Although I might have used other translations as I wrote about Paul’s transition out of legalism into the grace of God we find in Christ; the CJB seems to convey what I perceive Paul is saying, the best.
Galatians 2:18-19 CJB Indeed, if I build up again the legalistic bondage which I destroyed, I really do make myself a transgressor. 19 For it was through letting the Torah speak for itself that I died to its traditional legalistic misinterpretation, so that I might live in direct relationship with God.
Operating as Saul the Pharisee, he enforced the legalistic bondage. Although the transition to freedom in Christ began while he was stilled called Saul, his references to the time in which he started destroying the legalistic bondage, started about three years after his conversion to being a follower of the Way, on the road to Damascus.
The idea that he could or would make himself a transgressor by teaching legalism once again is an intentionally ludicrous example; one which would never happen.
Previously I wrote about Paul’s statement, “For it was through letting the Torah (Mosaic law) speak for itself that I died to its traditional legalistic misinterpretation.” While this may sound appropriate to me, it might not seem right to you, because it is foreign to your ear. The NASB translates the same sentence like this.
Galatians 2:19 NASB “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.
Allow me to point out the obvious. There is a huge and drastic difference between the two translations. I am assuming that, as a student of the Bible, you would, of course, want to dig enough to find out what the original Greek is, for the phrase “legalistic misinterpretation.” Here is where our problem lies; there is no direct wording for the phrase “legalistic misinterpretation.”
If I show you the NASB with the Strong’s numbers, perhaps you will understand better.
Galatians 2:19 NASB+ “For throughG1223 N1the LawG3551 I R1diedG599 to N1the LawG3551, soG2443 that I might liveG2198 to GodG2316.
“For through” – The word “for” is presumed, however, it makes grammatical sense; but, it is not included in the Greek. The word through, on-the-other-hand, is a straightforward word in the Greek meaning “through, on account of, or because of.”
“the Law” – Strong’s gives us this: nomos; from nemō (to parcel out); that which is assigned, hence usage, law.
So, what was assigned to Israel? You have to think back to Moses receiving the law (the ten commandments) on Mount Moriah. When you read through Exodus and Leviticus, you find it was not just ten simple commandments, but somewhat detailed laws about cleanliness and sacrifices for sins.
Why would God need these people to hold fast to rules? Because they had been, with few exceptions, entirely assimilated into Egypt’s idolatrous ways and culture. Proof of this shows up when Moses descends from the mountain with the tablets, and Joshua says to him, it sounds like war. Have you ever thought to yourself, what does a battle sound like? It sounds like screaming, horn blowing, crying, and perhaps, dancing; all of these things may well be what they were doing. In the New Testament, it was Stephen, that gives us, and the Jewish council before him, a history lesson as he describes the idolatrous images they had made.
Sadly, one of those “images” was Moloch, half man – half bull, that was hollow so that fire could be placed inside of it. With the upright hands of a man, babies were roasted on it to some Egyptian god. And, Aaron, the brother of Moses, made this ghastly thing for the children of Israel.
“I died” apothnēskō to die off (literally or figuratively): The NASB with Strong’s numbers, has an added dimension, as it references three scriptures indicated by R1. (I R1diedG599)
Saul, on the road to Damascus, died that day. How is that possible? Having read the story myself, I know that he became blind and had to have someone lead him to the home of Ananias. Ananias prayed with Saul; baptized him; taught him a little, and introduced him to other followers of Christ.
Nowhere in this process did Saul quit breathing. So, the act of dying has to take on another role in our life, one which we cannot immediately see.
Romans 6:2 NASB May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?
I am not clear how this applies to the theme, however, there the concept of dying to sin, something which we, as believers, have done.
Ponder this. The statement conveys that in Christ, we have died to sin. And yet, we are highly capable of rolling around in this “sin.” How does that work?
Romans 7:4 NASB Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
1 Corinthians 9:20 NASB 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law;
Consider what verse 20 is saying. To the Jews, I became as a Jew. Since Paul was born to Jews – Pharisees, his becoming a Jew was not a question. I would imagine it was more of demand and an aspect of his heritage. However, he is telling us that he enacted these roles with one purpose, to win those who are under the Law. That goal, it seems, was to win those under the Law. Time for some questions:
– Wasn’t Saul initially under the Law?
– Who won him over, freeing him from that Law, and how did that happen?
– Seeing as Paul verbally accosted Peter for his hypocrisy, why does it seem that Paul is now doing the same?
– Considering how dramatic God was with Saul on the road to Damascus, what would it take to win over the Jew, one under the Law?
- “the Law” – Here it is again, and nothing has changed. Strong’s gives us this: nomos; from nemō (to parcel out); that which is assigned, hence usage, law.
“so that I might live to God.”
“so” is merely a conjunction.
“that I might live,” Live is the Greek word, zao meaning to spend one’s existence. The additional words are merely presumed.
“to God.” God – Theós; Originally used by the heathen, but in the NT as the name of the true God. The heathen thought the gods were makers and disposers (thetḗres, placers) of all things. [Word Study Dictionary]
Strong’s concordance merely tells us that theos means of uncertain affinity; simply, a diety.
I like to plug in the other possible words and see what it looks like, so here goes.
Galatians 2:19 in its original condition – “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.”
And here it is rewritten – On account of that which is assigned, the Law. I have had to die off, in a sense, to the law – that thing which I used and it used me. This dying off all happened so that I might spend my existence living a life before the maker of the universe instead of living because of rules.
Eugene Peterson’s message conveys the same verse in this manner,
Galatians 2:19 MSG What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man.
Moving on slowly, let’s look at verse 20.
Galatians 2:20 NASB “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
In contrast, the Message states,
Galatians 2:20 MSG Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
How simple Eugene Peterson’s version makes this whole idea of being crucified with Christ seem, and it is; what makes life in Christ difficult is that the enemy is continually attacking through the primary point of entry, your thoughts.
