by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



This is similar to what Paul shared later with the Roman believers. When talking about how God preserved some true believers among the Jews so that when Jesus came, He would find those willing to believe in Him while the others rejected Him. So, in the place of those who would not receive Him, He allowed the Gospel to be preached to the Gentiles through Peter and Paul. That’s why Paul’s question to the Romans is, “What are we to say about these things?” The Apostle then answers his own question by saying that the Gentiles were not made right with God by the Law. They were made right with God because they put their trust in His Son. The Jews tried to be right with God by obeying the Law, but they did not become right with God on their own. Why? Because, unlike the Gentiles, they did not put their trust in God’s Son. They tried to be right with God by working for it. In doing so, the very important building block in their path became their stumbling block as they tripped over the Anointed One trying to get to God on their own.[1]

However, some Jews took Paul’s message the wrong way. Since the Gentiles were born sinners and possessed no law to show them right from wrong, yet God forgave them on the spot because of grace, they offered nothing to God by way of good deeds or participation in holy rites and rituals. In their eyes, this made sin and sinning more important for salvation than obedience to the law and good works. So they asked the obvious question, if being a sinner causes God to love and forgive you, then why not then sin and be a sinner as long as possible?

There were some in Rome who asked the same question. Does this mean that we are to keep on sinning so that God will give us more of His loving-favor? Paul’s response to them was a quick emphatic, No! Not at all! We are dead to sin. Why then keep on living in sin? All of us were baptized to show we belong to the Anointed One. We were baptized first of all to show His death. We were buried in baptism as the Anointed One was buried in death. As the Anointed One was raised from the dead by the great power of God, so we were raised to enjoy a new life as a new creation in the Anointed One.[2]

This echoes Paul’s answer here to the Galatians. Even the Apostle John dealt with this. So, he wrote the following in his first letter, “The person who keeps on sinning belongs to the devil. The devil sinned from the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. No person who became a child of God keeps on sinning. This is because the Holy Spirit is in him. He cannot keep on sinning because God is his Father. This is the way you can know who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil. The person who does not keep on doing what is right and does not love his brother does not belong to God.”[3]

Not only was Paul’s argument against mixing salvation by works, but he emphasized that salvation by grace was the most important way and will remain critical as long as the believers exist.  Some 300 years later, Augustine of Hippo gives his assessment of this argument in his day, especially Paul’s contention that by dropping salvation by works it makes everyone a sinner. Augustine makes it clear, there is no way that Paul’s opponents could accuse him of being soft on those who insisted on continuing to work for their salvation. After all, even those who were unwilling to entrust the Gospel to the Gentiles unless they were circumcised, still trusted the Anointed One for their own salvation. Paul destroyed the ego of those who boasted about works of the law – a false pride that should and must be annihilated. If this wasn’t done, then the Gospel of faith by grace becomes an option. So, in Paul’s mind, the person who after being saved by grace sets out to rebuild salvation by works again is the one at fault. What gives them the right to say that works by the law justifies without grace?[4]

In Augustine’s mind, the thing that bothered Paul the most was that he spent years tearing down the wall of legalistic belief between man and God, so if he did not confront Peter’s hypocrisy now, it would appear as though he too was rebuilding that wall. This is exactly what he saw Peter doing.  God broke down that wall so He might send Peter to the Gentile Cornelius’ house. And did not Peter eat and worship with the Gentile believers in Antioch before these visitors from Jerusalem arrive? Therefore, in Paul’s eyes, Peter was the transgressor here, not the Gentiles.

Early church commentator Marius Victorinus asks the question, suppose that we, after receiving faith in the Anointed One, did to the Anointed One what the Judaizers tried to do? They taught that after putting our faith in the Anointed One and wish to be justified, even though we know that no one justified by the works of the law, we still insist on doing all the works that the law demands, will that mean we will be counted as sinners? If so, then after we believe in the Anointed One for salvation and are ordered not to sin, simply by observing the law, will that make us sinners? In that case, the Anointed One, whom we accepted in order not to sin, would Himself become a minister of sin. Victorinus does not hesitate to announce that if after receiving the Anointed One we return to sin – that is depending on the Law to save us – the Anointed One is not responsible for making us sinners. Paul would declare such a thought as being far from what he was teaching. No right-minded person would think this way. It doesn’t make sense that the One who suffered and died to free us from sin would turn around and cause us to sin.[5]

