Galatians Chapter 2:16-21

Lots here.

16εἰδότες [δὲ] ὅτι οὐ δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἔργων νόμου ἐὰν μὴ διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν, ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων νόμου οὐ δικαιωθήσεται πᾶσα σάρξ.

Seeing that humanity is not justified from the works of the law, (but) by nothing other (than) through faith in Jesus Christ, and we believed towards Jesus Christ, in order that we be justified from faith of Christ and not from works of the law, that from works of the law no flesh is justified.

First the Greek: << ἄνθρωπος >> Technically, this means “man”.  As in, “anthropology”.  However, in a looser sense, “humanity” is a better translation.  You would not have called an adult Greek male an ἄνθρωπος unless you wanted to be at least semi-insulting.  He would have been called << ἄνερ >>.  There really isn’t a direct English correlate. I’d suggest “manly man” but there are too many ironic or other implications.  In Latin, one has << vir >>, as opposed to the more generic << homo >>, which is how the Latin is rendered here.  This latter would be better put into English as “humanity”.

Second, << πᾶσα σάρξ >>.  Again, this really should be translated as “everyone.”  However, the literal meaning s “all flesh.” << σάρξ >> itself can be used as body, or in the sense of flesh; but not in the sense of “corpse”; there’s a different word for that.  However, the thing about << σάρξ  >> is that it really has the strong implication of “flesh, in direct opposition to spirit.”  This latter implication ends up being very important for both Paul and later Christianity. So, I will tend to translate it as “all flesh”; not as idiomatic, admittedly, but it seems too important to keep the flesh/spirit dichotomy firmly in mind.  Things, nuances, like this are the reason why we read the original.  This stuff truly gets “lost in translation,” and changes the message in subtle, but significant ways.       

For the message: we encounter for the first time the idea of << δικαιω >> or << δικαιοσυνη >>.  It is translated here, and everywhere, as “justification.”  Indeed, the Latin is  “iustificio”, which is obviously the root of our word.  It’s a compound word meaning, literally, “to make just.”  Liddell & Scott give the first meaning as “justify,” so it’s not an issue of nuance.  The problem comes from the fact that the root of the Latin word is “ius”,  or “law,” so there is a very overt legal sense to the derivatives like “iusitificio”

 The Greek vocabulary cluster including << δικαιω >> and << δικαιοσυνη >> are derived from the word << δικη >>.  This can be correctly translated as “just”, or “right,” or “according to custom.” As such, the concept is large enough to encompass the Latin concept of “justice”, but it goes beyond the more narrow legal sense.  Certainly, we can talk about ‘cosmic justice’, in which someone gets their comeuppance in ways other than a court of law.  This is what happens in a movie when the villain is killed, usually in some way connected to his/her evil intent or action.  That’s what the Greek word means.  That sense of setting the society into its proper balance, in a way transcending the narrow sense as represented by the scales of justice.  We all know that merely because an act is legal, doesn’t make it ‘right.”      

 My first Classics professor defined << δικη >> in this sense of ‘proper balance.” The gods were all owed their << τιμη >>, their ‘honor’.  However, it was crucial to give each god his/her << τιμη >>. That is, give each one his/her due.  That is, giving all the gods their due would establish the sense of << δικη >>,  the ‘proper balance’ between the various gods & goddesses.  For example, in the Odyssey, Odysseus got into trouble by paying too much honor to Athene, a goddess of civilization, while not giving enough to Poseidon, a god of nature.  As a result Poseidon felt slighted, because Odysseus hadn’t evened out the honor appropriately.  [ There’s a little more to it than that, but this is the basic idea.  It’s why Ulysses by James Joyce is about a Jew in Catholic Ireland. ]

There is an excellent book called “Iustitia Dei: A history of the Christian doctrine of Justification, by Alister McGrath.  He does a great job exploring this very topic, starting with the Hebrew word which was translated as << δικαιωσυνη >>, ended up as “iustificio”, or “iustitia” in Latin.  He then describes how each translation both added and subtracted from the concept.  [ Word of warning, it’s not light reading.  The Amazon reviews are not kind.]     

17εἰ δὲ ζητοῦντες δικαιωθῆναι ἐν Χριστῷ εὑρέθημεν καὶ αὐτοὶ ἁμαρτωλοί, ἆρα Χριστὸς ἁμαρτίας διάκονος; μὴ γένοιτο.

For those seeking to be justified in Christ we also find ourselves (t0 be)  sinners, does this mean Christ ministers (is a deacon to) sin? 

Don’t entirely follow the logic of this thinking. I mean, I get the point, but it seems a bit odd. But that may just be me.  But the next verse doesn’t help, either.

17 Quodsi quaerentes iustificari in Christo, inventi sumus et ipsi peccatores, numquid Christus peccati minister est? Absit!

18εἰ γὰρ ἃ κατέλυσα ταῦτα πάλιν οἰκοδομῶ, παραβάτην ἐμαυτὸν συνιστάνω.

For if I build again that which was destroyed, I commend myself (to be a) transgressor.

συνιστάνω: OK, this one has me baffled.  First of all, this is supposedly the Present/Active/ Indicative of << συν-ιστημι >>,which is itself the present indicative.  It’s not necessarily the active form, since the verb has a middle form, which is a Greek voice that is somewhere between active and passive.  So to have the actual active form is very, very unusual.

