Monday, 7 March 2016
We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Galatians 2:15
It is debated where Paul’s spoken words to Peter, which began in the previous verse, actually end. Are his words through verse 21 included in this address, or does he now speak directly to the Galatians, having shown his disapproval of Peter’s actions and his efforts to call him out? Chapter 3 will begin with a direct address to the Galatians, and so his words at that point are purely for doctrine. However, the words from 2:15 – 2:21 are actually doctrinal in nature as well.
This does not mean that they were not spoken to Peter though, but he changes to the plural in this verse with “we.” Peter was called out for his error openly, in front of all who were there. Therefore, though Paul’s words are doctrinal in nature, they were certainly spoken to Peter and to all who were with him. Paul is, in essence, recounting his words of correction to those who had failed to hold to the truth of the gospel. In essence, it is a mini-sermon for the edification of those wayward Jews which he is restating now in his letter to the Galatians.
The term “Jews by nature” is given for a specific purpose. In Romans 2 , Paul says, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” Romans 2:28, 29
There is the natural Jew who is born of the covenant people, and then there is the true Jew who lives according to the precepts which made him a Jew in the first place. Circumcision of the flesh identifies their lineage, but circumcision of the heart identifies their standing with God. Paul is speaking of the latter when addressing Peter and the other saved Jews. They had given up on works of the law, understanding that Christ was the fulfillment of it. Thus they stood in contrast to “sinners of the Gentiles.”
All Gentiles were outside of the promises of Christ. There was nothing that could bring them into a right relationship with God. However, in Christ, that could happen. Paul will explain to Peter how the same process saves both Jew and Gentile, and thus it will demonstrate that their circumcision of the flesh meant nothing in the eyes of God in relation to their right-standing with Him. All that matters is faith in the work of Christ.
Life application: Later in Galatians, Paul will say that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This does not mean that there are now no Jews. It means that there is no distinction between any of these categories in regards to salvation and incorporation into the body of Christ. The fact that Paul says “neither male nor female” shows this to be true. Men do not stop being men when they come to Christ. Paul’s words need to be carefully evaluated lest we follow unintended paths in our understanding of right doctrine. Regardless of our genealogy, gender, or status in society, we all have access to the One true God through Jesus Christ.
Most marvelous God! How wonderful it is to be in Your presence, saved by the blood of the Lamb. The future, no matter how bleak from this world’s perspective, is bright and wonderful from our heavenly perspective. We have a hope which transcends all grief, all sorrow, and all pain of the heart. You have shown us that these are temporary, but joy in Christ is eternal. Thank You for Jesus Christ – our hope of everlasting delight! Amen.