St. John Damascene's Commentary
on St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians
Translated by V. Rev. Dr. George Dion. Dragas
(1:1) “Paul an Apostle, not from men, nor through a man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.” Those from among the Jews who had believed, being on the one hand possessed by the prejudice to Judaism and on the other hand, drunk with vainglory, wishing also to ascribe to themselves the authority of teachers, came to the nation of the Galatians and taught the necessity of being circumcised, of keeping Sabbaths and new moons and of being intolerant of Paul who abolishes these. They argued that those around Peter and James and John, who are the first of the Apostles, do not prohibit these things. Indeed Paul appeared yesterday and today, whereas those around Peter were first. He is the disciple of the Apostles, whereas they are disciples of Christ. He is alone, whereas they are many and pillars of the Church. Seeing, then, in front of him an entire nation and a fire to have been lit, starting from the Church of the Galatians, he writes this Letter to everybody offering a word of apology and right at the start he takes up what they were saying undermining his reputation — namely, that the others were disciples of Christ whereas he became the disciple of the Apostles.
(1:1) “Who raised him from the dead.” Why did he not start with what befits the Godhead of Christ, but with the very passion? He did so because they rebelled against him as those who would be punished if they deviated from the law; and so he mentions that thing through which every need of the law has been thrown out. I mean, of course, the cross and the resurrection, which provided the cause for the salvation of all.
(1:2) “And all the brothers were with me.” Again he takes up the point they made, namely, that Paul is one, and the Apostles, many. Thus he brought in with him a whole multitude, and not as in other Letters, only Paul, or Paul and Timothy, or Silvanus as well.
(1:2) “To the Churches of Galatia.” He indicates by this the necessity of the Letter; for it was not only one Church that prompted him to such a diligent action, but a multitude of Churches.
(1:3) “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” He lays this down everywhere, and especially now he writes to the Galatians, because they were running the risk of falling away from grace, and returning to circumcision.
(1:4) “Who gave himself for our sins.” We have incurred innumerable evils, and have become responsible for the last punishment; for the law not only has not led anyone to reconciliation, but, to condemnation, and besides, it is incapable of emancipating anyone, or putting an end to God’s wrath, when it reveals sin; whereas the Son of God, not only has made possible what was impossible, but also has remitted sins and has placed enemies to the position of friends.
(1:4) “In order to deliver us from the evil age.” He did not speak about the time, but pronounced the present life to be evil.
(1:4–5) “The present evil age, according to the will of God, our Father, to whom belongs the glory in the ages of the ages. Amen.” He refers to the evil deeds, to the distorted free choice.
(1:6) “I wonder at how quickly you are removed from the one who called you in the grace of Christ.” This, he says, has raised within me much surprise, because those who were taught the mystery of grace in such a way that they could become teachers of others, were so easily persuaded by deceivers.
(1:6–7) “To another Gospel, which is not another.” Just as Peter says, that “there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
(1:7) “Except that there are those who disturb you and wish to pervert the Gospel of Christ.” He rightly said, “those who disturb,” and not “those who teach,” or “those who persuade,” so as to show that the whole case was entirely one of deceit.”
(1:8–9) “But even if we, or an angel from heaven should preach a Gospel other than what we preached to you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so now I say again; if any one preaches to you a Gospel other than what you received, let him be anathema.” See the apostolic prudence! He includes himself in the anathema, so that no one might say that he constructs his own dogmas on account of vainglory; and he mentioned the angels because they took refuge in authorities, i.e. James and John. Do not tell me, he says, about James and John, for even one of the angels, who are first, should be anathema in corrupting the Gospel.
(1:10) “I am now seeking to persuade men, or God?” If, he says, I was trying to deceive you in saying these things, am I perhaps able to distort God’s thought, who knows the secrets of one’s mind, and whom I take every care to please in all things?
(1:10–11) “For if I were still seeking to please men, I would not be Christ’s servant. But I want to make known to you, Oh Brothers, that the Gospel which was preached by me, is not a Gospel according to a man.” If I wanted to please men, he says, I would still be with the Jews and would contest against the Church. If, however, I have treated with contempt an entire nation and relatives and glory, and have exchanged these with persecutions, and fights, and daily deaths, it should be obvious that even in saying these things I am not relying on the glory, which is from men. In fact he has said this because he is about to speak of his previous life. However, to prevent them from being elated in thinking that he does this as one who is apologizing to them, he says: “For am I still seeking to persuade men?”
(1:12) “For I did not receive it from a man, nor was I taught it; but through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Do you see how he constantly affirms that he became God’s disciple, in contrast to the claim of those who imposed the circumcision upon the Galatians, arguing that those who become disciples of Christ, i.e. Peter and James and John, permit the circumcision, whereas he is a disciple of the disciples and, therefore, they should not pay attention to them rather than to him?
(1:13–15) “For you have heard of my previous behavior when still in Judaism, that I persecuted the Church of God in an excessive manner, and was trying to conquer it, advancing in Judaism above many of the contemporaries in my generation, inasmuch as I was a greater zealot regarding my paternal traditions. But when God was pleased…” The whole construction is a demonstration that he did not receive the mystery from a man; for such an abrupt conversion could not possibly have taken place through a man. The teaching of men makes progress little by little.
