Galatians 2:21
I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
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(21) In thus attaching himself devotedly to Christ, the Christian escapes the charge of refusing and thwarting the free gift of justification which God has offered to him in His Son. He has made his choice of Christ, and not of the Law. On the other hand, if he had chosen the Law, and gone to it, and not to Christ, in his search for righteousness, he would have practically declared the death of Christ to be a useless and unnecessary sacrifice.

Frustrate.—An exactly literal translation of the Greek word, which means “to render nugatory or ineffectual.” The grace of God goes forth with a certain mission to perform; but the Judaising party, by still clinging to the Law, prevented it from taking effect, and made it “return void” unto its Giver.

If righteousness come by the law.—What all men seek is justification in the sight of God. This is given to the just or righteous. But there were two ways of becoming thus just or righteous. The Law professed to make righteous those who complied with its provisions. But this was only a profession, for no one could really keep the Law. The Christian, therefore, rightly falls back upon faith in Christ, which brings him both an imputed righteousness, and also, in part, at least, a real righteousness. A deep and genuine faith in Christ is allowed to atone for the many unavoidable breaches of the Law, and that faith by degrees operates a real and vital change in the character and life of the man.

Then Christ is dead in vain.—If the Law had been enough to give actual righteousness to its votaries, and with righteousness the judicial declaration of freedom from guilt, then there would have been nothing for Christ to die for. His death would have had no object and been of no benefit to mankind.

2:20,21 Here, in his own person, the apostle describes the spiritual or hidden life of a believer. The old man is crucified, Ro 6:6, but the new man is living; sin is mortified, and grace is quickened. He has the comforts and the triumphs of grace; yet that grace is not from himself, but from another. Believers see themselves living in a state of dependence on Christ. Hence it is, that though he lives in the flesh, yet he does not live after the flesh. Those who have true faith, live by that faith; and faith fastens upon Christ's giving himself for us. He loved me, and gave himself for me. As if the apostle said, The Lord saw me fleeing from him more and more. Such wickedness, error, and ignorance were in my will and understanding, that it was not possible for me to be ransomed by any other means than by such a price. Consider well this price. Here notice the false faith of many. And their profession is accordingly; they have the form of godliness without the power of it. They think they believe the articles of faith aright, but they are deceived. For to believe in Christ crucified, is not only to believe that he was crucified, but also to believe that I am crucified with him. And this is to know Christ crucified. Hence we learn what is the nature of grace. God's grace cannot stand with man's merit. Grace is no grace unless it is freely given every way. The more simply the believer relies on Christ for every thing, the more devotedly does he walk before Him in all his ordinances and commandments. Christ lives and reigns in him, and he lives here on earth by faith in the Son of God, which works by love, causes obedience, and changes into his holy image. Thus he neither abuses the grace of God, nor makes it in vain.I do not frustrate the grace of God - The word rendered "frustrate" (ἀθετῶ athetō) means properly to displace, abrogate, abolish; then to make void, to render null; Mark 7:9; Luke 7:30; 1 Corinthians 1:19. The phrase "the grace of God," here refers to the favor of God manifested in the plan of salvation by the gospel, and is another name for the gospel. The sense is, that Paul would not take any measures or pursue any course that would render that vain or inefficacious. Neither by his own life, by a course of conduct which would show that it had no influence over the heart and conduct, nor by the observance of Jewish rites and customs, would he do anything to render that inefficacious. The design is to show that he regarded it as a great principle that the gospel was efficacious in renewing and saving man, and he would do nothing that would tend to prevent that impression on mankind. A life of sin, of open depravity and licentiousness, would do that. And in like manner a conformity to the rites of Moses as a ground of justification would tend to frustrate the grace of God, or to render the method of salvation solely by the Redeemer nugatory. This is to be regarded, therefore as at the same time a reproof of Peter for complying with customs which tended to frustrate the plan of the gospel, and a declaration that he intended that his own course of life should be such as to confirm the plan, and show its efficacy in pardoning the sinner and rendering him alive in the service of God.

