Take your personal ministry to the Next Level by helping StudyLight build churches and supporting pastors in Uganda.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Galatians 2


A.M. 4056. A.D. 52.

Here, in prosecution of the design on which he had entered in the preceding chapter, the apostle

(1,) Informs the Galatians of his journey from Antioch to Jerusalem, and of his interview with the apostles there, who acknowledged the divine authority of his doctrine and mission, owned him as the apostle of the Gentiles, and received Titus, as an uncircumcised Greek, into their Christian communion, Galatians 2:1-10 .

(2,) He shows how he had publicly rebuked Peter himself at Antioch, for Judaizing, and how he had stood up in defence of the liberty of the church from Jewish impositions, Galatians 2:11-14 . He thence,

(3,) Takes occasion to enter on his proof of the doctrine of justification by faith, without the works of the Mosaic law, Galatians 2:15-21 .

Verse 1

Galatians 2:1. Then fourteen years after my conversion: I went up again to Jerusalem This seems to be the journey mentioned Acts 15:0., several passages here referring to that great council, wherein all the apostles showed that they were of the same judgment with him. From the history which the apostle gives of himself to the Galatians in the preceding chapter, it appears that from the time of his conversion, to his coming with Barnabas from Tarsus to Antioch, he had no opportunity of conversing with the apostles in a body, consequently in that period he was not made an apostle by them. And by relating in a similar way, in this chapter, what happened when he went up from Antioch to Jerusalem, fourteen years after his conversion, in company with Barnabas, he proves to them that he was an apostle before he had that meeting with the apostles in a body; for at that time, instead of receiving the gospel from the apostles, he communicated to them the gospel, or doctrine, which he preached among the idolatrous Gentiles: not because he acknowledged them his superiors, or was in any doubt about the truth of his doctrine, but lest it might have been suspected that his doctrine was disclaimed by the apostles, which would have marred his success among the Gentiles. And took Titus with me also Though he was uncircumcised, that I might therein show my Christian liberty, and assert that of my Gentile brethren, against those who are so zealous in their attempts to invade it. “This is the earliest mention that we meet with of Titus, for he is no where mentioned by St. Luke in the Acts; and what we read of him in the second epistle to the Corinthians, (2 Corinthians 2:13; 2Co 7:6 ; 2 Corinthians 7:14; 2 Corinthians 8:6,) as well as in that to Timothy, (2 Timothy 4:10,) was later by some years. He is here said to have been a Greek, (Galatians 2:3,) and being born of Gentile parents, was not circumcised; but where or when he was converted is uncertain; only we may conclude he was converted by Paul, from the title he gives him of his own son after the common faith, Titus 1:4; and as he now took Titus with him from Antioch to Jerusalem, so he employed him afterward on several occasions, and appears to have regarded him with great affection and endearment.” Doddridge.

Verse 2

Galatians 2:2. And I went up Not by any command from the apostles, nor to receive instructions in my work from them; but by revelation From God, directing me to go. The apostle does not say to whom the revelation was made: it might be made to Paul himself, or to some of the prophets then residing at Antioch. But this circumstance, that he went in consequence of a revelation, shows evidently that the occasion of the journey was of great importance. It was, therefore, as has been observed above, very probably the journey which, at the desire of the church at Antioch, Paul and Barnabas undertook for the purpose of consulting the apostles and elders in Jerusalem concerning the circumcision of the converted proselytes, of which we have an account Acts 15:0., &c., where see the notes. Some indeed have been of opinion, that the journey to Jerusalem here spoken of, was posterior to that council. But as there is no evidence that Paul and Barnabas travelled together any more after they returned to Antioch from the council, but rather evidence to the contrary,

(Acts 15:39,) that opinion cannot be admitted. And communicated unto them To the chief of the church in Jerusalem; that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles (See Acts 15:4,) namely, touching justification by faith alone; not that they might confirm me therein, but that I might preclude or remove prejudice from them. But privately to them which were of reputation Or to those of eminence, as the original expression here evidently signifies. He did not declare the doctrine which he preached publicly at first, but spoke severally to the apostles one by one; lest I should run, or should have run in vain That is, Lest, being suspected to preach differently from them, I should lose the fruit either of my present or past labours. For the other apostles might have greatly hindered the success of his labours, had they not been fully satisfied both of his mission and doctrine. In using the word run, the apostle beautifully expresses the swift progress of the gospel; and in speaking of running in vain, he alludes to a race, in which the person who loses the prize is said to run in vain.

