Galatians 5:2
Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.
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(2-6) There can be no compromise between Christianity and Judaism. If you accept the one you must give up the other. Circumcision is a pledge or engagement to live by the rule of the Law. That rule must be taken as a whole. You are committed to the practice of the whole Law, and in that way alone you must seek for justification. Our position is something quite different. We hope to be admitted into a state of righteousness through the action of the Spirit on God’s side, and through faith on our own. The Christian owes the righteousness attributed to him, not to circumcision, but to a life of which faith is the motive and love the law.

The whole tenor of the Epistle shows that the Apostle viewed the attempts of the Judaising party with indignation; and at this point his language takes a more than usually stern and imperative tone. He speaks with the full weight of his apostolic authority, and warns the Galatians that no half-measures will avail, but that they must decide, once for all, either to give up Judaism or Christ.

This is one of the passages which have been insisted on as proving a direct antagonism between St. Paul and the other Apostles; but any one who enters into the thought of the Apostle, and follows the course of his impassioned reasoning, will see how unnecessary any such assumption is. Nothing is more in accordance with human nature than that the same man should at one time agree to the amicable compromise of Acts 15, and at another, some years later, with the field all to himself, and only his own converts to deal with, should allow freer scope to his own convictions. He is speaking with feelings highly roused, and with less regard to considerations of policy. Besides, the march of events had been rapid, and the principles of policy themselves would naturally change.

(2) Behold, I Paul.—The strong personality of the Apostle asserts itself; instead of going into an elaborate proof, he speaks with dogmatic authority, as though his bare word were enough.

Shall profit you nothing.—”Profit,” i.e., in the way of justification, as producing that state of righteousness in the sight of God by virtue of which the believer is released from wrath and received into the divine favour. The Apostle says that if this state of justification is sought through circumcision, it cannot be sought through Christ at the same time.

Galatians 5:2-4. Behold, I Paul — A divinely-commissioned apostle of Christ; say, that if ye be circumcised — And seek to be justified by that rite, or if you depend on any part of the ceremonial law, as your righteousness, and necessary to salvation; Christ — The Christian institution; will profit you nothing — For you thereby disclaim Christ, and all the blessings which are received by faith in him. I testify again — As I have done heretofore; to every man — Every Gentile; that suffers himself to be circumcised now, being a heathen before, that he is a debtor — That he obliges himself; to do the whole law — Perfectly; and if he fail, he subjects himself to the curse of it. It is necessary that the apostle’s general expression, If you be circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing, should be thus limited, because we cannot suppose that the circumcision of the Jewish believers incapacitated them for being profited by Christ. Besides, “as the preservation of Abraham’s posterity, as a distinct people from the rest of mankind, answered many important purposes in the divine government, their observance of the rite of circumcision, declared by God himself to be the seal of his covenant with Abraham, was necessary to mark them as his descendants, as long as it was determined that they should be continued a distinct people. This shows that the apostle’s declaration is not to be considered as a prohibition of circumcision to the Jews as a national rite, but as a rite necessary to salvation. And therefore, while the Jews practised this rite, according to its original intention, for the purpose of distinguishing themselves as Abraham’s descendants, and not for obtaining salvation, they did what was right. But the Gentiles, not being of Abraham’s race, were under no political obligation to circumcise themselves; consequently, if they received that rite, it must have been because they thought it necessary to their salvation; for which reason the apostle absolutely prohibited it to all the Gentiles.” — Macknight. Christ is become of no effect unto you — See on Galatians 2:21. Or, as the original expression, κατηργηθητε απο του Χριστου, may be properly rendered, Ye are loosed, or separated from Christ, and deprived of the benefit you might have received from him. The Vulgate hath, Vacui estis a Christo, Ye are devoid of Christ; whosoever of you are justified — That is, who seek to be justified; by the law, ye are fallen from grace — Ye renounce the covenant of grace in this last and most perfect manifestation of it: you disclaim the benefit of Christ’s gracious dispensation. the apostle’s meaning is, that whosoever sought to be justified meritoriously by the law of Moses, and for that purpose received circumcision, dissolved his connection with Christ, and renounced all relation to, and dependance on him as a Saviour.

