ガラテヤの信徒への手紙2:15-16 Galatians 2:15-16,
You have probably heard about the system of extenuating circumstances, which reduces the sentence of a person who has committed a crime. Article 66 of the Japanese Penal Code states that “If there are extenuating circumstances for a crime, the sentence may be reduced.” What this means is that in a criminal trial, the judge can take into account the motive, background and circumstances of the offence when deciding on the severity of the sentence and give a lighter punishment.
For example, in January last year, an 86-year-old man from Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, was charged with murder for strangling his wife to death. In response, the Otsu District Court found him guilty on 1 November, noting that his motive for the crime was to free his wife from her fighting illness and make her comfortable, a selfish decision that ignored her will to live positively. However, the presiding judge noted, “It can be said that the fact that the defendant has been close to his wife and has taken part in the daily housework and care for her has been a great physical and mental burden. It is a case in which a prison sentence may well be chosen, but he has shown remorse by expressing regret,” and handed down three years’ imprisonment suspended for five years. The lightest penalty for murder is five years’ imprisonment. And in order for a suspended sentence to be imposed, the severity of the sentence imposed must be imprisonment for up to three years. Therefore, in the case of a murder conviction, suspension of execution is usually not granted. However, in this case, due to extenuating circumstances, the sentence was reduced to three years’ imprisonment. The three-year sentence was further suspended, so the defendant did not have to go to prison. Furthermore, if the defendant successfully completes the period of suspension, the sentence itself ceases to have any effect.
Some people may be surprised to hear that even murder charges can be suspended. However, a suspended sentence does not mean that a person is not guilty. Guilty is only guilty. However, Christianity teaches the mystery that a sinner’s sins are forgiven through the atonement of the cross of Christ. Heidelberg Catechism, which was composed in Heidelberg, Germany, 460 years ago, asks in its 56th question, “What do you believe concerning the forgiveness of sins?” to which the question is answered, “I believe that God, because of Christ’s satisfaction, will no longer remember any of my sins or my sinful nature which I need to struggle against all my life. Rather, by grace God grants me the righteousness of Christ to free me forever from judgment.” This means that Christ’s death on the cross in our place atones for our sins and God forgives our sins.
However, in order for us to receive forgiveness of sins and be counted as righteous, we need faith in Christ. The 60th question of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “How are you righteous before God?” i.e., counted as righteous before God, to which the answer is, “Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.” It then explains what it means to be justified by faith as follows.
Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, of never having kept any of them, and of still being inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without any merit of my own, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, and as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is accept this gift with a believing heart.
(Translation by The Christian Reformed Church in North America)
This teaching “justification by faith” is a very important teaching for us in the Protestant Christian Church. One of the several Bible verses that are the basis of this important teaching is today’s Bible passage, Galatians 2:16. So today I would like to consider the verse 16 of chapter 2 in depth. Earlier, in chapter 2:15, Paul wrote: “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners.” This is Paul’s writing from the perspective of a Jewish Christian. To understand why Paul wrote this here, I would like to briefly review the circumstances behind this letter.
After Paul left on his first missionary journey to preach Christ in Galatia, which is now the south-eastern part of Turkey, evangelists from the Jerusalem church came to the churches in Galatia. These evangelists took Paul’s authority lightly and taught differently from him. Paul had taught that a person could be saved by believing in Christ, but the later evangelists taught that one could not be fully saved without not only believing in Christ but also undergoing the ritual of circumcision as required by the Old Testament law. Circumcision is a ritual in which the skin surrounding the male penis is cut off as a sign that the Jewish people are God’s people. It was usually performed on the eighth day after birth, according to the Old Testament provisions of Genesis 17:12 and Leviticus 12:3. It was also performed for non-Jews converting to Judaism, even if they were adults.
This teaching caused great upset to the non-Jewish believers in the Galatian region, i.e., Gentile Christians. Then, to compound the upheaval, an event occurred in the Antioch church in the province of Syria, from which Paul had been sent on a mission. The events that took place are described in verses 11-14, which precede today’s passages. It can be summarised roughly as follows. Peter, the leader of the Jerusalem church, came to the church in Antioch. Peter evangelised and fellowshipped with the believers in the Antioch church. At first he shared meals and fellowship with the Gentile believers as well. However, some Jewish Christians from James the Lord’s brother, who was the leader of the Jerusalem church with Peter and John, came and told Peter something. Then Peter stopped eating with the Gentile believers. When Paul learnt of this, he objected to Peter to his face, saying that it was not right that he had stopped eating with the Gentile believers.
