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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Galatians 2

 

 


Verse 1

1. Fourteen years after—That this visit cannot be identified with Paul’s brief mission to Jerusalem mentioned Acts 11:30 we have shown in our note on that verse. Paul does not say that the visit here narrated was his first after that of Galatians 1:18. Hence this going up to Jerusalem was, beyond question, the attendance from Antioch to the Council. The time, persons, and business is the same in both narratives. Titus is doubtless included in the certain other of them of Acts 15:2, and was taken by Paul, as a young Gentile Christian, to test the question whether he should be required to be circumcised. Galatians 2:3. Probably Titus was with Paul at Corinth when writing this epistle.


Verses 1-10

3. The genuineness of Paul’s gospel acknowledged by the apostles The Council of Jerusalem, Galatians 2:1-10.

How independent Paul’s gospel was of the other apostles he has now shown. His next step is to show that his gospel was fully endorsed by those apostles; a fact conclusive against the troublers at Galatia, who represented him as a false apostle. He proves this by retracing the facts of the Jerusalem Council, with which retracing the reader must carefully compare Luke’s narrative given Acts 15:1-35.


Verse 2

2. By revelation—Note on Acts 15:4. Paul was publicly appointed to go to Jerusalem to discuss the question of circumcision, and he was doubtless divinely admonished to go and settle the query of his apostleship. So the parents of Jesus were concurrently admonished by the death of Herod and by divine intimation to return from Egypt. Prof. Lightfoot has collected three other such concurrences. Acts 9:29-30, compared with Acts 22:17, etc.; Acts 13:2-4; and Acts 15:28. Paul mentions this revelation to show that his apostleship, and the sanction of his apostleship, came alike, not from man, but from God.

Communicated—Explained, set forth. It was, no doubt, a matter of great interest to those home apostles to know the secret of this young evangelist’s power of winning Gentiles to Christ, of spreading the gospel over distant lands, and of building churches in the great metropolises. Before the assembling in full council, those of reputation—the pillars—had consultation with him privately, to form their preparatory opinion. These pillars were (Galatians 2:9) James, Cephas, and John. Lest, depends upon communicated.

Run… in vain—This does not mean lest my work should appear to be in vain, but lest it should be rendered vain. He entered into full, harmonious concert with the pillars of the Palestinean Church, lest they should, by fatal opposition through misunderstanding, destroy all his work. The opposition of the pillars implied the opposition of the entire apostolic college, and the entire Palestinean Church. This would, to all human view, be a devastating division in the young religion; and, as historically cutting off Paul’s Churches from the original fountain head, would have destroyed them, as, perhaps, the Churches of Galatia were destroyed, and still more completely.


Verse 3

3. Neither Titus… circumcised—Titus is here put forth as a living fact in proof of what the pillars did not require. He was placed by St. Paul among them as an uncircumcised Gentile Christian, and they yield the point of circumcision. Paul, according to his ground, could circumcise his Gentile converts, as he did Timothy, if expedient, without any surrender of the principle. But they could not accept one uncircumcised Christian without admitting that there could be Christianity without circumcision. We can, therefore, clearly see why Paul could circumcise Timothy and insist that Titus should not be circumcised. And Paul, doubtless, puts this case to the Galatians as an answer to the argument drawn from his circumcising Timothy.


Verse 4

4. And that—The refusal to circumcise him.

False brethren—The different sections of the Council we have classified into four, (Acts 15:6,) and the false brethren are the fourth. We are able to put our finger upon them. They tried to make the trouble at Antioch, (Acts 15:1,) and they are succeeding in making this trouble at Galatia. Renan, in his Life of Paul, (following Baur,) identifies class four with three, and insists that this faction are the true primitive Christians. Paul, then, was really an innovator—the fabricator of a new Christianity—which was, in fact, a better than the original. All which is elaborate nonsense. Not only have we Luke’s gospel and Acts, but we have the epistles of these very pillars— Peter, James, and John—to show us that the Christianity of all three is identical with that of Paul.

Unawares brought in—Luke says, that they, so far from being the real primitive disciples, were certain of the sect of the Pharisees. They belonged to the zealot class of Hebrews described in our note on Acts 6:1, who became the Ebionites of later Church history. The quarrel, in fact, began at the murmuring of the Hellenistic widows. We have noted at Acts 15:7 that these Pharisees properly formed no part of the assembly, but were unawares brought in. They were wholly overridden by the decision of the Council.


Verse 5

5. We—The delegation from Antioch. To the apostles and the orthodox Church there was a deference; but these factionists demanded subjection, which was not yielded an hour. The very truth of the gospel was at stake.

