Jerome, Commentary on Galatians, [J.P. Migne, Editor]. Patrologiae Tomus XXVI. Paris: D’Ambroise, Pres La Barriere D’Enfer, ou Petit-Montrouge, 1845. pp. 307-438.
In Galatians 5:1, the apostle warns the Galatians not to be enslaved again. Jerome says this should be reasonably plain. The Christian, even if enslaved, stands free in Christ (Jerome, Galatians, 393). There is a declaration of freedom which surpasses any political or physical bondage. Jerome is clear that the freedom is from the bondage to the Jewish law (Jerome, Galatians, 394). In verse two, the bondage to the law is seen in pursuing circumcision. Rather than pursuing Christ, living in us, those who pursue their own holiness will find Christ useless. Although Jerome is aware that Paul would affirm circumcision as the sign of God’s covenant, it was not his habit to even suggest Gentiles should be circumcised (Jerome, Galatians, 395). The locus of salvation is Jesus, not our actions. Paul goes on in verse three to say that the person who pursues cirumcision becomes a debtor to the whole law. Jerome explains this by observing that the same God who gave circuncision also gave the rest of the law. Those who do not keep God’s sacrificial law, even though they are circumcised, the circumcision is ineffectual (Jerome, Galatians, 396). The one who depends on circumcision has been cut off from grace, he has nothing to do with Christ (v. 4). Jerome explains that this is because nobody is able to serve two masters. The one who thinks he is justified by keeping the law is lacking faith in Christ. Jerome leaves no doubt that he thinks the departure from grace in this way condemns us (Jerome, Galatians, 397).
On the contrary, in verse five, “we who are by the spirit from faith expect the hope of justice” (Jerome, Galatians, 397). The justice we receive is the justification of God in Christ. Jerome is clear that we look to Christ as the one in whom we have the hope of justification. Galatians 5:6 summarizes that it is the faith in Christ which operates God’s grace. It is not a matter of circumcision or uncircumcision. Jerome does point out that Christians need to flee from sin and pursue virture, but that circumcision is a matter of indifference. We do good works because of Jesus, not because of adherence to the law (Jerome, Galatians, 398). For this reason, the Old Testament tells people to circumcise their hearts, minds, ears, etc. Jerome concludes that we do this through the two precepts, love God and serve our neighbor (Jerome, Galatians, 398). He finally observes that this is the message of James chapter three, in saying faith without works is dead. The Christian does good works, which are good for society, done from charity, fulfilled in Christ (Jerome, Galatians, 399).