Galatians 2 Bible Commentary

Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown

(Read all of Galatians 2)


1. Translate, "After fourteen years"; namely, from Paul's conversion inclusive [ALFORD]. In the fourteenth year from his conversion [BIRKS]. The same visit to Jerusalem as in Ac 15:1-4 (A.D. 50), when the council of the apostles and Church decided that Gentile Christians need not be circumcised. His omitting allusion to that decree is; (1) Because his design here is to show the Galatians his own independent apostolic authority, whence he was not likely to support himself by their decision. Thus we see that general councils are not above apostles. (2) Because he argues the point upon principle, not authoritative decisions. (3) The decree did not go the length of the position maintained here: the council did not impose Mosaic ordinances; the apostle maintains that the Mosaic institution itself is at an end. (4) The Galatians were Judaizing, not because the Jewish law was imposed by authority of the Church as necessary to Christianity, but because they thought it necessary to be observed by those who aspired to higher perfection (Ga 3:3; 4:21). The decree would not at all disprove their view, and therefore would have been useless to quote. Paul meets them by a far more direct confutation, "Christ is of no effect unto you whosoever are justified by the law" (Ga 5:4), [PALEY].
Titus . . . also--specified on account of what follows as to him, in Ga 2:3. Paul and Barnabas, and others, were deputed by the Church of Antioch (Ac 15:2) to consult the apostles and elders at Jerusalem on the question of circumcision of Gentile Christians.

2. by revelation--not from being absolutely dependent on the apostles at Jerusalem, but by independent divine "revelation." Quite consistent with his at the same time, being a deputy from the Church of Antioch, as Ac 15:2 states. He by this revelation was led to suggest the sending of the deputation. Compare the case of Peter being led by vision, and at the same time by Cornelius' messengers, to go to Cæsarea, Ac 10:1-22.
I . . . communicated unto them--namely, "to the apostles and elders" (Ac 15:2): to the apostles in particular (Ga 2:9).
privately--that he and the apostles at Jerusalem might decide previously on the principles to be adopted and set forward before the public council (Ac 15:1-29). It was necessary that the Jerusalem apostles should know beforehand that the Gospel Paul preached to the Gentiles was the same as theirs, and had received divine confirmation in the results it wrought on the Gentile converts. He and Barnabas related to the multitude, not the nature of the doctrine they preached (as Paul did privately to the apostles), but only the miracles vouchsafed in proof of God's sanctioning their preaching to the Gentiles (Ac 15:12).
to them . . . of reputation--James, Cephas, and John, and probably some of the "elders"; Ga 2:6, "those who seemed to be somewhat."
lest, &c.--"lest I should be running, or have run, in vain"; that is, that they might see that I am not running, and have not run, in vain. Paul does not himself fear lest he be running, or had run, in vain; but lest he should, if he gave them no explanation, seem so to them. His race was the swift-running proclamation of the Gospel to the Gentiles (compare "run," Margin, for "Word . . . have free course," 2Th 3:1). His running would have been in vain, had circumcision been necessary, since he did not require it of his converts.

3. But--So far were they from regarding me as running in vain, that "not even Titus who was with me, who was a Greek (and therefore uncircumcised), was compelled to be circumcised." So the Greek should be translated. The "false brethren," Ga 2:4 ("certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed," Ac 15:5), demanded his circumcision. The apostles, however, constrained by the firmness of Paul and Barnabas (Ga 2:5), did not compel or insist on his being circumcised. Thus they virtually sanctioned Paul's course among the Gentiles and admitted his independence as an apostle: the point he desires to set forth to the Galatians. Timothy, on the other hand, as being a proselyte of the gate, and son of a Jewess (Ac 16:1), he circumcised (Ac 16:3). Christianity did not interfere with Jewish usages, regarded merely as social ordinances, though no longer having their religious significance, in the case of Jews and proselytes, while the Jewish polity and temple still stood; after the overthrow of the latter, those usages naturally ceased. To have insisted on Jewish usages for Gentile converts, would have been to make them essential parts of Christianity. To have rudely violated them at first in the case of Jews, would have been inconsistent with that charity which (in matters indifferent) is made all things to all men, that by all means it may win some (1Co 9:22; compare Ro 14:1-7, 13-23). Paul brought Titus about with him as a living example of the power of the Gospel upon the uncircumcised heathen.

