Personal: Defense of Paul’s Apostleship
Galatians 1 – 2
Galatians 1 – 2
Galatians 1-2. Unlike other epistles, in chapter 1 we have no commendation, no confirmation of love, and no prayer requests. This is because the subject and error of the Galatians was so serious. There is a certain calmness about those types of greetings that was unsuitable in this situation. If you were sending a message to a friend that their house was on fire, you would leave out things that would normally be proper. Most epistles begin with a doctrinal section, and then conclude with a practical section. But in Galatians, Paul inserts this personal section at the beginning because they were denying his apostleship. In a broader sense, in these two chapters we have the Divine order of service contrasted with the false order of apostolic succession. If the Galatians were going to hear his message, the fact of Paul’s apostleship must be established first. As with the Galatians, the Corinthians also were under the powerful influence of evil workers, who wanted to turn them from the truth, and separate them from the apostle Paul. He gives the most complete defense of his apostolic authority in 2 Cor. 10-13. The difference between Galatia and Corinth was that there had been a turning with the Corinthians, while Paul still stood in doubt of the Galatians. Accordingly, Paul defends his apostleship at the beginning of Galatians, but saves it for the end in 2 Corinthians. Right from the introduction of Galatians we see the seeds of the doctrine Paul will address in this epistle (v.4): that Christ to took care of our sins, and that He will deliver us from this evil world. Then Paul quickly launches into the subject which deeply burdened his heart.
- Introduction and Salutation (1:1-5)
- The Strong Rebuke (1:6-10)
- The History of Paul’s Conversion and Commission (1:11-17)
- First Encounter with Peter: Paul’s Harmony with the Apostles (1:18-24)
- Second Encounter with Peter: Paul’s Understanding of the Truth (2:1-10)
- Third Encounter with Peter: Paul’s Authority to Rebuke (2:11-21)
Introduction and Salutation (1:1-5)
Writer. This epistle was written by the Apostle Paul, who – when he was Saul of Tarsus – was the champion of Judaism. His history is traces out on the first chapter. After being arrested by the grace of God and converted, Saul was fully delivered from the law, and became Paul – the champion of the gospel of the grace of God. He writes to these “foolish Galatians” as the champion of grace with all the experience of the ex-champion of law. Paul is therefore the perfect instrument to warn the Galatians of the trap they had fallen into, and to explain what they needed to do to be delivered.
¶ Paul, apostle, not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father who raised him from among the dead, v.1 Writer. Paul was accused of being less than an apostle because he hadn’t walked with or received his apostleship from the Lord Jesus on earth. He turns this around to show that his commission excluded all human appointment or recognition, and thus had nothing to do with men or the earth. It wasn’t “from men” (source), or “through man” (the medium). This guards against the evil teaching of apostolic succession, which was insisted on by the Judaizing teachers. Note that it says “by Jesus Christ. It could have been through men if it only said “of” Christ, but “by” Jesus Christ excludes any human means. Apostolic authority was not conferred on Paul by the laying on of men’s hands. In Acts 13:3 that the prophets and teachers of Antioch laid their hands on Paul. Does this show that Paul was an apostle chosen by man? No. Gal.1:1 clearly teaches otherwise. The laying on of hands had nothing to do with ordaining Paul to be an apostle, but with setting Paul and Barnabas apart for their special missionary work. The twelve apostles were sent forth by a Christ on earth (the Jewish hope), but Paul was sent by a glorified Christ in heaven! In fact, all the gifts for the Church were given by an ascended Christ for the edification of the body of Christ (Eph. 4). Resurrection is brought in because God’s satisfaction with the work of Christ is the foundation of all Christian blessings. The root of legal error is the man can do something for his own salvation. It is really the glorification of the natural man. From the very first verse, the proper foundation is laid; all blessing is “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father”.
2 and all the brethren with me, to the assemblies of Galatia. v.2 Recipients. The Galatians had gotten out of step with their brethren and the apostles. This is what we call heterodoxy. But Paul hadn’t gone off; he speaks of the brethren as “with me”. Notice that this epistle is addressed to “the assemblies” [plural] in Galatia. There was a number of assemblies in the region of Galatia. Evil doctrine had spread to an entire region. We must not be deceived into thinking that evil doctrine will be contained to one locality. Recall that there were five cities in the Vale of Siddom, and all were destroyed together.
3 Grace to you, and peace, from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, v.3 Salutation. Grace is always in the salutation in epistles written to believers from among the Gentiles. To the Jews it was ‘peace’ (Shalom), but to the Gentiles it was ‘grace’. Both are included here! Grace is the means of our salvation, peace is the result. Grace was the particular area of weakness in the assemblies of Galatia.