If you, like Paul, chose to step away from religious legalism, then you can anticipate family attacking you. In some communities, you are disowned or treated as dead. What if your choice to follow the grace and life found in Christ, causes you to suffer verbal abuse at work and you lose your job or social position in life over your commitment?
Peterson’s version emphasizes, “My ego is no longer central.” Is that because somehow, in this process of becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, you understood that you were now placing your life in the hands of God, and taking on a new identity, His identity? With our standard pleas for salvation, most of which include an escape plan from hell’s flames, there is little talk of this crucifixion of self, and the taking on of a new identity. I do not think most of us understand this process at all. If you can’t accept that statement, go to a recovery group and listen, as people will verbalize their struggle to figure out who they are. Most still identify with that aspect of their person, that lived on the streets; or, they had a high paying job and could afford a constant stream of drugs and alcohol. Their minds, which have yet to be changed, still think there is nothing more than the quietly tortured life they led.
Don’t think for a second that Paul did not understand this concept, for most Pharisees were married. Ask yourself, do you see much in the way of details about Paul’s life, before the Damascus event? Not unless he tells us. It is possible that the impact Jesus had on him, and the trauma associated with Paul’s expulsion from the Jewish, Law bound, religious council, may have played a role in Paul’s rarely speaking of his past? Maybe. Lacking definitive documentation we have to go on presumption and what others have written about the Jewish social life.
Presumption itself is not that bad, especially when it makes sense and somehow associates itself tightly with God’s design and plans. In our case, His plan of action was to redeem the world, and He prearranged to do it through His own Son, Jesus. Well, that happened, and the only demand placed upon us was to accept His mercy and grace, by recognizing that Jesus, the Son, is the Messiah. The Jewish community calls Jesus the Gentile Jesus, and will have nothing to do with him; however, the day will come when the blinding veil will be lifted, and Jew and Gentile will be able to see. The problem with that is that it happens immediately after the catching away of the Church, during the seven-year period that far too many like to call the Tribulation period. This period I speak of is the time of God’s wrath being poured out on the earth, the Jews, and the nations (Gentiles.)
In church, I find a multitude of opinions, false teaching, and an exhausting lack of grace and mercy. The general theme of the messages has more to do with works than anything else. These “works,” it seems, are done to maintain your standing in God’s grace, or, they are some presumed requirement that proves you are a follower of Christ. Is this what Paul was trying to get across to us? Hardly. Eugene Peterson explains it like this:
“It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God.”
Why would Paul have this kind of determined purpose and freedom? Because he knew without a doubt that Christ lived in him.
What was the consistent pattern that we see, as Paul came into villages and looked for their synagogue? Almost immediately he began to inform them, from the Law, about, not only the Messiah who lives, but the grace found in Him.
Let’s finish chapter two by continuing with the Message version.
Galatians 2:21 MSG I am not going to go back on that. Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
Paul says, “I am not going to go back on that.” People make statements like this right after making some definitive assertion about what they believe, or, what they will do, primarily with their life. If you look at verse 20 and compare translations, the life statements are there. A change had come, and it has allowed me to bring change to others; what did that, was the obtaining of Christ’s life inside himself and taking on that identity; it is this knowledge that seems to motivate Paul’s statement, “I am not going to go back on that.”
I am going, to be honest with you. I have moments when I find myself asking, is this heaven thing is for real, because if it is not, and I am merely trying to find some way through this land of the walking dead, then I won’t play by the restraints of decency (scripture calls these restraints of decency, the perfect law of liberty, and it includes loving people.) I think Paul may well have had these moments; but then, there was that vision, or let’s just call it an event, Paul had on the road to Damascus, the one where he saw Jesus. That extraordinary vision changed him and how he looked at the things he had learned from the Law, and about God.
The voice in my head that confronts the decency in me (perhaps that is an inferior way of saying that there is someone out there, called Satan,) incessantly tries to persuade me that I am wasting my time and that none of this is real. It also says, “beside that, there is no hope of an eternal life with the Father, and you will merely become worm fodder when you die.” In moments like this, I cherish the words found in a worship song we used to sing a couple of years ago, which says, I remind myself of all that He’s done, and the life I live, I live in the Son.
I mentioned this song and how it had integrated its way into my life, to someone close to me. Surprisingly, they became adversarial and asked why I would feel that way since I have Jesus in my life. If I, for whatever reason, am being attacked with doubts, does that mean I do not have a firm grasp on what God has done for me and why? Not at all, but ignoring that we have an enemy certainly does not make your life better; it just makes you ignorant. Jesus told us that in this life we would have tribulations. If those trials come in the form of haranguing doubts, they still have to be dealt with, and not through the Law.
As Eugene Peterson’s Message put it, “If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.” This entire second chapter of Galatians has been an effort on Paul’s part to demonstrate this concept. The Law, we are told, never brought anyone to Christ. However, mercy and grace have.
If you have ever read about the dreams and visions that many Muslims are having, you never hear them say, Jesus came and condemned me; Jesus, merely told me to follow him, and why. Since many of you live in areas where a flood of Islamic refugees has entered, then you know how violent many of them have been. The legalistic, judgmental side of our nature, demands justice and punishment. Sadly, many of us, expect God to be the same way (this is why many religious zealots will falsely tell you that everyone brought to the Great White Throne is sent to hell.) These zealots want judgment. The problem is that God has forgiven all sin, and will judge no one at that throne based on sin (something we all do, every day.) But, he will judge them according to what they did with His Son, Jesus. And that is why Paul’s final comments are important and vital to this life we lead as followers of Christ.
“The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
It is all through faith in the Son; nothing else.