ST. PAUL'S LETTER TO THE GALATINAS
Lesson 2: Chapters 2:1-3:22

Gracious Heavenly Father,
St. Paul taught that our justification comes from Your divine grace. It is the free and undeserved help that You give us to respond in faith to belief in Christ Jesus. It is through Christ that we receive forgiveness for our sins and restoration to fellowship with You through His sacrifice. We also become Your adopted children and partakers of the divine nature and eternal life. Help us to understand that the gift of Your grace is a participation in the very life of the Most Holy Trinity, and that we have, through the Sacrament of Christian Baptism, the right to call you "Father" in union with God the Son. We know, Lord, that Your gift of divine grace must never be taken for granted. Give us both the will and the love to abide in Your supernatural gift and to follow the example of St. Paul in our devotion and obedience to Christ's Gospel of salvation. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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... on account of the law he [Paul] had acquired a bad reputation among the Jews, as though his preaching was out of harmony with the preaching of the other Apostles. Many were having doubts on account of this, which were sufficient to make the Gentiles anxious, in case they had been trained in something other than that which was preached by the Apostles who had been with the Lord.
Ambrosiaster, Epistle to the Galatians, 2.2.1

From the beginning of St. Paul's ministry, he was embroiled in conflict with his Jewish brethren. His first opponents were the Jews who denied Jesus was the Messiah and viewed Paul's conversion to Christianity as a traitorous act. However, as the Church continued to grow, attracting many Jews, there were among the Jewish converts those who accepted Jesus as the Messiah but refused to let go of the commands and prohibitions in the Law of Moses. It is those Jewish-Christians, referred to as Judaizers, who now opposed Paul's doctrine of salvation by grace alone and not through the old Law and the initiation rite of circumcision.

St. Paul has found himself at the center of the Church's first great internal crisis. It began when the Church began to baptize Gentiles. In Acts Chapter 10, the Holy Spirit gave St. Peter a private revelation and then sent him to baptize a group of Roman Gentiles in Caesarea after they made a profession of faith. When he returned to Jerusalem, he was immediately challenged by the other Apostles and Jewish-Christians: Now the Apostles and brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles too had accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem the circumcised believers confronted him, saying, "You entered the house of uncircumcised people and ate with them" (Acts 11:3).

Under the old Law, the rite of circumcision and the dietary restrictions (Lev chapter 11) were meant to separate God's people from the ritually "unclean" pagan peoples of the Gentile world. The Israelites were to be a holy people completely set apart to fulfill the destiny God had planned for them in bringing forth the promised "woman" of Genesis 3:15 and her Son who was destined to be the Redeemer-Messiah who would crush the power of Satan over mankind. With the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, the rituals of separation in the old Law were no longer necessary. The call of God's grace and salvation were now extended to all members of the human family to once again be united as children of the Living God, as St. Peter understood and told the members of the Church after baptizing the Roman centurion and his family and friends. Peter vigorously defended his actions, saying, "God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too" (Acts 11:18), and while the other Apostles stopped objecting and glorified God, not all Jewish-Christians agreed.(1)

In the late 40's the once entirely Jewish New Covenant people were being overwhelmed by Gentile converts, and Jewish Christians were feeling threatened. So called Judaizers, Jewish-Christians who want to keep many of the rituals of the old law, had visited mixed Jewish and Gentile churches and almost entirely Gentile Christian communities, like those in Galatia, and told them they must be circumcised and observe certain other ritual of the old Mosaic Law in order to be "saved" (Acts 15:1).

In his Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul is both disappointed and angry with the faith communities he established in Galatia. They have been encouraged to abandon Paul's teachings in favor of the false gospel they have received from Jewish-Christians from Jerusalem, and Paul expresses his amazement at their willingness to so easily abandon the Gospel of Jesus Christ that he preached to them. The question of what from the old Law to retain became an issue as soon as Gentiles began to be admitted to the New Covenant Church has now become a point of division that threatens the very unity of the Body of Christ.

The Old Covenant rite of circumcision has become the heart of the issue.
Question: What was the importance of circumcision in past covenant formations with Yahweh? See Gen 17:9-14; Ex 12:48-49; Lev 12:3.
Answer: Since the time of God's covenant formation with Abraham, circumcision was a visible sign of covenant union. The command for the Israelites to continue this sign was repeated in the Law of the Sinai Covenant.