For if righteousness come by the law - If justification can be secured by the observance of any law - ceremonial or moral - then there was no need of the death of Christ as an atonement. This is plain. If man by conformity to any law could be justified before God, what need was there of an atonement? The work would then have been wholly in his own power, and the merit would have been his. It follows from this, that man cannot be justified by his own morality, or his alms-deeds, or his forms of religion, or his honesty and integrity. If he can, he needs no Saviour; he can save himself. It follows also that when people depend on their own amiableness, and morality, and good works, they would feel no need of a Saviour; and this is the true reason why the mass of people reject the Lord Jesus. They suppose they do not deserve to be sent to hell. They have no deep sense of guilt. They confide in their own integrity, and feel that God ought to save them. Hence, they feel no need of a Saviour; for why should a person in health employ a physician? And confiding in their own righteousness, they reject the grace of God, and despise the plan of justification through the Redeemer. To feel the need of a Saviour it is necessary to feel that we are lost and ruined sinners; that we have no merit upon which we can rely; and that we are entirely dependent on the mercy of God for salvation. Thus feeling, we shall receive the salvation of the gospel with thankfulness and joy, and show that in regard to us Christ is not "dead in vain."

21. I do not frustrate the grace of God—I do not make it void, as thou, Peter, art doing by Judaizing.

for—justifying the strong expression "frustrate," or "make void."

is dead in vain—Greek, "Christ died needlessly," or "without just cause." Christ's having died, shows that the law has no power to justify us; for if the law can justify or make us righteous, the death of Christ is superfluous [Chrysostom].

I do not frustrate the grace of God; I do not despise, reject, make void, (for by all these words the word here used is translated, Mark 7:9 John 12:48 John 3:15 Hebrews 10:28), the free love of God, in giving his Son to die for our sins: from whence is easily gathered, that those who live a loose life, and take a liberty to sin, from their justification, or from the free grace of God in Christ, they do contemn and despise the grace of God: or rather, (if we refer it to the following words), those who assert justification by the works of the law, they do reject and despise the free grace of God in the gospel, and (as much as in them lies) make it vain and frustrate.

For if righteousness come by the law; for if it be possible, that a man by works done in obedience to the law should arrive at a righteousness, in which he may stand before God,

then is Christ dead in vain; then Christ died to no purpose, or without any just cause: the reason of this must be, because it was the main and principal end of Christ’s death, to procure or purchase a righteousness wherein sinners might stand before God, to bring in an everlasting righteousness, Daniel 9:24. If the most proper effect of the death of Christ be taken away, then his death is made causeless, and to no purpose. Thus the apostle concludeth his thesis, laid down Galatians 2:16: That none shall be justified by the works of the law, from two absurdities that would follow upon the contrary, viz. justification by the works of the law, the rejecting of the grace of God, and the frustration, or making void, of the death of Christ.

I do not frustrate the grace of God,.... Or "cast it away", as the Vulgate Latin version reads it; or "deny it", as the Syriac and Arabic; or "despise, reject, and make it void", as other versions; meaning either the grace of the Son of God in giving himself for him, just mentioned by him; or the particular doctrine of grace, justification, he is speaking of, as proceeding from the grace of God, upon the foot of the righteousness of Christ; or the whole Gospel, all and each of which would be denied, despised, rejected, made null and void, be in vain, fallen and departed from, should justification be sought for by the works of the law: but this the apostle did not do, and therefore did not frustrate the grace of God: which to do would be to act the most ungenerous and ungrateful part to God, and Christ, and to that love and grace which are so largely displayed in the free justification of a sinner.

For if righteousness come by the law; if a justifying righteousness is to be attained unto by the works of the law, or men can be justified by their obedience to it,

then Christ is dead in vain; there was no necessity for his dying: he died without any true reason, or just cause; he died to bring in a righteousness which might have been brought in without his death, and so his blood and life might have been spared, his sufferings and death being entirely unnecessary; which to say is to cast contempt upon the wisdom, love, and grace of God in this matter, and to offer the greatest indignity to the person, character, sufferings, and death of Christ. Wherefore it may be strongly concluded, that there is no righteousness by the law of works, nor to be attained that way, otherwise Christ had never died; and that justification is solely and alone by his righteousness.

{5} I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead {e} in vain.

(5) The second argument taken from an absurdity: if men may be justified by the Law, then it was not necessary for Christ to die.

(e) For there was no reason why he should do so.

Galatians 2:21. Negative side—opposed to an antagonistic Judaism—of the life which Paul (from Galatians 2:19) has described as his own. By this negative, with the grave reason assigned for it, εἰ γάρ κ.τ.λ., the perverse conduct of Peter is completely condemned.

