Paul Accepted by the Apostles, 1-10
Gal 2:1 Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also.
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.
Gal 2:2 I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.
Gal 2:3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.
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).
Gal 2:4 This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.
Gal 2:5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.
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’.
Gal 2:6 As for those who seemed to be important-whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance-those men added nothing to my message.
Gal 2:7 On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews.
Gal 2:8 For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.
‘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)
Gal 2:9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.
Gal 2:10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
Paul Opposes Peter, 11-21
Gal 2:11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.
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
Gal 2:12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.
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.
Gal 2:13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
Note, hypocrisy is contagious, so that even Barnabas was led astray.
Gal 2:14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
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)
Gal 2:15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’
Gal 2:16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
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, See Explorer www.e-n.org.uk/2005-06/3026-The-current-crisis-in-evangelicalism.htm)
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
Gal 2:17 “If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!”
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.’
Gal 2:18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker.
I – 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.’
Gal 2:19 For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.
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.
Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
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.
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)
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.’
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.
Gal 2:21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, 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.