We who are Jews by nature - We who belong to the Jewish nation - who have been born, bred, and educated Jews.
And not sinners of the Gentiles - Ἁμαρτωλοι· Not without the knowledge of God, as they have been. Ἁμαρτωλος often signifies a heathen, merely one who had no knowledge of the true God. But among the nations or Gentiles many Jews sojourned; who in Scripture are known by the name of Hellenists, and these were distinguished from those who were termed εξ εθνων ἁμαρτωλοι, sinners of the Gentiles - heathens, in our common sense of the word; while the others, though living among them, were worshippers of the true God, and addicted to no species of idolatry. Some have translated this passage thus: We Jews, and not Gentiles, by nature sinners; for it is supposed that φυσει here refers to that natural corruption which every man brings into the world. Now, though the doctrine be true, (and the state of man, and universal experience confirm it), yet it can neither be supported from this place, nor even from Ephesians 2:3. See the note on Romans 2:16. It appears, from the use of this word by some of the best Greek authors, that φυσει did not signify by nature, as we use the word, but expressed the natural birth, family, or nation of a man; to distinguish him from any other family or nation. I can give a few instances of this, which are brought to my hand in a small elegant pamphlet, written by Dr. Münter, the present bishop of Zealand, entitled Observationum ex marmoribus Graecis Sacrarum Specimen, and which has been lent to me by the right honorable Lord Teignmouth, to whose condescension, kindness, and learning, many of my studies have been laid under particular obligation.
The word in question is the xxviiith example in the above pamphlet, the substance of which is as follows: In an inscription on a Greek marble, given by Dr. Chandler, page 27, we find these words Ὁ γαμβρος μου Λεων Αρτεμεισιου, ὁ επικαλουμενος Ιασων, οικονει μεν Μειλησιος, φυσει δε Ιασευς· "My son-in-law, Leo, the son of Artemisius, who is called a Jasian, is of the house of Milesius, though by nature he is from Jaso." That is: Jaso being a town of Caria, this Leo is said to be φυσει Ιασευς, by nature a Jasian, although he sprang from the Milesian family. The following examples will place this in a clearer light. Josephus, Ant. Jud., lib. xi. cap. vi. sec. 5, speaking of Amanes, the Amalekite, says: Και γαρ φυσει τοις Ιουδαιοις απηχθανετο, ὁτι και το γενος των Αμαλεκιτων, εξ ὡν ην αυτος, ὑπ ' αυτων διεφθαρτο· "For he was by nature incensed against the Jews, because the nation of the Amalekites, from whom he sprang, had been destroyed by them;" that is, he had a national prejudice or hatred to the Jewish people on the above account. The following example from Dio Chrysostom, Orat. xxxi., is also to the point: Οἱγε (Αθηναιοι ) τον δεινα μεν Ολυμπιον κεκληκασι, ουδε φυσει πολιτην ἑαυτων· "For they (the Athenians) called this person an Olympian, though by nature he was not their citizen;" that is, he was called an Olympian, though he was not naturally of that city, or, in other words, he was not born there. From these examples, and the scope of the place, we may argue that the words, we who are Jews by nature, mean, we who were born in the land of Judea, and of Jewish parents. And hence the passage in Ephesians 2:3, which speaks most evidently of the heathens, "and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others," may be thus understood: Being Gentiles, and brought up in gross darkness, without any knowledge of God, abandoned to all sensual living, we were, from our very condition, and practical state, exposed to punishment. This sense is at least equally good with that given of the words in Romans 2:16, where it is proved that φυσει, in several connections, means truly, certainly, incontestably; "we were, beyond all controversy, exposed to punishment, because we had been born among idolaters, and have lived as they did. Here both senses of the word apply.
We who are Jews by nature - It has long been a question whether this and the following verses are to be regarded as a part of the address of Paul to Peter, or the words of Paul as a part of the Epistle to the Galatians. A great variety of opinion has prevailed in regard to this. Grotius says, “Here the narrative of Paul being closed, he pursues his argument to the Galatians.” In this opinion Bloomfield and many others concur. Rosenmuller and many others suppose that the address to Peter is continued to Galatians 2:21. Such seems to be the most obvious interpretation, as there is no break or change in the style, nor any vestige of a transfer of the argument to the Galatians. But, on the other hand, it may be urged:
(1) That Paul in his writings often changes his mode of address without indicating it - Bloomfield.
(2) that it is rather improbable that he should have gone into so long a discourse with Peter on the subject of justification. His purpose was answered by the reproof of Peter for his dissimulation; and there is something incongruous, it is said, in his instructing Peter at such length on the subject of man‘s justification. Still it appears to me probable that this is to be regarded as a part of the discourse of Paul to Peter, to the close of Galatians 2:21.
The following reasons seem to me to require this interpretation:
(1) It is the most natural and obvious - usually a safe rule of interpretation. The discourse proceeds as if it were an address to Peter.
(2) there is a change at the beginning of the next chapter, where Paul expressly addresses himself to the Galatians.
(3) as to the impropriety of Paul‘s addressing Peter at length on the subject of justification, we are to bear in mind that he did not address him alone.
The reproof was addressed to Peter particularly, but it was “before them all” Galatians 2:14; that is, before the assembled church, or before the persons who had been led astray by the conduct of Peter, and who were in danger of error on the subject of justification. Nothing, therefore, was more proper than for Paul to continue his discourse for their benefit, and to state to them fully the doctrine of justification. And nothing was more pertinent or proper for him now titan to report this to the Galatians as a part of his argument to them, showing that he had always, since his conversion, held and defended the same doctrine on the subject of the way in which people are to be justified in the sight of God. It is, therefore, I apprehend, to be regarded as an address to Peter and the other Jews who were present. “We who were born Jews.”
By nature - By birth; or, we were born Jews. We were not born in the condition of the Gentiles.
And not sinners of the Gentiles - This cannot mean that Paul did not regard the Jews as sinners, for his views on that subject he has fully expressed in Romans 2; 3. But it must mean that the Jews were not born under the disadvantages of the Gentiles in regard to the true knowledge of the way of salvation. They were not left wholly in ignorance about the way of justification, as the Gentiles were. They knew, or they might know, that men could not be saved by their own works. It was also true that they were under more restraint than the Gentiles were, and though they were sinners, yet they were not abandoned to so gross and open sensuality as was the pagan world. They were not idolaters, and wholly ignorant of the Law of God.