by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Joseph S. Exell goes on to say that the law will not acquit them; it will pronounce them guilty; it will condemn them. No argument they may use will show that they were right and that God was wrong. No works that they perform will be any compensation for what they already did. No denial of the existence of the facts will alter the case; they must stand condemned by the law of God. In the legal sense, they cannot be justified, and receive justification if it exists at all, it must be in a mode that is a departure from the regular operation of law, and in a mode over which the law exercises no control. The law makes no provision for pardoning those who violate it. It must be by some system which is distinct from the law, and in which man may be justified on different principles than those which the law contemplates.[1]

Benjamin W. Bacon (1860-1932), makes a good point when he notes that the departure by Peter and his Jewish friends from the type of teaching attributed to Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels is more a matter of form than of substance. It is true that Paul’s theological language might fall somewhat strangely on the ears of Peter, and he and other personal followers of Jesus might well be tempted to resent an attempt by Paul to prove them inconsistent with their Master’s teaching. Nevertheless, the real consistency was on Paul’s side and not on theirs. The essence of Jesus’ teaching taught they could exchange this burden of daily rites, rituals, and ceremonies for His “light and comfortable yoke”[2] that He offered them for the “grievous burdens” of the scribes. To trust the “Friend of publicans and sinners”[3] was to seek access to the heavenly Father by the road of the “Prodigal Son” and not that of his “elder brother.”[4] Meantime, it should be remembered that while Paul’s theological phraseology comes from his schooling, his underlying conflict against legalism is the same as that waged by Jesus.[5]

James Denney wrote about the absoluteness of what Paul says here in verse sixteen that we all must come to realize that a person is not declared righteous by God on the ground of their legalistic observance of the Torah’s commandments but through the Messiah Yeshua’s trustworthy faithfulness. Therefore, we too put our trust in Messiah Yeshua and become faithful to Him, in order that we might be declared righteous on the ground of the Messiah’s trustworthy faithfulness and not on the ground of our legalistic observance of the Torah commandments. For on the ground of legalistic observance of the Torah commandments, no one will ever be declared righteous.

Denny reports that he observed many attempts by skeptical scholars to find something quite different in Galatians, which will dispense with the necessity of considering faith as the only option. This they do by connecting verses like a string of pearls to make their point. They argued that the Apostle Paul in this whole epistle is dealing with Jews, or with people who wanted to become Jews, and with their relationship to the Jewish Ceremonial Law – a situation they claim is no longer a reality for us. But this is hardly the case. Nowhere does Paul draw any distinction between Ceremonial and Moral Law. For him, there is only one Law and that is the Law of God.

We note that when Jesus came, He was confronted by how much Ceremonial Law had taken precedence over Moral Law. But we shall find the same line of argument repeated in Romans, where it is the Moral Law which is at stake; and when the Apostle tells us that through the Law we died to the Law because of our union with the Anointed One, or that we are not under Law but under Grace.[6] But Paul is not blind to the effect of God’s law on the Jewish moral law than it has on the ceremonial law. What Paul is trying to say is that nothing in the Christian life explained in any church doctrine or creed explains how the Anointed One turned all our responsibilities to the Law to Him and Him alone. The Apostle Paul declared that the Anointed One redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us. So, it is not a matter of discussion or debate. It must be accepted by faith.[7]

Cyril W. Emmet (1875-1923), would be comfortable if the phrase “not sinners like the Gentile,” were to be expressed simply as “Gentile sinners.” For in the Jew’s mind, the word “Gentile” was a synonym for “sinner.”[8] So when it came to being justified before God as worthy of salvation, the fact that a person was a sinner was already a verdict passed by God. It came without any hope or opportunity for cross-examination, rebuttal or appeal. Paul said that all mankind already is judged as being guilty of sin and the punishment already announced. Was there any hope that a compassionate God might overlook some of those sins and allow them to enter the Kingdom of Heaven by a backdoor? No! So how could anyone like Peter or Paul claim to be justified? Paul says that it all happened when they abandoned their hope of salvation through the Law and accepted Jesus the Anointed One as their Savior. He already paid the price for their acquittal and release from the Law. And since this applied to them as Jews who inherited their religion, it would also apply to the Gentiles who found their religion in the Gospel of the Anointed One.[9]

Lutheran Paul Kretzmann (1883-1965), is quick to point out that what Paul says here about justification is not a matter of feeling, but of knowledge, based upon the testimony of the Gospel. This is the foundation for why we put our faith in the Anointed One Jesus, not in works, not in merit, not in any good conduct of our own, for a sinful person cannot and does not perform any such deeds that will make them pure and righteous in the sight of God. Justification is only obtained in the way it is offered in God’s revelation, by placing one’s faith in the Anointed One Jesus alone. And even then, it is not the act of knowing which merits salvation, but it is the act of believing that it will manifest a new life wrought by God, by which a person receives the righteousness of the Anointed One.

