Often in theological debates, Christians start throwing Scripture verses around from all parts of the Bible. While all Scripture is the Word of God and thus must be consistent in such a way that a coherent, non-contradictory message is present, I think this haphazard cafeteria/smorgasbord style of using Scripture can be very unhelpful, even dangerous at times. This practice also makes it easier for Christians to cherry-pick the verses that they like (often out of context) and that support their denominational beliefs and to avoid verses that they don’t like and that contradict their denominational beliefs.
We Christians cannot forget or deny that human beings, with their own human stylistic traits, emphases, and paradigms, did indeed write the Bible. Thus it seems certain that Christians can more fully understand the written Word by digesting it book by book, carefully examining and taking into account the unique context, tradition, and perspective contained within and historically surrounding each book and author. This method also seems to me an eminently, though perhaps not distinctly, Catholic approach to Scripture and its interpretation. None of the books were written by their authors with the Bible’s compilation in mind.
Thus I’d like to present how a traditional, conservative Catholic reads and interprets Scripture on a book by book basis. In this way, a Protestant may come to know what exactly a Catholic sees, thinks, and feels when he reads the Bible. Perhaps in this way and on this basis of what is our common ground, our common tradition, namely certain books of Scripture, the Body may be made one and whole again as Jesus prayed it would be and intended it to be…. Plus I’m tired of Protestants telling me that I’ve never read the Bible (when I have) and that they are the “champions” of Scripture (when they aren’t).
St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians
This letter is addressed to several churches in the region of Galatia. It begins as a strong condemnation of the Galatians for abandoning the faith in their works, their actions. Paul goes on to defend his own divine authority as an apostle of Christ and to denounce the backsliding of the Galatian Christians into evil works and Jewish rituals.
- Contradicts the heresy of sola Scriptura and upholds the authority of oral apostolic preaching and discipline in person (1:9; 4:13; 5:10)
- Affirms Peter’s primacy over the other apostles (1:18; 2:1-3)
- Affirms the authority of Church councils in consonance with Peter (2:1-3)
- Affirms apostolic/Church authority over lay believers (1:1)
- Affirms the necessity of perseverance in obedience and works of love and the necessity of continual repentance for salvation/to obtain heaven (1:6; 3:3; 4:8-11, 15-17; 5:1, 4, 6-8, 13-26; 6:1, 7-10)
- Contradicts certainty of knowledge of others’ or one’s own salvation (1:6; 3:3-4; 4:11, 19-20; 5:4; 6:1, 9)
- Affirms the Catholic practice of calling priests “father” (4:19)
- Supports the Catholic doctrine and practice of indulgences (6:2)
I’m not going to comment on every single verse but rather on the ones relevant to the Protestant-Catholic divide or general conservative Christian doctrine. Very often, I will supplement my commentary with that of St. John Chrysostom (347-407). His was the earliest publicly available complete commentary on this letter that I could find. All emphases are mine. All verses are taken from the Revised Standard Version.
1:1-2 “Paul an apostle — not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead — and all the brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia” Paul is an apostle, one who has been sent out by those with authority (namely, Peter and James) to spread the gospel. Click here to learn more about the difference between a disciple and an apostle. In this letter, he is adamant in asserting that his authority comes from Jesus, from God, not from any mere man.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Some of the Jews who believed, being held down by the preposessions of Judaism, and at the same time intoxicated by vain-glory, and desirous of obtaining for themselves the dignity of teachers, came to the Galatians, and taught them that the observance of circumcision, sabbaths, and new-moons, was necessary, and that Paul in abolishing these things was not to be borne. For, said they, Peter and James and John, the chiefs of the Apostles and the companions of Christ, forbade them not. Now in fact they did not forbid these things, but this was not by way of delivering positive doctrine, but in condescension to the weakness of the Jewish believers, which condescension Paul had no need of when preaching to the Gentiles; but when he was in Judæa, he employed it himself also. But these deceivers, by withholding the causes both of Paul’s condescension and that of his brethren, misled the simpler ones, saying that he was not to be tolerated, for he appeared but yesterday, while Peter and his colleagues were from the first—that he was a disciple of the Apostles, but they of Christ—that he was single, but they were many, and pillars of the Church. They accused him too of acting a part; saying, that this very man who forbids circumcision observes the rite elsewhere, and preaches one way to you and another way to others…. For, these deceivers, as I was saying before, had said that this man was the last of all the Apostles and was taught by them, for Peter, James, and John, were both first called, and held a primacy among the disciples, and had also received their doctrines from Christ Himself; and that it was therefore fitting to obey them rather than this man; and that they forbad not circumcision nor the observance of the Law. By this and similar language and by depreciating Paul, and exalting the honor of the other Apostles, though not spoken for the sake of praising them, but of deceiving the Galatians, they induced them to adhere unseasonably to the Law. Hence the propriety of his commencement…. Thus it appears, that the flame of error had spread over not one or two cities merely, but the whole Galatian people. Consider too the grave indignation contained in the phrase, ‘unto the Churches of Galatia:’ he does not say, ‘to the beloved’ or ‘to the sanctified,’ and this omission of all names of affection or respect, and this speaking of them as a society merely, without the addition ‘Churches of God,’ for it is simply ‘Churches of Galatia,’ is strongly expressive of deep concern and sorrow. Here at the outset, as well as elsewhere, he attacks their irregularities, and therefore gives them the name of ‘Churches,’ in order to shame them, and reduce them to unity. For persons split into many parties cannot properly claim this appellation, for the name of ‘Church’ is a name of harmony and concord.”
1:6 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel….” St. Paul immediately expresses surprise and disappointment with the Galatians’ abandonment of the gospel and grace. He indirectly and secondarily refers to himself as the one they have abandoned, for we know from the Acts of the Apostles (16:6, 18:23) that Paul was the instrument of God in calling them to Christ.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Like the Jews who persecuted Christ, they imagined their observance of the Law was acceptable to the Father, and he therefore shows that in doing this they displeased not only Christ, but the Father also, for that they fell away thereby not from Christ only, but from the Father also…. By saying that they had fallen off from the Father, he brings a twofold charge against them, of an apostasy, and of an immediate apostasy. The opposite extreme a late apostasy, is also blameworthy, but he who falls away at the first onset, and in the very skirmishing, displays an example of the most extreme cowardice, of which very thing he accuses them also saying: ‘How is this that your seducers need not even time for their designs, but the first approaches suffice for your overthrow and capture?’… Their seducers did not act abruptly but gradually, and while they removed them from the faith in fact, left names unchanged. It is the policy of Satan not to set his snares in open view; had they urged them to fall away from Christ, they would have been shunned as deceivers and corrupters, but suffering them so far to continue in the faith, and putting upon their error the name of the Gospel, without fear they undermined the building employing the terms which they used as a sort of curtain to conceal the destroyers themselves. As therefore they gave the name of Gospel to this their imposture, he contends against the very name….”
1:7-9 “…not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” Paul is adamant that there is only one gospel, one body of true Christian doctrine. He condemns all others who teach different doctrines than those he and his brethren have taught. Moreover, he says strongly, though indirectly, that the gospel does not change. Even the angels and apostles cannot change the gospel. Of course, the Catholic perspective is that Protestantism changed the gospel, mostly by means of subtraction, and thus is heresy.