But there is also another underlying construction, in that he gently teaches them not to do the things of law; for he says, if he who showed such a great diligence in connection with the law, abandoned the things of law and turned to the salvation which is from faith, it is obvious that he abandoned the law as being unable to lead to perfection. How much more fitting, then, should it be for those who have turned to the faith not to seek to follow what is unable to lead to perfection!
(1:15–16) “…Who marked me out from my mother’s belly and called me through his grace to preach him among the nations as the Gospel…” If he were indeed called to the mission from the mother’s belly, how did he become a persecutor? He has indeed solved this inextricable difficulty in another place, in saying: “So that Christ might first demonstrate in me his entire long-suffering, providing a type for those who were to believe in him unto eternal life” (I Tim. 1:16).
(1:16–17) “…I did not right away confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem, to the Apostles who preceded me, but left for Arabia and again returned to Damascus.” Another construction, demonstrating that he did not receive the teaching of Christ from men. Indeed, how could one, who was worthy of a teaching from above, confer with men?
(1:18–24) “Then, three years later, I went up to Jerusalem, to tell my story to Peter, and I stayed with him for fifteen days; and I did not see anyone else from the Apostles, except James the brother of the Lord. As to what I am writing to you, I am doing it before God, so that I am not lying. Then I came to the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was unknown by sight to the Churches of Judaea who are in Christ; except that they had heard that, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the Gospel faith which he once sought to conquer, and thus glorified God for me.”
(2:1) “Then after fourteen years I again went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up according to a revelation;” I did not come, he says, to be taught, but to inform; which brings only honor to him.
(2:2) “and I laid before them the Gospel which I preach among the nations; and I did this privately to those who think they are great, lest I am running, or was running, in vain.” At the beginning, when he received the Gospel, he did not go up, nor did he put this to the Apostles. For, having learned from Christ, he did not need their teaching. As the time went by, however, and while he was teaching the nations the Gospel without circumcision, some became scandalized, since those around Peter did not dismiss circumcision, whereas he was alone in dismissing it. Thus, because the Holy Spirit wished to cut out this scandal of the others, ordered him to come up with witnesses and to put it to the Apostles that he preaches without circumcision, so that they too may join him and this scandal for human beings might be dissolved.
(2:3) “But, not even Titus, who was with me, and who was Greek, was forced to be circumcised.” That is, by the Apostles; which is, of course, a highest proof that they should not pass sentence against the Apostle, who did not circumcise the nations.
(2:4) “And because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ,” The preposition ‘because of’ (dia) was put here instead of ‘according to’ (kata). But the sense is this. The Apostles, he says, did not force Titus, who was uncircumcised, to be circumcised, although this was pointed out by the brethren who were brought in secretly and pressed for circumcision. Indeed he put them in the place of spies because of what is foreign to the truth.
(2:4) “that they might enslave us,” That they might introduce us again, he says, into the slavery of the law. This is why elsewhere he says, Christ purchased us from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13).
(2:5) “to whom we did not submit even for a moment, so that the truth of the Gospel might always remain with you.” Not even for a short while, he says, did we submit to them, i.e. to those who slipped in, so that we might not be found saying one thing about the Gospel and doing another. What, then, did he say about the Gospel? So that if one is in Christ he is a new creation (II Cor. 5:17); And, the old things passed away, behold all things has become new (ibid.); and In freedom Christ has made us free (Gal. 5:1).
(2:6) “But of those who thought to be something, whatever they might be, it makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality. For they who thought of themselves to be something did not contribute anything to me.” He says ‘those who thought of themselves to be’ instead of ‘those who were.’ As he said about himself, I think that I too have the Spirit of God. The sense is this: I do not know, he says, nor do I contest about, the reason, which made those around Peter condescend to circumcision; they know, for they shall have to give an account to God. As for me I know one thing, that when I came, they no longer said anything about the preaching. He was right in saying, “whatever they might be,” for they were not anything, so that he might offer the condescension to the beginning of his preaching and to them.
(2:7–9) “But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the Gospel of the uncircumcision, as Peter had been with the circumcision (for he who operated through Peter in those of the circumcision, also operated through me in those of the nations); and when they came to know the grace which was given to me, James and Cephas, and John, who thought of themselves as being pillars, extended to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might operate among the nations, and themselves among those of the circumcision.” The sentence beginning with “But on the contrary, seeing ... etc.,” is summed up by the sentence “They extended to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship.” Actually he says what he says in between in order to indicate once again that he was not ordained by men to preach to the nations, as his enemies said concerning him.
(2.10) “They only asked us to remember the poor, which same thing I too was careful to do.” The circumstances, he says, were such, that they were to preach to the Jews and we, to the nations. But the care for the poor became a matter common to both of them. These poor were those from the Jews who believed in Christ and who had been deprived of their own homes by the Jews; They were those to whom he wrote, For you accepted joyfully the seizure of your property (Hebr. 10:34).