4. And that--that is, What I did concerning Titus (namely, by not permitting him to be circumcised) was not from contempt of circumcision, but "on account of the false brethren" (Ac 15:1, 24) who, had I yielded to the demand for his being circumcised, would have perverted the case into a proof that I deemed circumcision necessary.
unawares--"in an underhand manner brought in."
to spy out--as foes in the guise of friends, wishing to destroy and rob us of
our liberty--from the yoke of the ceremonial law. If they had found that we circumcised Titus through fear of the apostles, they would have made that a ground for insisting on imposing the legal yoke on the Gentiles.
bring us into bondage--The Greek future implies the certainty and continuance of the bondage as the result.

5. Greek, "To whom not even for an hour did we yield by subjection." ALFORD renders the Greek article, "with THE subjection required of us." The sense rather is, We would willingly have yielded for love [BENGEL] (if no principle was at issue), but not in the way of subjection, where "the truth of the Gospel" (Ga 2:14; Col 1:5) was at stake (namely, the fundamental truth of justification by faith only, without the works of the law, contrasted with another Gospel, Ga 1:6). Truth precise, unaccommodating, abandons nothing that belongs to itself, admits nothing that is inconsistent with it [BENGEL].
might continue with you--Gentiles. We defended for your sakes your true faith and liberties, which you are now renouncing.

6. Greek, "From those who," &c. He meant to complete the sentence with "I derived no special advantage"; but he alters it into "they . . . added nothing to me."
accepteth--so as to show any partiality; "respecteth no man's person" (Eph 6:9).
seemed to be somewhat--that is, not that they seemed to be what they were not, but "were reputed as persons of some consequence"; not insinuating a doubt but that they were justly so reputed.
in conference added--or "imparted"; the same Greek as in Ga 1:16, "I conferred not with flesh and blood." As I did not by conference impart to them aught at my conversion, so they now did not impart aught additional to me, above what I already knew. This proves to the Galatians his independence as an apostle.

7. contrariwise--on the contrary. So far from adding any new light to ME, THEY gave in THEIR adhesion to the new path on which Barnabas and I, by independent revelation, had entered. So far from censuring, they gave a hearty approval to my independent course, namely, the innovation of preaching the Gospel without circumcision to the Gentiles.
when they saw--from the effects which I showed them, were "wrought" (Ga 2:8; Ac 15:12).
was committed unto me--Greek, "I was entrusted with."
gospel of the uncircumcision--that is, of the Gentiles, who were to be converted without circumcision being required.
circumcision . . . unto Peter--Peter had originally opened the door to the Gentiles (Ac 10:1-48; 15:7). But in the ultimate apportionment of the spheres of labor, the Jews were assigned to him (compare 1Pe 1:1). So Paul on the other hand wrote to the Hebrews (compare also Col 4:11), though his main work was among the Gentiles. The non-mention of Peter in the list of names, presciently through the Spirit, given in the sixteenth chapter of Romans, shows that Peter's residence at Rome, much more primacy, was then unknown. The same is palpable from the sphere here assigned to him.

8. he--God (1Co 12:6).
wrought effectually--that is, made the preached word efficacious to conversion, not only by sensible miracles, but by the secret mighty power of the Holy Ghost.
in Peter--ELLICOTT and others, translate, "For Peter." GROTIUS translates as English Version.
to--with a view to.
was mighty--Translate as before, the Greek being the same, "wrought effectually."
in me--"for (or 'in') me also."

9. James--placed first in the oldest manuscripts, even before Peter, as being bishop of Jerusalem, and so presiding at the council (Ac 15:1-29). He was called "the Just," from his strict adherence to the law, and so was especially popular among the Jewish party though he did not fall into their extremes; whereas Peter was somewhat estranged from them through his intercourse with the Gentile Christians. To each apostle was assigned the sphere best suited to his temperament: to James, who was tenacious of the law, the Jerusalem Jews; to Peter, who had opened the door to the Gentiles but who was Judaically disposed, the Jews of the dispersion; to Paul, who, by the miraculous and overwhelming suddenness of his conversion, had the whole current of his early Jewish prejudices turned into an utterly opposite direction, the Gentiles. Not separately and individually, but collectively the apostles together represented Christ, the One Head, in the apostleship. The twelve foundation-stones of various colors are joined together to the one great foundation-stone on which they rest (1Co 3:11; Re 21:14, 19, 20). John had got an intimation in Jesus' lifetime of the admission of the Gentiles (Joh 12:20-24).
seemed--that is, were reputed to be (see on Ga 2:2 and Ga 2:6) pillars, that is, weighty supporters of the Church (compare Pr 9:1; Re 3:12).
perceived the grace . . . given unto me-- (2Pe 3:15).
gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship--recognizing me as a colleague in the apostleship, and that the Gospel I preached by special revelation to the Gentiles was the same as theirs. Compare the phrase, La 5:6; Eze 17:18.
heathen--the Gentiles.