Notice that Paul emphasizes in this letter what he preached and said to the Galatians in person. The apostles preach with authority; individual believers receive. These words undermine sola Scriptura.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “They had, in fact, only introduced one or two commandments, circumcision and the observance of days, but he says that the Gospel was subverted, in order to show that a slight adulteration vitiates the whole. For as he who but partially pares away the image on a royal coin renders the whole spurious, so he who swerves ever so little from the pure faith, soon proceeds from this to graver errors, and becomes entirely corrupted. Where then are those who charge us with being contentious in separating from heretics, and say that there is no real difference between us except what arises from our ambition? Let them hear Paul’s assertion, that those who had but slightly innovated, subverted the Gospel. Not to say that the Son of God is a created Being, is a small matter. Know you not that even under the elder covenant, a man who gathered sticks on the sabbath, and transgressed a single commandment, and that not a great one, was punished with death?… A want of zeal in small matters is the cause of all our calamities; and because slight errors escape fitting correction, greater ones creep in. As in the body, a neglect of wounds generates fever, mortification, and death; so in the soul, slight evils overlooked open the door to graver ones. It is accounted a trivial fault that one man should neglect fasting; that another, who is established in the pure faith, dissembling on account of circumstances, should surrender his bold profession of it, neither is this anything great or dreadful; that a third should be irritated, and threaten to depart from the true faith, is excused on the plea of passion and resentment. Thus a thousand similar errors are daily introduced into the Church, and we have become a laughing-stock to Jews and Greeks, seeing that the Church is divided into a thousand parties. But if a proper rebuke had at first been given to those who attempted slight perversions, and a deflection from the divine oracles, such a pestilence would not have been generated, nor such a storm have seized upon the Churches. You will now understand why Paul calls circumcision a subversion of the Gospel. There are many among us now, who fast on the same day as the Jews, and keep the sabbaths in the same manner; and we endure it nobly or rather ignobly and basely. And why do I speak of Jews seeing that many Gentile customs are observed by some among us; omens, auguries, presages, distinctions of days, a curious attention to the circumstances of their children’s birth, and, as soon as they are born, tablets with impious inscriptions are placed upon their unhappy heads, thereby teaching them from the first to lay aside virtuous endeavors, and drawing part of them at least under the false domination of fate. But if Christ in no way profits those that are circumcised, what shall faith hereafter avail to the salvation of those who have introduced such corruptions? Although circumcision was given by God, yet Paul used every effort to abolish it, because its unseasonable observance was injurious to the Gospel. If then he was so earnest against the undue maintenance of Jewish customs, what excuse can we have for not abrogating Gentile ones? Hence our affairs are now in confusion and trouble, hence have our learners being filled with pride, reversed the order of things throwing every thing into confusion, and their discipline having been neglected by us their governors, they spurn our reproof however gentle. And yet if their superiors were even more worthless and full of numberless evils, it would not be right for the disciple to disobey. It is said of the Jewish doctors, that as they sat in Moses’ seat, their disciples were bound to obey them, though their works were so evil, that the Lord forbad His disciples to imitate them. What excuse therefore is there for those who insult and trample on men, rulers of the Church, and living, by the grace of God, holy lives? If it be unlawful for us to judge each other, much more is it to judge our teachers. See the Apostle’s wisdom; to obviate the objection that he was prompted by vainglory to applaud his own doctrine, he includes himself also in his anathema; and as they betook themselves to authority, that of James and John, he mentions angels also saying, ‘Tell me not of James and John; if one of the most exalted angels of heaven corrupt the Gospel, let him be anathema.’… And he says not, if they preach a contrary Gospel, or subvert the whole of the true one, let them be anathema; but, if they even slightly vary, or incidentally disturb, my doctrine…. He says, if ‘any man’ preach another Gospel to you than that which we have preached—not ‘if this or that man:’ and herein appears his prudence, and care of giving offense, for what needed there still any mention of names, when he had used such extensive terms as to embrace all, both in heaven and earth? In that he anathemized evangelists and angels, he included every dignity, and his mention of himself included every intimacy and affinity. ‘Tell me not,’ he exclaims, ‘that my fellow apostles and colleagues have so spoken; I spare not myself if I preach such doctrine.’ And he says this not as condemning the Apostles for swerving from the message they were commissioned to deliver; far from it, (for he says, whether we or they thus preach;) but to show, that in the discussion of truth the dignity of persons is not to be considered…. For since he is compelled to justify himself to his disciples, being their teacher, he submits to it; but he is grieved at it, not on account of chagrin, far from it, but on account of the instability of the minds of those led away and on account of not being fully trusted by them…. He thus expressed himself, as much with a view of withstanding their opinions, as in self-defence; for it becomes disciples to obey, not to judge, their master. But now, says he, that the order is reversed, and you sit as judges, know that I am but little concerned to defend myself before you; all, I do for God’s sake, and in order that I may answer to Him concerning my doctrine.”
1:11-12 “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Paul received a special, extraordinary revelation from God and thus the gospel. Again, he is adamant that his gospel is not man-made or derived from men. Protestants act as if they too have been given the gospel in an extraordinary manner like Paul, that they have such a special relationship with God that they have no need of the Church which Jesus established and gave to us for doctrinal instruction and stability. Yet God chose Paul and gave proof of it in the fact of Paul’s radical and quick conversion; Protestants choose themselves and believe themselves to have an individual and supernatural intelligence and authority that God has not given them. They claim the Spirit of Truth, but the Spirit of Truth has not claimed them.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “You observe how sedulously he affirms that he was taught of Christ, who Himself, without human intervention, condescended to reveal to him all knowledge. And if he were asked for his proof that God Himself thus immediately revealed to him these ineffable mysteries, he would instance his former manner of life, arguing that his conversion would not have been so sudden, had it not been by Divine revelation. For when men have been vehement and eager on the contrary side, their conviction, if it is effected by human means, requires much time and ingenuity. It is clear therefore that he, whose conversion is sudden, and who has been sobered in the very height of his madness, must have been vouchsafed a Divine revelation and teaching, and so have at once arrived at complete sanity.”
1:16-17 “I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus.” Paul is again eager to assert is own unique authority. He is not trying to deny the authority of the apostles in Jerusalem, Peter, James, and John. Again, Protestants act as if they too have been given the gospel truth in an extraordinary manner like Paul, that they have such a special relationship with God that they have no need of the Church which Jesus established and gave to us for doctrinal instruction and stability. Yet God chose Paul and gave proof of it in the fact of Paul’s radical and quick conversion; Protestants choose themselves and believe themselves to have an individual and supernatural intelligence and authority that God has not given them. They claim the Spirit of Truth, but the Spirit of Truth has not claimed them.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “These words weighed by themselves seem to breath an arrogant spirit, and to be foreign to the Apostolic temper. For to give one’s suffrage for one’s self, and to admit no man to share one’s counsel, is a sign of folly…. Nevertheless, as I said, this expression nakedly considered may easily prove a snare and offense to many hearers. But if the cause of it is subjoined, all will applaud and admire the speaker. This then let us do; for it is not the right course to weigh the mere words, nor examine the language by itself, as many errors will be the consequence, but to attend to the intention of the writer. And unless we pursue this method in our own discourses, and examine into the mind of the speaker, we shall make many enemies, and every thing will be thrown into disorder…. Let us then inquire into the intention of Paul in thus writing, let us consider his scope, and general deportment towards the Apostles, that we may arrive at his present meaning. Neither formerly, nor in this case, did he speak with a view of disparaging the Apostles or of extolling himself, (how so? When he included himself under his anathema?) but always in order to guard the integrity of the Gospel. Since the troublers of the Church said that they ought to obey the Apostles who suffered these observances, and not Paul who forbade them, and hence the Judaizing heresy had gradually crept in, it was necessary for him manfully to resist them, from a desire of repressing the arrogance of those who improperly exalted themselves, and not of speaking ill of the Apostles. And therefore he says, ‘I conferred not with flesh and blood;’ for it would have been extremely absurd for one who had been taught by God, afterwards to refer himself to men. For it is right that he who learns from men should in turn take men as his counsellors. But he to whom that divine and blessed voice had been vouchsafed, and who had been fully instructed by Him that possesses all the treasures of wisdom, wherefore should he afterwards confer with men? It were meet that he should teach, not be taught by them. Therefore he thus spoke, not arrogantly, but to exhibit the dignity of his own commission. ‘Neither went I up,’ says he, ‘to Jerusalem to them which were Apostles before me.’ Because they were continually repeating that the Apostles were before him, and were called before him, he says, ‘I went not up to them.’ Had it been needful for him to communicate with them, He, who revealed to him his commission, would have given him this injunction. Is it true, however, that he did not go up there? nay, he went up, and not merely so, but in order to learn somewhat of them. When a question arose on our present subject in the city of Antioch, in the Church which had from the beginning shown so much zeal, and it was discussed whether the Gentile believers ought to be circumcised, or were under no necessity to undergo the rite, this very Paul himself and Silas went up. How is it then that he says, I went not up, nor conferred? First, because he went not up of his own accord, but was sent by others; next, because he came not to learn, but to bring others over. For he was from the first of that opinion, which the Apostles subsequently ratified, that circumcision was unnecessary. But when these persons deemed him unworthy of credit and applied to those at Jerusalem he went up not to be farther instructed, but to convince the gain-sayers that those at Jerusalem agreed with him. Thus he perceived from the first the fitting line of conduct, and needed no teacher, but, primarily and before any discussion, maintained without wavering what the Apostles, after much discussion, (Acts 15:2-7) subsequently ratified. This Luke shows by his own account, that Paul argued much at length with them on this subject before he went to Jerusalem. But since the brethren chose to be informed on this subject, by those at Jerusalem, he went up on their own account, not on his own. And his expression, ‘I went not up,’ signifies that he neither went at the outset of his teaching, nor for the purpose of being instructed. Both are implied by the phrase, ‘Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood.’ He says not, ‘I conferred,’ merely, but, ‘immediately;’ and his subsequent journey was not to gain any additional instruction.”
