Freedom Through The Death of Jesus Christ In Galatians: A Nonviolence Reading

Chapter VI

 The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Law

The traditional understanding of the purpose of the autobiographical narrative in Gal. 1-2 is to prove Paul’s independence of the Jerusalem apostles and their recognition of his apostolic status. Since the time of Baur this theory has been supported by contrasting this autobiographical narrative with Acts 9.1 ff. By pointing to the length of time between Paul’s conversion experience and his first visit to Jerusalem and the infrequency of later visits (only one in fourteen years) in contrast to his frequent visit to Jerusalem recorded in Acts, it is argued that in Galatians Paul seeks to establish his independence from the Jerusalem apostles. As Lightfoot says, “Their (apostles) recognition of his (Paul’s) office is most complete. The language is decisive in two respects: it represents this recognition first as thoroughly mutual, and second as admitting a perfect equality and independent position.”[1] However, this theory is unlikely in view of the context of Galatians. George Howard comments, “Although it is clear that Paul was independent of the Jerusalem apostles, his method of presenting the events of his Christian career creates doubts as to whether his purpose in recording them was actually to prove his independence.”[2] Seen in the context of Galatian crisis where the truth of the gospel of Christ is at stake, it is evident that the purpose of Paul in accounting the autobiographical section is quite different from the traditional view. The accounts of the Jerusalem conference and the Antioch incident highlight the primary issue in Galatians, that is, the threat to the truth of the gospel. Both are illustrative of what the truth of the gospel means.

The incidents at Jerusalem and Antioch are related to Paul’s experience of God’s revelation of God’s son. In these two incidents, where focus is on the Jewish distinctive rituals (circumcision Gal. 2.1-10, and dietary laws Gal. 2.11-14) that have formed as walls of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles, the truth of the gospel, which Paul has received through God’s revelation, is at stake. Paul twice states that his actions both in his Jerusalem visit and in Antioch are motivated by a concern for the truth of the gospel which he has received through God’s revelation of God’s son (Gal. 2.5, 2.14). Paul mentions these incidents in his letter to the Galatian churches because it is the truth of the gospel that is in danger there too. In all these three contexts the gospel of Jesus Christ is threatened due to insistence on observance of the Jewish distinctive rituals. Notice the verb “compel” used in Gal. 2.3, 2.14, and 6.12. Some of the Jewish believers in Christ, who patterned their lives according to the exclusionistic interpretation of the law, are insisting on the observance of the Jewish distinctive rituals. Paul counters them by stressing that the gospel of Christ and the system of sacred violence, expressed in excluding the Gentiles through the practice of the Jewish distinctive rituals such as circumcision and dietary laws, are mutually exclusive.  

A. The Truth of the Gospel at Jerusalem Gal. 2.1-10

Historical questions surround the second visit of Paul to Jerusalem to meet the leaders of the Jerusalem community (Gal. 2.1-10). In Galatians Paul speaks of two visits to Jerusalem after his conversion-call experience: first one three years after this experience (Gal. 1.18-20), and the second one “after fourteen years” (Gal. 2.1-10), whereas Acts records five visits of Paul to Jerusalem (Acts 9.26-30; 11.27-30; 15.1-31; 18.22; 21.15-17). Majority of scholars have no difficulty in identifying the first visit mentioned in Gal. 1.18-20 with that of Acts 9.26-30. However, the contention among scholars is with the second one recorded in Gal. 2.1-10. The two prominent positions are: 1. the visit referred to in Gal. 2.1-10 is the famine relief visit of Acts 11.27-30; 2. the visit mentioned in Gal. 2.1-10 is the same visit recorded by Luke in Acts 15.1-31. Among the proponents of the first view are F.F. Bruce and Richard N. Longenecker.[3] Their arguments are primarily based on Paul’s description of the visit as a “private meeting” (Gal. 2.2) and not a public meeting as recorded in Acts 15.1-31, and the reference to “remembering the poor” in Jerusalem (Gal. 2.10). This view suggests that Paul has written this letter to Galatians before the Jerusalem Council. The Council was called to resolve the issue raised at Antioch (Gal. 2.11-14). Otherwise, the proponents contend, it is difficult to reconcile the Antioch incident in Gal. 2.11-14 if Gal. 2.1-10 were an account of the Jerusalem Council, because in the Council that issue was settled through the Apostolic Decree (Acts 15.19-31). The problem with this view, as Dunn rightly points out, is the issue of circumcision, which was the main concern at Jerusalem Council.[4] Since that issue was already settled between Paul and the leaders of the Jerusalem community, according to Gal.2.1-10, then how did it become a major issue of contention again in Acts 15.1-31? The other problem is that there is no indication given in the Acts 11.27-30 of any discussion between Paul, Barnabas, and the Jerusalem leaders over the issue of circumcision.

The second view is that the account recorded in Gal. 2.1-10 is, in fact, Jerusalem Council (Acts 15.1-31). This is based on the close parallels between the two accounts: same issue of contention (circumcision), same participants (Paul and Barnabas, Jerusalem leaders, and those advocating circumcision), and same principal agreement regarding circumcision. Variant details in the two accounts are due to different perspectives of Paul and Luke.