Question: What was this outward sign supposed to represent (see Dt 10:16)? And what promise was given for future generations of the Israelites (see Dt 30:1-6)? Was the promise fulfilled?
Answer: Physical circumcision was only an outward sign that pointed to an inward condition of sanctified, circumcised hearts. God promised that, when His covenant blessings and curses were fulfilled, He would gather the descendants of Israel from among the nations where they had been scattered and would give them circumcised hearts so that they "may love the LORD [Yahweh], your God will all your heart and all your soul, and may live." This promise was fulfilled in the universal Church of Jesus Christ that called all peoples of all nations to salvation and sanctification through the covenant sign of Christian Baptism.

Paul is writing his letter to the churches of Galatia in hopes of saving the Galatians from falling away from Jesus' Gospel of salvation and into apostasy.(2)
Question: What are the serious theological implications of the false doctrine of the Judaizers (Jewish-Christians)?
Answer: To embrace the old covenant ritual of circumcision and other such rituals as signs of salvation denies the supernatural effect of Christian Baptism in which the Holy Spirit circumcises hearts by imparting new life. Such a doctrine also denies the salvific work of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the altar of the Cross and in His Resurrection.

In Chapter two St. Paul continues to defend his Gospel and his authority as he makes three claims:

  1. There is only one Gospel and that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul preaches.
  2. He was not commissioned by human beings but received his Gospel through a revelation from Jesus Christ Himself.
  3. The Gospel that Paul preaches is the path to true liberty from the curse-judgment of the Law.

Chapter 2: St. Paul Continues to Defend His Gospel and His Authority

Galatians 2:1-10 ~ Journey to Jerusalem
1 Then after fourteen years I again went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2 I went up in accord with a revelation, and I presented to them the Gospel that I preached to the Gentiles "but privately to those of repute "so that I might not be running, or have run, in vain. 3 Moreover, not even Titus, who was with me, although he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised, 4 but because of the false brothers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, that they might enslave us "5 to them we did not submit for a moment, so that the truth of the Gospel might remain intact for you. 6 But from those who were reputed to be important (what they once were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) "those of repute made me add nothing. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the Gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter to the circumcised, 8 for the one who worked in Peter for an apostolate to the circumcised worked also in me for the Gentiles, 9 and when they recognized the grace bestowed upon me, James and Kephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas their right hands in partnership, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, we were to be mindful of the poor, which is the very thing I was eager to do.

Question: Who are Barnabas and Titus? For Barnabas see Acts 4:36-37; 9:26-27; 11:20-26; 12:25; 13:1-3; 15:2, 37-39; 1 Cor 9:6. For Titus see 2 Cor 2:13; 7:6, 13-15; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18; Gal 2:1-5; Paul's Letter to Titus 1:4; 3:12; 2 Tim 4:10.
Answer:

Barnabas Titus
Joseph was a Jew and one of Jesus' disciples to whom the Apostles gave the name "Barnabas" ""son of encouragement." He was described as "a good man full of the Holy Spirit and faith" (Acts 4:36-37; 11:24). Titus was a Gentile Christian (Gal 2:3) who became one of Paul's missionary partners (2 Cor 8:23).
He was a Levite originally from Cyprus who sold his property there and made a gift of the money from the sale to the Jerusalem church (Acts 4:36-37). He was with Paul in Jerusalem when circumcision was debated, and he was used as an example for the unnecessary application of circumcision for Gentile-Christians (Gal 2:1-5)
He was the kinsman of Mary of Jerusalem and her son John-Mark (Col 4:10). He was sent by Paul as a representative to the Corinthian community (2 Cor 2:13; 7:6, 13-15; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18).
He sponsored Paul in the Jerusalem church (Acts 9:26-27). He was sent to collect a charitable contribution for the church in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:6).
He took Paul with him to teach in the church at Antioch, Syria (Acts 11:20-22, 25-26). He was the recipient of St. Paul's Letter to Titus.
He traveled to Jerusalem with Paul with alms for the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:19-30). He went with Paul to Crete where he helped to organize the church there (Titus 1:4).
He and Paul were chosen by the elders at Antioch to lead the first missionary journey into Asia Minor (Acts 13:1-3). He was sent to work with the new faith community at Nicopolis (Titus 3:12).
He was part of the delegation the church at Antioch sent to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:2-4). He helped with the Christian communities in Dalmatia (2 Tim 4:10).
He had a falling out with Paul over John-Mark; therefore he and Mark left for missionary work in Cyprus (Acts 15:37-39).  
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2016

According to Christian tradition, St. Barnabas was the founder and first bishop of the Church in Cyprus where he was martyred at Salamis in c. 61 AD, and Titus became the Bishop of Crete.

The journey to Jerusalem, which Paul describes in Galatians chapter 2, could be Barnabas and Paul's relief mission to the New Covenant communities that were in need in Judea; it was a journey that ended in Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30; 12:25). Or it could be the meeting of the first council of the universal Magisterium, the Council of Jerusalem, which met in circa 49/50AD (Acts chapter 15).

