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Galatians 2:15-21 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

15 “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; 16 > nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of [a]the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of [b]the Law; since by the works of [c]the Law no [d]flesh will be justified. 17 But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! 18 For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through [e]the Law I died to [f]the Law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and [g]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. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through [h]the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

I understand that most of the verses above emphasizes that it is Not legalistic laws that justify us before the Lord. It is faith in Jesus Christ that justify us before the Lord. However, I do Not understand the verses below that are found in the midst of the the other verses above. Could someone please elaborate on the meaning of the verses below?

Galatians 2:17-19 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

17 But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! 18 For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through [a]the Law I died to [b]the Law, so that I might live to God.

Why would we think that seeking to be justified by Jesus Christ would somehow suggest that we are found to be sinners?
How is rebuilding things that we destroyed show us to be transgressors? What does it mean when it says "through the Law I died to the Law" ?

Here is the Greek:

Galatians 2 (WH) / [NA27 variants] 15Ἡμεῖς φύσει Ἰουδαῖοι καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἐθνῶν ἁμαρτωλοί, 16εἰδότες δὲ ὅτι οὐ δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἔργων νόμου ἐὰν μὴ διὰ πίστεως Χριστοῦ ⇔ Ἰησοῦ, καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν, ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων νόμου οὐ δικαιωθήσεται πᾶσα σάρξ. 17εἰ δὲ ζητοῦντες δικαιωθῆναι ἐν Χριστῷ εὑρέθημεν καὶ αὐτοὶ ἁμαρτωλοί, ἆρα Χριστὸς ἁμαρτίας διάκονος; μὴ γένοιτο· 18εἰ γὰρ ἃ κατέλυσα ταῦτα πάλιν οἰκοδομῶ, παραβάτην ἐμαυτὸν συνιστάνω. 19ἐγὼ γὰρ διὰ νόμου νόμῳ ἀπέθανον ἵνα θεῷ ζήσω· 20Χριστῷ συνεσταύρωμαι· ζῶ 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. 21Οὐκ ἀθετῶ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ· εἰ γὰρ διὰ νόμου δικαιοσύνη, ἄρα Χριστὸς δωρεὰν ἀπέθανεν.

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Why would we think that seeking to be justified by Jesus Christ would somehow suggest that we are found to be sinners?

The notion is that Christ made those Jewish Christians who sought to be justified in Him sinners because he led them to abandon the Law. In this sense, Christ could be accused of being a minister of sin.


How is rebuilding things that we destroyed show us to be transgressors?

The transgression here would be a transgression of the faith that leads one away from the Law and to faith in Christ. Theophylact's exegesis of this passage reads:

Behold Paul's wisdom! The Galatians were arguing that Paul was a transgressor because he had abolished the Law. But he demonstrates just the opposite: if he observes the law, then he is a transgressor not only of faith, but of the Law itself. "It was the Law which first led me to faith, and then convinced me to let it go." Paul will substantiate this claim later in his argument. For now, he simply declares that the Law has ended: "We, the Jews who believed in Christ, have rejected the Law, rendering it null and void. And if we should attempt to revive it, we would transgress against God, Whose will it is that the Law should pass away."1


What does it mean when it says "through the Law I died to the Law"?

There are multiple interpretations here.

  1. Paul is essentially saying that he is alive to the law of grace and the Gospel, but dead to the Law of Moses.

  2. Another is that the Law led him to Christ through its teachings and prophesies and that it would be senseless, having found Christ, to cling to it any longer.

  3. Yet another is that it is an allusion to the requirement that one not fulfilling the statutes of the Law be put to death.

I think Theophylact's explanation is also helpful here:

For I through the law am dead to the law

Now the Apostle explains how he abolished the law: "By the law of grace and the Gospel, I have died to the Law of Moses." By another interpretation, when Paul says, I through the law am dead to the law, he means, "The law itself induced me to cling to it no longer; through the teachings and prophesies of Moses, it guided me to Christ. If I continue clinging to the Law, I transgress against it." By yet another interpretation, the Law required that anyone who did not fulfill its statutes be punished by death. "Because it was impossible to fulfill the law, I have been 'put to death' to the extent that it fell within the power of the Law to do so. The Law, therefore, may not dictate to me: as far as it is concerned, I have died both a spiritual death - not being able to fulfill its commandments - and a physical death, because of the condemnation through the law. Why, then, should I continue to cling to something that has put me to death.2


1 Explanation of the Epistle to the Galatians (tr. from Greek, Chrysostom Press, 2011), p. 44.
2 Ibid.

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Gal. chap. 2 is wrestling with those who kept coming in to the 1st century assemblies and telling them they had to keep the law; ie. be circumcised, etc. The background then is whether they were still under the law, or under grace through Christ.