Secondly, the root verb is << ιστημι >>, which is the basic word for “to stand.”  The prefix, << συν >> is ‘with’.  So the base meaning of this is ‘stand with’.  However, it’s not entirely that simple; L&S give the base meaning of ‘to set or place together,’ which isn’t that much of a stretch from ‘to stand with/together.’

All four of my base crib translations (NIV, ESV, NASV, and KJV) translate this as ‘make’.  As in, ‘I make myself a sinner.’  This definition is not to be found in L&S.  In context, this definition does make sense.  If we look at the Latin, the verb is ‘constituo,’ IOW, ‘constitute’, which does give us the sense of ‘I make’, as in ‘myself.’ The thing is, does this usage of the word really appear that often in koine Greek?  Apparently, which is why the Vulgate has chosen the verb it did.  Just another big example of how much the definitions of some of these words really drifted.  These are the places where Paul’s Greek gets very idiosyncratic.  At some point, ‘idiosyncratic’  becomes the functional equivalent of ‘wrong’.  For example, is my definition of  “dog” as a “woody-stemmed, leaf-bearing plant” (what most people would call a ‘tree’) idiosyncratic? Or just wrong?   

18 Si enim, quae destruxi, haec iterum aedifico, praevaricatorem me constituo.

19ἐγὼ γὰρ διὰ νόμου νόμῳ ἀπέθανον ἵνα θεῷ ζήσω. Χριστῷ συνεσταύρωμαι:

For I, through the law, died to the law so that I will live in God.  I have been crucified with Christ.

Another signicant concept: The Law.  As in, the law of Deuteronomy, and the corpus of Jewish law in general.

 The idea of The Law vs. Faith is probably the major theme of this epistle.  The first mention of this came in 2:16 above, but the note there was already too long, so I’m moving this down here.  This all ties in with Paul’s discussions of the pillars, and the Jerusalem assembly, and the whether Titus had to be circumcised, and Peter’s eating (presumably) like the Gentiles.  The Law was very clear on a lot of things, and we have seen, more or less, that the group headed by James believed that followers of Jesus must, or at least should, be Jews first.  That is, they should follow The Law. 

 Paul disagrees.  He has told us, and starting here, and running through much of this epistle, we get his case against the need to follow The Law.  It is fraught with implications for the history of what became Christianity.  First, it opened the assembly up to Gentiles, who would not be required to follow Jewish Law.  Second, it lays the foundation for justification by faith, rather than by works, acts, things that humans do.  The orthodox position evolved into the need for works, and as the Middle Ages wore on, more and more of the works became dubious and questionable.  This lead to Martin Luther’s proclamation of “justification by faith alone.”  The root of the thought is that humans are so depraved that we can’t possibly do anything pleasing to God, so trying to merit heaven by our own actions is futile.

 In fact, this theme surfaced in the fourth and fifth centuries.  A British bishop named Pelagius preached that humans, could, in fact, merit salvation by their own efforts.  This seemed blasphemous to a number of church fathers.  The chief opponent of this idea became St Augustine.  Working from several texts of Paul, but in particular Romans, Augustine eventually ended up at the concept of Predestination.  More on that later.  For the moment, it suffices to note that Paul’s idea of justification by faith was novel, and very much in opposition to Jewish—and pagan—thought.  This is something of a novel concept.  But was how Paul managed to eliminate the need for followers of Jesus to adhere to The Law.

19 Ego enim per legem legi mortuus sum, ut Deo vivam. Christo confixus sum cruci;

20ζῶ δὲ οὐκέτι ἐγώ, ζῇ δὲ ἐν ἐμοὶ Χριστός: ὃ δὲ νῦν ζῶ ἐν σαρκί, ἐν πίστει ζῶ τῇ τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀγαπήσαντός με καὶ παραδόντος ἑαυτὸν ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ.

I no longer live; rather, Chris lives in me.  That which now lives in the flesh, in faith I live in the son of God loving me and giving himself for me.

Offhand, this seems like a fairly novel idea, but I’m not honestly certain that it is.  It doesn’t sound like the sort of thing that a pagan would say: that the god is living in him.  Nor does it sound like anything I’ve encountered in my admittedly limited forays into Judaism.  There is a mystical quality to it; later mystics have expressed similar sentiments, about having God inside them, and there is a mystical strain of Judaism.  Perhaps this sort of thing was going on at the time; perhaps John the Baptist or the Qumran people had similar ideas. 

20 vivo autem iam non ego, vivit vero in me Christus; quod autem nunc vivo in carne, in fide vivo Filii Dei, qui dilexit me et tradidit seipsum pro me.

21οὐκ ἀθετῶ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ: εἰ γὰρ διὰ νόμου δικαιοσύνη, ἄρα Χριστὸς δωρεὰν ἀπέθανεν.

I do not place aside (nullify) the grace of God. For, if through the law we are justified, how is it that Christ did not die freely? ( freely = in vain)

This gets right to the heart of the issue. We have the fact of Christ’s death. From this we derive the belief or assumption that it meant something, that it wasn’t gratuitous ( = gratis, in the Latin).

It’s pretty good logic, especially if encountered by someone who wants to believe. Faith landing on fertile soil.

21 Non irritam  facio gratiam Dei; si per enim per legem iusitia, ergo Christus gratis mortuus est.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on September 4, 2012, in epistles, Galatians, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Your comments about “the god is living in him” reminded me of a description from someone who is bipolar (if that is the right term). They noted that after an “event” of elated feelings, they would feel an inner feeling of divinity, almost godliness, which diminished over time but which left a spiritual afterglow.

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