10. remember the poor--of the Jewish Christians in Judea, then distressed. Paul and Barnabas had already done so (Ac 11:23-30).
the same--the very thing.
I . . . was forward--or "zealous" (Ac 24:17; Ro 15:25; 1Co 16:1; 2Co 8:1-9:15). Paul was zealous for good works, while denying justification by them.

11. Peter--"Cephas" in the oldest manuscripts Paul's withstanding Peter is the strongest proof that the former gives of the independence of his apostleship in relation to the other apostles, and upsets the Romish doctrine of Peter's supremacy. The apostles were not always inspired; but were so always in writing the Scriptures. If then the inspired men who wrote them were not invariably at other times infallible, much less were the uninspired men who kept them. The Christian fathers may be trusted generally as witnesses to facts, but not implicitly followed in matters of opinion.
come to Antioch--then the citadel of the Gentile Church: where first the Gospel was preached to idolatrous Gentiles, and where the name "Christians" was first given (Ac 11:20, 26), and where Peter is said to have been subsequently bishop. The question at Antioch was not whether the Gentiles were admissible to the Christian covenant without becoming circumcised--that was the question settled at the Jerusalem council just before--but whether the Gentile Christians were to be admitted to social intercourse with the Jewish Christians without conforming to the Jewish institution. The Judaizers, soon after the council had passed the resolutions recognizing the equal rights of the Gentile Christians, repaired to Antioch, the scene of the gathering in of the Gentiles (Ac 11:20-26), to witness, what to Jews would look so extraordinary, the receiving of men to communion of the Church without circumcision. Regarding the proceeding with prejudice, they explained away the force of the Jerusalem decision; and probably also desired to watch whether the Jewish Christians among the Gentiles violated the law, which that decision did not verbally sanction them in doing, though giving the Gentiles latitude (Ac 15:19).
to be blamed--rather, "(self)-condemned"; his act at one time condemning his contrary acting at another time.

12. certain--men: perhaps James' view (in which he was not infallible, any more than Peter) was that the Jewish converts were still to observe Jewish ordinances, from which he had decided with the council the Gentiles should be free (Ac 15:19). NEANDER, however, may be right in thinking these self-styled delegates from James were not really from him. Ac 15:24 favors this. "Certain from James," may mean merely that they came from the Church at Jerusalem under James' bishopric. Still James' leanings were to legalism, and this gave him his influence with the Jewish party (Ac 21:18-26).
eat with . . . Gentiles--as in Ac 10:10-20, 48, according to the command of the vision (Ac 11:3-17). Yet after all, this same Peter, through fear of man (Pr 29:25), was faithless to his own so distinctly avowed principles (Ac 15:7-11). We recognize the same old nature in him as led him, after faithfully witnessing for Christ, yet for a brief space, to deny Him. "Ever the first to recognize, and the first to draw back from great truths" [ALFORD]. An undesigned coincidence between the Gospels and the Epistle in the consistency of character as portrayed in both. It is beautiful to see how earthly misunderstandings of Christians are lost in Christ. For in 2Pe 3:15, Peter praises the very Epistles of Paul which he knew contained his own condemnation. Though apart from one another and differing in characteristics, the two apostles were one in Christ.
withdrew--Greek, "began to withdraw," &c. This implies a gradual drawing back; "separated," entire severance.

