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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 2

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 11-21


The first of the three major sections of the epistle begins here. We could classify them as history (Galatians 1:11 to Galatians 2:21), theology (chs. 3-4), and ethics (Galatians 5:1 to Galatians 6:10).

". . . Paul was . . . following the logic of the Christian life: Because of who God is and what he has done (history) we must believe what he has said (theology) in order to live as he commands (ethics)." [Note: Ibid., p. 66. Cf. C. K. Barrett, Freedom and Obligation, p. 3.]

Verse 1

From Acts 11:25-26 we learn that Barnabas brought Paul back from Cilicia to assist in the ministry in Antioch. Paul was living there when he visited Jerusalem with Barnabas.

". . . this is the third in a series of ’then’ clauses Paul stitched together to form an airtight argument for his apostolic independence from the Jerusalem church (cf. Galatians 1:18; Galatians 1:21)." [Note: George, p. 135.]

Probably Paul calculated his 14 years from his conversion rather than from his first visit to Jerusalem (cf. Galatians 1:18). Paul visited Jerusalem at least five times, and the visit described here seems to have been his second (Acts 11:27-30). [Note: See Stanley D. Toussaint, "The Chronological Problem of Galatians 2:1-10," Bibliotheca Sacra 120:480 (October-December 1963):334-40; George Ogg, The Chronology of the Life of Paul pp. 56-57; Bruce, pp. 108-9; Joe Morgado Jr., "Paul in Jerusalem: A Comparison of His Visits in Acts and Galatians," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37:1 (March 1994):55-68; Fung, pp. 9-28, 86; Tenney, pp. 79-82; and Campbell, p. 593.] It was not his third visit to participate in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-29). [Note: Advocates of this view include R. Jewett, Dating Paul’s Life, pp. 52-54; and Everett F. Harrison, "The Epistle to the Galatians," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, pp. 1287-88.] This seems clear from Paul’s statement that it was a private meeting (Galatians 2:2).

Paul’s visits to Jerusalem
1. The visit after he left Damascus (Acts 9:26-30; Galatians 1:18-20)
2. The famine visit (Acts 11:27-30; Galatians 2:1-10)
3. The visit to attend the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-29)
4. The visit at the end of the second missionary journey (Acts 18:22)
5. The final visit that resulted in Paul’s Caesarean imprisonment (Acts 21:15 to Acts 23:35)

The references to Barnabas (Galatians 2:1; Galatians 2:9; Galatians 2:13) suggest that the readers knew him. If Paul wrote this epistle to Christians living in South Galatia, they probably knew Barnabas as Paul’s fellow missionary to them on Paul’s first missionary journey. [Note: See Richard Bauckham, "Barnabas in Galatians," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 2 (January 1979):61-70.]

Titus was a Gentile believer (Galatians 2:3) and one of Paul’s faithful disciples in ministry. When Paul wrote this epistle Titus was apparently living in Antioch. Later Titus represented Paul to the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 2:12-13; 2 Corinthians 7:5-16), to the Jerusalem church (2 Corinthians 8:6-24; 2 Corinthians 9:3-5; 2 Corinthians 12:18), and to the Cretan church (Titus 1:5).

Titus "possessed considerable people skills . . . and was a man of unquestioned integrity, especially with regard to financial resources." [Note: Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin Jeremiah , 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, p. 273.]

Verses 1-10

B. Interdependence with other apostles 2:1-10

Paul related other events of his previous ministry, specifically his meeting with the Jerusalem church leaders. He did so to establish for his readers that although he was not dependent on anyone but God for his message and ministry, he preached the same gospel the other apostles did.

"While chapter 2 continues Paul’s defense of his apostolic authority and the gospel he preached, he focused not on the source of his message but on its content." [Note: Campbell, p. 593.]

Verse 2

The first reason Paul went to Jerusalem evidently stemmed from one of two events. Agabus’ vision of an impending famine and the Antioch Christians’ consequent desire to send a gift to their hungry Jerusalem brethren may have prompted his visit (Acts 11:27-30). On the other hand Paul may have received a vision himself. In either case a divine revelation was one factor that moved Paul to visit Jerusalem then.