1:18-19 “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.” Before Paul began in ministry among the Gentiles, he visited with Peter and James, the pillars of the Church. This fact is significant. According to Protestant biblical scholar Gary Habermas, Paul uses the Greek word historeo, which “indicates that he didn’t just casually shoot the breeze when he met with them. It shows this was an investigative inquiry. Paul was playing the role of an examiner, someone who was carefully checking this out. So the fact that Paul personally confirmed matters with two eyewitnesses who are specifically mentioned in the creed–Peter and James–gives this extra weight.” Paul received confirmation for the authority of the gospel from the pillars of the Church. This is evidence of hierarchy within the Church and Peter’s primacy in particular. Click here for 50 Scriptural citations throughout the Bible that evidence Peter’s pre-eminence.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “What can be more lowly than such a soul? After such successes, wanting nothing of Peter, not even his assent, but being of equal dignity with him, (for at present I will say no more,) he comes to him as his elder and superior. And the only object of this journey was to visit Peter; thus he pays due respect to the Apostles, and esteems himself not only not their better but not their equal. Which is plain from this journey, for Paul was induced to visit Peter by the same feeling from which many of our brethren sojourn with holy men: or rather by a humbler feeling for they do so for their own benefit, but this blessed man, not for his own instruction or correction, but merely for the sake of beholding and honoring Peter by his presence. He says, ‘to visit Peter;’ he does not say to see, (ἰ δεῖν,) but to visit and survey, (ἰ στορῆσαι,) a word which those, who seek to become acquainted with great and splendid cities, apply to themselves. Worthy of such trouble did he consider the very sight of Peter; and this appears from the Acts of the Apostles also (Acts 21:17-18 etc.). For on his arrival at Jerusalem, on another occasion, after having converted many Gentiles, and, with labors far surpassing the rest, reformed and brought to Christ Pamphylia, Lycaonia, Cilicia, and all nations in that quarter of the world, he first addresses himself with great humility to James, as to his elder and superior. Next he submits to his counsel, and that counsel contrary to this Epistle. ‘You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of them which have believed; therefore shave your head, and purify yourself’ (Acts 21:20 ff.). Accordingly he shaved his head, and observed all the Jewish ceremonies; for where the Gospel was not affected, he was the humblest of all men. But where by such humility he saw any injured, he gave up that undue exercise of it, for that was no longer to be humble but to outrage and destroy the disciples…. To take a journey on account of him [Peter] was a mark of respect; but to remain so many days, of friendship and the most earnest affection. See what great friends he was with Peter especially; on his account he left his home, and with him he tarried. This I frequently repeat, and desire you to remember, that no one, when he hears what this Apostle seems to have spoken against Peter, may conceive a suspicion of him. He premises this, that when he says, ‘I resisted Peter,’ no one may suppose that these words imply enmity and contention; for he honored and loved his person more than all and took this journey for his sake only, not for any of the others. ‘But other of the Apostles saw I none, save James.’ ‘I saw him merely, I did not learn from him,’ he means. But observe how honorably he mentions him, he says not ‘James’ merely, but adds this illustrious title, so free is he from all envy. Had he only wished to point out whom he meant, he might have shown this by another appellation, and called him the son of Cleophas, as the Evangelist does. But as he considered that he had a share in the august titles of the Apostles, he exalts himself by honoring James; and this he does by calling him ‘the Lord’s brother,’ although he was not by birth His brother, but only so reputed. Yet this did not deter him from giving the title; and in many other instances he displays towards all the Apostles that noble disposition, which beseemed him…. After his interview with Peter, he resumes his preaching and the task which lay before him….”
2:1-3 “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up by revelation; and I laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.” What Paul is referring to here is the Council of Jerusalem as detailed in the Acts of the Apostles (Chapter 15). Paul, an individual believer and apostle, did not have the authority himself to settle this controversy and dispute that had arisen in the Church over whether Christians had to observe various Jewish rituals like circumcision and abstinence from “unclean” animals.
Notice again that Paul distinguishes between those in Jerusalem who were “of repute” (namely Peter and James, who respectively dominate and preside over the council, according to the Acts of the Apostles) and those who were not. Paul had to present his gospel for approval or disapproval to Peter and James privately and then to the entire council. He was under the authority of Peter, James, and the council, and he admits the remote possibility that his gospel ministry could have been “in vain.”
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “His first journey was owing to his desire to visit Peter, his second, he says, arose from a revelation of the Spirit. What is this, O Paul! Thou who neither at the beginning nor after three years wouldest confer with the Apostles, do you now confer with them, after fourteen years are past, lest you should be running in vain? Better would it have been to have done so at first, than after so many years; and why did you run at all, if not satisfied that thou were not running in vain? Who would be so senseless as to preach for so many years, without being sure that his preaching was true? And what enhances the difficulty is, that he says he went up by revelation; this difficulty, however, will afford a solution of the former one. Had he gone up of his own accord, it would have been most unreasonable, nor is it possible that this blessed soul should have fallen into such folly; for it is himself who says, ‘I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; so fight I, as not beating the air’ (1 Corinthians 9:26). If therefore he runs, ‘not uncertainly,’ how can he say, ‘lest I should be running, or had run, in vain?’ It is evident from this, that if he had gone up without a revelation, he would have committed an act of folly…. As when he went up before from Antioch to Jerusalem, it was not for his own sake, (for he saw clearly that his duty was simply to obey the doctrines of Christ,) but from a desire to reconcile the contentious; so now his object was the complete satisfaction of his accusers, not any wish of his own to learn that he had not run in vain. They conceived that Peter and John, of whom they thought more highly than of Paul, differed from him in that he omitted circumcision in his preaching, while the former allowed it, and they believed that in this he acted unlawfully, and was running in vain. I went up, says he, and communicated unto them my Gospel, not that I might learn anything myself, (as appears more clearly further on,) but that I might convince these suspicious persons that I do not run in vain. The Spirit forseeing this contention had provided that he should go up and make this communication…. What means ‘privately?’ Rather, he who wishes to reform doctrines held in common, proposes them, not privately, but before all in common; but Paul did this privately, for his object was, not to learn or reform any thing, but to cut off the grounds of those who would fain deceive. All at Jerusalem were offended, if the law was transgressed, or the use of circumcision forbidden; as James says, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of them which have believed; and they are informed of you, that you teach to forsake the law’ (Acts 21:20, et seq). Since then they were offended he did not condescend to come forward publicly and declare what his preaching was, but he conferred privately with those who were of reputation before Barnabas and Titus, that they might credibly testify to his accusers, that the Apostles found no discrepancy in his preaching, but confirmed it. The expression, ‘those that were of repute,’ (τοῖς δοκοῦσιν) does not impugn the reality of their greatness; for he says of himself, ‘And I also seem (δοκῶ) to have the Spirit of God,’ thereby not denying the fact, but stating it modestly. And here the phrase implies his own assent to the common opinion.”
2:6-10 “ And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) — those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me; but on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised; only they would have us remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do.” Paul confirms the reputation of some apostles to be pillars and that Peter had a special mission to the Jews. For the purpose of establishing his own authority over the Galatians (who were Gentiles), he also seems eager to justify his own authority in its own right relative to that of the chief apostles. Considering the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Paul’s call to apostleship, his claim to special grace and authority is valid. But the fact remains that he did not claim equal or greater authority than Peter and submitted himself to the authority of the pillars and the Council of Jerusalem. The pillars also told Paul and Barnabas to be mindful of the poor.
The fact that some have authority and some don’t is not God showing partiality to some over others. God has never conferred authority on everyone. Authority is not a characteristic of worth or value but of role and vocation.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Here he not only does not defend the Apostles, but even presses hard upon those holy men, for the benefit of the weak. His meaning is this: although they permit circumcision, they shall render an account to God, for God will not accept their persons, because they are great and in station. But he does not speak so plainly, but with caution. He says not, if they vitiate their doctrine, and swerve from the appointed rule of their preaching, they shall be judged with the utmost rigor, and suffer punishment; but he alludes to them more reverently, in the words, ‘of those who were reputed to be somewhat, whatsoever they were.’ He says not, ‘whatsoever they “are,”‘ but ‘were,’ showing that they too had thenceforth ceased so to preach, the doctrine having extended itself universally. The phrase, ‘whatsoever they were,’ implies, that if they so preached they should render account, for they had to justify themselves before God, not before men. This he said, not as doubtful or ignorant of the rectitude of their procedure, but (as I said before) from a sense of the expediency of so forming his discourse. Then, that he may not seem to take the opposite side and to accuse them, and so create a suspicion of their disagreement, he straightway subjoins this correction: ‘for those who were reputed to be somewhat, in conference imparted nothing to me.’ This is his meaning; What you may say, I know not; this I know well, that the Apostles did not oppose me, but our sentiments conspired and accorded. This appears from his expression, ‘they gave me the right hand of fellowship;’ but he does not say this at present, but only that they neither informed or corrected him on any point, nor added to his knowledge…. He calls the Gentiles the Uncircumcision and the Jews the Circumcision, and declares his own rank to be equal to that of the Apostles; and, by comparing himself with their Leader not with the others, he shows that the dignity of each was the same. After he had established the proof of their unanimity, he takes courage, and proceeds confidently in his argument, not stopping at the Apostles, but advances to Christ Himself, and to the grace which He had conferred upon him, and calls the Apostles as his witnesses…. He says not when they ‘heard,’ but when they ‘perceived,’ that is, were assured by the facts themselves, ‘they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship.’ Observe how he gradually proves that his doctrine was ratified both by Christ and by the Apostles. For grace would neither have been implanted, nor been operative in him, had not his preaching been approved by Christ. Where it was for the purpose of comparison with himself, he mentioned Peter alone; here, when he calls them as witnesses, he names the three together, ‘Cephas, James, John,’ and with an encomium, ‘who were reputed to be pillars.’ Here again the expression ‘who were reputed’ does not impugn the reality of the fact, but adopts the estimate of others, and implies that these great and distinguished men, whose fame was universal, bore witness that his preaching was ratified by Christ, that they were practically informed and convinced by experience concerning it…. This is his meaning: In our preaching we divided the world between us, I took the Gentiles and they the Jews, according to the Divine decree; but to the sustenance of the poor among the Jews I also contributed my share, which, had there been any dissension between us, they would not have accepted…. Having by these means declared the unanimity and harmony between the Apostles and himself, he is obliged to proceed to mention his debate with Peter at Antioch.”