The Council of Jerusalem in Acts Chapter 15 was called to decide such important issues as the requirements for Gentile converts. It was an issue that was very important to St. Paul, and is at the heart of the reason for his letter to the Galatians (see Acts chapter 15). Paul writes that he visited Jerusalem after fourteen years in 2:1. Assuming that Paul's conversion experience took place in c. 34 or 36 (a number of scholars believe it was as early as 34 AD), and his first visit to Jerusalem was three years later, but only two years as we count with 36 being year one, in c. 37, it would only be twelve years until the Jerusalem Council as the ancient's counted or fourteen years counting from year 34 AD. Another possibility is that Paul was counting the fourteen years from when he first left Jerusalem to journey to Damascus.(3) If Paul is referring to his visit to Jerusalem for the Council, his letter to the Galatians would have been written after the meeting that took place in c. 49/50 AD. However if the meeting hadn't yet taken place to decide the issue of circumcision, then the letter is probably written after his visit with the charitable contribution and prior to the Council.

St. Paul's Visits to Jerusalem in the New Testament
1. Paul's visit to Jerusalem after his conversion experience (Acts 9:26-27)
2. Paul and others visit Jerusalem after delivering their charity contributions to churches in Judea (Acts 12:29).
3. Paul attends the Council of Jerusalem (Acts chapter 15).
4. Paul's final visit to Jerusalem (Acts 21:15, 17).

Paul writes that he, Barnabas and Titus traveled to Jerusalem as representatives of the church at Antioch to receive the Church's blessings on the missionary efforts among the Gentiles so their efforts would not be "in vain" (Gal 2:2). This could be a reference to the first missionary journey that Barnabas and Paul were about to make and their desire to make sure they had the blessing of Peter and the Apostles and to acknowledge their authority. The church at Antioch, Syria is the same Christian community to which the mother church in Jerusalem had sent Barnabas to insure the community of Jews and Gentiles received proper instruction in the New Covenant faith.(4) Barnabas had enlisted Paul to join him in his mission (Acts 11:19-26), and it was the first community to call themselves "Christians" (Acts 11:26). It is the vibrant, Spirit filled community in Antioch that sent Barabbas and Paul on their first a missionary journey into Asia Minor to found the Galatian faith communities, and later sent Paul and his companions on two more journeys into Greece to spread the Gospel (Acts 13:1-3).

A delegation of Jewish Christians from Jerusalem came to Antioch in c. 49 AD and disrupted the entire community by what they told the Gentile Christian converts.

Question: What disturbing teaching did they give the Jewish and Gentile Christians at Antioch and what was the response of the community? See Acts 15:1-2.

Answer: They were told that the Gentiles who had not been circumcised according to Mosaic Law were not saved. The Christian community decided to send a delegation led by Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to confer with the Apostles and presbyters of the Church's Magisterium.

3 Moreover, not even Titus, who was with me, although he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised, 4 but because of the false brothers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, that they might enslave us "5 to them we did not submit for a moment, so that the truth of the Gospel might remain intact for you.
Titus was a Gentile convert and companion of St. Paul who became part of the circumcision controversy. The "false brothers" who sought to "enslave us" under the old Law were the Judaizers.

6 But from those who were reputed to be important (what they once were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) "those of repute made me add nothing.
This verse is probably a reference to Peter, the Apostles, and St. James Bishop of Jerusalem who approved of the Gospel message Paul was preaching. Paul's tone raises the question if Paul's declaration that "God shows no partiality" is an expression of his idea of equality with the Church's leadership and a shadow of reluctance to acknowledge the superiority of Peter and the Magisterium? Although the important point is that Paul did submit to them, and Paul adds that they agreed with him (verse 7).

7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the Gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter to the circumcised, 8 for the one who worked in Peter for an apostolate to the circumcised worked also in me for the Gentiles, 9 and when they recognized the grace bestowed upon me, James and Kephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas their right hands in partnership, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, we were to be mindful of the poor, which is the very thing I was eager to do.
This is the first time Paul has mentioned the free gift of God's "grace." He writes that the Apostles recognized he had responded to God gift of grace by his faith in Jesus Christ (verse 9); he will mention it again in verse 21. Some scholars point to Paul mentioning St. James, probably James the Just, the Bishop of Jerusalem, before Peter. He has mentioned Peter first in other passages, so this order probably doesn't mean anything except perhaps an extra fondness for Bishop James as the leader of the mother Church in Jerusalem. Paul writes about this James in Galatians 1:19.

