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Galatians 2 (web)

Justification by Faith Defended

Paul's Credentials

II. His Experience in Dealing with this issue

A. Encounter in Jerusalem

2:1 Then after a period of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas,
taking Titus also with me.

2:2 I went up by revelation, and I laid before them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles,
but privately before those who were respected,
for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.
2:3 But not even Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.
2:4 This was because of the false brothers secretly brought in,
who stole in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus,
that they might bring us into bondage;
2:5 to whom we gave no place in the way of subjection,
not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
2:6 But from those who were reputed to be important
(whatever they were, it makes no difference to me;
God doesn't show partiality to man)
--they, I say, who were respected imparted nothing to me,
2:7 but to the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel
for the uncircumcision, even as Peter with the gospel for the circumcision
2:8 (for he who appointed Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision
appointed me also to the Gentiles);
2:9 and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John,
they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship,
that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcision.
2:10 They only asked us to remember the poor--
which very thing I was also zealous to do.

B. Encounter in Antioch

2:11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned.

Peter's Hypocrisy

Paul's Confrontation

2:14 But when I saw that they didn't walk uprightly according to the truth of the gospel,
I said to Peter before them all,
"If you, being a Jew, live as the Gentiles do, and not as the Jews do,
why do you compel the Gentiles to live as the Jews do?
2:15 "We, being Jews by nature, and not Gentile sinners,
2:16 yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law
but through the faith of Jesus Christ, even we believed in Christ Jesus,
that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law,
because no flesh will be justified by the works of the law.

2:17 But if, while we sought to be justified in Christ,
we ourselves also were found sinners, is Christ a servant of sin? Certainly not!
2:18 For if I build up again those things which I destroyed, I prove myself a law-breaker.

2:19 For I, through the law, died to the law, that I might live to God.
2:20 I have been crucified with Christ,
and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me.
That life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me, and gave himself up for me.

2:21 I don't make void the grace of God.
For if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nothing!"

Discussion Questions

Why did Paul go to Jerusalem? (Acts 15:1+)
What in particular was Paul offended at?
In vs 4, Paul refers to "false brothers", what are they called in Acts 15:5? So what were they?
What was Paul's attitude towards the leadership of the church of Jerusalem?
What authority did they recognize that Paul had, they didn't? (or simply refused to take on themselves)
What was Paul all upset at Peter for?
Did he handle the conflict in an appropriate manner? Would you have done it differently?
Are there examples today of how we may by our actions, deny our believe in the saving power of the cross?


The Jerusalem Council

Gal 2:1,2 Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 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.

The event Paul refers to in this and following verses is found in Acts 15. That is "Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: 'Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.' This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question." Acts 15:1,2

But what does Paul mean when he says he just intended to meet with the leadership, "for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain."? For we note Paul was quite confident of his convictions. And as we noted from chapter 1, Paul didn't feel he needed the other apostles to validate his gospel. For if that had been the case, he would have gone to them years ago prior to his preaching of the gospel. Rather he was concerned as to whether or not these kinds of false teachers were among the reputable leadership of the church at Jerusalem. And if so, he was concerned about their power. And indeed he had cause for concern, for in that case it would mean that Peter, John and James, who were the heads of the Jerusalem church, had failed to deal with them. And why? Likely because Peter, John and James were afraid of the popularity of those guys. (Very common, even among the apostles, to fear issues which threaten one's popularity) In fact Paul gives an instance of this in the case of Peter later in this chapter.

Thus if Paul was going to Peter, James and John to deal with the false teachers within their own church, he was going to have to get them together in private, where their flesh would be more free from the pressures and power of popularity inherent in public meetings. Now the issue would be as to whether the false teachers had power in the private meeting - which leads to the next verse.

Resisting False Brothers

Gal 2:3-5 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 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. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.

Now if Titus were to be convince by the false teachers, indeed Paul would have run in vain, having wasted his time discipling that guy. But in fact these false teachers had no power, no influence, no effect at all in the private meeting. Their argument was completely uncompelling and had no effect on Paul's presentation of the gospel. They were powerless. Often bad theology is just not scrutinize because it's propagated solely through popularity. Remove the popularity issue, examine it in private, and alot of bad theology just falls apart and indeed often ends up looking quite foolish.

Another interesting thing about these verses is that here he speaks of "false brothers". Notice the parallel section in Acts 15:5 where it says, "Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, 'The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.'" In Acts they are called "believers" because Luke is writing in an historical sense of their public affiliation, whereas Paul called them "false brothers", identifying their actual status. So throughout history to this day there are those who associate themselves with the Christian community, they are referred to as "Christians" or "believers", they may even hold positions of leadership in a church, and yet are false brothers. This was the case in the early church.


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.

While the Christian community throughout history has been obsessed with "celebrities", there should be no one person who is reckoned more important than another. And everyone should be subject to scrutiny. Religious elitism has been the norm for all sects - Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical, Charismatic. All have their celebrities they treat as if infallible. Consequently you will find aspects of the gospel which have been corrupted in all these denomination sects as the opinions of their celebrities are not allowed to be scrutinized in light of scripture.

