by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



All of this talk about submitting oneself to another, especially believers to unbelievers, led to Aquinas answering the question: “Whether it was fitting for the Son of God to assume human nature of the stock of Abraham?”[1] Aquinas points to Paul’s words here in verse fifteen which in one translation reads that “Jewish sinners were different than Gentile sinners.” And since Adam was a Gentile, if the Anointed One wished to assume His human nature from Gentile sinners, He should assume it came from the Gentiles rather than the stock of Abraham, a righteous man.[2] It is obvious that Aquinas equated Abraham as being a “Jew.” But Abraham was a Gentile from Mesopotamia. Jews are descendants from Judah, the son of Jacob.

If we go back to Jacob, all of the descendants of his twelve sons were called “Israelites.” And before that, the descendants of Abraham were called “Hebrews.”[3] According to the Jewish Encyclopedia the terms “Hebrews” and “Israelites” describe the same people, stating that they were called Hebrews before the conquest of the Land of Canaan and Israelites afterward. The word “Hebrew” means, “cross over,” or “pass-through.” In the Bible, it referred to those who wandered in order to find shade and water. In other words, they were “wanderers.”

Martin Luther also sees Paul’s argument here as a defense of Jews who believed in the One True God as opposed to the Gentiles’ many false gods. Furthermore, Jews compared to Gentiles looked more civilized, because the Gentiles were lawless with no good works. Their being righteous before God dated from their birth and circumcision. Because of the Jewish religion, they were believers naturally. However, none of this truly made them right in the eyes of God.

Apparently, Peter forgot that just because they exercised such advantages, they were not to think of themselves as righteous before God. None of these prerogatives spelled faith in the Anointed One, which alone justifies a person. That doesn’t imply that the Law is bad. We do not condemn the Law, circumcision, etc., for their failure to justify us. Paul spoke disparagingly of these ordinances because the false apostles asserted that mankind is saved by them without faith. Paul could not let this assertion stand, for without faith all things are deadly.

John Calvin shares some of the various views on what Paul says here in verse fifteen that were prevalent in his day. Some say that Paul is stating this in the form of an objection, anticipating what might be urged on the other side, that the Jews possessed higher privileges; not that they boasted of being an exemption from the law. How absurd that they to whom the Law was given should make this their boast. However, Calvin sees it as an attempt on the part of the Jewish believers of retaining some points of distinction between them and the Gentiles. Calvin says that he does not outright reject this view, and yet, as will be seen later on, he does not adopt this view in its entirety. Others, consider that it is Paul himself who uses this argument, “If you were to lay upon the Jews the burden of the law, it would be more reasonable, because it is theirs by inheritance.” But neither does he approve of this view.

Calvin then proceeds to the second part of Paul’s speech which begins with a sense of anticipation. The Gentiles differed from Jews in this respect: Gentiles were “unholy and profane,”[4] while the Jews, being holy, so far as God chose them for His people, might contend that this made them superior. Paul skillfully anticipated an objection, so he turns to the opposite conclusion. Since the Jews themselves, with all their advantages, were forced to submit themselves to faith in the Anointed One, how much more necessary was it that the Gentiles should look for salvation through faith?

Then Calvin shares what he thinks Paul is trying to say here to Peter and the others Jews present in Antioch: We, who appear to stand out above all others – we, who, by means of the First Covenant enjoy the privilege of being close to God,[5] found no method of obtaining salvation but by believing in the Anointed One. Why, then, should we prescribe another method to the Gentiles? For, if the law proved necessary for salvation to those who observed its enactments, it certainly benefited the Jews to whom it was given on Mt. Sinai. But when we relinquish it and surrendered ourselves to the Anointed One for salvation, why must the Gentiles be forced to observe and practice the Law in order to find salvation?[6]

But Calvin offers his view on this subject. To him, Peter’s actions were not only hypocritical and demeaning but also an attack of Justification by Faith. How could he do something that might cause others, including the Gentiles, to return to the Law once again looking for promises of justification through good works? Because of the promises made by God through the Anointed One, the promises offered in the Law are all invalid and ineffectual. Did not God in His goodness sent the Gospel to our aid, since the condition on which the Laws promises depended, and under which only they were to be performed the Law could not provide. Still, however, the aid which the Lord gives does not need good works to justify our right standing with God.