This time Paul mentions St. Peter by his Greek name instead of his usual Aramaic title given to him by Jesus, "Rock," which he uses in the next verse, Kephas. John is probably the Apostle John Zebedee. He calls these three the "reputed" "pillars" of the Church, who he says gave him and Barnabas the mandate to preach to the Gentiles. However, it is surely an over simplification on Paul's part to say that Peter and the others were only sent to the Jews/the circumcised. Peter was already sent by the Holy Spirit to the Gentile Roman Cornelius and his community of God-fearers to baptize them in Acts chapter 10. And Peter has defended his decision to baptize the Gentiles and welcome them into the Church to the Jewish-Christians of the church in Jerusalem who challenged him in Acts 11:1-18 saying "If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?"

It should also be noted that Paul didn't only minister to the Gentiles but made it his policy to visit Jewish Synagogues before taking his Gospel message to the Gentiles (see for example Acts 13:14-42 and 14:1). Or perhaps Paul was speaking geographically rather than ethnically, but surely the Apostles would never see their mission as only to the Jews of Judea and the Galilee. After all, each of the Apostles, with the exception of John Zebedee, were martyred in countries outside of Judea "Thomas, for example, was martyred at his altar in India and Peter was martyred in Rome.

Question: Notice in verse 10 that the leadership of the Church gave instructions to Paul and Barnabas on what must accompany the Gospel message. What was the point of Peter and the Magisterium in their instructions in verse 10?
Answer: The point was the necessity of good works to accompany the preaching of the Gospel. It has always been the Church's teaching that the Gospel must be sent forth in words and deeds!

Galatians 2:11-14 ~ Paul's dispute with Peter at Antioch
11 And when Kephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. 12 For until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself because he was afraid of the circumcised. 13 And the rest of the Jews also acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the Gospel, I said to Kephas in front of all, "If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"

The Judaizers who caused disunity within the mixed Jewish and Gentile Christian communities represented themselves as coming from James, which Paul mentions and accepts in verse 12. Paul would not have known any differently if this letter was written prior to the Jerusalem Council when James emphatically denied sending these men (Acts 15:24).

Question: The Judaizers who came to the Antioch community and to the Galatian churches represented themselves as being sent by St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem, but were they? See the letter sent with the authority of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15:23-29.
Answer: They represented themselves as coming with authority from the church in Jerusalem, but this was a false claim. In Acts 15:24, St. James completely denounced their claim.

It was St. Paul's opinion that Peter was acting hypocritically toward the Gentiles after his acknowledgment that God intends that His salvation be equally extended to them through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. He also makes the same accusation against his loyal friend Barnabas in verse 13. Paul's confrontation with Peter probably occurred when Peter came to Antioch after Herod Agrippa I (died 44 AD) executed the Apostle James Zebedee (42 AD) and planned to have Peter executed. Peter escaped with the help of an angel and left Jerusalem (see Acts 12:1-19). Bishop Eusebius records in his the 4th century history of the Church that Pope St. Clement, who was ordained a priest by Peter and was the fourth pope (88-99 AD) wrote that after Peter left Jerusalem he went to the church at Antioch, Syria (Paul's home church) where he stayed for seven years before coming to Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius (ruled from 41-54 AD). Peter remained there for twenty-five years until he was martyred in c.67 AD (Church History, 3.36; also see Jerome, de vir. ill, 100.1).

It would be incredible if this dispute occurred after the Council of Jerusalem. At the Council Peter again spoke forcefully in defense of not placing a "yoke" upon the Gentiles and that salvation was not associate with works of the law but was a gift of God's divine grace (Acts 15:7-11). Would Peter have gone against his revelation by the Holy Spirit in Acts 10:1-16, 34-35 and own words both in Acts 11:3; 15:7-11, and the final decree of the Council in Acts 15:22-29?

I said to Kephas in front of all, "If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"
This accusation is somewhat of a contradiction. Evidently Peter was not living under the strict dietary laws of the old Sinai Covenant, so his eating with the Jewish-Christians could not be because he had reverted to or approved of the old dietary rituals.

It is likely this event occurred after Peter's vision in Acts 10 but prior to the Council of Jerusalem when this issue was settled once and for all within the Church, and those Jewish-Christians who disagreed left to form their own community. It is also likely that Paul misinterpreted Peter's motives. Peter may have been having private meetings and meals with Jewish-Christians in order to shore up the divisions between Jews and Gentiles. It was Peter's mission to build unity within the Church. The problem wasn't with the Gentiles; it was with the Jewish-Christians, and they were the ones who needed to be convinced. In addition, even if Paul sincerely believed that Peter was in error, why would he undermine Peter's reputation in this way to the newly founded Christian communities in Galatia? Was he tearing Peter down in order to build himself up, or did his anger and frustration get in the way of good judgment?