(2:11) “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face.” When he was resident in Jerusalem, Peter condescended to Judaism, not prohibiting circumcision, nor the Sabbaths. When he came down to Antioch, however, he ate with those from the nations who had believed in the Lord without - any discrimination. Then, when certain people came down from Jerusalem, he was afraid in case he scandalized them and separated himself from those with whom he previously used to eat. But Paul made some sort of economy with him, when he rebuked him in front of everyone for demanding from the nations to Judaize; inasmuch as he intended that by seeing the teacher hearing this rebuke and remaining silent, they might learn that they should not keep the Jewish customs. The whole case was one of economy, based on the prudence of both and intended for the benefit of the disciples, so that even if Peter is said to have behaved as a hypocrite, and not to have been upright, this is understood to have been said for the benefit of the disciples, and on account of the economy.
(2:12) “Because he was to be blamed. Before certain people came from James, he ate with those from the nations, but when they came, he withdrew, and separated himself.” From those who came down from Jerusalem. “Because he was afraid of those from the circumcision.” In other words, that he might not scandalize them, and might not suffer anything terrible on their account.
(2:13) “Indeed the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.” By hypocrisy he means the observation of the Law, and he teaches that they should be separated from it.
(2:14) “But when they saw that they do not behave upright concerning the truth of the Gospel, I told Peter in front of everyone.” Namely that they did not cease altogether from [observing] the tradition of the Law. As we already said, he spoke in this way on account of the economy; for the whole event was an economy, including the rebuke made by Paul, and the silence and condescension of Peter. For both of them sought one thing, namely, that those who believed in Christ should cease to observe the Law. “If you are a Jew and live as a pagan, and not as a Jew.” Namely, you do not keep the observance of the Law, but like those believers from the nations, you no longer keep the new months and the sabbaths. “How then do you force the nations to do this?” This too indicates the economy of this affair. Although he does not force you, nor does he attempt to persuade the nations to Judaize, Paul says that he does so that the rebuke addressed to Peter might be found to be a useful occasion to him with respect to his own disciples. By saying all this he educates the Galatians to easily cope with the weight of the rebuke for if Peter, being from the Jews, and persuading others to Judaize, was rebuked, and accepted the rebuke, as having been properly addressed to him, how much more should the Galatians, who are from the nations, and believed in Christ, and subjected themselves again to the slavery of the Law should accept the rebuke when it is addressed to them.
(2:15–16) “We are by nature Jews and not sinners from the nations. Seeing that man is not justified by law-works except through the faith of Jesus Christ, and we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faith of Christ and not from law-works, because from law-works the whole flesh-will not be justified.” Having worked out from the case of those around Peter that circumcision should not be applied, he now works this out in a more complete way. For if those who were Jews from childhood, and not prostylites, but having been brought up in the Law, having seen the weakness of the Law in justifying man, transpose themselves to the grace through faith, how much more those who were not from the beginning from the Law, but from the nations, and having later come to believe in Christ, are not obliged to incline themselves to the Law which is impotent in making one upright.
(2:17) “But if in seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were found to be sinners, is then Christ a servant of sin?” Look at the absurd direction into which he leads those who are attached to the Law. If the faith in Christ, he says, is not sufficient to justify, but, once again there is a need to uphold the Law, and if those, having left the Law for Christ, are not justified in doing so, but rather are condemned, then Christ will be found to be the cause of our condemnation, since we left the law on his account in order to run towards the faith. “God forbid,” he says. Seeing the absurdity, which this doctrine leads to, he immediately turns away from it by using this aphorism.
(2:18) “For if I build up again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.” When they say that he who does not keep the law is a transgressor, he says the exact opposite, calling a transgressor the person who keeps the law. It is like saying: The law has ceased, as we confessed, and so, having abandoned it, we have taken refuge with the salvation which is from faith. If, then, we contest about the application of the law, we become transgressor of the same, inasmuch as we contest about keeping what has been dissolved by God.
(2:19) “For through the law, I am dead to the law that I may live to God. I have been crucified with Christ.” This has a double meaning. For he speaks either of the law of grace, or only the old law, indicating that it is through this law that he died to the law. Actually what he says is this: The law itself led me to pay attention to him. If then in my attempt to pay attention to him I transgress it how and it what manner did Moses say the following, applying it to Christ, namely, That the Lord will raise a prophet from you from your brethren like me, and you shall listen to Him? So those who do not believe in Him, they transgress the Law. But what is the meaning of the statement, “I die to the Law?” Just as the dead are not subject to the commandments of the Law, likewise neither am I who, as one who has died to the curse of that Law. For the Law made all accursed those who did not fulfill the things of the Law. Indeed, no one was able to fulfill it completely.
(2:20) “But I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. I live now in the flesh, I live in the faith in the Son of God who loves me and delivered himself for me.” To the Law he says or inasmuch as it pertains to the Law.
(2:21) “I do not reject the grace of God.” I have been freed through the grace, he says. Therefore, I do not turn back to the Law, nor do I revile the grace as being impotent to vivify. “For if righteousness is through the Law, the Christ has died in vain.” Christ died for us, he says, that he might raise us up, justifying us and removing sin from our midst. But if those who attempt to persuade others to be circumcised say that man is justified in the law, then the death of Christ is made redundant.