Chapter # 2 Paragraph # 2 Study # 6
Thesis: The basis for the justification of any "flesh" is the faith of Jesus Christ.
Introduction: As we continue our study of Paul's confrontation of Cephas in Antioch, we are going to see that Paul's reasoning is extremely "tight". Last time we saw that Paul set Cephas up with his claim that he and Cephas were "natural Jews" and not "sinners" from the nations. This meant two things: first, that he and Cephas were a genetic part of God's special selection of Abraham and His promise to make of him a great nation; and, second, that he and Cephas had never been guilty of the Gentiles' blatant idolatry. Thus, "we are Jews and we know Who God is" was an automatic elevation of himself and Cephas to a place of superiority to the status of the Gentiles. This, at first blush, seems to permit Cephas to refuse to hobnob with the Gentiles because "they are not as good as I am". However, before Paul will let that thought settle, he immediately claims that because he and Cephas both know that a man is not justified by works of law, even we (as the inherently superior ones) believed in Christ Jesus. Since this is the method of justification, Cephas was forced to conclude that his air of superiority over the believing Gentiles was completely hypocritical -- the superior were brought down to a level playing field.
This evening we are going to look into Paul's argument and, in the process, are going to find that our translators have thrown us a few significant curves.
July 17, 2011
- I. The Facts of Paul's Text.
- A. He claims that both he and Cephas had a settled and sure "knowledge" of certain facts that made Peter's behavior reprehensible.
- 1. The term translated "knowing" is a word that indicates a significant level of certainty because it includes both sources of information (like experience) and rationality (the ability to draw meaningful conclusions from the data).
- 2. Since both he and Cephas possess the gift of apostleship, Paul knows that Cephas is fully aware of both the facts and their meaning.
- B. He claims that both he and Cephas have the facts that are involved in this scenario of the hypocrisy of the Jews, led by Cephas.
- 1. The first fact is "a man is not justified "out of a consideration of" works of law -- with one exception.
- a. The problems begin here.
- b. The preposition used in front of the word "works" is used (according to the word count of Strong's concordance) in 761 verses of the New Testament and it has a large field of meaning.
- 1) It is used four times in just this verse alone (and in 25 other verses in this letter alone).
- 2) However, it does have a basic root sense that allows for a lot of leeway in translation: out from the midst.
- 3) The sense of the phrase, "out from the midst of works of law", is judicial and it carries the notion of a person being put under examination in order to determine the quality of his/her activities in respect to legal requirements.
- 4) Thus, "out from the midst of works of law" actually means that one's behavior has been examined against the backdrop of legal demands.
- 5) Thus, I have translated the phrase "out of a consideration of works of law" so that we can understand the process that is involved.
- c. Paul's claim is this: if a person is subjected to an examination of his/her works with "law" as the backdrop, there will be no "justification".
- 1) The reason for this is not hard to understand: no one's behavior is perfect and "law" has no place for "compensating behavior" (it is only to undercut "law" that character witnesses are allowed to "testify").
- 2) Paul claims that Cephas knows this with certainty because it is impossible to contradict.
- 2. The exception.
- a. The translators throw us a genuine curve here by translating Paul's next words with a simple "but" -- something they do nowhere else in Paul's letters (it is highly suspect for translators to go for a unique translation at any time).
- b. There are two words that get combined ("if" and "not") and they are only translated "but" three times out of 59 in the entire New Testament and there is no good reason even in those three ("except" is a widely used option that makes better sense).
- c. Paul's words were not designed to present a contrary alternative to the means of justification; rather, they were designed to present the only exception to the claim that no man is justified after a consideration of his works before the law: Jesus Christ.
- 3. The sense of Paul's words.
- a. Only Jesus Christ was justified after a consideration of His works.
- b. But even Jesus Christ's works were produced by His faith.
- c. Thus, even though Jesus Christ was justified after a consideration of His works, those works were by faith so that His justification was "through" faith.
- 1) Here we run into another curve ball from the translators: they translate a genitive of the compound name, Jesus Christ, as if it is a dative.
- 2) When we look at the rest of what Paul wrote, there is no "justification" for such a translation (Note not only the middle of this verse where Paul declares the kind of faith that will "justify" a sinner as "into Christ Jesus", but also note Galatians 3:26 where he actually writes "through faith in Christ Jesus" -- which he could have easily written in our current verse if that had been his meaning).
- 3) The point is this: Paul does not have an alternative method of "justification" in mind; rather, he has an "exception" in mind: Jesus Christ.
- d. And even more importantly, Paul declares that the works of Jesus Christ came into being "through" faith.
- 1) This does two things simultaneously: first, it highlights the ground of our justification in the perfect works of Jesus Christ; and, second, it reveals that even Jesus Christ was, in a very real sense, justified by faith because it was "through" that faith that His works were perfect.