13. the other--Greek, "the rest."
Jews--Jewish Christians.
dissembled likewise--Greek, "joined in hypocrisy," namely, in living as though the law were necessary to justification, through fear of man, though they knew from God their Christian liberty of eating with Gentiles, and had availed themselves of it already (Ac 11:2-17). The case was distinct from that in 1Co 8:1-10:33; Ro 14:1-23. It was not a question of liberty, and of bearing with others' infirmities, but one affecting the essence of the Gospel, whether the Gentiles are to be virtually "compelled to live as do the Jews," in order to be justified (Ga 2:14).
Barnabas also--"Even Barnabas": one least likely to be led into such an error, being with Paul in first preaching to the idolatrous Gentiles: showing the power of bad example and numbers. In Antioch, the capital of Gentile Christianity and the central point of Christian missions, the controversy first arose, and in the same spot it now broke out afresh; and here Paul had first to encounter the party that afterwards persecuted him in every scene of his labors (Ac 15:30-35).

14. walked not uprightly--literally, "straight": "were not walking with straightforward steps." Compare Ga 6:16.
truth of the gospel--which teaches that justification by legal works and observances is inconsistent with redemption by Christ. Paul alone here maintained the truth against Judaism, as afterwards against heathenism (2Ti 4:16, 17).
Peter--"Cephas" in the oldest manuscripts
before . . . all-- (1Ti 5:20).
If thou, &c.--"If thou, although being a Jew (and therefore one who might seem to be more bound to the law than the Gentiles), livest (habitually, without scruple and from conviction, Ac 15:10, 11) as a Gentile (freely eating of every food, and living in other respects also as if legal ordinances in no way justify, Ga 2:12), and not as a Jew, how (so the oldest manuscripts read, for 'why') is it that thou art compelling (virtually, by thine example) the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" (literally, to Judaize, that is, to keep the ceremonial customs of the Jews: What had been formerly obedience to the law, is now mere Judaism). The high authority of Peter would constrain the Gentile Christians to regard Judaizing as necessary to all, since Jewish Christians could not consort with Gentile converts in communion without it.

15, 16. Connect these verses together, and read with most of the oldest manuscripts "But" in the beginning of Ga 2:16: "We (I and thou, Peter) by nature (not by proselytism), Jews, and not sinners as (Jewish language termed the Gentiles) from among the Gentiles, YET (literally, 'BUT') knowing that . . . even we (resuming the 'we' of Ga 2:15, 'we also,' as well as the Gentile sinners; casting away trust in the law), have believed," &c.

16. not justified by the works of the law--as the GROUND of justification. "The works of the law" are those which have the law for their object--which are wrought to fulfil the law [ALFORD].
but by--Translate, "But only (in no other way save) through faith in Jesus Christ," as the MEAN and instrument of justification.
Jesus Christ--In the second case, read with the oldest manuscripts, "Christ Jesus," the Messiahship coming into prominence in the case of Jewish believers, as "Jesus" does in the first case, referring to the general proposition.
justified by the faith of Christ--that is, by Christ, the object of faith, as the ground of our justification.
for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified--He rests his argument on this as an axiom in theology, referring to Ps 143:2, "Moses and Jesus Christ; The law and the promise; Doing and believing; Works and faith; Wages and the gift; The curse and the blessing--are represented as diametrically opposed" [BENGEL]. The moral law is, in respect to justification, more legal than the ceremonial, which was an elementary and preliminary Gospel: So "Sinai" (Ga 4:24), which is more famed for the Decalogue than for the ceremonial law, is made pre-eminently the type of legal bondage. Thus, justification by the law, whether the moral or ceremonial, is excluded (Ro 3:20).

17. Greek, "But if, seeking to be justified IN (that is, in believing union with) Christ (who has in the Gospel theory fulfilled the law for us), we (you and I) ourselves also were found (in your and my former communion with Gentiles) sinners (such as from the Jewish standpoint that now we resume, we should be regarded, since we have cast aside the law, thus having put ourselves in the same category as the Gentiles, who, being without the law, are, in the Jewish view, "sinners," Ga 2:15), is therefore Christ, the minister of sin?" (Are we to admit the conclusion, in this case inevitable, that Christ having failed to justify us by faith, so has become to us the minister of sin, by putting us in the position of "sinners," as the Judaic theory, if correct, would make us, along with all others who are "without the law," Ro 2:14; 1Co 9:21; and with whom, by eating with them, we have identified ourselves?) The Christian mind revolts from so shocking a conclusion, and so, from the theory which would result in it. The whole sin lies, not with Christ, but with him who would necessitate such a blasphemous inference. But his false theory, though "seeking" from Christ, we have not "found" salvation (in contradiction to Christ's own words, Mt 7:7), but "have been ourselves also (like the Gentiles) found" to be "sinners," by having entered into communion with Gentiles (Ga 2:12).