5:1-6 Christ will not be the Saviour of any who will not own and rely upon him as their only Saviour. Let us take heed to the warnings and persuasions of the apostle to stedfastness in the doctrine and liberty of the gospel. All true Christians, being taught by the Holy Spirit, wait for eternal life, the reward of righteousness, and the object of their hope, as the gift of God by faith in Christ; and not for the sake of their own works. The Jewish convert might observe the ceremonies or assert his liberty, the Gentile might disregard them or might attend to them, provided he did not depend upon them. No outward privileges or profession will avail to acceptance with God, without sincere faith in our Lord Jesus. True faith is a working grace; it works by love to God, and to our brethren. May we be of the number of those who, through the Spirit, wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. The danger of old was not in things of no consequence in themselves, as many forms and observances now are. But without faith working by love, all else is worthless, and compared with it other things are of small value.Behold, I Paul say unto you - I, who at first preached the gospel to you; I, too, who have been circumcised, and who was formerly a strenuous assertor of the necessity of observing the laws of Moses; and I, too, who am charged (see Galatians 5:11) with still preaching the necessity of circumcision, now solemnly say to you, that if you are circumcised with a view to being justified by that in whole or in part, it amounts to a rejection of the doctrine of justification by Christ, and an entire apostacy from him. He is to be "a whole Saviour." No one is to share with him in the honor of saving people; and no rite, no custom, no observance of law, is to divide the honor with his death. The design of Paul is to give them the most solemn assurance on this point; and by his own authority and experience to guard them from the danger, and to put the matter to rest.

That if ye be circumcised - This must be understood with reference to the subject under consideration. If you are circumcised with such a view as is maintained by the false teachers that have come among you; that is, with an idea that it is necessary in order to your justification. He evidently did not mean that if any of them had been circumcised before their conversion to Christianity; nor could he mean to say, that circumcision in all cases amounted to a rejection of Christianity, for he had himself procured the circumcision of Timothy, Acts 16:3. If it was done, as it was then, for prudential considerations, and with a wish not necessarily to irritate the Jews, and to give one a more ready access to them, it was not to be regarded as wrong. But if, as the false teachers in Galatia claimed, as a thing essential to salvation, as indispensable to justification and acceptance with God, then the matter assumed a different aspect; and then it became in fact a renouncing of Christ as himself sufficient to save us. So with anything else. Rites and ceremonies in religion may be in themselves well enough, if they are held to be matters not essential; but the moment they are regarded as vital and essential, that moment they begin to infringe on the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and that moment they are to be rejected; and it is because of the danger that this will be the case, that they are to be used sparingly in the Christian church. Who does not know the danger of depending upon prayers, and alms, and the sacraments, and extreme unction, and penance, and empty forms for salvation? And who does not know how much in the papal communion the great doctrine of justification has been obscured by numberless such rites and forms?

Christ shall profit you nothing - Will be of no advantage to you. Your dependence on circumcision, in these circumstances, will in fact amount to a rejection of the Saviour, and of the doctrine of justification by him.

2. Behold—that is, Mark what I say.

I Paul—Though you now think less of my authority, I nevertheless give my name and personal authority as enough by itself to refute all opposition of adversaries.

if ye be circumcised—not as Alford, "If you will go on being circumcised." Rather, "If ye suffer yourselves to be circumcised," namely, under the notion of its being necessary to justification (Ga 5:4; Ac 15:1). Circumcision here is not regarded simply by itself (for, viewed as a mere national rite, it was practiced for conciliation's sake by Paul himself, Ac 16:3), but as the symbol of Judaism and legalism in general. If this be necessary, then the Gospel of grace is at an end. If the latter be the way of justification, then Judaism is in no way so.

Christ … profit … nothing—(Ga 2:21). For righteousness of works and justification by faith cannot co-exist. "He who is circumcised [for justification] is so as fearing the law, and he who fears, disbelieves the power of grace, and he who disbelieves can profit nothing by that grace which he disbelieves [Chrysostom].

