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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann
Galatians 2

 

 


Verses 1-5

Further Confirmation of Paul's Apostleship.

Paul refuses to yield to false brethren:

v. 1. Then, fourteen years after, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.

v. 2. And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that Gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.

v. 3. But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised;

v. 4. and that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage;

v. 5. to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you.

After proving that he had not been made an apostle by any man's teaching, but by divine revelation, Paul now shows that his confidence and reliance upon this fact was so great that he could frankly challenge examination by any person and yielded to the unauthorized impetuosity of no man. He therefore relates the history of an event which occurred after his first missionary journey: Then, after fourteen years, I again made the journey to Jerusalem, with Barnabas, taking also Titus along. As he had been figuring from the time of his conversion in the previous chapter, as the foremost event in his life, so he here refers to the number of years which had elapsed since he became a Christian. Fourteen years he had spent in his apostolic office when an occasion arose which made it necessary for him to make the trip from Syria up to Jerusalem. He went with Barnabas, who had been his coworker on the first missionary journey and could testify to the wonderful success which the Lord had laid upon their labors. His young assistant Titus he took along as a companion.

Here again Paul's independence of the older apostles is set forth. For he went up, as he writes, in accordance with a revelation, not on account of any instruction which had been given by any hierarchy. The Lord Himself transmitted His will to the apostle, and the fact that the congregation at Antioch then chose him as a delegate shows that their decision was prompted by this revelation. Luke tells the story of this journey and of the meeting which it occasioned in Jerusalem in its general aspects, Act_13:1-29; Paul relates the incidents which will bear him out in his contention. There had been a meeting with the entire congregation, in which Paul had laid before them the Gospel which he preached among the Gentiles, giving them a summary of his preaching, of his message, thus enabling them to see for themselves that he was teaching the truth, justification by faith alone. But there had also been a private conference with the men that were of some reputation, that were leaders of the Congregation in Jerusalem, whether before or after the general meeting is immaterial. With his customary tact Paul wanted to avoid misunderstandings, mistaken ideas concerning his work. It was not that he was not absolutely sure of his position and of the truth of his doctrine, but that his doctrine might be represented falsely, lest perhaps he should be running or had run in vain, that his labor had been performed to no purpose.

What success the apostle had in this conference is implied in a striking manner by an incident which he here mentions: Yet even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was not compelled to be circumcised. Paul made a very complete and detailed report of his work among the Gentiles, not only of his preaching, but also of his practice, not concealing the fact that he no longer demanded that the Gentiles be circumcised. Now his argument to the Galatians is this: If the claims of the Judaizing teachers in their midst were true, if the ceremonial law had not yet been abrogated then the leaders of the congregation in Jerusalem would certainly have insisted upon his changing his practice in this respect. But far from declaring his position false, these men, two of whom were members of the original band of apostles, sided with him to that extent that they did not even demand the circumcision of Titus, who was of Gentile parentage.

Paul now returns to the reason for his journey to Jerusalem, saying that he went up because of the false brethren, Act_15:1, who had smuggled themselves in, such men as came in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, to lie in wait to deprive us of it, in order to bring us into bondage. These men belonged to the Pharisaic party, and they had come into the congregation at Antioch in the same manner in which spies manage to enter into the camp of an army. They had given no evidence of their intention, but had come under the guise of seekers of truth. If they had had honest doubts of the truth of the one or the other doctrine taught by Paul and Barnabas, integrity would have demanded that they make an open statement of their position, state their objections, and accept Scriptural proof. But these men lacked all honesty and frankness; they were filled with malice; the object which they hoped to gain was to deprive the disciples at Antioch of the liberty which they had by virtue of the redemption of Christ, and thus to bring them back into the former bondage of the Law with all that this state implied.

But Paul soon discovered their duplicity and frustrated their intention by insisting upon the liberty which was his through the merits of Christ: To whom not even for an hour we gave place by submission, in order that the truth of the Gospel might permanently remain with you. Paul's spiritual insight, which amounted almost to instinct, sharpened as it was by his own experience, realized at once what was at stake, that the question did not concern an insignificant, indifferent matter, regarding which people could well be of different opinions, but that the contention of the Judaizing teachers struck at the very root of Christian doctrine. And therefore he and Barnabas refused to yield, to submit, even for a moment. They knew that if they had given way at that point, the whole fabric of Christ's doctrine would have fallen to pieces. And so the motive for their firmness was the maintenance of the truth of the Gospel, also for the Galatians, of the retention of the evangelical freedom to which the believers were entitled by virtue of Christ's redemption. Even at that time, therefore, the apostle had guarded the blessings of the Gospel for the Galatians and for all Christians; he had foiled the plans of the false teachers, he had prevented their reintroducing the servitude of the Law into the Christian Church. Just as soon as any suggestion is introduced into a congregation or a church-body which goes beyond things indifferent and attempts to confirm false doctrine and to suppress pure doctrine and Christian liberty, then the only stand to take is that of uncompromising opposition.


