by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Early church scholar Ambrosiaster offers his interpretation of what Paul says here about the grace of God being nullified if justification could be obtained through the Law, thereby making the Anointed One’s death on the cross purposeless. He concludes that because future life is promised to Christians, the person who lives in this life is armed with the help of God and lives in the hope of the promised life to come. Such a person meditates on their new spiritual image, which they received as a token of their future existence, which through God’s grace is granted by the Anointed One’s love. Therefore, the person who perseveres in the faith of the Anointed One shows that they are not ungrateful to Him for this, because they know that they will receive no such benefit from anyone other than from Him and that they will only insult the Anointed One if they compare Him to someone else unable to do anything to help them.

So, for this early church scholar, there is nothing clearer than this – if a person could be justified by the Law, the Anointed One need not suffer and die. But because the Law could not grant forgiveness of sins nor prevent the second death from being carried out on its captives being held hostage because of sin, the Anointed One died to achieve what the Law could not do, and for this reason, He did not die in vain.  His death is justification for sinners being pardoned by God.[1]

Early church preacher Chrysostom asks how could an act so great on the part of the Anointed One, so awesome it surpasses human reasoning, be of no purpose? How could a mystery so indescribable, for which the prophets yearned in earnest expectation; the patriarchs foresaw and the angels were astonished to behold, acknowledged by all as the crown of God’s loving care – how could anyone say that this was for show and useless? Therefore, how exceedingly absurd it would be for them to say such a deed of great significance and importance proved pointless? Paul adopts an indignant tone toward them saying, “O foolish Galatians.”[2]

As early church scholar Haimo of Auxerre sees it, in spite of what some were saying about Paul version of the Gospel, he was not trying to nullify the grace of God. In other words, he exhibited no signs of spurning the faith he treasured in the Anointed One’s work on the cross and what the Gospel taught about the forgiveness of sins. The problem was, some didn’t want to believe that these were all gifts from God. Certainly, there were somethings people needed to do in order to deserve such blessings? But Paul was quick to respond by saying, “If righteousness could be achieved through the Law, that is, if the Law was able to justify a person as being right with God, then the Anointed One came and died for no reason; His passion was neither advantageous nor detrimental.”[3]

Then Bruno the Carthusian points to the fact that it is evident the Apostle Paul was not trying to nullify the grace of God just because he argued against restoring the Law as the rule by which Christians should live. He said clearly that to restore the Law would be to falsely believe that being right with God would be achievable through the Law. And if anyone could prove that to be true, then he would be willing to admit that the Anointed One died unnecessarily when He came to justify all those who believed in His work of the cross to be forgiven and called children of God by His Father in heaven. So, Paul was more or less asking if there was anyone who would come out and say that the Anointed One died in vain?[4]

Medieval scholar Peter Lombard comments on Paul’s adamant statement that he has no intention of nullifying God’s grace by pushing the Law out of the picture when it came to justification and a right standing before God. Only if he accepted the Law as a contributing factor, then that would certainly be nullifying God’s grace. Lombard suggests a paraphrase to repeat what Paul is saying here, namely, “I am not so ungrateful for the grace of God that I would compare it to something else that might do the same work.” So, if Paul were to admit that the Law possessed the power to make a person right in the eyes of God at the required for justification, then the Anointed One died in vain, having no purpose and without any valid reason.[5]

You would think that with such a compelling argument establishing the grace of God through the Anointed One for complete salvation, that congregations who profess to be the shining light for the Gospel of salvation in the world would simply let grace do its work. But hold on!  Did your grandparents or parents, or, did you yourself ever see or hear of someone who fell at the altar and confessed their sins and received salvation by way of God’s grace in the Anointed One, being told later that if they want to come back and join that congregation and worship with the other believers then they must change the way they dress; take off the jewelry they are wearing; remove their make-up; and change their hairstyle, stop going to movie houses and playing cards?  Did you ever try to persuade someone like that to return and become a member but they told you it would be too hard; they didn’t think they could measure up or become holy enough to make it, so why even try if they were only going to fail?

When this happens, that person equates keeping the church’s laws and customs with keeping their salvation.  So not only did they lose becoming a member of the church but figured that they also lost their place in the Anointed One.  Every congregation should encourage their members to be examples of right living, telling the truth, being fair and honest, helping one another, lifting up the Anointed One and living their lives in honor of Him. But why tell a new believer that because they didn’t measure up to man’s standard of external holiness, they lost all their inward holiness? Does this sound harsh and straightforward to you? Doesn’t Paul really confront that type of mindset? Wonder how the Galatians and Judaizers were feeling now?