2:11-14 “But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” Paul is not questioning Peter’s authority or teachings here in this episode; he’s judging Peter’s personal behavior and correcting him. Peter was guilty of hypocrisy, not heresy. The sins of Peter and the other apostles (including Paul) did not undermine their teaching authority. This was the case of an inferior correcting a superior for not following the superior’s own teachings. Chrysostom, however, believes that Peter and Paul merely acted out the rebuke and has a complex explanation/rationalization for it.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Many, on a superficial reading of this part of the Epistle, suppose that Paul accused Peter of hypocrisy. But this is not so, indeed it is not, far from it; we shall discover great wisdom, both of Paul and Peter, concealed herein for the benefit of their hearers. But first a word must be said about Peter’s freedom in speech, and how it was ever his way to outstrip the other disciples. Indeed it was upon one such occasion that he gained his name from the unbending and impregnable character of his faith. For when all were interrogated in common, he stepped before the others and answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16). This was when the keys of heaven were committed to him. So too, he appears to have been the only speaker on the Mount (Matthew 17:4); and when Christ spoke of His crucifixion, and the others kept silence, he said, ‘Be it far from You’ (Matthew 16:22). These words evince, if not a cautious temper, at least a fervent love; and in all instances we find him more vehement than the others, and rushing forward into danger. So when Christ was seen on the beach, and the others were pushing the boat in, he was too impatient to wait for its coming to land (John 21:7). And after the Resurrection, when the Jews were murderous and maddened, and sought to tear the Apostles in pieces, he first dared to come forward, and to declare, that the Crucified was taken up into heaven (Acts 2:14, 36). It is a greater thing to open a closed door, and to commence an action, than to be free-spoken afterwards. How could he ever dissemble who had exposed his life to such a populace? He who when scourged and bound would not bate a jot of his courage, and this at the beginning of his mission, and in the heart of the chief city where there was so much danger—how could he, long afterwards in Antioch, where no danger was at hand, and his character had received lustre from the testimony of his actions, feel any apprehension of the believing Jews? How could he, I say, who at the very first and in their chief city feared not the Jews while Jews, after a long time and in a foreign city, fear those of them who had been converted? Paul therefore does not speak this against Peter, but with the same meaning in which he said, ‘for they who were reputed to be somewhat, whatsoever they were, it makes no matter to me.’ But to remove any doubt on this point, we must unfold the reason of these expressions. The Apostles, as I said before, permitted circumcision at Jerusalem, an abrupt severance from the law not being practicable; but when they come to Antioch, they no longer continued this observance, but lived indiscriminately with the believing Gentiles which thing Peter also was at that time doing. But when some came from Jerusalem who had heard the doctrine he delivered there, he no longer did so fearing to perplex them, but he changed his course, with two objects secretly in view, both to avoid offending those Jews, and to give Paul a reasonable pretext for rebuking him. For had he, having allowed circumcision when preaching at Jerusalem, changed his course at Antioch, his conduct would have appeared to those Jews to proceed from fear of Paul, and his disciples would have condemned his excess of pliancy. And this would have created no small offense; but in Paul, who was well acquainted with all the facts, his withdrawal would have raised no such suspicion, as knowing the intention with which he acted. Wherefore Paul rebukes, and Peter submits, that when the master is blamed, yet keeps silence, the disciples may more readily come over. Without this occurrence Paul’s exhortation would have had little effect, but the occasion hereby afforded of delivering a severe reproof, impressed Peter’s disciples with a more lively fear. Had Peter disputed Paul’s sentence, he might justly have been blamed as upsetting the plan, but now that the one reproves and the other keeps silence, the Jewish party are filled with serious alarm; and this is why he used Peter so severely. Observe too Paul’s careful choice of expressions, whereby he points out to the discerning, that he uses them in pursuance of the plan, (οἰκονομίας) and not from anger. His words are, ‘When Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned;’ that is, not by me but by others; had he himself condemned him, he would not have shrunk from saying so. And the words, ‘I resisted him to the face,’ imply a scheme for had their discussion been real, they would not have rebuked each other in the presence of the disciples, for it would have been a great stumblingblock to them. But now this apparent contest was much to their advantage; as Paul had yielded to the Apostles at Jerusalem, so in turn they yield to him at Antioch. The cause of censure is this, ‘For before that certain came from James,’ who was the teacher at Jerusalem, ‘he did eat with the Gentiles, but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the Circumcision:’ his cause of fear was not his own danger, (for if he feared not in the beginning, much less would he do so then,) but their defection. As Paul himself says to the Galatians, ‘I am afraid of you, lest by any means I have bestowed labor upon you in vain:’ (Galatians 4:11) and again, ‘I fear lest by any means as the serpent beguiled Eve,…so your minds should be corrupted’ (2 Corinthians 11:3). Thus the fear of death they knew not, but the fear lest their disciples should perish, agitated their inmost soul. Be not surprised at his giving this proceeding the name of dissimulation, for he is unwilling, as I said before, to disclose the true state of the case, in order to the correction of his disciples. On account of their vehement attachment to the Law, he calls the present proceeding ‘dissimulation,’ and severely rebukes it, in order effectually to eradicate their prejudice. And Peter too, hearing this joins in the feint, as if he had erred, that they might be corrected by means of the rebuke administered to him. Had Paul reproved these Jews, they would have spurned at it with indignation, for they held him in slight esteem; but now, when they saw their Teacher silent under rebuke, they were unable to despise or resist Paul’s sentence…. Neither let this phrase disturb you, for in using it he does not condemn Peter, but so expresses himself for the benefit of those who were to be reformed by the reproof of Peter…. His object then is to remove suspicion from his rebuke; had he blamed Peter for observing the Law, the Jews would have censured him for his boldness towards their Teacher. But now arraigning him in behalf of his own peculiar disciples, I mean the Gentiles, he facilitates thereby the reception of what he has to say which he also does by abstaining from reproof of the others, and addressing it all to the Apostle. ‘If you,’ he says, ‘being a Jew, livest as do the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews;’ which almost amounts to an explicit exhortation to imitate their Teacher, who, himself a Jew, lived after the manner of the Gentiles. This however he says not, for they could not have received such advice, but under color of reproving him in behalf of the Gentiles, he discloses Peter’s real sentiments.”
2:15-17 “ We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were found to be sinners, is Christ then an agent of sin? Certainly not!” Works of the law refer to circumcision, abstinence from “unclean” food, ritual washings, etc., not to obedience to the moral law. This passage does not support sola fide. Moreover, it indirectly makes the point I made above: just because the apostles “were found to be sinners” just like the rest of us doesn’t mean that they had any less authority from Christ.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Observe here too how cautiously he expresses himself; he does not say that they had abandoned the Law as evil, but as weak. If the law cannot confer righteousness, it follows that circumcision is superfluous; and so far he now proves; but he proceeds to show that it is not only superfluous but dangerous. It deserves special notice, how at the outset he says that a man is not justified by the works of the Law; but as he proceeds he speaks more strongly…. Wherefore do you urge this upon Peter, who is more intimately acquainted with it than any one? Hath not God declared to him, that an uncircumcised man ought not to be judged by circumcision; and did he not in his discussion with the Jews rest his bold opposition upon the vision which he saw? Did he not send from Jerusalem unequivocal decrees upon this subject? Paul’s object is not therefore to correct Peter, but his animadversion required to be addressed to him, though it was pointed at the disciples; and not only at the Galatians, but also at others who labor under the same error with them. For though few are now circumcised, yet, by fasting and observing the sabbath with the Jews, they equally exclude themselves from grace…. If it ought to be kept, those who keep it not are transgressors, and Christ will be found to be the cause of this transgression, for He annulled the Law as regards these things Himself, and bid others annul it. Do you not understand what these Judaizers are compassing? They would make Christ, who is to us the Author of righteousness, the Author of sin, as Paul says, ‘Therefore Christ is the minister of sin.’ Having thus reduced the proposition to an absurdity, he had nothing further to do by way of overthrowing it….”