The other well debated question is the time of Paul’s visit to Jerusalem. Paul says that he visited Jerusalem “after fourteen years” (Gal. 2.1). It is uncertain whether “fourteen years” should be counted from Paul’s experience of God’s revelation of God’s son (Gal. 1.15), or his first visit to Jerusalem (Gal. 1.18), or his visit to Syria and Cilicia. The question is whether the adverb epeita is used to divide the narrative or for historical connection (Gal. 1.18, 21, 2.1).[5] Even if it is employed to connect the historical events, the ambiguity is whether it denotes a specific number of years between two successive events or a number of years from Paul’s experience of God’s revelation of God’s Son, since epeita is used with reference to the adverb eutheōs in Gal. 1.16.[6]

Although the ambiguity on the time of Paul’s visit to Jerusalem recorded in Gal. 2.1-10 persists, the purpose of this visit is made clear in this passage. Paul claims that his second visit to Jerusalem was a “response to a revelation” and to place before the Jerusalem leaders the gospel that he proclaimed among the Gentiles (Gal. 2.2). Scholars differ with regards to Paul’s reference to apokalypsis. Some argue that it suggests to either a specific dream or a vision or a prophecy through which God directed or ordered him to go to Jerusalem.[7] They argue that Paul included it here in order to make it clear that he had gone to Jerusalem “at heaven’s behest, not at Jerusalem’s, nor even Antioch’s.”[8] However, this interpretation is unlikely, because Paul uses the term  apokalypsis and its verbal form apokalyptein primarily to refer to the eschaton and to God’s action in the end time (I Cor. 1.7, 3.13; Gal. 3.23).[9] Howard argues that even in the instances where the term is used for reception of revelations by individuals, “these are not oracular commands for them to go somewhere or to do something, but are revelations pertaining to the interpretation of the gospel…for edification (of the community)” (I Cor. 14.6,26). Apokalypsis in Gal. 2.2 is to be connected with its earlier uses in Gal. 1.11 and 1.16.[10] Paul went to Jerusalem to place before the “pillars” of the Jerusalem church the gospel he preached among the Gentiles (Gal. 2.2). The usage of the phrase to euaggelion…en tois ethnesin in Gal. 2.2 echoes 1.16. It implies that the gospel Paul placed before the Jerusalem leaders is the same gospel that he was commissioned by God to proclaim among the Gentiles. As observed in chapter V, both the content of God’s revelation and the content of the gospel he proclaimed among the Gentiles is same: Jesus Christ, the victim of sacred violence.

Paul’s experience on the Damascus road is concerning God unveiling Judaism as the system of sacred violence and God’s vindication of the victim of sacred violence. This sacred violence is expressed not only in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ but also in persecution of apostates and exclusion of the Gentiles. The revelation of Jesus Christ, the victim of sacred violence, has exposed what has been concealed in Judaism. That is, Judaism is a sacrificial structure of sacred violence. Through this God is revealing not only his rejection of the Jewish zealotic way of life that crucified Christ and excluded the Gentiles, but also God’s vindication of the victim of sacred violence. It is this gospel that God has commissioned Paul to proclaim among the Gentiles.

The gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul has received on the Damascus road was placed before the leaders of the Jerusalem community with the primary purpose of maintaining a unified people, which the gospel of Jesus Christ demanded. This purpose of Paul is reinforced by Gal. 2.10 where he reveals his intention regarding the poor at Jerusalem: “They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.” Paul wanted to maintain the unity between the Jews and the Gentiles that has been achieved by the Christ event. That is why he also brought Titus along with him. This intention of Paul’s visit of Jerusalem leaders is also supported by the Antioch incident where Paul had to confront Peter for failing to live according to the truth of the gospel. His words in Gal. 2.2, “lest I was running or had run in vain,” does not imply that he was presenting the gospel, which he has been proclaiming among the Gentiles, to gain the approval of Jerusalem leaders so that his gospel would not be proved false.[11] By the time he went to Jerusalem on his second visit, Paul had been preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ for about fourteen to seventeen years, depending on how one counts the time based on Gal. 1.18, 21, 2.1. Therefore, it is unlikely that Paul went to Jerusalem “to see whether his apostolic mission was valid.”[12] Cousar says:

Paul harbors no doubts about the truth of the gospel and his role in going to the non-Jewish world (to preach the gospel without circumcision). Such an implication would countermand the whole of Gal. 1 and especially the thesis stated in 1.11-12.[13]

Peter, James, and John have confirmed that the gospel of Jesus Christ, which Paul proclaimed among the Gentiles, was decisive. They demonstrated their agreement through the test case Titus, who accompanied Paul. The description of Titus as a Greek is deliberate (Gal. 2.3). It stands in contrast to “Jew” in categorizing the world from Jewish perspective (cf. Gal. 3.28; I Cor. 1.22, 24, 10.32, 12.13; II Macc. 4.36, 11.2). Titus, not a Jew and so an uncircumcised, stands before the Jerusalem leaders as a test case. Their decision regarding Titus applies to all the uncircumcised. Paul says that “even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised” (Gal. 2.3). Paul has used the same verb anagkazō in Gal. 2.14 in the context of Antioch controversy over the Jewish dietary laws, where Paul charged Peter that the latter was “compelling” the Gentile believers to follow the Jewish way of life. In Gal. 6.12 he has again used the same verb where he accused the teachers of the “other gospel” for “compelling” the Gentile believers to be circumcised. For Paul, the gospel of Jesus Christ and the zealotic Jewish way of life expressed by the distinctive Jewish rituals are mutually exclusive. According to him, the Jerusalem leaders, by not compelling Titus to be circumcised and adding nothing to his gospel (Gal. 2.6), have confirmed the gospel that Paul received in his Damascus road experience, which he has been proclaiming among the Gentiles. In other words, they have accepted that the gospel of Jesus Christ and the zealotic Jewish way of life expressed in the Jewish distinctive rituals are mutually exclusive.

