Galatians 2:11-21

Justification By Faith v. By Works of the Law

By David M Rogers

www.BibleTruth.cc

Published: July 2010

Table of Contents

The Hypocrisy of Cephas

The "Works of the Law"

Justification Through Works?


Galatians 2:11-21

And when Kepha had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was at fault.  For before some came from Ya'aqob, he was eating with the gentiles, but when they came, he began to withdraw and separate himself, in fear of those of the circumcision.  And the rest of the Yehudim joined him in  hypocrisy, so that even Barnabah was led away by their hypocrisy.  But when I saw that they are not walking straight  according to the truth of the Good News, I said to Kepha before them all, “If you, being a Yehudi, live as a gentile and not as the Yehudim, why do you compel gentiles to live as Yehudim?  “We, Yehudim by nature, and not of the gentiles, sinners, know that a man is not declared right by works of law, but through faith (fidelity, faithfulness) in Yahusha Messiah.  And we have believed in Messiah Yahusha, in order to be declared right by fidelity in Messiah and not by works of law, because by works of law no flesh shall be declared right.  “And if, while seeking to be declared right  by Messiah, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Messiah then a servant of sin? Let it not be!  “For if I rebuild what I once overthrew, I establish myself a transgressor.  “For through Law I died to law, in order to live to Elohim.  “I have been impaled with Messiah, and I no longer live, but Messiah lives in me.  And that which I now live in the flesh I live by fidelity in the Son of Elohim, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  “I do not set aside the favour of Elohim, for if righteousness is through law, then Messiah died for naught.”

The Hypocrisy of Cephas

And when Kepha had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was at fault.  For before some came from Ya'aqob, he was eating with the gentiles, but when they came, he began to withdraw and separate himself, in fear of those of the circumcision.  And the rest of the Yehudim joined him in hypocrisy, so that even Barnabah was led away by their hypocrisy. (Galatians 2:11-13)

Peter, also called Cephas (his Hebrew name was Kepha) was caught in an act of hypocrisy.  What was Kepha’s mistake?  The Oral Tradition of the Pharisees forbids a Yehudi from eating with the "unclean dog" Gentiles, but the written Torah has no such limitation.  Kepha felt pressure from the camp of those who followed Oral Torah (the Pharisees), because he feared the Sanhedrin (the circumcision) and withdrew from eating with Gentiles.

The written Torah teaches Israel not to discriminate.  There is to be no difference in the way the Jews were supposed to treat the Gentile converts coming into the faith.

The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you. (Shemot 12:49)

You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am Yahuwah your Elohim. (Vayiqra 24:22)

One and the same law applies to everyone who sins unintentionally, whether he is a native-born Yisraelite or an alien. (Bemidbar 15:29)

But the Pharisees were experts at discrimination.  They believed they were the "chosen people" and that by their own righteousness Elohim was obligated to treat them better than all other people.

But Kepha and Paul, each in their own time, had learned the differences between the teaching of the Master who taught the written Torah instructions as the proper walk of faith and the teaching of the Pharisees who taught all Jews to follow their commands, traditions and works.  To treat the Gentiles any differently than the native born Jews was an act of sin.  Paul felt compelled to rebuke this hypocrisy, because it was becoming infectious - even the rest of the believing Yehudim and Barnabah were led to join in the hypocrisy.

The "Works of the Law"

But when I saw that they are not walking straight according to the truth of the Good News, I said to Kepha before them all, “If you, being a Yehudi, live as a gentile and not as the Yehudim, why do you compel gentiles to live as Yehudim?"  We, Yehudim by nature, and not of the gentiles, sinners, know that a man is not declared right by works of law, but through faith in Yahusha Messiah.  And we have believed in Messiah Yahusha, in order to be declared right by faith in Messiah and not by works of law, because by works of law no flesh shall be declared right.  And if, while seeking to be declared right  by Messiah, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Messiah then a servant of sin?  Let it not be!  For if I rebuild what I once overthrew, I establish myself a transgressor.  (Galatians 2:14-18)

This passage of Scripture is one of the primary arguments in the Christian theology that says Jesus did away with the law.  Since no one can be declared righteous "by works of law," it is pretty clear to them that God's law is in view here, and that God's law offers no benefit for righteousness.