4 who gave himself for our sins, so that he should deliver us out of the present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father; v.4 Thanksgiving. The Galatian error was twofold; (1) that justification is obtained by law-keeping, and (2) that a holy life is maintained by law-keeping (see Acts 15:1). This verse shows that Christ meets both those needs. Christ “gave himself for our sins” to secure a righteous standing for us before God. But He also has “delivered us out of the present evil world”. This present evil world takes its roots from when Cain went out and built a city. He set up a system in independence of God. The law does the opposite… it makes man comfortable in the world (Gal. 4:3). Note: William Kelly translates this expression “present evil age”. This “age” began with the calling of Israel out of Egypt, and will close with their deliverance in tribulation. Man has always been evil, but when did “this age” become evil? With the rejection and crucifixion of our Lord. It was then that the princes of this age crucified the Lord of glory. But both deliverances, from our sins and from the present age, are “according to the will of our God and Father”. Christianity brings us into relationship with God as Father, not as Jehovah. This precious privilege would not be enjoyed by those who put themselves under law.
5 to whom be glory to the ages of ages. Amen. v.5 Praise and Worship. Legalism results in the cessation of spontaneous praise and worship, because it puts the soul at a distance from God. The Galatians could tell just by this introduction that there was no distance for Paul! Grace gives all glory to God, while law-keeping aims to glorify man, but really results in his judgment.
The Strong Rebuke (1:6-10)
Grace. What is grace? The word can be used different ways in scripture. It can refer to special enabling power to endure a trial (2 Cor. 12:9). It can also refer to generosity of heart (2 Cor. 8:9). But the primary sense of grace, and in the context of Galatians, is the unmerited favor of God. It is God’s settled disposition of favor towards His own, totally apart from the works of law, without man deserving any of it. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Some legalists have a very twisted view of grace, as if it is something that man must earn through his works. But grace cannot be earned.
¶ 6 I wonder that ye thus quickly change, from him that called you in Christ’s grace, to a different gospel, v.6 Without further delay, Paul launches into that which burdened his heart. He was shocked by the progress of evil. It was a quick change, because Galatians was written on Paul’s third missionary journey after passing through Galatia (Acts 18:23), which was around three years after he had first brought the gospel to that region on his second journey (Acts 16:6). That had changed from believing the message of “Christ’s grace” to “a different gospel”. Why was it no longer the true gospel? Because any “improvement” or “enhancement” to the work of Christ makes it a totally different message. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). There is a downward progression in Galatians that begins with “changed” (v.6), progresses to “bewitched” (Gal. 3:1), and then finally “entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). It starts here with getting away from the Lord’s grace. How can we be preserved from this error? We can “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1), and “be established with grace; not with meats” (Heb. 13:9).
7 which is not another one ; but there are some that trouble you, and desire to pervert the glad tidings of the Christ. v.7 But this “different gospel” (v.6) is really “not another” (v.7)… it isn’t a gospel at all. There is not another gospel. There aren’t two ways to be saved. The two words in v.6 and v.7, ‘heteron’ (different) and ‘allo’ (another), are different Greek words. Legalism isn’t gospel (good news) at all! Exactly what was this teaching that was coming into Galatia? It was a perversion of the true gospel. Rather than deny all points of the gospel, the false teachers perverted it, which is far more dangerous.
8 But if even “we” or an angel out of heaven announce as glad tidings to you anything besides what we have announced as glad tidings to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, now also again I say, If any one announce to you as glad tidings anything besides what ye have received, let him be accursed. vv.8-9 Something that alarmed Paul was how easily the Galatians were turned aside from the truth. He pronounces a double anathema (accursed) on any who would bring a different gospel. He says “if even we”… referring to Paul and his fellow laborers. If Paul came and preached something different from what he had originally preached, he would be cursed… this is hypothetical, and only possible for an apostate. He goes on the say “or an angel out out of heaven”… an elect angel from God could never do this, but a fallen angel could. An “angel out of heaven” is a fallen angel. Not even angelic beings have the right to change one bit of the gospel! The anathema is repeated for emphasis. But in the second anathema (v.9) it is broadened out to include “any” (man or demon) who would pervert the gospel. It is remarkable that numerous false cults and false religions began with an angel bringing a different gospel (Islam, Mormonism). We see this very thing in 1 Kings 13… a very good example. It is also remarkable that the Roman Catholic Church, at the Council of Trent, pronounced anathema on any who preached the gospel of God’s grace. But in scripture we have God’s anathema… quite the opposite! In v.8 Paul speaks of what “we have announced” and in v.9 of “what ye have received”. The Galatians had received the true gospel. Now they were being turned away. We are witnessing the spirit of a father rise up in Paul against those who would take away the children’s bread.