Verse 3

Galatians 2:3. But neither Titus, &c. As if he had said, That the apostles, to whom I communicated the doctrine which I preach, acknowledged it to be the true gospel of Christ, is evident from this, that not even Titus, who was with, me, though a Greek, or converted Gentile, was compelled to be circumcised In order to his being received as a true member of the Christian Church; a clear proof that none of the apostles insisted on circumcising the Gentile believers. The sense seems to be, It is true, some of those false brethren would gladly have compelled Titus to be circumcised, but I utterly refused it. And that because of false brethren That is, I was averse to, and opposed the circumcision of Titus, because the Jews, who professed the Christian religion, yet urged the observation of the ceremonial law as necessary to salvation, (Acts 15:1,) and so were real enemies to the gospel. Or, the sense may be, that Titus was not compelled, by the apostles and elders of Jerusalem, to be circumcised, on account even of the false brethren, who, when they found that Titus was not circumcised, complained of Paul to his brethren apostles on that account. Unawares brought in Made members of the church at Jerusalem upon their great pretences to piety, without due consideration and trial; who came in privily To our meetings at Jerusalem; to spy, &c. To find out and condemn our freedom from the law of Moses, which we Gentiles have obtained by Christ Jesus’s gospel. Or, as some explain the clause, these false brethren had got themselves introduced secretly, that is, by persons that did not know their real character, into the meetings which Paul had with the apostles, to observe whether he would stand to the defence of that liberty from the ceremonial law before the apostles, which he preached among the Gentiles. That they might bring us into bondage That in case I had not maintained our liberty, they might thence take occasion to bring back the Christian Gentiles, and whole church, under the yoke of the ceremonial law. To whom we gave place, no, not for an hour Yielded to them in allowing the ceremonies, in no degree. With such wonderful prudence did the apostle use his Christian liberty; circumcising Timothy, (Acts 16:3,) because of weak brethren, but not Titus, because of false brethren; that the truth of the gospel The true genuine gospel, or the purity of gospel doctrine; might continue with you And other churches of the Gentiles. So that, as if he had said, we defend for your sakes the privileges which you would give up.

Verses 6-8

Galatians 2:6-8. But of those who seemed to be somewhat Who were most esteemed among the apostles; whatsoever they were How eminent soever; it maketh no matter No difference; to me So that I should alter either my doctrine or my practice. God accepteth no man’s person For any eminence in gifts or outward prerogatives: he does not show favour to any man on account of his birth, office, riches, or any external circumstance, Job 34:19. The apostle’s meaning is, that God did not prefer Peter, James, and John, to him, because they were apostles before him, far less did he employ them to make him an apostle; they, who seemed to be somewhat Or rather, who undoubtedly were in high repute, as the expression οι δοκουντες signifies; added nothing Communicated neither knowledge, nor spiritual gifts, nor authority; to me Far less did they pretend to make me an apostle. But when they saw Namely, by the effects which I laid before them, Galatians 2:8; Acts 15:12; that the gospel of the uncircumcision That is, the charge of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised heathen; was intrusted to me, as that of the circumcision The charge of preaching the gospel to the Jews; was committed to Peter “By saying that he was intrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter was with that of the circumcision, Paul put himself on a level with Peter. In like manner, his withstanding Peter publicly for withdrawing himself from the converted Gentiles, is a fact utterly inconsistent with the pretended superiority of Peter above the other apostles, vainly imagined by the Roman pontiffs, for the purpose of aggrandizing themselves as his successors, above all other Christian bishops.” For he that wrought effectually in, or by, Peter To qualify him for the apostleship of the circumcision, to support him in the discharge of that office, and to render his exercise of it successful; the same was mighty in me Wrought also effectually in and by me, for and in the discharge of my office toward the Gentiles.

