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Bible Commentaries

Gaebelein's Annotated Bible

Galatians 2

Verses 1-21


1. How Jerusalem had Confirmed the Gospel Paul Preached. (Galatians 2:1-10 )

2. Peter’s Failure; Paul’s Rebuke and Testimony. (Galatians 2:11-21 )

Fourteen years passed by before he ever saw Jerusalem again. What wonderful years of service these years were! The great servant of Christ had preached the divine message in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. The day of Christ will reveal the blessed results of these years. Acts 15:1-41 must be read to see why Paul and Barnabas went up to Jerusalem. The same false teachers had visited the great Gentile center, Antioch, and taught “except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” Then Paul and Barnabas were appointed to go to Jerusalem to lay this question before the apostles and elders. Here the additional information is given that Paul went up by a direct revelation from God. It shows his dependence on the Lord. They also took Titus with them, who was a Gentile believer and not circumcised. He was acknowledged as in Christian fellowship and not compelled to be circumcised. This, in itself, was sufficient evidence that the apostles in Jerusalem did not sanction the teaching that circumcision is necessary for salvation. Paul communicated to the leaders in Jerusalem the Gospel which he preached among the Gentiles. He did so privately first, for there was grave danger of a division in the body of Christ which he wanted to avoid; he did this so that he might not run in vain. In all this he manifested a gracious spirit. But when the false brethren introduced their perverted gospel to bring him and his fellow-laborers into bondage, he did not yield to them for a moment, but contended earnestly for the faith “that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you.” The result was the full confirmation of the Gospel Paul preached, by James, Cephas and John, who gave to him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. The pillars of the church, as these three Apostles are called, recognized the fact that the gospel of the uncircumcision had been committed unto Paul, as the gospel to the circumcision was Peter’s calling and ministry. Both apostleships were from God and depended upon His gift. Thus the Apostle Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles, to whom was also committed the truth concerning the church, in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile, one body with Christ as the Head.

“It is evident that these facts are of great importance in the history of the church of God. How often have we not heard Peter spoken of as head of the church. That Peter, ardent and full of zeal, began the work at Jerusalem, the Lord working mightily by his means, is certain; we see it plainly in scripture. But he had nothing to do with the work carried on among the Gentiles. That work was done by Paul, who was sent by the Lord, Himself, and Paul entirely rejected the authority of Peter. For him, Peter was but a man; and he, sent by Christ, was independent of men. The church among the Gentiles is the fruit of Paul’s, not of Peter’s work, it owed its origin to Paul and to his labor, and in no way to Peter, whom Paul had to resist with all his strength, in order to keep the assemblies among the Gentiles free from the influence of that spirit which ruled Christians, who were the fruit of Peter’s work. God maintained unity by His grace; had He not kept the church, it would have been divided into two parts, even in the days of the Apostles themselves” (Darby, Epistle to the Galatians).

This confirmation of Paul and the gospel he preached was a complete answer to the false claims and accusations of the enemies of the apostle.

A more serious matter is next brought to our attention. It shows the failure of Peter and how he had compromised the truth of the gospel. This exposure was necessary, for the false teachers claimed for Peter a special place of authority as if he were the perfect apostle, whose words and actions were next to infallible. The perverted gospel which teaches law-keeping and ordinances as necessary means for salvation, puts up man as authority and looks to man and not to the risen and glorified Lord. The Judaistic claims of Peter’s superiority was the starting point of the Romish system, which asserts that Peter occupied a place as the visible head of the church in Rome, and which has culminated in the wicked assumption that the popes are the infallible vice-regents of Christ on earth.

Peter had visited Antioch and Paul had to withstand him to the face, for he was blameworthy.

Coming to Antioch, where Peter found a large Gentile church he there enjoyed his liberty in Christ; he ate with the Gentiles, realizing that the middle wall of partition was broken down (Ephesians 2:14 ) and that believing Jews and Gentiles were one in Christ. All went well till some from James in Jerusalem showed themselves in Antioch. Then Peter, afraid of opposition, not because he thought in the least that he was wrong, separated himself, leaving them which were of the circumcision. His example led the other Jewish believers to dissemble likewise with him and even Barnabas joined in and, as a result, the unity of the Spirit was given up and the truth of the gospel marred. And Paul when he saw that they walked not uprightly, according to the truth of the Gospel, rebuked Peter before them all. The leaven of the Pharisee, hypocrisy, is manifest in Peter’s action. He wanted to appear before those who were still Jewish in their customs and sentiments as being in sympathy with them, and therefore he gave up his liberty in Christ, which he knew was according to the truth of the gospel. Paul rebuking Peter in public shows that Peter had not the least authority over Paul.

