In the last part, we covered what Rome teaches regarding the relationship of works to grace, and the omissions Dr. Owen makes when referring to those teachings. But what about these Judaizers? Does Paul tell us they teach a failed Christology in the way Dr. Owen requires? That is to say, do they place no value on the work of Christ and all value on the work of the Law?
It goes back to Paul’s own description of the problem facing the Galatians: “there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ”, and again, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Whatever those whom Paul places under the curse were doing, they were preaching something that looked like the true Gospel, and they were also trying to please other men. Paul plainly juxtaposes himself against them in relating how he received the Gospel and how he handled hypocrisy even from Peter.
Now think on that: what relevance does Peter have to this false gospel, and the matter of the problem facing the Galatians, if those whom even Dr. Owen calls “Judaizers” are preaching a transparently-false Gospel of the Law only? Was Peter teaching a false Gospel?
This is a key matter in the discussion with Roman Catholics because Peter is allegedly the first Pope at this time. Is Paul here saying that Peter is one of those teaching a false gospel?
I think the answer is “no.” Paul says clearly, “I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised,” and underscores that the Gospel has gone out to all people – Jews and gentiles alike. But what, then, do we make of the next passage:
- 11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?"
Well, so what? The question is what kind of men Peter was fearing when he was “fearing the circumcision party”. Now think on this: these were men who were affiliated with James, the one (apparently) who wrote the book of James. They came from him. So whatever these people were, they were associated with someone who was gifted to write one book of Scripture, yes? But these men came to Antioch (not Galatia) and started intimidating Peter and Barnabas into obeying dietary laws – rules which they had otherwise abandoned.
Now what did Peter have to fear from “the circumcision party”? Was Peter not circumcised? Of course Peter was circumcised – he was a Jew. What Peter feared, then, was the disapproval of men – that those who came from James would think less of him for living in the liberty allowed to those who are in Christ. But that behavior was “hypocritical” and it caused others to act in the same way.
The upside in this example, of course, is that Peter accepted the correction from Paul – when Paul told Peter, “how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” Peter saw the error of his ways and did not force the Gentiles to live as Jews.
So when Paul then 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, because by works of the law no one will be justified,” what is he trying to communicate to the Galatians? Is he trying to say, “The Judaizers, who are preaching all the Law of Moses to you, are preaching a false gospel,” or is he saying “there is no work of the law – no particular item of the law – which you must obey in order to be justified in Jesus Christ”?
Paul is trying to say that if you preach “the Gospel” but add anything to it – circumcision, Passover, Sabbath, 10 commandments, or anything else -- you have violated the Gospel. However, Dr. Owen is trying to take that assertion and turn it into something less radical by claiming that Paul is confronting a more substantial diversion from the Gospel than the matter of circumcision.
In that, those who shamed Peter into reverting to dietary laws (think on that: Peter was the one who received the vision releasing us from the dietary laws, yet he was shamed by men into picking them back up) were teaching something which subverted the Gospel – and in the same way, those who are teaching that the circumcision is necessary are doing the same thing.
Now how do we know that the Judaizers were teaching the circumcision? It is a guess, or an intuition? No: Paul says it clearly in Gal 5: “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.” It is the taking on of the circumcision that Paul is opposed to here in particular.
In that, are they preaching a radically-different Christology? Paul seems to think so – because he says accepting the circumcision is itself an act which makes Christ nothing to you. But in that, does Paul say that the Judaizers are preaching a different Gospel whole-cloth? Of course not! He says plainly, before getting to this exclamation – and before making his case in full – that “there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ”. That is: they are using Christ’s name, or referring to Christ in some way, but are preaching something Paul did not teach in relationship to Christ. They are teaching, as is commonly affirmed about this book, a Christ-Plus gospel, and not a Gospel of Christ alone.
In that, this is a good time to notice Dr. Owen’s response to anticipated objections (3):
I am certainly not the first person to suggest that Paul’s opponents denied the necessity and efficacy of Jesus’ death for justification. Scholars such as Kirsopp Lake, who viewed them as non-Christian Jews, obviously took the view that these teachers did not view Jesus’ death as necessary for justification.The readers of this blog may hear a bell ringing when Dr. Owen mentions Kirsopp Lake. Prof. Lake was a Harvard Bible scholar in the early 20th century, and he provided us with this quote way back on 2/15/05. Lake’s an interesting fellow because in outlining 3 “kinds” of Christians – the Fundamentalists, the Experimentalists (or Radicals, as he calls them), and the Institutionalists – he numbers himself among the Radicals or Experimentalists who would, in his words, be “forced out of the church”. If Dr. Owen wants to line himself up with a fellow like Kirsopp Lake – who I admit did some great work in assembling and translating ECF documents but found himself unable to affirm orthodoxy with any consistency – then I say so be it. The choosing of one’s allies speaks volumes about one’s trajectory.
More later. Thanks for your patience.