I do not annul (as is done by again asserting the validity of the law) the grace of God (which has manifested itself through the atoning death of Christ).

ἀθετῶ] as in Galatians 3:15, Luke 7:30, 1 Corinthians 1:19, 1 Timothy 5:12, Hebrews 10:28 : make of none effect; see the sequel. It is here the annulling—practically involved in the Judaistic courses—of the grace of God in Christ, which is in fact rendered inoperative and cannot make righteous, if righteousness is furnished by the law. The rejection of grace (Vulgate and others, abjicio) which is involved in this, is a practical rejection.[110] As to ἀθετεῖν generally, which does not occur until after Polybius, see Schweigh. Lex. Polyb. p. 12.

εἰ γάρ κ.τ.λ.] justifies what has just been said, οὐκ ἀθετῶ.

διὰ νόμου] through the law, namely, as the institute which brings about justification by virtue of the works done in harmony with it (comp. on Galatians 3:11). This is emphatically prefixed, so that Χριστός corresponds in the apodosis.

δωρεάν] not: without result (Erasmus, Paraphr., Piscator), a meaning which it never has either in classical authors (in whom it occurs in the sense of gratis only) or in the LXX., but: without reason, without cause, as 1 Samuel 19:5, Psalm 34:8 (not Job 1:9): comp. John 15:25; Sir 20:21; Sir 29:6 f.; Ignat. Trall. 10, δωρεὰν οὖν ἀποθνήσκω. Chrysostom justly says: περιττὸς ὁ τοῦ Χριστοῦ θάνατος, which was the very act of the grace which desired to justify men. This death would have taken place unnecessarily; it would have been, as it were, an Acts of superfluity (comp. Holsten), if that which it was intended to effect were attainable by way of the law. Erasmus aptly remarks, “est autem ratiocinatio ab impossibili.” Observe the exclusive expression of the clause assigning the reason of οὐκ ἀθετῶ, which allows of no half-and-half division of justification between law and grace.

[110] So that ἡ χάρις οὐκέτι γίνεται χάρις, Romans 11:6.


Paul is discreet enough to say nothing as to the impression which his speech made on Peter. Its candour, resolution, and striking force of argument would, however, be the less likely to miss their aim in the case of Peter, seeing that the latter was himself convinced of Christian freedom (Acts 15:7 ff.), and had played the hypocrite in Antioch only by connivance from fear of men (Galatians 2:13). But as, according to this view, an opposition of principle between the two apostles cannot be conceded (contrary to the view of Baur and his followers), we must abstain from assuming that this occurrence at Antioch had any lasting and far-reaching consequences; for it simply had reference to a moral false step taken in opposition to Peter’s own better judgment, and the scandal arising therefrom. It was therefore so essentially of a personal nature, that, if known at all by Luke, it might well have remained unmentioned in Acts—considering the more comprehensive historical destination of that work—without suggesting any suspicion that the absence of mention arose from any intentional concealment (comp. on Acts 15). Such a concealment is but one of the numberless dishonest artifices of which the author of· Acts has been accused, ever since certain persons have thought that they recognised in our epistle “the mutely eloquent accuser of the Book of Acts” (Schwegler), which is alleged to throw “a veil of concealment” over the occurrences at Jerusalem and Antioch (Baur, Paulus, I. p. 148, ed. 2).

Galatians 2:21. Christ died in order that men might live before God by His grace in spite of a broken Law; if men could keep the Law of themselves and live, there would be no call for grace, and the death of Christ would be proved a useless sacrifice.—διὰ νόμου. Law was never, like faith, instrumental to justification (cf. Galatians 2:16). Accordingly, Paul never speaks of justification through Law, but either ἐκ νόμου or ἐν νόμῳ. Here, as in Galatians 2:19, διὰ νόμου really denotes a legal environment, and the verse argues that if righteousness was really within men’s reach under a legal dispensation, then there was no occasion for the death of Christ at all.

21. The word rendered ‘frustrate’ is used in reference both to persons and things, in the sense of setting at naught, treating with utter disregard and contempt. In ch. Galatians 3:15 it is used of setting aside a covenant. Our Lord speaks of those who despise, treat with neglect His servants, as despising Him, Luke 10:16. In Hebrews 10:28 it is used of a presumptuous violation of the law of Moses.

