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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Galatians 2

Verses 1-5

Defense of the Gospel

Galatians 2:1. In chapter 1, Paul has made clear that his apostleship is entirely independent of that of the twelve apostles. In chapter 2 he shows that the twelve explicitly recognized his special apostleship to the Gentiles. This was done while visiting Jerusalem, fourteen years after his last visit. The cause for this visit can be found in Acts 15. There you read about a discussion in Antioch which was organized because of the dispute about whether the believers from among the Gentiles have to keep the law. This is precisely the subject on which Paul writes to the Galatians.

The first Galatians 2:1 of Acts 15 sets the tone (Acts 15:1). People came from Judea to Antioch to tell the believers that in order to be saved, they had to be circumcised. This doctrine is totally contrary to the gospel of God that Paul preached. It added something to that gospel, and this is neither possible nor permissible. Hence Paul and Barnabas counter this doctrine. It was then decided that this controversy should be dealt with in Jerusalem, where Paul and Barnabas and some others would talk about it with the apostles and elders.

There was a reason why this dispute should be decided in Jerusalem and not in Antioch. In Jerusalem, where the apostles and the church in many respects kept the law, the freedom of believers from among the Gentiles had to be recognized. Otherwise there would have been the great danger that two types of churches were created: a church that kept the law, as in Jerusalem, and a church that was free from the law, as in Antioch.

Thankfully, God prevented that. The church is one unit and all local churches are to act in unity. That a division arose – even so soon after the establishment of the church – is the result of abandoning God's Word. Separation of local churches, with their own interpretations of the truth, is not in accordance with God's thoughts.

Galatians 2:2. Paul’s statement to the Galatians that he went to Jerusalem “because of a revelation” seems contrary to what we read in Acts 15:2. But these are two sides of the same thing. I can do something because I know that it is the will of God, while at the same time following the advice of brothers with whom I have spoken about it.

When Paul arrived in Jerusalem, he first went to the brothers who carried the responsibility amongst the believers. However, it was not to ask them if he was right, neither was it to call the gospel into question; he was totally convinced of his case. He was only looking for the support of the twelve in the defense of the gospel. Paul knew that if they agreed with the content of his preaching, the church in Jerusalem would be spared a division, and unity with the churches of the Gentiles would be preserved. His work would not have been in vain.

Galatians 2:3. To emphasize his words, he had taken Titus with him as a kind of a ‘test’. Titus was a Greek, and therefore a Gentile. It seems that pressure was put on Paul to circumcise Titus, but this had not been a demand of the church in Jerusalem. In this Paul had a practical case to support his preaching: that someone can be acknowledged as a believer, without imposing on him the demands of keeping the law.

In the case of Timothy, who had a Jewish mother, it was different. Paul circumcised him in order to give Timothy a better entrance to the Jews – not to gain him for Christ (Acts 16:1-Numbers :). Paul firmly rejects the idea that circumcision is a requirement for salvation. For us, this means that we must reject a preaching in which is stated that a man is saved by faith in Christ plus something else, such as good works or keeping the ten commandments.

Galatians 2:4. The need to defend the gospel arose because of the false brethren who had crept in – the enemies of the gospel. They wanted to rob the believers of their freedom in Christ by bringing them under the bondage of the law. No matter how you look at it: anyone who wants to keep the law, puts himself under the bondage of the law. In Acts 15:10 Peter calls the law “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear”. With this statement and what he further says, Peter unambiguously puts himself on the side of Paul. It is impossible to connect law with the gospel without losing the freedom that is in Jesus Christ.

Galatians 2:5. Therefore Paul does not deviate an inch for these people. Here he defends “the truth of the gospel” as the only truth in which God's grace shines through the finished work of Christ – a truth that is intended for all Christians, whether of Jewish or Gentile origin. Any value that man thinks to add to the gospel deprives it of grace.

That’s what the Jews do by adding the law and that’s what the Gentiles do by adding their philosophies. The latter is shown in the letter to the Colossians, where in chapter 1 we read about “the truth of the gospel” (Colossians 1:15), while in chapter 2 of that letter we are warned of philosophy (Colossians 1:8). Paul did not want this rich and unique gospel to be taken away from them. They should not compromise under any circumstances, but they must keep the gospel as a solid possession: the property of the Galatians (and ours as well).

Now read Galatians 2:1-5 again.

Reflection: In Acts 15, what is the occasion of the discussion in Jerusalem and what was the outcome?

