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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Galatians 2

 

 


Verse 1

‘Then after a period of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also.’

Having established that he was not dependent on either the Apostles or the Judean church for his authority or his teaching he now wants to stress that nevertheless, when finally his teaching was discussed with the Apostles they were totally satisfied with what he taught. This may be the visit in Acts 11:30 with Acts 12:25, or the visit in Acts 15 which resulted in the Apostles and the church leaders in Jerusalem pronouncing on the question of what was to be required of Gentile converts to Christ and whether the circumcision of Gentile converts was necessary or required (Acts 15:1-29). ‘Again’ (palin) does not necessarily mean ‘a second time’ only ‘another time’, and the mention of this visit here does not necessarily suggest that there were no visits in between. It is mentioned because it was then that Paul and the Apostles had a full discussion on doctrine resulting in their complete agreement on major issues.

Either way, as it was ‘fourteen years’ after he had started preaching it could not be cited as the source of his basic message, for he has already established that his doctrine was received from God by revelation long before that time.

‘Taking Titus also.’ The importance of Titus on this occasion was that he was Gentile through and through with no Jewish connections and the question of whether he should be circumcised would therefore be a crucial one. Titus is never mentioned anywhere in Acts. By the time Acts was written Titus’ situation was no longer relevant.


Verse 2

‘And I went up by revelation and I laid before them the Gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately before those who were of repute, lest by any means I should be running, or had run in vain.’

Paul emphasises that the reason that he did what he did was because God had brought home to him that he must do it. He had not done it because he had felt a need for their guidance, or for their approval, but because he had felt that God wanted him to.

The wisdom of God in this is apparent from the fact that Paul can now certify it here. Godly men like Paul often do not recognise that there are certain niceties that need to be observed so as to ensure that the outward appearance conforms to the inner certainties. But he had done so. Thus he knew that there was unity and agreement between them, and it was important that the whole church knew. They needed to be seen to stand together.

‘I went up by revelation.’ God forced on Paul the necessity to finally establish the agreement of his teachings with those of the Apostles. This was quite apart from, even though indirectly connected with, the question of whether circumcision was necessary for Gentile converts.

‘I laid before them the Gospel that I preach among the Gentiles.’ And at that stage he had discussed with them all the essentials of what he preached. This once and for all therefore refuted the charge that his preaching differed from that of the Apostles, and from the true Jerusalem church.

‘But privately before those who were of repute.’ He had not wanted these matters to side-track any other purposes of the visit, but he had been concerned to demonstrate to ‘those of repute’ and to himself that he was on the right track and in full agreement with them. So he had consulted with them privately. It is noteworthy that here he accepts that the Apostles were guardians of the truth of the Gospel as Jesus had declared in John 14-16.

We do not know exactly who ‘those who were of repute’ were but they clearly included the leading Apostles (Galatians 2:9). And this also established that he had consulted with the very people (the leaders of the Jerusalem church), although only after a long period, whom the Judaisers were citing as their authority.

‘Those of repute.’ The constant repetition of this phrase and equivalents by Paul (Galatians 2:2; Galatians 2:6 a, 6b, 9) suggests that it was one hurled against him by the Judaisers who probably cited ‘those of repute’ as their authority. It especially covers Peter, John and James, the Lord’s brother (Galatians 2:9).


Verse 3

‘But not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.’

‘With me.’ Titus was there as a companion of Paul and Barnabas. (‘Withmedoes not necessarily exclude Barnabas. Paul is simply describing a fact. He is talking to the Galatians about himself and speaks of Titus as having been with him). Because of this Titus was in the limelight and pressure was brought by Judaisers to insist on his circumcision. It was a crucial moment, and Paul points out that neither the Apostles nor the Jerusalem leadership required that he be circumcised. (Paul did not object to the circumcision of Timothy (Acts 16:3), for Timothy was half Jewish, and it was felt that his being circumcised would help their ministry among Jews. But in his case there was no matter of principle was involved because of his Jewish background and upbringing).

Titus was a Gentile believer and one of Paul's faithful helpers in his ministry. When Paul wrote this letter Titus was apparently living in Antioch. Later he went at Paul’s request to the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 2:12-13; 2 Corinthians 7:5-16), to the Jerusalem church (2 Corinthians 8:6-24; 2 Corinthians 9:3-5; 2 Corinthians 12:18), and to the Cretan church (Titus 1:5).


Verses 3-10

The Important Recognition That No Ritual Requirement Can Ever Be Seen As Necessary For Salvation (Galatians 2:3-10).

What follows may sound to be rather technical but it is in fact of the greatest importance to us today. For by it was laid down the principle that nothing must be required of a person for salvation except faith in Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Saviour.


Verse 4

‘And that because of false brothers surreptitiously introduced, who came in surreptitiously to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they may bring us into bondage.’

The pressure on Titus resulted not from the doubts of the leadership but from the sudden and unexpected introduction into the situation of leading Judaisers who had not been expected and were not strictly invited, but who had clearly been hurriedly called in by some who had learned of the proposed discussions. These Judaisers presumably demanded that Titus be circumcised. They wanted him to become a recognised proselyte. Thus circumcision had now become a crunch point. The question that was at stake was whether every Gentile Christian needed to be circumcised, or whether they could be true Christians without being circumcised.

