Confirmation from the Jerusalem Apostles, 1-10
2:1 Then after fourteen years I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas, taking Titus along too. 2:2 I went there because of a revelation and presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did so only in a private meeting with the influential people, to make sure that I was not running—or had not run—in vain. 2:3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, although he was a Greek. 2:4 Now this matter arose because of the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy on our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, to make us slaves. 2:5 But we did not surrender to them even for a moment, in order that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.
Fourteen years later – that is, after his conversion.
I went up again to Jerusalem – Possibly the visit mentioned in Acts 11:27-30; 12:25, on the grounds that Paul says in Gal 2:2 that he went in response to a revelation – maybe a reference to the prophecy of Agabusor that mentioned in Acts 15:1-4.
Ehrman (Jesus, Interrupted) claims that ‘according to Paul’s account, [the Jerusalem council] was only the second time he had been to Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18; 2:1). According to Acts, it was his third, prolonged trip there (Acts 9, 11, 15). Once again, it appears that the author of Acts has confused some of Paul’s itinerary – possibly intentionally, for his own purposes.’
But Paul does not say that this was his second trip to Jerusalem. Acts 11 makes it clear that Paul made a trip there in order to bring aid to believers affected by a famine. He did not need to mention this in the present context because was not relevant to the topic under discussion (viz. conferring with the apostles about the gospel he was preaching).
Not even Titus…was compelled to be circumcised – How do we square this with Paul’s circumcision of Timothy (Acts 16:1-3)? The answer lies in Paul’s use of the word ‘compelled’ here: ‘if anyone is suggesting that Gentiles must be circumcised if they are to accept the Jewish Messiah and belong to the messianic community, Paul will vehemently refuse, for such a stance jeopardizes the exclusive sufficiency of Jesus Christ. By contrast, where no one is making that assertion, and being circumcised removes barriers and opens the door to synagogues for the sake of evangelism, Paul is eager to comply—and this is entirely in line with Paul’s own flexibility when evangelism is at stake (1 Cor. 9:19–23).’ (D.A. Carson, Collected Writings on Scripture).
The truth of the gospel – This expression is repeated in v14. Taking the two verses together it refers to belief and behaviour which conforms to and is consistent with the message of salvation. It represents, therefore, that theology which we would claim is ‘evangelical’.
2:6 But from those who were influential (whatever they were makes no difference to me; God shows no favoritism between people)—those influential leaders added nothing to my message. 2:7 On the contrary, when they saw that I was entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised just as Peter was to the circumcised 2:8 (for he who empowered Peter for his apostleship to the circumcised also empowered me for my apostleship to the Gentiles) 2:9 and when James, Cephas, and John, who had a reputation as pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we would go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 2:10 They requested only that we remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do.
‘Paul, the “apostle to the Gentiles,” (Rom 11:13 Gal 2:8) who announces himself as an apostle in the opening words of most of his letters, insisted that, because he had seen Christ on the Damascus road and been commissioned by him, (Ac 26:16-18) he was as truly a witness to Jesus’ resurrection (which an apostle was to be, Acts 1:21-22 10:41-42) as were the others. James, Peter, and John accepted Paul into apostolic partnership, (Gal 2:9) and God confirmed his status by the signs of an apostle (miracles and manifestations, 2Co 12:12 Heb 2:3-4) and by the fruitfulness of his ministry.’ (1 Cor 9:2) (Packer, Concise Theology)
Paul Rebukes Peter, 11-14
2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong. 2:12 Until certain people came from James, he had been eating with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he stopped doing this and separated himself because he was afraid of those who were pro-circumcision. 2:13 And the rest of the Jews also joined with him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray with them by their hypocrisy. 2:14 But when I saw that they were not behaving consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “If you, although you are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you try to force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
What a dramatic meeting this must have been! ‘For the truth’s sake, Paul withstood and blamed Peter, though a brother. Where was the use of unity when pure doctrine was gone? And who shall dare to say he was wrong?’ J. C. Ryle
The circumcision group – we need to ask, Why was circumcision so important (think of all those centuries when it had been the covenant sign of God’s people)? Ask also, Why did Peter hang on to circumcision? This was not the first time that Peter had showed a lack of courage – remember the betrayal.
