Third Disputation on Galatians, Part I

by Christian Chemnitz
translated by Robby Read


Christian Chemnitz (1615-1666) was born in a small town just south of Leipzig in the century just following the Reformation by Martin Luther. His most notable relation was to Martin Chemnitz, the theologian and reformer. He studied under Paul Slevogt and in 1637 he became a Master of Philosophical Sciences and Theology. He worked as a deacon in Weimar, then as an Ecclesiastical Superintendent in Eisenach, and eventually as a part-time teacher of Theology at Jena University. In 1653 he became a doctor of holy scripture. Chemnitz wrote disputations in Latin on various books of the Bible. His style is attributed to mainstream Lutheranism. The disputation translated in part here by Robert Read is on Galatians.






Puts forth for the discussion of the public on the fifth day of May

In the Greater Auditorium,


That is, the most celebrated Doctor of Theology and Parish Priest in Alma Salana, pro tempore Head of Theological Faculty, as a most vigilant Pastor and Superintendent of both the Church and the Diocese of Jena, Lord Teacher and Promoter deserving esteem by the cultivation of all respect for an age,

A Very Excellent and Well-Rounded Man Fully Deserving Reverence, PRESIDING.


In the year 1656



What Paul proclaims about all of Scripture in II Timothy 3:16, namely, that it is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction, is most certainly able to be said about the third chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians, which we now have before us. For in it, firstly, the Apostle corrects the Galatians and harshly chastises them because they have so quickly withdrawn from the gospel after being seduced by false apostles. Secondly, he confirms the orthodox doctrine of justification, which he had set forth in the previous chapter and had begun to test by arguments, to instruct them more properly. Thirdly, he refutes the opposing false teachers and disproves their objections. And at the same time he explains the doctrine concerning the true use and function of the law contrary to their heterodoxy, as he also discusses the removal of the law.

II. In the first part of the chapter Paul also calls his Galatians foolish (insensatos in the Vulgate, or stultos as Erasmus translates it, or according to Beza1 and Piscator2 amentes) not out of some carnal disposition but of pious and holy zeal for defending the truth and glory of Christ. For this is the outcry of the Apostle, as Cornelius a Lapide3 points out well, “Let them visit this, a place not of indignation, but of love, that is to say, a material rather than a formal reproach, because it was produced not by a spirit of attacking but of love and zeal, in order to strike, restrain, and correct the obstinate Galatians.”

III. Moreover, he soon softens this outcry by covering it with just zeal and very weighty reason and extends it like a finger toward the first cause of the Galatians’ defection and, to move them, adds to it elegant rhetoric: “τίς ὑμᾶς ἐβάσκανε τῇ ἀληθείᾳ μὴ πείθεσθαι” [Who has bewitched you not to believe the truth?], judging the deceits as satanic with which he [that is, Satan] had surrounded the Galatians and seduced them through false apostles in order that they would embrace a falsehood in place of a previously known truth. Moreover, in order that the meaning of these words may be more properly understood, it must first of all be noted that the word βασκαίνειν has a double meaning: It means “to envy,” and the Apostle uses this meaning when taken with respect to the Devil himself, because “that which had happened was brought about as an insult to demons, who loudly protested for their following successors,” as Chrysostom4 says. Then also when taken with respect to the false teachers as instruments of the Devil, so that it may have the meaning, “What Jew envies your possession of the freedom of the Gospel?” thus Theophylact5 and Anselm,6 as one may see in [the commentary on] this place in Cornelius a Lapide.3 It also means “to bewitch,” “to cast a spell upon,” and this manner of speaking is metaphorical, taken from witchcraft. And it seems that this meaning is especially intended by the Apostle to hint at the immediately following words when he adds to it, continuing with the same metaphor, “…before whose eyes Jesus Christ,” etc. And the meaning of the words is this: Who has so obscured and deluded the eyes of your mind by the trickeries of false apostles and of Satan, and by a false belief contrary to the faith and to Christ, that you deserted the truth by holding to a fruitless conviction that man is not solely justified through faith in Christ, but also by works of the law?

IV. Moreover, with the memorable words which the Apostle connects to those earlier ones, “before whose eyes Jesus Christ was depicted among you as crucified,” he again magnifies the sin and desertion of the Galatians because he had proclaimed Christ to them with highest faithfulness and had portrayed his passion and merits before their eyes for them, as if everything was done in their presence. For in whatever way others interpret these words differently, the interpretation of Cornelius a Lapide3 seems to be most natural to us.