“If thou, being a Jew, livest as do the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” These are the words Paul addressed to Peter. Why should Gentiles be forced to live as Jews, when Peter, being a Jew, had lived as the Gentiles? Galatians 2:15-18 reveal the fatal consequences of Peter’s action. He shows that Peter was a transgressor by building again what he had destroyed (Galatians 2:18 ). How had Peter done so and what suggested the question “Is, therefore, Christ the minister of sin?” (Galatians 2:17 ). When Peter refused to eat with the Gentiles he went back to the law and was thereby attempting to be justified by works; he was building again the law. But, previous to that, he had abandoned the law as a means of justification before God and he had believed in Jesus Christ to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law. He had found out that “by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” By building again the system of the law, which he had given up as unable to justify him, he made himself a transgressor, because he had left it. Inasmuch as it was Christ who had led him to do this--was, then, Christ a minister of sin? God forbid. It was the doctrine of Christ which had made him a transgressor in giving up the law; for in building it again and going back to it he acknowledged that he was wrong when he had rejected it as a means of justification. This is the argument of these verses.

The concluding verses of this chapter give the truth of the position of a believer in Christ who is justified by faith. It is Paul’s individual testimony which every believer in Christ may repeat, for what was the apostle’s position is ours also. “For I through the law died to the law, that I might live unto God.” The law had pronounced the sentence of death and condemnation upon him and, through the law he had died to the law. But the sentence of the law was executed upon him in the person of Christ, who took the curse of the law, the condemnation, upon Himself, and believing in Christ he had died as to the old man. The law had slain him, but Christ had died in his stead, and thus he had died to the law, for the law only has dominion over a man as long as he lives. Death, the death of Christ, had freed him from the dominion of the law. As having died with Christ, he was dead to the law. (Romans 6:1-23 ; Romans 7:1-25 gives us the doctrine concerning these blessed facts of being dead to the law and delivered from the power of sin.)

All this is true of every believer. The great and precious truth of being dead with Christ and living unto God is blessedly stated in Paul’s triumphant declaration, “I was crucified with Christ.” (Not “I am crucified”; not in the sense of living as crucified with Christ, etc., but “I was crucified,” put to death as to the old man, when Christ died.) The death of Christ has not only set the believer free from the guilt of sins, but has also put him to death as to the old man and delivered him from the power of sin in the flesh. “Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be annulled, that we should no longer serve sin” (Romans 6:6 ). Then follow the other equally blessed statements: “Nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Dead to sin and the law, the believer no longer lives in his old life, but he has another life, which is Christ--”Christ liveth in me.” It is that life which we receive, believing on Him.

The principle which governs this life is not the law principle, but it is a life lived in the faith of the Son of God. “All life in the creature has an object--we cannot walk without one. If the Lord Jesus is our life, He is also, personally, the object of the life, and we live by faith in Him. The heart sees Him, looks to Him, feeds upon Him, is assured of His love, for He gave Himself for us. The life that we live in the flesh, we live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us. Happy certainty! Blessed assurance! It is a new life, the old man is crucified, and Christ, whose perfect love we know, is the sole object of faith and of the heart.”

“It is this which always characterizes the life of Christ in us: He Himself is its object--He alone. The fact, that it is by dying for us in love that He who was capable of it, the Son of God--has given us thus freed from sin this life as our own, being ever before the mind, in our eyes He is clothed with the love He has thus shown us. We live by faith of the Son of God, who has loved us, and given Himself for us. And here it is personal life, the individual faith that attaches us to Christ, and makes Him precious to us as the object of the soul’s intimate faith.” (Synopsis)

And then the conclusion. “I do not frustrate (set aside) the grace of God; for if righteousness is by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (or: has died for nothing). If righteousness can be obtained by works, by a self-made character, or through keeping ordinances, then the death of Christ was superfluous and the grace of God is set aside. Christ is dead in vain if there is any other way to obtain righteousness than by faith in Him and through the grace of God.

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Bibliographical Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Galatians 2". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". 1913-1922.