Jewish Christians from James, probably told Peter as follows: “The congregation of the Jerusalem church is suffering from the persecution by the nationalistic Jews because of the teaching that Gentiles can be saved without the ritual of circumcision. Please act wisely with that in your mind.” In other words, he may have explained the dangers which the congregation of the Jerusalem church faced and asked Peter to keep a certain distance from the Gentile Christians. Hearing this, Peter stopped eating fellowship with the Gentile believers. And the Jewish believers of the Antioch church and even Barnabas, a fellow worker of Paul, sympathised with Peter’s move. Thus, the Antioch church almost split into a Jewish party and a Gentile party. Not only that, but the Gentile believers were under pressure to undergo the ritual of circumcision and observe various ceremonial rules, such as food, as the Jews. Therefore, Paul publicly pointed out Peter’s error by saying, as in verse 14: “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Thus, in order to answer the question of whether Gentile Christians should be required to undergo the ritual of circumcision and observe various ceremonial rules, such as food, as the Jews, Paul first argues from the perspective of Jewish Christian evangelists who are in opposition to him. That is, he writes in verse 15: “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners.” Reading only this part, it sounds as if Paul had a prejudice that only Jews were righteous and Gentiles were sinners. In fact, however, this was not the case. In verse 16 that follow, Paul writes as follows:
Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
In this verse 16, Paul does not divide people into Jews and Gentiles. When he says that “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ,” he means “all human beings” both Jews and Gentiles. And “because by works of the law no one will be justified,” at the end of the passage means “no one will be justified,” neither Jews nor Gentiles. In other words, both Jews and Gentiles are sinners before God. This closing section is thought to be based on Psalm 143:2 in the Old Testament. Psalm 143:2 reads: “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.” Since the Jewish psalmist who was given the Old Testament law recited, “No one living is righteous before you,” Paul is arguing that the Old Testament itself teaches that “by works of the law no one will be justified.”
In verse 16, the phrase “works of the law” occurs three times. This is, in other words, keeping the provisions of the Old Testament law. And, as I mentioned earlier, what is directly at issue here is the requirement to to keep various ceremonial provisions, such as circumcision and food. Is it then only the observance of the ceremonial provisions such as circumcision and food that Paul means by the term “works of the law”? It would not be so. Because in 5:3 of this letter, Paul says: “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.” In other words, “works of the law” means keeping the provisions of the whole law, not only the ceremonial provisions such as circumcision and food, but also ethical provisions such as the Ten Commandments. By observing the entirety of the ceremonial and ethical provisions of the law, Paul argues, no one can be counted as righteous before God.
By what, then, will one be counted as righteous before God? By faith in Jesus Christ! Verse 16 says: “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law.” In fact, “faith in Jesus Christ” is a term that biblical scholars have long debated. What I mean is that the Greek word πίστις (pistis), which is translated as “faith,” is a word that can also be translated as “faithfulness.” And the word translated “in Jesus Christ” is a word that can be translated as “of Jesus Christ.” Thus, the words “faith in Jesus Christ” can also be translated as “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” This means that Christ was thoroughly “faithful” to God the Father to the point of his death on the cross. So a new translation such as Common English Bible published in 2011 translates this verse as follows. “However, we know that a person isn’t made righteous by the works of the Law but rather through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. We ourselves believed in Christ Jesus so that we could be made righteous by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the Law.” (Japan Bible Society Interconfessional Version published in 2018 also has similar translation.) This translation reveals that there are two stages in a Christian’s justification before God. Firstly, there is the objective fact that Christ himself was thoroughly “faithful” to God the Father to the point of his death on the cross, and secondly, there is a subjective decision on the part of the Christian to believe this.
There are, however, some objections to this translation. One of these is the objection that what Paul is concerned with here is the way of response on the part of man to God, so that what contrasts with man’s “works of the law” is man’s “faith in Jesus Christ.” I believe this objection is correct. Therefore, it is better to translate this passage as “justified by faith in Jesus Christ,” as it has traditionally been translated and as it is translated in the Bibles we use today. However, it must also be remembered that for “justified by faith in Jesus Christ” to be valid, it had to be based on the objective fact that Christ himself was thoroughly “faithful” to God the Father to the point of his death on the cross. Some researchers believe that Paul may have used language that could be taken to mean either, indicating that both “the faithfulness of Christ” and “faith in Christ” are important.
Finally, I would like to mention one more important point: the end of verse 16, “because by works of the law no one will be justified” is written in the future tense in the Greek original text, too. This shows that Paul is thinking here not only of the present but also of the future. This means that he will be justified at the Last Judgement, which will surely come in the future.
At the beginning of today’s sermon, I spoke about the system of suspension of execution under the law of this world. To use that analogy, being “justified by faith in Jesus Christ” is not a mere suspension of sentence. God’s decision for those who believe in the atonement of the cross of Jesus Christ is not a suspended conviction, but a 100 percent acquittal. However, this acquittal is not yet a final and binding sentence. It is, metaphorically speaking, a judgment at the local court level at present, and must be confirmed at the Supreme Court level in the future. In other words, it must be confirmed in the Last Judgement on the last day. Therefore, we must walk under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in preparation for the Last Judgement in the future. Walking by the guidance of the Holy Spirit and not by the law is another important theme of this letter, along with justification by faith.