You—Galatians and all other Gentile Christians.


Verse 6

6. Seemed to be somewhat—In special contrast to those who seemed to be no-what at all—the factionists. From this point the narrative flows in a clear yet troubled current, like a pure stream rippling among pebbles. The reader’s eye may leap from this clause to Galatians 2:9, where Paul fairly begins again, all that intervenes being a tangle of parentheses. The main thought is, that the three seeming pillars accepted him as a fourth.

Whatsoever… person—These clauses are a first parenthesis; for they connect subordinately with somewhat.

No matter to me—Paul here retraces his impressions at the time. He brought his case before them as accidental, not essential, superiors. Their position was of no importance to him.

Accepteth… person—Prof. Lightfoot notes that this phrase in the Old Testament Hebrew means to favour one, without necessarily including any invidious sense. But in the New Testament Greek the word person— originally signifying an actor’s theatrical mask—acquires the idea of something assumed upon and over the real being. To accept the person, then, is to favour him, not for or according to his real desert or quality, but according to some external advantages, as rank, dress, wealth, reputation. Paul, appearing at Jerusalem, was conscious that his call was equally divine; his qualifications, at least, as great; his labours and successes more abundant. And so he knew the divine Eye saw. These pillars are lofty metropolitans, and I am a hard looking itinerant; but God is not deceived by externals.

Added nothing—In spite of their seeming. They imparted to me no new gospel. I had derived from Christ by revelation all they could tell me. Quite the reverse, as he will next show.


Verses 6-10

6-10. Having dismissed the case of the Judaists and the Council, Paul now touches the question vital with the Galatians: What were your final relations, Paul, with the pillars? And this he now answers. These pillars, on whom you so much lean, though they are only my co-equal apostles, agreeing that Peter and myself had one Christianity yet different fields, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. Undoubtedly there are slightly disparaging terms of expression regarding the apostles, and these arise from two sources: 1. St. Paul uses terms derived from his first impressions on arriving at Jerusalem. He had been but transiently there since his schooling under Gamaliel. He had been “roughing it” for fourteen years as foreign missionary. On arriving at the sacred capital he finds three apostles looming up as pillars, as if not only the apostolate, but the Church, seemed all but embodied in them. It costs him some effort to adjust his conceptions to this seeming, and to present his history in a fore-council to them. 2. He intimates that the Galatians, in subjecting his apostolate to the decision of these pillars, do make them over tall, and he is willing to diminish the surplusage. He, too, is a pillar, and all the pillars are of equal height. There is no proof, and no probability, that, as Renan maintains from this passage, any contrariety existed between Paul and these apostles. Christianity was not thus divided into two hostile camps.


Verse 7

7. Contrariwise—Instead of undertaking to impart to me, they recognised my co-equal mission with the chief pillar Peter.

Of the uncircumcision—Chiefly, but not exclusively. Paul could convert Jews and Peter Gentiles, but their principal fields were thus designated.


Verse 8

8. He that wrought—The mission of each was wrought by the same God.


Verse 9

9. And—This verse gathers up the loose threads of thought, and brings them to a conclusion.

James—Some copies name Peter first; doubtless an emendation to save the supremacy of Peter. Lightfoot notes here, First, that James is styled the Lord’s brother, because the transaction there narrated occurred before the martyrdom by Herod of James, son of Zebedee, and so the distinctive epithet was necessary. James, son of Alpheus, though an apostle, was too little prominent to create ambiguity. Second. James is here named first as being chief in Jerusalem; Peter is elsewhere first, as being every-where else superior to James.

Seemed to be—To my eye as I surveyed things in Jerusalem.

Pillars—An ordinary but graceful metaphor, to designate a statesman as a pillar of State, or an eminent minister as a pillar in the Church. As the last it may be supposed derived from the columns of temples. See note on Acts 19:27. St. Ignatius says, “The pillars of the world—the apostles.”

Grace—Both the apostolic office and his noble endowments therefor.

Right hands—As recognition of his co-equal apostleship. And this fact was a complete refutation of the troublers among the Galatians as of the pseudo-criticisms of Renan and his German masters.


Verse 10

10. Remember the poor—In accordance with the custom of Jews in foreign lands who sent in contributions to the poor of Palestine. As the Hebrew Christians bore the brunt of Jewish persecution, so it was due from the Churches abroad, whose fountain head the Holy Land had been, to aid them in their distresses.

Forward to do—And did on a large scale.


