“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
“But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”
The key to understanding this passage is to know what Paul is referring to when he says, “For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.” What did he destroy?
Paul didn’t destroy anything; it’s a hypothetical he’s using to argue (to Peter) against rebuilding something that you just tore down. So what did Peter just tear down?
Peter had been eating with Gentiles but then stopped. This upset the daylights out of Paul; that’s what spawned this confrontation. So, what was torn down was the metaphorical wall separating Jews from Gentiles. (However, this generalizes to tearing down slavery to the whole law, not just separation from those yucky, unclean Gentiles.)
Thus, if Peter did a big “oops” and rebuilt the wall of separation, he’s declaring that due to his previous eating with Gentiles he was a transgressor. With that straightened out, let’s look at the whole passage.
Paul starts by pointing out that we who are Jews by nature, know full well the doctrine of being justified by faith in Christ. Then Paul refines the point by using a rhetorical device that will become one of his favorites later when he writes Romans. He poses a deliberate misinterpretation of the point and then shoots it down with, “Certainly not!” The Greek (μὴ γένοιτο, may gen-oi-taw) literally means, “not that it might come to pass.” Some translation render “may gen-oi-taw” as “God forbid!” which is a paraphrase but at least retains the sense of future prohibition, as opposed to the purely present tense, “Certainly not!’
Then comes the key explanation. This relationship with the law has been torn down, never to be rebuilt again. Paul even says that he “died to the law.” Christ isn’t a minister of sin because things like eating with Gentiles aren’t actually sin.
I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.
Paul schooling Peter on this is beautiful. Each Christian has a unique set of talents and gifts. Though Peter is senior, Paul’s background includes training that a fisherman doesn’t get. Peter understands that and so listens to Paul. Everyone is comfortable with their role.
These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Weekend DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.