Early church theologian Thomas Aquinas says Paul not only denies trying to put away the grace of God, but he uses its principal as part of his conclusion. First, he draws the conclusion, then secondly, he explains it. He begins by saying that because he received such marvelous grace from God, yes, so great was that grace given to him by God Himself, it made it possible for him to place his faith in the Son of God for salvation. Something not available under the Law. So why would he now disown the grace of God? That would make him out to be a liar and an ungrateful fool. As he told the Corinthians: “I am different now. It is all because of what God did for me by His loving-favor. His loving-favor was not wasted. I worked harder than all the other missionaries. But it was not I who worked. It was God’s loving-favor working through me.”[6] Aquinas refers to another version (which he does not identify) as saying, “I am not ungrateful for the grace of God.” He then points to the Book of Hebrews that quotes: “Looking diligently, lest any man is wanting to [misses out on] the grace of God.”[7] Paul knew what would happen if he showed himself to be unworthy because of ingratitude.

Paul also knew that such an act would be a form of repudiation and of ingratitude if he were to say that the Law is necessary in order to be justified. That’s why he says, that if justification came by way of the Law, then the Anointed One died in vain. Did not the Apostle Peter also say, “The Anointed One also died once for our sins, the just for the unjust, that he might offer us to God?”[8] Now if this could be done through the Law, the death of the Anointed One would be pointless. But He did not die in vain or labor for no purpose, as Isaiah complained,[9] because through Him alone came justifying grace and truth, as it is said in John’s Gospel.[10] Therefore, if any were justified before the passion of the Anointed One, this too was through the faith of the Anointed One to come in Whom they believed and in Whose faith they were redeemed.[11]

Martin Luther minces no words in his objection to the way the Roman Catholic church in his day seemed to frustrate the grace of God from being fully implemented as part of one’s salvation.  He reads this twenty-first verse as Paul’s way of getting ready for the second argument of his Epistle, namely: that to seek justification by works of the Law is to reject the grace of God. In Luther’s mind, there was no sin more disrespectful than to reject the grace of God and to refuse the righteousness of the Anointed One? It is bad enough that we are wicked sinners and transgressors of all the commandments of God. On top of that, to refuse the grace of God and the remission of sins offered to us by the Anointed One is the worst sin of all, the sin of sins. That is the limit.

Luther goes on to say, there is no sin which Paul and the other apostles detested more than when a person despises the grace of God through the Anointed One Jesus. Still, there is no sin more common. That is why Luther became get so angry at the leadership of the Catholic church because they snubbed the Anointed One, rebuffed the grace of God, and refused the merit of the Anointed One. For Luther, this was like spitting in the Anointed One’s face, pushing the Anointed One to the side, seizing the Anointed One’s throne, and saying: “We are going to justify you people; we are going to save you.” And how do they plan to do it? By daily masses, pilgrimages, pardons, merits, etc. For this is Antichrist’s doctrine: Faith, they claim, is no good unless it is reinforced by works. By this abominable doctrine the benefit of the Anointed One is minimized, and in place of the grace of God through the Anointed One and His Kingdom ended up spoiled, darkened, and buried. In doing so, established the Doctrine of Works and the Kingdom of Ceremonies.[12]

For John Calvin, since there was no formal congregation in Paul’s day, his great emphasis on how dreadful is the ingratitude manifested in despising the grace of God, so invaluable in itself, and obtained at such a price was in response to the heinous offense by the false apostles, who were not satisfied with having the Anointed One alone, but introduced Jewish rite, rituals, ceremonies, and observances of feasts and holy days as an aid towards securing their salvation in the Anointed One. As Calvin sees it, if we do not renounce all other hopes, and embrace the Anointed One alone, we reject the grace of God. And what resource is left to the person who “pushes away” the grace of God, “and thereby makes themselves unworthy of everlasting life?[13] [14]

[1] Ambrosiaster: On Galatians, Ancient Christian Texts, op. cit., p. 14

[2] Chrysostom: On Galatians, Homily 2:21, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). p. 34

[3] Haimo of Auxerre: On Galatians, The Bible in Medieval Tradition, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle location 1275

[4] Bruno the Carthusian: On Galatians, The Bible in Medieval Tradition, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle location 2006

[5] Peter Lombard: On Galatians, The Bible in Medieval Tradition, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle location 2811

[6] I Corinthians 15:10

[7] Hebrews 12:15 – The Douay-Rheims Version

[8] 1 Peter 3:18

[9] Isaiah 49:4

[10] John 1:17

[11] Thomas Aquinas: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[12] Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 53

[13] Acts of the Apostles 13:46

[14] John Calvin: 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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