Verses 6-10

The result of the visit to Jerusalem:

v. 6. But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me; God accepteth no man's person;) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me;

v. 7. but contrariwise, when they saw that the Gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the Gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;

v. 8. (for He that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles;)

v. 9. and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go unto the heathen and they unto the circumcision.

v. 10. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.

Paul's great agitation is here again evident, for he breaks the construction of the sentence again and again, apparently losing the thread of his discourse, but he never fails to bring out the central idea which he has in mind. He wants to emphasize his independent apostolic commission, and this fact is brought out in spite of the involved construction: But of those that were in repute as being something, whatever they may have been, it makes no difference to me; the face of a man God does not accept, for to me those in repute imparted nothing. In his anxiety to emphasize the point he wishes to make in the proper manner, Paul does not finish his first sentence, although he brings out the thought. Those that were esteemed highly in the congregation of Jerusalem had no word of disapprobation for the content and manner of Paul's preaching, and on the other hand they had no instruction for him, they did not attempt to teach him anything as to his doctrine. And in order that this fact might be impressed upon the minds of the false teachers and their followers in the midst of the Galatian congregations, he explains his use of the word "in repute" by the parenthetical remark that the status of these people in no way impressed him, for God does not judge according to outward appearance and station. His apostolic authority and power did not rest upon their commission and approval. They had not prescribed the form of his doctrine. "This he says in order to show that he, in the judgment of the very apostles of whom the false teachers boasted against Paul, had taught correctly, and that the apostles stood on his side against the false apostles, who boasted of the authority of men."

The entire manner of the leaders in the congregation at Jerusalem not only did not express disapproval of Paul and his ministry: But on the contrary, when they saw that I was entrusted with the Gospel of the uncircumcision, just as Peter with that of the circumcision (for He that was operative for Peter with regard to the apostleship of the circumcision was operative also in me toward the heathen), and found out about the grace which was given to me,—James and Peter and John being the men, they that were esteemed to be pillars,—they gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship (with the understanding) that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcision. During the conference which was held at Jerusalem between James, as the head of the local church, Act_21:18, Peter, and John, on the one side, and Barnabas and Paul, on the other, the situation was fully discussed, from every angle. And the result of the discussion was that they all agreed, from the evidence offered: It is God's will that Paul preach the Gospel chiefly to the heathen, just as it seems clear that Peter has a special call to preach Jesus to the Jews. Thus each one recognized the problem which was given him, attempting the solution, however, not in his own wisdom; for Paul, in repudiating false charges against his authority also in this instance, gives all glory to God, since it was He that was operative in both Peter and him, in the one to work with great success among the Jews, in the other to be equally successful among the Gentiles. So the men that were considered pillars, according to the judgment of men, recognized without reserve, fully acknowledged, the calling of Paul which had been entrusted to him by grace and confirmed by special gifts of grace. To the evidence afforded by the success of his labors among the heathen was added the conviction that this was due to the grace of God. This frank acknowledgment was just as openly manifested when they all shook hands in token of fellowship and agreed that the arrangement by which Paul was to devote himself to preaching the Gospel among the Gentiles and the others to teaching the Jews was to be observed. Not as though Peter and John would not have dared to instruct a Gentile or Paul and Barnabas a Jew, as Luther remarks. "The mutual understanding between the two groups of apostles obviously did not imply an absolute restriction of each to one section of the Church. All converts alike were members of a single united Church; circumstances of themselves forbade any definite division: Paul opened his ministry everywhere in the synagogue, and numbered Jews as well as Greeks among his converts. So Peter, again, is next found at Antioch."