However, the Jerusalem leaders’ acceptance of Paul’s gospel did not silence some dissenting voices in Jerusalem. Some “false brothers” demanded that Titus, who was a Greek, should be circumcised (Gal. 2.3-4). Although the sentences of Gal. 2.2-5 appear to be incomplete and do not follow grammatical convention, the usage of dia with the accusative in 2.4 suggests that the “false brothers” insisted on the circumcision of Titus.[14] These dissenting ones seem to be from Jerusalem. Paul considers that yielding to their demand for Titus’ circumcision is shifting from freedom in Christ to enslavement (Gal. 2.4). Here Paul uses eleutheria for the first time in Galatians. Eleutheria (freedom) appears four times in Galatians (2.4, 5.1, 5.13, 5.13), eleutheros (free) six times (3.28, 4.22, 4.23, 4.26, 4.30, 4.31), and eleutheroō (to set free) once (5.1). Doulos and its cognates (douleia, katadouloō, douloō, douleuō) are used in Gal. 1.10, 2.4, 3.28, 4.1, 4.3, 4.7, 4.8, 4.9, 4.24, 4.25, 5.1, 5.13. The contrast between freedom and enslavement become more prominent in the Sarah-Hagar allegory (Gal. 4.21-4.31).

Gal. 4.21-4.31 is a difficult passage to interpret due to usage of expressions that seem strange (“two covenants”) and connections made that are hard to trace, though it is based on an Old Testament story.[15] Paul declares that the Sarah-Hagar story is “an allegory” (Gal. 4.24). He offers a different interpretation to this story. Most scholars think that Paul has taken this story because it had been used by the teachers of the “other gospel” to reinforce the necessity of being “under the law”, expressed primarily through the Jewish distinctive rituals such as circumcision, in order to be an heir of Abraham like Isaac.[16] Gal. 4.21-4.31 is linked to Paul’s earlier argument in chapters 3-4 by the phrase hupo nomon, and the concepts of enslavement and freedom, though Paul uses exagorazō in chapters 3-4 to express the freedom achieved by the Christ event. Paul’s argument in Gal. 4.21-4.31 serves him two purposes: to reaffirm the freedom in Christ that the Gentile believers are enjoying and to reject the freedom that the teachers of the “other gospel” have preached. As noted above, for the teachers of the “other gospel” freedom and being “under law” are coterminous.

The expression hupo nomon in Gal. 4.21 has the same meaning as in Gal. 3.22, 4.4. In the latter references Paul has used the preposition hupo in the sense of subjection or enslavement, thus characterizing the Torah as an enslaving power. The law as an enslaving power functioned by dividing the world into the circumcision and the uncircumcision (cf. Gal. 3.28; 6.12-15). Paul has argued against the law in its function of restriction and confinement to a particular pattern of life that built a wall of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles. By focusing on this enslaving function of the law, he counters the claims of the teachers of the “other gospel” that freedom and the pattern of life according to the zealotic interpretation of the law are coterminous. Paul is reinforcing the same in the Sarah-Hagar allegory.

The Sarah-Hagar story is drawn primarily from Genesis 16 and 21. The focus is on two sons of Abraham. Although both can claim their lineage to Abraham, Paul emphasizes on their different manners of birth: one belongs to a slave woman and his birth was “according to flesh”, and the other to a free woman and his birth was “through promise” (Gal. 4.22-23). In Gal. 4.29 Paul contrasts the one born “according to the flesh” to the one “according to the spirit”. It implies that the one born according to the promise is the one according to the spirit. In Paul’s argument throughout the letter the terms “flesh”, “promise” and “Spirit” are critical.

The importance of the term sarx in Paul’s argument in Galatians is evident by its frequent occurrence. It is used eighteen times. One of Paul’s usages of the term “flesh” in Galatians has “originated in the polemical situation in Galatia, as a metaphor from circumcision and metonymy of the whole way of life that it signified” (Gal. 3.3, 6.12,13).[17] Paul criticizes those who want Gentiles to be circumcised that it implies boasting in the “flesh” (Gal. 6.13).[18] The traditional Lutheran understanding is that Judaism is a religion of “works righteousness” which led to self-righteousness and boasting before God, which in turn, is a betrayal of creaturely dependence on the Creator. Following this view, Bultmann comments:

It is not merely evil deeds already committed that make a man reprehensible in God’s sight, but man’s intension of becoming righteous by keeping the Law and thereby having his “boast.” Man’s effort to achieve his salvation by keeping the Law only leads him into sin, indeed this effort itself in the end is already sin.[19]

For Bultmann, Judaism functions simply as an example of general human pride. Jewish boasting in law performance is but a manifestation of a “natural tendency of man in general…to have his “boast”.”[20] Kasemann universalizes the pious Jew in a way that he represents the religious man who boasts in his own achievements.[21] However, E.P. Sanders in his landmark study Paul and Palestinian Judaism[22] has refuted the Lutheran understanding of Judaism as a religion of “works righteousness”. Sanders argues that the “pattern of religion” reflected in extant Palestinian literary material is one not of legalism, but of what he termed “covenantal nomism”. In this religious system, the law functions within a covenantal relationship between God and the people of Israel. The people of Israel maintain their covenantal relationship with God by observing the law. According to Sanders, certain laws of the Torah such as circumcision, Sabbath, food laws and the special days “created a social distinction between Jews and other races in the Greco-Roman world.”[23] Sanders’ view that the Jewish rituals such as circumcision and dietary laws have created social distinction with the Gentiles is supported by the incidents in Jerusalem and Antioch (Gal. 2.1-10, 2.11-14). This ethnic exclusionism, symbolized by the zealously guarded Jewish ritual boundary markers, is the cause of Jewish boasting: “we ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners” (Gal. 2.15). The context of Paul’s accusation against those coercing the Gentile believers to undergo circumcision and their boasting in the “flesh”, and its juxtaposition with the “world”, to which Paul has been crucified through the cross of Christ, suggest that the “flesh” and the “world”, where the division between the circumcision and the uncircumcision is important (Gal. 6.12-15), are intrinsically linked. Here “flesh” refers “both to the fact of circumcision and the Jewish way of life.”[24] Paul contends that the Jewish way of life patterned according to the exclusionistic understanding of the law is the cause of “boasting” for the teachers of the “other gospel” (Gal. 6.12-13). Dunn comments that “the boast is not the boast of self-confidence, but of Jewish confidence….”[25] But Paul makes it clear that he (and the believers in Christ) has been crucified to the world and the world to him through the cross of Christ.