However, that does also raise the question as to why the Judaisers wanted them to be circumcised, and why it was seen as so important. And there could only be one answer to that, and that is that it was because they saw the church and Israel as being equivalents. They considered that in order to become true Christians all who believed had to become Jewish proselytes. It is therefore significant that Paul never argues that there was no intention of such people becoming members of Israel. For he also recognises that to become a Christian is to become a part of Israel. His argument is rather that circumcision is unnecessary because in Christ all that is necessary for salvation can be found. And this includes whatever circumcision signifies. For all who believe in Jesus Christ have already been circumcised with the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11). Thus circumcision is no more required than the continual offering of sacrifices. They can be members of the covenant of Israel without it. In his eyes therefore the church is the new Israel but does not require circumcision for entry into it, because it is united with Christ, and therefore with His circumcision.

‘False brothers.’ They were false because they were seeking to use pressure to enforce something contrary to the Gospel of free grace as Paul knew it. He saw clearly the issues involved. By demanding circumcision as necessary for salvation they were making salvation depend on some form of ritual. But Paul’s reply is that salvation is by faith alone. No form of ritual can therefore be demanded in order for a person to be saved. Salvation is by faith alone (Galatians 2:16). (We must recognise here that some of his opponents may well later have accepted that they had been wrong, for they were all at this stage still seeking to lay down the foundations of belief, and the questions to be sorted out were not simple ones. Compare the problems that Peter had in Acts 10-11).

‘To spy out.’ Together with ‘surreptitiously’ this sums up their behaviour. They were coming with improper motives among those who were gathered there, in order to sow doubt and dissension and in order to try to bring division.

‘Our liberty that we have in Christ Jesus, that they may bring us into bondage.’ This was the question at issue, whether trusting in Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, had freed them from the necessity to compulsorily observe the legalistic ceremonies and requirements, together with the ethical requirements, laid down by leading Jewish teachers. The question was not whether Jews should be circumcised, even Christian Jews, but whether it was absolutely necessary for Gentiles. In other words, was following Jewish ritual requirements an essential for salvation?

Paul, who had been delivered from the burden of such requirements when he put his trust in Christ, recognised at once that once circumcision was accepted as necessary, it would bring the person involved under the whole Jewish legal system. By being circumcised they would be acknowledging that they must keep the whole Law of Moses, and all the emphasis was being placed on the ritual ones. And he firmly believed that the demand for such a fulfilment of Jewish ordinances on those not brought up to it would be a burden too heavy to bear for those to whom they were totally foreign, and that they were not a necessary part of the Gospel. He recognised that they simply brought men into unnecessary bondage. It was fine for Christian Jews, if they wished, to continue with these practises, as long as they did not make them necessary for salvation. But as an essential for salvation they must not be required of anyone.

Some churches would later invent further burdens to lay on Christians, in the form of other ceremonies and requirements, and declare them essential for salvation, and even today we have particular forms of baptisms and particular approaches to the Sabbath which are stressed by some as being such. These too come under Paul’s condemnation where they are claimed to be essential to salvation. For his argument is that the only requirement for salvation is the free response by faith through His Spirit to God’s gracious offer of salvation through Christ, resulting from the preaching of the cross (compare 1 Corinthians 1:17). He is saying that while ceremonies may be helpful, and may have their place, they must remain in that place. They must never be seen as necessary for salvation.

In fact we know from Acts that the Apostles were quite firm in their support of Paul’s position. Peter stated, “We believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way as they,’ and at the Assembly in Jerusalem rejected the need to burden the Christians who were not Jews with Jewish ceremonial and ritual requirements (Acts 15:7-11). James, the Lord’s brother, concurred. Minimal conditions were then laid down at that meeting concerning what would be required of Gentile Christians, and it was agreed that all Christians should refrain from ‘the pollutions of idols (eating things sacrificed to idols - Acts 15:29), and from fornications, and from things strangled and from blood’ (Acts 15:20). The former were necessary as being directly against God and as giving a false witness to outsiders, the latter necessary if they were to eat and consort with Christian Jews. For there could be no fellowship over meals without it, and in those days meal fellowship was central.


Verse 5

‘To whom we gave place in the way of subjection, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you.’

Paul stresses that he, Barnabas and Titus had had no doubts about the matter. There was no wavering of mind, for they knew that the whole basis of the Gospel depended on it. They would not give way to legalists.

‘That the truth of the Gospel might continue with you.’ This would seem to mean that he is trying to preserve the truth for such as the Galatians rather than letting it be perverted, so that what they would believe would continue to be the truth. Alternately he may be arguing that if the truth were not preserved the ministry to the Gentiles would just die out. They would not continue in it. Either was true.


Verses 6-9

‘But from those who were reputed somewhat, (whatever they were it does not matter to me, God does not accept a man’s person); they, I say, who were of repute, imparted nothing to me, but on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the Gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter with that of circumcision (for he who wrought for Peter in the apostleship of circumcision wrought for me also to the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace of God that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go to the uncircumcision and they to the circumcision.’

In this rather convoluted sentence Paul now sums up the situation. He stresses that he had had nothing important to learn from these great Apostles (‘they who were of repute imparted nothing to me’). On the contrary they had recognised his special ministry to the Gentiles, and that God was working through him as He was through them, and they had confirmed their approval of his activities by offering ‘the right hands of fellowship’. The offering of the right hand, the sword hand, was an evidence of a willingness for peace and non-belligerence. It was accepting the terms that had been laid out, and doing it in a spirit of common agreement.

