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Bible Commentaries

Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Galatians 2

Verses 1-10

Galatians 2:1-2 Samuel : . A crucial negotiation on equal terms with the Jerusalem leaders, “ fourteen” years later— possibly reckoned from Paul’ s conversion; more naturally from his first interview with Peter. (The point is important for chronology and history (p. 654 ), but not for the study of Paul’ s teaching.) The occasion is stated as twofold: a Divine admonition, and a fear of “ running in vain.” Verbally, the last words might mean that Paul needed reassurance as to the legitimacy of his teaching. But Galatians 1:1 forbids that sense, absolutely! What he feared was that his future success might be imperilled, or even his past gains. The whole situation corresponds to Acts 15:1, and forbids attempts (p. 770 ) to identify Galatians 2:1 ff. with Acts 11:30 * ( Acts 12:25) or with a still earlier and otherwise unknown visit. Acts 11:30 is either a different tradition about the visit of Acts 15, or else is a blunder. It will not hold water to argue that persecution had driven apostles from Jerusalem, and that he only saw “ presbyters” ( Acts 11:30): he is asserting his independence of all human authority. The scene is Antioch. The career of Paul is at stake. He is naturally reluctant to seem to subordinate himself to Jerusalem; but God encourages him to go. And for the work’ s sake he is willing to risk anything; so he falls in with the Antioch church’ s proposal ( Acts 15:2), taking along with himself and Barnabas, as a test case, the uncircumcised Christian Titus (whom Acts nowhere names). Things cannot have developed altogether smoothly. Paul’ s excitement rises high. His words are scarcely intelligible. Some have understood (see Galatians 2:4 mg.; there is also some Latin evidence for a reading in Galatians 2:5 which omits the negative) that Titus was circumcised at Jerusalem. That is incredible. Unlike the half-Jewish Timothy, Titus was “ a Greek.” Still, we gather that something untoward befell him. Possibly he was excluded from communion in the Jerusalem church. Possibly the leaders told Paul that, if he pressed Titus’ s claim, they could not answer for the results in the existing state of feeling. Such minor successes the “ treacherous” emissaries, “ treacherously” introduced (at Antioch), could secure, but nothing substantial or compromising. [J. O . F. Murray makes the interesting suggestion that the “ false brethren” were not Jewish Christians They were Jews at Jerusalem, who acted as informers for the authorities, and under pretence of conversion to Christianity, gained admission to the Church in order to report any tendency to disregard “ the customs.” The leaders of the Church, aware of the danger, pressed Paul to let Titus be circumcised, dreading a fresh outbreak of persecution if an uncircumcised man were admitted to communion.— A. S. P.]

Paul’ s negotiations took place “ privately, with the leaders.” Grammatically, his language leaves room for larger assemblies at other moments. Such must indeed have been held. But probably his point is that the Jerusalem church as a church certainly did not lay down the law for him. The story may already have been current, as Luke has incorporated it in Acts; and evidently it was false. Paul dealt with the Three. James ( cf. Galatians 1:19) is first named; if not, as tradition calls him, bishop, yet he had become the local leader. But— Paul adds, in one of his most revolutionary sentences— even if “ once” ( mg.) the Three had been in personal association with Jesus, no importance attached to any outward position. The negotiations ended in recognition that God had called the Three to one task. Paul to another; in peaceful separation; the sole bond of union to be a Gentile collection on behalf of the poor Christian Jews of Jerusalem ( Acts 24:17, Romans 15:25 ff., 1 Corinthians 16:1 ff., 2 Corinthians 8 f.). It is not easy to make room in Paul’ s narrative (note especially Galatians 2:6) for the “ decree” of Acts 15:28 f.* (pp. 769 f.) on any view of its meaning. Was this decree a later manifesto from Jerusalem ( Acts 21:25), misdated in Acts 15?

Verses 11-21

Galatians 2:11-Ecclesiastes : . Excitement and consequent confusion rise higher still. In one sense, these verses record a climax; Paul is not merely Peter’ s equal— he had exposed him once when Peter was “ plainly in the wrong.” There is no ground for doubting that the order of time is followed. After the Jerusalem compact, Peter finds himself at Antioch (on a missionary tour? cf. 1 Corinthians 9:5). If Titus had been an outsider at Jerusalem, the tables are now turned, and Peter is the outsider. Following the dictates of his generous and impulsive heart, he comes inside. (One could not share communion in an apostolic church without joining in a solid meal.) But a deputation from James arrived, and found such conduct questionable. This was not a separation of spheres! Peter went round again, carried off with him all Jewish Christians except Paul, “ even Barnabas,” and consequently put severe moral pressure on the Gentiles to conform to Judaism. Paul appealed to Peter’ s own principles. Jewish Christians, whatever their temptation to despise Gentile “ sinners,” had come to Christ for salvation as sinners themselves (not unlike the speech of Peter, Acts 15:7-1 Kings :).

Galatians 2:16 . save through faith: Greek idiom, with its laxer logic, does not imply that works do something towards saving; the Revisers might have remembered English idiom! Follow mg.

At some indefinite point Paul’ s language glides from recapitulating what he had said to Peter into arguing with possible critics in Galatia. He quotes (with modifications in language, repeated again Romans 3:20) Psalms 143:2. An objector may say, “ Then Christ encourages sin.” Full-blown, the objection stands ( Romans 6:1): “ It doesn’ t matter how we live henceforth” ! The thought is here in the bud. Already Paul repudiates it with horror. No! if he were to go back to the Law he would be stamping himself as a sinner in the worse degree. (Law always condemns; and apart from law there is no full guilt; Romans 5:13.) The Law had done its right work with him in driving him to despair ( cf. Romans 7). He had mystically shared Christ’ s crucifixion and Christ’ s risen life; he had recognised Christ’ s unspeakable love. How could he set aside such grace? You do that, if you seek to be saved by law! Were such salvation possible, Christ’ s death was “ gratuitous.”

How did things end at Antioch? If communion had been renewed, would not Paul say so? Probably Peter slipped away dejectedly. And, when Paul left once more on missionary work, he had lost for life the company of Barnabas ( Acts 15:37 ff.; these verses doubtless state part of the truth as to the cause of the quarrel). Yet Paul, in after years, speaks well of Barnabas ( 1 Corinthians 9:6) and of Mark ( Colossians 4:10, Philemon 1:24, 2 Timothy 4:11). We can see, too, that he believes Peter’ s principles were on his side. Perhaps the strongest evidence that he felt victorious is his circumcising Timothy. That is the behaviour of one who could afford to be generous. It must have been an unwelcome surprise to hear of Judaizers in Galatia, and— in spite of Lake, pp. 219 ff.!— at Corinth.

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Galatians 2". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.