Note, hypocrisy is contagious, so that even Barnabas was led astray.
v14 For N.T. Wright, this verse defines what Paul meant by ‘the works of the law’ by which no person could be justified. ‘They are the ‘living like a Jew’ of Galatians 2:14, the separation from ‘Gentile sinners’ of Galatians 2:15. They are not, in other words, the moral ‘good works’ which the Reformation tradition loves to hate. They are the things that divide Jew from Gentile.’ (Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, pp. 116–117)
The problem which Galatians addresses, then, is not salvation but fellowship. Not the ground of our acceptance with God but the badge that indicates it. The Jewish Christians at Galatia thought that their Gentile brethren could be recognised as members of God’s family only if they bore the marks of Jewishness – circumcision, food laws and Sabbath observance. ‘Hence, according to Wright, Paul wrote to the Galatians so they would understand that Christ had done away with the “works of the law” and that Gentiles could be Christians without these Jewish identity markers. Jesus had lowered the flag of the works of the law and raised a new one in its place—faith in Him—to identify the people of God.’
Part of the problem with Wright’s view is that he ‘takes matters that are in the background of Paul’s letter and moves them to the foreground (as Doug Moo put it). In other words, Wright takes Paul’s message about salvation and how one is declared righteous in God’s sight and places it on the back burner. He then takes a secondary matter, that of table fellowship, and moves it to the front burner almost to the point that he eclipses the message about sin and salvation.’
It is difficult to see why Paul was so very concerned about the Galatians embracing a false gospel (Gal 1:8f) if the only matters at stake were circumcision, food laws and Sabbath observance. There are clear indications within the letter itself that he had in mind the law in its entirety (Gal 3:10). Furthermore, when he illustrates what reliance on the works of the law means Paul takes a case from prior to the giving of the law (Gal 3:16; 4:21-31). And, finally, was not faith itself (and not external observance of circumcision and so on) the marker of true faith in the OT too? The teaching of Galatians in the matter of law and grace is, then, essentially the same at that of Ephesians (Eph 2:8f). (The preceding closely follows J.V. Fesko, Tabletalk, Feb 2010)
Jews and Gentiles are Justified by Faith, 15-21
2:15 We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, 2:16 yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. 2:17 But if while seeking to be justified in Christ we ourselves have also been found to be sinners, is Christ then one who encourages sin? Absolutely not! 2:18 But if I build up again those things I once destroyed, I demonstrate that I am one who breaks God’s law. 2:19 For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God.
v16 deSilva says that this verse is ‘perhaps the most dense and most debated in all of Pauline literature.’
According to Dunn, in his 1982 lecture in which he coined the term ‘The New Perspective on Paul’, ‘this is the most obvious place to start any attempt to take a fresh look at Paul from our new perspective,’ adding that, ‘it is probably the first time in the letters of Paul that his major theme of justification by faith is sounded. ‘
Justified – This is the first occurence of this word in Galatians (and probably, therefore, in Paul’s extant writings). ‘Nobody has understood Christianity who does not understand this word.’ (Stott)
Stott quotes Luther on justification: ‘This is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.’ In other places he refers to it as the ‘chief’, the ‘chiefest’ and ‘the most principal and special article of Christian doctrine’, for it is this doctrine ‘which maketh true Christians indeed’. He adds: ‘if the article of justification be once lost, then is all true Christian doctrine lost.’
Stott also quotes Cranmer: ‘This faith the holy Scripture teacheth: this is the strong rock and foundation of Christian religion: this doctrine all old and ancient authors of Christ’s Church do approve: this doctrine advanceth and setteth forth the true glory of Christ, and beateth down the vain glory of man: this whosoever denieth is not to be counted for a true Christian man, nor for a setter forth of Christ’s glory, but for an adversary of Christ and His gospel, and for a setter forth of men’s vain glory.’