‘Those who were reputed somewhat.’ This describes the men held in repute, which included Cephas (Peter), John, and James, the Lord’s brother, to whom the Judaisers pointed as their authority. The ministry of the twelve appears at this point to have mainly been limited to Jews, so that the question of circumcision had never really arisen, and all converts had been required to conform to Jewish ritual and probably initially attend the synagogues. The few exceptions, like Cornelius and his band (Acts 10-11), had been left as a grey area. The Judaisers, seeing this, had misunderstood their position.

‘Whatever they were it does not matter to me, God does not accept a man’s person.’ Paul is pointing out that he is not impressed by titles of office or by men’s supposed importance. It is their ministry that counts. For as he will point out in 1 Corinthians, each is accountable to God and must not be exalted above others. A man is not accepted for his position because of who he is, but because of the quality of his service (1 Corinthians 3:5-15). He is not here criticising the Apostles. He had consulted the Apostles, and they had proved themselves to Paul by the stance they took, and were approved by their successful ministry. He is, however, stressing that in the end all must be judged by how they stand up for the truth.

‘When they saw that I had been entrusted with the Gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter with that of circumcision (for he who wrought for Peter in the apostleship of circumcision wrought for me also to the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace of God that was given to me.’ Peter’s main ministry was to Jews and in this he was hugely successful (later his ministry would necessarily expand), but he had recognised how God was working powerfully through Paul and had acknowledged that the grace of God was at work there too. They had agreed that the Gospel of the uncircumcision and the Gospel of the circumcised was the same Gospel. The difference was simply in the approach to be taken in particular circumstances.

The change of address from Cephas (Aramaic) to Peter (Greek) may here reflect the context in view, that it is speaking of his Apostleship to the Jews, to many of whom he would be Cephas, but now as seen in the eyes of the Gentiles, to whom he would be Peter. Paul uses Cephas when seeing him as the authority who was in and from Jerusalem

‘James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go to the uncircumcision and they to the circumcision.’ The result of the mutual recognition was specific authorisation from the twelve for them to continue their ministry among the Gentiles in the same way as they had ministered already. The deliberate joining of right hands stressed their unity and oneness and agreement to the compact. This sign of acceptance was widely known in the ancient world. This was final confirmation that ‘those who were reputed’ actually backed Paul and his ministry and teaching.

James is probably placed first because he was by now the recognised senior elder of the Jerusalem church. This would strongly suggest that, as the brother of Jesus, he was seen as being on the same level as the Apostles. On the other hand Paul may have named him first to demonstrate that he was not overawed by the twelve, or in recognition that he was the Lord’s brother.


Verse 10

‘Only they would that we should remember the poor, which very thing I was always zealous to do.’

The only conditions they had suggested had been charitable ones. This demonstrates how strong a feeling the early church had of the necessity for aid to be given to the poor, especially to fellow-Christians. And Paul was one with them in this. Indeed his second visit to Jerusalem had been for this very purpose (Acts 11:29 compare Romans 15:26) and this mention is therefore seen by some as confirming that it was during that visit that all this occurred. It is noteworthy that in the midst of such a serious doctrinal conflict this issue was raised. Practical living was seen as important, as Jesus had made clear in His own teaching. All were aware that concern for the poor and hungry was one sign of a true Christian.


Verses 11-13

‘But when Cephas came to Antioch I resisted him to his face because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James he ate with the Gentiles, but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews dissembled in the same way, in so much that Barnabas was carried away by their dissimulation.’

The example cited is concerning the behaviour of the Apostle Peter. It appears that when Peter visited Antioch he was happy to eat with the non-Jews, ignoring Jewish restrictions on ‘cleansing’ and on eating with those who ate ‘unclean’ food, as the voice from Heaven had made clear he could do in Acts 10:9-16. This would be at the ‘love-feasts’ which were common in the early church as Christians gathered to eat together in an act of love and fellowship, which would be accompanied by the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20-21). But when some Jewish Christians arrived from Jerusalem, who stressed the need to keep the rituals of the Law of Moses, he had stopped eating with the non-Jews lest he be accused of not conforming with certain Jewish ritual requirements, even though previously he had been quite satisfied that he did not need to conform with them. And by this he had thus led astray other Jews who were there, including Barnabas. This ties in with the man who could deny his Master under stress. Peter was a brave and good man, but he had a tendency to panic when challenged.

The result of this behaviour was that it affected fellowship around the Lord’s Table (Holy Communion) for this would come under the same restrictions. It resulted in a division between Jews and Gentiles. Thus the rift was both social and religious. The church was being rent in two.

These details of this incident serve to confirm that it took place before the gathering at Jerusalem in Acts 15. For there the clear decision, when interpreted, had to signify that as long as Gentiles abstained from blood and from eating things that were strangled, Jews could enjoy table fellowship with them, otherwise there would be little point in the regulations. And that being so Paul would have been able to cite the decision of the gathering to Peter. As he did not it confirms that that decision had not as yet been reached. Alternately it might suggest that he saw it as a compromise that in certain circumstances should be put aside.

Whatever be the case with regard to that, the incident here demonstrates .that many of the more conservative attached to the Jerusalem church still refused to eat with Gentiles. Indeed feeling was so strong here that even Barnabas had temporarily sided with them. We can see why Paul was horrified. He could see the consequences that would follow. The result could only be that two churches would be built up, one of which would be legalistic and separatist, and the truth of the Gospel would then be put in jeopardy.


Verses 11-16

Paul’s Argument with Peter When Peter Was Inconsistent (Galatians 2:11-16).