2:19-21 “For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.” This passage is reminscent of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I encourage you to read my commentary on that letter.
Forgiveness for our sins comes only through grace and faith. In receiving this forgivessness, we become justified before God. But to ultimately enter heaven, we must be not only forgiven but obedient and love God, doing the good works He has ordained for us to do.
Do not mistake these words of Paul to be saying that the Christian need not be obedient to God’s moral law, for later in this same letter he condemns the Galatians for their abandonment of the faith in returning to do evil, questioning whether they are saved (3:2-5; 4:8-11).
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Here observe, how guardedly he assails it; he says not, ‘the Law is dead to me;’ but, ‘I am dead to the Law;’ the meaning of which is, that, as it is impossible for a dead corpse to obey the commands of the Law, so also is it for me who have perished by its curse, for by its word am I slain. Let it not therefore lay commands on the dead, dead by its own act, dead not in body only, but in soul, which has involved the death of the body…. He adds the cause of his living, and shows that when alive the Law slew him, but that when dead Christ through death restored him to life. He shows the wonder to be twofold; that by Christ both the dead was begotten into life, and that by means of death. He here means the immortal life…. In these words, ‘I am crucified with Christ,’ he alludes to Baptism and in the words ‘nevertheless I live, yet not I,’ our subsequent manner of life whereby our members are mortified. By saying ‘Christ lives in me,’ he means nothing is done by me, which Christ disapproves; for as by death he signifies not what is commonly understood, but a death to sin; so by life, he signifies a delivery from sin. For a man cannot live to God, otherwise than by dying to sin; and as Christ suffered bodily death, so does Paul a death to sin. ‘Mortify,’ says he, ‘your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion’ (Colossians 3:5), and again, ‘our old man was crucified’ (Romans 6:6) which took place in the Bath. After which, if you remain dead to sin, you live to God, but if you let it live again, you are the ruin of your new life.”
3:2-5 “ Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so many things in vain? — if it really is in vain. Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” In chapter 3, Paul continues to emphasize faith and denounce the works of the law. Again, works of the law refer specifically to circumcision, abstinence from “unclean” food, ritual washings, etc., not to obedience to the moral law. This passage does not support sola fide.
It is true though that one cannot earn or merit the Spirit, which is supplied to us in grace. But this fact does not mean that our freely chosen behavior has no bearing on our eternal fate and on whether our faith is a living faith that saves or a dead “faith” that does not.
Moreover, notice that Paul is questioning whether the Galatians are really saved. He points out the possibility that someone could begin with the Spirit (be saved) and then end with the flesh (lose salvation/be damned). He poses the possibility that the Galatians experienced the grace and power of God in vain (again, lost their salvation).
The preceding verses in Chapter 3 should be read in light of the first verses of Chapter 4 where he clearly explains himself.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Here he passes to another subject; in the former chapters he had shown himself not to be an Apostle of men, nor by men, nor in want of Apostolic instruction. Now, having established his authority as a teacher, he proceeds to discourse more confidently, and draws a comparison between faith and the Law…. Here again he seasonably interposes a rebuke; time, he says, should have brought improvement; but, so far from advancing, you have even retrograded. Those who start from small beginnings make progress to higher things; you, who began with the high, have relapsed to the low. Even had your outset been carnal, your advance should have been spiritual, but now, after starting from things spiritual, you have ended your journey in that which is carnal; for to work miracles is spiritual, but to be circumcised is carnal…. This remark is far more piercing than the former, for the remembrance of their miracles would not be so powerful as the exhibition of their contests and endurance of sufferings for Christ’s sake. All that you have endured, says he, these men would strip you of, and would rob you of your crown. Then, lest he should dismay and unnerve, he proceeds not to a formal judgment, but subjoins, ‘if it be indeed in vain;’ if you have but a mind to shake off drowsiness and recover yourselves, he says, it is not in vain. Where then be those who would cut off repentance? Here were men who had received the Spirit, worked miracles, become confessors, encountered a thousand perils and persecutions for Christ’s sake, and after so many achievements had fallen from grace; nevertheless he says, if you have the purpose, you may recover yourselves.”
3:9-14 “So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith. For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live;’ but the law does not rest on faith, for ‘He who does them shall live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree’ — that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” This passage is also reminscent of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I encourage you to read my commentary on that letter.
No one is justified by the law because no one abides “by all the things written in the book of the law,” and thus everyone is ”under a curse” of death. It is through faith, the Spirit, and Jesus that we can receive forgiveness for our sins and thus be justified. But to ultimately enter heaven, we must not only be forgiven but obedient and love God, doing the good works He has ordained for us to do. To enter the kingdom, we must abandon evil and strictly obey the law after our former sins have been forgiven through faith and baptism. We are not to return to our former evil; otherwise, we will be rejecting faith and God’s promise and cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.
But again, do not mistake these words of Paul to be saying that the Christian need not be obedient to God’s moral law, for in this same letter he condemns the Galatians for their abandonment of the faith in returning to do evil, questioning whether they are saved (3:2-5; 4:8-11).
The preceding verses in Chapter 3 should be read in light of the first verses of Chapter 4 where he clearly explains himself.
3:19-20 “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained by angels through an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one; but God is one.” The law was given to restrain men from sinning through fear and threats until Jesus could come to offer forgiveness and change our hearts. But forgiveness cannot be given to those who unrepentantly persevere in transgressions of the moral law, even though they accepted forgiveness in faith in the beginning.
Again, do not mistake these words of Paul to be saying that the Christian need not be obedient to God’s moral law, for in this same letter he condemns the Galatians for their abandonment of the faith in returning to do evil, questioning whether they are saved (3:2-5; 4:8-11).
Paul tells us that the law was not given to us directly by God but through an intermediary, namely Moses. But salvation from sin through grace and forgiveness was given to us directly by God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ through the Incarnation. But of course, Jesus no longer walks the earth (least not visibly), so His apostles and their successors did and do indeed serve as intermediaries and servants of God. This apostolic ministry is clearly present in Scripture. Protestants may be tempted to twist the above verses into saying that this apostolic/sacramental ministry and the priesthood doesn’t really exist. But even Paul acts as an intermediary in 2 Corinthians (2:5-11) when he forgives sins in the person of Jesus Christ.
The preceding verses in Chapter 3 should be read in light of the first verses of Chapter 4 where he clearly explains himself.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “This remark again is not superfluous; observe too how he glances round at every thing, as if he had an hundred eyes. Having exalted Faith, and proved its elder claims, that the Law may not be considered superfluous, he sets right this side of the doctrine also, and proves that the Law was not given without a view, but altogether profitably. ‘Because of transgressions;’ that is to say, that the Jews might not be let live carelessly, and plunge into the depth of wickedness, but that the Law might be placed upon them as a bridle, guiding, regulating, and checking them from transgressing, if not all, at least some of the commandments. Not slight then was the advantage of the Law; but for how long?”
3:21-22 “Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not; for if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” The law and the promises of God are not in opposition to each other. They complement each other and both work toward the same end. But the law in itself cannot make a sinner righteous; it merely defines what righteousness is and what evil is. And Scripture tells us how everyone is under the dominion of sin and death, or rather, was under their dominion until the death and resurrection of Jesus and the beginning of the Christian faith. Thus righteousness comes from both obedience to the law (which none have done perfectly) and from forgiveness, through faith alone, of unrighteousness. God did not intend for the law alone to make men righteous or to fulfill His promises. It was not in the nature of law to do such things.
The preceding verses in Chapter 3 should be read in light of the first verses of Chapter 4 where he clearly explains himself.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “If we had our hope of life in the Law, and our salvation depended on it, the objection might be valid. But if it save you, by means of Faith, though it brings you under the curse, you suffer nothing from it, gain no harm, in that Faith comes and sets all right. Had the promise been by the Law, you had reasonably feared lest, separating from the Law, you should separate from righteousness, but if it was given in order to shut up all, that is, to convince all and expose their individual sins, far from excluding you from the promises, it now aids you in obtaining them….. As the Jews were not even conscious of their own sins, and in consequence did not even desire remission; the Law was given to probe their wounds, that they might long for a physician. And the word ‘shut up’ means ‘convinced’ and conviction held them in fear. You see then it is not only not against, but was given for the promises. Had it arrogated to itself the work and the authority, the objection would stand; but if its drift is something else, and it acted for that, how is it against the promises of God? Had the Law not been given, all would have been wrecked upon wickedness, and there would have been no Jews to listen to Christ; but now being given, it has effected two things; it has schooled its followers in a certain degree of virtue, and has pressed on them the knowledge of their own sins. And this especially made them more zealous to seek the Son, for those who disbelieved, disbelieved from having no sense of their own sins, as Paul shows; ‘For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God’ (Romans 10:3).”