I do not treat the grace of God with contempt, as if it were a thing of nought, as do the Judaizers. It was that grace which prompted the unspeakable gift, the all-sufficient sacrifice. And if man can be justified by his own obedience, the death of Christ is unnecessary.

is dead in vain] Rather, “died without cause”. Not, ‘in vain’, but gratuitously, without any adequate purpose or result. Deny, or ignore the atoning efficacy of that death, and it becomes aimless and superfluous.

Galatians 2:21. Οὐκ ἀθετῶ, I do not frustrate) As the Judaizing teachers do, but embrace it with my whole soul.—τὴν Χάριν τοῦ Θεοῦ, the grace of God) by which Christ died for us.—εἰ γὰρ, for if) Christ is our righteousness in Himself; not in so far as [inasmuch as] He fulfils the righteousness of the law in us. This is evident from the consequence which Paul here shows would follow, if the case were otherwise.—ἀπέθανεν, He died) and so rose again. There would have been no need of these, if righteousness had been from the law.

Verse 21. - I do not frustrate the grace of God (οὐκ ἀθετῶ τὴν χάριν τοῦ Θεοῦ); I do not reject the grace of God. As I should be doing, it; instead of resting with "glorified" (1 Peter 1:8) satisfaction in the fatherly love and complacency with which God regards me in Christ, I began to give anxious heed to what the Law prescribes touching things or persons clean or unclean, and to deem it possible and needful to secure acceptableness with God through works of ceremonial performance. If it were only for one single reason alone, I do not, I cannot, thus slight and set at nought the state of grace with all its attendant blessings into which God has in Christ Jesus brought me. The "grace of God" presents that entire notion of the kingdom of grace which the apostle sets forth, and on which he descants with such glowing animation, in the fifth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans. The term of itself stands in vivid contrast to that slavish, anxious, never assured working for acceptance, which characterized the Jewish legalist, and characterizes the legalist Christian as well. As the apostle does not write ἐγὼ οὐκ ἀθετῶ, which would mean, "I do not set aside, not I," he is not to be read as if just now emphasizing a personal contrast between himself, and either St. Peter or the Judaizers with whom St. Peter was then to outward appearance taking sides; he is at present simply winding up his recital of his remonstrance at Antioch with the one terse argument, with which he then justified his own position, and, as if with a sledge-hammer, at once demolished the position of the Judaizers. The verb ἀθετῶ means "reject," "turn from as from a thing unworthy of regard;" as in Mark 7:9, "Ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your tradition;" Luke 7:30, "The Pharisees and lawyers rejected for themselves the counsel of God;" 1 Thessalonians 4:8, "He that rejecteth [our testimony touching this], rejeeteth not man, but God;" Hebrews 10:28, "A man that hath set at nought Moses' Law;" in which last passage it indicates, but without itself fully describing, a more aggressive disobedience. The rendering "made void," adopted by the Revisers, in the sense of "disannul," is doubtless fully authenticated by Galatians 3:15; 1 Timothy 5:12; Hebrews 9:18. Since even an apostle could not "disannul" the "grace of God" viewed in itself, this sense of the word, if adopted, would, as well as the perhaps questionable rendering of our Authorized Version, "frustrate," apply to the previous work of Divine grace wrought upon the apostle's own soul. But the logical connection of the following clause is more easily shown by our reverting to the sense before given to the verb, which in the New Testament is the more usual one. For if righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain (εἰ γὰρ διὰ νόμου δικαιοσύνη ἄρα Ξριστὸς δωρεὰν ἀπέθανεν); for if through the Law is righteousness, then did Christ for nought die. This one reason is decisive. The sole reason why the Son of God came into the world to suffer death was to do away our sins and make us righteous with God. But if sin can be purged by the purifications of the Law, and cleanness before God is procurable by Levitical ceremonies, then there was no need for this; then the Crucifixion, for this one end ordained and from the beginning of time prepared for by the Father, and fur this one end, of his own free choice gone forward to, brought about, and undergone by Christ himself, was a simply superfluous sacrifice. We might have been saved, nay, have perchance saved ourselves, without it. It is impossible to find in all Scripture a more decisive passage than this in proof both of the fact of, the atonement and of its supreme importance in the Christian system. This is emphatically Christ's great work. Compared with this, all besides is either subsidiary or derivative, Δωρεάν, (as a mere gift,) "for nought;" that is, without cause, there being no call or just occasion for it; thus, John 15:25, "They hated me without cause;" 1 Samuel 19:5, Septuagint, "Slay David without a cause;" Ezekiel 6:10, Septuagint, "I have not said in vain that I would do this evil unto them;" Ecclus. 29:6, "He hath got him an enemy without cause." The apostle adds nothing as to the effect of his remonstrance. It is impossible, however, to doubt that, so instinct as it was with the power of the Holy Spirit, it proved successful, not only in the healing of the mischief which had begun to show itself in the Antiochian Church, but also in its effect upon St. Peter. Nothing has transpired of any later intercourse between the two apostles. But the thorough honesty which in the main was one of St. Peter's great characteristics, notwithstanding the perplexed action in which from time to time he got involved, through the warmth of his sympathetic affections and his sometimes too hasty impulsiveness, would be sure to make him pre-eminently tractable to the voice of a true-speaking and holy friend; and, moreover, in the present instance, St. Paul was appealing to sentiments which he had himself recently proved at Jerusalem to be deeply operative in his own bosom. How deeply operative, is further evinced in his own two Epistles, written some eight or ten years later than this Epistle, and addressed also in part to the same Galatian Churches; in which he not only weaves into his language not a few expressions and turns of thought which have all the appearance of being borrowed from Epistles of St. Paul, but also in the second of them makes direct mention of those Epistles, speaking of them as standing on the footing of "the other Scriptures," and of their author as "our beloved brother Paul;" notwithstanding that one of those very writings contains the extremely plain-spoken account of that sad fall of his at Antioch. which we have here been considering. (On St. Paul's later relations with St. Barnabas, see above on ver. 13.) ADDITIONAL NOTE. Galatians 2:21Frustrate (ἀθετῶ)

