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Bible Commentaries

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Galatians 2



Galatians 2:1,Galatians 2:2 Paul showeth for what purpose after many years he went to Jerusalem.

Galatians 2:3-5 That Titus, who went with him, was not circumcised, and that on purpose to assert the freedom of the Gentile converts from the bondage of the law.

Galatians 2:6-10 That no new knowledge was added to him in conference with the three chief apostles, but that he received from them a public acknowledgment of his Divine mission to the Gentiles.

Galatians 2:11-13 That he openly withstood Peter for dissimulation with respect to Gentile communion.

Galatians 2:14-20 Expostulating with him, why he, who believed that justification came by the faith of Christ, acted as though it came by the works of the law.

Galatians 2:21 Which was, in effect, to frustrate the grace of God.

Verse 1

Fourteen years after; either fourteen years after the three years before mentioned, and the fifteen days; or fourteen years after the conversion of Paul, or fourteen years after the death of Christ. This journey seeming to be that mentioned Acts 15:2, it seems rather to be understood of fourteen years after the death of Christ.

I went up again to Jerusalem: motions to Jerusalem are usually in Scripture called ascendings or goings up; either because of the mountains round about it, or in respect of the famousness of the place: see Acts 15:2; Acts 21:4. The occasion of this journey we have, Acts 15:1,Acts 15:2. It was to advise with the apostles and elders, about the necessity of circumcision; some that came from Judea having taught the disciples at Antioch, that except they were circumcised they could not be saved.

With Barnabas, and took This with me also; Barnabas was chosen to go with Paul, Acts 15:2, and some others, whom Luke nameth not, but it is plain by this text Titus was one.

Verse 2

And I went up by revelation; revelation signifieth God’s immediate declaration of his will to him, that he would have him take this journey; which is not at all contradicted by Luke, saying, Acts 15:2,Acts 15:3, that their journey was determined by the Christians at Antioch. God, to encourage Paul, had let him know it was his will he should go; and also put it into the Christians’ hearts at Antioch, to choose him to the journey. His motions from one place to another were much by revelation, or immediate order and command from God, Acts 16:9; Acts 22:18; Acts 23:11.

And communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles; he saith, he communicated, or made a report or relation of, (in which sense the word is used, Acts 25:14), that doctrine of the gospel which he had preached amongst the Gentiles; he, doubtless, more particularly means, the abolition of circumcision, and no necessity of the observance of the law of Moses contained in ordinances.

But privately to them which were of reputation; but he saith that he did it privately, and to men of reputation; by which he meaneth the apostles, or some other Christians of greatest eminency.

Lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain; lest he should have prejudiced himself, as to the course of the gospel, which he metaphorically compareth to a race: see 1 Corinthians 9:26.

Objection. If any ask how this influenced Paul, so as to make him privately to communicate the doctrine which he had amongst the Gentiles preached publicly? It is easily answered:

1. That the consent of those who were apostles before him to the doctrine which he preached, was of great moment to persuade all Christians to embrace it; and by this means he obviated the scandal of being singular in the doctrine which he preached.

2. Besides that Paul was now at Jerusalem, which was the chief place of the Jews’ residence, to whom God indulged a greater liberty for the ceremonial usages, than to the churches of the Gentiles, wlto had not been educated in that religion. And had Paul openly there declared the liberty of Christians from circumcision, and the ceremonial usages, he had both enraged those who as yet continued in the Jewish religion, and possibly given no small offence to those who had been educated in that religion, though they were converted to the faith of the gospel, they not fully yet understanding the liberty of Christians from that yoke. By one or both of which ways, had Paul openly at Jerusalem published the doctrine which he had publicly preached in Damascus and Arabia, and other places of the Gentiles, his labours might have been rendered useless, and he might also have been less successful in his further course of preaching it.