The previous argument had a permanent importance for the church because it has laid down once for all what is basic to salvation, and what is not. It has stressed that any ritual requirements that anyone lays down are not to be countenanced if they are claimed to be necessary for salvation. What follows is almost as important. It also brings out and confirms that no one, not even Peter, can exercise his authority in such a way as to annul this fact. It makes clear that even Apostolic authority cannot override the principles of the Gospel.


Verse 14

‘But when I saw that they did not walk uprightly in accordance with the truth of the Gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you being a Jew live as the Gentiles do, and not as the Jews do, how do you compel the Gentiles to live as the Jews do?’

It was Paul who saw how crucial this event was. At this stage the situation was seemingly that the Jewish Christians, especially in Jerusalem and Judea, tended to remain faithful to the Jewish law and requirements, even while the Gentiles living away from Judea and Jerusalem were not being required to do so. And Paul had no quarrel with that as long as it did not involve Gentiles in any way, for they were simply following their usual customs and not making them a Christian necessity. But what he did have a quarrel with was for Jewish Christians to come among Gentiles and refuse to eat with Gentile Christians unless they fulfilled all the requirements of Jewish Law. That, he saw, could only lead to division and separation.

And it was particularly heinous for Peter to do so. For prior to the arrival of these Judaisers he had had no qualms about eating with the Gentiles. And he had been right. For by his actions he had been demonstrating the truth of the Gospel that salvation was not dependent on methods of eating and drinking. However, now that they had come he had revealed a certain level of hypocrisy by giving way to their demands, not on strictly doctrinal grounds as his previous behaviour demonstrated, but simply out of misplaced cowardice.

So he had challenged Peter before them all by saying, “If you being a Jew live as the Gentiles do, and not as the Jews do, how do you compel the Gentiles to live as the Jews do?” Basically what he was saying was that Peter had previously been willing to live as the Gentiles did, and had seen that as the right thing to do. By it he had demonstrated that living as a Jew was not a requirement of the Gospel. Why then was he now doing the opposite and demanding that the Gentiles live as the Jews do, simply because he was afraid of what some fellow-Jews would think, thereby making the Gentiles behaviour appear wrong. The Gentiles would by this clearly see his inconsistency, and his intellectual dishonesty, and would feel humiliated and rejected, and all Jews would gain the idea that they must maintain such a separation permanently. It could only totally divide the church, as well as being inconsistent with the Gospel on the grounds that he had already been spoken about.

That to eat with Gentiles, who had probably made some concessions in order to make it possible, was permissible under the Gospel, was something that Peter had already acknowledged by eating with them, no doubt influenced by the incident in Acts 10. (See especially Acts 10:9-16; Acts 10:28; Acts 11:3 where he had also eaten with Gentiles under God’s instruction). On what grounds then did he now change his mind, thus trying to make the Gentiles behave like Jews contrary to his experience with Cornelius? By doing so he was suggesting that to be a full Christian in the Apostolic manner involved submitting to the law of Moses in full.

Peter might have denied this. He might have pointed out that he was not forcing them to eat with the Jewish Christians. But that would have been to deny the possibility of table fellowship, and this sudden withdrawal, which had affected even Barnabas, could only have been seen by the Gentile Christians as indicating that they were somehow after all only second rate, and not really full Christians at all, especially as the Judaisers were loudly demanding that all be circumcised. It was suggesting that full salvation depended on fulfilling ritual requirements, and was in danger of destroying the very foundations of the Gospel. And Paul recognised this at once. He recognised that it was both diminishing the Gospel and dividing the church. So he immediately stood up to Peter, challenging not his doctrine, but his behaviour and hypocrisy.

‘They did not walk uprightly in accordance with the truth of the Gospel.’ Paul recognised quite clearly that the truth of the Gospel was being put in jeopardy by Peter’s action. It was suggesting that faith in Christ was not in itself sufficient to make someone a fully acceptable Christian. Sadly there are today churches which do the same. They introduce teachings about baptism, or the seventh day, or priesthood, and make them necessary for salvation. It is against all such attitudes that Paul is arguing.

So he is pointing out that, while Peter was not strictly saying so (for he was not actually specifically compelling the Gentiles to live as Jews) Peter’s action was indicating that if the Gentiles wanted to be part of the united church it was necessary for them to conform to Jewish customs. He was giving the appearance of siding with the Judaisers. And had things been left as they were there would have been two churches, a Jewish church and a separate Gentile church, and that was something Paul could not countenance. It would be to divide Christ and make a mockery of the cross. In his eyes the choice was simple, Jesus Christ or a bundle of ritual. And only Jesus Christ could save.

It should be noted that this public rebuke was necessary in this particular case. It was not just an issue between him and Peter, it was something that affected all. For it was essential that the true position, and the wrongness of Peter’s position, was openly and positively revealed. Paul would have agreed that disagreements between two parties should normally be dealt with in private unless one party proved intransigent (Matthew 18:15-17), but that could not be the case when the matter went to the very root of the Gospel, and had been done in public by a prominent minister.


Verse 15

‘We being Jews by nature and not sinners of the Gentiles.’

This statement attaches to the following statement. It distinguishes between Jews and Gentiles in order that Paul might then make clear that regardless of which men and women were, the way of salvation for both was the same, believing in Jesus Christ. He is saying, “while we may find the observance of these rituals not as difficult as the Gentiles do, because they have become second nature to us, and we do not have their sinful tendencies with regard to them, nevertheless as a result of the preaching of the Gospel we know that we cannot be saved by observing these rituals any more than they can, because we have come to recognise that salvation is not by observing the works of the Law.”