It is manifest that the apostle is speaking here concerning circumcision, looked upon as necessary to justification, now under the gospel state. For under the Old Testament undoubtedly Christ profited the fathers, though circumcised; yea, Christ undoubtedly profiled Timothy, even under the gospel, though he was circumcised, Acts 16:3, that being done to prevent a scandal, and during a time whilst, for the gaining of the Jews to the Christian faith, the Jewish ceremonies, though dead, were (as it were) kept above ground, unburied for a time. But for men, after a sufficient time indulged them for their satisfaction concerning the abolition of the ceremonial law, still to adhere to it, and religiously to observe the rites of it, as in obedience to a Divine precept, and as necessary, over and above faith in Christ for justification, was indeed to deny Christ, and disclaim his sufficiency to save, who

is able to save to the utmost them that come to God by him, Hebrews 7:25; and besides whom there is no name given under heaven, by which men can be saved, neither is there salvation in any other, Acts 4:10,12; and who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, Romans 10:4. So that to join any thing with Christ, and faith in him, for the justification of the soul before God, is plainly to deny and disclaim him, and to make him insignificant to us. This Paul affirms with an apostolical authority and gravity:

I Paul say unto you.

Behold, I Paul say unto you,.... The apostle proceeds to give some reasons and arguments to enforce the above exhortation and dissuasion: the first of which is introduced with a note of attention, "behold"; what he was about to say being matter of great moment and importance; and also mentions himself by name, as the assertor of it; and that, either because his name was well known to them, and the rather because of his apostolical authority; and to show his full assurance of this matter, and his intrepidity, and that he was no ways ashamed of it, they might, if they pleased, say it to whomsoever they would, that Paul the apostle affirmed,

that if ye be circumcised Christ shall profit you nothing: he speaks of circumcision, not as when it was an ordinance of God, but as it was now abolished by Christ; and that got as singly performed on some certain accounts for he himself circumcised Timothy for the sake of the Jews; but as done in order to salvation, or as necessary unto it; which was the doctrine the false apostles taught and these Galatians were ready to give into: now circumcision submitted to on this consideration, and with this view rendered Christ unprofitable, made his death to be in vain, his sacrifice of no effect, and his righteousness useless: besides, Christ is a whole Saviour, or none at all; to join anything with him and his righteousness, in the business of justification and salvation, is interpreted by him as a contempt and neglect of him, as laying him aside, and to such persons he is of no profit; and if he is not, what they have, and whatsoever they do, will be of no advantage; wealth and riches, yea, the whole world could it be gained, their works and righteousness, whatever show they make before men, God has declared shall not profit them; and trusting to these renders Christ unprofitable to them. This is directly contrary to the notions of the Jews, who think they shall be saved for their circumcision, and that that will secure them from hell; they say (m) no circumcised person goes down to hell, and that whoever is circumcised shall inherit the land; but there is none shall inherit the land, save a righteous person; but everyone that is circumcised is called a righteous man (n); so that circumcision is their righteousness, on account of which they expect heaven and happiness.

(m) Shemot Rabba, sect. 19. fol. 104. 4. (n) Zohar in Exod. fol. 10. 2.

{1} Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be {a} circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

(1) Another entreaty in which he plainly witnesses that justification of works, and justification of faith cannot stand together, because no man can be justified by the Law, but he that does fully and perfectly fulfil it. And he takes the example of circumcision, because it was the ground of all the service of the Law, and was chiefly urged by the false apostles.

(a) Circumcision is in other places called the seal of righteousness, but here we must have consideration of the circumstance of the time, for now baptism is a sign of the new covenant, just as circumcision was the sign of the old covenant. And moreover Paul reasons according to the opinion that his enemies had of it, which made circumcision a essential to their salvation.