Galatians 2:15-21 ~ Justification by Faith and not by Works of the Law
15 We who are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles, 16 yet who know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. 17 But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves are found to be sinners, is Christ then a minister [servant] of sin? Of course not! 18 But if I am building up again those things that I tore down, then I show myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 yet I live no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

In 2:9 and 21 Paul refers to the gift of God's divine grace. The Catholic dictionary defines grace: "In biblical language the condescension or benevolence (Greek charis) shown by God toward the human race; it is also the unmerited gift proceeding from this benevolent disposition. Grace, therefore, is a totally gratuitous gift on which man has absolutely no claim ..."
(Modern Catholic Dictionary, page 166). It is our response to God's grace that generates faith, and it is faith that leads us to proclaim belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

... a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ...
Paul may be referring to Psalm 143:2, Do not enter into judgment with your servant; before you no living being can be just "a reference to the burden of original sin.

16b ...but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
It is only through faith in Jesus Christ that one is justified. Notice that Paul is not referring to works of love in fulfilling Jesus' command to show love to both God and our brothers and sisters in the human family through our good deeds (Mt 22:37-39; Mt 25:31-46). He is instead addressing obedience to the works of the Law under the various commands and prohibitions of the old Sinai Covenant. In this passage, Paul insists that salvation is through faith in Christ and not through works of the Law. Justification is by faith (verse 16) in relation to sin (verse 17), and through the law Paul died to the law (19), to receive life in Christ (verses 19-20), by the gift of God's grace (verse 21).

17 But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves are found to be sinners, is Christ then a minister [servant] of sin? Of course not!
In verse 17 Paul asks a rhetorical question and then gives his own answer. His answer to his own question is that Christ is not an agent or promoter of sin. This may be a response to Judaizers who say that justification on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ makes Jesus an abettor of sin when Christians are found to be sinners. Paul denies this as a false conclusion since all human beings are sinners and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23; also see Rom 2:12 and 6:1-4).

Paul's point in verses 19-20 is, if he returns to the law from which he has been liberated, then he is indeed in sin by declaring that Christ's Passion was not sufficient to liberate him from the curse of the Law. He, like all Christians who have died to Christ in the Sacrament of Baptism, are like Christ dead to Mosaic Law "Christians are dead to Mosaic Law because they are now obedient to a higher Law "the Law of grace that generates faith in Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Baptism.

21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
To profess obedience to the old Law is to nullify grace, just as to say justification comes through the Law is to deny the salvific work of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the altar of the Cross. It is only the grace of the Holy Spirit that has the power to justify us by cleansing us from our sins and communicating to us "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ" (Rom 3:22) and through the Sacrament of Baptism. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we take part in the sacrifice of Christ by dying to sin and in His Resurrection by being re-born into a new life as members of His Body that is the Church (see 1 Cor 12; Jn 3:3, 5; 15:1-4; CCC 1987-88).

Here is where St. Paul's brilliance as a theologian shines. He has isolated the crux of the problem and has presented a sound theological argument: by works of the law no one will be justified ... if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing. If it were possible for sin to be removed and for man to be justified under the old Law, then heaven would not have been closed since the fall of Adam, Sheol/Hades as a destination for the dead would not have been established, and Christ's sacrifice on the Cross would have been unnecessary (see Gal 3:21 and CCC 536, 633, and 1026).

The Theology of Justification is defined as the process of a sinner becoming justified or made right with God. The Council of Trent (1545 -63) defined justification in this way: "Justification is the change from the condition in which a person is born as a child of the first Adam into a state of grace and adoption among the children of God through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ our Savior." The Church teaches that justification is the true removal of sin and not merely having one's sins ignored or no longer held against the person by God. It is the supernatural sanctification and renewal of a sinner who then becomes holy and pleasing to God and an heir of eternal salvation.

The Catholic Church identifies five elements of justification:

  1. The honor of God and of Christ is the primary purpose of justification.
  2. Eternal life for mankind is its secondary purpose.
  3. The main cause or agent is the mercy of God.
  4. The instrument of cause is the Sacrament of Baptism.
  5. That which constitutes justification is the justice of God by which He makes us just by His sanctifying grace.