Observing the law – lit. ‘works of law’. Some think, because the definite article is lacking, that ‘law’ is meant in its most general sense. ‘But to the Jewish mind there was only one law, and that was the law which God had given them through his servant Moses.’ (Wilson)
‘”‘Works of law’, ‘works of the law’ are nowhere understood here, either by his Jewish interlocutors or by Paul himself, as works which earn God’s favor, as merit-amassing observances. They are rather seen as badges: they are simply what membership of the covenant people involves, what mark out the Jews as God’s people;…in other words, Paul has in view precisely what Sanders calls ‘covenantal nomism.’ And what he denies is that God’s justification depends on ‘covenantal nomism,’ that God’s grace extends only to those who wear the badge of the covenant.” (Dunn)
‘He understandeth by the law, not the whole doctrine delivered by Moses upon Mount Sinai; for the law, being so taken, was a covenant of grace, as appeareth from the preface and promises of the decalogue, and from the ceremonial law, which shadowed forth Christ and remission of sins through him, Heb 10:4,8,9; so that believers under the Old Testament may be said to have been justified, and to have had righteousness by the law in this sense: for it implieth no further than that they were justified according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, is it was wrapped up in that ancient legal dispensation. The apostle therefore takes the law more strictly, and in the sense of his adversaries, for the mere precepts and threatenings of the law, as it requires perfect obedience, and curseth those who have it not, abstracting from Christ and grace, which were held forth (though but obscurely) in it; for in that sense his adversaries maintained justification by the law; and therefore the apostle, while he refuteth justification by the law, must be understood to speak of the law in the same sense also, which sometimes he clearly expresseth, while he explaineth his meaning by denying we are justified by the works of the law, v16 and Gal 3:5, 10.’ (Ferguson)
Faith in Jesus Christ…faith in Christ –
‘In his letter to the Galatian churches, Paul pointed out the deficiencies of the Law: the Law cannot justify the lost sinner, (Gal 2:16) give a sinner righteousness, (Gal 2:21) give the Holy Spirit, (Gal 3:2) give an inheritance, (Gal 3:18) give life, (Gal 3:21) or give freedom.’ (Gal 4:8-10) (Warren Wiersbe)
‘When Paul refers to the works of the law as having no saving efficacy, Wright argues that he is referring only to what we might call the ceremonial aspects of the law (circumcision, diet, washings, etc.). Justification, according to the New Perspective, has far more to do with the identity of the church than with the standing of the individual before God. That is why Wright regards it as a second-order doctrine, and constantly expresses surprise that people get so worked up over his interpretation!’ (Jonathan Stephen)
Wright says, ‘Many Christians, both in the Reformation and in the counter-Reformation traditions, have done themselves and the church a great disservice by treating the “doctrine of justification” as central to their debates, and by supposing that it described the system by which people attained salvation. They have turned the doctrine into its opposite. Justification declares that all who believe in Jesus Christ belong at the same table, no matter what their cultural or racial differences…Because what matters is believing in Jesus, detailed agreement on justification itself, properly conceived, isn’t the thing which should determine eucharistic fellowship. If Christians could only get this right, they would find that not only would they be believing the gospel, they would be practising it, and that is the best basis for proclaiming it.’ (What St Paul Really Said, 158f)
Faith – ‘Faith has no constructive energy. It is complete reliance on another. It is Christ-directed, not self-directed, and Christ-reliant, not self-reliant. It involves the abandoning, not the congratulating, of self. Faith draws everything from Christ and contributes nothing to Him. Faith is simply a shorthand description of abandoning oneself trustingly to Christ, whom God has made our righteousness.’ – Sinclair Ferguson
Paul’s opponents no doubt accused him of antinomianism. Stott explains his response: ‘Their charge that justification by faith encouraged a continuance in sin was ludicrous. They grossly misunderstood the gospel of justification. Justification is not a legal fiction, in which a man’s status is changed, while his character is left untouched. Verse 17: We are ‘justified in Christ’. That is, our justification takes place when we are united to Christ by faith. And someone who is united to Christ is never the same person again. Instead, he is changed. It is not just his standing before God which has changed; it is he himself—radically, permanently changed. To talk of his going back to the old life, and even sinning as he pleases, is frankly impossible. He has become a new creation and begun a new life.’
If I rebuild – He is probably being polite, for it is Peter he has in mind, and not himself.
