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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Galatians 2

Verses 1-21

Galatians 2:1-2 . Then fourteen years after, I went up again to Jerusalem, and took Titus, his fellow-labourer. Luke adds, “and others also.” Acts 15:2. We may gather from this, that Luke was of the company. I went up by revelation, says the apostle, or by a special direction from heaven. Strong remonstrances had been made by the deputation sent from Jerusalem, against the admission of the “multitude” of gentile converts into the church, without first subjecting them to the ceremonial law; and as this grand question concerned the peace of the whole christian church, the Holy Spirit directed them to settle it in full convocation at Jerusalem. Certainly, the Hebrew rites were for the Hebrews only, and for the willing converts from gentile nations. The time of this council is placed by Usher in the fifty first year of Christ.

Galatians 2:3 . But neither Titus, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. The case of Titus is pertinent, indicating the liberal disposition of the church in Jerusalem towards the gentiles.

Galatians 2:4-5 . False brethren to whom we gave place, no, not for an hour. These were the angels of light in the pay of the great synagogue, men who had pursued the apostles to destroy their work, and bring the gentiles into bondage. The noble soul of Paul would not allow those seducers to have a seat in the councils or conferences of the church.

Galatians 2:6 . But of these, who seemed to be somewhat; delicately omitting to say, James, Cephas, and John. Perhaps he puts James first, because he is thought to have been the bishop of the church. Δοκουντων , who were estimated to be somewhat, or as in Galatians 2:9, were considered as pillars of the church. In conference they added nothing to me; they used no arguments but what I already knew, and had fully considered.

Galatians 2:8 . He that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me towards the gentiles. In these words of confidence, we know not which to admire most, the noble and independent mind of Paul, or his generosity in the concession of more ministerial glory to Peter than to himself, it being more difficult to convert the jews to a crucified Redeemer, than to turn the gentiles from darkness to light. Paul we know, and without doubt, Peter was a great and able minister of Christ. But the spirit of the text is, to demonstrate the equal energy of the gospel to both jews and gentiles, rather than to illustrate the comparative merit of the preachers.

Galatians 2:11 . But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face. He does not blame him for living as a jew in Jerusalem, and as a greek in Antioch, for Paul invariably did the same. To the jews, he became a jew, that he might gain the jews; and among the greeks, he lived as the greeks. The point of reprehension was, the change of Peter’s mode of living on the arrival of brethren from Jerusalem, “who were all zealous of the law.”

Chrysostom is of opinion, that Paul reproved Peter privately; but that is a mere conjecture. The fathers agree with Paul, that Peter in this act of ecclesiastical prudence was fallible, which destroys the infallibility of Rome as with a thunder stroke. The certainty of Paul’s gospel depended neither on Peter nor James. He had received it from the Lord. Therefore he adds,

Galatians 2:19 . I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. The law came by Moses; it is a schoolmaster to prepare us for more enlarged disclosures of the divine will. The new law, the grace and truth by Jesus Christ, so absorbs my soul that I am dead to the law, being assured that righteousness never did, and never can come to sinful man by the legal code. “We,” on the contrary, “wait for the hope of righteousness by faith:”

Galatians 5:5.

Galatians 2:20 . I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live. The life of Christ infused into the soul of Paul, superseded the state of darkness, bondage, and sin, in which he had formerly lived; or the law of concupiscence which slumbers in the unregenerate heart. On the new life which Christ imparts, he uses various phrases, that a change so essential might be fully understood. He says, I live not, but Christ liveth in me. In other places he describes it as a life of devotion to the glory of God. Romans 6:10; Romans 14:7-8. 2 Corinthians 5:15. Augustine explains it by saying, that Christ is the life of the soul. Quickened with this life, and fed by the word of truth, we grow from babes to young men, and from young men to fathers in Christ.

Galatians 2:21 . I do not frustrate the grace of God, in the gospel; for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. What a decisive argument. It reminds us of the remarkable saying of the patriarch, “After my words they speak not again.” Job 29:22.


In this great and serious disputation, the liberation of the gentile converts from the ceremonial yoke, St. Paul discovers a noble and an independent mind. The false brethren were the hirelings of judaism sent to trouble the churches, to persuade them to be circumcised, that they might glory in their flesh, and return with triumph to Jerusalem: Galatians 6:13. These the apostle confounds by a case quite in point. When he took Titus to Jerusalem, the apostles received him as a brother minister, without compelling him to be circumcised, though the false brethren in Jerusalem had urged that point. We are emancipated from the bloody ritual, that we may be the more intent on true circumcision, which is that of the heart.

The next case in point is the conduct of St. Peter at Antioch. This holy apostle had eaten with gentiles in Cornelius’s house, being directed so to do by a vision from God. Acts 11:7. He had also written on the liberty of the gentiles. Acts 15:19-20. Now he ate with the gentile converts at Antioch; and whether he ate with the jews in Jerusalem, or with the gentiles in Antioch, he acted a fair part for the peace of the church. His fault was in carrying prudence too far. Peter was not equal to Paul in a natural decision of character; but at the same time we must have a little patience till men of weak eyes are able to bear the full light of day. In this mere excess of prudence evinced by St. Peter, it is entertaining to see how silent the great doctors of the church of Rome are in their comments on this passage. However clear the case might be in favour of St. Paul, the embarrassment of those men seems to decide that it was not quite clear in favour of St. Peter’s infallibility.

In the affair at Antioch we cannot too much admire the noble temper and excellent piety of St. Paul, who could not accommodate his conduct to the dissimulation of the jews. He spake the truth consonant to his mission among the gentiles; he spake it in the face of Peter, and the ministers of circumcision sent from James; and he extended a firm arm for the protection of the gentile converts.

St. Paul managed the disputation in a calm and excellent spirit. We are weak, we grow warm, and an excess of passion spoils the force of argument. It was otherwise with him, whom the spirit of life had freed from the law of sin and death. He through the law was dead, and consequently freed from ritual obligations, that he might live unto God. He was dead as to all hope of righteousness by the moral law, which only revived a sense of sin, and that slew him. Romans 7:9. He therefore sought righteousness and life by Christ only. Regarding the ritual law as a shadow of good things to come, he left the shadow for the substance, the circumcision of the heart, the washing of regeneration, and the atoning altar of Calvary. The law written on the heart far surpassed the Hebrew code. He was dead also to preferment, and all worldly hopes: these he accounted loss, and trampled upon them as dung, for the more excellent knowledge of Christ. He was dead to his own will, and crucified to the rudiments of the world, that he might live unto God. His soul was quickened to the resurrection and life of Christ, and he lived by faith in the Son of God. The Holy Spirit, as the fountain of life, refreshed his soul with a constant stream; and the emanations of love, joy, and peace, filled him with the earnest of heavenly glory.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Galatians 2". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.