Oct 27 2009


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The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians

(Part 4)

Explanation of the Epistle (contd.)

3- Righteousness by Christ, by Faith and Not by the Works of the Law (2: 15 – 5:12, contd.)

+ Righteousness is by faith in Christ who was crucified for us (2:15-21, described in Part 3)

+ Reproaching the Galatians for their Return Back to the Flesh (3: 1-5)

St. Paul goes back to the Galatians asking who brought them to their present condition.  Was this the work of sorcerers or the work of devils? (What they did is against the logic and the reason; he called them stupid, that is lacking discernment, and understanding) so as not to obey the truth which is as obvious as the sun.  He is trying by all means and efforts to teach them, and to present to them Christ from every side, specially, His redemption and His death for our salvation.  He can say that he presented to them the image of Christ hung on the cross.  This is the picture that represents the fundamental work of Christ.  He is asking them: When you were baptized and received the Holy Spirit, was this by the works of the law, or through faith in Christ?

Does God give you the Spirit and do miracles through the works of the law or through faith in Christ?  Are you that stupid and have lost the power to reason?  Did you begin by faith, and now you revert back and finish by the flesh relying on the works of the law?

Was it in vain what you suffered because of your faith?

+ Abraham as an example of Justification by Faith and not by the Works of the Law (3: 6-9)

In his response to the Galatians asking whether God gave them the Spirit and worked in them wonders through the works of the law or through faith, St. Paul brings to them the example of Abraham (he used the same example in his letter to the Romans discussing the same issue) who “believed God (the Lord) and it was accounted (He counted it) to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6, Gal. 3:6).

Abraham was blessed because of his faith (he was still uncircumcised (Rom. 4:10, 12) four hundred years before Moses (3:17) when there was no law or commandments.  The reason of his justification was then his belief in the promise of God that “in your seed (descendant) all generations will be blessed” (Gen. 22:18) and not through the works of the law.  Therefore, all those who are justified by faith, like Abraham, are considered children of Abraham, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.”  So then those who are of faith are blessed (along) with believing Abraham.” (3:8, 9).

+ The Role of the Law (3: 1 – 25)

A- The Law does not Justify (3: 1-12)

It is written in the prophecy of Habakkuk “The righteous shall live by his faith” (Hab.2:4, Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11, Heb. 10:38).  This means “that no one is justified before God by the law” (3:11). Also, the law did not come to justify man, but to uncover sin, and expose it.  The law has also revealed the inability of man to fulfill the commandments to be justified by the law, as it is written, “The man who does those things (works of the law) shall live by them” (Lev. 18:5, Rom. 10:5).  On the contrary, he trespassed the law, failing to fulfill it, and therefore, it was impossible for man to be justified by the law, and he deserved curse and punishment, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under curse; for it is written (Deut. 27:26),’Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the Book of the law, to do them” (3: 10).

B- The Righteousness of Christ has Saved Us from the Curse of the Law (3:13, 14)

The grace of God came with the coming of the Son of Man, who was crucified bearing our sins in His flesh (1Pet. 2:24).  He was condemned by sinners as a trespasser and a blasphemer, while He is Holy without blemish, “God made Him who Knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).  Therefore, he took away the curse from all those who failed to fulfill the law when he was hanged on the cross.  “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (3:13).

Hence, after the law has failed to justify us, Christ took away the curse of the law, and its heavy burden for all, to open the door of the grace of God to everyone, to receive by faith the forgiveness of their sins “that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (3:14).

C- The Promise of God to Abraham did not fall by the Law (3: 15-18)

St. Paul says that even on a human level, no one has the right to revoke another person’s promise (will, inheritance, written agreement) or add to it. The promise made to Abraham was from God, and it cannot be annulled in any way.

The promise of God was concerning Abraham and his descendant (seed), as it is written, “That in blessing I will bless you (Abraham) … And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:17, 18).  “The promise was spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to his seeds” meaning many people, but unto “your seed” meaning one person, who is Christ” (3:16).  Hence, the blessing, the salvation, and justification are in Christ.  The law which came after Abraham by more than four centuries “cannot annul (set aside) the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect” (3:17).  So the promise of the blessing relates to Abraham, and not to the law.

D- The Law has disciplined us, so that we can be justified by faith (3: 19 – 25)

If God’s promise to Abraham is standing, and cannot be changed, why did God give Moses the Law?  “Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not” (3:21). Righteousness could be truly by the Law, if the Law was able to give life.  In truth, the Law came to reveal sins, and to deal with trespasses until the promised one (who is the person of Christ) comes.

If we relive the acts that accompanied the receiving of the Law and the appearance of angels to Moses in many situations (the burning bush, Exodus 3:2, Acts 7:30, 36, and 38) and the defense for his body against Satan, Jude: 9); as angels are always ministering according to God’s purpose (Hebrew 1:14), we can understand why the coming of the law in the relationship of God with His people is described as, “appointed through angels” (3:19) and “by the direction of angels” (Acts 7:53).  As to the words “by the hand of a mediator” (3:19), its apparent meaning is Moses the prophet.  However, some of the Fathers say that Christ is always the mediator in both testaments (1 Tim. 2:5).  And the verse, “A mediator does not mediate for one only; but God is one” (3:20) means that there are two parties to mediate between them, who are eventually God (who is one), and men.

Thus, the law “was added because of trans­gressions” (3:19), i.e. it has uncovered the deviations and the trespasses, “for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).  “But the Scripture (God’s judgment) has confined all under sin (or ‘to disobedience’, Rom. 11:32), that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe” (3:22).  He says it also in another way “Before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed” (3:23).

“Therefore the law was our tutor (as a rabbi) to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (3:24).  With the advent of faith, discipline ends, and the work of the law stops; (we do not need the work of the law, as the Judaizers claim). The believers have the right to say “we are no longer under a tutor (or guard i.e. the supervision of the law)” (3:25).

(To be contd.)


Saint Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship urges you to study the Bible and encourage others to do the same.  Please feel free to make copies of these notes to distribute them. The Fellowship welcomes any questions, comments or additional references, whether for publication in these “Short Notes” or in private correspond­ence. Write to us:

PO Box 6192, Columbia, MD 21045

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