Verses 9-10

Galatians 2:9-10. And when James Probably named first because he. was bishop of the church in Jerusalem; and Cephas Speaking of him at Jerusalem, he calls him by his Hebrew name; and John Hence it appears that he also was at the council, though he be not particularly named in the Acts. Who seemed to be Or, as in Galatians 2:6, who undoubtedly were; pillars The principal supporters and defenders of the gospel; perceived After they had heard the account I gave them; the grace of apostleship which was given to me, they in the name of all, gave me and Barnabas My fellow-labourer; the right hands of fellowship They gave us their hands, in token of receiving us as their fellow-labourers, mutually agreeing that I and those in union with me should go to the heathen chiefly “Barnabas, equally with Paul, had preached salvation to the idolatrous Gentiles, without requiring them to obey the law of Moses: wherefore, by giving them the right hands of fellowship, the three apostles acknowledged them to be true ministers of the gospel, each according to the nature of his particular commission. Paul they acknowledged to be an apostle of equal authority with themselves; and Barnabas they acknowledged to be a minister sent forth by the Holy Ghost to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. This distinction it is necessary to make, because it doth not appear that Barnabas was an apostle, in the proper sense of the word. The candour which the apostles at Jerusalem showed on this occasion, in acknowledging Paul as a brother apostle, is remarkable, and deserves the imitation of all the ministers of the gospel in their behaviour toward one another.” And they With those that were in union with them; chiefly to the circumcision The Jews. “In pursuance of this agreement, the three apostles abode, for the most part, in Judea, till Jerusalem was destroyed. After which, Peter, as tradition informs us, went to Babylon, and other parts in the East, and John into the Lesser Asia, where he was confined some years in Patmos, for the testimony of Jesus, Revelation 1:9. But James was put to death at Jerusalem, in a popular tumult, before that city was destroyed.” Macknight. Only desiring that we would remember the poor Christians in Judea So as to make collections for them as we proceeded in our progress through the churches of the Gentiles; the same which I also was forward to do Greek, ο και εσπουδασα αυτο τουτο ποιησαι , which very thing I was eager, or in haste to do. It is probable, that in so readily acceding to the proposal made by the apostles at Jerusalem, to collect money for the destitute saints in Judea, St. Paul was influenced by a more generous principle than that of merely relieving the necessities of the poor. For as the Jewish believers were extremely unwilling to associate with the converted Gentiles, Paul might hope that the kindness, which he doubted not the Gentiles would show in relieving their Jewish brethren, would have a happy influence in uniting the two into one harmonious body or church.

Verse 11

Galatians 2:11. But, &c. The argument here comes to the height: Paul reproves Peter himself; so far was he from receiving his doctrine from man, or from being inferior to the chief of the apostles; when Peter was come to Antioch After Barnabas and I were returned thither; I withstood him to the face Or opposed him personally in the presence of the church there, then the chief of all the Gentile churches; because he was to be blamed For the fear of man, Galatians 2:12; for dissimulation, Galatians 2:13; and for not walking uprightly, Galatians 2:14. To show what kind of interpreters of Scripture some of the most learned fathers were, Dr. Macknight quotes Jerome here as translating the phrase, κατα προσωτον , which we render to the face, secundum faciem, in appearance; supposing Paul’s meaning to be, “that he and Peter were not serious in this dispute; but, by a holy kind of dissimulation, endeavoured on the one hand, to give satisfaction to the Gentiles, and on the other not to offend the Jews. By such interpretations as these, the fathers pretended to justify the deceits which they used for persuading the heathen to embrace the gospel!” From the instance of Peter’s imprudence and sin, here recorded, the most advanced, whether in knowledge or holiness, may learn to take heed lest they fall. For before certain persons Who were zealous for the observation of the ceremonies of the law; came from James Who was then at Jerusalem; he did eat with the converted Gentiles In Antioch, on all occasions, and conversed freely with them; but when they were come he withdrew From that freedom of converse; and separated himself From them, as if he had thought them unclean: and this he did, not from any change in his sentiments, but purely as fearing them of the circumcision Namely, the converted Jews, whom he was unwilling to displease, because he thought their censures of much greater importance than they really were. The Jews, it must be observed, reckoned it unlawful to eat with the proselytes of the gate; that is, such proselytes to their religion as had not submitted to the rite of circumcision, nor engaged to observe the whole ceremonial law, (see Acts 10:28; Acts 11:3,) some meats permitted to them being unclean to the Jews; and the other believing Jews Who were at Antioch, and had before used the like freedom; dissembled with him In thus scrupulously avoiding all free converse with their Gentile brethren; insomuch that Barnabas also Who with me had preached salvation to the Gentiles without the works of the law, Acts 13:39; was carried away Namely, by the force of authority and example in opposition to judgment and conviction, and even against his will, as the word συναπηχθη , here used, appears to imply; with their dissimulation Or hypocrisy.