Paul’s criticism against confidence based on the “flesh” is categorically expressed in the deliberately modified citation from Ps. 143.2 in Gal. 2.16: hoti ex ergōn nomou ou dikaiōthēsetai pasa sarx. Paul replaces pas zōn in LXX with pasa sarx. Paul deliberately did this in order to counter the Ioudaizein conduct of Peter, Baranabas and the other Jews who withdrew from table fellowship with the Gentiles believers. Here Paul’s criticism is directed against sarx that represents a lifestyle denoted by Ioudaizein (Gal. 2.16, 3.3, 4.23, 29, 6.12, 13; I Cor. 10.18; II Cor. 1.17, 5.16, 10.2,3, 11.18; Phil. 3.3,4), and not against sarx that represents natural human life in this world (Gal. 1.16, 2.20, 4.13,14; I Cor. 1.26,29, 5.5, 6.16; II Cor. 4.11, 7.5, 10.3, 12.7; Phil. 1.22,24).[26] His criticism is directed against the Jewish lifestyle patterned according to the zealotic understanding of the law that separated the Jews from the Gentiles.

Although sarx refers to the zealotic Jewish life, for Bultmann this life is expressed in their conduct of self-achievement or self-fulfillment of the law. However, it is unlikely because Paul uses sarx to refer to Ioudaizein lifestyle. Paul uses “flesh” as a synonym of “works of the law” in Gal. 3.2-3, where Paul chides Galatian believers: “Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?”

In the allegory of Sarah-Hagar in Gal. 4.21-31 the son of Hagar represents life “according to the flesh”, and the son of Sarah life “according to the Spirit”. The point of contact between the Genesis story and Gal. 4.21-31 is explicated in Gal. 4.29: “But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it now also.” That means, the son who is “born according to the Spirit” or “through the promise” is the one in Christ (Gal. 3.27-29, 4.4-7) and the one who is “born according to the flesh” is the one under the law. Paul uses the phrase kata sarka to refer to the Jewish way of life based on the exclusionistic interpretation of the law (Gal. 4.23, 4.29). It implies that those whose life is patterned according to this way of life are in enslavement. The link between enslavement and the law has already been established in Gal. 3.22-24 and 4.1-10.  In the Sarah-Hagar allegory by linking Hagar, Mount Sinai, present Jerusalem, and the children of Hagar “born according to the flesh” to enslavement Paul reinforces what he has already argued. In Gal. 2.4 by linking Jewish distinctive ritual circumcision to enslavement, Paul stresses that the Jewish pattern of life according to the exclusionistic interpretation of the law is slavery. Thus, this Jewish way of life demanded by Judaism is a threat to the freedom achieved by the Christ event.

On the contrary, Paul states that those who are in Christ are in freedom (Gal. 2.4). In the Sarah-Hagar allegory Paul links “free woman”, “the Jerusalem above” and the children of the “free woman” “born through the promise” to freedom. Paul contends that the children of the free woman are those in Christ (“our” in Gal. 4.26 refers to those in Christ) and so they are in freedom. For Paul, those who are born “through the promise” are those who are born “according to the Spirit” (Gal. 4.29). He argues that the Galatian believers have already received the Spirit (Gal. 3.3), which is a sign of sonship (Gal. 4.6). The Spirit is also the content of Abraham’s blessing (Gal. 3.14). Thus, the reception of God’s eschatological gift, the Spirit, by believers in Christ, irrespective of their ethnic, class and gender backgrounds, has fulfilled God’s promise spoken to Abraham, that is, the blessing of all nations in Abraham. Paul also says that God’s promise to bless the nations in Abraham (Gal. 3.8) is fulfilled through the Christ event (Gal. 3.13-14). Thus, the Christ event and the reception of the Spirit have demolished the walls of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles, and made them one in Christ (Gal. 3.26-29). This freedom in Christ is threatened by the efforts of the “false brothers” to enforce the Jewish way of life based on the exclusionistic understanding of the law (Gal. 2.4). Paul links freedom in Christ with “the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2.5).

The expression “the truth of the gospel” appears in Paul’s letters only in Gal. 2.5 and 2.14. This phrase is taken as either possessive (“The truth is the truth contained in and so belonging to the gospel”)[27] or subjective genitive (“the validity of the salvation now already bestowed on the world by God…; it is the eschatological and sovereign power of God, now available in the gospel”)[28] By linking the truth of the gospel and freedom in Christ, Paul states that the gospel of Jesus Christ is freedom from the system of sacred violence. He asserts that the truth of the gospel is God’s eschatological redemption through the Christ event from the system of sacred violence, and believers in Christ are in that state of freedom in Christ. 

B. The Truth of the Gospel at Antioch Gal. 2.11-14

The Antioch incident has happened after Paul’s meeting with Peter, James and John in Jerusalem, where Paul’s gospel was accepted. This incident raises a number of historical and theological questions, including the identity of the group that came “from James”, their relationship to James and their place in the Jerusalem church, the identity of the “circumcision group”, and the nature of food that Peter and others participated at Antioch.[29] Scholars differ widely in their answers to these questions. However, the main focus of the Antioch incident is on Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with the Gentile believers. The imperfect tense sunēsthien indicates Peter’s customary behavior of eating with the Gentile believers before the arrival of “certain ones from James”.[30] Peter and the other Jews, by having table fellowship with the Gentile believers, expressed their conviction that because of their common faith in Christ Gentile believers are not to be regarded as “Gentile sinners” (Gal. 2.15) and that they are no longer separated, but rather united in Christ. This questions Dunn’s view that “the Antioch’s incident…shows just how little clarity had been achieved at the Jerusalem consultation.”[31] The reason for Peter’s (change of) conduct was not due to lack of clarity of what was expected by the gospel of Christ. This is evident by the association of Peter, Barnabas and other Jews with the Gentile believers. The reason for Peter’s hypocrisy was fear of a powerful Jewish “circumcision group” (Gal. 2.12).[32] Although it is not explicit about the status of the “circumcision group” in the Jerusalem church, Peter’s change of conduct triggered by their arrival at Antioch shows that this group is a powerful Jewish zealotic group, which insisted on maintenance of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles through observance of the Jewish distinctive rituals such as dietary laws. 