The reason for his words was that he was describing precisely what the Judaisers believed. He is citing what their argument would be in order to destroy it, while sympathising to some extent with what had caused it. They believed that in a sense Jews were by nature ‘not sinners’, (they did not for example ignore the difference between what was ritually clean and what was ritually unclean). And that Gentiles by nature ‘were sinners’. They did not make such distinctions. But what did they mean by it?

‘Jews by nature.’ By this they meant that in their view Jews were born Jews, and were brought up in Jewish ideas and thought-forms, with the ritual requirements of the Law being a part of their daily lives. And thus quite ‘naturally’ they lived according to Jewish customs, and were as a result of this comparatively ‘clean’ by Jewish standards.

‘Sinners of the Gentiles.’ The Gentiles on the other hand were in a different position. Jews saw all Gentiles as ‘sinners’, just as the Pharisees described as ‘sinners’ all who did not observe their ritual and ethical requirements, and this was because they saw their own ritual and ethical requirements, which were not observed by the Gentiles, as expressing the Law of God. Thus as Gentiles did not observe their regulations concerning the eating of blood, and the washing away of defilement, and the observing of different feasts, and so on, they made themselves evident sinners.

The point is that ritual and ethical requirements of the Law had become second nature to many Jews. They had grown up in them and they were natural to them (even though they might not fulfil them). But they were not natural to the Gentiles. It was natural to them to be ‘sinners’ as far as the Law was concerned. So Paul is pointing out that by his action Peter was asking them to act against nature, even though he had previously behaved among them as though he was happy with their behaviour. In this way Paul clearly puts Jewish tradition into its proper place as restricted to Jews and not applicable to all. And he now deals with the heart of the situation. In using the word ‘sinners’ Paul may here have been being sarcastic, expressing the stated views of the Judaisers who had influenced Peter, for he himself knew that all men were sinners (Romans 3:23).


Verse 16

‘Yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but only through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jesus in order that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law. For by the works of the Law shall no man living be justified.’

And here was the crunch of the matter. Peter had summed up the Gospel as, ‘we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, even as they’ (Acts 15:12), thus agreeing that both must be saved in the same way without distinction, and had further declared that ‘through His name everyone who believes on Him will receive remission of sins’ (Acts 10:43). Thus he knew that Christians were the people who ‘believed’ (Acts 2:44; Acts 4:4; Acts 4:32; Acts 5:14; Acts 8:12; etc.). So Paul is here summarising in line with Peter’s actual teaching.

‘Yet knowing --.’ Although Jews by nature, and therefore not such gross sinners as Gentiles, they also knew in fact that they could only be justified (counted as righteous before God) by faith in Jesus Christ, as could the Gentiles. So their superior ‘state’ did not actually put them in any better position at all. For what finally mattered was being seen as ‘in the right’ by God, and this could only come as a result of their response of faith to Jesus Christ.

‘Justified.’ The word is a legal one and means to ‘be declared righteous, to be accounted as righteous’. It speaks of a legal decision made on the basis of the facts and the law, and is the opposite of ‘to be condemned’ (Romans 8:1; Romans 8:33). This is evidenced by its o-o ending, dikao-o, which means ‘to account as righteous’ and not ‘to make righteous’. It does not speak of a man’s inward condition, but of the status that he has in the eyes of the judge.

‘A man is not justified by works of the Law --- for by the works of the Law can no man living be justified.’ The Law, Paul says, was powerless to justify, because no one could ever succeed in obeying it fully. That was definitely something that no one could achieve, even if they were not ‘sinners by nature’. And Paul knew from personal experience how true this was (see Romans 7:7-11). He had struggled more than all to try to keep it and had failed, and so had his fellow Pharisees. The more they had tried, the more they had failed. And this also applied to all people, whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It was true of both ritual and moral aspects of the Law (although they would not have differentiated, for they saw all as the Law). They had failed on all counts.

The Law laid down a standard. It said this is how you must live, and it went into detail laying down individual laws. To be justified by the Law therefore it was necessary to live exactly in accordance with its requirements, without failing at any point. This is true of all law. It is not sufficient to keep most of it. The law is total in its demands (Galatians 3:10; compare James 2:10). It demands fulfilment of every part. To break one law is to be a lawbreaker, especially when that law has been laid down by God. And therefore there is no man who has not sinned before God. ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). ‘There is none righteous, no, not one’ (Romans 3:10-18).

‘But only through faith in Christ.’ (Or ‘except through faith in Christ’). This could mean either that in contrast with the Law faith in Christ justifies, or that a man can be justified by the law through faith in Christ. They really come down to the same thing. Faith in Christ ‘justifies’, as we are told elsewhere, because by it His righteousness is put to our account. ‘For He has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made (or ‘might become’) the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). It is thus the result of ‘a righteousness of God by faith’ given to faith, that is, to those who believe (Romans 1:17; Romans 3:21-22; Romans 3:25-26). Clothed thus in the righteousness of Christ Who kept the whole Law we can then be justified by the Law, because we will be judged not by our failure, but by His success. We will be ‘clothed’ with Christ, and God will look on us as we are ‘in Him’. If we are in Christ, then the Judge will not look at us, He will look at His righteousness as it covers us and will say ‘not guilty’. So ‘to him who does not work but believes on Him Who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness’ (Romans 4:5).