Gal. 2:3:4,

"3 but not even Titus, who [is] with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised --

4 and [that] because of the false brethren brought in unawares, who did come in privily to spy out our liberty that we have in Christ Jesus, that us they might bring under bondage," (YLT)

The change that took place under the new covenant of Christ was that all people of all nations were acceptable if they believed and were baptized into Christ (Mark 16:16).

Gal. 2:6,

"And from those who were esteemed to be something -- whatever they were then, it maketh no difference to me -- the face of man God accepteth not, for -- to me those esteemed did add nothing," (YLT)

God does not look upon a man's face...that is the color of his skin, or his outward appearance, or his ethnicity... but God looks upon the heart of man. He is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:4-35).

But, Peter was still persuaded by peer pressure to shun those who were not Jews, and gave in to fear of those he was sent to preach the gospel... those of the circumcision (vs. 7 -9). The same who sent Peter to the circumcised- that is Christ -also sent Paul to the uncircumcised to preach the very same gospel of Christ.

So, when Peter came to Antioch (vs. 11), Paul braced him with it, for withdrawing from those of the uncircumcised in favor of the circumcised Jews. Because by doing so, Peter was being obedient to the Law and not to grace. By his behavior, Peter was re-establishing, or rebuilding the authority of the Law.

So, Gal. 2:17,

"And if, seeking to be declared righteous in Christ, we ourselves also were found sinners, [is] then Christ a ministrant of sin? let it not be!" YLT

They, nor we cannot be under grace, declared righteous through Christ who paid the price for our sins, and try to be justified by the Law. We are either released from that law through Christ, or we are under the law! If they were trying to rebuild the law, then they were sinners under the law, but also in Christ???

It is a contradiction. We cannot be in Christ, justified through His righteousness, and also be sinners under the law!

If we are going to try to be justified by the law, and try to obey the law, then why did Christ have to be sacrificed? Which is the conclusion in Gal. 2:20-21:

"20 with Christ I have been crucified, and live no more do I, and Christ doth live in me; and that which I now live in the flesh -- in the faith I live of the Son of God, who did love me and did give himself for me;

21 I do not make void the grace of God, for if righteousness [be] through law -- then Christ died in vain." (YLT)

Paul was making the point that by trying to do both, to be justified under the law and to be under the grace (gift) of Christ's sacrifice was nullification of Christ's sacrifice. By trying to keep the law which Christ fulfilled, filled up and completed, they were rebuilding it and denying Christ.

The Law demanded sacrifice for sins, and if they were going to keep the law, then Christ's sacrifice would not be "once for all" (Heb. 10:10). Were they going to put Christ into the position of the earthly high priest and make Him die once a year for the atonement of the people in order to keep the law?

That would make Christ a minister of sin, which would negate / nullify His once for all sacrifice. By trying to keep the law, to rebuild the law, they were transgressing God's will, and making Christ's sacrifice meaningless.

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  • If we seek to be justified according to Jesus' teaching, and people perceive us as sinful for doing so, then Jesus is the minister of sin... God, forbid!

    The problem for all who pursue justification by the Law is, they are attempting to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. The Law was not, is not, and never will be about justification, but LIFE:

    I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:
    -- Deuteronomy 30:19 (KJV)


  • Indeed, if the things I demolished are the very things I am building anew, I prove myself a transgressor.


  • I died to the law -- I nailed my old self, the me who was naturally inclined to justify himself by the Law, to the cross of Christ -- that I might live anew unto God

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    Exegesis

    • Jews who become Christians seek justification through the propitiating death of Christ:

    Gal 2:15  We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,  Gal 2:16  Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

    • Jewish Christians have died to the law in that they are united to Christ in his death (elaborated on in Romans 6 and 7)

    Gal 2:19  For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.

    Rom_7:4  Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

    • if they (even Paul) insist that believing gentiles come under the law they restore the requirements of the laws and they like everyone else become transgressors of the law:

    Gal 2:18  For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.

    • Paul reaffirms that the true Jewish believer has been co-crucified with Christ and now lives solely by faith in Christ's finished work

    Gal 2:20  I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.  Gal 2:21  I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

    Specific questions

    Why would we think that seeking to be justified by Jesus Christ would somehow suggest that we are found to be sinners?

    Sins are not counted when there is no law but by re-establishing the jurisdiction of the law the sins of the believer (Jew or gentile) are turned into transgression, causing "sin to abound":

    Rom 5:20a  Moreover the law entered, that the offence [transgression] might abound...

    Gal_3:19  Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.

    How is rebuilding things that we destroyed show us to be transgressors?

    [see previous answer]

    What does it mean when it says "through the Law I died to the Law" ?