Paul didn't allow such a thing in his ministry. No matter how "important" a person is thought to be by their followers. Later Paul even rebuked the apostle Peter for his man-fear of such "important" people. There should be no room for pride in the Christian community. "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." And God opposes the proud." Nonetheless the history of Christianity, even in the church at Jerusalem, is full of proud Christians, adding on their own regulations to the gospel, whether it be padeobaptism, ceremonial works, or the like.

An Illegitimate Division of Ministries

Gal 2:7-9 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. (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.) 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.

This was one of the purposes of Paul's mission to Jerusalem - to receive affirmation by the church leaders there so as to lend supporting evidence against the circumcision. Paul needed no affirmation for himself, for he knew his calling and was confident of his gospel. But the endorsement of James, Peter and John would provide evidence of that fact to the Galatians. And it would discredit the circumcision who may have falsely claimed that they had been sent by the Jerusalem church.

However this idea that Paul alone was to be an apostle to the Gentiles while everyone else, like Peter was to go to the Jews, was contrary to what Jesus commanded, not to mention what Peter himself mentioned at that very meeting when he said, "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe." Acts 15:7 You would think it was Paul speaking, but it was Peter!

Furthermore Jesus told Peter and John, "go and make disciples of all nations" Mt 28:19, the word "nations" here and "Gentiles" in the Galatians verse being the same Greek word "ethnos". And furthermore he told them, "you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8 But Peter and John settled into a Jerusalem ministry most likely because of prejudice against Gentiles. (Even despite the fact that Jesus gave Peter the vision to preach to the Gentiles in Acts 10 saying that "What God has cleansed you must not call common", referring to the Gentiles.)

So why did Peter give up his commission to the Gentiles at this time? I think it was simply prejudice. Seems to me it was because of  prejudice against Gentiles that they had overlooked what harm was being done to Gentile Christians by those who were likely members of their own church. It wasn't until years later that circumstances (and no doubt the Spirit of God) forced them to overcome their prejudice.

And I find it interesting that while they gave Paul and Barnabus the right of fellowship, no mention was made of Titus who was also present. But he was a Gentile.

Remember the Poor (Jews)

Gal 2:10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

The last time Paul and Barnabus visited Jerusalem was in Acts 11 where it is written, "for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul." Acts 11:26-30

If the famine was to be over the whole Roman world, then why direct their gifts to the brothers in Judea? First of all Judea was almost entirely dependent upon rainfall for water. So the land was particularly prone to suffer during famines. And Jewish Christians had it especially difficult, being persecuted by unbelieving Jews. Thus Jewish Christians were generally among the poorest. And having become accustomed to receiving financial support, I have the impression, I don't think that James, Peter and John had poor Gentile Christians in mind by this instruction, but rather they were simply trying to secure more contributions for their own church. For while they had reluctance in receiving Gentile Christians, they had no reluctance receiving their money.

And Paul was eager to raise financial support for their church, as were the Gentiles Christians. Paul writes in Rom 15:25-27 "But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things."

The generosity of the Gentiles no doubt became another element in helping Jewish Christians, like James, Peter and John, to overcome their prejudice and reluctance to fellowship with them.

Confrontational Ministry

Gal 2:11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.

Sometimes you just have to opposed fellow Christians to their face, even if they be the apostle Peter (or your institutional church leader). This is part of appropriate Christian ministry. What checks and balances did Peter have in his life to maintain his humility and to help keep him free from the hypocrisy of which institutional leaders are particularly prone? Who dared correct Peter when he screwed up? Paul dared, knowing full well that he was risking Peter's endorsement of his ministry.

Paul brings up this incident
1. to show the clarity and confidence of his conviction on this matter
2. and to provide an example to for the Galatians to follow - namely to oppose the circumcision to their face.

Doesn't matter who they are. If people are clearly in the wrong on this matter, they need to be confronted. (And yes, expect to be rebuked - if not crucified - in return.)


Gal 2:12, 13 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 other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

At least at this stage of his Christian life, Peter was a man-pleaser. He was afraid of what other people thought of him. And his fears controlled his behavior. Remember what Paul said earlier in his letter. For after saying, "If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!", he went on to say, "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." Gal 1:9,10 Here he again puts that principle into practice. Paul is not trying to win the approval of Peter, nor of the circumcision. He's not afraid of men.

You know, sometimes Christians are reluctant to say the things which need to be said, because they're afraid they'll lose the approval of men. Ever happen to you? These study guides are an example of applying Paul's principle. For I have consciously endeavored to say what has to be said regardless of whether people will be please by it or not. And I hope others follow this example.
What Peter was doing was endorsing an unjustified prejudice against Gentile Christians. And the fact it was "Peter", a highly respected apostle of the faith, others were more easily led astray. When you treat other Christians with unjustified prejudice, you may not realize just how serious that is. John learned this lesson and wrote, "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.  Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him." 1John 3:14,15

The priority in the Christian life is to love fellow Christians without prejudice.  So get upset when you see Christians treating fellow Christians with prejudice.