3:23-27 “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” The law was meant to restrain our evil until faith in Jesus could come to bring forgiveness and transform our lives. The law has not been abolished and we are still bound to obey the law (as interpretted and modified by the authority of Jesus, the apostles, and their successors). But we are no longer “under” the law in the sense of condemnation. Through faith and baptism together, we have been freed from sin and from death, which is the just punishment for our breaking the law. After faith and baptism, we are sons of God and thus must choose to act accordingly. But if after faith and baptism we again sin and break the law, losing our faith in effect, we have to return to the faith in repentance to receive forgiveness again.
The preceding verses in Chapter 3 should be read in light of the first verses of Chapter 4 where he clearly explains himself.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Here he clearly puts forward what I have stated: for the expressions “we were kept” and “shut up,” signify nothing else than the security given by the commandments of the Law; which like a fortress fenced them round with fear and a life conformable to itself, and so preserved them unto Faith. Now the Tutor is not opposed to the Preceptor, but cooperates with him, ridding the youth from all vice, and having all leisure to fit him for receiving instructions from his Preceptor. But when the youth’s habits are formed, then the Tutor leaves him…. The Law then, as it was our tutor, and we were kept shut up under it, is not the adversary but the fellow-worker of grace; but if when grace has come, it continues to hold us down, it becomes an adversary; for if it confines those who ought to go forward to grace, then it is the destruction of our salvation. If a candle which gave light by night, kept us, when it became day, from the sun, it would not only not benefit, it would injure us; and so does the Law, if it stands between us and greater benefits. Those then are the greatest traducers of the Law, who still keep it, just as the tutor makes a youth ridiculous, by retaining him with himself, when time calls for his departure.”
3:28-29 “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. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” This popular verse is often take out of context and twisted by liberals to rationalize sexual depravity, perversion, and egalitarianism. But these verses are about a spiritual reality, not a social or political reality. When it comes to the promises of God, the inheritance of the kingdom, then distinctions such as Paul cites have no relevance. But when it comes to the law, the Jew has something superior to Greek laws, as Paul implies elsewhere. And when it comes to work and labor, the slave (or servant, more precisely) is the inferior to the free master and must obey, as Paul says elsewhere. And when it comes to the family, the husband is the authoritative head of the household, as Paul says elsewhere. National origin, social or economic status, and sex have no bearing on whether we belong to Christ or not, whether we are Abraham’s offspring or not, whether we will inherit the promise of eternal life or not. This theological fact is why Christianity transcends nationality, class, and sex (and could never embrace Marxism). This fact is also the origin of international law, the abolition of chattel slavery, Christian humility and magnanimity, and legitimate forms social and political equality.
The preceding verses in Chapter 3 should be read in light of the first verses of Chapter 4 where he clearly explains himself.
4:1-7 “I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.” The preceding verses in Chapter 3 should be read in light of these first verses of Chapter 4. One can see clearly here that Paul does not mean to say that the moral law is no longer binding on Christians. He clarifies his previous words by explaining further the analogy he started in 3:15, 24-26. The law is meant especially for those who have not yet reached spiritual maturity in faith, obedience, and sonship. But just because one reaches maturity, that doesn’t mean the law is no longer binding. It merely means that a mature person is already faithful, obedient, and worthy to be called a son of God.
4:8-11 “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years! I am afraid I have labored over you in vain.” Notice that St. Paul clearly says that the Christian can turn back to evil and become the slave of sin once more, as he or she was before becoming a Christian and receiving baptism. Because this spiritual backsliding and betrayal is possible, Paul fears that his labor to save the souls of the Galatians has been in vain. He fears that those who once accepted the gospel and were baptized have now abandoned the faith by their actions and will not be saved.
The reference to “days, and months, and seasons, and years” likely refers to Jewish observances, festivals, and holy days. It is also a reflection of the early Christian belief that Jesus would return again very soon, which did not happen.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Observe the tender compassion of the Apostle; they were shaken and he trembles and fears. And hence he has put it so as thoroughly to shame them,
I have bestowed labor upon you, saying, as it were, make not vain the labors which have cost me sweat and pain. By saying
I fear, and subjoining the word
lest, he both inspires alarm, and encourages good hope. He says not
I have labored in vain, but
lest, which is as much as to say, the wreck has not happened, but I see the storm big with it; so I am in fear, yet not in despair; you have the power to set all right, and to return into your former calm.”
4:12 “Brethren, I beseech you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are.” In his letters, Paul often implores Christians to imitate himself. It is these Scriptural exhortations to imitation that justify the Catholic practice of canonizing, venerating, and imitating saints.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “This is addressed to his Jewish disciples, and he brings his own example forward, to induce them thereby to abandon their old customs. Though you had none other for a pattern, he says, to look at me only would have sufficed for such a change, and for your taking courage. Therefore gaze on me; I too was once in your state of mind, especially so; I had a burning zeal for the Law; yet afterwards I feared not to abandon the Law, to withdraw from that rule of life. And this you know full well how obstinately I clung hold of Judaism, and how with yet greater force I let it go. He does well to place this last in order: for most men, though they are given a thousand reasons, and those just ones, are more readily influenced by that which is like their own case, and more firmly hold to that which they see done by others.
4:12-13 “You did me no wrong; you know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first….” The gospel was preached in person first and foremost. Paul’s letters came after the gospel has already been preached to certain people and churches had already been established. The written word was NOT the primary mode of spreading the gospel and teaching Christian doctrines.
4:15-17 “What has become of the satisfaction you felt? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.” Here again implicitly, Paul is questioning why the Galatians have abandoned the one, true faith, especially since their fervor for the faith and loyalty to Paul was such that they would have plucked out their own eyes, if it had been necessary (reminscent of Christ’s “command” if our eyes should cause us to sin). Now they have fallen so far as to even become the “enemy” of Paul perhaps. He makes mention briefly and vaguely of others who, for their own pride and self-interest, wish to isolate the Galatian Christians from the Church.
4:19-20 “My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you! I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.” Paul calls the Galatian Christians his children because he was their father in faith. Thus why Catholics call their priests, bishops, and pope “father.” (In fact, the title “pope” derives from the Greek and Latin for “father” or “tutor.”) Why is Paul in travail and perplexion? Because the Galatian Christians are falling away from the faith and may not enter the kingdom despite Paul’s labor on their behalf.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Observe his perplexity and perturbation,
Brethren, I beseech you:
My little children, of whom I am again in travail: He resembles a mother trembling for her children.
Until Christ be formed in you. Behold his paternal tenderness, behold this despondency worthy of an Apostle. Observe what a wail he utters, far more piercing than of a woman in travail—You have defaced the likeness, you have destroyed the kinship, you have changed the form, you need another regeneration and refashioning; nevertheless I call you children, abortions and monsters though you be. However, he does not express himself in this way, but spares them, unwilling to strike, and to inflict wound upon wound…. Observe his warmth, his inability to refrain himself, and to conceal these his feelings; such is the nature of love; nor is he satisfied with words, but desires to be present with them, and so, as he says, to change his voice, that is, to change to lamentation, to shed tears, to turn every thing into mourning. For he could not by letter show his tears or cries of grief, and therefore he ardently desires to be present with them.”
4:30-31, 5:1 “But what does the scripture say? ‘Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.’ So, brethren, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Freedom and Christianity are not at odds; in fact, the latter leads to the former. Without Christ, no one can be free.
To sin again after one has become a Christian through baptism is to “submit again to a yoke of slavery,” to lose one’s sonship, and thus to forfeit one’s inheritance of eternal life. How does one avoid the slavery of sin again? By being steadfast in obedience to the faith and the moral law.
Paul tells an elaborate analogy using Abraham’s wives (4:21-31) in order to illustrate the point he has been making over and over again in this letter. This analogy also blunts the force of his condemnation of the Galatians sinfulness and apostasy, but his condemnation is still clear for those who approach his words from the correct perspective.
5:2-6 “Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” As long as one is a religious Jew (represented here by circumcision), one is bound to keep the whole law with all its ritual observances. But one should not remain a Jew; one should accept Jesus Christ and His law of faith, love, and obedience. Unless one becomes a Christian through faith, one’s sins cannot be forgiven. All have sinned (besides Jesus, Mary, and perhaps John the Baptist), and the law does not forgive sins. To know and embrace the Christian faith and then to return to Jewish rituals like circumcision is to fall away from grace.
