July 4: Gal 2:19-20

This is the third of four daily notes on Galatians 2:15-21, today covering verses 19-20 which I would summarize as:

The Relation of the believer to the Law

It builds upon the prior verses, especially vv. 17-18 (a rhetorical argument to show the problem with applying the Law to [Gentile] believers), which I discussed in the previous day’s note.

Galatians 2:19-20

These two verses are comprised of a string of declaratory (doctrinal) statements, which will be examined in turn.

e)gw\ ga\r dia\ no/mou no/mw| a)pe/qanon i%na qew=| zh=sw
“For through (the) law I died (off) from (the) law,
(so) that I might live to God”

The translation here is perhaps a bit misleading; a simpler rendering of the first clause would be: “through the law, I died to the law”. The expression “through (the) law” (dia\ no/mou) here means that Paul (in the first person, as an example of the ordinary believer) shares the common human condition of being “under the law”. The purpose (and result) of the Old Testament Law (and the force of it) was to “enclose all (things/people) under sin” (Gal 3:22). This establishes the very condition which makes justification by faith in Christ (and not by the Law) possible. Thus the paradoxical statement is realized: “through the Law, I died (off) from [i.e. died to] the Law”, followed by the result clause: “so that I might live to God”—life is possible only once a person has died to the Law.

Xristw=| sunestau/rwmai
“I have been put to the stake (together) with (the) Anointed”

Here this death is described in stark, graphic imagery—of the believer being crucified together with Jesus (see also Gal 5:24; 6:14). This is one of the more dramatic examples of Paul’s participatory language—i.e., of the believer living and dying with Jesus (see esp. Romans 6:1-10). It is also clear that “dying to the Law” is not simply a matter of ignoring or neglecting the Old Testament commandments; rather, it is the natural product (and result) of our “dying with Christ”. In a sense, it is also related to the idea of “dying to sin” (cf. Rom 6:1ff). Paul’s concept of the sacraments (esp. Baptism) is, to a large extent, based on this same language and imagery.

zw= de\ ou)ke/ti e)gw/, zh=| de\ e)n e)moi\ Xristo/$
“but yet I do not (now) live, but (rather) (the) Anointed (One) lives in me

With this statement, Paul’s mystical participatory language is at its most inspired and profound. This is both:

    1. An existential statement—how the believer should understand his/her own existence and identity in Christ, and
    2. A statement of spiritual unity—we confess and (to some extent) experience the reality of Christ living “in us” (through the Spirit), but this unity is, in turn, expressed by our life “in Christ”; this reciprocal relationship is grounded and ultimately defined by the phrase “in Christ”.

The emphatic “I” (e)gw) is the point of transition between the dying (to the law, sin etc) in verse 19 and the living (to Christ) in verse 20. In conventional theological terms, the emphasis is on self-mortification and self-denial—the believer is no longer driven by selfish and material/carnal desires, but walks “according to the Spirit”, following the will of God and the example of Christ.

o^ de\ nu=n zw= e)n sarki/ e)n pi/stei zw= th=| tou= ui(ou= tou= qeou=
“but the (life) which I live now in (the) flesh, I live in (the) trust (that is) of the son of God…”

Here Paul speaks of a different kind of “life”—the ‘ordinary’ daily life one leads—but still tied to the (eternal and spiritual) life the believer has in Christ. It builds upon the “new identity” expressed in v. 20a, and centers the believer’s daily life and existence “in trust/faith [e)n pi/stei]” and “in Christ” (i.e. in the faith/trust of the Son of God).

tou= a)gaph/santo/$ me kai\ parado/nto$ e(auto\n u(pe\r e)mou=
“… the (one) loving me and giving himself along over me [i.e. for me, on my behalf]”

The concluding phrase is a Christological declaration and piece of early kerygma; for a similar statement in the Pauline writings, see Ephesians 5:2. For the same idea of Christ’s self-sacrifice as giving himself over (u(per) elsewhere in Galatians, cf. 1:4; 3:13.

It would be hard to find a more precise and dramatic statement that the believer is dead to the Law—it is a clear shift from being under (or “in”) the Law (and, hence, under sin) and being “in Christ”. As Paul will go on to explain here in Galatians (and elsewhere), the believer in Christ is now guided by the Spirit and no longer is required to observe the commandments of the Old Testament Law. Religious and ethical behavior is maintained (entirely) by life in the Spirit and by following the example and teachings of Jesus. This point is discussed further in my series on “Paul’s View of the Law” (articles soon to be posted here).

* * * * * *

On the 4th of July, which, in large part, commemorates the qualified independence and socio-political freedom which individuals have in the United States, it is worth remembering that, for believers in Christ, true freedom is very different. Paul writes of this throughout Galatians, referring to “our freedom (e)leuqeri/a) which we hold in the Anointed Yeshua {Christ Jesus}” (2:4). This is not freedom from social or political authority; rather, it is freedom from the bondage to sin under which all of humankind has been, and continues to be, enslaved. In Paul’s teaching, this bondage to sin is intertwined with bondage to the Law, esp. the Old Testament Law (Torah). That this is a genuine bondage is made abundantly clear at many points in Galatians (and Romans), especially in the illustration of Hagar and Sarah, their children (Ishmael and Isaac) representing “children of slavery” and “children of freedom” respectively (4:21-31). Paul’s teaching on the Law (cf. above) in this regard can be difficult for many to follow (and to accept); a summary of it is given in Gal 3:19-27 (see esp. verse 23). The good news is that, through our trust in Jesus, and our subsequent union with him, we come to be children of freedom—we are freed from the power of sin, and of the requirements of the Law. In Paul’s words:

“In freedom the Anointed (One) has made us free; therefore you must stand and must not be held in (bondage) again by (the) yoke of slavery!” (5:1)

This “yoke of slavery” has two aspects: (1) bondage to sin, and (2) bondage to the Law. The second means that believers are no longer bound (required) to observe the Law of the Old Covenant (the old order of things); the first means that we are no longer obligated (and forced) to obey the power of sin. How is this freedom realized? Paul’s answer is two-fold: (1) through the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit, and (2) by following the teaching and example of Jesus as summarized and embodied in the “love-command”. This is the message of Gal 5:1-6:10, which concludes the main body of the letter. The declaration (and teaching) in 5:13 perhaps encapsulates the message best:

“For we were called upon freedom, brothers—only not (for) th(is) freedom (to be) unto a rushing off in the flesh, but (rather) through love we must serve [lit. be a slave to] each other.”

In other words, we must allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit (5:16-18), and not be carried off by the impulses of the flesh (which can lead to sin). The irony is that this freedom prompts us to serve one another, like fellow slaves in Christ.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.