But Bishop Theodoret of Cyr turns the tables on those who think this way. He sees them proposing that once a person forsook the law and turned to the Anointed One as their Savior in order to enjoy a right standing with God through faith in Him, that by forsaking the Law the Anointed One made them sinners. If proven true, then the Anointed One Himself became a minister of sin. So, any fault that would be incurred, could be laid at the feet of the Anointed One. And by bringing us the Gospel of the Final Covenant, He inadvertently did away with the First Covenant which abolished all the laws and thereby made everyone a sinner. The Bishop says, “Far be it from us to tolerate such blasphemy!”[6]

In Chrysostom’s quite a lengthy exposition on verse seventeen in his homilies he begins by saying that Paul is speaking about Peter. And he questions what if Peter put his faith in the Anointed One but did not receive justification, would it be necessary for him to again embrace the Law? If so, it reasons then that once Peter forsook the Law for the Anointed One’s sake but was still not justified but condemned for such abandonment – then Peter would find out that the One for whom he forsook the Law and went over to in faith really became the author of his condemnation. Chrysostom feels that Paul resolved the matter of Peter’s hypocrisy with an absurd argument. And he points out how earnestly and strongly he argues. For if, he says, it was in Peter’s interest not to abandon the Law, and since he abandoned it for the Anointed One’s sake, he was being harshly judged. So, Chrysostom asks, how could Paul put such a burden upon Peter who was more intimately acquainted with it than anyone?

In the end, Chrysostom does not believe that it was Paul’s objective to correct Peter, but that his censure was directed to him for the sake of Galatians and all those who followed this erroneous teaching. In other words, since Paul was writing to the Galatians who were so easily been fooled by the Judaizers into going back to obeying the Law as a safeguard to their faith in the Anointed One, he wanted to use what Peter did in separating himself from the Gentiles to eat with the Jewish contingent that came down from Jerusalem at the Apostle James’ bidding to show how false such thinking was.

Chrysostom then concludes by saying that this was Paul’s way of asking the Galatians, “Do you not understand what these Judaizers were trying to prove?” They wanted to make the Anointed One, who is the Author of our righteousness, and turn Him into the Author of sin. As Paul says, this makes the Anointed One the minister of sin. Having thus reduced the proposition to an absurdity, Paul saw no further reason or way of dealing with it. He felt that he adequately handled this subject by protesting what Peter and his fellow Jews did.[7]

Ambrosiaster, a contemporary scholar of Chrysostom and Augustine’s, asks: “How can the Anointed One who forgives sin be an agent of sin?” He sees this charge against what Paul is saying as nonsense. He goes on to explain that anyone who wants to be justified by faith in the Anointed One and yet still obeys the law to earn their salvation are admitting that they are still under sin, because faith in the Anointed One delivers a person from the law so that they are justified by grace. However, if we must still surrender ourselves to the Law with the intent of maintaining our righteous standing with God through good works because we are still sinners, then those who stay under the law stay under a curse.

In other words, if someone in prison claims they received a pardon and allowed to go free, but decides to continue to live in jail to serve out their sentence, and be forced to abide by all the restrictions and conditions, they are thereby classifying themselves as still being a prisoner. No matter how many times they wave the pardon around, they are still a prisoner. Ambrosiaster concludes that it is essential that whoever comes to the Anointed One must give up the law as a means of salvation because it frees the slave. Therefore, if he goes back to the law, he will be his own accuser, because he is condemning what he is doing.[8]

One medieval Christian scholar named Peter Lombard who showed great interest and expertise in Jewish law, gives us his insight on what Paul is saying. For him, when speaking of building up again those things which he destroyed, he was referring to the pride he exhibited in boasting about doing the works of the Law. And by doing so, he would make himself a transgressor because the Anointed One’s grace would be abandoned. However, some might contend, that if Paul was now building up the very same faith in the Anointed One that he attacked, he makes himself a transgressor against the Law which he is deserting. This is an argument that only a former Pharisee would understand.

Lombard goes on to argue that Paul did not destroy this faith in the Anointed One since it cannot be destroyed. What really got destroyed was pride. If he then built back up what he destroyed he would indeed become a transgressor? One is a transgressor when one destroys a false idol and then builds it up again for worship. One is not a transgressor, however, when one attempts to destroy a true thing and then later comes to realize that it is true and cannot be destroyed. For then that person holds on to the true thing in order to be maintained by it.[9]

[1] Romans 9:30-32

[2] Ibid. 6:1-4

[3] 1 John 3:8-10

[4] Augustine, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[5] Marius Victorinus: op. cit., loc, cit., On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 31

[6] Theodoret of Cyr: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 31

[7] Chrysostom: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., Homily 2

[8] Ambrosiaster: On Galatians, Ancient Christian Texts, op. cit., p. 13

[9] Peter Lombard: The Letter to the Galatians (Medieval Bible Commentary series, 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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