Despite the use of present tense zēs in Gal. 2.14, Paul is, here, referring to Peter’s behavior before his withdrawal. It implicitly points to Peter’s conviction. Ernest Burton argues that the behavior of Peter and the rest of the Jews before the arrival of the group “from James” is due to the decision arrived at Jerusalem Council. He notes:

The brethren at Antioch might naturally seem to themselves to be only following out what was logically involved in the Jerusalem decision, when they found in the recognition of uncircumcised Gentile believers as brethren the warrant for full fellowship with them on equal terms, and, in the virtual declaration of the non-essentiality of circumcision, ground for the inference that the O.T. statutes were no longer binding and ought not to be observed to the detriment of the unity of the Christian community. [33]

Burton contends that the custom of eating food by the Jews and the Gentiles together preceded the arrival of Peter, because it “was clearly an expression of the ‘freedom in Christ Jesus’ which Paul advocated….”[34] On Gal. 2.14 Betz comments:

In the protasis Paul defines Cephus’ present religious status as being a Jew (Ioudaios huparchōn) who has given up his Jewish way of life. He lives like a Gentile ( ethnikōs), that is, no longer in observation of Jewish customs and law (ouchi Ioudaikōs). The present tense of zēs (“you are living”) implies much more than an act of table fellowship with Christian Gentiles. It suggests that the table fellowship was only the external symbol of Cephus’ total emancipation from Judaism.[35]

Peter’s action of withdrawing from having table fellowship with the Gentile believers is considered by Paul as “hypocrisy”. Because it clearly contrasts with Peter’s conviction expressed by his customary conduct of eating with the Gentile believers in Antioch (the imperfect tense sunēsthien).[36] As Betz says, “The apodosis (Gal. 2.14) presupposes Cephus’ recent change of conduct as a self-contradiction: “how can you compel the Galatians to live like Jews?”[37] Paul puts this inconsistent behavior succinctly: “If you, being a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal.1.14). The expressions Ioudaikōs zēs and Ioudaizein are found only in Galatians and Paul uses them in the context of the controversy over the dietary laws in Antioch (Gal. 2.14). As observed in Chapter V, the religion represented by the term Ioudaismos is a religion based on the zealotic interpretation of the law. This Jewish religion demanded exclusionistic way of life expressed primarily by the Jewish distinctive rituals such as circumcision, dietary laws, Sabbath, and festivals. Therefore, the expressions Ioudaikōs zēs and Ioudaizein refer to the way of life based on the exclusionistic interpretation of the law that maintained separation between the Jews and the Gentiles.

Peter by eating with the Gentile believers before the arrival of the “circumcision group” followed a pattern of life contrary to the Ioudaizein lifestyle. By withdrawing from his usual practice of associating with the Gentile believers, Peter was, implicitly, “compelling” the Gentile believers to embrace the Jewish way of life. Paul, by using the same verb anagkazō to describe Peter’s action, understands Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship with the Gentile believers at Antioch same as the action of “false brothers” at Jerusalem (Gal. 2.3-5; the action of the teachers of the “other gospel” in Galatian churches is also same Gal. 6.12). The implicit pressure on the Gentile believers was to accept the Jewish way of life demanded by Judaism, the system of sacred violence. 

Paul, thus, questions Peter’s self-contradiction between his withdrawal and his conviction. For him, Peter’s behavior constitutes not walking straightforwardly according to the truth of the Gospel (notice the present tense orthopodousin). The truth of the Gospel is related to the demolition of walls of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles. Through his act of withdrawal Peter (and those who followed him) was once again building up the walls of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles, which have been torn down (Gal. 2.18), and thus not walking according to the truth of the gospel. Paul has already stressed that the truth of the gospel is freedom in Christ from the system of sacred violence that demanded exclusion of the Gentiles (Gal. 2.4-5). Peter, by withdrawing from table fellowship with the Gentile believers, is again embracing the system of sacred violence from which he was freed by the Christ event. It is this Paul is criticizing Peter when he accused the latter for not walking consistently according to the truth of the gospel. Since God’s eschatological freedom from the system of sacred violence has already taken place through the Christ event and believers in Christ are in the state of that freedom, there is no room for separation between Jew and Gentile in the community of Christ.

C. What is the Truth of the Gospel Gal. 2.15-21?

There are diverse views about the relationship of Gal. 2.15-21 to the Antioch incident in Gal. 2.11-14. Some argue that there is a clear break between the two. They believe that Gal. 2.15-21 is written with Galatian situation in mind.[38] However, others view that Gal. 2.15-21 is a restatement of Paul’s position argued for in Antioch.[39] Nothing in the text signals any break between Gal. 2.14 and 2.15. “We ourselves are Jews by birth” refers to Paul and Peter. Paul sustains the autobiographical note of the preceding account with “I” in Gal. 2.18-21. Paul’s argument in Gal. 2.15-21 was prompted by Peter’s failure to live according to the truth of the gospel, when the latter withdrew from table fellowship with the Gentile believers. This charge required Paul to set out what “the truth of the gospel” was. Hence in Gal. 2.15-21 he explicates the truth of the gospel, beginning with generally accepted position: “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2.15-16). The Jewish separatist vocabulary (“We are Jews”, “Gentile sinners”) translated into action at Antioch by Peter, Barnabas and the other Jews by withdrawing from eating with the Gentile believers provide a context for understanding Paul’s concept of “justification” or “being justified” and “works of the law”.