‘We have believed on Christ Jesus that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law’. And because that is what we have done when we become Christians and believe on Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Redeemer, we are thereby ‘counted as righteous’, not because of what we have done as we tried to obey the Law (the works of the law), but because we have believed in Jesus Christ as the One Who bore our sin in our place. Here ‘justification’, being looked on as though we had never sinned, is specifically said to be ‘not by the works of the Law’, which again supports the translation ‘only through’. We are being told that the one who believes on Christ Jesus in order to be justified by faith in Him basically renounces his wish to be judged by the Law, which is very wise as the Law can justify no one except the totally righteous, and ‘there is none righteous, not, not one’ (Romans 3:10). A believer rather puts all his trust in what Jesus Christ has suffered for him, the righteous for the unrighteous, so that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).

Notice the switch here from ‘Jesus Christ’ to ‘Christ Jesus’ to ‘Christ’. The names are synonymous, but the increasing emphasis is on ‘Christ’, the anointed One, the One sent from God, the Saviour of the world.

So the main grounds for Paul’s stand is that ‘a man is not put in the right with God by observing the Law but by putting his faith in Jesus Christ’. This is the crux of his argument, and of this letter. The moral Law can only condemn, he tells us. It cannot aid salvation. However much we try to keep it we will always fail. There will always be some point at which we will become unstuck. Like the rich young ruler we may be able to tick them off and say, ‘all these things have I observed from my youth up’. And then God steps in and says, ‘yes, but what about this?’ With the rich young ruler it was his love of riches. With Paul it had been covetousness. But all of us have some lack. None of us have loved God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. None of us have truly loved our neighbour as ourselves in all aspects of our lives. And the Judge puts His finger on where we have failed, and cries ‘Guilty’. For he who fails on one point is guilty of all. He is a lawbreaker (James 2:10). And that is why none of the rituals are necessary any longer, because the sacrificial death of Christ has replaced them. They cannot even contribute to our salvation, because Christ has done all that is necessary in dying for us. That is why it is faith in Christ that must be central.

It should be noted that this emphasis that a man is justified (counted as righteous) by faith in Christ was central to the teaching of Jesus Himself, for His constant message was that men must respond to Him and believe on Him, and that thereby they would be saved and receive eternal life (John 1:12; John 3:15-21; John 5:24 compare Matthew 18:6; Mark 5:34; Mark 10:52).


Verses 17-21

Paul Now Deals With Objections To His Statement And Stresses That The Law’s Purpose Is To Point To Christ (Galatians 2:17-21).

‘But, if while we have sought to be justified in Christ, we also were found sinners, is Christ made one who serves sin? God forbid. For if I build up again those things which I destroyed, I prove myself a transgressor.’

This question can be seen in two ways. Firstly as asking - ‘Surely seeking to be ‘put in the right’ through Christ means that we are must first of all admit to being sinners and must declare ourselves sinners. Does this not, it is asked, therefore make Christ the one who serves sin?’ This question was especially relevant to converted Pharisees. They had built up a way of life that they felt had on the whole made them ‘almost good’. They were ‘by nature Jews’. Yet the Gospel was now asking them to tear down that facade and admit their sinfulness. Was this not making them sinners?

To such a question Paul replies, ‘Of course not. On the contrary, it is if I build up again what I destroyed, if I again make the Law pre-eminent, that I make myself a lawbreaker and a sinner. It is the Law that shows me where I have gone wrong and accuses me of breaking the Law’. And the more I try to observe it the more I fail. Thus if we are to speak of something as ‘promoting sin’ it is the Law that does that. And to revive it is therefore to promote sin. See for a particular example of this Romans 7:7-8.

Alternately, relating to the context, the question might be seen as asking, ‘If we seek to be justified in Christ and thus abandon the ritual requirements by which we have lived as you are demanding, thus becoming in the eyes of Jews ‘sinners’, does this not mean that Christ is acting as a servant of sin and promoting sin?’ The reply is the same. It is that by again bringing in the Law I multiply sin, for it is the Law that reveals sin. Outside the Law such things are not all sinful, but once I come under the Law sin multiplies, for I see it for what it is.

The problem for the Judaisers was that they thought that Christ’s sacrifice made present atonement for their sins, as animal sacrifices had before Jesus had died, and that after that their salvation depended on their maintaining their position by observing the Law in all its forms. Jesus had thereby become to them a super-sacrifice, a help along the way, and nothing more. And it left them in the same predicament as they had been in before. How were they to keep the Law perfectly? Paul rejects this. He says quite plainly that to take up that attitude is actually to encourage sin (compare Romans 7:8-11), for they can only fail, thus leading on to further failure, and taking them down the road to despair. He knew it because he had walked that way himself.

But how very different was the offer of the Good News made through Christ. For those who come to Christ can ignore the requirements of the Law as far as their position before God and their eternal salvation is concerned. Instead they simply trust in what He has done for them on the cross. They accept that He died for them. They accept that He has borne their sin in their place as ‘a ransom in the place of many; (Mark 10:45). And then they accept that because He has died in their place, they can go free. They are forgiven, and their sins are no longer counted against them, because they had been paid for by Christ.

But does this therefore mean that people can go on sinning as they like. He lets us know that the answer to that question is a resounding ‘No!’ based on the significance of the cross. And he now explains that significance.


Verse 19-20

‘For I through the Law died to the Law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. Yet I live, and yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me. And that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith which is in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.’