10 For do I now seek to satisfy men or God? or do I seek to please men? If I were yet pleasing men, I were not Christ’s bondman. v.10 Trying to be agreeable to men is incompatible with serving Christ. This is exactly what the Judaizing teachers were doing to gain a following among the Galatians and gain their monetary support (Gal. 4:17, 6:13). The same thing is commonly done in Christendom today. If Paul sought to please men, he never would have written this epistle, and he would have preached the necessity of circumcision. We cannot please both. If I am a man-pleaser, I cannot be a God-pleaser.
The History of Paul’s Conversion and Commission (1:11-17)
11 But I let you know, brethren, as to the glad tidings which were announced by me, that they are not according to man. 12 For neither did I receive them from man, neither was I taught them, but by revelation of Jesus Christ. vv.11-12 The gospel Paul preached wasn’t “according to man”; it was not something men would naturally be pleased with. The gospel makes nothing of man and everything of Christ. But also (v.12) Paul’s authority was from heaven, as opposed to the Judaizers who got their authority and instructions from Jerusalem. It is interesting that before his conversion, when he was Saul of Tarsus, Paul got his authority from Jerusalem as well (Acts 9:1-2). Paul was not taught the gospel by the twelve in Jerusalem, rather he received his gospel “by revelation of Jesus Christ”. There is no higher authority than the risen Christ.
13 For ye have heard what was my conversation formerly in Judaism, that I excessively persecuted the assembly of God, and ravaged it; 14 and advanced in Judaism beyond many my contemporaries in my nation, being exceedingly zealous of the doctrines of my fathers. vv.13-14 Paul now speaks of his career under the law. Paul was a Goliath for Judaism (Phil. 3:4-6). If you wanted one man that embodied Judaism completely, it was Saul of Tarsus. He was no slouch. He took his Judaism into action, excessively persecuting the Church (John 16:2). The law makes men persecutors of grace. Perhaps the Judaizing teachers were beginning to persecute those who rested on the promises of God (Gal. 4:29; 2 Cor. 11:18-19). He could say before Agrippa, “And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities” (Acts 26:11). Paul was “excessive”… he was a religious zealot. It is very rare for a zealot to turn 180⁰, but such is the power of grace. There are at least three reasons for mentioning his commission: (1) to show the effect of legalism, that it made Paul an antagonist of grace – it always does that, (2) to show that Paul was well versed in Judaism – he was qualified to speak about it, and (3) to show that God’s power can deliver anyone, no matter how steeped in religion. He calls it “the Jew’s religion” Similar to the way John speaks of “the Jews’ feasts” in his gospel. God no longer owned them as of Him.
15 But when God, who set me apart even from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, 16a was pleased to reveal his Son in me, that I may announce him as glad tidings among the nations, vv.15-16a What was it that turned Paul around? The sovereign activity of God’s grace (v.15). God had a purpose for Paul, and God singled him out from his “mother’s womb”. God has a plan for each one of us, and that plan existed before we ever had a thought toward God. Paul was called in time by the grace of God… only grace can work such a big change. The law made Paul a persecutor of the Church, but grace made Paul a servant of the Church. Before he was saved, Paul thought of his successes in Judaism as “advancement” (v.14), but after his conversion he counted it “loss for Christ” (Phil. 3:7). He even changed his own name from Saul to Paul. Saul means ‘desire’ or ‘unrestrained’, but Paul means ‘restrained’ or ‘little’. Grace makes us humble. Paul was the first one to publicly preach that Jesus was “the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). Peter preach an exalted Man; “God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Peter, to whom the Father revealed the blessed truth of Christ’s Sonship (Matt. 16:16-17), never really preached that truth. It was given to Paul to preach it, and to do so “among the nations”. Paul’s sphere of service was toward the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7). But this goes farther than preaching. God’s Son was revealed, not only in Paul’s words, but in his whole manner of life. This was especially true of the apostle Paul, whose life is set forth as an example (1 Tim. 1:12-16). But in a general sense, the same is what God desires for all believers; to reveal His Son in each one of us. The primary result of the Gospel is to form the life of the Son of God in the believer (3 Cor. 3:18; 4:6; Col. 1:27). Practical salvation is not by the law any more than eternal salvation is. It is by formation of Christ in us. Christianity is a Person (v.16), not a religion (v.13).