Paul for the first time uses the phrase “works of the law” in Gal. 2.16. The immediate context of the Antioch incident makes clear that “works of the law” refers to “living like a Jew”. Thus, for Paul, “works of the law” denotes Jewish exclusiveness. The life of “works of the law” is a Jewish way of life demanded by Judaism, the system of sacred violence, which is expressed in exclusion of the Gentiles. In Galatians, Paul has restated this argument because it is relevant to the Galatian crisis. In Galatian Churches also the truth of the gospel is at stake due to insistence on the Jewish boundary marker (circumcision) that separated the Jews from the Gentiles.

1. Justification by Faith in Christ, not by Works of the Law

The term “to justify” and its cognates are predominantly Paul’s words in the New Testament.[40] In Galatians the verb “to justify” is used eight times, of which four occurrences are in Gal. 2.16-17, and the noun “justification” four times (one of them occurs in the Old Testament quotation in Gal. 3.6), of which one appears in Gal. 2.21. The verb and the noun come from the same Greek root dikai-. This linguistic connection is not explicit in the English translation of the verb dikaioō (“to justify” and it can not be translated as “to rightify”), the noun dikaiosunē (“righteousness”, “justice”) and the adjective dikaios (“righteous”, “just”). This has led to an understanding of Paul’s use of these terms either in forensic terms or in moral terms.[41] To put it differently, when Paul speaks of dikaioō and its cognates, does he have in mind a status conferred or a quality of life or ethical life lived? Some scholars support these two views. Bringing these two views together J.A. Ziesler argues that Paul has in mind both forensic and ethical categories, with one always involving the other.[42] However, Paul intends this term to be taken in neither of these linguistic realms.[43]  

In order to understand Paul’s usage of the term “justify”, the incident at Antioch where the Jewish distinctive ritual, the dietary laws, which has served as a wall of separation between Jew and Gentile, is to be taken seriously. The repeated usage of the term “justify” in Gal 2:15-21 reflects on the withdrawal of Peter, Barnabas and the other Jewish believers from table fellowship with the Gentile believers at Antioch. This indicates that “justify” has a corporate dimension. Paul uses this term in the context of the relationship between Jew and Gentile. The separation between the Jews and the Gentiles is expressed by the Jewish separatist vocabulary “we ourselves are Jews by birth” and “Gentile sinners”. Striking here is the Jewish description of Gentiles as “sinners”. In Jewish thought “sinners” are “pre-eminently those whose lawless conduct marked them out as outside the covenant, destined for destruction and so not to be consorted with (eg. Pss. i.1, 5; xxxvii. 34-36; Prov. Xii.12-13; xxiv. 20; Sir. 7.16; ix. 11; xli. 5-11).”[44] Thus, this term is used to characterize the Gentiles (Tob. 13.6; Jub. 23.23-24; Pss. of Sol. 2.1-2). Paul, by using this separatist Jewish language, echoes not only the conduct of the group “from James” but also the behavior of Peter and the other Jews who withdrew from table fellowship with the Gentile believers. It is in this social context Paul uses the term “justify”. Paul’s concern here is not forensic[45] and ethical dimensions, but rather the relation between Jew and Gentile. The traditional understanding revolves around remitting of sins. But the vocabulary of “forgiveness” is missing in Galatians. The term “justify” refers to the relationship between the Jews and the Gentiles, who are separated by the “works of the law” lifestyle.

Commenting on the concept of “justification” Marcus Barth says, “Justification is a social event. It ties human to human together.”[46] Leander Keck has proposed the translation “rectify” for the Greek verb dikaioō.[47] The action involved in the Greek verb dikaioō is the idea of “rectifying” a relationship or righting the wrong. Justify depicts God’s activity of rectifying a relationship or righting the wrong. What has gone wrong in the world is relationship among human beings through construction of walls of separation. In the context of Antioch incident it is the separation of the Jews from the Gentiles through the practice of the Jewish distinctive ritual, dietary laws. This Jewish lifestyle, which excluded the Jews from having fellowship with the Gentiles, prompted the usage of the phrase “works of the law”. “Works of the law” signifies “living like a Jew”,[48] and thus Jewish exclusionism. Paul contrasts “works of the law” with “faith in Jesus”. Paul is  not criticizing “works” as such in an attempt to divorce “believing” from “doing”, but “works of the law”, which is “living like a Jew”.[49] “Works of the law” lifestyle is a way of life demanded by Judaism, the system of sacred violence. This Jewish way of life has crucified Jesus Christ, persecuted apostates and excluded Gentiles from having fellowship with them. Thus, “Works of the law” lifestyle engages in scapegoating victims, who are considered a threat to the social order based on the exclusionistic understanding of the law. In order to maintain social order, those of the “works of law” consent and cooperate mimetically in directing their violence against victims, thus becoming enslaved to the system of sacred violence. Paul reminded Peter and those who followed Peter at Antioch that although they were Jews they believed in Jesus Christ, because they knew that “a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2.16). God justifying a person or making one right is through faith in Jesus Christ.[50] This implies that he/she has died to the law, “a death to its ritually excluding aspects that undergird Jewish separatism.”[51] In other words, the one who believes in Jesus Christ has died to the system of sacred violence.