Wiersbe helpfully clarifies the argument here: ‘”Peter, you and I did not find salvation through the Law; we found it through faith in Christ. But now, after being saved, you go back into the Law! This means that Christ alone did not save you; otherwise you would not have needed the Law. So, Christ actually made you a sinner!
‘”Furthermore, you have preached the Gospel of God’s grace to Jews and Gentiles, and have told them they are saved by faith and not by keeping the Law. By going back into legalism, you are building up what you tore down! This means that you sinned by tearing it down to begin with!”
‘In other words, Paul is arguing from Peter’s own experience of the grace of God. To go back to Moses is to deny everything that God had done for him and through him.’
Through the law – It is possible that Paul is anticipating the argument of Gal 3:19–25 here. ‘By its ministry of restriction and condemnation, the law leads us to faith in Christ, who in turn releases us from the curse and power of the law.’ (NBC)
I died to the law – He had previously been in thrall to the law. It has been a heavy ‘yoke’ (Acts 15:10; cf. Gal 5:1). But now it has done its work by bringing Paul to Christ. Christ has fulfilled the law’s demands. It has no further hold on Paul, for he has been crucified along with Christ (v20); he cannot return to it.
2:20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
v20 What is the main point here? – Basically, the main point of the whole letter: that having begun with Christ, he continues with Christ. Not:-
Begin with Christ, continue with the Mosaic law
Begin with Christ, continue with the Spirit
Begin with Christ, continue with the church
Paul says, ‘As I began, so I continue’. No turning back.
I have been crucified with Christ – George sees the thought of v20 completing that of v19, so that the sense would be: ‘I have died to the law in order that I might live for God having been crucified together with Christ.’
George adds: ‘The new life Paul had received flowed from his identification with the passion and death of Christ. Elsewhere Paul could speak of being buried and raised with Christ, an identification portrayed liturgically in the ordinance of baptism (Rom 6:1–6). ‘
Wright: ‘Those who belong to the Messiah are in the Messiah, so that what is true of him is true of them. The roots of this idea are in the Jewish beliefs about the king. The king represents his people (think of David fighting Goliath, representing Israel against the Philistines); what is true of him is true of them.’
John Stott (The Cross of Christ, 341f) remarks that ‘if we were not already familiar with verse 20, it would strike us as quite extraordinary. That Jesus Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilate is an established historical fact; but what could Paul possibly mean by writing that he had been crucified with Christ? As a physical fact it was manifestly not true, and as a spiritual fact is was hard to understand.’
Of course, in certain important respects Christ’s death was absolutely unique: ‘In one sense this is presumptuous language because the mystery of atonement requires that the death of Christ be unique, unrepeatable, and isolated. The two thieves who were literally crucified with Christ did not bear the sins of the world in their agonizing deaths. On the cross Christ suffered alone forsaken by his friends, his followers, and finally even his Father, dying, as J. Moltmann puts it, “a God-forsaken death for God-forsaken people.” With reference to his substitutionary suffering and vicarious death, only Jesus, and he alone, can be the Substitute and Vicar.’ (George)
And yet (George adds) we know nothing of the Christ’s saving benefits unless we are identified with his death and resurrection.
‘As long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us. For this reason, he is called “our Head” [Eph. 4:15], and “the first-born among many brethren” [Rom. 8:29]. We also, in turn, are said to be “engrafted into him” [Rom. 11:17], and to “put on Christ” [Gal. 3:27]; for, as I have said, all that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him.’ (Calvin, Institutes, 3:1.1)
Cole stresses that this verse is not so much a call to personal sanctification, or an account of some mystical experience as a powerful argument for the sufficiency of the finished work of Christ. There is a complete break with the old way of thinking, the new has replaced it entirely. Just as the death of Christ marked a complete change of life for him, so it has done so for Paul. Christ, who perfectly fulfilled the law, has left the law behind; and we, who have broken the law, have also left it behind. The law has no further claims either on Christ or on those who are in Christ.