Kretzmann goes on to say that everything that pertains to good works, or even the semblance of good works, must be absolutely ruled out. There is no justification for anyone through moral works of the Law, highly as they may be esteemed otherwise in the Christian’s sanctification.[10] By faith, the sins of the sinner are imputed to the Anointed One, and the righteousness of the Anointed One is imputed to the sinner. Also, by faith, the works that agree with the will of God in the Law are set aside as works that fulfill the Law. However, that same faith, having accepted the justification offered by the grace of God through the merits of the Anointed One, is found in those same moral virtues and ethics that are done to honor the Anointed One for His sacrifice and give praise to our heavenly Father for His love and forgiveness.[11] But never are they to be thought of as adding to or enhancing our salvation. No one improves on what the Anointed One did for us on the cross.

Greek word expert Marvin Vincent explains that when examining the Greek text of verse sixteen it reads, “Having perceived that not is being justified out of acts of law if ever no, through belief of Jesus anointed.” Let’s read this in a modern version, “…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in the Anointed One Jesus.”[12] Here Vincent notes that Roman Catholic translators rendered it, “Knowing that a man is not justified by observing the law but through faith in Jesus the Anointed One.”[13] Taken this way, the Catholic interpreters of the Bible chose to understand the word “but” as meaning “except” or “unless.” That way it would read that no man is justified by observing the law unless by doing so through faith in Jesus the Anointed One. In other words, it takes faith and works to bring about justification. To put it another way, good works done in honor of one’s faith in the Anointed One will justify them before God as believers.[14]

One Jewish commentator gives us an interesting take on how we may better understand the Jewish view of righteousness. He says that there are two kinds of righteousness: (1) Behavioral righteousness – doing what is morally and legally right. (2) Forensic righteousness – being regarded as righteous in two ways: One, that God cleared the individual of guilt for past sins. And two, that God gave them a new human nature inclined to obey God rather than rebel against Him as before. It was Yeshua the Messiah that made this forensic righteousness available to everyone who believes by paying on their behalf the penalty for sin which God’s justice demanded. That penalty was removal from God’s presence into timeless spiritual death.[15]

Another Jewish writer, Adriaan Liebenberg, is disappointed that some non-Jewish believers took Paul’s words here in verses 15-16 to interpret Paul as saying to Peter, since you are a Jew and rightly abandoned the Law (living like a Gentile), why do you compel the Gentiles to keep the law like a Jew by only eating with other Jews? They take this then to teach that Paul was saying that the Law should be abolished. But that is not the case. Jesus Himself said He did not come to destroy the law.[16] To the contrary, He came to give credence to the law by fulfilling it. What Paul was really saying to Peter is this: How are you ever going to bring Gentiles into a living relationship with the Anointed One when you are acting like a sinner yourself? So Paul’s rebuke was not against the Gentiles for not keeping the law, but against Peter for not keeping the law.[17] Paul’s choice to fear retribution from the Jewish group that came down from Jerusalem over fearing Yahweh’s declaration that all mankind were invited to His table, he was going along with false doctrine and ended up playing the hypocrite.[18]

[1] Ryle, J.C.; Exell, Joseph; MacLaren, Alexander; Moody, D.L.; Spurgeon, Charles. The Biblical Illustrator – Vol. 48 – Pastoral Commentary on Galatians, Kindle Locations 4561-4571.

[2] Matthew 11:29

[3] Ibid. 11:19

[4] Luke 15:25-30

[5] Bacon, B. W.: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 67.

[6] Romans 6:14; 7:4

[7] James Denney: Ch. 3, p. 108

[8] See John 7:49

[9] Cyril W. Emmet: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit. pp. 22-23

[10] See Psalm_143:2; Romans 3:28.

[11] Paul Kretzmann: On Galatians, op. cit., loc., cit.

[12] New American Standard Bible

[13] St. Jerome, Interlinear Latin Vulgate

[14] Marvin Vincent, Word Studies, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 104

[15] Stern, David H.: On Galatians, op. cit., loc., cit., Kindle Location 15250-15257

[16] Matthew 5:17

[17] See 1 John 3:4

[18] W. Adriaan Liebenberg: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

About drbob76

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