Please excuse this post for being like a rough draft. I spent too much time on it already. If you can make it to the end you will either be rewarded, frustrated or wonder why I’m writing about things you already know.

Galatians 2:16 NRSV yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

Most of us believe that works (of the law) will not save us and it is by God’s grace through faith in/of Christ that we are saved. Longenecker defines Paul’s use of “the law” as:

…the Mosaic law as a religious system associated in some manner with righteousness.

Paul adds another dimension to this in his letter to the Galatians. He is also saying that the law can’t add anything to what Christ has done for us nor can it perfect our salvation. There is no supplement regarding our standing before God. If we “obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5:9) and then try to perfect it by works of the law, we are going backwards:

Galatians 3:3 NRSV Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?

Longenecker says,

The main point of Paul’s rhetorical question here, however, has to do with the incongruity of beginning one’s Christian life on one basis (‘with the Spirit’) and then shifting somewhere in progress to another basis (‘by human effort’). What Paul wants his converts to see is that the Christian life is one that starts, is maintained, and comes to culmination only through dependence on the activity of God’s Spirit (Gal 5:25; also see Phil 1:6…the point is made that completion of the Christian life comes about on the same basis as its inception, viz. by God’s working).

Longenecker quotes Betz,

Paul’s missionary efforts were taken as merely the first step, and that the opponents claimed to provide the necessary and final measures to bring salvation to completion and perfection.


As such it combined faith in Christ for initial acceptance before God and a nomistic lifestyle* for true holiness, thereby claiming to work out in full the meaning of righteousness. Paul, however, was not content to allow any supplement to the work of Christ, either for one’s initial acceptance before God or for one’ life as a Christian. For him, to start talking about supplements [including circumcision] was to bring matters back to square one and the issue of legalism, even if it be claimed that nomism alone was the question.

It’s interesting to note that whenever Paul mentions Abraham and the covenant, he never mentions circumcision, which is one of the ‘works of the law’ that the Judaizers where claiming the Galatians needed to perform. The promise of Abraham did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith (Rom 4:11-13; also see 1 Cor 7:19).

Galatians 3:6-18 NRSV Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed. For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, “Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ. My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.

Galatians 5:18 NRSV But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.

*According to Longenecker, nomism is “expressing their Christian convictions in their lifestyle in ways compatible with Jewish tradition” which was not to be foisted on the Gentile Galatians. Although, “To be a Jewish believer in Jesus did not mean turning one’s back on one’s own culture or nation. Yet no longer could it be argued that circumcision, Jewish dietary laws, following distinctly Jewish ethical precepts, or any other matter having to do with a Jewish lifestyle were requisite for the life of faith.”

Update: Please see the first comment by Bryan.

7 Responses to “Supplements”

  1. 1 Bryan

    If we “obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5:9) and then try to perfect it by works of the law, we are going backwards:

    Even more than going backwards, they were going back to something that never was to begin with. When Paul brings up Abraham being counted righteous by faith, he is essentially saying, “Why are you going back to the law for salvation? The time of the old-covenant is over, and furthermore it was never about works-based salvation to begin with! Look at Abraham!”

    As my NT Prof says, the law was meant to serve the promise, not the other way around.

    Excellent look at an incredible book, Jeff.

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    Thanks for making that excellent point which never quite sunk in for me.

    The Longenecker commentary was a tough read. A lot of Greek grammar that’s over my head and an abundance of Latin rhetorical terms. I didn’t get as much out of the commentary as the ones I read for Romans through Corinthians and maybe Galatians itself was a little tougher for me too.

  3. 3 Bryan

    Funny you should mention that, I was interested in reading some of Longenecker’s commentaries. However, I too am not that great with Greek grammar yet, and even worse with Latinisms, so…. maybe one day I’ll pick it up haha.

    Speaking of him, isn’t he doing (or did?) a commentary on Romans for NIGTC?

  4. 4 Scripture Zealot

    Speaking of him, isn’t he doing (or did?) a commentary on Romans for NIGTC?

    I don’t believe he did. If he is I haven’t heard about it but that doesn’t mean much. Longenecker and NIGTC sounds like a recipe for confusion for me.

    I read Schreiner’s and liked it a lot. Moo would have been my second choice. I requested Moo from our library and to my surprise they bought it. I did some comparisons and Moo didn’t seem quite as decisive. Moo’s comments on propitiation vs. sacrifice of atonement confused me even after I read it three times. Schreiner just used propitiation and didn’t go off that.

    Schreiner’s commentary on Romans 8-10 kind of read like a manual of Calvinism but it was a real turning point for me in becoming reformed.

    Mucho digressio.

  5. 5 Bryan

    Yeah, I’ve been eyeing Schreiner’s commentary as well. It’s crazy, because he’s a professor at my school (SBTS) and I went to his church for a few months.

    Anyways, back on topic!

  6. 6 Bryan

    Er… That didn’t sound the way I meant for it too. I hope that didn’t sound like I was bragging. It’s more like I’m a little in awe of the fact that I have the chance to sit under such men.

  7. 7 Scripture Zealot

    I didn’t see it as bragging at all. That’s pretty cool.

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