Unfortunately, this theology of Paul (if we have correctly understood it) flies in the face of the plain teaching of the Torah.  The teaching of the Law of Moses is summed up in the following:

Yahuwah commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear Yahuwah our Elohim, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today.  And if we are careful to obey all this law before Yahuwah our Elohim, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness." (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 6:24-25)

Here, the keeping of all the commandments of Yahuwah is counted as righteousness for those who obey the Law.  How then can Paul say just the opposite?

Christian systematic theologies are aware of this apparent contradiction.  Their answer to this dilemma is that clearly the Old Testament Law must have been "done away with" and a new law established.  This, they say, is what Jesus did, and which Paul is reflecting in these statements about the law.  But the difficulty of this view is that Messiah said quite the opposite.  He stated:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18)

If Yahusha declared to his disciples (the founding "fathers" of Christianity) that he was not abolishing the Law, but that the Law was to be in effect "until heaven and earth disappear," then we must come up with a different interpretation of Paul which does not contradict the clear teaching of the Master.

The correct interpretation of Paul's enigmatic statements about righteousness is in realizing that Paul was dealing with two very different "laws."  As a Pharisee, Paul was taught from his youth that the Pharisees law - what is now known as the Oral Torah - was to supersede the written Law of Mosheh.  The Pharisees taught a very different law code than the written Torah of Mosheh.  Their law was like a fence around the Torah.  In other words, they created a whole new set of laws and commandments which must be kept.  They justified it by noting that their laws would keep the people from accidently transgressing one of Elohim's laws.

One of the features of the laws of the Pharisees is what is known as the "works of the law."   These works (Hebrew hv[m or ~yv[m “ma-aseh” or pl. “ma-asim,” which is defined as an action, deed, work; precedent) are not the same as the "works" of obeying Elohim's commandments.  No.  Their term "works of the law" means something very different.  For a Pharisee, the "works of the law" is an action of a Rabbi or sage that justified the practical manner in which a tradition should be observed.  Thus, the "works of the law" were laws based on the actions or “works” of a rabbi.  If a Pharisee or Rabbi performed a certain action, then that action was established as law, and was known as a "work of the law."

The “works of law” are those precedents set by rabbis and sages which convert an action, work or practice into Law.  When the Oral Torah is unclear about a matter, one may default to the precedent laid down by a rabbi, to guide you in your experience.  An example of a "work of the law" is the law concerning the reciting of the Shema.

Once it happened (ma-aseh) those of R. Gamaliel came home (late) from a wedding feast and they said to him: We have not yet recited the (evening) sh’ma.  He said to them: If the dawn has not yet come up you are still bound to recite.  And not in respect to this alone did they so decide, but whenever the sages say until midnight, the precept may be performed until the dawn comes up. (Berachot 2a)

This "work of the law" establishes as law that the evening reciting of the shema can be done up until the following dawn and be accepted as having been done on time.

So, when we come to Paul - and remember that Paul is battling the unbelieving Yehudim who elevated their own law over the Law of Elohim - we see Paul contrasting "faith in Messiah" with "the works of the law."  These must be two very different things in Paul's mind.  And we see that they are.

"Faith in Messiah" must be understood in the context of what it means to belong to Messiah.  Yahusha said to his disciples,

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." (4th Gospel 14:21)

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. (4th Gospel 15:10)

Those who belong to Messiah obey his commandments.  This is how we can identify the true disciples of Messiah, as Yochanan also says,

Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. (1 John 3:24)

This is how we know that we love the children of Elohim: by loving Elohim and carrying out his commands.  This is love for Elohim: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome. (1 John 5:2-3)

So, faith is Messiah literally means to obey his commandments!  This is in agreement with what the Torah of Mosheh teaches.  Faith in Elohim means fidelity to him as expressed in faithful obedience to his commandments.