The passage is not a condemnation of circumcision in itself; it merely has no spiritual advantage. Peter, Paul, and other Jewish converts were circumcised in their youth; Christ (who Himself was circumcised) was of great advantage to them, and they were not bound to keep the whole law of the Old Testament. I believe there are also hygenic and health advantages to circumcision.
Lastly, notice that Paul says “faith working through love” is effective, of advantage, and of righteousness. He does not say faith alone but a faith that works loving acts.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “How then shall Christ profit them nothing? For he has not supported this by argument, but only declared it, the credence due to his authority, compensating, as it were, for all subsequent proof…. Having established his point, he at length declares their danger of the severest punishment. When a man recurs to the Law, which cannot save him, and falls from grace, what remains but an inexorable retribution, the Law being powerless, and grace rejecting him? Thus having aggravated their alarm, and disquieted their mind, and shown them all the shipwreck they were about to suffer, he opens to them the haven of grace which was near at hand. This is ever his wont, and he shows that in this quarter salvation is easy and secure…. Having before said that Circumcision was hurtful, how is it that he now considers it indifferent? It is indifferent as to those who had it previously to the Faith, but not as to those who are circumcised after the Faith was given. Observe too the view in which he places it, by setting it by the side of Uncircumcision; it is Faith that makes the difference. As in the selection of wrestlers, whether they be hook-nosed or flat-nosed, black or white, is of no importance in their trial, it is only necessary to seek that they be strong and skilful; so all these bodily accidents do not injure one who is to be enrolled under the New Covenant, nor does their presence assist him. What is the meaning of ‘working through love?’ Here he gives them a hard blow, by showing that this error had crept in because the love of Christ had not been rooted within them. For to believe is not all that is required, but also to abide in love. It is as if he had said, Had you loved Christ as you ought, you would not have deserted to bondage, nor abandoned Him who redeemed you, nor treated with contumely Him who gave you freedom. Here he also hints at those who have plotted against them, implying that they would not have dared to do so, had they felt affection towards them. He wishes too by these words to correct their course of life.”
5:7-8 “ You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you.” St. Paul often compares salvation to running a race. Thus Paul is implicitly telling the Galation Christians that they were on the right path to salvation until they became disobedient, until they stopped “obeying the truth.” Notice the past tense. Their salvation is now much more uncertain.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “This is not an interrogation, but an expression of doubt and sorrow. How has such a course been cut short? Who has been able to do this? You who were superior to all and in the rank of teachers, have not even continued in the position of disciples. What has happened? Who could do this? These are rather the words of one who is exclaiming and lamenting, as he said before, ‘Who did bewitch you?’ (Galatians 3:1). He who called you, called you not to such fluctuations….”
5:10 “I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine; and he who is troubling you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.” St. Paul asserts his authority over doctrine and heretics.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “I have good hopes, partly because of the Lord who suffers nothing, however trivial, to perish, partly because of you who are quickly to recover yourselves. At the same time he exhorts them to use diligence on their own parts, it not being possible to obtain aid from God, if our own efforts are not contributed. Not only by words of encouragement, but by uttering a curse or a prophecy against their teachers, he applies to them an incentive. And observe that he never mentions the name of these plotters, that they might not become more shameless. His meaning is as follows. Not because ‘you will be none otherwise minded,’ are the authors of your seduction relieved from punishment. They shall be punished….”
5:13-18 “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” When St. Paul refers to not being “under the law” throughout his letters, he does not mean that the law has been abolished for the Christian but that the law no longer condemns those who receive forgiveness through faith and repentance. Notice what Paul is really saying here to the Galatian Christians: you will be back under the condemnation of the law if you “use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh,” “if you bite and devour one another,” if you “gratify the desires of the flesh.” The Christian must be holy; otherwise, salvation is lost and repentance is necessary to gain forgiveness again. Certain mortal sins rupture our relationship with God and take away our salvation. Which sins? St. Paul tells us in the following verses (19-21).
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Henceforward he appears to digress into a moral discourse, but in a new manner, which does not occur in any other of his Epistles. For all of them are divided into two parts, and in the first he discusses doctrine, in the last the rule of life, but here, after having entered upon the moral discourse, he again unites with it the doctrinal part. For this passage has reference to doctrine in the controversy with the Manichees. What is the meaning of, ‘Use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh?’ Christ has delivered us, he says, from the yoke of bondage, He has left us free to act as we will, not that we may use our liberty for evil, but that we may have ground for receiving a higher reward, advancing to a higher philosophy. Lest any one should suspect, from his calling the Law over and over again a yoke of bondage, and a bringing on of the curse, that his object in enjoining an abandonment of the Law, was that one might live lawlessly, he corrects this notion, and states his object to be, not that our course of life might be lawless, but that our philosophy might surpass the Law. For the bonds of the Law are broken, and I say this not that our standard may be lowered, but that it may be exalted. For both he who commits fornication, and he who leads a virgin life, pass the bounds of the Law, but not in the same direction; the one is led away to the worse, the other is elevated to the better; the one transgresses the Law, the other transcends it. Thus Paul says that Christ has removed the yoke from you, not that you may prance and kick, but that though without the yoke you may proceed at a well-measured pace…. Here again he hints that strife and party-spirit, love of rule and presumptousness, had been the causes of their error, for the desire of rule is the mother of heresies. By saying, ‘Be servants one to another,’ he shows that the evil had arisen from this presumptuous and arrogant spirit, and therefore he applies a corresponding remedy. As your divisions arose from your desire to domineer over each other, ‘serve one another;’ thus will you be reconciled again. However, he does not openly express their fault, but he openly tells them its corrective, that through this they may become aware of that; as if one were not to tell an immodest person of his immodesty, but were continually to exhort him to chastity. He that loves his neighbor as he ought, declines not to be servant to him more humbly than any servant. As fire, brought into contact with wax, easily softens it, so does the warmth of love dissolve all arrogance and presumption more powerfully than fire. Wherefore he says not, ‘love one another,’ merely, but, ‘be servants one to another,’ thus signifying the intensity of the affection. When the yoke of the Law was taken off them that they might not caper off and away another was laid on, that of love, stronger than the former, yet far lighter and pleasanter…. That he may not distress them, he does not assert this, though he knew it was the case, but mentions it ambiguously. For he does not say, ‘Inasmuch as you bite one another,’ nor again does he assert, in the clause following, that they shall be consumed by each other; but ‘take heed that you be not consumed one of another,’ and this is the language of apprehension and warning, not of condemnation. And the words which he uses are expressly significant; he says not merely, ‘you bite,’ which one might do in a passion, but also ‘you devour,’ which implies a bearing of malice. To bite is to satisfy the feeling of anger, but to devour is a proof of the most savage ferocity. The biting and devouring he speaks of are not bodily, but of a much more cruel kind; for it is not such an injury to taste the flesh of man, as to fix one’s fangs in his soul. In proportion as the soul is more precious than the body, is damage to it more serious. ‘Take heed that you be not consumed one of another.’ For those who commit injury and lay plots, do so in order to destroy others; therefore he says, Take heed that this evil fall not on your own heads. For strife and dissensions are the ruin and destruction as well of those who admit as of those who introduce them, and eats out every thing worse than a moth does…. Here he points out another path which makes duty easy, and secures what had been said, a path whereby love is generated, and which is fenced in by love. For nothing, nothing I say, renders us so susceptible of love, as to be spiritual, and nothing is such an inducement to the Spirit to abide in us, as the strength of love. Therefore he says, ‘Walk by the Spirit and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh:’ having spoken of the cause of the disease, he likewise mentions the remedy which confers health…. Here some make the charge that the Apostle has divided man into two parts, and that he states the essence of which he is compounded to be conflicting with itself, and that the body has a contest with the soul. But this is not so, most certainly; for by ‘the flesh,’ he does not mean the body; if he did, what would be the sense of the clause immediately following, ‘for it lusts,’ he says, ‘against the Spirit?’ yet the body moves not, but is moved, is not an agent, but is acted upon. How then does it lust, for lust belongs to the soul not to the body…. It is the earthly mind, slothful and careless, that he here calls the flesh, and this is not an accusation of the body, but a charge against the slothful soul. The flesh is an instrument, and no one feels aversion and hatred to an instrument, but to him who abuses it. For it is not the iron instrument but the murderer, whom we hate and punish. But it may be said that the very calling of the faults of the soul by the name of the flesh is in itself an accusation of the body. And I admit that the flesh is inferior to the soul, yet it too is good, for that which is inferior to what is good may itself be good, but evil is not inferior to good, but opposed to it…. Again, the Scripture is wont to give the name of the Flesh to the Mysteries of the Eucharist, and to the whole Church, calling them the Body of Christ (Colossians 1:24). Nay, to induce you to give the name of blessings to the things of which the flesh is the medium, you have only to imagine the extinction of the senses, and you will find the soul deprived of all discernment, and ignorant of what it before knew. For if the power of God is since ‘the creation of the world clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made’ (Romans 1:20), how could we see them without eyes? And if ‘faith comes of hearing’ (Romans 10:17), how shall we hear without ears? And preaching depends on making circuits wherein the tongue and feet are employed. ‘For how shall they preach, except they be sent?’ (Romans 10:15). In the same way writing is performed by means of the hands. Do you not see that the ministry of the flesh produces for us a thousand benefits? In his expression, ‘the flesh lusts against the Spirit,’ he means two mental states. For these are opposed to each other, namely virtue and vice, not the soul and the body. Were the two latter so opposed they would be destructive of one another, as fire of water, and darkness of light. But if the soul cares for the body, and takes great forethought on its account, and suffers a thousand things in order not to leave it, and resists being separated from it, and if the body too ministers to the soul, and conveys to it much knowledge, and is adapted to its operations, how can they be contrary, and conflicting with each other? For my part, I perceive by their acts that they are not only not contrary but closely accordant and attached one to another. It is not therefore of these that he speaks as opposed to each other, but he refers to the contest of bad and good principles (cf. Romans 7:23). To will and not to will belongs to the soul; wherefore he says, ‘these are contrary the one to the other,’ that you may not suffer the soul to proceed in its evil desires. For he speaks this like a Master and Teacher in a threatening way…. If it be asked in what way are these two connected, I answer, closely and plainly; for he that has the Spirit as he ought, quenches thereby every evil desire, and he that is released from these needs no help from the Law, but is exalted far above its precepts. He who is never angry, what need has he to hear the command, You shall not kill? He who never casts unchaste looks, what need has he of the admonition, You shall not commit adultery? Who would discourse about the fruits of wickedness with him who had plucked up the root itself? For anger is the root of murder, and of adultery the inquisitive gazing into faces…. But we are not on that account obliged to continue apart with our schoolmaster. Then we were justly subject to the Law, that by fear we might chasten our lusts, the Spirit not being manifested; but now that grace is given, which not only commands us to abstain from them, but both quenches them, and leads us to a higher rule of life, what more need is there of the Law? He who has attained an exalted excellence from an inner impulse, has no occasion for a schoolmaster, nor does any one, if he is a philosopher, require a grammarian.”