The Gospel is Culturally Neutral

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?

What they were doing was not in line with the truth of the gospel. One aspect of gospel truth is that to be a Christian you don't to have give up your cultural identity - at least concerning things not dealing with sin. The Jewish legalists had the idea that for Gentiles to become Christian they had to adopt Jewish customs - they were to get circumcised, not eat certain foods, dress a certain way, observe certain days. These things are not relevant to salvation. "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking" Rom 14:17

As Christians we need to consider how we might inadvertently be misrepresenting the gospel, as for example in  making Christian fellowship contingent upon cultural conformity.

The Heresy of Denominational Conformity

Many churches have not learned this lesson. The idea that "we do it this way and we don't fellowship with those who do it that way." i.e. modes of baptism, ceremony, etc. Now as the church institutionalized on a large scale, it became even more guilty of this. (See a View of Catholicism) When you institutionalize, you develop customs. Customs then grow into requirements. Virtually every denomination is guilty of this to varying degrees, some more so than others. So consider what restrictions your church has placed upon fellowshipping with Christians outside of your church. Like for example what restrictions your church places upon receiving communion. See also The Shortcomings of Institutionalized Christianity.

Justified by Faith Alone

Gal 2:15,16  "We, who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’, 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.

Actually Peter himself made a similar argument in favor of the Gentiles when he spoke up in the Jerusalem council dealing with this very matter. For he said, "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." Acts 15:7-11

So if God made no distinction between Jew and Gentile, as Peter himself realized, then why was Peter making a distinction between the two in actual practice. This was the hypocrisy that Paul was pointing out. For Paul said virtually the same thing as Peter did in the Acts 15 passage above. They had no difference on the theology. But in practice Peter was acting hypocritically, not acting in line with the very things he himself said.

Fellowship with Christians and fellowship with God go hand in hand. If a person rejects fellowship with other Christians upon the basis of customs or culture, such a person is likewise communicating that fellowship with God is a function of customs and culture.

Destroying Hypocrisy

Gal 2:17,18  "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! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker."

It's often a problem for those who reckon themselves to be "good people" from an allegedly "moral culture" to come to Christ. Back then it was the religious elite among the Jews, and so also today along with Muslims and many others from cultures that reckon themselves morally superior to others. For such people to be justified in Christ they have to come to the realization that they are sinners. And not simply that they are innocent victims of Adam's sin. No, each one has actively been involved in committing sin. Such an admission is too humiliating for many such people.

Prior to this Paul said, we are 'Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’, and yet they're no better off, for the fact is that all do sin to a greater or lesser degree. The fact that Paul is convicting Peter of sin at this time was not to promote further sin. Peter was trying to rebuild what he destroyed, which is to say he was acting hypocritically. Paul was out to destroy his hypocrisy altogether.

Being justified in Christ may mean that you will have to destroy certain ideas. If you do so, don't look back. "Remember Lot’s wife!"Luke 17:32

Paul writes, "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." 2Cor 10:5

Died to the Law

Gal 2:19,20 For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 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."

Likewise Paul writes of the Christian life, "now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter." Rom 7:6

The oldness of the letter is the bondage to the keeping of the customs and particular regulations one derives from the Law of Moses.

"He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant— not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." 2Cor 3:6

Jesus' ministry likewise revealed the deadness of bondage to the regulations which the Jews derived from the Law. Like he was often rebuked for healing people on the Sabbath. For as the Law commanded rest on the Sabbath, by way of regulation the Jews derived the idea that it was in violation of the Sabbath to heal. And yet healing was actually consistent with the Spirit of the Sabbath - giving rest and relief to the suffering.

So also to allegedly keep themselves pure, the Jews derived a regulation which prevented them from eating with Gentiles, though the Law had no such regulation. But in doing so they violated the Spirit of the Law - to love your neighbor as yourself. And this was especially an issue with Christians - as it broke Christian fellowship over an illegitimate issue.

You can't really live to God until you die to the legalism.

Furthermore, what is relevant about the Christian life is not the Christian, but Christ who dwells in the Christian. "To (the saints) God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." Col 1:27 So also Jesus said, "I came not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me." John 6:38 This is contrast to Peter's fear of man. People who are afraid of what others will think of them are too concerned for themselves. The Christian lives for Christ, not for themselves. "He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." 2Cor 5:15

Are You Setting Aside God's Grace?

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!"

Here Paul speaks to those of a Pelagian theology often espoused by liberals today who view Christ's death as merely an example to follow rather than having power in itself to redeem. Such people advocate a performance based righteous - that by following Jesus' example of love and righteous living one can be saved. In taking such a position such people set aside the grace of God and opt for self-reliance to obtain their salvation.

Paul clearly spoke of this contrast in Romans, "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Rom 3:20-24

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

Aug 18,2020