16b immediately I took not counsel with flesh and blood, 17 nor went I up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and again returned to Damascus. vv.16b-17 Paul did not go immediately to Jerusalem to receive authority from the other apostles, from “flesh and blood”, that which has to do with natural order. This sets aside the whole order of apostolic succession, and even the modern the order of ministry that mirrors apostolic succession. Paul did not need Peter’s approval to begin preaching. Nor does a servant of Christ need approval from a bishop or missionary board to exercise his gift. The Jews had Jerusalem as their center of authority. The Church has no such geographical center (Matt. 18:20). It is significant that Paul was saved away from Jerusalem, and steered clear after conversion. It would have been very natural for God to have converted Paul in Jerusalem, but He chose to do so outside Damascus, away from the earthly center of Judaism. Paul’s commission was from the glorified Head of the Church. It is also significant that Paul was an apostle before he went to Jerusalem. Going to Arabia occurs in the gap between Acts 29:22-23. It shows the total disconnect between Paul’s gospel and human order. The time in Arabia was perhaps a time of great searching in Paul’s life. It was a time in the wilderness alone with God. We know that Mt. Sinai is in Arabia (Gal. 4:25), and we find that Elijah made a similar journey. However, Elijah was unable to get free of the law, and his sphere of service was greatly reduced. Paul got free from the law, and his sphere of service was greatly opened! Each one of us needs to learn the lessons of Arabia, although we need not put ourselves under law to learn them. The main point is that Paul stayed away from Jerusalem. It is striking that in Acts 21:18-29, when Paul finally did go back to Jerusalem against the Lord’s will, he fell under James’ influence and ended up in literal bondage.
Paul’s three Encounters with Peter. In the following sections, Paul relates three encounters with Peter. These three encounters form a solid defense of his apostleship, and competence to deal with the Galatian error. Also, in the various encounters, the issue of the law and circumcision comes up, such that these encounters also provide a powerful introduction to the rest of the epistle.
- 1st Encounter (Gal. 1:18-24)…. Showing Paul was in harmony with Peter and the other apostles.
- 2nd Encounter (Gal. 2:1-10)….. Showing Paul’s complete understanding of the Christian revelation.
- 3rd Encounter (Gal. 2:11-13)…. Showing that Paul had sufficient authority to rebuke another apostle.
First Encounter with Peter: Paul’s Harmony with the Apostles (1:18-24)
vv.18-24 Paul relates his first interview with Peter. He shows above all that he was in fellowship with Peter, and also that he spent relatively little time in Jerusalem. This defied the accusation of the Judaizers that Paul was a renegade apostle, or that his authority was subject to the leaders in Jerusalem.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to make acquaintance with Peter, and I remained with him fifteen days; 19 but I saw none other of the apostles, but James the brother of the Lord. 20 Now what I write to you, behold, before God, I do not lie. vv.18-20 Paul didn’t go up to Jerusalem until three years after his conversion. He went up to keep the unity of the Spirit, by ensure that he would continue in harmony with Peter. He spent fifteen days there, probably bringing Peter up to speed on what the Lord had done and shown to him. What a meeting that must have been! He mentions that it was fifteen days to show that it was only a brief visit; Paul was not studying under Peter’s instruction. The focus of the visit was not instruction, but fellowship. The Judaizing teachers couldn’t claim to be in harmony with the other apostles. Unlike Paul, the Judaizers were out of step with their brethren. Paul mentions that he saw James, which would have been James the Just (the Lord’s brother, read more…), who became very prominent in Jerusalem. If any of the leaders in Jerusalem would have taken issue with Paul’s gospel, it would have been James who was somewhat entrenched in Judaism, as we see from the end of the book of Acts. During the Lord’s lifetime, James and the Lord’s other brothers and sisters did not believe on Him (John 7:5). They came to faith after the resurrection, and two of them (James and Jude) wrote epistles that are part of the New Testament canon. In v.20 Paul insists that he isn’t leaving anything out. The purpose of this first trip to Jerusalem was neither for training in Christian doctrine, nor for authorization. Rather, it was for fellowship… to “make acquaintance” with Peter.
21 Then I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 But I was unknown personally to the assemblies of Judaea which are in Christ; 23 only they were hearing that he who persecuted us formerly now announces the glad tidings of the faith which formerly he ravaged: 24 and they glorified God in me. vv.21-24 After Paul went to Jerusalem, he went to “the regions of Syria and Cilicia”, which was Paul’s hometown. He established his testimony there. It takes time for gift to be developed. It was probably eight or nine years before he went abroad again, and when he finally did, it was by Divine instruction (see Gal. 2:2). Although they had never seen Paul, the saints in Judea were generally supportive of Paul and the gospel he preached. This is a powerful testimony! They were previously the objects of his “excessive” persecution, and now they “glorified God” in Paul. He is really showing two things: that he had spend very little time in Jerusalem and Judea, and also that the assemblies of Judea were pleased with Paul, and actually glorified God in him! This shows that those “in Christ” closest to Jerusalem were in full fellowship with Paul. Where did that put the Judaizing teachers in Galatia?