So, here is the rub of the Galatians 2 teaching.  There is a very real contrast between "faith in Messiah" and "works of the law."  "Faith in Messiah" translates to mean obedience to the commandments of Elohim and Messiah.  "Works of the law" translates to mean obedience to the man-made laws and traditions of the Pharisees.

Let's go over again what Paul is saying.  "We, Yehudim by nature, and not of the gentiles, sinners, know that a man is not declared right by works of law, but through faith in Yahusha Messiah."  And so it is that Paul is correct in this statement.  No one can be justified before Elohim by "works of law" because these "works of law" are merely enactments of men.  But even the Torah of Mosheh teaches us that righteousness is reckoned to all who obey all the commandments of Elohim.  Thus, belief in Messiah is obedience to his commandments.  So, Paul says,

And we have believed in Messiah Yahusha, in order to be declared right by faith in Messiah and not by works of law, because by works of law no flesh shall be declared right.

Those who obediently have faith in Messiah are indeed justified by their fidelity to Messiah as expressed by their obedience to his commands.  Because no one can be justified by doing the commandments of men.

The term "works of law" is not a reference to obedience to the written Torah.  On the contrary, it is a phrase that refers to obedience to the man-made commandments, such as the Pharisees Oral Torah (oral teachings and tradition), as a means of earning one's salvation!    But human effort and human example (works of law) cannot gain favor with Yahuwah.  Only by faithfully following and obeying Messiah can one be righteous.

Paul goes on to say,

And if, while seeking to be declared right  by Messiah, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Messiah then a servant of sin? Let it not be!  For if I rebuild what I once overthrew, I establish myself a transgressor.

Paul cannot return to the Pharisaic practice of obedience to man-made tradition because it makes that man a transgressor of Scripture.  You cannot obey man's law and Elohim's law at the same time.  These are at odds with one another.

Justification Through Works?

For through Law I died to law, in order to live to Elohim.  I have been impaled with Messiah, and I no longer live, but Messiah lives in me.  And that which I now live in the flesh I live by fidelity in the Son of Elohim, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  I do not set aside the favour of Elohim, for if righteousness is through law, then Messiah died for naught.” (Galatians 2:19-21)

Paul is declaring loudly that his fidelity is with Messiah and the written Torah – it is no longer fidelity in Oral Tradition of Pharisaic teaching!  He died to the Pharisees law in order to live and obey Elohim's law.  By being "impaled with Messiah" - that is to say, to be associated with Messiah and to suffer on his behalf - Paul is accepting Messiah's demands of obedience to the written Torah of Mosheh as the correct way to express faith in Messiah.  So, he lives in "faith" or "fidelity" to Yahusha by obeying his commands.

Finally Paul summarizes by noting that if he were pursuing Elohim through the Pharisaic laws, he would be "setting aside the grace (favor) of Elohim.  But he is not doing this.  He has abandoned the Pharisaic way and has adopted obedience to Yahuwah's commandments as the source of his righteousness.

Messiah died to ransom those who transgress Elohim's law.  But if Paul were to return to obedience to the Pharisees, he would be transgressing Elohim's law all over again.  And in that case, Messiah would have died for nothing, because Paul would be in sin again.

Finally, an expanded translation of this text will make it easier for the reader to see at a glance what Paul is really saying here.

We, Yehudim by nature, and not of the gentiles, sinners, know that a man is not declared right by "works of law" (a Pharisaic invention), but through fidelity to Elohim (faithfulness to his commands) in Yahusha Messiah.  And we have believed in Messiah Yahusha, in order to be declared right by fidelity in Messiah and not by "works of law" (man's law), because by "works of law" (man's law) no flesh shall be declared right.  And if, while seeking to be declared right by Messiah, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Messiah then a servant of sin? Let it not be!  For if I rebuild what I once overthrew, I establish myself a transgressor.  For through written Torah of Elohim I died to the law of men, in order to live to Elohim.  I have been impaled with Messiah, and I no longer live, but Messiah lives in me.  And that which I now live in the flesh I live by fidelity in the Son of Elohim, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  I do not set aside the favour of Elohim, for if righteousness is through man-made law, then Messiah died for naught.

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