The Theology of Justification:
The Magisterium of the Catholic Church has taught us through the documents of the Council of Trent that when we are justified through the sacrifice of Christ there is a change from the condition in which a person was born as a child of the first Adam into a state of grace and adoption among the children of God through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ our Savior (see Council of Trent, De iustificatione, chapter 6). The Church also declared in the documents of Trent: "...the only formal cause is justice of God, not the justice by which he is himself just, but the justice by which he makes us just' (Augustine, De Trinitaate, XIV, 12, 15), namely, the justice which we have as a gift from him and by which we are renewed in the spirit of our mind. And not only are we considered just, but we are truly said to be just, and we are just" (Council of Trent, De iustificatione, chapter 7; bold added for emphasis). Justification is both a true removal of sin, through the Sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation/Confession (not merely having one's sins ignored or no longer held against the sinner). It is at the same time the supernatural sanctification and renewal of the believer who becomes holy and pleasing to God, and by God's grace becomes an heir of eternal salvation in His Kingdom.

The Catholic theology of justification is directly opposed to Martin Luther's "doctrine of total depravity" which teaches that we are all bound by an unavoidable law of sin that has completely corrupted the soul and that, although our sins cannot separate us from the love of Christ, His sacrifice on the Cross only covers our sins as "snow covers a dunghill." It was Luther's teaching that man can never truly be declared "just;" it is only Christ who is "just" and His righteousness that is imputed to us. This doctrine is not the Catholic understanding of forgiveness in which Jesus Christ's perfect sacrifice wipes the sin away utterly and completely through the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession. See CCC# 411; 1266; 1446; 1992; 1987-1995; 2018-20.

Chapter 3: Grace and Faith Versus the Law

THE LAW VERSUS GRACE
The Purpose of the Law and Grace The Effect of the Law and Grace
Law Grace Law Grace
Based on obedience through works of the Law
(Gal 3:10)
A gift of God that leads to faith
(Gal 3:11-12)
Failure to uphold puts the believer under a curse
(Gal 3:10)
We are justified grace that activates faith
(Gal 3:3, 24)
Serves as a guide to holiness
(Gal 3:23; 4:2)
Centered in Christ
(Gal 3:4)
Teaches about faith
(Gal 3:23)
Gift of Christ living in us
(Gal 2:20)
Serves as a tutor to identify sin
(Gal 3:24)
Liberates us from the Law to experience true freedom
(Gal 4:30-31)
A preparation for the Gospel that shows the way to Christ
(Gal 3:24)
Brings about our adoption as sons and daughters of God and heirs of Christ
(Gal 4:7)

Galatians 3:1-5 ~ Grace and Faith versus Works of the Law
1 O stupid Galatians! Who bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publically portrayed as crucified? 2 I want to learn only this from you: did you receive the Spirit from works of the law, or from faith in what you heard? 3 Are you so stupid? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? 4 Did you experience so many things in vain? "if indeed it was in vain. 5 Does, then, the one who supplies the Spirit to you and works mighty deeds among you do so from works of the law or from faith in what you heard?

Paul cannot contain his frustration that the Galatians have yielded to the pressure of the Judaizers, calling them "stupid" twice in verses 1 and 3. They did not witness the public crucifixion of Christ, but they did embrace the testimony of His crucifixion and its impact upon the salvation of mankind "now are they saying it meant nothing?

Question: What is the purpose of Paul's questions in verses 2-5? When did they receive the Spirit of God?
Answer: If they believe they received the Holy Spirit when they believed the Gospel and were baptized, how can they justify saying they now need circumcision and the other works of the old Law to be saved?

Galatians 3:6-14 ~ The Witness of Scripture Concerning Faith and Law
6 Thus Abraham "believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." 7 Realize then that it is those who have faith who are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture which saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, foretold the good news to Abraham, saying, "Through you shall all the nations be blessed." 9 Consequently, those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham who had faith. 10 For all who depend on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed by everyone who dies not persevere in doing all the things written in the book of the law." 11 And that no one is justified before God by the law is clear, for "the one who is righteous by faith will live." 12 But the law does not depend on faith; rather, "the one who does these things will live by them." 13 Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree," 14 that the blessing of Abraham might be extended to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

In this passage St. Paul quotes from six Old Testament passages:

  1. In verse 6 he quotes Genesis 15:6, Abraham put his faith in the LORD, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness. Abraham's act of obedience was "credited as an act of righteousness" before circumcision was commanded as a covenant sign in Gen 17:9-14.
  2. In verse 8 he quotes Genesis 22:18, ... and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing because in all this you obeyed my command. The universal blessing is found in Christ's universal kingdom of the Church.
  3. In verse 10 he quotes Deuteronomy 27:26a, Cursed be he who fails to fulfill any of the provisions of this law! The Law only condemned it could not save.
  4. In verse 11 he quotes Habakkuk 2:4b, ... but the just man, because of his faith, shall live. . In the New Covenant kingdom we are saved by faith in Christ Jesus.
  5. In verse 12 he quotes Leviticus 18:5ab, Keep then my statutes and decrees, for the man who carries them out will find life though them. The Law could only show the way to salvation but could not give eternal salvation or the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  6. In verse 13 he quotes Deuteronomy 21:23b, ...God's curse rests on him who hangs on a tree ... Jesus took the curse of the Law upon Himself in His crucifixion as He hung on a tree.