Verse 3

The apostle brings this as an instance of the apostles at Jerusalem agreeing with him in his doctrine, as to the non-necessity of circumcision; for though Titus was with him, who was a native Gentile, being a Greek, and a minister of the gospel, (and possibly Paul carried him with him for an instance), yet the apostles at Jerusalem did not think fit to impose upon him circumcision; no, not upon a solemn debate of that question. If any shall object that Paul himself circumcised Timothy, who was a Greek, Acts 16:1,Acts 16:3; the answer is easy, the same text letting us know that his mother was a Jewess, and that he did it because of the Jews in those quarters. As to the Jews, it was matter of liberty at this time, they might or might not be circumcised. Now in matters of this nature, where men have a liberty, they ought to have regard to circumstances, and to do that which they, from a view of circumstances, judge will be most for the glory of God, the good of others, and give least offence, 1 Corinthians 10:28-31.

Verse 4

He gives the reason why circumcision was not urged upon Titus, viz. because there were some got into that meeting, where Paul debated these things with the apostles that were at Jerusalem, who, though they had embraced the Christian religion, (and upon that account were brethren), yet were soured with the Jewish leaven, and were very zealous for all Christians to observe the Jewish rites of circumcision, &c.; upon which account it is that he calleth them

false brethren. These (he saith)

came in privily, to spy out that

liberty which all Christians had, and Paul had preached and used, as to these Jewish ceremonies; who, could they have obtained to have had Titus circumcised, they had had a great advantage to have defamed Paul, as teaching one thing to the Gentile churches, and practising the contrary when he came to Jerusalem to the apostles, and amongst the Jews. And this being a liberty which he and all Christians had, in and from Jesus Christ, he would not part with it, for they aimed at nothing but the bringing of Christians again under the bondage of the ceremonial law. Some may say: It being a thing wherein Christians had a liberty, why did not St. Paul yield to avoid their offence; becoming all things to all men to gain some?

Answer. In the use of our liberty, all circumstances are to be considered, as well as that of scandal and offence. The valuable opposite circumstance in this case, seems to be the validity and success of the apostle’s ministry, the efficacy of which would have been much weakened, if his enemies had from hence gained an advantage to represent him, as doing one thing in one place and the quite contrary in another. Besides, though at this time the use or not use of the ceremonial rites, by the Jews, was a matter of liberty, by reason of God’s indulgence to them for the prejudices of their education, yet whether they were at all so to the Gentile churches, may be doubted: see Galatians 5:2,Galatians 5:3. Further yet, these brethren urged the observation of these rites, as necessary to salvation, (as appears from Acts 15:1), for they were of the sect of the Pharisees, Galatians 2:5. And to use them under that notion, was no matter of liberty.

Verse 5

To these Judaizing Christians the apostle did not think fit to yield one jot, not for the least time, nor in so much as one precedent; having a desire that these Gentile churches might not be perverted. Or, (as others think), to which men of reputation we yielded not in the least. It is very probable, that Peter and James, upon their first arguing the case, to avoid the scandal and offence of the Jews, would have had Titus circumcised: St. Paul would not yield to it, that he might preserve the doctrine of the gospel, which he had planted amongst the Galatians, and other Gentiles, pure, and not encumber those churches with the Mosaical rites. But the most and best interpreters rather judge the persons here mentioned, to whom Paul would not yield, to be some Judaizing Christians, rather than the persons of reputation, mentioned Galatians 2:2.

Verse 6

But of those who seemed to be somewhat: the word translated seemed, is the same with that in Galatians 2:2, which we there translate of reputation. The apostle means the same persons that were of the greatest reputation, and so the following words,

to be somewhat, do import, Acts 5:36; Acts 8:9. We must not understand the apostle, by this expression, to detract from the just reputation that the apostles, and these eminent Christians at Jerusalem, had; he only taketh notice here of them, as magnified by the false teachers of this church, to the lessening of himself; and as those who seemed to be somewhat, must be interpreted as relating to these men’s estimation of them; that seemed to you to be somewhat, though I seem nothing to you.

Whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me; whatsoever they were formerly, suppose (as probably some of these Galatians had said) that they saw Christ in the flesh, were immediately called by him, when I was a Pharisee, &c.

God accepteth to man’s person; hath no regard to what a man hath been, but to what he is.

For they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me; when I came to confer and discourse with them, about the doctrine which I and they had taught, I learned no new doctrine from them, different from what I had before taught, neither did they reprove or correct me, for any thing which I had taught amiss; we were all of the same mind.

Verse 7

But contrariwise, when they saw; they were so far from contradicting any thing that I had preached, that when they understood from me, and Barnabas, {who Acts 15:12, declared in the council what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them} that the gospel of the uncircumcision, that the business of preaching the gospel to those who were no Jews, (for that is meant by

uncircumcision; not simply those that were not circumcised, for some of the heathens were circumcised, yet all go in Scripture under the name of uncircumcised),

was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; as the preaching of the gospel to the Jews was committed to Peter, and not to him only, but to James and John. It must not be so understood, as if Paul might not preach to the Jews, or Peter might not preach to the Gentiles, (for the contrary is evident from Acts 9:15, as to Paul, and from Peter’s preaching to Cornelius, Acts 10:1-48), but because God designed the Gentiles to be more especially the province for Paul to exercise his ministry in, Acts 26:17, (and accordingly he was specially sent out by the church, Acts 13:3), as Peter’s chief work was among the Jews.

Verse 8

As Paul’s call was equal to that of Peter both of them being Divine, so, saith the apostle, my ability and success was equal; as God

wrought effectually in and by Peter in the discharge of his apostleship in the province intrusted to him, (which was preaching to the Jews), so he wrought effectually and mightily in me, or by me, in the province wherein I was employed, viz. carrying the gospel to the Gentiles. This efficious working of God, both by Paul and Peter, was seen in the conversion of multitudes by their ministry, as well as in their miraculous operations, by which they confirmed the doctrine of the gospel which they preached.

Verse 9

James, (called, the less), the son of Alpheus, before called

the Lord’s brother, as is thought, because he was the son of the virgin Mary’s sister; whose naming here in the first place spoileth the papists’ argument for Peter’s primacy, because in some other places he is first named.

Cephas; that is, Peter, called here Cephas in the Syriac, possibly because he is named with others who had Syriac names; in most places he is by this apostle called Peter.

John, the apostle and evangelist, who is also known by the name of the beloved disciple.

Who seemed to be pillars; Paul, in saying they

seemed to be pillars, doth not deny them to be so; being such as God made use of in the first founding and building of the gospel church; as also to bear it up, (in the same sense that the church is called the pillar

and ground of truth), and as by them the gospel was carried out into the world; but he useth the word seemed, because the false teachers had magnified their ministry, but disparaged his. When these, he saith, perceived the grace that was given to me; by which, he either understands his office of apostleship or the crown and seal of his office in the blessing which God had given to his labours amongst the Gentiles.

They gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; they looked upon him and Barnabas as much pillars as themselves; and in token of it gave them their right hands, (a token of admitting into fellowship, 2 Kings 10:15; Jeremiah 1:15), and agreed that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision; that it should be their special work to go and preach to the Gentiles, as they (viz. James, and John, and Peter) would make it their special work to preach the gospel to the Jews.

Verse 10

These pillars and apostles, which have among you the greatest reputation, added no new doctrine to us, gave us nothing new in charge; they only desired us that we would be careful, wheresoever we went, to make collection for the poor Christians in Judea, who either by selling all they had to maintain the gospel in its first plantation, or by the sharp persecution which had wasted them, or by reason of the famine, were very low; nor was this any new thing, I had before done it, and was very forward to do it again, had they said nothing to us about it.

