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Bible Commentaries

Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
Galatians 2

 

 


Verses 1-13

Confirming the gospel of grace

Galatians 2:1-13

As we approach this chapter, we must keep in mind the grand points that Paul establishes in this epistle:

1. Justification is by faith in Christ alone apart from works, the Levitical law, or religious ceremony.

2. Paul is truly an apostle as much as Peter, James or John.

3. He is a chosen vessel to bear the gospel of Christ to the Gentiles.

Galatians 2:1. This is the trip (mentioned in Acts 15:1-2) which Paul made to Jerusalem with Barnabas, concerning the question of whether circumcision is necessary to salvation. Titus, who was a Greek and a minister of the gospel, went with him. Titus was an uncircumcised Gentile, a living testimony of the apostle's message and practice.

Galatians 2:2. They did not send for him, nor did he go to Jerusalem by a vote of the church. He felt led of God to go and talk privately with those who were apostles before him, men of great esteem and reputation. The issue was the theme of this epistle - that salvation is wholly by grace and does not require the keeping of the ceremonial law. If salvation were by anything but grace, Paul's ministry was all in vain.

Galatians 2:3. There was such agreement between Paul and the other apostles regarding the matter of the law and circumcision that Titus, an uncircumcised Greek, was accepted as a brother and fellow minister on the spot. They required nothing further of him. If these ceremonies were necessary, the apostles of Christ would have required them of Titus!

Galatians 2:4-5. This is why Paul and the apostles refused to circumcise Titus. If it had been a thing indifferent and only to satisfy some weak believers (as in the case of Timothy, Acts 16:1-3), he would have complied. The false prophets who had crept in insisted that circumcision and other ceremonies were necessary to salvation. Paul would not give in to such error for an hour!

Galatians 2:6. These other apostles were reputed to be great, and they were (though their office and position made no difference to Paul, for his gospel was given him by God; besides, the Lord is not impressed with men's persons or position). These men imposed no new requirements on Paul, added nothing to his gospel and made no suggestions.

Galatians 2:7-8. 'But on the contrary, when they saw that I was ordained of God to carry the gospel to the Gentiles just as definitely as Peter was ordained to carry the gospel to the Jews, they were agreeable and rejoiced. For God, who motivated and equipped Peter for his work among the Jews, also prepared me to preach to the Gentiles' (Acts 9:13-15).

Galatians 2:9-10. James, Peter and John, who seemed to be the spokesmen and pillars of the church, gave Paul and Barnabas their blessings and approval of the ministry to the Gentiles and made only one stipulation - that they remember and minister to the poor, which they were eager to do!

Galatians 2:11-13. Evidently this incident occurred between Paul and the other apostles after the meeting in Jerusalem and it shows us several things.

1. How deeply ingrained the ceremonial law, circumcision and Jewish pride were in these Jews.

2. How the best of men (even apostles) are still men and subject to fall and error.

3. How Satan hates the gospel of pure grace and will use choice men to cause division.

4. How we ought to stand firm for salvation by grace through faith even when it means rebuking a leader or a close friend.

Peter had agreed with Paul's gospel and given his blessings to his ministry. But when these Jews came down from Jerusalem to Antioch, Peter feared their disfavor and withdrew from the Gentiles. Having much influence, he caused a strong division among the brethren, even causing Barnabas (who knew better) to take part in his hypocrisy. We shall take up Paul's word to Peter in the next section.


Verses 14-21

Justified by Christ alone

Galatians 2:14-21

When Paul, Barnabas and Titus met with the apostles in Jerusalem, Peter was there. Titus, being a Greek believer, was not compelled to be circumcised according to the Jewish law and Peter agreed with the others that circumcision was of the heart and not the flesh. When the apostles gave their right hands of fellowship and blessings to Paul and Barnabas to go to the Gentiles with the gospel of free grace in Christ apart from works, laws and ceremonies, Peter also gave his blessings. And when Peter came to Antioch to visit, he ate and fellowshipped with the Gentile believers without reservation. But when some of the Jewish brethren who were prominent Jews and zealous of the law came to Antioch, Peter, fearing their disfavor and criticism, withdrew from the Gentiles, causing a division among the brethren to the point of influencing even Barnabas to avoid the uncircumcised Gentiles. Paul rebuked Peter, Barnabas and these zealous Jews. His remarks were directed especially to Peter.