Galatians 5:2. Paul now in a warning tone reveals to them the fearful danger to which they are exposed. This he does by the address ἴδε in the singular (comp. Soph. Trach. 824), exciting the special attention of every individual reader, and with the energetic, defiant interposition of his personal authority: ἐγὼ Παῦλος, on which Theophylact well remarks: τὴν τοῦ οἰκείου προσώπου ἀξιοπιστίαν ἀντὶ πάσης ἀποδείξεως τίθησι. Comp. 2 Corinthians 10:1; Ephesians 3:1; Colossians 1:23ἐὰν περιτέμνησθε] To be pronounced with special emphasis. The readers stood now on the very verge of obeying thus far—and therefore to the utmost—the suggestions of the false apostles in taking upon them the yoke of the law, after having already consented to preliminary isolated acts of legal observance (Galatians 4:10).

Χριστὸς ὑμᾶς οὐδὲν ὠφελήσει] comp. Galatians 2:21. Χριστὸς is emphatically placed first, and immediately after περιτ. Chrysostom, moreover, aptly remarks: ὁ περιτεμνόμενος ὡς νόμον δεδοικὼς περιτέμνεται, ὁ δὲ δεδοικὼς ἀπιστεῖ τῇ δυνάμει τῆς χάριτος, ὁ δὲ ἀπιστῶν οὐδὲν κερδαίνει παρὰ τῆς ἀπιστουμένης. On such a footing Christ cannot be Christ, the Mediator of salvation. Paul’s judgment presupposes that circumcision is adopted, not as a condition of a holy life (Holsten), but as a condition of salvation, which was the question raised among the Galatians 2:3; Galatians 2:5; Acts 15:1; Acts 16:3. Comp. Lechler, apost. Zeitalt. p. 248. The future, ὠφελήσει, which is explained by others (de Wette, Hofmann, and most) as referring to the consequence generally, points to the nearness of the Parousia and the decision of the judgment. Comp. Galatians 5:5 : ἐλπίδα δικαιοσύνης, just as previously the idea of the κληρονομία in Galatians 4:30.

Galatians 5:2. ἐγὼ. The Apostle finds it necessary to express pointedly his own personal judgment on the effect of circumcision in consequence of false reports which had been circulated that he had given some sanction to the new doctrine. (See Galatians 5:11.)

2. St Paul here speaks with the Apostolic authority which he had vindicated at the opening of the Epistle, but which he has hitherto kept in abeyance while using argument, and remonstrance, and entreaty.

if ye be circumcised] St Paul and the other Apostles, and indeed every convert from Judaism, were circumcised. It is clear therefore that this expression (repeated in Galatians 5:3) must mean not the fact of being circumcised, but the deliberate submission of Gentiles to the rite by which proselytes were admitted to the Jewish Church, as if it were necessary to salvation. A better rendering would be, if ye submit to be circumcised. The act of such submission implied that a man sought salvation in and by the law, of which circumcision is the seal. But to such a man Christ and His righteousness bring no advantage. ‘He who submits to circumcision does so because he stands in fear of the law, and he who so stands in fear distrusts the power of grace, and he who distrusts gains no advantage from that which is so distrusted’. Chrys.

St Paul, though as ‘touching the righteousness which is in the law,’ he was found blameless before his conversion, yet turned his back on it all that he might win Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of his own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. Php 3:6-9.

Galatians 5:2. Ἐὰν περιτέμνησθε, if ye be circumcised) This should be pronounced with great force. They were being circumcised, as persons who were seeking righteousness in the law, Galatians 5:4.—οὐδὲν, nothing) ch. Galatians 2:21.