Verse 14

Galatians 2:14 . When I saw that, in this matter, they walked not uprightly Ουκ ορθοποδουσι , did not walk with a straight step, or in a plain and straight path; according to the truth of the gospel That is, according to their own knowledge of the simplicity of the true gospel doctrine; I said to Peter, before them all That is, in the hearing of Barnabas and all the Judaizers: see Paul single against Peter and all the Jews! If thou, being a Jew And having been brought by circumcision under the strongest engagements to fulfil the whole law; livest after the manner of the Gentiles Conversing and eating freely with them, as since the vision which thou sawest thou hast done; and not as do the Jews Not observing the ceremonial law, which thou knowest to be now abolished; why compellest thou the Gentiles By refusing to eat and converse freely with them, as if the distinction of meats was necessary to be observed in order to salvation, and by withdrawing thyself, and all the ministers, from them; to live as do the Jews Ιουδαιζειν , to Judaize; to keep the ceremonial law, or be excluded from church communion. What is here recorded, probably took place at the conclusion of some of their meetings for public worship; for on these occasions it was usual, after the reading of the law and the prophets, to give the assembly exhortations. Had this offence of Peter been of a private nature, undoubtedly, as duty required, Paul would have expostulated with him privately upon it, and not have brought it, at least in the first instance, before such a number of persons: but as it was a public affair, in which many persons were deeply concerned, the method Paul took was certainly most proper. And in thus openly reproving Peter, he not only acted honestly, but generously; for it would have been mean to have found fault with him behind his back, without giving him an opportunity to vindicate himself, if he could have done it. “Perhaps,” says Macknight, “Peter in this, and in a former instance, may have been suffered to fall, the more effectually to discountenance the arrogant claims of his pretended successors to supremacy and infallibility.”

Verses 15-16

Galatians 2:15-16. We St. Paul, to spare St. Peter, drops the first person singular, and speaks in the plural number; Galatians 2:18, he speaks in the first person singular again by a figure, and without a figure, Galatians 2:19, &c. Who are Jews by nature By birth, and not proselytes. As in the first part of his discourse, where the apostle speaks only of himself and Peter, he meant to speak of all the teachers of the gospel; so in this second part, where he describes his own state, he in effect describes the state of believers in general. And not sinners of the Gentiles That is, not sinful Gentiles; not such gross, enormous, abandoned sinners as the heathen generally are. It is justly observed by Dr. Whitby here, that the word sinners in Scripture signifies great and habitual sinners; and that the Jews gave the Gentiles that appellation, on account of their idolatry and other vices. Accordingly, Matthew 26:45, the clause, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners, means, is delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, as is evident from Matthew 20:18-19. Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law Not even of the moral law, much less of the ceremonial; but by the faith of Jesus Christ The faith which Jesus Christ hath enjoined and requires as the means of men’s justification, namely, faith in the gospel, in its important truths and precious promises: or, rather, by faith in Jesus Christ, as the true Messiah, the Son of God, in whom alone there is salvation for guilty, depraved, weak, and wretched sinners; the faith whereby we make application to him, and rely on him for salvation, present and eternal: learn of him as a Teacher, depend on him as a Mediator, become subject to him as a Governor, and prepare to meet him as a Judge. See on Romans 3:28; Romans 4:1-25. Even we And how much more must the Gentiles, who have still less pretence to depend on their own works? have believed in Jesus Christ To this great purpose; that we might be justified As has been said before; by faith in Christ This is the method that we, who were brought up Jews, have taken, as being thoroughly sensible we could be justified and saved no other way: for by the works of the law, whether ceremonial or moral, shall no flesh living, whether Jew or Gentile, be justified Since no human creature is capable of fully answering its demands, or can pretend to have paid a universal and unsinning obedience to it. Hitherto the apostle had been considering that single question, “Are Christians obliged to observe the ceremonial law?” But he here insensibly goes further, and by citing this passage, shows that what he spoke directly of the ceremonial, included also the moral law. For David undoubtedly did so, when he said, (Psalms 143:2, the place here referred to,) In thy sight shall no man living be justified; which the apostle likewise explains, (Romans 3:19-20,) in such a manner as can agree only with the moral law.