Paul points out that the Law crucified Christ. He died as a supposed lawbreaker. But the wonderful thing is that when He died Paul, and all those who are in Christ and believe in Him, died with Him. His crucifixion counts as their crucifixion. For because they are in Christ they were crucified with Him. Thus they are made dead to the Law by the body of Christ (Romans 7:4). For in Him the Law has carried out its verdict and its execution, not only on Him but on all who are His. He had done no sin, but He was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). So once we have become members of His body what happened to Him is also counted as having happened to us. And as our sins are placed on Him, so His righteousness covers us (2 Corinthians 5:21), and we are made the righteousness of God (as righteous as God) in Him. The Law has done its worst by condemning and punishing our sin at the cross, and is now therefore rendered powerless, for full punishment for all breaches of it have been exacted on Him. Even the Law cannot punish again a dead man who has already died for his sins. For then justice has been satisfied with the ultimate penalty. The result is that those who are His, and have been crucified with Him, are no longer under the law. The law has condemned them and has done its utmost. It can do no more. They have faced their punishment in Christ. And now the law cannot touch His people any more for they are ‘dead’ in Christ, justly punished for all their sin, whether past or future.

But he then stresses that those who are His have died to the law for a purpose. And that is so that they may live to God (compare Romans 7:6). There is to be no complacency here. There is to be no suggestion that therefore sin does not now matter. Rather there is to be experienced a divine compulsion. Those who have been crucified with Christ now recognise that it is because they are in Christ and Christ is in them that they are acceptable to God. Yes, it is because the risen Christ now lives in and through them. So they recognise that they are now responsible for Christ’s reputation, for Christ lives in them. Thus they are deeply aware that they must live the Christ life, that they must manifest Christ in their lives. To genuinely say that I have been crucified with Christ and so have died to the law and its condemnation, and not then to let Him live through me is not possible, says Paul. The tree is known by its fruit.

‘I through the Law, died to the Law.’ The Law had condemned Paul and had sentenced him, and had carried out his execution ‘in Christ’. So that was the end of the old Paul. There was no coming back from crucifixion! And the same is true for all who put their trust in Christ and what He has done for them on the cross.

‘That I might live unto God.’ And the purpose of this is not to free us to do whatever we like, but so that we might live ‘unto God’. So that we might live as in the presence of God. So that all our hopes and aspirations may be to serve and please God. That is what salvation is all about. It is not an easy way into Heaven, it is the way back to God that we might live to and for Him. It is to allow Him to work in us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).

‘I have been crucified with Christ.’ The verb is in the perfect tense, ‘I have been and therefore now am, crucified with Christ’. It is a continuing experience, for once having been accomplished in us, it has permanent results down to the present time. Paul speaks of himself as an individual and of all Christians as individuals. All who have believed in Him were ‘crucified with Him’ and are now in the state of being ‘crucified ones’. This is true firstly because He acted as our substitute. When He died it was in our place. As Jesus Himself said, ‘The Son of Man came --- to give His life a ransom instead of many’ (‘lutron anti pollon’ - Mark 10:45 - ‘anti’ is unquestionably substitutionary). As man He was the true Mediator (the one who acts between two parties) giving Himself ‘as a ransom on behalf of all’ (1 Timothy 2:5-6). It was something offered as a benefit open to all. But in the end it would only be effective in the ‘many’ who responded in faith. For the ransom was ‘in the place of’ many. The whole point of a ransom is that it takes the place of those who are ransomed, it pays the price for their deliverance. Thus once we truly believe in Jesus Christ we can say that we ‘are bought with a price’ (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23).

Although sinless Himself Jesus Christ took the place of each believing sinner, and of all believing sinners, and it was so that the believing sinner may be ‘ransomed’, freed from sin, wholly forgiven and reconciled with God. As Paul puts it elsewhere, ‘He was made sin for us, He Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Corinthians 5:21), and ‘He gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify for Himself a people of His own, dedicated to good works’ (Titus 2:14).

For this is ‘the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’, that ‘God set Him forth to be a means of propitiation (removing the threat of His judgment), through faith, by His blood (His death accepted as a sacrifice)’ (Romans 3:25). The meaning of propitiation is that God’s antipathy against sin is fully satisfied by the death that takes place, because the requirement of the Law has been met. And this is because He was ‘delivered up for our acts of law breaking and was raised for our justification’ (Romans 4:25). This is why we can be ‘justified (counted as righteous) by faith’.

But secondly it is true because He acted as our full representative, not only in our place but actually ‘as us’. Once we have truly believed we are ‘in Him’ and become ‘members of His body’ (Ephesians 5:30; 1 Corinthians 12:27). As all men are summed up in Adam, for they all come from him, so all redeemed men are summed up in Christ, ‘the second man’ (1 Corinthians 15:47), ‘the last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:21-22; 1 Corinthians 15:45), for as a result of believing they are all in Him. Even the term ‘Son of Man’, which Jesus emphasised for Himself, also represented His people (Daniel 7:13-14 with 18, 27), for Jesus is One with His people. He said to Paul when he was persecuting Christians, ‘why do you persecute ME’ (Acts 9:4). Thus when He died, all Who are His died with Him. We have been crucified with Christ, and it is an ongoing situation. All who become His have been crucified with Him, and all who are His are crucified with Him.

