Jews, who think they shall be saved for their circumcision, and that that will secure them from hell; they say (m) no circumcised person goes down to hell, and that whoever is circumcised shall inherit the land; but there is none shall inherit the land, save a righteous person; but everyone that is circumcised is called a righteous man (n); so that circumcision is their righteousness, on account of which they expect heaven and happiness.

(m) Shemot Rabba, sect. 19. fol. 104. 4. (n) Zohar in Exod. fol. 10. 2.

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