V. And by the following he indeed better convicts the Galatians of their error: he places a question to them which is suitable for his goal, selected from the experience and effect of the gospel or of faith, namely by the donation of the Holy Spirit, along with whom is always connected grace, love, and the other virtues which that one Spirit works. The question is as follows: “Did you receive the Spirit from works of the law or from the preaching of the faith?”

VI. And to this question, because he knows that they are able to answer nothing else than that they did not receive the Spirit from works of the law, but, by all means, they received the Spirit of faith and his gracious gifts, both ordinary and those miraculous extraordinary gifts of languages, prophecy, etc., from the preaching of the Gospel, seeing as they gave assent either silently or by yielding a palm to the truth. After he sets this question before them, he immediately [continues] as if he has signified the negation of the former clause and the affirmation of the latter, and therefore rightly convicts them of error and foolishness strongly. For this argument was very strong which, we read, Peter also had used against those who were arguing after being converted from Phariseeism that no one was able to be saved without the law and circumcision (and therefore were fighting for an error similar to the one in which the Galatians were involved), and Acts 15:8 argues in the following way concerning the faithful uncircumcised Gentiles: “God, who knows hearts, granted evidence to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did also to us, and did not put any division between us and them, purifying their hearts through faith.” Indeed, Paul himself did not judge the force of this argument unmerited because he perceived that he would make a greater impression on the misled Galatians by a simple exchange; therefore, he soon repeats nearly the same words as this summary in verse 5, and again places them in the same manner of speaking.

VII. Therefore he next takes the opportunity to put the Galatians’ foolishness further into perspective in that although they began with the Spirit, they wish to finish by the flesh, and that they would suffer so many things in vain.

VIII. Firstly, what Paul means by the terms “flesh” and “Spirit” must be made clear. Therefore, “Spirit” is understood in this place as “the spiritual life and conversion of those born again,” which has been kindled in those born again by the Holy Spirit, as if it itself is saving faith; by “flesh” Paul truly means “works of the law with total righteousness and outward care;” chiefly, moreover, he refers to circumcision just as he does in Philippians 3:3, where the Apostle says, “We, who serve God and boast in Christ Jesus and do not have confidence in the flesh, are the circumcision,” just as the sense of Paul’s words is here: It is great foolishness that you who began to believe well, having been presented with the Holy Spirit, now wish to be perfected by outward things of the flesh and become perfectly righteous. It is clearly absurd and characteristic of the fig tree [which Christ cursed for not bearing fruit] that here the Papists truly attribute to Paul a different intention without grounds, as if by these words he condemns those who by abandoning monastic vows cross over to honorable marriage, and [by doing so] they wholly abandon every foundation: For the Apostle’s discourse here is not about celibacy, but about division of law and Gospel.

IX. The Apostle turns his attention towards another thing which is pertinent, the common fate and condition of Christians, namely, that they have certainly been subjected to various hatreds, persecutions, and afflictions. And because the Galatians also had experienced this fate since the moment of their conversion, he therefore intimates that it is to be apprehended lest, by crossing over from Christ to Moses [i.e., from faith to works of the law] and by erroneously seeking more perfect righteousness, they suffered such things in vain on account of Christ and the doctrine preached to them concerning the free righteousness of faith if they should forsake the recognized truth of the Gospel and the Christian faith which they had previously embraced faithfully. On account of these two reasons he reproaches and rebukes their foolishness, and he asserts that, if they wish to proceed thus, then all faith in God and all previous sufferings would be vain and worthless.

X. Nevertheless, lest he seem to despair plainly about them, he immediately adds a limitation by saying, “If, in fact, they are in vain,” as if he says: But I have a better expectation about you, that you surely have not suffered so many things and sustained the hates of so many to this point in vain, for I am confident that you will abandon your false belief and return to the way. And he added this soothing on account of contemplation, undoubtedly in order to take precautions that they not be driven to despair but rather be awakened for repentance and return to the way.

XI. In fact, Beza,1 who very much seems to agree by his own account, also intimated elsewhere that these words are able to be understood with the meaning according to which weight is added by these words to Paul’s rebuke, and he [Paul] also does not lack emphasis by his own right. Indeed, verifying whether Erasmus’s version rightly translates it, “If, in fact, they are in vain,” he supplies [the argument]: “For that from which no fruit is being collected is said to be done in vain. But the Galatians, by separating from sound doctrine, not only would have produced no fruit from the hardships which they had endured on account of his [Paul’s] doctrine, but also would have caused a great expense.” However, we maintain that former approval of these words not without cause, since it was accepted not only by the general vote of our country’s most celebrated theologians: It was also approved as true by the reckoning of the most ancient [church] fathers, among whom is Chrysostom,4 who before his death, said that the words are not forced here which say it thus, according to the Latin version: “Lest he terrify their spirits and destroy their nerves, he did not expect a denial, but without interruption he added, ‘If, in fact, they are in vain,’ obviously meaning, if you wish to be awakened and to turn yourselves back, you will not have suffered in vain.” And the former part of this thesis thus far may be summarized: The rebuke of the Apostle was without doubt just on account of some soothing which he scattered for the congregation.