When considering the mystery of ‘the atonement’ we must recognise that one picture alone cannot do it justice, as we have seen here. It is substitution, it is representation, it is propitiation, it is reconciliation, it is expiation, it is atonement. It is all these and more. It is ‘God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them’ (2 Corinthians 5:19). And who can fully understand it?

But one thing is clear. This could not have been accomplished by a mere man. Although He died as man, representing all who are His, it was because He was God, and only because He was God, that His sacrifice was sufficient. Only the Creator could substitute for His creation. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, because none other could do so.

And this crucifixion is personal. Once I come by faith to Christ and ‘am crucified with Him’ my old life ceases. I recognise that I am dead to all that has gone before. I recognise that I no longer have any right to live my life as I want to. For that is why I have been crucified.

‘Yet I live, and yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me.’ Having ‘died with Christ’ Paul recognises that he is still alive. But no longer now as the same person. Rather as a Christ indwelt person. The old Paul has died, with all his views, hopes and beliefs. He has become Christ indwelt through faith (Ephesians 3:17), and it is Christ Who holds the reins and must be allowed to control the thoughts of his heart. It is He Who now lives in and through Paul. It is His views and hopes and beliefs that must be followed. And as He dwells in him by responsive faith Paul has the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15). And the same is true for all who believe in Him.

‘And the life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, which is in the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ Every believer lives in a fleshly body, but he lives ‘in faith’, faith in the Son of God Who loved him and gave Himself for him. He therefore does not follow the desires and aims of the flesh, but follows the desires and aims of the Spirit, for that faith is in the One Who sacrificed Himself for him, the Son of God. With Christ indwelling him he puts his faith not in his flesh but in Christ, recognising that the dynamic power of the One Who lives within him is to be expressed through him. He is to live Christ. Christ has superseded the Law. And paradoxically by this he himself will be able to fulfil the essence of the Law (Galatians 5:13-14), for no one could fulfil the Law as He did.

‘The Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ In this is expressed the incredible thought, that the Son of God Himself gave Himself up for us. Well did the hymnwriter say, ‘Tis mystery all, the immortal dies’. Who can understand it? The Son of God, He Who was before all worlds and created all things (John 1:1-3; Hebrews 1:2), He Who upholds all things by His powerful command (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17), He Who rules over the hosts of Heaven (Matthew 26:53; Revelation 19:11-16), has so loved me that He gave Himself for me, that He might live out His life through me. How can I believe that and ever be the same again?

Notice in this whole section the ‘I’. While Paul would have immediately agreed that it was true for all Christians, and that that was what he meant, he applied it to himself as an individual. For the message is not only that Christ died for all, but that He died for me. I have been crucified with Christ. And each of us can take this personally for ourselves. We can then say, ‘All I have been has gone. It has been put to death in Him. I have begun anew.’ So while salvation is of the whole body of Christ, it is also a very individual thing, it ismysalvation.

All the world has not been crucified with Christ. It is an individual thing demanding individual response. It is only those who have come to the crucified Christ in responsive faith who have been crucified with Him. It is ‘the many’, but not all. And it is ‘the many’, the believers, who are now to live out His resurrection life.


Verse 21

‘I do not make void the grace of God. For if righteousness is through the Law then Christ is dead in vain.’

The suggestion from this verse is that others do make void the grace of God, for they insist that righteousness comes through the (impossible) strict observance of the Law and obedience to the covenant. It may even be that some had said that Paul made void the grace of God because he rejected the Law and covenant so graciously given. But, he says, it is not he who makes void the grace of God, it is they.

For God’s grace, God’s free unmerited goodness and favour, revealed in action in the giving of Christ, and through Him of His Spirit, is upheld and glorified through Paul’s teaching, for in it Christ is all. But in their teaching He is diminished and His death is in vain, for in their case it is the righteousness that they seek through the Law is what finally matters, the righteousness that they can never achieve. That is their be all and end all. They do not see their salvation as being as a result of the activity of God, but as arising out of their own activity. They are failing to rest on the grace of God. And yet it is available to no one in their way, for none can fully keep the Law. However hard they strive they will never achieve it, and thus they will die, and Christ’s death will have been in vain. Indeed they no longer leave any reason for Christ to die. For if the main basis of salvation is their own righteousness attained by keeping the Law, then the old sacrifices would be sufficient. That would then be to make Christ’s sacrifice unnecessary. It is clear therefore clear that faith in Christ alone, and in His saving work alone, is our only hope, and is the only way by which we can magnify the grace of God. It is by saying ‘God has done all’. All I have done is let it happen to me, and even that I could do nothing about. I have responded because I had to. I have heard because He has spoken (John 10:27-28).

In finishing this section we must draw attention to one fact. What Paul is against here is not the Law, but the Law looked on as a means of salvation, as a means of maintaining a covenant relationship with God. Elsewhere he says ‘the Law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just and good’ (Romans 7:12). As a pattern, especially as revealed in Jesus Christ, it is without compare. But his point is that as a way of salvation its standards are too good. It is beyond us. If it is seen as the means of our salvation it can only destroy us.

But once we have been crucified with Christ and have died to the Law, we will begin to fulfil it from glad hearts because we will allow that greatest of all Law-keepers, the One Who alone kept it to the full, to live through us His glorious life of obedience. But always we must remember that our salvation is through His grace and His power, brought home to us when we came to the cross, and continually at work within us as we allow the crucified and risen One to live through us (Philippians 2:13). Never must we think that it results from our keeping of the Law, because we will never, and in this life never can, do that satisfactorily.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Galatians 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/galatians-2.html. 2013.

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