Peter being convinced that a person is justified by faith in Christ abandoned the “works of the law” lifestyle and had table fellowship with the Gentile believers before the group “from James” arrived at Antioch. By withdrawing from fellowship with the Gentile believers after the arrival of the group and following the abandoned Jewish way of life based on the exclusionistic interpretation of the law, Peter made Jesus “a servant of sin” (Gal. 2.17). Because his faith in Christ has made him to abandon the “works of the law” lifestyle and so, to transgress the law by eating with the Gentile believers. To return to the Jewish way of life was tantamount to making Jesus an agent of sin. By his withdrawal from the table fellowship with the Gentile believers at Antioch, Peter demonstrated that violation of the dietary laws was a sinful action. His withdrawal further displayed that Christ was promoting the sinful action, which, for Paul, was an absurd conclusion. Paul argues that Christ does not promote sin, because to be justified means to be crucified with him (Gal. 2.19) and that means “to die to the law through the law”.

Paul has refused to return to the way of life demanded by Judaism, the system of sacred violence. Because it would amount to again “building the walls of separation” between the Jews and the Gentiles that have been torn down. Paul uses two terms kataluō and parabatēs to express what he intends to say (Gal. 2.18).  Kataluō means dissolve, dismantle, tear down, abolish, bring to an end and destroy.[52] In the light of the issue of table fellowship at Antioch (and circumcision at Jerusalem Gal. 2.1-10) Paul’s metaphors of “tearing down” and “building up” (oikodomeō) refer to the distinctive laws of the Torah that maintained separation between the Jews and the Gentiles. Ta and tauta in the context refer to the distinctive customs of the Jews such as dietary laws (circumcision 2.1-10, 5.2-3 and special days Gal. 4.10).[53] The aorist tense katalusa contains a reference to the time of Paul’s conversion. Paul says that his life in Judaism, as he described in Gal. 1.13-14, has come to an end at the time of his conversion experience. If he observes again the Jewish distinctive rituals that maintained separation from the Gentiles, that would demonstrate him a parabatēs. The adverb palin and the verb oikodomeō point the reader to the hypothetical step of Paul “to live again like a Jew” (cf. Gal. 2.14). By withdrawing from eating with the Gentile believers at Antioch Peter demonstrated himself a parabatēs.

The nouns parabatēs and parabasis are related to the verb parabainō. The verb parabainō means not only “to transgress, to violate”, but also “to deviate, to step by the side of” (LXX Dan. 9.5; Sir. 23.18, 42.10; Acts 1.25). The noun parabatēs is not followed by an objective genitive. The presence of an objective genitive would have indicated what Paul is actually deviating from (Gal. 2.18). Since it is absent, we need to look at the context to discover the implied direct object of “deviation”.  In Gal. 2.14 Paul has accused Peter, Barnabas and the other Jewish believers of deviant behavior when he charged them of not walking straightforwardly according to the truth of the Gospel, when they withdrew from eating with the Gentile believers. Rebuilding the walls of separation between the Jews and the Gentiles by adopting the “works of the law” lifestyle is in a way denial of God’s justifying or unifying act through the Christ event. The truth of the gospel, according to which Jews as well as Gentiles are justified or unified by faith in Christ, establishes a new pattern of life. Paul tries to explain that the life expressed by works of the law and that by faith in Christ are mutually exclusive. Paul expresses his severed relationship with the life patterned according to the exclusionistic understanding of the law through the metaphor of “dying to the law”: “Through the law I died to the law” (Gal. 2.19). Paul died to the law when he participated mimetically in the death of Christ on the cross, when he put faith in Christ, the victim of the curse of the law (Gal. 2.19). The identification of Paul with the crucified Christ has brought an entirely new relationship with Judaism, the system of sacred violence, to which Paul once belonged. The perfect tense of the verb “crucify” denotes both the punctiliar action of dying to the law and the continuing life for God. In other words, Paul says that the system of sacred violence that crucified Jesus Christ is the same system that excluded the Gentiles through the practice of the Jewish ritual boundary markers. The sacred violence that crucified Jesus Christ is the one that scapegoated the Gentiles (Gal. 2.19). It is the violence of the Jewish community by misusing the law as a weapon to crucify Jesus and to exclude the Gentiles.[54] Notice that the system based on the exclusionistic understanding of the law is not destroyed.[55] Rather the death of Jesus Christ has exposed the system of sacred violence, and that the life demanded by this system is not living for God. Paul says that he died to the life patterned according to the works of the law that mandated the separation of the Jews from the Gentiles. Dying to the law is necessary to live to God. Since through the law Paul died to the law and his present life in Christ is a life to God, he deviates from the truth of the gospel if he once again lives according to the law which enforced separation between Jew and Gentile.

Acknowledging the theological integrity presented in Gal. 2.16-21 and Gal. 3.6-4.7, it is evident in the latter passage that the “works of the law” lifestyle separated the Jews and the Gentiles by erecting a dividing wall. The law by introducing the dichotomies, circumcision and uncircumcision, has become an enslaving power. In Gal. 3.19-25 Paul argues that the law is active in its function of imprisoning and guarding its subjects from having any contact with the “outsiders”. It is from this “bondage” or “slavery” that God through his justifying act in Jesus Christ has redeemed humanity. God’s justifying act in Jesus Christ is a unifying act, unifying Jew and Greek, slave and free, and male and female into one single community. This righting of relationships between the Jews and the Gentiles fulfils God’s promise to Abraham: “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you” (Gal. 3.8). Therefore, for Paul no one is joined to Christ except together with a neighbor and for Jew the primary neighbor is Gentile and vice-versa.[56] The gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed by Paul is the good news that the promise of God to Abraham (that is, the unity of the nations) is fulfilled through the Christ event. The death of Jesus Christ brings in the new creation where people irrespective of their ethnic, class and gender backgrounds are united in Christ as the children of God, and possess God’s eschatological gift of the Spirit.           