Paul’s fear that he "should run . . . in vain" (lit.) may seem to refer to concern that the Jerusalem apostles upon hearing what he had been preaching would disapprove of it. However this cannot have been his fear. He previously said he was absolutely certain that his gospel, which came to him by special revelation, was the true gospel (Galatians 1:11-12). He also said he did not need to get it approved by the other apostles (Galatians 1:16-17). It seems rather that Paul feared that if he did not contact the Jerusalem apostles (Peter, James, and John) his critics might undermine his evangelistic work. They might point to the fact that Paul had had no fellowship with the Jerusalem apostles. They might go on to suggest that there was no fellowship because there was a difference of opinion between Paul and the other apostles over the gospel message. To avoid this possibility Paul met with Peter, James, and John privately. They may have met in private because Paul was a wanted man in Jerusalem at this time, and a public meeting could have resulted in more harm than good.

There may have been at least two other reasons for this meeting.

". . . positively expressed, his concern was to assure that they would recognize his converts as genuine Christians and members of the Church. He was concerned, in other words, with officially securing the freedom of the Gentiles from the requirements of the law and their equality of status with Jewish Christians.

"Implicit in this concern for Gentile freedom was concern for the unity of the Church: Paul’s anxiety was not lest refusal of recognition on the part of the Jerusalem authorities should thereby render his own work invalid and his Gentile Christians non-Christian, but lest such refusal should bring about a rupture of the one Church into two separate branches of Jewish and Gentile Christianity" [Note: Fung, p. 90.]

Verse 3

Paul’s fear was not that he had been preaching an erroneous gospel. It was that the false teachers who were saying Gentile converts had to become Jews before they could experience justification might undercut his work (cf. Acts 15:1).

". . . Paul could never tolerate any presentation of Christianity which regarded it as a form of Judaism." [Note: Guthrie, Galatians, p. 67.]

James, Peter, and John agreed with Paul, the proof of which was their willingness to let Titus remain uncircumcised. Circumcision was a rite by which Gentile males became Jewish proselytes.

"Within the crosscurrents of political messianism and apocalyptic speculation, the idea grew that the Messiah would only come when the Holy Land had been purified of all uncircumcised Gentiles." [Note: George, p. 143.]

Verses 4-5

Galatians 2:4 introduces another reason Paul went up to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1). Evidently representatives of the false teachers (counterfeit Christians) had entered Paul’s arena of ministry representing themselves as true Christians. But they had opposed what Paul had taught. Their intent was to bring Paul and all other preachers and hearers of the true gospel into bondage by imposing circumcision as a condition for salvation. They were not successful. The truth of the gospel means "the gospel in its integrity . . . the doctrine of grace." [Note: Lightfoot, p. 107.] The liberty to which Paul referred is not freedom in the abstract, but a liberty that believers have in Christ Jesus. [Note: Morris, p. 69.]

"It thus emerges that the interlopers were sham-Christians precisely because they had not really grasped the fundamental principle of the gospel-justification by faith apart from works of the law." [Note: Fung, p. 94.]

Verse 6

Paul’s reference to James, Peter, and John may sound a bit insolent, but his point was that they were not superior as apostles to him as an apostle. They contributed nothing to his authority or message.

"The repetition of the expression ’men of high reputation’ from Galatians 2:2 (where NEB has ’men of repute’ for the same Greek expression [hoi dokountes]) seems to indicate that it is a title given by the Jerusalem church to its leaders, which Paul uses, possibly with a tinge of irony, in depreciation of the arrogant and extravagant claims which the Judaizers were making for the Jerusalem leaders." [Note: Ibid., p. 95.]

The expression "allows Paul both to acknowledge the fact that these men possess authority and power and to remain at a distance with regard to his own subservience to such authority." [Note: Betz, p. 92.]

Verses 7-9

James, Peter, and John did not seek to change Paul’s message. They agreed with it. They shook hands in agreement over the gospel even though the focuses of their ministries were different. The Greek word stylos, translated "pillar," can also mean "tent-pole."

"Peter was the great missionary. Hence, when Paul is speaking of the ministry to the Jews, Peter is prominent and James is not mentioned (vv7, 8). In dealing with a particular and official act of the Jerusalem church, however, James (who apparently presided at the council) is mentioned in the first position with the names of Peter and John following." [Note: Boice, p. 444.]

The "grace" given to Paul (Galatians 2:9) refers to his apostleship to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; cf. Galatians 1:16; Romans 1:5; Romans 12:3; Romans 15:15; 1 Corinthians 3:10; Ephesians 3:8; Philippians 1:7).

"In Paul’s eyes the compelling logic of the Christ-event pointed to the supersession of the age of law by the age of the Spirit (Galatians 3:13 f.); it was because there was now [still] but one way of justification for Jews and Gentiles alike-justification by faith (cf. Romans 3:29 f.)-that ’in Christ Jesus’ there was ’neither Jew now Greek’ (Galatians 3:28)." [Note: Bruce, p. 124.]