There was one more point in the agreement, however, which Paul expressly mentions, since it was of such importance in his work: Only that the poor we should keep in mind, which, indeed, I was zealous to do. The frankness, integrity, and truthfulness of Paul is here brought out, as well as his disinterestedness, his unselfishness. That he kept the poor in Judea in mind at all times is apparent in many passages of his letters, 1Co_16:1; 2Co_8:9. "The poor whom he, Rom_15:26, calls the poor saints are those whom the Jews, for the sake of Christ, had deprived of their goods and possessions... or those that had given their possessions to the congregation, as is written Act_4:32; probably also those that suffered want in the famine which, as Luke mentions in Acts, chap. 11:28, happened under Emperor Claudius. " Paul purposely brings forward this bit of evidence in order to emphasize the contrast between the Jewish Christian opposition to him in the work of the Judaizing teachers and his approved zeal and affection for the Jewish Christians


Verses 11-14

Paul's Reproof of Peter, and the Lessons Drawn There from.

Peter's strange behavior at Antioch:

v. 11. But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

v. 12. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles; but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.

v. 13. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him, insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.

v. 14. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, if thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?

Paul here relates this incident (for such it was, being without influence on the work of the Church), not in order to impair the reputation and authority of Peter, but to bring out the fact that his own position was independent, and that he was the equal of Peter. It was the principle of the matter with which Paul was concerned and which he brings out in his narrative. It seems that, sometime after the meeting in Jerusalem, Peter came to Antioch for a visit, the object of which is not indicated. And it was at this time that Paul found it necessary to take a stand against him, since his conduct had been found reprehensible, blameworthy. The Christians at Antioch had reasons to pass an unfavorable judgment upon Peter, and Paul felt obliged to take their part for the sake of the evangelical truth. For when Peter had first comedown from Jerusalem, he had observed the compact as made in Jerusalem, Act_15:1-41; he had freely associated with the Gentile Christians, just as he had done before, Act_10:11. But when certain people came from James, persons that belonged to the stricter class of Jewish Christians, who still observed all the outward customs of the Jewish religion, Peter withdrew from association with the Gentiles, in order to give the impression that he was avoiding the Levitical defilement which attended eating with Gentiles. But aside from the fact that Peter had himself defended his associating with Gentiles under similar conditions, Act_11:1-30, the articles of agreement which had been drawn up in Jerusalem were binding upon him as well as upon the Gentile Christians; they were the conditions of intercourse between the Jewish and Gentile Christians, and therefore Peter's withdrawal from the common meal violated the spirit of that solemn treaty. Peter's offense thus, in separating himself from the Gentiles, was an act of dissimulation, of hypocrisy, because he lacked the moral courage to face the stricter Jews.

Peter was a person of importance and influence, and his tentative and irresolute efforts gradually to withdraw from intercourse with the Gentile Christians had its effects upon others: And with him acted as hypocrites also the other Jews, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. This conduct was characteristic of that Peter whom the gospels describe: "First to confess Christ, first to deny Him; first to recognize and defend the rights of the Gentiles, first to disown them practically; his strength and weakness, boldness and timidity are the two opposite manifestations of the same warm, impulsive, and impressible temper. " Evil results followed at once; for the Jewish Christians of Antioch, who had previously associated with their brethren from among the Gentiles without a thought of evil, now affected religious scruples which they did not feel, their insincerity being a true form of hypocrisy. But what capped the climax was that even Barnabas permitted himself to be carried away by this reactionary behavior. Naturally, the Gentile Christians were both offended and perplexed, since by the change of conduct in Peter and the other Jews they were driven to the thought that, after all, the Mosaic Law must be binding, even in matters pertaining to outward ceremonies.