Verses 6-14

Paul With and Against Peter

Galatians 2:6. Paul is still busily refuting the accusation of the false brethren that between him and the twelve apostles there could be no agreement. A rift between him and the apostles would of course be grist to those people’s mill (a potential advantage). Before Paul demonstrates how they totally agreed and that there is no question of a rift, he stresses again that he has received nothing from the twelve that he needed for his preaching. That’s why he also says: “Those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.” He means to say that the twelve and others too had found no lack in the content of the gospel he preached. They couldn’t add anything to his message.

Galatians 2:7. Paul received the authority for his preaching from Christ alone and not from the respected place the twelve had. By taking that stand he wasn’t denigrating them. He acknowledges the place they received from God and they acknowledge the place God gave him. Paul and the twelve didn’t preach a different gospel, but each got their own working area from God for his preaching, his own audience.

Galatians 2:8. God gave Paul a task among the Gentiles – the uncircumcised; to Peter and the others He gave a task among the Jews – the circumcised (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:13). In the same way God gives you a task in your own sphere – that is the area in which you live.

Galatians 2:9. It must have been a splendid scene, those five men standing there together. You see them standing, they shake hands together, committing themselves to preach the gospel to the world of both Jews and Gentiles. That is real ‘fraternity’. No jealousy, no competition, but together pursuing the same goal, together convinced of the necessity of preaching the gospel. (By the way: four of these five men have together written twenty-two of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.) By giving each other the right hand, they express their fellowship in the work for the Lord. From the side of the brethren in Jerusalem it also means that they acknowledge the special mission of Paul to the nations.

The difference in the working sphere between Paul and Peter is also an important matter with regard to the history of the church. How often it is said of Peter that he is the head of the church, while God by Paul founded His church among the Gentiles. The claim of the roman-catholic church for Peter to be ‘the first pope’ is therefore totally ill-founded.

Galatians 2:10. After the division of labor is confirmed, the five go their separate ways. The only request that is given to Paul has to do with the care of the poor. Nothing is said about the preaching of the Word. Here you can see how the great apostle is not only concerned for the soul, but also for the physical condition of the fellow believers. In Hebrews 13 and 1 Corinthians 16 the same thing is said to us (Hebrews 13:16; 1 Corinthians 16:2).

Galatians 2:11. In Galatians 2:11 you read about the third meeting between Paul and Peter, after the first one in chapter 1 and the second one in chapter 2 (Galatians 1:18; Galatians 2:1-2 Samuel :). But this meeting is not as friendly as the other ones. You may ask how it was possible that Peter started to act in such a way that Paul had to resist him publicly. After what God had shown to Peter in Acts 10 and after his own declaration in Acts 15 and after what he has acknowledged in Galatians 2, it is hard to understand why he is withdrawing from the Gentiles and siding with the Judaists. He does it, because he was “fearing the party of the circumcision”. In Proverbs 29 you read: “The fear of man brings a snare” (Proverbs 29:25).

I hope you know yourself a little. How often do we do or not do something out of fear of what others might say? We shouldn’t blame Peter too much, while at the same time we can also be grateful for the clear correction Paul gives. Paul understands what is happening. In the same way Paul confronted the false brethren, here he confronts a real brother when he makes the same mistake.

Galatians 2:12-2 Chronicles :. That Peter was wrong is clear. First he is very pleased that he can eat with the believers of the nations. Therewith he accepts that the difference is gone, just as he himself told in Acts 15 that God “made no distinction between us and them” (Acts 15:9). But now he is making this distinction again by separating himself. By this, what had been prevented in Jerusalem happens here: a schism is created. Now in fact there are two churches in Antioch: one for the Gentile Christians and one for the Jewish Christians.

This is not different to the divisions we see in Christianity today: people want a church to their own taste. We should be just as indignant about those divisions as Paul is here. Divisions don’t do any justice to the truth of the gospel; they conflict with the gospel.

We can add something else to Peter’s attitude here: you never walk alone if you go astray, away from God. You will always take other people with you. Peter is taking a lot of people with him (Galatians 2:13). The more prestige someone has, the more fatal are the consequences if he errs. Peter is a warning example. Paul is an encouraging example in his firm stand against the mistake that is made, even if it concerns someone like Peter.

The public reproof by Paul didn’t cause bad feelings with Peter. We can see that in the second letter Peter wrote. There he writes about “our beloved brother Paul” and draws the attention of his readers to “all his letters”, i.e. the letters of Paul (2 Peter 3:15-Nehemiah :), to which also belongs the letter to the Galatians. This is greatly to be praised in Peter and important for us to follow.

Now read Galatians 2:6-14 again.

Reflection: Which task and which work sphere did you receive from God?