"While every Christian has an important role to play in missions and evangelism, we must never forget that Jesus himself is the great Missionary, the Son who has been sent from the Father; and the Holy Spirit is the true Evangelist, the divine One who convicts and converts." [Note: George, p. 163.]

Verse 10

The only point James, Peter, and John made was that Paul should not neglect the poor in his ministry. Paul had already made a commitment to do this. This could be a shorthand reference to the poor saints in Jerusalem. [Note: Ibid., p. 165; Fung, p. 102.] Or it could simply be a reference to the poor in general.

"Thus the events of Paul’s second post-conversion visit to Jerusalem, like the events of his life both before and after his call by God, substantiate his claim that he received both his gospel and his apostleship directly from the risen Lord. If the earlier set of events supports this by showing that there was never a time when he was in a position to have derived his gospel and apostolic commission from the Jerusalem leaders, the events of the second visit support it by showing the full recognition given by those leaders to the gospel and apostolic office which already were his prior to the meeting of the two parties. A third major support will be furnished by the Antioch incident (Galatians 2:11-21). [Note: Ibid., p. 104.]

This section helpfully illustrates the diversity within the unity of Christ’s body. Different Christians can minister to different segments of humanity and to people in different regions. Nevertheless there must be unity in the message we proclaim. Paul expounded other types of differences that exist within the body elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g., Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 12:28-31; Ephesians 4:1-16; et al.).

Verse 11

Peter had shaken hands with Paul in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). However when Peter came to Antioch (of Syria) Paul opposed him. Luke did not record this later event in Acts, and we cannot date it exactly. It may have happened shortly after Paul and Barnabas returned from Jerusalem to Antioch or, less likely, after the Jerusalem Council (cf. Acts 15:30). I think the second possibility is less likely because I believe Paul wrote Galatians before the Jerusalem Council, as explained above.

Verses 11-21

C. Correction of another apostle 2:11-21

Paul mentioned the incident in which he reproved Peter, the Judaizers’ favorite apostle, to further establish his own apostolic authority and to emphasize the truth of his gospel.

Verses 12-13

Peter ate with the Christians at Antioch, who were both Jews and Gentiles, until some Jewish visitors came from Jerusalem (cf. Acts 10:28; Acts 11:3). They were from the group that believed Gentiles needed to undergo circumcision before they could become Christians. They were not "from James" in the sense that James endorsed their views; he did not (Galatians 2:9). Perhaps they came from the same church as James. When these men-Paul did not call them brethren-came, they intimidated Peter. He gradually separated from the Gentile Christians, evidently to avoid conflict. The other Jews living in Antioch followed Peter’s example, as did Barnabas. They were being hypocritical, saying one thing and doing another. Peter had a tendency to compromise his convictions when he was under pressure (cf. Matthew 16:16-23; Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-18; John 18:25-27).

"It is perhaps curious that nobody seems to have recalled that Jesus ate ’with publicans and sinners’, which can scarcely mean that he conformed to strict Jewish practice." [Note: Morris, p. 77. Cf. Mark 7:19.]

Verse 14

Why did Paul not follow the procedure for dealing with an erring brother that Jesus had specified (Matthew 18:15)? He obviously knew about it (cf. Galatians 6:1). He may have done so before rebuking Peter publicly, but since the offense was public the rebuke also needed to be public. In ministry it is frequently difficult to know whether to follow Matthew 18:15 or 1 Timothy 5:20 in dealing with people who need correction. Normally we should start with a private rebuke (Matthew 18:15) and then, if unsuccessful, proceed to public confrontation (Matthew 18:16-17).

Paul probably rebuked Peter publicly because Peter’s behavior had influenced many other people. He criticized Peter for inconsistency. Peter had also cast doubt on the truth that God accepts Jews and Gentiles equally, thus playing into the hands of the Judaizers. In addition, he was insulting his Gentile brethren and acting contrary to his own convictions.

The weaker brethren in Jerusalem may have concerned Peter. The Gentile brethren in Antioch whom Peter made to look and feel like second-class Christians by his behavior concerned Paul. Peter and Barnabas may have felt they needed to become all things to all men to win some (1 Corinthians 9:22). Paul saw that their behavior was implying a difference between Jewish and Gentile Christianity. This was as much a threat to Gentile liberty as the intrusion of the false brethren (Galatians 2:4).