In quoting from Genesis 15:6, Paul's point is that Abraham's righteousness was not the result of circumcision because his faith preceded his circumcision. He was declared righteous/justified by his faith in Genesis 15:6, but the command for Abraham to circumcise wasn't given until Genesis 17:10. Paul is presenting the alternative to disobedience to the Law which leads to transgression of the Law and the curse of God's wrathful judgment. The alternative is God's promise of salvation through Jesus Christ in the gift of unmerited grace and faith:

The Law==>transgression==>wrath God's promises==>unmerited grace==>faith

God's power to make us godly is greater than the power of concupiscence, which tempts us to sin (see CCC#405, 1264, 2515-16).

Scripture shows that Abraham was justified on at least three separate occasions:

  1. Genesis 12 when Abraham obeyed God and left his homeland for the Promised Land
  2. Genesis 15 when Abraham believed the promise of descendants
  3. Genesis 22 when Abraham offered the "son of promise" on the altar in obedience to God's command and was promised a world-wide blessing

Each of the three promises and Abraham's subsequent "justification" follows the three-fold Abrahamic Covenant of land, descendants and a world-wide blessing in Genesis 12:1-3 (see Gen 15:5-6; Heb 11:8-9; Jam 2:18-24).

It has always been a teaching of the Catholic Church that justification like salvation is not a "one time" event but is a process that has past, present, and future dimensions. Some Scripture passages that identify justification as a process:

Justification
as a past event
Justification
as a present event
Justification
as a future event
Romans 5:1-2 James 2:24 Romans 2:13
Romans 5:9 Romans 3:28 Romans 3:20
1 Corinthians 6:11 Galatians 2:16, 17 Galatians 5:5

 

10 For all who depend on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed by everyone who dies not persevere in doing all the things written in the book of the law."
In verse 10 Paul quotes the climatic warning of God's curse-judgment against a rebellious Israel in the re-ratification of the Sinai Covenant on the banks of the Jordan River just prior to the conquest of Canaan. Moses prophesized the future rebellion that would result in invoking the curse-judgments (Dt 28:47-68) and also the eventually restoration and blessing for a repentant Israel (Dt 30:1-10). It is possible the Judaizers used Deuteronomy 27:26 as a proof text of their insistence of obedience to the entire old Law. However, Paul uses the verse against their argument, charging that everyone who puts their faith only on the old Law embraces the curse. It is only the Christ who hung on a tree and took the curse of the Law upon Himself who can free God's people from the curse of the Law.

Galatians 3:15-18 ~ The Law Did Not Nullify the Promise
15 Brothers, in human terms I say that no one can annul or amend even a human will once ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his descendant. It does not say, "and to descendants," as referring to many, but as referring to one, "And to your descendant," who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to cancel the promise. 18 For if the inheritance comes from the law, it is no longer from a promise; but God bestowed it on Abraham through a promise.

In verse 16 Paul is referring to Genesis 12:7a, which in the Hebrew uses a collective noun that is literally "his seed"; a better translation in English should use a collective noun like "seed" or even "progeny", yielding a more literal translation: Yahweh appeared to Abram and said, "To your seed I will give this land." Paul says we should read this verse in the singular and identifies the promised "seed" as Abraham's descendant Jesus Christ who is also the promised "seed" of Genesis 3:15. The 430 years refers to the length of Israel's stay in Egypt from the time of the migrations of the twelve tribes into Egypt until the Exodus (Ex 12:40-41).

Question: What is Paul's point in verses 17-18?
Answer: Paul's point is that the Abrahamic covenant, when last confirmed with Jacob-Israel (Gen 28:14), predated the ratification of the Mosaic covenant by more than four centuries. However, by the grace of God, the covenant promises made to Abraham were still in place and were fulfilled in Jesus apart from the Law.

Galatians 3:19-22 ~ The Purpose of the Law
19 Why, then, the law? It was added for transgressions, until the descendant came to whom the promise had been made; it was promulgated by angels at the hand of a mediator. 20 Now there is no mediator when only one party is involved, and God is one. 21 Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Of course not! For if a law had been given that could bring life, then righteousness would in reality come from the law. 22 But Scripture confined all things under the power of sin, that through faith in Jesus Christ the promise might be given to those who believe.

