Sunday, January 16, 2011

Galatians 2:15-16, Justification by faith in Christ

     15 We, being Jewish by nature1 and not gentile sinners2, 16 know that a man is not justified3 by performing Jewish law4, but through faith in Jesus Christ5. Even we, being Jewish, believed6 in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by performing Jewish law, because no one7 will be justified by performing Jewish law. Galatians 2:15-16


Here is a snippet from my upcoming Greek Studies class on Paul’s letter to the Churches of Galatia. This is something that I started on my blog a few months ago, but since then, it was decided for me to teach the class at my Church, TurningPointe.

In this passage, Paul is telling the Galatian church members that doing “the works of the law” doesn’t complete their salvation as certain missionaries from the Jerusalem church was trying to get them to do. Faith in Jesus Christ is the only thing that can make a person righteous.

This passage also shows why it is important for us to read many different translations of the Bible. See note 5 for more detail. Enjoy!

1 φύσει Ἰουδαῖοι (Jewish by nature)

“Jewish by nature” is referring the idea that Jews perform the Jewish law and “sinful gentiles” do not perform the Jewish law. It is very important to understand this in this passage.

2 ἐξ ἐθνῶν ἁμαρτωλοί (gentile sinners) 

Greek: “sinners from the gentiles”. In other words, gentiles are considered “sinners” because they do not observe the Jewish law.

3 δικαιοῦται (justified) 

or “pronounced righteous”.

4 ἐξ ἔργων νόμου (by performing Jewish law)

Greek: “from the works of the law”. Works are not performed on their own, but are performed by people. Thus, “a man is not justified from the works of the law”, could be rendered: “a man is not pronounced righteous by doing the works of the law.” I’ve added Jewish to the translation in order to provide clarity on what “law” is being talked about in this passage.

5 διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (through faith in Jesus Christ)

Here is a perfect example of why it is important for serious students of the Bible to read more than one translation. Not everyone knows Koine Greek, but everyone can read different translations in order to gain clarity around the text. In this case, “through faith in Jesus Christ” can also be rendered “through the faith (or faithfulness) of Jesus Christ”. In Greek, “through faith in Jesus Christ” is an Objective Genitive view (NIV, NASU) while “through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” is an Subjective Genitive view (KJV, NET). In other words, Jesus Christ is either the object of faith (faith in) or is subject of faith (faith of). If one only reads one translation, one may never know that it can be rendered two different ways and that those renderings are massive in that it changes how Paul could be interpreted. One should read multiple translations in order to see the differences and then study why there are differences in the translations.

So why “through faith in Jesus Christ”? There are two main reasons: 1. Paul explains himself in the following passage: “Even we (being Jewish and who once observed the Jewish law) believed (had faith) in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ”. In other words, it is performing faith in Jesus Christ and not performing Jewish law that justifies a person (Pauline Christology, Gordon Fee, Pages 223-226) 2. Nowhere else does Paul say that justification comes from Christ’s faithfulness. 

“For by grace, you are saved through faith (in Christ)”.  Ephesians 2:8

6 ἐπιστεύσαμεν (believed) 

or “had faith in”.

7 οὐ δικαιωθήσεται πᾶσα σάρξ (no one is justified) 

Greek: “all flesh is not justified”.

The Greek

Γαλάτας 2·15 Ἡμεῖς 1 καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἐθνῶν ἁμαρτωλοί· 16 εἰδότες [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.


  1. While Christ is faithful, our salvation rests on our faith in Him, weak or strong. This is our work and the working out of our salvation.

  2. Judgment & Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul by Chris VanLandingham