Faithfulness in the private sphere first. From the time Paul was converted on the Road to Damascus (A.D. 34; Acts 9:1-9), his time in Damascus (Acts 9:10-19), three years in Arabia (Gal 1:17), return to Damascus then departure from the city for safety (Gal 1:17; Acts 9:20-25; 2 Cor 11:32-33), his private visit to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-29; Gal 1:18), eight or nine years in Tarsus (Acts 9:30; Gal. 1:21), to when Barnabas travels to Tarsus in order to seek Saul (A.D. 46; Acts 11:25) is a total of twelve years between his conversion and official public ministry! It is important for the servant of God to be faithful in a local sphere first, before undertaking a broader sphere of ministry.
Second Encounter with Peter: Paul’s Understanding of the Truth (2:1-10)
vv.1-10 To press the point further, Paul recounts his second interview with Peter. Not only were Peter and Paul in harmony with one another (first encounter), but Paul was able to instruct Peter and the others in his “gospel” (second encounter), and they agreed with him and gave him the right hands of fellowship! This dealt a blow to scheme of the Judaizers who portrayed Paul as a renegade. The events recounted in this section took place at the same time as those of Acts 15:1-35. Judaizing teachers began pressing that the Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. They even traveled abroad teaching this, even to Antioch which was a Gentile assembly. The issue was so serious that there was a danger that a division would occur, resulting in a Gentile church and a Jewish. The Spirit of God led Paul, Barnabas and others to wisely deal with the situation, avoiding a division, and upholding the free grace of God.
¶ Then after a lapse of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also with me; v.1 It is difficult to know whether the fourteen years is dated from the conversion of Saul or from his first visit to Jerusalem. There is enough uncertainty in the dates to allow for either. However, the terminology employed here seems to indicate a fourteen-year “lapse” between the two visits to Jerusalem. Either way, the Spirit of God is contrasting the fifteen days with Peter to a fourteen year period. It is calculated to destroy any notion that Paul got either his doctrine or authority from the twelve in Jerusalem. Any notion of apostolic succession is set aside. Also, the lapse of fourteen years allowed time for the fruits of Paul’s apostleship to be evident. See v.3 for why Paul took Titus with him. They went to to Jerusalem because that is where the Judaizing teachers had come from. Rather than come to a conclusion up in Antioch, the brethren went to Jerusalem to handle the matter. Jerusalem is the last place they would naturally go to get a favorable decision on the issue at hand, but it was important to go there to keep the unity of the Spirit.
— This is the same incident we get in Acts 15:1-35 —
2 and I went up according to revelation, and I laid before them the glad tidings which I preach among the nations, but privately to those conspicuous among them, lest in any way I run or had run in vain; v.2 Here it says that Paul went from Antioch up to Jerusalem “by revelation”, but in Acts 15:2 we find that Paul was asked to up by his brethren. He also had a special word from the Lord to go, whether directly as in Acts 16:9-10, or through a prophet as in Acts 21:10-11. This is how things ought to be in the local assembly. The servants of the Lord should have a word from the Lord to do this or that, and the Lord should also lay it on the hearts of the local brethren! It is wonderful when that is the case. Paul communicated his gospel to those who were of reputation privately, not before the whole assembly, as it was important to get the leaders clear on the issue. The reason he gives for doing it privately was on account of the false brethren brought in. To blast this out to the whole company before getting those of reputation (who themselves were wavering and unclear) on the same page could have resulted in a split, and all Paul’s labors becoming a big waste. He graciously acted to avoid a public confrontation. Furthermore, it was critical for the leaders to be clear and united on the issue before the council began (Acts 15:6). This brings out an important principle of public ministry: we need to present the truth of God, and also present what is suitable for the audience. It would have been immature for Paul to present all the heavenly truth committed to him on this occasion, and it could have resulted in damage to the assembly. Many of them were still on the ground of the law, in Egypt, so to speak. The law hinders spiritual growth (Heb. 5:12-14). The heavenly truths of Canaan are out of reach for spiritual babes. The Lord can give His servants wisdom to know what, when, and how to speak the truth of God.