    As only death frees a man from marriage so only death frees a man from the demands of the law. That is, the law has jurisdiction only while a man lives therefore if he dies then he dies to the law and becomes free to "marry another" so to speak:

    Rom 7:1  Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?  Rom 7:2  For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.  Rom 7:3  So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.  Rom 7:4  Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.

    So by being co-crucified with Christ the Jew is legally freed from the law and is free to "remarry".

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    For me at least, this is quite hard to part Greek in some places,and this is a sloppy translation, but here is my take (the brackets are helps for understanding, and aren't translations):

    15 Ἡμεῖς φύσει Ἰουδαῖοι καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἐθνῶν ἁμαρτωλοί 16 εἰδότες δὲ ὅτι οὐ δικαιοῦται ἄνθρωπος ἐξ ἔργων νόμου ἐὰν μὴ διὰ πίστεως Χριστοῦ ⇔ Ἰησοῦ, καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐπιστεύσαμεν, ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, ὅτι ἐξ ἔργων νόμου οὐ δικαιωθήσεται πᾶσα σάρξ.

    We [who are] by nature Jews ([mind you,] not sinners from among the Gentiles)—knowing that no man is justified by the works of the law, but rather through faith in Christ Jesus—even we believe in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in [him], and not by the works of the law: because no flesh is justified by the works of the law.

    v. 14 sets the context: imperfect implementation of the New Covenant law ( i.e. which has made the former obsolete—Heb 7:12). The Law is obsolete, and it was only a pointer, and in and of itself, had not saving power, except as a instrumental means of obtaining grace (i.e. by faith in the One who justifies by grace).

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

    Now if seeking to be justified in Christ we be found to be at the same time sinners, does it follow that Christ is [by implication] an enabler of sin? God forbid!

    Does our seeking justification by the grace and mercy of Christ mean that He is somehow lessening His standard for us? That before sin was intolerable but now in Christ God does away with justice—enabling sin? "God forbid," St. Paul says (Rom 6:15). Rather, the very grace by which missteppings and transgressions where and could be overlooked in the past is now on full display and officially being preached, in the form of the gospel (Rom 3:25). The justification in the different Covenants, St. Paul is saying, has not changed from keeping the law perfectly, to keeping it out of love and being forgiven when you fall, being granted lenience whereas there was none before—for God justifies—rather, the means of their forgiveness all along was in Christ, and how He is here, has come, and is coming back! We are now to live in holiness, but with the full knowledge that it is God who justifies, not man.

    18 εἰ γὰρ ἃ κατέλυσα ταῦτα πάλιν οἰκοδομῶ, παραβάτην ἐμαυτὸν συνιστάνω. 19 ἐγὼ γὰρ διὰ νόμου νόμῳ ἀπέθανον ἵνα θεῷ ζήσω· 20 Χριστῷ συνεσταύρωμαι· ζῶ 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.

    For if I rebuild those things I tear down, I [in so doingw ould] show myself to be a transgressor [again; under the law which allows for no slips]: for [accused by] the law, I died to [it], that I might [instead] live to God—I have been crucified with Christ, so that I now live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me. The life which I live in the flesh, I now live in faith in the Son of God: he who loved me and gave himself up for me.

    If I tear down the glorious gospel I am spreading to Jew and Genitle alike whereby we are all likewise saved by the grace of God, I again expose myself to be guilty under the law once again. I have left behind the law which stood a pointer to the gospel message, that I should follow Christ who provided me forgiveness all my life from the perfect law which I have broken countless times. I stand under Him, because only He has the grace by which I was and must needs still be forgiven!

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

    I do not do away with the grace of God: if righteousness is by the law, it follows that Christ died for no reason!

    Why would I relinquish the grace by which I have passed from death to life(Jn 5:24)? By implication: 'Will you, Judaizer Galatians and hypocritical evangelists?' The Lord of Glory didn't die needlessly—His death is the entirety of our gospel (1 Cor 2:8; 1:23; Col 2:12)!

    • Your post is, I believe mostly on point. However the bit about the "New Covenant law" is distracting and misleading and IMHO ruins the answer. Can you please either remove it (preferred) or explain what you mean by it? Thanks. – Ruminator Apr 9 '18 at 11:32
    • Sure, I'm referring to that law or mode of life for Christians spoken of in Gal 6:2-10; Rom 8:1-14 and Heb 7:12 etc. The New Covenant. – Sola Gratia Apr 9 '18 at 17:25
    • Well like I said, that is off point and ruins your answer. -1 – Ruminator Apr 9 '18 at 17:30
    • Mike - Do you think that Paul's point would also include the idea that our subjective reasonings are not proofs of our faith? For example, if I seem justified, and I break the law, what I did becomes objective evidence that my subjective reasonings are at fault. That is, "I prove myself to be a transgressor." What are your thoughts? – Joseph Apr 10 '18 at 2:13

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