Verses 17-19

Galatians 2:17-19. But if while we seek to be justified by Christ Through the merit of his obedience unto death, by simply believing in him, and in the truths and promises of his gospel; we ourselves are still found sinners Continue in sin; if we are still under the guilt and power of sin, in an unpardoned, unrenewed state; is therefore Christ the minister of sin Does he countenance sin, by giving persons reason to suppose that they are justified through believing in him as the true Messiah, while they continue to live in the commission of sin? God forbid That any thing should ever be insinuated so much to the dishonour of God, and of our glorious Redeemer. For if I build again By my sinful practice; the things which I destroyed Or professed that I wished to destroy, by my preaching, or by my believing; I make myself a transgressor I show that I act very inconsistently, building up again what I pretended I was pulling down. In other words, I show myself, not Christ, to be a transgressor; the whole blame lies on me, not on him or his gospel. As if he had said, The objection were just, if the gospel promised justification to men continuing in sin. But it does not. Therefore if any, who profess the gospel, do not live according to it, they are sinners, it is certain, but not justified; and so the gospel is clear. For I through the law Understood in its spirituality, extent, and obligation; applied by the Holy Spirit to my conscience, and convincing me of my utter sinfulness, guilt, and helplessness; am dead to the law To all hope of justification by it, and therefore to all dependance upon it; see notes on Romans 7:7-14; That I may live to God Not that I may continue in sin. For this very end, I am delivered from the condemnation in which I was involved, am justified, and brought into a state of favour and acceptance with God, that I might be animated by nobler views and hopes than the law could give, and engaged, through love to God, his people, and all mankind, to a more generous, sublime, and extensive obedience than the law was capable of producing.

Verses 20-21

Galatians 2:20-21. The apostle proceeds in describing how he was freed from the dominion as well as guilt of sin, and how far he was from continuing in the commission of it. I am crucified with Christ To sin, to the world, and all selfish and corrupt desires and designs; my old man, my sinful nature, with its affections and lusts, is crucified with him; that is, through his death on the cross, and the grace procured for me, and bestowed on me thereby, that the body of sin may be destroyed, Romans 6:6. In other words, I have such a sense of his dying love in my hearty and of the excellence of that method of justification and salvation which he hath accomplished on the cross, that in consequence of it, I am dead to all the allurements of the world and sin, as well as to all views of obtaining righteousness and life by the law. Nevertheless I live A new and spiritual life, in union with God through Christ, and in a conformity to his will; yet not I The holy, happy life which I now live, is neither procured by my own merit, nor caused by my own power. Or, as ζω δε ουκ ετι εγω is more properly rendered, I live no longer, namely, as to my former sinful self, state, and nature, being made dead to the world and sin; but Christ liveth in me By his word and Spirit, his truth and grace; and is a fountain of life in my inmost soul, from which all my tempers, words, and actions flow. And the life that I now live in the flesh Even in this mortal body, and while I am surrounded with the snares, and exposed to the trials and troubles of this sinful world; I live by the faith of Or rather, as the apostle undoubtedly means, by faith in, and reliance on, the Son of God The spiritual life which I live, I derive from him by the continual exercise of faith in his sacrifice and intercession, and through the supplies of grace communicated by him; who loved me With a compassionate, benevolent, forgiving, and bountiful love; to such a degree that he gave himself Delivered himself up to ignominy, torture, and death; for me That he might procure my redemption and salvation. In the meantime I do not frustrate Or make void, in seeking to be justified by my own works; the grace of God His free, unmerited love in Christ Jesus, which they do who seek justification by the law; for if righteousness come by the law If men may be justified by their obedience to the law, ceremonial or moral; then Christ is dead in vain There was no necessity for his dying in order to their salvation, since they might have been saved without his death; might, by the merit of their own obedience, have been discharged from condemnation, and by their own efforts made holy, and consequently have been both entitled to, and fitted for, eternal life.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Galatians 2". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.