Galatians 2


“Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek”. Galatians 2:1-3

Paul Accepted By The Apostles

After defending his apostleship, and everyone praised God for Paul’s conversion, Paul now goes on to speak about the time he went up to Jerusalem.

Paul made several trips to Jerusalem after his conversion, in Acts 9:26-30 and Galatians 1:18 we find that Paul went there to meet the apostles.

In Acts 11:27-30 we find Paul taking famine relief to Judea. In Acts 15 he attended the Jerusalem meeting when the church dealt with the matter of legalism. In Acts 18:22 Paul greeted the church after the second missionary journey. In Acts 21:15-23 Paul made a last evangelistic effort after the third missionary journey.

And when Paul mentions he went to Jerusalem ‘again’ here in Galatians 2:1, I believe he’s referring to Acts 15, because it’s in Acts 15 we find the occasion when the church met to deal with the threat of the Judaizing teachers.

In Judea, there’s a bunch of men talking about circumcision and what they’re saying is that no one can be saved unless they’re circumcised.

Paul and Barnabas don’t agree and decide to head to Jerusalem to take up the topic with the twelve apostles and elders to get their opinion. Some of the Christians there say that male converts need to be circumcised because a follower of Jesus still has to follow the laws of Moses.

Peter stands up and tells everyone that God is good with the Gentiles. If He wants to give them the Holy Spirit, He will, despite what the Jews think of the Gentiles.

Paul and Barnabas agree and tell all kinds of stories about how faithful and Spirit-filled the new Gentile Christians are. James also tells everyone that he agrees with Peter and he decides that there are only a few things Gentiles need to avoid. They shouldn’t worship idols, have sex outside of marriage, eat any animal that hasn’t been ritually slaughtered, or drink animal blood.

And so, after some debate, the apostles write up a letter that Paul and Barnabas will circulate to the Gentile believers and in Antioch, everyone is glad to hear the news. And that’s what’s happening and that’s what Paul is dealing with in this chapter.

He’s referring to that very meeting that was held in Jerusalem. He’s dealing with the legalistic Judaizers who were saying you have to believe in Jesus for salvation but you also need to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses.

Notice he also mentions that he took Barnabas with him, Barnabas whose name means ‘the son of encouragement’, which was exactly that, an encouragement. He personally went with Paul to many places, he was his travelling companion on some of his missionary journeys.

Barnabas literally was an encouragement to Paul and all the saints he helped and worked with and we still remember him today for his encouragement.

Paul says that not only was Barnabas with him but Titus was with him too. Titus was possibly one of the converts from the Antioch of Syria church since this is the first time we see him in the company of Paul.

We know that Paul wrote a letter to Titus and since Paul and Barnabas returned from the first journey to Antioch, we know that Titus, this Gentile believer accompanied Paul to Jerusalem for the meeting of Acts 15.

Notice again that Paul says the message to go to Jerusalem came by ‘revelation’. In other words, God sent Paul to Jerusalem. The significance of the Acts 15 Jerusalem meeting is seen in the fact that God instructed Paul to be present at this meeting, Acts 15:1-2.

God sent Paul to Jerusalem to stop the onslaught of Jewish legalism that was invading the church. And it was while Paul was in Jerusalem here in Acts 15 that he explained to those present the things he’s been doing among the Gentiles.

He wanted the Galatians to know that he didn’t go for the purpose of either receiving instruction from the apostles or to be sent forth by the apostles.

He went to announce his mission among the Gentiles that God had commissioned him to do. He went to inform the apostles that the message he preached wasn’t a Gospel plus circumcision and works.

And look at how he described those who were accepted as leaders in the church, ‘those who were held in high esteem.’ Galatians 2:6. ‘Those esteemed as pillars.’ Galatians 2:9. He’s obviously talking about Peter, John and James, the Lord’s brother. All of whom except Peter were killed by Herod, Acts 12:1-2, before that meeting in Acts 15.

It’s also significant to note that Paul’s meeting with the apostles and elders was first in private. Why? Well, he simply wanted to make sure that the church hadn’t been influenced by the Judaizing teachers before the matter was taken before the church.

Paul says he did it privately because “he wanted to be sure he was not running and had not been running his race in vain.’ In other words, he wanted to make sure that he and the other apostles were in total agreement in his mission to the Gentiles, Acts 15:24.

Paul says that Titus went to Jerusalem as a representative of the Gentile Christians. Once the legalistic Jewish brethren in the church of Jerusalem realised that he was a Gentile, they compelled him to be circumcised. In the mind of the Judaizing teachers, Titus wasn’t saved because he hadn’t been circumcised.

Paul was never going to bind anything on anyone, either culturally or religiously and make it a necessity for salvation. He simply didn’t allow these false brethren to get away with their theology of binding circumcision and Jewish ceremonies.