Verse 11

Of this motion of Peter’s to Antioch the Scripture saying nothing, hath left interpreters at liberty to guess variously as to the time; solne judging it was before, some after, the council held at Jerusalem, of which we read, Acts 15:1-41. Those seem to judge best, who think it was after; for it was at Antioch, while Barnabas was with Paul; now Paul and Barnabas came from Jernsalem to Antioch, to bring thither the decrees of that council; and at Antioch Barnabas parted from Paul; after which we never read of them as being together. While Paul and Barnabas were together at Antioch, Peter came thither; where, Paul saith, he was so far from taking instructions from him, that he

withstood him to the face. Not by any acts of violence, (though the word often expresseth such acts), but by words reproving and blaming him; for, (saith he) he deserved it,

he was to be blamed. Though the word signifies, he was condemned, which makes some to interpret it, as if Peter had met with some reprehension for his fact before Paul blamed him, yet there is no ground for it; for though the Greek participle be in the preterperfect tense, yet it is a Hebraism, and put for a noun verbal, which in Latin is sometimes expressed by the future, according to which we translate it; see 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15; 2 Peter 2:4 so our interpreters have truly translated it according to the sense of the text.

Verse 12

It should seem that Peter had been at Antioch some time; while he was there, there came down certain Jews from James, who was at Jerusalem: before they came Peter had communion with those Christians at Antioch, which were by birth Gentiles, and at meals eat as they eat, making no difference of meats, as the Jews did in obedience to the ceremonial law; but as soon as these zealots for the Jewish rites (though Christians) were come, Peter withdrew from the communion of the Gentile Christians, and was the head of a separate party; and all through fear of the Jews, lest they should, at their return to Jerusalem, make some report of him to his disadvantage, and expose him to the anger of the Jews.

Verse 13

The fact was the worse, because those Christians which were of the church of Antioch, having been native Jews, followed his example, and made a separate party with him. Nay,

Barnabas, my fellow labourer, who was joined with me in bringing the decrees of the council in the case,

was carried away with their dissimulation. So dangerous and exemplary are the warpings and miscarriages of those that are eminent teachers.

Verse 14

Uprightly, here, is opposed to halting. Peter halted between two opinions, (as Elijah sometime told the Israelites), when he was with the Gentiles alone, he did as they did, using the liberty of the gospel; but when the Jews came from Jerusalem, he left the Gentile church, and joined with the Jews; this was not according to that plainness and sincerity which the gospel required; he did not (according to the precept he held, Hebrews 12:13) make straight paths to his feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way. Paul not hearing this from the report of others, but being an eye-witness to it, doth not defer the reproof, lest the scandal should grow: nor doth he reprove him privately, because the offence was public, and such a plaster would not have fitted the sore; but he speaketh

unto Peter before them all, rebuking him openly, because he sinned openly; and by this action had not offended a private person, but the church in the place where he was, who were all eyewitnesses of his halting and prevarication, 1 Timothy 5:20.

If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews; if thou, who art a Jew, not by religion only, but by birth and education, hast formerly lived, eat, and drank, and had communion with the Gentiles, in the omission of the observance of circumcision, and other Jewish rites, generally observed by those of their synagogues; (as Peter had done before the Jews came from from Jerusalem to Antioch);

why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? Why dost thou, by thy example, compel the members of a Gentile church to observe the Jewish rites? For compelling here doth not signify any act of violence, (Peter used none such), but the example of leaders in the church, who are persons of reputation and authority, is a kind of compulsion to those that are inferiors, and who have a great veneration for such leaders. So the word here used, αναγκαζεις, is used in 2 Corinthians 12:2, as also to express the force of exhortations and arguments. Of such a compulsion the word is used, Luke 14:23. Peter, by his example, and possibly by some words and arguments he used, potently moved those proselyted Jews, who were in communion with the churches of Galatia, to observe the Jewish rites: so that by this fact he did not only contradict himself, who by his former walking with the Gentile church had practically asserted the gospel liberty; but he also scandalized those Christians in these churches who stood fast in the liberty which Christ had purchased for them, and Paul had taught them; and also drew others away from the truth they had owned and practised. This was the cause of Paul’s so open and public reproof of him.