Verse 2. - Behold, I Paul say unto you (ἴδε, ἐγὼ Παῦλος λώγω ὑμῖν); lo, I Paul say unto you. The adverbial exclamation ἴδε, found in St. Paul's writings only here (in Romans 2:17 it should be εἰ δὲ), seems to be more abrupt than ἰδού, pointing to the immense importance and yet possibly unexpected character of what follows. The Galatians might be surprised to hear it; but that which they seemed disposed to take in hand was fraught with utter ruin. "I, Paul:" he thus puts forward his personality, as solemnly gaging his whole credit and responsibility upon the truth of that which he is about to affirm. The turn of thought is somewhat different in 2 Corinthians 10:1 and Ephesians 3:1. There is no reason to suppose that he is glancing at the use which might have already been made or might be made of the fact of his having himself circumcised Timothy. That if ye be circumcised (ὅτι ἐὰν περιτέμνησθε); that if ye set about having yourselves circumcised. The present tense is used also in the next verse and in Galatians 6:12, 13; 1 Corinthians 7:18. Compare the present tense, δικαιοῦσθε, in ver. 4. In Acts 15:1 the πωειτέμνηαθε of the Textus Receptus is replaced by recent editors by περιτμηθῆτε, which is better suited to the posture of mind of those Pharisee Christians who had in view the abhorrent uncleanness attaching, as they considered, to those described as ἀκροβυστίαν ἔχοντες (Acts 11:3); upon whom themselves the Jews fastened the epithet of ἀκροβυστία, not as a mere colourless anti-theton to περιτομή, but as a selected term of reproach as objects of offence and disgust. The apostle, on the other hand, is here not thinking of outward corporeal condition; for he presently (ver. 6) affirms that in Christ Jesus it mattered nothing whether a man were in περιτομὴ or in ἀκροβυστία, as indeed he proved to be his feeling by circumcising Timothy (Acts 16:3). It is the posture of mind that the apostle-is thinking of exclusively. What was this? The very warning of this verse shows, that, in wishing for circumcision, these Galatians did not intend to withdraw from Christ; and it appears from the next verse that they did not, either, contemplate the doing of the whole Law. But then, too, the fourth verse, in which apparently the apostle means to explain and justify the assertion of this second verse, indicates that they sought circumcision with the view of being justified by the Law; not, as has just been remarked, by obeying the whole Law, but by submitting themselves to the Law so far as undergoing this one rite prescribed by it. The conclusion to be drawn from these premisses is that what the apostle means is this: If ye have yourselves circumcised with the view of thereby obtaining righteousness before God, ye forfeit all hope of receiving benefit from Christ (see note on Galatians 4:10). In comparing the present passage with Galatians 6:12, 13, we observe that, while here he is dealing with those who sought circumcision with the view of assuring their righteousness before God, he is there referring to persons actuated by an altogether different set of motives. Christ shall profit you nothing (Ξριστὸς ὑμᾶς οὐδὲν ὠφωλήσει). "The future tense marks the certain result of their being circumcised: 'Christ (as you will find) will never profit you anything'" (Bishop Ellicott). The future time is not, in particular, for example, the time of Christ's second coming; but that which follows upon their receiving circumcision - the hour in which their distrust in Christ eventuated in the overt act of having themselves circumcised for the purpose of gaining righteousness thereby, would decisively cut them off from Christ. Their circumcision would be for them the sacrament of excision from Christ. We may compare with this the awful passage referring to the consequences accruing to Jewish Christians from their relapsing to Judaism, in Hebrews 10:26-30. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this passage, in determining the relation between trust in Christ's atonement and participation in the benefits of that atonement. It is at his extreme peril that a Christian allows himself in misgivings as to whether Christ's mediation is all-sufficient for the securing of his peace with God and his part in God's kingdom. It is by reliance upon Christ's work that his salvation through Christ is secured; by distrust in it his salvation is brought into peril; by definite unbelief his salvation is forfeited. This is in perfect accordance with the apostolic doctrine in general; but rarely is it so strongly and incisively asserted as it is here. Galatians 5:2Behold (ἴδε)

Imperative singular, appealing to each individual reader.


Comp. 2 Corinthians 10:1; Ephesians 3:1; Colossians 1:23. Asserting his personal authority.

If ye be circumcised (ἐὰν περιτέμνησθε)

Better, receive circumcision. The verb does not mean that they have already been circumcised. It states the case as supposable, implying that they were in danger of allowing themselves to be circumcised.

Christ will profit you nothing

Circumcision is the sign of subjection to the Jewish "yoke" - the economy of the law. The question with the Galatians was circumcision as a condition of salvation. See Galatians 2:3, Galatians 2:5; Acts 15:1. It was a choice between salvation by law and salvation by Christ. The choice of the law involved the relinquishment of Christ. Comp. Galatians 2:21. Chrysostom says: "He who is circumcised is circumcised as fearing the law: but he who fears the law distrusts the power of grace: and he who distrusts gains nothing from that which he distrusts."

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