‘What made him so strong to labour? What made him so willing to work? What made him so unwearied in endeavouring to save some? What made him so persevering and patient? I will tell you the secret of it all. He was always feeding by faith on Christ’s body and Christ’s blood. Jesus crucified was the meat and drink of his soul.’ (J.C.Ryle)
There are three marks of one who is crucified. One, he is facing in only one direction. Two, he can never turn back. And three, he no longer has any plans of his own. (A. W. Tozer)
The passage as a whole (vv15-21) is about justification, how a righteous God can declare to unrighteous to be righteous. Paul repeatedly states that sinners are not justified by keeping the law (for the function of the law is to condemn sin and to pronounce judgement), but by God’s grace through faith. In order for me to be justified, the law’s just requirement must be met. God has provided a way for Christ to bear the penalty, and for me to share in the benefit of this through being united with him. In union with Christ ‘I died to the law’, v19, and ‘I have been crucified with Christ’, v20. But if so, I am not left free to break the law and live as I please. This is impossible, for my old sinful nature has been crucified, and Christ the Righteous One lives in me.
It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me – The expression does not imply the obliteration of the individual personality, nor does it point towards either mysticism or perfectionism. We still live our lives ‘in the flesh’.
‘For Paul the power of the Christian life resides not in intellectual assent to truth, nor in personal rigor, nor even in the simple power of confidence in God, but in recognizing that one has become incorporated into Christ. The Christian life is one of conformity with Christ.’ (Jervis)
Paul speaks of the believer being ‘in Christ’ more often than Christ being ‘in’ the believer. See Gal 1:22; 2:4; 3:14, 26, 28; 5:6, 10.
The faithfulness of the Son of God… – Once again the debate concerning subjective genitive (so NET) and objective genitive (so NIV) rears its head.
‘Just as in Rom 5:15 the life-giving grace is specified as the grace “of Jesus Christ,” so here the life-giving faith of which Paul speaks is specified as the faith of the Son of God.’ (Martyn)
…who loved me and gave himself for me – Jervis notes to juxtaposition of the historical (‘loved’, ‘gave himself’) with the personal (‘me’, ‘for me’).
2:21 I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!
This statement ‘reveals Paul’s true motivation: if our actions indicate that justification can be reached by the observance of the Law, then Christ’s death must have been unnecessary and the doctrine of grace is subverted.’ (EDBT)
The great error of the Galatians lay in their mixing the works of the law with the righteousness of Christ, in this great matter of a sinner’s justification before God. They had not renounced Christ, or denied justification by faith in him; but they thought that the works of the law must be added to their faith in Christ, in order to be justified.
In this verse, two arguments against this error are advanced, in addition to those which have gone before, vv15-20. These both refer to absurdities which necessarily flow from the error: (a) setting aside the grace of God; (b) making the death of Christ to be for nothing.
Note here that Paul speaks from personal experience: it is one thing to argue and discourse about the doctrine of salvation; it is quite another to come to God as a poor sinner: for then the matter will sooner be resolved.
The grace of God = the gospel, Tit 2:11.
Righteousness – so NIV (1984), ESV, NASB, AV, NKJV. Some translations, however, have ‘justification’ (RSV, NRSV).
daSilva suggests that Paul uses an ethical word (‘righteousness’) rather than a forensic word (‘justification’) here for two reasons: (a) throughout Galatians, he is eager to say that he is not against ‘works’ per se, but ‘the works of the law’ (cf. Gal 5:13-25); (b) his concern is not merely with forgiveness of sins, but with the positive righteousness that accompanies a life that is lived more and more in line with God’s own righteousness as empowered by the indwelling Christ.
Wright gives a typically ‘new perspective’ account: ‘The words Paul uses as his shorthand for Christian identity, for belonging to God’s family, are usually translated ‘righteous’ and ‘righteousness’. This English word has different meanings to different people. For Paul, as we shall see in the next chapter, it is related to God’s promise to Abraham, now fulfilled in the Messiah, that God would create a single worldwide family, whose identity-marker would be faith. And it speaks of the family identity, the status of covenant membership, which God gives to all his family, to all who believe the gospel. Out beyond that, it speaks gloriously of God’s saving justice embracing and healing the whole unjust world, and rescuing in the present those men, women and children who trust his love revealed in Jesus. This is the people who are ‘declared righteous’, or ‘justified’.’