[1] Lightfoot, Galatians, p. 350.

[2] George Howard, Paul: Crisis in Galatia: A Study in Early Christian Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 21.

[3] F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians (Exeter: Paternoster, 1982), pp. 43-56; Longenecker, Galatians, pp. lxxvii-lxxxiii.

[4] Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians, p. 88.

[5] Betz, Galatians, p. 83.

[6] Martyn, Galatians, pp. 180-182.

[7] Betz, Galatians, p. 85; Longenecker, Galatians, p. 47; Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians, p. 91; Jeffrey R. Wisdom, Blessing for the Nations and the Curse of the Law: Paul’s Citation of Genesis and Deuteronomy in Gal. 3.8-10 (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), p. 135.

[8] Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians, p. 91; Charles Homer Giblin, Hope of God’s Glory: Pauline Theological Perspectives (New York: Herder & Herder, 1970), p. 56; Schmithals, Paul and James, p. 39; John Howard Schutz, Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 139; Smiles, The Gospel and the Law in Galatia, p. 38.

[9] Gaventa, From Darkness to Light, p. 23; Cousar, Reading Galatians, pp. 36-37.

[10] Cousar, Reading Galatians, p. 37.

[11] T.W. Manson, “St. Paul in Ephesus: The Problem of the Epistle to the Galatians,” in BJRL, 24 (1940), p. 66.

[12] Paul J. Achtemeier, The Quest for Unity in the New Testament Church (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), p. 24.

[13] Cousar, Reading Galatians, p. 37.

[14] Paul E. Koptak, “Rhetorical Identification in Paul’s Autobiographical Narrative: Galatians 1:13-2:14,” in The Galatians Debate: Contemporary Issues in Rhetorical and Historical Interpretation, ed. by Mark D. Nanos (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), p. 164.

[15] Cousar, Reading Galatians, p. 81.

[16] C.K. Barrett, Essays on Paul (London: SPCK, 1982), pp. 118-131; Longenecker, Galatians, pp. 200-206; Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians, p. 243. 

[17] Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, p. 121; Barclay, Obeying the Truth, p. 208.

[18] Robert Jewett, Paul’s Anthropological Terms: A Study of Their Use in Conflict Settings (Leiden: Brill, 1971), p. 95.

[19] Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, I.267.

[20] Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, I.242.

[21] E. Kasemann, Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1980), p. 102. Bornkamm too follows similar argument in Paul (London: Hodder, 1971).

[22] Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism.

[23] Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, pp. 102, 103.

[24] Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, p. 129.

[25] Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul: Collected Essays (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), p. 196.

[26] Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, p. 121.

[27] Ernest De Witt Burton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1920), p. 86.

[28] Peter Stuhlmacher, Das Paulinische Evangelium (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1968), 1:90.

[29] Read Cousar, Reading Galatians, p. 43.

[30] Betz, Galatians, p. 107.

[31] James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 73.

[32] It is not explicit about the place of this “circumcision party” in the Jerusalem church. However, Peter’s change of conduct triggered by their arrival at Antioch shows that this group is powerful in Jerusalem church.

[33] Burton, Galatians, p. 106.

[34] Burton, Galatians, p. 105.

[35] Betz, Galatians, p. 112.

[36] There is a subtle contrast between the stand of Paul for the truth of the gospel at Jerusalem against the efforts of the “false brothers” and that of Peter at Antioch against those “from James”.

[37] Betz, Galatians, p. 112.

[38] Betz, Galatians, pp. 113-114; Herman N. Ridderbos, The Epistle of Paul to the Church of Galatia, ed. by N.B. Stonehouse (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), p. 98; Schlier, Galater, pp. 87-88; Smiles, The Gospel and the Law in Galatia, p. 103; Bruce, Epistle to the Galatians, p. 141.

[39] Franz Mussner, Der Galaterbrief (Frieburg: Herder, 1977); Dunn, Epistle to the Galatians; G. Ebeling, The Truth of the Gospel: An Exposition of Galatians, ed. by D. Green (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985); Cosgrove, Cross and the Spirit.

[40] Pauline corpus contains 27 of the 35 New Testament occurrences of the verb “justify”.

[41] Martyn, Galatians, pp. 249-250.

[42] J.A. Ziesler, The Meaning of Righteousness in Paul: A Linguistic and Theological Inquiry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972).

[43] Martyn, Galatians, p. 250.

[44] Dunn, Galatians, pp. 132-133.

[45] Bultmann argues that the concept of “justification” is forensic and eschatological. Paul has in view God’s eschatological verdict upon those who believed in Jesus Christ. He says: “The righteousness which God adjudicates to man (the righteousness of faith) is not ‘sinlessness’ in the sense of ethical perfection, but is ‘sinlessness’ in the sense that God does not ‘count’ man’s sin against him (2 Cor 5.19).” Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, I. 274-279.

[46] Markus Barth, “Jews and Gentiles: The Social Character of Justification in Paul,” in JES 5 (1968), p. 241.

[47] Leander E. Keck, Paul and His Letters (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), pp. 111-116.

[48] Barclay, Obeying the Truth, p. 78.

[49] Barclay, Obeying the Truth, p. 82.

[50] The phrase pisteōs Christou or pisteōs Iēsou Christou is discussed in Chapter VII.

[51] Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, p. 68.


[52] Sam K. Williams, Galatians (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1997), p. 73.

[53] Van Jan Lambrecht, “Paul’s Reasoning in Galatians 2.11-21,” in Paul and the Mosaic Law,  p. 60.

[54] Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, p. 10.

[55] Since this system is not destroyed, the persecution of those considered to be “apostates” by the Jews, who belong to this system, has continued (Gal. 4.29, 5.11, 6.12).  

[56] Barth, “Jews and Gentiles,” p. 259.


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