XII. The Apostle now continues toward more productive strengthening of his main proposition which he had delineated this way in the previous chapter, verse 16: “Knowing that a man is not justified by works of the law, but only through the faith of Jesus Christ.” And here we refrain from adding anything concerning the meaning of this proposition, but we refer to the preceding Second Disputation. Meanwhile let the following parallel places be compared, for they exhibit the true native meaning of this proposition sufficiently: Romans 3:28; Ephesians 2:8,9; Titus 3:5; and similar ones.

XIII. Moreover, here he strengthens the proposition from the example of Abraham, of whom he says, “He believed God, and it was attributed to him as righteousness.” In form, the argument is as follows: It is necessary that we and all other humans be justified in the same way that Abraham was justified. But Abraham was not justified by his own works, but through faith, by which he understood the promise about the seed of blessing, namely, Christ. It is greater in confession, for it is one and the same reason for the salvation and justification of everyone. Paul truly approves the lesser on the grounds of Genesis 15, where it is written in verse 6, “Abraham believed God, and it was attributed to him as righteousness.” Indeed, Abraham was not devoid of good works, but before others he was most visible because of them, nor, in fact, is righteousness reckoned by his works, but faith alone is reckoned to him as righteousness. The Apostle drives this same argument in Romans 4:3ff. and also clearly exhibits in the end of that chapter that the pattern of righteousness is set forth and exhibited in this example of Abraham, namely in verse 23 to the end.

XIV. In other respects, what the object of Abraham’s faith was must also be considered. For our opponents wrongly interpret and try to frustrate our doctrine concerning the object of justifying faith (which we say is the special promise of the gospel concerning the gracious forgiveness of sins on account of Christ) even in this place [by saying], if indeed the word is “he believed,” let it here at least refer to a bodily promise that Abraham without doubt believed, namely, that he would be the father of many nations through a son whom his barren and ninety year old wife would bear for him, a one hundred year old man, contrary to the usual order of nature, see Bellarmine’s[^7] First Book Concerning Justification, chapter 8.

XV. Therefore it must be known that, just as the promise made to Abraham was not of one manner, so also the object of his faith was not of one manner. A promise had been made to Abraham about a son in extreme old age from his barren wife and about the increase of his offspring and bodily blessing; a promise of a blessed seed through which all nations would be blessed had also been made to him. The faith of Abraham refers to each promise, although faith is not reckoned to him as righteousness in view of each. For the earlier promise, however it was able to be hindered so that Abraham would not be justified by being called into doubt, was nevertheless not able to present and confer righteousness by being apprehended by faith. But the second promise was indisputably the chief and special object of Abraham’s faith, the promise of a blessed seed through which all nations would be blessed. “For,” says Balduin,7 Bachelor of Divinity, on Romans 4, “these things would be like a stronghold of divine promises, which he would take hold of with a faithful heart, and he would connect the merit of that coming seed to himself; this was attributed to him as righteousness, and this was the proper and adequate object of faith.” The author may seem far from excited in the mentioned place on first inquiry.

XVI. But the phrasing of Moses and Paul deserves remark as well: “It was attributed to him as righteousness. For this phrasing clearly subdues our Papist opponents, that justification is not some pouring in of righteousness but a forensic action by which God does not attribute sins to man, but attributes faith, or the righteousness of Christ taken hold of by faith, to him. Therefore faith does not justify as it is in the category of quality but as considered in the category of relation, namely, by virtue of the correlative on which it bears.8

XVII. Paul now makes an advance far from Abraham to his descendants and makes known what must be perceived about them. Moreover, because those who were indisputably tracing their lineage from him according to fleshly descendance were trusting and priding themselves above all in this, namely, that they were children of Abraham and his seed to whom eternal live is consequently owed by hereditary law, therefore to free their minds from that groundless belief of theirs Paul demonstrates that tribe and fleshly descendance profit nothing for the unfaithful, and at the same time he defines true sons of Abraham as those who are of faith, this is to say, who according to the example of Abraham believe the promises about the blessed seed, Christ, and take hold of them [i.e., the promises] by faith. And for this reason Chrysostom,4 the bishop of Constantinople, strongly writes thus: “They were removed from their minds because they were tracing their lineage from Abraham, fearing that if they were to desert the law they would become alienated from acquaintance with him, but he [Paul] turns it back to the contrary and dissolves their fear by declaring that faith above all provides a relationship with him.”