Even with the many who were dedicated to them, God still showed enough patience to let everyone learn that the Anointed One alone is the fulfillment of righteous works. For the Apostle Paul, after making it clear that he, and the other Jews, were aware that “a person is not justified by the works of the law,” but must “believe in Jesus the Anointed One,” to receive what they desired. However, once justified by the Anointed One they were not to stop doing the good works that the Anointed One commanded. But they must remember, they were not doing them to get to the Anointed One but because the Anointed One got to them. For Calvin, this is the message of verse sixteen here in Galatians.[7]

Catholic theologian Cornelius à Lapide (1567-1637 AD), reveals the division between Catholics and Protestants on justification and helps us better understand why Martin Luther and John Calvin broke with the Catholic tradition. Lapide says that the Protestants wrongly neglect the force of between faith and works. That they translate what Paul says here to mean that a person is justified only by faith in the Anointed One alone. And even if the Apostle Paul did say that [8] yet he would not support the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone. For Lapide, the works that are excluded are those of the Law, not the works of hope, fear, charity, and penance which spring from faith as daughters from a mother.[9]

Dutch Reformer Jakob Arminius focuses on Paul’s lecture of Peter’s actions being equal to demanding that Gentile believers be made to practice the same obligations under Jewish moral law for their justification in being called children of God. That included circumcision, rites, rituals, ceremonies, feasts, etc. So, it seems to him that sinners required a simple process in order to become saints because all that’s required to gain entrance into this Christian way is to admit their sins, their disgraceful state, ask for forgiveness and then by faith expect redemption.

But for those who as believers also sin, we must be careful to not lump them in with unbelievers just because they made a mistake, or repent again for some of the sins for which they were forgiven. The Anointed One died only once on the cross and need not die again. So, the Grace of God makes it possible to receive forgiveness from Him without requesting that we be reborn again, which is as impossible for a child of God as it is for a human child.[10]

But Arminius sees another side to Paul’s argument here, and that is his determination to eliminate any chance for believers to be persuaded that justification is obtained through obedience to the Law of Moses for whatever reason.[11] That’s because justification is attributed to faith, not because it is that very right standing with God can make the rigid and severe judgment of God unnecessary, although good works are pleasing to God; but because, through the judgment of mercy triumphing over justice, it obtains pardon from sins, and is graciously imputed for righteousness.

Arminius continues by saying that justification may be defined this way: “It is the means by which a believer’s sin is brought before the throne of grace through the door which Jesus opened by being our atonement sacrifice.”[12] That’s where our just and merciful heavenly Judge deems it justified through grace to retain the repentant believer’s position of being right with Him, not because of anything they did but in the Anointed One alone. It is this grace according to the Gospel that justifies salvation to all who believe to the glory of God, to anything they brought to persuade Him to do so. [13] [14]

Believers are now a matter of most concern for Paul; those called into the fellowship of Jesus the Anointed One, and into being an heir to the inheritance which the Anointed One purchased for His followers with His own blood of which He alone is constituted as the Dispenser of Grace to those who obey Him.[15] Yet, no matter how perfect and efficient our actions and ministry may be as a result of the gifts that the Spirit gave, yet there needs to be some action on the believer’s part so that all who claim Jesus the Anointed One as their Lord and Savior are counted as members of the one true congregation.[16]

This then gives the congregation the right to exclude doubters, apostates, hypocrites, and those heretics who do not hold the Anointed One as the head of His spiritual body.[17] Arminius says as Protestants, however, are allowed to make a distinction between those not baptized by immersion, those who were excommunicated by the church, and those who bring division, and according to the virtues of each case, be affirmed as either belonging to the church or not.[18]

[1] Ibid. Part (3)-Question (4)-Article (6), p. 79

[2] Ibid. Part (3)-Question (4)-Article (6)-Objection (3), p. 79

[3] Genesis 14:13

[4] 1 Timothy 1:9

[5] Deuteronomy 4:7

[6] John Calvin: Cabinet, On Galatians, op. cit., p. 24

[7] John Calvin: Institutes, Vol. 3, Ch. 17, p. 834

[8] Ephesians 2:8-9

[9] Cornelius à Lapide: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 248

[10] Galatians 2:15, 16, 21; Matthew 9:13; 11:28; Romans 8:28-30

[11] Romans 3:20, 28; John 5:24; Psalm 143:2; Romans 3, 4

[12] Hebrews 4:16

[13] Romans 3:24-26; 3, 4, 5, 10, 11.

[14] Jakob Arminius: op. cit., Vol. 1, Disputation 10, para. 12, p. 539

[15] Hebrews 5:9

[16] Acts of the Apostles 2:41

[17] Ephesians 1:22

[18] Jakob Arminius: op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 539

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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