Verses 15-21

Live by Faith in the Son of God

Galatians 2:15. Paul is still addressing Peter when he says that “we [are] Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles”. The difference between Jews and Gentiles was indicated by God. But what was the advantage of this difference for the Jews? Had they been, as God’s chosen people, faithful servants of God? Had they done what God in the law asked them to do? No! With them it had been precisely shown how they had transgressed the law. That’s why that same law had to condemn them. On the principle of works of the law every right to justification was lost. Peter realized and knew that. He had witnessed to that fact in Acts 15:10. Now that it seems he has forgotten that, Paul reminds him.

Galatians 2:16. In a long sentence he wants to persuade Peter (but also the Galatians and us!) that “no flesh”, so really nobody, neither Jew nor Gentile, will be justified on the principle of works of the law. It concerns not so much the ten commandments but everything which can be called “law”. By ‘law’ you not only have to think of your yoking someone (putting them under bondage: see Galatians 5:1), but also of yoking yourself by which you think you can please God if you succeed in accomplishing something you have put upon yourself as an obligation.

But that is not so! “A man”, that is to say somebody of the human race without differentiating between sex, origin or nationality, can only be justified by means of and on the basis of faith. A man also cannot be justified by a combination of faith and works. Faith and law exclude each other.

What actually does that mean: justified? Someone who is justified is acquitted of any conceivable accusation. That doesn’t happen because of a lack of evidence, but because he is seen as a person who never did something wrong; no suspicion rests on that person at all. How is that possible? Well, it says, “that we may be justified by faith in Christ”. God acquits of any accusation every person who believes in Christ, the One Who took all the guilt on Himself on the cross of Calvary and washed it away by the blood He shed.

God sees such a person as being made one with His Son. All sins are gone, sin has been judged. The sinner has become a child of God and God doesn’t see him as a sinner anymore. God grants him His own righteousness. As you see, this “being justified” happens completely without any action of man. It is an act of God (and not a process!) on the principle of faith.

Galatians 2:17. And what happens if someone like Peter, Barnabas, the Galatians and ten thousands of Christians today, want (again) to keep the law? Then they will make two things clear. In the first place they will say that it is wrong to give up the law as a way to be justified; to give up the law will be a sin. In addition they will say (and how serious this is!) that Christ is a minister of sin. Wasn’t it indeed Christ Who persuaded them to give up the law as a way to be justified? So now Christ brings them to sin by giving up the law? I hope you understand this. Paul rejects this argument with a powerful “may it never be!”

Galatians 2:18. ‘For’, so he continues, ‘if I first break down something because it was not good, but later on build it up again because it actually was good, then I indicate that I did wrong to break it down.’

Thereby he doesn’t say that the law is not good. In Romans 7 he clearly says: “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). How could it be possible that something which comes from God should be bad? What then is there which is not good? It is not good to use the law as a means to be justified. That’s not what God meant with the law! The law was given that man should see his sinfulness and acknowledge that he deserves death.

Galatians 2:19. That is exactly what Paul says, when he goes on: “For through the law I died to the law.” Thereby he acknowledges the judgment of death contained in the law. At the same time he says that from that moment on the law has nothing to say about him anymore. For what effect can the law have on someone who is dead? Is it possible to say to a dead person, ‘you shall’ and ‘you shall not’?

Galatians 2:20. In the magnificent Galatians 2:20 Paul explains how he died to the law and how it is with him now. That applies also to every man who is a child of God. I really hope that you can repeat this with all your heart. He says: ‘As to my old man, my old ‘I’, I am crucified with Christ; but I also have a new ‘I’, that is my new life, which I live by faith; therefore “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me”.’

With this last ‘I’ Paul means the ‘I’ of his personal responsibility. In the life of the believer there is always the tension between the old ‘I’ and the new ‘I’. This cannot be solved by fighting against the old ‘I’, but by remembering that the old ‘I’ is crucified with Christ. Further, you can find in the Son of God all the power needed to experience a rich life in faith. He gave Himself. You may look upon Him continuously. He loves you. Looking upon Him you always will find the power to “live to God”.

Galatians 2:21. Paul doesn’t set aside the grace of God. How would that be possible? Those people who want to maintain the law are exactly the ones who set aside God’s grace. Maybe they even say that you need grace to keep the law. But grace and law exclude each other, just like faith and law. It is God’s endless grace that Christ gave in death. If the law was a means for a man to attain to righteousness (or to be made righteous) then it wouldn’t have been necessary for Christ to have died.

Now read Galatians 2:15-21 again.

Reflection: Memorize Galatians 2:20.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Galatians 2". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.