Verse 11

11. When Peter was come to Antioch—After the Jerusalem Council, and before Paul and Barnabas left on their separate journeys. Acts 15:39-40. Antioch was, as we have amply shown, (Acts 11:19-30, where see notes,) a new Christian centre, after Jerusalem; the metropolis of Gentile Christianity, the stronghold of the anti-circumcisionists against the powerful influence of the mother city. It was all important in order to suppress the Gentile repudiation of circumcision in the Church that Antioch should succumb. The Church was built up to its present flourishing condition largely by the joint ministries of Barnabas and Paul, and it was their province to maintain the independence of Antiochian Christian Gentilism. When Peter, the senior apostle, arrived at Antioch, therefore, fresh from the Jerusalem Council, it was a great gain for Gentilism that he disregarded Jewish limitations, and did eat with the Gentiles. This separation at the table, produced by the Jewish laws of diet, was not only a symbol of division but of caste. It rendered a common love-feast and a common communion impossible. It made a horizontal separation by which the Jewish class was to be a higher grade in the Church. This, too, even where the Gentile class was permitted to remain uncircumcised. It made degradation the price of uncircumcision.

To be blamed—Literally, he was condemned; that is, by his own deed.


Verses 11-21

4. Paul’s apostolic rebuke of the apostle Peter, Galatians 2:11-21.

This is the closing step of Paul’s proof of the reality and independence of his apostleship. The proof rises in climax. First, he lived for years apart from the apostles; next, he met and was acknowledged by them; last, he encountered the chief apostle and successfully rebuked him—rebuked him upon the very point in debate among the Galatians—circumcision.

Not only was this climax truly conclusive for the Galatians, but it is very decisive against the infallibility of Peter, as well as of the popes claiming succession from Peter. It raises, also, an important question as to the personal inspiration of the apostles. On this last question we may say that we do not consider the authority of the New Testament books, as a rule of faith, to depend solely on the exemption of the writers from error. Their authority, both for facts and doctrine, is sustained by the testimony of the Apostolic Church, which, in the age of miracle, martyrdom, and discerning of spirits, recognised these books as the highest and truest records of Christian history and doctrine, all under the guidance of the divine Head of the Church. This very rebuke of Peter by Paul, and the grounds of that rebuke, were thus sanctioned by the spontaneous spirit of the Church under guidance and inspiration of the Spirit of Christ; that same guidance by which the New Testament canon was, for the most part, silently and spontaneously formed by the mind of the Church.

With regard to the primacy of Peter, nothing but the necessity of their case could induce any parties to deny that in this whole passage, Galatians 2:6-21, it is the feeling of Paul, and his purpose, to show that in all respects he was the official apostolic equal of Peter. Such is the feeling, as our notes show, pervading the clauses of Galatians 2:6-9. Nor will Paul let the matter rest until he has proved his point by showing himself before the Church as a public rebuker of the senior apostle on this most momentous question of both faith and practice. Neither the supremacy nor the infallibility of the bishop of Rome can stand before these powerful paragraphs. It is no wonder that Luther held this epistle to be the great charter of the Church’s freedom from the despotism of the tiara.


Verse 12

12. Certain came from James—This may mean that they came from the Church of James at Jerusalem. It may be, also, that they came from James himself, but entirely misrepresented James, insisting on a rule that James did not assert. It may, finally, be that James really and truly, at this time, meant that Gentile Antioch should submit, and concede that while circumcision should no be obligatory upon Gentile Christians, yet uncircumcised Gentile Christians should be excluded from the Jewish Christian table. This would have been to establish a Hindoo caste in the Christian Church. How James really stood, however, among parties, we have noted on Acts 15:6.

Fearing them—This body of deputies from James must have swept in upon Antioch with an overwhelming power thus to have overawed the senior apostle. It looked like a final defeat of Christian liberty. For, conquered here in its fortress at Antioch, where else could it raise its head?


Verse 13

13. Other Jews—All the converted Jews at Antioch. The whole Judaic Church!

Barnabas also was carried away—The apostle’s fellow-leader in building up this fortress of freedom! Young Paul alone is left, of all the Jews, to champion Gentile rights. It was the very Thermopylae of the contest.

Dissimulation—In acting from fear contrary to their own sense of duty; perhaps even trying to conceal their previous freedom with Gentiles.


Verse 14

14. If thou—Peter.

Livest after the manner of Gentiles—Unfolding the fact, doubtless well remembered by Gentiles present, how he lived before the men from James arrived.

Compellest thou the Gentiles—By force of his example, after these men arrived.


Verses 14-21

a. Paul’s declaration of his gospel to Peter, Galatians 2:14-21.