5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” St. Paul says very plainly that Christians who do such things (and then do not repent) will not enter heaven. Actions matter, not just mental assent to the content of the faith.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Answer me now, you that accusest your own flesh, and supposest that this is said of it as of an enemy and adversary. Let it be allowed that adultery and fornication proceed, as you assert, from the flesh; yet hatred, variance, emulations, strife, heresies, and witchcraft, these arise merely from a depraved moral choice. And so it is with the others also, for how can they belong to the flesh? You observe that he is not here speaking of the flesh, but of earthly thoughts, which trail upon the ground. Wherefore also he alarms them by saying, that ‘they which practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.’ If these things belonged to nature and not to a bad moral choice, his expression, ‘they practice,’ is inappropriate, it should be, ‘they suffer.’ And why should they be cast out of the kingdom, for rewards and punishments relate not to what proceeds from nature but from choice?”
5:22-26 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.” Again, Paul says that only those who are “led by the Spirit” and thus produce “the fruit of the Spirit” will not be condemned by the law of God, which is still in force for Christians. Only those who have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” belong to Christ; those who do not resist the flesh do not belong to Christ.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “And why does he say, ‘the fruit of the Spirit?’ it is because evil works originate in ourselves alone, and therefore he calls them ‘works,’ but good works require not only our diligence but God’s loving kindness…. For who would lay any command on him who has all things within himself, and who has love for the finished mistress of philosophy? As horses, who are docile and do every thing of their own accord, need not the lash, so neither does the soul, which by the Spirit has attained to excellence, need the admonitions of the Law. Here too he completely and strikingly casts out the Law, not as bad, but as inferior to the philosophy given by the Spirit…. That they might not object, ‘And who is such a man as this?’ he points out by their works those who have attained to this perfection, here again giving the name of the ‘flesh’ to evil actions. He does not mean that they had destroyed their flesh, otherwise how were they going to live? For that which is crucified is dead and inoperative, but he indicates the perfect rule of life. For the desires, although they are troublesome, rage in vain. Since then such is the power of the Spirit, let us live therein and be content therewith…. ‘If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk,’ — being governed by His laws. For this is the force of the words ‘let us walk,’ that is, let us be content with the power of the Spirit, and seek no help from the Law.”
6:1 “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” If anyone is sinning, including those within the Christian community, the true Christian should seek to restore that person to the path of holiness. After he has repented, sinner should be restored to full communion with the Church community. All this is to be done in a spirit of gentleness and humility, for we are all sinners and sometimes succumb to sin ourselves.
But more importantly, notice that Paul says that the Christian may actually be “overtaken” by sin and thus lose the salvation he had.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “He said not if a man commit but if he be ‘overtaken’ that is, if he be carried away. He says not ‘chastise’ nor ‘judge,’ but ‘set right.’ Nor does he stop here, but in order to show that it behooved them to be very gentle towards those who had lost their footing, he subjoins, ‘In a spirit of meekness.’ He says not, ‘in meekness,’ but, ‘in a spirit of meekness,’ signifying thereby that this is acceptable to the Spirit, and that to be able to administer correction with mildness is a spiritual gift. Then, to prevent the one being unduly exalted by having to correct the other, puts him under the same fear, saying, ‘Looking to yourself, lest you also be tempted.’”
6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” Christians can help other Christians bear the burdens of sin and repentance. In fact, this is what indulgences are. The Church absolves some Christians from the temporal consequences of sin and requirements of repentance (penance) because the saints/those in heaven can bear the burdens of other members of the Body who have not yet attained eternal life.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “It being impossible for man to be without failings, he exhorts them not to scrutinize severely the offenses of others, but even to bear their failings, that their own may in turn be borne by others. As, in the building of a house, all the stones hold not the same position, but one is fitted for a corner but not for the foundations, another for the foundations, and not for the corner so too is it in the body of the Church. The same thing holds in the frame of our own flesh; notwithstanding which, the one member bears with the other, and we do not require every thing from each, but what each contributes in common constitutes both the body and the building. For example, this man is irascible, you are dull-tempered; bear therefore with his vehemence that he in turn may bear with your sluggishness; and thus neither will he transgress, being supported by you, nor will you offend in the points where your defects lie, because of your brother’s forbearing with you. So do you by reaching forth a hand one to another when about to fall, fulfil the Law in common, each completing what is wanting in his neighbor by his own endurance. But if you do not thus, but each of you will investigate the faults of his neighbor, nothing will ever be performed by you as it ought. For as in the case of the body, if one were to exact the same function from every member of it, the body could never consist, so must there be great strife among brethren if we were to require all things from all.”
6:7-10 “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Protestants deceive others and mock God if/when they say that the Christian who persists in mortal sin can still by saved by “faith alone.” There can be no co-existence between “the flesh” (sin) and the Spirit, as Paul says earlier in 5:17. The Christian must sow good works to reap eternal life. But if the Christian “lose[s] heart,” he will lose his salvation too. And notice Paul includes himself in these teachings by saying “we.”
6:15-16 “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.” I quote this verse to contradict Christian Zionists. The Christian Church, those who care nothing about circumcision but are a new creation, is the new Israel of God. Replacement theology is true theology.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “This our rule of life he calls ‘a new creature,’ both on account of what is past, and of what is to come; of what is past, because our soul, which had grown old with the oldness of sin, has been all at once renewed by baptism, as if it had been created again. Wherefore we require a new and heavenly rule of life. And of things to come, because both the heaven and the earth, and all the creation, shall with our bodies be translated into incorruption. Tell me not then, he says, of circumcision, which now avails nothing; (for how shall it appear, when all things have undergone such a change?) but seek the new things of grace. For they who pursue these things shall enjoy peace and amity, and may properly be called by the name of ‘Israel.’ While they who hold contrary sentiments, although they be descended from him (Israel) and bear his appellation, have yet fallen away from all these things, both the relationship and the name itself. But it is in their power to be true Israelites, who keep this rule, who desist from the old ways, and follow after grace.”
6:17 “Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” This is a possible reference to Paul bearing the stigmata, literally the wounds that Jesus had, on his own body. Nothing can be said for certain though.
St. John Chrysostom comments thus: “Wherefore does he say this? It is to gird up their slothful mind, and to impress them with deeper fear, and to ratify the laws enacted by himself, and to restrain their perpetual fluctuations.”