Peter and Paul both acknowledged the equality of Jews and Gentiles in the church (cf. Acts 11:17). However it evidently took Peter longer to see the practical implications of this truth and to apply them to his conduct.

Verses 15-16

Some interpreters believe Paul’s words to Peter continue through the end of chapter 2 (e.g., NASB, NIV, NKJV). [Note: See also The New Scofield Reference Bible note.] Others believe they end with Galatians 2:14 (e.g., RSV, NRSV, NET). It seems more likely to me that they end with Galatians 2:14.

"This verse [15] and the next form a single, overloaded sentence in the Greek; they have been aptly described as ’Paul’s doctrine of justification in a nutshell’ . . ." [Note: Fung, p. 112. His quotation is of W. Schmithals, Paul and James, p. 73.]

Unsaved Jews regarded Gentiles as "sinners." Paul ironically referred to them as that since Peter was discriminating against them by behaving as he had.

"This characterization at once focuses attention on the sharp distinction between Jew and Gentile, for what made the Gentiles sinners in the estimation of the Jews was not only that they did not observe the law but also that they did not even possess it and consequently lacked the possibility of obtaining righteousness through it." [Note: Fung, p. 113.]

Paul went on to remind Peter that both of them knew that God does not justify people (declare them righteous) because they keep the Mosaic Law, part of which involved dietary regulations.

". . . Paul’s recital of his address to Peter in Antioch is progressively colored by polemic against his Galatian detractors and, as it were, gradually shades into a theological discussion with his readers." [Note: Ibid., p. 105.]

". . . Paul intends by the phrase ’works of the law’ the Jewish way of life, described in Galatians 2:14 by the word iodaikos [like a Jew], characterized by exclusiveness and epitomized by the murder of Christ and the persecution of his followers, and argues that to return to that way of life would be to make Christ a servant of sin." [Note: R. G. Hamerton-Kelly, "Sacred Violence and ’Works of Law.’ ’Is Christ Then an Agent of Sin?’ (Galatians 2:17)," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52:1 (January 1990):62.]

Justification comes by believing in Christ, period (cf. Acts 16:31). Paul, Peter, and the other believers assembled had simply believed in Christ (cf. Job 9:1-2). Paul stated as a maxim that obedience to the Law never justified anybody (Romans 3:20). [Note: On Paul’s relationship to Judaism, see Heikki Raisanen, "Galatians 2:16 and Paul’s Break with Judaism," New Testament Studies 31 (October 1985):543-53.]

"This [Galatians 2:16] is one of the most important verses in the Epistle. . . .

"The threefold repetition of the doctrine of justification by faith in this one verse is important, because it shows the importance the apostle gives to the doctrine. Besides, the three phrases increase in emphasis." [Note: Boice, pp. 448, 449.]

"Justification should not be confused with forgiveness, which is the fruit of justification, nor with atonement, which is the basis of justification. Rather it is the favorable verdict of God, the righteous Judge, that one who formerly stood condemned has now been granted a new status at the bar of divine justice." [Note: George, pp. 191-92.]

"To be justified means to be declared righteous before God, that is, to enjoy a status or standing of being in a right relationship with God, of being accepted by him." [Note: Fung, p. 113.]

In Galatians 2:15-21 Paul was evidently answering charges that his critics had leveled against him. It would be easier for us to interpret these verses if we knew what those charges were. As it is we can only infer what they were from Paul’s answers.

Verses 17-18

Paul refuted the charge of the Judaizers that justification by faith led to lawless behavior. He said this made Christ, in effect, a promoter of sin. This could never be. If a Christian puts himself or herself back under the Law, the Law will show him or her to be a sinner since no one can keep the Law perfectly. These verses are a strong testimony that Christians are free from the requirements of the Mosaic Law.

What did Paul mean when he said "while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners" (Galatians 2:17)?

"Here he [Paul] may simply mean that when law-abiding Jews like Peter and himself cease to look to the law as the basis of their justification before God and find that justification in Christ instead, they put themselves effectively on a level with ’sinners of the gentiles’: they have, in that sense, ’been found sinners’-they themselves (kai autoi) as much as lesser breeds without the law. But this applies to all Jewish Christians, even to those who have not appreciated the law-free character of the gospel: by yielding faith to Christ they have in logic, if not in consciousness, abandoned faith in the law, and have had to take their place as sinners, utterly in need of God’s justifying grace." [Note: Bruce, pp. 140-41.]