Galatians 2:14. Their walk was not in integrity, sincerity and truth, because previously they had agreed that there was no joining of ceremony and grace nor of Moses and Christ. Their walk certainly was contrary to the gospel of Christ; so Paul said, 'Peter, if you, who were born, brought up and obliged to observe all of the Levitical law, no longer feel in bondage to these ceremonies and laws (you know in your heart you are free from this yoke; all righteousness is fulfilled in Christ), why do you compel these Gentiles to live under these laws?'

Galatians 2:15. Since the apostles (who were born Jews and therefore under the law of Moses and under obligation to keep it until Christ came) had now relinquished the law of Moses and wholly believed in Christ for all righteousness and acceptance with God, then it was totally unreasonable to lead Gentiles, who were never under the Levitical law, to observe it!

Galatians 2:16. We know that a man is not justified by the law.

1. We know this from the law itself, which requires perfect obedience (Galatians 3:10; Galatians 4:21).

2. We know this from the gospel, which clearly states that we are complete in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 2:9-10).

3. We know this from experience, being fully convinced of the insufficiency of human righteousness (Romans 7:18).

4. We know that we are justified by that faith which has Christ as its author, finisher and object.

We are justified by God of his own will through the merits and blood of Christ. Faith believes Christ, receives Christ and lays hold upon Christ and his righteousness. It is called the faith of Christ because he is the author of it as well as the object of it.

Galatians 2:17-18. 'If we seek to be justified by Christ and do not rest in him alone (in his righteousness, his obedience, his blood and his intercession) but seek to add to Christ our own works, righteousness and obedience to the ceremonies of the law, then Christ, instead of being a minister of a perfect righteousness and acceptance, becomes a minister of the law (which is the strength of sin, 1 Corinthians 15:56) and the minister of condemnation and death. Is this the work and ministry of Christ? God forbid!

If I restore the ceremonies of the law (such as circumcision, holy days, foods and drinks - the things which I preach as fulfilled by Christ, through Christ and in Christ), then I make myself an unjustified sinner. I could not be otherwise, for the law demands perfection, and if, in Christ, I am not perfected, then I am a transgressor.'

Galatians 2:19. 'For I, through the law of Christ (the doctrine of grace or the gospel of free grace) which says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (all of our pardon, righteousness, acceptance and life comes through Christ), am dead to the law which says, “Do this or that and thou shalt live.” “That I might live unto God,” not in sin, nor in violation of his moral law, nor in neglect of holiness and integrity, but that I should live in the will of God for his honour and glory.' Believers who are not under law but under grace do not desire to live in sin but consider themselves under a greater law - the law of his love.

Galatians 2:20. 'I am crucified with Christ. He bore my sins in his body on the tree and destroyed and made an end to them. They have no damning nor condemning power (Romans 8:1; Romans 8:33-34). The world is crucified unto me and I unto the world. My desire is to walk with him in newness of life; the law of God is written on my heart, not on tables of stone.' 'Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. I live spiritually; and it is not the same ‘I’ as before, but a new man, a new creature' (2 Corinthians 5:17). This new man lives by faith, looking to Christ for all things - pardon, righteousness, peace, joy, comfort and the supply of every grace.

Galatians 2:21. 'I do not despise, reject, nor make void the grace of God in Christ Jesus. If a justifying righteousness comes through obedience to the ceremonial law, then Christ died in vain.' If obedience to the law is necessary for a man to be justified before God, then all that Christ did was in vain; for no man will be justified!

 


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Bibliography Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on Galatians 2:4". Henry Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hms/galatians-2.html. 2013.

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Thursday, December 3rd, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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