A Historical Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 32

Οἱ ἐκ πίστεως

In this phrase and the opposite, οἱ ἐκ περιτομῆς, we have two remarkable expressions, which we can trace in their genesis, until they gradually harden almost into technical terms and badges of two opposite parties. In fact, that is entirely the case with οἱ ἐκ περιτομῆς in Act 11:2 where a long history is concentrated in a phrase.

The following words are practically only an expansion and re-expression, after it has passed through the medium of my own mind, of a letter which Dr. Gifford kindly sent in answer to my questions, reviewing the stages of the two phrases.

The phrase ἐκ πίστεως is used only once in the Septuagint, Hab 2:4 — “The just shall live by his faith”. Paul took this saying, connected it with Gen 15:6 — “Abraham believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness” — and found in the two the proof of his doctrine of the righteousness that is of faith — δικαιοσύνην τὴν ἐκ πίστεως.

It is plain that Paul had used these two sayings in his former preaching to the Galatians, for they are quoted as familiar truths, whose origin does not need to be formally mentioned, Gal 3:6-11. His doctrine, therefore, must have been explicitly set forth to them orally, and in the letter was merely recalled to their memory: faith is the source or root in man of righteousness and of life, which is an expression from a different point of view of the principle studied in XXX, that the belief in Christ becomes a life-giving power, ruling the nature of him who feels it.

Comparing the language of the whole passage beginning Gal 2:15, we see that οἱ ἐκ πίστεως is an abbreviated expression equivalent to οἱ ἐκ πίστεως δικαιθέντες; see Gal 2:16, ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου; Gal 3:2, ἐξ ἔργων νόμου τὸ πνεῦμα ἐλάβετε ἢ ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως; Gal 3:8, ἐκ πίστεως δικαιοῖ τὰ ἔθνη ὁ θεός. Already the phrase seems to have a stereotyped form, and to imply a suppressed thought with which the readers were familiar. Paul, therefore, in his teaching to the Galatians, must already have insisted on the distinction ἐκ πίστεως and ἐξ ἔργων νόμου (or ἐκ περιτομῆς); and hence he could use such concise and pregnant language to those who already had heard, when he desired to revivify in their mind the early lessons.1

But in writing to the Roman Church, Paul was addressing a body of Christians who had never listened (except a few individuals) to his doctrine; and he therefore explained his meaning more fully to them. In that letter we read what was the kind of teaching which Paul in his preaching set before the Galatians, and which he assumes in his Epistle as familiar to them.2 His Gospel was evidently exactly the same, and quite as fully thought out in Galatia in A.D. 47-48, as in Corinth in January or February A.D. 57. He had seen the truth before that early date. Thereafter there was no further progress or development in his Gospel, though there was undoubtedly a great development on the practical side, as regards the way and the accompaniments by which the Gospel was to be spread through the Gentile world, to which he was from the first commissioned to preach it.

In Rom 1:17, Paul declares that the revelation in man of “the righteousness of God begins from faith and leads on to fuller faith,” ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν, and he quotes Hab 2:4.

It is noteworthy that he gives the last words as a formal quotation, when writing to those who had not heard his teaching; but to the Galatians he uses them as a familiar axiom.

Faith, then, is the beginning and the end of man’s part in the reception of the righteousness of God; and this is emphasised in Rom 3:21-22, “apart from the Law righteousness hath been manifested,” and Rom 3:28, “a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law”.

Paul had always in mind the idea of his opponents that faith was only one element in the reception of righteousness, that “apart from the Law righteousness is not fully manifested,” that “a man is justified fully by faith conjoined with the works of the Law”. Against that view Paul always appealed to the authority “by works of Law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal 2:16, Rom 3:20.) The Law is a preliminary, because it exhibits so clearly to man his own sin, and thus helps to produce that profound conviction of sin, which is a necessary step towards justification.

Another antithesis is “through faith” and “through Law” διὰ πίστεως and διὰ νόμου (Gal 2:16, Gal 2:19, Rom 3:25, Rom 3:30). This seems to indicate the indispensable condition or means for the continued operation of the cause or source. Paul’s view is that Faith itself is the indispensable condition for the continued operation of itself: it is at once the cause, and the means by which the cause continues to work. It is only another way of expressing the same truth, when in Gal 5:6 he speaks of “faith working itself out through love”. Love is the outward form of faith.

The exact point in dispute between Paul and the Judaising Christians must be kept in mind. Both sides were Christians. Both held that belief in Christ was indispensable to salvation, that righteousness in man could not exist without faith. But the Judaisers held that the Law and Circumcision were also indispensable to at least the fullest stage of righteousness. They were the party of believers who set the Law alongside of faith; and it would appear from Gal 2:16 that Paul represents His opponents’ view as being that in the Jew righteousness came from works of Law through (i.e., on condition of) faith, ἐξ ἔργων νόμου διὰ πίστεως. Hence the Judaistic part of the Christians were οἱ ἐκ περιτομῆς πιστοί, as they are called in Act 10:45. In Act 11:2, the title is used in a still further abbreviated form οἱ ἐκ περιτομῆς: but the meaning is the same, and the idea πιστοί has to be supplied in thought.

In regard to the Gentiles the view of Paul’s opponents was expressed in the form that full and complete righteousness in them comes from faith as the cause through the Law as the condition, ἐκ πίστεως διὰ νόμου.

In both cases alike Paul maintained the origin ἐκ πίστεως καὶ διὰ πίστεως. His formula agrees always with half of theirs; and when he contradicts them, he only contradicts the discrepant half of their formula.

Jews κ νόμου διὰ πίστεως ἐκ πίστεως (καὶ διὰ πίστεως)
Gentiles ἐκ πίστεως διὰ νόμου (ἐκ πίστεως καὶ) διὰ πίστεως

Accordingly, Rom 3:30 means, God will justify both Jews and Gentiles from faith and through the continued operation of their faith, δικαιώσει περιτομὴν ἐκ πίστεως καὶ ἀκροβυστίαν διὰ τῆς πίστεως.

Finally the motive power in the process is expressed by the dative, by grace, χάριτι (Rom 3:24, Eph 2:8), or by what is practically the same idea, the Spirit, πνεύματι (Gal 5:5).

As the distinction between an indispensable condition and a source is very fine, the use of διά and ἐκ is hard to keep apart. But it is noteworthy that we never find the party names οἱ διά, but only οἱ ἐκ περιτομῆς, οἱ ἐκ νόμου, οἱ ἐκ πίστεως. In most places ἐκ expresses the fundamental thought; and διὰ is used much more rarely.

In the two passages quoted from Acts the Pauline expression has crystallised into a title and the badge of a party. But in that case it is clear that the author of Acts understood the two opposing parties to be already constituted when he applies to one of them the technical term. They who hold the view that the author was a remarkably accurate describer of events must conclude that he intentionally chose the technical term in order to show that the antithesis between the two views was already clear and definite at the time of Act 11:2. 3


[1] See above, p. 306.

[2] Romans is thus on a logical earlier stage than Galatians, but, the circumstances show that logical priority does not (as some scholars assume) imply chronological priority.

[3] Expositor, March, 1896, p. 198 f.

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