XVIII. Nor indeed was it sufficient to have defined this in such a way unless he also prove by clear and methodical words from the Old Testament that the blessing also pertains to the Gentiles, and that they no less than Abraham take hold of righteousness by faith. For [otherwise] they who were of the circumcision would have been able to assert that Abraham did not only believe; indeed, he also had circumcision, and therefore the succession of heirship is also bound to circumcision. Therefore the Apostle sets down the testimonies of the Scripture to go against these people and says clearly: “Moreover, because Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, it announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you,’ ” as if he says: Scripture, or God speaking to Abraham in Scripture, namely Genesis 12:3, 18:18, 23:18, removed every distinction and prerogative of the law and of circumcision by what it proclaimed to Abraham, that is, it gave him the promise of the blessed seed of which he was made a participant through faith before circumcision was given, clearly showing that the Gentiles also are justified by faith alone. Indeed, that in him the Jews would have a certain prerogative before the Gentiles, [namely] that the birth of the Messiah would break upon their people as the family and progeny of Abraham, is assented to and is true when it is said “in you” or “in your seed;” nevertheless, that Gospel promise of blessing and grace does not pertain only to the Jewish nation but is universal, extending to all nations, for in this place the words are clearly of a universal design.

XIX. In this way he therefore subjoins to what he has proven a general conclusion which comes out of the argument from the example taken from Abraham, saying: “Therefore those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the man of faith.” And these words contain the singular emphasis because he does not simply say, “They will be blessed with Abraham,” but with the addition for distinction, “with Abraham, the man of faith.” For he thus distinguishes between Abraham as a believing and a working man.

XX. This was the first argument in this chapter in support of the righteousness of faith. Another follows from the opposite effect of the law, namely that all who are of works of the law, that is, who wish to be justified by works of the law (for the phrase is “to be of works of the law;” this does not mean “to do works of the law out of faith,” as the upright do after they have received the Holy Spirit, having been justified by faith, but it means “to seek righteousness from the law and from its works,” as the false teachers commanded the Galatians to do), are under a curse. This reason is given: that no one is able to maintain complete or perfect obedience to the law; indeed, everyone is now pronounced cursed “who will not have persevered in all things which are written in the book of the law,” Deuteronomy 27:26. Therefore blessing and salvation extend to no one through the law. Here as elsewhere the Apostle presupposes that no one, in fact, is able to keep the law perfectly and completely. Then, because we are not able to be justified through the law, we are justified through faith in Christ the redeemer, who satisfied the law by his obedience, both active and passive, and redeemed us from its curse, v. 13. “For what was impossible for the law in that it was weakened through the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh,” (or “flesh liable to sin”), “and condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteousness of the law might be satisfied in us who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit,” Romans 8:3.

  1. Theodore Beza (1519-1605) was a French theologian in the Calvinist tradition. He succeeded John Calvin as spiritual leader at Geneva. He produced an edition of the Greek New Testament accompanied by the Vulgate as well as his own Latin translation as early as 1556.   2

  2. Johannes Piscator (1546-1625) was a German Reformed theologian and Bible translator. From 1595 to 1609 he prepared a series of Latin commentaries on the New Testament.  

  3. Cornelius Cornelii a Lapide (1567-1637) was a Flemish Jesuit. He wrote commentaries on all the books of the Bible with the exception of Job and the Psalms.   2 3

  4. John Chrysostom (c. 349-407) was an influential Early Church Father and prolific author. Chemnitz’s reference is to one of his homilies on Galatians.   2 3

  5. Probably a reference to Theophylact of Ohrid (c. 1055-1107 or later), an archbishop of Achrida (modern Ohrid in Macedonia) and biblical commentator. His commentary was influenced by that of Chrysostom.  

  6. Valerius Anshelm (1475-1546/7) was a Swiss historian and sympathizer of the Reformation. 7. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) was an Italian Jesuit and Catholic Cardinal. The work referenced by Chemnitz is part of a larger work titled Disputationes de Controversiis Christianae Fidei adversus hujus temporis Haereticos (Disputations Concerning the Controversies of the Christian Faith Against the Heretics of this Time).  

  7. Friedrich Balduin (1575-1627) was a German Lutheran theologian. He wrote a commentary on all of Paul’s epistles.  

  8. The argument is that faith does not modify the soul but rather links the soul to a correlative, namely, Christ and his redemptive work.  

The first part of Christian Chemnitz' Third Disputation on Galatians.

 Apr 17, 2020