The situation was such as to cause the most serious apprehension on the part of Paul and to call for immediate drastic measures: But when I saw that they did not walk squarely according to the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter before all, If you, being a Jew, lire like a Gentile and not like a Jew, why are you compelling the Gentiles to live as Jews? The behavior of Peter was a public offense and scandal and may have been particularly noticeable at the common meals associated with the celebration of the Holy Communion. Paul, therefore, with the Eighth Commandment in mind, did his duty without flinching: he spoke to Peter face to face, in the presence of those against whom he was sinning. Paul was concerned about the truth of the Gospel; for the conduct of Peter and the rest was casting reflections upon those whom God had pronounced clean in Christ. Not to confess outright, to walk circuitous paths, to evade straightforward honesty with the specious plea of charity, all these are things which do not harmonize with the Christian love which the Gospel presupposes in a life of sanctification. Paul's rebuke, therefore, was short and to the point. Peter was a Jew, and thus it would have been natural for him to live as a Jew, to observe the customs and forms which had been laid upon the Jews of old. But now he had deliberately left this accustomed practice and lived after the manner of the Gentiles, had associated with them on terms of absolute equality, which was perfectly right and proper for him to do, since he knew that no contamination would result. Now, however, that he had withdrawn in such an ostentatious manner from this association, he was really exerting a severe pressure on Gentile converts to adopt the Jewish mode of life, for they could not but conclude that, after all, the Jewish manner of living must be holier and better. Paul's point was well taken, as Peter's silence also admitted. "The hypocrisy of Peter, I say, Paul did not suffer. For he approves Peter's having lived after the heathen manner and again after the Jewish manner, but he condemns him for withdrawing and separating himself, when the Jews came, from the foods of the Gentiles. By this withdrawal he induced both Gentiles and Jews to believe that the heathen manner was not permitted while the Jewish was necessary, although he knew that both were free and permitted. " Note: Whenever the freedom and the truth of the Gospel are endangered by any acts of moral timidity and cowardice, the one approved course is to rectify the mistake at once and thus save the honor of Jesus.


Verses 15-21

The lessons drawn from this incident:

v. 15. We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,

v. 16. knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, 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; for by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.

v. 17. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid!

v. 18. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.

v. 19. For I through the Law am dead to the Law that I might live unto God.

v. 20. I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh. I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

v. 21. I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.

Whether these words belong to the reproof which Paul addressed to Peter at Antioch or are a further exposition of the principle involved in the incident, is immaterial; they show, at any rate, that Paul felt the very basis of Christian doctrine to be endangered by the conduct of Peter. His words, therefore, form an elaborate argument against the doctrinal errors of the Judaizing teachers: We, by nature Jews and not sinners out of the Gentiles, yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but only through faith of Christ Jesus, we also have put our faith in Christ Jesus, in order that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law; for by works of the Law shall all flesh find no justification. The apostle speaks here of those that are Jews by nationality, to whom he belonged, having been born a Jew and educated as a Jew. These all had the outward advantage of possessing the Word of God, and the true Israelites had forgiveness of sins through this Word, whereas the Gentiles as a class were sinners, outside of the pale of the Church in every sense of the word. But in spite of this fact which gave them an outward advantage over the Gentiles, since the latter had neither the Law nor the works of the Law, as Luther writes, the Jews were not in themselves righteous before God; they could at best point only to an outward righteousness.

But since there is no essential difference between Jews and Gentiles, Paul makes a very general statement, namely, that he and all Jewish Christians know that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but only and alone by faith of and in Christ Jesus, by the faith which is wrought by Him and places its trust in Him. "We are righteous, he says, because we are by nature Jews, not sinners like the Gentiles, but we are righteous through the righteousness of the works of the Law by which nobody is justified before God. Therefore we also, even as the Gentiles, regard our righteousness as dirt and seek to be justified through faith in Christ; being sinners together with the Gentiles, we are justified together with the Gentiles, for God, as Peter says, Act_15:9, put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. " This is not a matter of feeling, but of knowledge based upon the testimony of the Gospel. And upon this basis we have put our faith in Christ Jesus, not in works, not in merit, not in conduct of our own, for a sinful person cannot and does not perform such deeds as will make him pure and righteous in the sight of God. Justification can be obtained only in that way which is offered in God's revelation, by placing one's faith in Christ Jesus alone. And even then it is not the act of believing which merits salvation, but the act of believing is the manifestation of the life wrought by God, by which a person receives the righteousness of Christ. Everything that pertains to works, that has even the semblance of works, is ruled out, must be excluded absolutely; for there is no justification for all flesh through works of the Law, highly as they may be esteemed otherwise in the Christian's sanctification, Psa_143:2; Rom_3:28. By faith the sins of the sinner are imputed to Christ, and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner; by faith the works that agree with the will of God in the Law are set aside as works that fulfill the Law, but incidentally that same faith, having accepted the justification offered by the grace of God through the merits of Christ, is found engaged in works which are well pleasing to Christ and our heavenly Father.