3 (but neither was Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, compelled to be circumcised;) v.3 This verse is a parenthesis, but it is very important. Titus was a Gentile that had believed the gospel, and had never been circumcised. Titus was taken as an example of grace, and as a test case. What would they do? Deny that he was saved? His presence there brought the issue to the surface. Paul acted boldly, because he was walking in Christian liberty.1
4 and it was on account of the false brethren brought in surreptitiously, who came in surreptitiously to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage; v.4 The “false brethren” had been brought in by believing Jews, but they had a plan of their own. It was a strategy of Satan to take these liberated Gentiles who were serving Christ, and bind them in the cords of legalism. Satan “spies out” those who are enjoying true liberty and makes a calculated attack on them. Their plan was to bring the believers under law through the ceremony of circumcision. In ch.5 Paul explains how the ceremonial and moral aspects of the law are intertwined. Once they were in bondage, there would be a hierarchy among believers, and they could easily be channeled to the will of the false leaders. These weren’t merely Jewish converts that were “weak in the faith”… they were legalists seeking to bring others into bondage through dishonest means.
5 to whom we yielded in subjection not even for an hour, that the truth of the glad tidings might remain with you. v.5 The “we” is Paul, Barnabas, and Titus, with the other apostles, now united in voice. They refused to go along with the legalists. We can’t stand by when evil doctrine is taught, however it isn’t an opportunity to act in the flesh. This is an important thing to remember, and it takes discernment to know whether it someone is simply “weak in the faith” (Rom. 14:1 – 15:7), or whether there is an effort to bring souls under bondage. If it is the latter, it is an open assault on the gospel, and we must stand up for the truth. Paul sensed correctly that, if this error was not nipped in the bud, “the truth of the glad tidings” was in jeopardy of extinction. What a moment this was! How easy it would have been to bow under the pressure. But at what cost!
6 But from those who were conspicuous as being somewhat–whatsoever they were, it makes no difference to me: God does not accept man’s person; for to me those who were conspicuous communicated nothing; v.6 Those who “were conspicuous as being somewhat” are the three pillars; Peter, James, and John. Notice that Paul is rallying around the Word of God (the revelation given to him), not the importance of persons. This is a good lesson. They “added nothing” to Paul, in that there was nothing more they could add to Paul’s doctrine. In everything Paul had a superior understanding of the gospel of the grace of God.
7 but, on the contrary, seeing that the glad tidings of the uncircumcision were confided to me, even as to Peter that of the circumcision, 8 (for he that wrought in Peter for the apostleship of the circumcision wrought also in me towards the Gentiles,) 9 and recognising the grace given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were conspicuous as being pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that “we” should go to the nations, and “they” to the circumcision; vv.7-9 Far from teaching Paul anything, the three who “seemed to be” pillars approved of what Paul was saying and doing. The Judaizers had tried to assert that Paul was out of sync with Peter and the others, but this shows the very opposite. Paul taught them, and they agreed. Note that James here couldn’t be the Apostle James (James the Great) because he had been martyred, but James the Lord’s brother takes a prominent role in Acts 15. They are called “pillars” because they were considered by the assembly to have large moral weight. When the Lord exercises his servant to go out in a certain line of ministry, He also exercises his brethren. This is the proper order. But having the right hands of fellowship is not required. The other apostles couldn’t give Paul additional light or a commission (ch. 1) but they could offer an expression of their fellowship with him. When the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, He gave to the twelve apostles an earthly commission: to go to all nations and make disciples, baptizing in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe the teachings of Jesus. In the early chapters of Acts, we find that the twelve did not go to the Gentiles, but rather remained in Jerusalem. Paul had just returned from his first missionary journey. The pillars essentially concede at this point that God had confided the gospel of the uncircumcision to Paul, and they sign over that commission to him. Now, Paul did fulfill his commission to the Gentiles, but he brought more than the gospel of the kingdom… “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17), which was the gospel of the grace of God! Yet beyond this, Paul’s love for Israel was so strong (Rom. 10:1) eventually he started doing Peter’s work. In this Paul had the Lord’s heart, but not the Lord’s mind… and he ended up in prison. But a great point to be learned here is that the Gentiles, including the Galatians, were given by the Lord into the care of Paul, and Peter agreed to it. This dealt a serious blow to the working of the Judaizers.
10 only that we should remember the poor, which same thing also I was diligent to do. v.10 The most the other apostles could say to add to Paul’s commission was that he should “remember the poor”. And it was redundant because Paul was already disposed to do that. Most likely they were saying to remember the poor in Jerusalem (if so it would be consistent with many other epistles). The Gentiles to whom Paul ministered were comparatively wealthy.
Third Encounter with Peter: Paul’s Authority to Rebuke (2:11-21)
vv.11-13 To press the point further, Paul relates his third interview with Peter. Not only was Peter far from rebuking Paul (second interview), but Paul had rebuked Peter! This destroyed any remaining doubts about Paul’s apostleship.