“This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you”. Galatians 2:4-5

Anyone who seeks to bind their legal requirements on the church will often resort to these extreme measures in order to add support to their position.

What they are actually trying to do is, put Christians back into bondage. But Paul says throughout this letter that Christians have been set free from those bondages, Galatians 3:25 / Galatians 4:3 / Galatians 4:9 / Galatians 5:1.

When the Bible talks about Christian freedom, it’s not talking about we’re free to do whatever we like, whenever we like. The Bible says we’re free from those old laws of bondage, James 1:25.

In Christ, there is law to direct the moral behaviour of Christians but it’s a law of choice. God gives us the guidelines and principles but Christians are given the liberty as to how those principles are to be applied.

In other words, the law of Christ gives liberty from the necessity of perfect law-keeping, James 2:10. Paul is saying that these Judaizing teachers, were compelling believers to return to a system of law-keeping that didn’t bring justification but Paul was having none of it, neither was Barnabas or Titus.

They all understood that giving into these false ideas of religion meant they would have to give up their freedom in Christ, Galatians 5:1-2.

So why wouldn’t they give in? Paul says in order that, ‘the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you’. God’s grace has delivered us from the bondage of having to keep the law perfectly in order to be justified before God or to perform meritorious deeds in order to seek atonement for our sin. This is the truth that the Gospel brings freedom to all those who are in bondage.

“As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favouritism—they added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” Galatians 2:6-10

Paul tells us the purpose of the Jerusalem visit was threefold. He wanted the Galatians to know that the leaders in Jerusalem didn’t add to his message of the truth of the Gospel.

The leaders in Jerusalem gave Barnabas and him the right hand of fellowship. And finally, the Jerusalem leadership encouraged him to remember the poor, which was something the Judaizing teachers may not have been doing.

There were men of great reputation in the church of Jerusalem, men like Peter, James, Silas and John but Paul wanted the Galatians to know that God didn’t have the respect of persons that was so common among some leaders, Romans 2:11. In fact, God has never been more favourable to one person over another, Deuteronomy 10:17.

When Paul met with these leaders, they didn’t add any new truth to what he already knew but more importantly, they weren’t adding works of law or merit to the truth of the Gospel.

Notice that Paul uses the phrase, ‘the gospel of the uncircumcised.’ Peter, James and John immediately recognised that Paul was given a mission to the Gentiles. This mission had been given to him as a specific mission in much the same way that Peter was given a specific mission to preach to the Jews.

God was working through Paul just as much as He was working through Peter, Romans 12:4 and God’s work through both Paul and Peter was successful. And like I mentioned earlier Peter, James and John recognised that Paul’s work among the Gentiles was the work of God.

And when they recognised this, they extended to Paul and Barnabas their full agreement and blessing that they continue their mission to the Gentiles. And what was that mission? To preach the truth of the Gospel and bring people into a covenant of freedom in Christ.

What Paul is doing here is arguing that Peter, James and John agreed with his mission that was given to him directly by Jesus. Because Peter, James and John resided in what seemed to be the seat of Jewish legalism in Jerusalem. The Judaizing teachers falsely assumed that they would side with them on the matter against Paul.

And so, in order to make sure that the Judaizing teachers had no support from the church in Jerusalem, the apostles, elders and the whole church sent the letter we read in Acts 15:23-29.

In the letter, they stated that the legalistic Judaizing teachers had been given no such authorisation from the Jerusalem church, Acts 15:24. The legalists were now on their own, they had cut themselves off from the family of believers by their teaching of binding laws where God had not bound.

Remember it wasn’t Paul’s mission to specifically minister to the poor, it was his mission to preach the Gospel and remember the poor. In accomplishing his mission, he was encouraged by Peter, James and John to remember that we must work together to help those who were the victims of the circumstances, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4.

The unified teaching of both Paul and the other apostles was that both agreed concerning correct teaching, but also correct Christian benevolent behaviour. Because correct teaching will always produce unity among those who seek to do the will of the Father, Philippians 1:27.

Paul Opposes Cephas

“When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray”. Galatians 2:11-13

It’s evident that sometime after the Jerusalem meeting in Acts 15, Paul returned to Antioch. However, Peter and Barnabas had already gone to Antioch before Paul arrived. And so, the incident which we’re dealing with in these verses happened before Paul arrived in Antioch.

Peter and Barnabas were withdrawing from the Gentiles because they were afraid of the Judaizing delegation from Jerusalem. And so, when Paul finally arrived, this separation had already taken place. In the eyes of the Jewish legalists of Jerusalem, the church in Antioch was not saved, Acts 15:1 / Acts 15:5.