Paul now answers an objection which is often brought forward against the doctrine of justification, as stated by him in such an unequivocal manner: But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves are found sinners, is Christ, then, a servant of sin? By no means! For if those things which I destroyed I build again, I prove myself a transgressor. For I through the Law am dead to the Law, in order that I may live to God. We Christians know and freely acknowledge that our only chance at justification is through faith in Christ, just as Paul did, just as Peter did. But if we, at the same time, by attempting to fulfill the Law (which is impossible), ourselves are found sinners, place ourselves under the condemnation of transgression, is Christ, who lives in us by faith, therefore a minister of sin in us? Paul rejects the very thought with horror. And yet, this is the inevitable, logical consequence of such an action as that of which Peter was guilty: confessing himself to belong to the freedmen of the Lord, and yet, by a hypocritical attempt at fulfilling the ceremonial law, again placing himself, and therefore the Lord in him, under the dominion of sin. That this is the logical consequence, Paul shows by stating that he who rebuilds a house destroyed by himself thereby openly confesses himself to be the criminal. Even so Peter, by trying to foist upon the Christians the demands of the ceremonial law, declared as much as if he had been wrong in making use of his evangelical freedom, that rather the Law was to be observed in all particulars now as before. In opposition to this, Paul says that the true Christian through the Law is dead to the Law. He has found out, in many cases by bitter experience, that all his efforts at fulfilling the Law are ineffectual, that he cannot obtain complete righteousness by the works of the Law; his spiritual understanding of the Law shuts out the very possibility. And so he has died to the Law; the Law, which would have had dominion over him if he had lived and continued his attempts to fulfill it, now has lost its power over him, Rom_6:1-23. He that tries to keep the requirements of the Law becomes subject to death through the Law, for the Law will condemn him as a transgressor. But he that dies to the Law in Christ escapes its condemnation, and can thenceforth devote the new, spiritual life which he has obtained from Christ to the service of Christ. See Rom_8:7-13. The Christian, though, on account of, the Law, under a legal dispensation, owing to sin, was brought under the curse of the Law; but having undergone this, with and in the person of Christ, he has died to the Law in the fullest and deepest sense, being both free from its claims and having satisfied its curse.

This thought is brought out more fully in the last verses: With Christ I was crucified together. But it is no longer I that live, there lives rather in me Christ; but what I now live in the flesh, in faith live I it, namely, in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I frustrate not the grace of God; for if righteousness come through the Law, then Christ has died in vain. By faith every believer comes into fellowship with Christ's death on the cross, thus becoming a partaker of all the blessings and benefits which the death of Christ has brought to men. The individuality, the person, of the believer is therefore submerged in Christ. It is not his own spiritual life, strictly speaking, which lives in this earthly body, but that of Christ, who has made His abode in him, Joh_15:1-27, l-6. And the spiritual life in this mortal body can be sustained only in that measure and degree in which it is nourished by faith. That is the believer's confidence, that Christ, the Son of God, loved him, a fact which was established beyond the shadow of a doubt by Christ's great sacrifice, when He gave Himself into death as the Substitute for all men. This faith is grounded in the Gospel, receiving new impetus and power out of the Word, and its life is shown day by day in the conduct of the soul united with Christ. Note that Paul applies the entire work of Christ to himself, to his own person, in a confession of justifying faith which may well serve as a model for every Christian.

The conclusion of the apostle with reference to his own life therefore is that he would not be so foolish as to attempt to live by the keeping of the Law, for such an action would render the death of Christ a useless sacrifice. For if righteousness had been in man's reach by means of the Law, if there had been any chance of obtaining perfection before God in the legal environment, by letting one's life be an outflow of the requirements of the Law, then there would have been no occasion for the death of Christ, it would have been a vain and superfluous sacrifice. Naturally we must conclude from the argument of the apostle: It is impossible to live in accordance with the Law of God; no observance of the Law and its demands can save us: therefore there was an absolute necessity for the death of Christ. Thus Paul's argument based on the complete atonement through the redemption of Christ was the most effective reproof of the lapse of Peter and of the doctrines of the Judaizing teachers; and the same argument must be brought forward today whenever legalistic demands are made within the Church, whether by teachers or by hearers.

Summary

In further confirmation of his apostleship Paul refers to his stand against the false teachers in Antioch, the recognition of his preaching and ministry by the apostles and leaders in Jerusalem, and his reproof of Peter when the latter did not conduct himself according to the truth of the Gospel.

 


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Bibliography Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Galatians 2:4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/galatians-2.html. 1921-23.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 25th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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