Verse 15

Jews by nature; born Jews, not only proselyted to the Jewish religion, (and so under an obligation to the observation of the Jewish law), but of the seed of Abraham, and so under the covenant made with him and his seed, as he was the father of the Jewish nation.

Not sinners of the Gentiles: the Gentiles were ordinarily called by the Jews sinners; though it appeareth that there were divers of them worshippers of the true God, and came up to Jerusalem to worship; for whose sake there was a peculiar court allotted in the temple, called: The court of the Gentiles. Yet not being under the obligation of the Jewish law, they went under the denomination of sinners by the Jews; and the most of the Gentiles were really sinners, and that eminently, (for such the word here used ordinarily signifieth), as the apostle describeth their manners, Romans 1:29-31.

Verse 16

Knowing that a man is not justified; we knowing that a man is not absolved from the guilt of sin, and declared righteous in the sight of God;

by the works of the law; by any kind of works done in obedience to the law of Moses, whether ceremonial or moral. For it is manifest that although this question about justification by works began about circumcision and works done in obedience to the ceremonial law, yet the determination of it extended further. For the apostle, by

the law, understands that law by which

is the knowledge of sin, Romans 3:20. Now the knowledge of sin, is neither only nor chiefly by the ceremonial law; nor did ever any of those, against whom the apostle argueth, think, that men could be justified by obedience only to the law contained in ordinances; nor could boasting be excluded, (which the apostle showeth, Romans 3:27, was God’s design in fixing the way of a sinher’s justification), if men might be justified by works done in obedience to the moral law; nor was it the ceremonial law only, the violation of which worketh wrath, Romans 4:15, or disobedience to which brought men under the curse, Galatians 3:10.

But by the faith of Jesus Christ; but we are justified by believing in Christ: not by faith as it is a work of ours, for that was denied before; nor by faith as a principal efficient cause, for in that sense it is God that justifieth; nor as a meritorious cause, for so we are justified by the blood of Christ; but by faith as an instrument apprehending and applying Christ and his righteousness.

Even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; we (saith the apostle) that are Jews, knowing this, have not only assented to the truth of the gospel proposition, but accepted of this way of salvation, and received the Lord Jesus; that we so doing, not trusting to the law, or any obedience of ours to it, might be absolved from the guilt of sin, and declared righteous before God.

For by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified; for no mortal man shall ever be absolved or declared righteous upon his own personal obedience to the law of God; being in the best imperfect, and much short of what the law requireth.

Verse 17

Some interpreters think, that the apostle here begins his discourse to the Galatians upon the main argument of his Epistle, viz. justification by faith in Christ; though others think it began, Galatians 2:15.

If, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners; if (saith the apostle) you make us grievous offenders in our expectation of being justified by Christ, and not by the works of the law, you make

Christ the minister of sin, who hath taught us this. But others think that the apostle here obviateth a common objection which was then made, (as it is also in our age), against the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ; viz. That it opens a door of liberty to the flesh, and so makes Christ a minister of sin, as if he relaxed men’s obligation to the law of God; which is the same objection which the apostle answered in his Epistle to the Romans, Romans 6:1-23. If while, we plead for justification by Christ, we live in a course of notorious disobedience to the law of God, then Christ must be to us a minister of sin, and come into the world to purchase for us a possibility of salvation, though we live in never so much notorious disobedience to the law of God. As if there were no obligation upon men to keep the law, unless by their obedience to it they might obtain pardon of sin and justification. This calumny the apostle disavows, first, by a general aversation:

God forbid!