They were teaching that these newly converted Gentile Christians weren’t saved and so they sent out a bunch of men to convert other churches to their beliefs, Galatians 6:13.

Paul says their mission was to go from church to church, binding where God had not bound, and so go about saving the saved. And at the same time, they were sending back glorious reports about how many had been circumcised.

Paul says they zealously built relationships with young Gentile churches in order to bring them into their fellowship and so separate them from the influence of Paul, Galatians 4:17.

This is what Paul is dealing with here, he’s dealing with a bunch of people who want religion but they want it done and practised their way. And the sad thing about it was, that Peter and Barnabas were just as bad, if not even worse.

It’s interesting that Paul uses Peter’s name interchangeably depending on the context, especially here in this chapter. I don’t know why he does that, but here in Galatians 2:11, Paul calls him Cephas. Remember that Peter is his Greek name and Cephas is his Aramaic name.

I think it’s possible that Paul is calling him Cephas here because his actions represented an Old Testament mindset regarding Gentiles.

Paul has already opposed the legalists in Jerusalem and now he’s opposing them again here in Antioch. The Greek word ‘anthistemi’ that is translated as ‘opposed’ here is actually a military term that refers to resisting an attack.

When anyone comes along and adds to the Gospel of Christ they are actually attacking the Gospel of Christ. They are actually dividing the body of Christ, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.

Notice how Paul opposed Cephas, ‘to his face’. Paul is saying that even public confrontation with a respected brother or sister in the Lord is sometimes necessary, especially if the truth of the Gospel is in danger of being compromised.

What Peter did brought him under condemnation, Peter was yielding to the legalist’s idea of meritorious works. In other words, he was being a hypocrite and why was he being a hypocrite?

Because he has a short memory, the great Peter who said, he would never leave the Lord, the great Peter who said he would never deny Jesus. The great Peter who preached the very first Gospel of grace sermon in Acts 2.

The great Peter who in Acts 10-11 received a special vision from the Lord Himself informing him that the Gentiles were to be received into fellowship without any meritorious conditions attached.

No wonder Paul opposed him to his face, Peter’s actions didn’t reflect what he preached. And like we will see later, Peter, and those who withdrew with him were violating the fundamental teaching concerning church unity.

Peter was manifesting support for the teaching of those who denied justification by faith. He was manifesting behaviour that would bring the believers again into the bondage of the law, and so they were destroying the freedom we have in Christ.

The actions of Peter attacked the oneness of all races in Christ. The very nature of the truth of the Gospel was under attack and the sufficiency of the grace of God was being denied. And so, if what happened in Antioch was allowed to spread throughout the world, the church would go out of existence.

Our lives need to be a true reflection of what we believe, James 1:22-25. Paul says, Peter used to eat with the Gentiles but when these legalists came along he withdrew from the Gentiles because he was scared of them. In other words, Peter’s action proclaimed a different Gospel from the one he was preaching.

The Gospel he preached was a Gospel of grace and because his actions didn’t preach grace he ended up under condemnation at this point of his life.

And look at the influence these legalisers had on the church. All the Jewish brethren in Antioch, and even Barnabas, surrendered to the legalistic teaching from Jerusalem. And can’t you just feel the pain that our Gentile brethren must have been going through during this.

Think about it, they had just been accepted by the Jewish brethren as part of the Lord’s church with no conditions attached before these legalisers came along. But now, they are all alone, those who should have known better had withdrawn from them.

I can imagine just how to let down they must have felt, confused with their brethren, confused about the Gospel. Lonely, not knowing if they are right with God or not, where do they turn to now?

“When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” Galatians 2:14

Paul realised that if Peter’s actions became a common practice in the church, the truth of the Gospel would be destroyed. In other words, the church of the free would cease to exist.

And so, because of that Paul begins his rebuke of Peter and the rest of the Jews in Antioch by pointing out that before the legal delegation came from Jerusalem, they had lived in close fellowship with the Gentile brethren.

And so, Paul asks if they, the Jews, would encourage the Gentiles to live like the Jews. Earlier we found Paul opposing Peter face to face but here we find Paul opposing Peter publicly.

That’s because Peter’s actions and the actions of the Antioch Jews were so serious. So, serious in fact that Paul thought it was necessary to take the whole matter before the entire church, Matthew 18:15-17.

“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So, we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:15-16

Paul began this address as a message to Peter, but he goes on to explain what he means to the Jews in general. In these first two chapters, Paul started by using historical events and the encounters he had with these Judaizing teachers. And the reason he started with those is because of what he says here.

Paul says that ‘justification comes through faith, not by works’. The word ‘justified’ is the Greek word, ‘dikaioo’ and it means to render or regard as just or innocent. In other words, when we allow God to do the justifying, it’s ‘just as if’ we’ve never sinned.