Peter’s Failure in Antioch (vv.11-13)
¶ 11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be condemned: v.11 This event took place a short time later in Antioch. What makes this failure of Peter so sad is how strongly he came out on the side of grace in Acts 15. He had publicly declared that “we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:11). A short time later Peter fell into the snare of legalism. It was a public failure and it required a public rebuke (1 Tim. 5:20). Not every failure requires a public rebuke. Those who are leaders (Peter was) need to be especially careful, not just about their doctrine but their actions because they have a big effect on others. And yet, Peter received this correction. Since Peter could receive this correction from Paul, it follows that the Galatians ought to be willing to as well… and so should we.
12 for before that certain came from James, he ate with those of the nations; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing those of the circumcision; v.12 Before the legalists came from James, Peter ate freely with the believing Gentiles in the Antioch assembly. Eating a common meal together is a universal symbol of fellowship. It was Peter’s normal routine to eat with Jews and Gentiles, according to the vision he had received at the house of Cornelius; “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (Acts 10:15). But when certain Judaizers came from James, Peter separated from the Gentiles and refused to eat with them. Peter’s failure was “fearing the circumcision”. He was influenced by peer pressure. Proverbs tells us that “the fear of man bringeth a snare” (Prov. 29:25). James the Lord’s brother was the most prominent and the most legal of the leaders in Jerusalem, and he carried significant clout. Peter buckled under the pressure. Peter’s change in behavior would have been very obvious and disheartening. The root of this failure is the same as the root of his failure in the hall of the high priest. After this incident, Peter disappears from the pages of inspired history, although we do have two of his epistles.
13 and the rest of the Jews also played the same dissembling part with him; so that even Barnabas was carried away too by their dissimulation. v.13 “Dissemble” is the opposite word from “assemble”. It is to practically undo what the Spirit of God had done in forming the assembly. The striking thing is that Barnabas had disputed with Paul against these teachers when they came to Antioch (Acts 15:2), and he was present for the Jerusalem council, but he was led astray back in Antioch when these ones came from James, and when Peter capitulated. We rarely realize what influence we have on each other. Those who are leaders need to be extremely careful. In the end, Paul was the only one who stood up for “the grace that is in Christ Jesus”.
Satan’s Minor Successes. Satan was unsuccessful at both: (1) bringing the saints under law, and (2) disrupting the unity of the Church as we saw at the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35; Gal. 2:1-10). However, Satan is a tireless foe, and he will take any advantage he can get. Just after the council of Jerusalem, where Satan’s wiles were evaded, he had two minor yet important successes. First, while he could not bring the saints under law, he was able to get Peter to compromise on the truth of the gospel when he came up to Antioch. That event is not recorded in Acts, but is given to us in Gal. 2:11-13. Second, while Satan was unsuccessful at diving the assembly, he was able to drive a wedge between two faithful servants, Paul and Barnabas, which is recorded in Acts 15:36-41. We are never more vulnerable to defeat than after our greatest success. Paul had to rebuke Peter in Antioch. The substance of this rebuke is given in Gal. 2:11-21. We can be thankful for Peter’s words in the end of his second epistle, speaking of “our beloved brother Paul”. It showed that Peter took the correction, and there was no hard feelings between them. Sadly we never read of such restoration with Barnabas.
Paul’s Public Response to Peter (vv.14-21)
The Third Encounter was very close to home for the Galatians. Before Peter came the Jews were going on eating with the Gentiles in liberty. When Peter came, he continued with them. But when Judaizers came from James, he dissembled. In the same way, the Galatians had been running well until the Judaizers came to them. By using the same tactics on their leaders, the Judaizers had brought the Galatians into bondage as well.
Paul Develops Peter’s Inconsistency (vv.14-15)
14 But when I saw that they do not walk straightforwardly, according to the truth of the glad tidings, I said to Peter before all, If “thou”, being a Jew, livest as the nations and not as the Jews, how dost thou compel the nations to Judaize? 15 We, Jews by nature, and not sinners of the nations, vv.14-15 Peter was not being consistent… he was not walking “straightforwardly”. Peter was adding something to the gospel, thus striking against its foundation (vv.16-17). by separating he was stating that believing Gentiles were still unclean when God had called them clean (Acts 10). Paul as much as says, ‘Peter, you who was a Jew brought up with ceremonial cleanliness, feel that in Christianity you have liberty to live without the Jewish customs as the Gentiles do by nature, why then are you reversing the principle in application to the Gentiles?’ It is inconsistent.
