Commentary on Galatians, 2:15-16

Galatians 2:15-16

“15 We being Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,”

It’s not certain at what point Paul ceases to address Peter, and begins again to address the Galatians. Some believe Paul begins his readdress to the Galatians in this verse. Others believe he continues to address Peter all the way to the end of the chapter, verse 21. I’m in agreement with this second group. Since I believe that Paul probably waited till they gathered to discuss the Word of God to confront Peter, it’s highly unlikely that he would have finished with one mere sentence. It makes better sense that verses 14 thru 21 are all directed at Peter. However, knowing how long-winded Paul is, even this is probably a shortened version of what he said.

Another reason why I believe Paul’s address to Peter continues through to the end of the chapter, is because I think he would want the churches of Galatia to know where he was ending his address to Peter, and where he was again addressing them. Certainly he himself would see the confusion. Thus he seems to remove the doubt by clearly directing his attention back to them in the beginning of chapter three (Gal 3:1):  “O foolish Galatians…”

“We being Jews by nature, and not sinners of he Gentiles”

Paul was not saying that Jews are not sinful. I believe what he’s referring to is the fact that the Jews had the law of God, and that law provided clear commandments for how they were to live. Not that everyone tried to follow God’s law. However, it was not as though the Jews were left to themselves, as the Gentiles were, who didn’t have God’s law. Without the law of God, the Gentiles were on their own to follow their every sinful inclination. Therefore, you have one group whose lives are regulated by the law of God, and another group whose lives were self-regulated.

“16 yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, we also have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”

“justified”  (Gr. dikaioo – 1344)

To declare or pronounce righteous.

To be justified means that God has forgiven us of our sins, and has declared us to be righteous, based on the merits of Christ. From the moment of conversion, God looks upon us and deals with us from that point forward as though we’ve never sinned before. Jesus paid the price for our sins. As sinners, we deserve punishment. However, Jesus took our punishment for us, and thus, through faith in Him, we are now declared righteous by God….we are seen as righteous in the eyes of God.

We are not justified through “works of the law.” We cannot be justified through works of the law. Not possible. The only way for that to happen is if someone were to completely fulfill the law and will of God, proving himself to be sinless. No one except Jesus has ever done that. No one except Jesus is able to do that. 

We are all sinners in the eyes of God (Ro 3:23). The penalty for sin is death, both physical and primarily, spiritual death (Ro 6:23), which is separation from God. The penalty for sin had to be paid for. That’s what Jesus did for us. He paid the penalty for sin on our behalf. It was the just for the unjust who paid the price for our sins (1 Pet 3:18). Now through faith in Christ and what He did for us through His death and resurrection, we are declared by God as righteous. God now deals with us as though we had fulfilled the law of God ourselves. 

There is some debate as to whether the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us. Some believe that the righteousness of Christ is transferred (imputed) to us, while others believe that it’s not, or cannot. If the Word of God is not perfectly clear about this, and I don’t think that it is, then I don’t think it really matters who wins this argument. What really matters is that God declares us and sees us as righteous. Regarding that, there is no debate.

In regard to 2 Cor 5:21, Albert Barnes gives a wonderful explanation of our righteousness in Christ. First the verse, then I will quote his commentary:

“For He has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”  (2 Cor 5:21)


That we might be made the righteousness of God – This is a Hebraism, meaning the same as divinely righteous. It means that we are made righteous in the sight of God; that is, that we are accepted as righteous, and treated as righteous by God on account of what the Lord Jesus has done. There is here an evident and beautiful contrast between what is said of Christ, and what is said of us. He was made sin; we are made righteousness; that is, he was treated as if he were a sinner, though he was perfectly holy and pure; we are treated as if we were righteous, though we are defiled and depraved. The idea is, that on account of what the Lord Jesus has endured in our behalf we are treated as if we had ourselves entirely fulfilled the Law of God, and had never become exposed to its penalty. In the phrase “righteousness of God,” there is a reference to the fact that this is his plan of making people righteous, or of justifying them.

“we also”

“we Jews also”