And Paul, as well as all the faithful Jews who believed in Jesus, realised that salvation couldn’t be acquired through perfect works of law or meritorious attempts to atone for sin, Psalm 14:1-3 / Acts 13:38.

In other words, until Jesus came on the scene the Jews and the Gentiles knew that they couldn’t really be right with God by works of law, Romans 3:20.

No one can keep any law perfectly in order to justify themselves before God, and so demand salvation, Ephesians 2:8-9. And so how do we get right with God? Well, Paul tells us, he says a person is justified by having ‘faith in Jesus Christ’.

Now the original text is important here, because it actually says, ‘faith of Christ’, which means the emphasis isn’t on our faith, but on the faith of Jesus in going to the cross. Our being right with God has got nothing to do with anything we have done or can do, it’s all about what Jesus has done and continues to do today, Hebrews 5:8-9.

It was because of the justification that came as a result of the faith of Jesus, Paul says that he, as well as all other Jews who were children of Abraham by faith, believed in Jesus. In other words, they realised that law brings condemnation, not commendation.

Because when anyone violates any kind of law, condemnation is always the result. The law can’t save us, keeping any law can’t save us and that’s because the law was never given as a means of salvation, it was given that we might recognise our condemnation.

On the other hand, grace brings commendation and it’s under grace a person is commended for good by God. Grace doesn’t say you don’t have to work, grace motivates us to work harder for the Lord, not because we have to but because we want to, 1 Corinthians 15:10.

Some Bibles say, ‘the law’ which would lead us to think Paul is talking about the Law of Moses but the word ‘the’ isn’t in the original text which tells us Paul is talking about any law, any form of religious law-keeping can’t make us right with God.

Now we can only imagine what’s going through the minds of those Galatians who are reading this letter. But we don’t have to imagine too hard because Paul is anticipating what some of the arguments against justification by faith will be.

“But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.” Galatians 2:17-18

Because Paul anticipates a legalistic argument, he’s thinking about what the legalists would think. And their argument is basically saying, if we’re made right with God simply by having faith in Christ and God’s grace, then we can simply carry on sinning. In other words, they wanted to abuse the grace of God, Galatians 5:6 / Galatians 5:13 / Jude 4.

Just because we are justified by faith and grace, doesn’t mean we can live our lives in any way we want to. Christians aren’t under law as a meritorious code of conduct, we’re under law as a direction of life.

Obedience to law isn’t based on merit to obtain salvation but obedience is based on the fact that salvation has already been obtained through faith in God’s grace. In other words, Christians, don’t work for their salvation, they work because of their salvation.

Paul says, ‘if I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker’, which basically means if he goes back to a system of law-keeping, he would be found to be a transgressor of the new covenant of Christ.

He says he would become a transgressor of the law of grace and faith if he went back to that system of religion. He becomes a transgressor simply because he would be giving up on God’s forgiving grace in his life, Galatians 5:4.

Paul says there is absolutely no way he would return to trying to be right with God through law-keeping. And so, Paul continues with his argument against those who are teaching that Christians accept Jesus but still need to observe the Old Testament laws.

“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Galatians 2:19-21

Please note the word, ‘the’ used here, isn’t in the original text. Paul is talking about any law in general and he says that he died to law in the sense that he recognised that law couldn’t bring justification before God.

Any law which requires any kind of meritorious justification only brings condemnation, not life. And the reason for that is simple, we’ve all sinned and sin condemns and brings death as Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23 tell us.

And so, we all have to die to law to be right with God, in order for us to ‘live for God’. Paul is essentially saying that law brings death, for all have sinned but Jesus brought life, for He revealed the grace of God.

When was Paul crucified with Christ? When did Christ take up residence in Paul? It was at his baptism, at his baptism he received the forgiveness of his sins and he made a commitment to God that he would live for Christ and not for himself, Romans 6:3-6.

Paul isn’t arguing about the importance of baptism here, he’s arguing about how a Christian can live without sin in their lives because of what takes place at our baptism. And so, when a Christian experiences God’s grace at their baptism and throughout their Christian life, their life changes because change is a natural response to grace.

Paul is saying that the grace of God did away with the necessity of being justified by perfect law-keeping. And he reminds us again, ‘if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!’

Paul says if anyone wants to go backwards and try and be right with God through law-keeping then Jesus died for nothing. Yes, Paul worked, but not for his salvation, God’s grace didn’t cancel works of obedience to God’s will.

Paul worked because he was motivated by the love and appreciation of what God had done for him, 2 Corinthians 4:13-15. Under grace, Christians work because of what they have, that is, their salvation but if a Christian wants to live under law, then that Christian is constantly working in order to receive it.

Go To Galatians 3