The Effect of Teaching Justification by Law (vv.16-17)
16 but knowing that a man is not justified on the principle of works of law nor but by the faith of Jesus Christ, “we” also have believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified on the principle of the faith of Christ; and not of works of law; because on the principle of works of law no flesh shall be justified. 17 Now if in seeking to be justified in Christ we also have been found sinners, then is Christ minister of sin? Far be the thought. vv.16-17 Paul is applying the principle behind Peter’s actions to see what it does to the truth of justification. Frankly, it slaughters it. A person is justified, not by law-keeping, but by letting his or her case rest with Christ and His work in simple faith. But if, having done this (v.17) we are told by Judaizers that we are still unclean while resting in faith, then Christ is made the minister of sin! By Peter’s actions he was stating that Christ was not in the business of blotting out sins, but of keeping them and manifesting them! Note: When you get faith “of” Christ, it is Christ as the object of faith (see Gal. 2:20). If the law can only discover sin, and Christ approve of the use of the law for justification, then Christ has not delivered me from sin but has left me under its bondage. Far be the thought! Note: the term “justified in Christ” gives the thought of the believer’s righteous standing in Christ’s place before God.
The Effect of Teaching Law as a Rule of Life (vv.18-20)
18 For if the things I have thrown down, these I build again, I constitute myself a transgressor. v.18 The gospel had torn down “the middle wall of partition” (Eph. 2:14). In believing the gospel of the grace of God we recognize this in principle. Peter, by his actions, was building again that wall. It was especially wrong because it took the cross of Christ to bring it down (Eph. 2:14). By rebuilding a segregation between believers, we are practically saying Christ was wrong to tear down the wall originally, and I was wrong to tear it down in my mind. As a practical note, Paul graciously stops saying “thou” and “we”, and instead says “I”, letting Peter apply it to himself. This is a powerful lesson on how to rebuke.
19 For “I”, through law, have died to law, that I may live to God. v.19 Paul never denied the law its proper place (Rom. 3:31) instead he shows that the law had its full force resulting in death because of sin: that of death under law reaching Christ – and by association – the old “I”. The life to which the Dominion of law was attached has ended at the cross. The law is not dead, but the believer is dead to it (Rom. 7:1-6). In keeping with the way the law works, I realize my other powerlessness. By association with Christ’s death (connect with v.20) I am completely removed from the law’s sphere of influence (Rom. 7:1-6). The expression “that I may live to God” means that the believer is liberated to be occupied with pleasing and God undistracted by law (see Rom. 6:10).
20 I am crucified with Christ, and no longer live, “I”, but (1) Christ lives in me; (2) but in that I now live in flesh, I live by faith, (3) the faith of the Son of God, (4) who has loved me and given himself for me. v.20 By association with Christ’s death, we have been completely disassociated from the life to which the law was addressed. The old “I” has been crucified… the law has nothing to say to me now! Christ rose from the dead, and so we live – leaving the old “I” where it lies, the sentence fully passed – seeing the new “I” as God does, and drawing all our resources from a risen, glorified Christ. A holy practical life cannot come by law keeping. To impose the law on a Christian is to misunderstand the new life. There is no wrong impulse that needs to be restrained in the new life. What the new life needs is liberty, an object, and a motive. Given those things, the new life will perform to a far higher standard – up to “the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2)! Four things that will really allow us to life a holy Christian life:
- A new life – the life of Christ in me (displayed practically by the fruits of the Spirit).
- A new principle to live by – faith as opposed to works.
- A new object – the Son of God as opposed to self (the law makes me focus on self). It is “the faith of the Son of God”, the faith that has the Son of God and His love for me as its object
- A new motive – love instead of fear.
It is important to see that, in the death of Christ, not only are my sins put away, but I am crucified as well.2
The Net Result of Legalism (v.21)
21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness is by law, then Christ has died for nothing.v.21 The net result of the principle behind Peter’s actions (although he did not comprehend it) in vv.12-13 is now given. If a person could be made righteous positionally or practically by the law, then (1) the grace of God is set aside, and (2) Christ’s death was a waste. How solemn! Righteousness is not obtained by the law. You can’t work it out for yourself nor did Christ work it out for you in His life. We are saved by His death (Rom. 5:10; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Justification is “not on the principle of law” (Rom. 3:21).
- The reason why Paul had Timothy circumcised and not Titus is given to us; “because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:3). The issue with Timothy was that one parent was Jewish, and so it would raise distracting questions about his ethnicity among the Jews. Paul used his Christian liberty, so that “unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law” (1 Cor. 9:20). Titus on the other hand did not pose the same issue. Both the parents of Titus were Gentiles, and Paul would not compel him to take up with Jewish ceremony (Gal. 2:3).
- This is what Thomas Paine failed to see in his famous “Age of Reason”.