Paul asks, "If the old Law does not save or give life, then why was it given?" He answers his own question by saying it was meant to make us aware of our sins and to convict us of our sins until the promised heir of Abraham was to come to save us from our sins (see Rom 3:20; 7:7-8).

Question: What were the differences between the Abrahamic Covenant and God's Covenant with Israel?
Answer: God's covenant with Abraham and his heirs was a unilateral covenant in which God swore the oath and assumed the responsibility of keeping His covenant promises. It did not require a covenant mediator. However, the covenant with Israel involved a mediator, Moses, because more than one party was responsible for fulfilling the terms of the corporate covenant between God and an entire people.

21 Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Of course not! For if a law had been given that could bring life, then righteousness would in reality come from the law.
Paul's point is that the Law does not oppose God's purpose; instead it carries out its function so that righteousness comes by faith and promise and not by human works of the Law.

22 But Scripture confined all things under the power of sin, that through faith in Jesus Christ the promise might be given to those who believe.
Paul's point is that all what we call Old Testament Scripture declares all mankind "Jews and Gentiles, under the power of sin (Rom 3:9-19; 11:32). It is only through faith in Jesus Christ that the promise to Abraham of a world-wide blessing that brings in a liberation from sin and the promise of eternal salvation is fulfilled (Gen 12:3; 22:18; Gal 3:24-29).

Question: After His Resurrection but prior to His Ascension, what command did Jesus give His Apostles and disciples concerning the extent of His Kingdom in Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8? How is the promise of the universal, world-wide blessing fulfilled?
Answer: Jesus told His Apostles and disciples to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name (singular) of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." This was a command that was to begin with Jerusalem and continue to the ends of the earth, carrying forth the world-wide blessing of the forgiveness of sins and salvation through belief in Christ Jesus.

Questions for reflection or discussion:
What did Paul mean when he said one could not be justified under the Law? What was the purpose of the Law of the Sinai Covenant? How do you define "grace" and how is God's grace applied to your life?

Endnotes:
1. Jewish-Christians who refused to recognize the inclusion of Gentiles into the New Covenant Church apostatized from the Church and formed their own community, calling themselves Ebionites. They acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Redeemer-Messiah, but they rejected the Virgin birth, rejected Christ's divinity, and insisted on the observance of Old Covenant laws and rituals. They followed a lost gospel written by them that modern scholars refer to as the "Gospel of the Ebionites," of which only a few fragment still exist and some quotes from the writings of the Church Fathers. They revered St. James the Just, Bishop of the New Covenant Church in Jerusalem, and they were opposed to all of St. Paul's teachings. The early Church Fathers condemned their sect, and they wrote polemics against their teachings which they denounced as heretical. The sect had died out by the mid-2nd century AD.
2. For Christians, apostasy is: "The total rejection by a baptized person of the Christian faith he once professed. (Etym. = Latin apostasia, falling away or separation from God; from Greek apostasies, revolt, literally a standing off" (Modern Catholic Dictionary, page 25).
3. In counting days or months or years in the Bible it must be remembered that the ancients counted without the concept of a 0-place value. This is why Scripture says Jesus was raised from death on the third day from Friday to Sunday, counting Friday as day #1.
4. There are two cities called Antioch in the New Testament. Antioch in Syria was an early center of Christianity evangelized by disciples of Jesus who fled Jewish persecution after the martyrdom of St. Stephen (Acts 8:4; 11:19-20). When the Church in Jerusalem heard about this new, Spirit-filled community, they sent Barnabas to teach them, and Barnabas enlisted Paul to assist him (Acts 11:21-26). It was at the church in Antioch, Syria that the community first called themselves "Christians." The other Antioch was in the Roman Province of Pisidia in Asia Minor located on the Orontes River, about 15 miles from the Mediterranean coast. It was a Gentile-Christian community evangelized by Sts. Barnabas and Paul during the first missionary journey commissioned by the church in Antioch, Syria (Acts 13:1-3, 14, 44-49).

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2016 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson: * = Scripture quoted in citation
Gal 2:10 CCC 886 Gal 3:13 CCC 580
Gal 2:16 CCC 1987-95 (justification), 1996-2005 (grace) Gal 3:14 CCC 693, 706*
Gal 2:20 CCC 478, 616, 1380*, 2666* Gal 3:16 CCC 706*
Gal 3:2 CCC 476 Mt 28:19-20 CCC 232-34, 237
Gal 3:8 CCC 59*    
Gal 3:10 CCC 578, 580