18. Greek, "For if the things which I overthrew (by the faith of Christ), those very things I build up again (namely, legal righteousness, by subjecting myself to the law), I prove myself (literally, 'I commend myself') a transgressor." Instead of commending yourself as you sought to do (Ga 2:12, end), you merely commend yourself as a transgressor. The "I" is intended by Paul for Peter to take to himself, as it is his case, not Paul's own, that is described. A "transgressor" is another word for "sinner" (in Ga 2:17), for "sin is the transgression of the law." You, Peter, by now asserting the law to be obligatory, are proving yourself a "sinner," or "transgressor," in your having set it aside by living as the Gentiles, and with them. Thus you are debarred by transgression from justification by the law, and you debar yourself from justification by Christ, since in your theory He becomes a minister of sin.

19. Here Paul seems to pass from his exact words to Peter, to the general purport of his argument on the question. However, his direct address to the Galatians seems not to be resumed till Ga 3:1, "O foolish Galatians," &c.
For--But I am not a "transgressor" by forsaking the law. "For," &c. Proving his indignant denial of the consequence that "Christ is the minister of sin" (Ga 2:17), and of the premises from which it would follow. Christ, so far from being the minister of sin and death, is the establisher of righteousness and life. I am entirely in Him [BENGEL].
I--here emphatical. Paul himself, not Peter, as in the "I" (Ga 2:18).
through the law--which was my "schoolmaster to bring me to Christ" (Ga 3:24); both by its terrors (Ga 3:13; Ro 3:20) driving me to Christ, as the refuge from God's wrath against sin, and, when spiritually understood, teaching that itself is not permanent, but must give place to Christ, whom it prefigures as its scope and end (Ro 10:4); and drawing me to Him by its promises (in the prophecies which form part of the Old Testament law) of a better righteousness, and of God's law written in the heart (De 18:15-19; Jer 31:33; Ac 10:43).
am dead to the law--literally, "I died to the law," and so am dead to it, that is, am passed from under its power, in respect to non-justification or condemnation (Col 2:20; Ro 6:14; 7:4, 6); just as a woman, once married and bound to a husband, ceases to be so bound to him when death interposes, and may be lawfully married to another husband. So by believing union to Christ in His death, we, being considered dead with Him, are severed from the law's past power over us (compare Ga 6:14; 1Co 7:39; Ro 6:6-11; 1Pe 2:24).
live unto God-- (Ro 6:11; 2Co 5:15; 1Pe 4:1, 2).

20. I am crucified--literally, "I have been crucified with Christ." This more particularizes the foregoing. "I am dead" (Ga 2:19; Php 3:10).
nevertheless I live; yet not I--Greek, "nevertheless I live, no longer (indeed) I." Though crucified I live; (and this) no longer that old man such as I once was (compare Ro 7:17). No longer Saul the Jew (Ga 5:24; Col 3:11, but "another man"; compare 1Sa 10:6). ELLICOTT and others translate, "And it is no longer I that live, but Christ that liveth in me." But the plain antithesis between "crucified" and "live," requires the translation, "nevertheless."
the life which I now live--as contrasted with my life before conversion.
in the flesh--My life seems to be a mere animal life "in the flesh," but this is not my true life; "it is but the mask of life under which lives another, namely, Christ, who is my true life" [LUTHER].
I live by the faith, &c.--Greek, "IN faith (namely), that of (that is, which rests on) the Son of God." "In faith," answers by contrast to "in the flesh." Faith, not the flesh, is the real element in which I live. The phrase, "the Son of God," reminds us that His Divine Sonship is the source of His life-giving power.
loved me--His eternal gratuitous love is the link that unites me to the Son of God, and His "giving Himself for me," is the strongest proof of that love.

21. I do not frustrate the grace of God--I do not make it void, as thou, Peter, art doing by Judaizing.
for--justifying the strong expression "frustrate," or "make void."
is dead in vain--Greek, "Christ died needlessly," or "without just cause." Christ's having died, shows that the law has no power to justify us; for if the law can justify or make us righteous, the death of Christ is superfluous [CHRYSOSTOM].