Annul or invalidate. Comp. Mark 7:9; 1 Corinthians 1:19; Galatians 3:15.

The grace of God (τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ)

Χάρις is, primarily, that which gives joy (χαρά). Its higher, Christian meaning is based on the emphasis of freeness in a gift or favor. It is the free, spontaneous, absolute loving kindness of God toward men. Hence often in contrast with the ideas of debt, law, works, sin. Sometimes for the gift of grace, the benefaction, as 1 Corinthians 16:3; 2 Corinthians 8:6, 2 Corinthians 8:19; 1 Peter 1:10, 1 Peter 1:13. So here: the gracious gift of God in the offering of Christ.

Is dead (ἀπέθανεν)

More correctly, died; pointing to the historical incident.

In vain (δωρεὰν)

Groundlessly, without cause. See on 2 Thessalonians 3:8. The sense here is not common. It is not found in Class., and in N.T. only John 15:25. In lxx, see Psalm 34:7, 19; 108:3; 118:161; 1 Samuel 19:5; Sir. 20:23; 29:6. Comp. Ignatius, Trall. v. Paul says: "I do not invalidate the grace of God in the offering of Christ, as one does who seeks to reestablish the law as a means of justification; for if righteousness comes through the law, there was no occasion for Christ to die."

Additional Note on Galatians 2:14-21.

The course of thought in Paul's address to Peter is difficult to follow. It will help to simplify it if the reader will keep it before him that the whole passage is to be interpreted in the light of Peter's false attitude - as a remonstrance against a particular state of things.

The line of remonstrance is as follows. If you, Peter, being a Jew, do not live as a Jew, but as a Gentile, as you did when you ate with Gentiles, why do you, by your example in withdrawing from Gentile tables, constrain Gentile Christians to live as Jews, observing the separative ordinances of the Jewish law? This course is plainly inconsistent.

Even you and I, born Jews, and not Gentiles - sinners - denied the obligation of these ordinances by the act of believing on Jesus Christ. In professing this faith we committed ourselves to the principle that no one can be justified by the works of the law.

But it may be said that we were in no better case by thus abandoning the law and legal righteousness, since, in the very effort to be justified through Christ, we were shown to be sinners, and therefore in the same category with the Gentiles. Does it not then follow that Christ is proved to be a minister of sin in requiring us to abandon the law as a means of justification?

No. God forbid. It is true that, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we stood revealed as sinners, for it was Christ who showed us that we could not be justified by the works of the law; that all our legal strictness only left us sinners. But the inference is false that Christ is thereby shown to be a minister of sin.


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