The purpose of Paul in this speech is to put an end to this paltering between law-justification and Christ-justification. If we are justified by Christ. why need we law observances? We analyze these verses as follows:—14. If you, Peter, a born Jew, rely on Christ-justification, why make even Gentiles law-keepers? 15, 16. We born Jews certainly have flung ourselves on Christ as our sole justification. 17. But if, while relying on Christ-justification, we admit ourselves by law-keeping to be still unjustified sinners, is Christ to submit to being made tributary to a real non-justification? By no means. 18. For such we really make him when, by law-keeping, we build up that law-justification we once destroyed, and so make our self in Christ an unjustified transgressor. 19-21. There is, then, but one sole way of justification. The law itself kills and drives us to Christ for life. We are dead to the law, or Christ has needlessly died. Christ, without the old law, is our sole life.


Verse 15

15. By nature—By birth.

Sinners—Unjustified, either by law or Christ.


Verse 16

16. Knowing—The principle of justification—not by law, but by Christ alone—is in this verse expressed with manifold reiteration, for sake of emphasis. This was, perhaps, occasioned in some degree by the colloquy between the two apostles. The clauses knowing… Christ, are antecedent; the clauses even… law, are consequent; the clause for… justified, expresses the great Christian axiom on which the whole is based.


Verse 17

17. Are found—By our own confession, expressed in keeping the law.

Sinners—Are in an unjustified state. Is therefore Christ, confessedly on our part, the minister of, the contributor to, sin, or non-justification?


Verse 18

18. And our law-keeping does place Christ in this condition; for if I build again the law-justification, which I destroyed, by rejecting it for Christ, I make myself unjustified—a transgressor.


Verse 19

19. For I… am dead to the law—As a means of justification and life; and that, too, through the law, which provides penalty, but not pardon, for the sinner; death, not life.


Verse 20

20. Taking refuge from the law with Christ, I am identified, and so crucified, with him. Christ died from sin, and I die to sin.

Liveth in me— Is the life of my life.

Live… in the flesh—Has a deeper life, which is Christ.


Verse 21

21. I do not thus, like the legalist and Judaizer, frustrate, that is, make useless, the grace of God: for if righteousness, that is, justification and pardon, are by the law, then Christ died (not in vain, but) needlessly. There was no demand for grace or atonement if law gave righteousness.

The following extract from Stanley’s notice of “The Clementines” (see our note, 2 Corinthians 10:1,) illustrates the assaults against which Paul here defends himself: “In an argument between Simon [Magus] and Peter, in which the former insists on the superiority of visions as evidence to our Lord’s discourses, the latter on that of actual intercourse, Peter concludes as follows: ‘If, then, Jesus our Lord ( ο ιησους ημων) was seen in a vision, and was known by thee, and conversed with thee, it was in anger with thee as an adversary that he spoke to thee through visions and dreams, and even through outward revelations. But can any one be made wise to teach through a vision? If thou sayest that he can, why then did our Master abide and converse with his disciples, not sleeping but awake, for a whole year? And how shall we believe the very fact that he was seen of thee? And how could he have been seen of thee, when thou teachest things contrary to his teaching? And if, by having been seen and made a disciple by him for one hour, thou becamest an apostle, then expound what he has taught, love his apostles, fight not with me who was his companion. For me, the firm rock, the foundation of the Church, even me thou did “withstand” openly ( ανθεστηκας). If thou hadst not been an adversary, thou wouldst not have calumniated me, and reviled my preaching, to deprive me of credit when I spoke what I had heard myself in intercourse with the Lord; as if I were to be blamed, I whose character is so great. Or if thou sayest that I was condemned by my own act, ( κατεγνωσμενον,) thou accusest God who revealed Christ to me, and attackest him who blessed me because of that revelation. But since thou wishest truly to work with the truth, now learn first from us what we learned from him; and when thou hast become a disciple of the truth, then become a fellow-worker with us.” Compare Galatians 1:1; Galatians 1:12; Galatians 1:15-20; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 2 Corinthians 10:16; 2 Corinthians 11:1-5, and especially St. Paul’s own words (Galatians 2:11) in the account of the feud at Antioch— αντεστην,… κατεγνωσμενος.” See note, 2 Corinthians 10:1.

In this speech Paul makes Peter’s error the starting point to give, perhaps, his first fixed exposition of the contrast between law and grace. For the Jew to perform a sacrifice, or the papist to say a certain number of paternosters as an act which in itself compensated or atoned for sin, was a legal, worthless, unsaving work. The true way is, by a self-consecrating faith to surrender my all to Christ, by him to be empowered to walk in all the ways of holiness. And here he spreads for his Galatians a platform on which they should stand, but which some sorcery is deluding them to desert.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Galatians 2:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/galatians-2.html. 1874-1909.

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Thursday, November 26th, 2020
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