". . . Paul is arguing that although it is true that in order to be justified in Christ it is necessary to abandon faith in the law as a means of salvation (premise 1) and hence to become sinners in the sense of being reduced to the level of the ’Gentiles and sinners’ of Galatians 2:15 (premise 2), the conclusion does not follow that Christ thereby becomes an agent of sin (in the sense of a promoter of actual wrongdoing), support for this statement being given in Galatians 2:18-20." [Note: Fung, pp. 119-20.]

The "For" at the beginning of Galatians 2:18 is probably coordinate with the "For" at the beginning of Galatians 2:19. Both verses give reasons "it must never be" (Galatians 2:17). Galatians 2:18 gives the hypothetical negative proof: actual transgression inevitably follows when the law becomes the authority in the believer’s life. Galatians 2:19 gives the actual positive proof.

Verse 19

This verse means that the Law condemns or kills everyone. If someone is dead, he has no more responsibility to what killed him. He is in that sense free (cf. Romans 7). He can from then on devote his energy as a resurrected person not to pleasing the Law but to pleasing God.

"By virtue of his incorporation into Christ (cf. Galatians 2:17) and participation in Christ’s death Paul has undergone a death whereby his relation to the law has been decisively severed and the law has ceased to have any claim on him (cf. Romans 7:4; Romans 7:6). But since the vicarious death of Christ for sinners was exacted by the law (cf. Galatians 3:13) and was ’first an affirmation of [the law’s] verdict,’ Paul’s death to the law through participation in Christ’s death can be said to be ’through [Gr. instrumental dia] the law." This death ’through the law . . . to the law’ means not only that the law as a false way of righteousness has been set aside but also that the believer is set free from the dominion of the law (under which there is transgression, Romans 4:15) for a life of consecration to God (cf. Romans 7:6)." [Note: Ibid., p. 123.]

Verse 20

"As a result of his participation in Christ’s death on the cross, Paul now explains . . ., the life he now lives is not lived by him-by the ’I’ of Galatians 2:19, the self-righteous Pharisee who based his hope for righteousness and salvation on strict observance of the law-but by Christ, the risen and exalted One, who dwells in him." [Note: Ibid.]

When a person trusts Christ, God identifies him or her with Christ not only in the present and future but also in the past. The believer did what Christ did. When Christ died, I died. When Christ arose from the grave, I arose to newness of life. My old self-centered life died when I died with Christ. His Spirit-directed life began in me when I arose with Christ. Therefore in this sense the Christian’s life is really the life of Christ. [Note: See Robert L. Saucy, "’Sinners’ Who Are Forgiven or ’Saints’ Who Sin?" Biblitheca Sacra 152:608 (October-December 1995):400-12, for discussion of the Christian’s essential identity. See also Robert A. Pyne and Matthew L. Blackmon, "A Critique of the ’Exchanged Life,’" Bibliotheca Sacra 163:650 (April-June 2006):131-57.]

We can also live by faith daily just as we became Christians by faith (Galatians 2:16). Faith in both cases means trust in Christ. We can trust Him because He loved us and gave Himself up as a sacrifice for us.

In this verse Paul’s use of "crucified" instead of "put to death" or "died" stresses our sinfulness. Only the worst criminals suffered crucifixion in Paul’s day. His reference to "the flesh" here is literal. It means our physical bodies. We can see Paul’s great appreciation of God’s love for him. He said Christ loved "me" and gave Himself for "me."

"The whole of Christian life is a response to the love exhibited in the death of the Son of God for men." [Note: James Denney, The Death of Christ, p. 151.]

May we ever grow in our appreciation of the fact that He loved "me!"

"The man on the cross is facing in only one direction. He is not going back, and he has no further plans of his own." [Note: A. W. Tozer, "Total Commitment," Decision (August 1963), p. 4.]

"Nothing but love would have been a sufficient motive for God to send his Son to the cross, nor for the Son voluntarily to accept it." [Note: Guthrie, Galatians, p. 91.]

Verse 21

Paul concluded by affirming that he did not set aside the grace of God, as Peter had done by his behavior. Peter had nullified God’s grace by implying that it was not enough. He did this by putting himself back under the Law, saying in effect that obedience must accompany grace to make it sufficient. If that is true, Paul ended, Christ died needlessly. It is then really obedience that saves, not Christ. [Note: For another exposition of 2:15-21, see J. Dwight Pentecost, Pattern for Maturity, pp. 105-15.]

The final verses of this section (Galatians 2:18-21) form a bridge from Paul’s personal experience to his doctrinal explanation. In chapters 3 and 4 he continued his defense of faith alone as the only method of salvation.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Galatians 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/galatians-2.html. 2012.
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