Verse 18

By the things which he destroyed, some understand the state of sin; and from hence conclude the mutability of a state of justification: but there is no need of that, it may as well be understood of a constant course and voluntary acts of sin. If I teach a doctrine that shall encourage a sinful life, or if I should live in a course of sin, these are the things which I, as a minister of Christ, have in my preaching and doctrine destroyed, teaching you, that not only the guilt of your sins was removed upon your justification by Christ, but the dominion of sin also destroyed: and they are things which justification destroyeth; God never saying to any soul: Thy sins are forgiven thee, without adding, sin no more. So as, if a justified state would admit of a going on in a settled course of sin, it would build what it destroyed.

I make myself a transgressor; now should I, or any one, do any such thing, we should thereby make ourselves great transgressors. So as the apostle’s argument here seemeth to be the same with that, Romans 6:2; How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? He strives at the same thing here, viz. to prove that the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ, could not give a liberty to any to sin, because it shows persons made partakers of that grace, that they are freed, not only from the guilt, but also from the power and dominion of sin, so as that none can from it receive any comfort as to the former, nor find the latter wrought in them.

Verse 19

Through the law of Christ, as some say; or rather, through the law of Moses, of which he had been before speaking: that is, say some, through the death of the law; the law itself being dead, as a covenant of works, Romans 7:6. Or rather, by means of the law, giving me a knowledge of sin, and condemning me for sin.

Am dead to the law, as to any expectation of being justified by obedience to it.

That I might live unto God; not that I might live in disobedience to it, as it is a rule of life, but that I might live more holily unto God: so as my being dead to the law, as a covenant of works, or as to any expectation of being justified from my obedience to it, gives me no liberty to sin at all; for this is the end why God hath freed me from the bondage and rigour of the law, that I might live unto him, and serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness.

Verse 20

This Epistle is much of the same nature with that to the Romans, and the substance of what the apostle saith in the latter part of this chapter, agreeth much with Romans 6:1-23; where we find an expression much like to this, Galatians 2:6; Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

I am (saith the apostle) crucified with Christ; not only by justification made partaker of the benefits coming by a Christ crucified, but also as having communion with the death of Christ, in the mortification of my lusts. A figure of which (as he informs us, Romans 6:4) we have in baptism, buried with him by baptism into death.

Nevertheless I live; yet (saith he) I live a holy, spiritual life; though dead to the law, and though crucified with Christ.

Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; but I cannot say so properly that it is I, for my motions are not according to my natural propensions and inclinations; but Christ, by his Spirit, liveth in me, having renewed and changed me, made me a new creature, and begot new motions and inclinations in me. And though I live in the flesh, yet I live by the faith of the Son of God; all my natural, moral, and civil actions, being principled in faith, and done according to the guidance of the rule of faith in Jesus Christ.

Who loved me, and gave himself for me; of whom I am persuaded that he loved me, and from that love gave himself to die upon the cross for me.

Verse 21

I do not frustrate the grace of God; I do not despise, reject, make void, (for by all these words the word here used is translated, Mark 7:9; John 12:48; John 3:15; Hebrews 10:28), the free love of God, in giving his Son to die for our sins: from whence is easily gathered, that those who live a loose life, and take a liberty to sin, from their justification, or from the free grace of God in Christ, they do contemn and despise the grace of God: or rather, (if we refer it to the following words), those who assert justification by the works of the law, they do reject and despise the free grace of God in the gospel, and (as much as in them lies) make it vain and frustrate.

For if righteousness come by the law; for if it be possible, that a man by works done in obedience to the law should arrive at a righteousness, in which he may stand before God,

then is Christ dead in vain; then Christ died to no purpose, or without any just cause: the reason of this must be, because it was the main and principal end of Christ’s death, to procure or purchase a righteousness wherein sinners might stand before God, to bring in an everlasting righteousness, Daniel 9:24. If the most proper effect of the death of Christ be taken away, then his death is made causeless, and to no purpose. Thus the apostle concludeth his thesis, laid down Galatians 2:16; That none shall be justified by the works of the law, from two absurdities that would follow upon the contrary, viz. justification by the works of the law, the rejecting of the grace of God, and the frustration, or making void, of the death of Christ.

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Galatians 2". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.