The Showdown in Jerusalem Between False Brethren
And the Truth of the Gospel (Gal. 2:1-10)
1. It should be clearly borne in mind, that in this portion of chapter 2, Paul is still defending
his record and reputation as an Apostle of Jesus Christ.
a. He is an apostle, second to none. His office stands in its authentic character, and his gospel received from Christ by revelation is wholly approved of by the other apostles, Peter, James, and John. James is not an apostle in the strict sense, although by implication is called an “apostle” by Peter. Compare Gal. 1:19. Paul cites these incidents of his contacts with the apostles in Jerusalem to shut the mouth of liars, who whispered that their “gospel” was authentic, and that Paul was an imposter, who preached a spurious, a would-be gospel. Hence, the matter at stake is not one of human opinions, matter of “indifference,” but it is a question of the truth of the Gospel itself! The question is: will salvation in Christ be preached or will it not be preached. To be or not to be; that is the question.
b. Hence, Paul lets the facts of history speak. He cites the historical events at Jerusalem, which events give the lie to two matters:
1. The whispered lie in the sinful campaign against Paul, that Paul was dependent for his Apostleship on the other apostles, on those who were apostles prior to Paul’s calling.
2. That Paul’s message did not square with the preaching and instruction of the other apostles, and that it did not meet with their approval.
c. Positively these facts of history show that:
1. Paul was appointed by Christ Himself, directly from out of heaven, without the intervention of man.
2. That Paul was recognized by the Apostles as the special apostle to the Gentiles, even as Peter was to those of the circumcision.
2. In the verses 1-3 we should observe the following:
a. That Paul here does not give an account of his visits to Jerusalem, but that he is narrating his personal contacts with the other apostles, particularly with Peter, John and James the brother of the Lord. Paul had made more visits to Jerusalem. Paul is not giving a biography of his apostleship in complete details, but he is marshalling the facts that are needed to defend his apostleship in order that the truth of the Gospel may stand! Compare Acts 8:26-40; 11:27-30; 15:1-5. It may be questioned and strongly doubted whether Paul ever met any of the other of the twelve apostles in person. Notice Paul’s historical point of departure in his defense of the Gospel, Gal. 1:15, and then the twofold “thereupon” verse 18 and 2:1.
b. That Paul had already been a preacher for many years when he met in Jerusalem with the apostles and elders of the church. It was, in fact, fourteen years after his first visit with Peter and James, Gal. 1:18, 19. Even at that time he had been no novice preacher. For he had preached the Gospel in Damascus, had gone into Arabia and returned after three years to Damascus. And when Paul met with the elders at Jerusalem 14 years later, he had preached the gospel much and had already suffered much for the sake of Christ’s gospel. Had he preached error at that stage of his ministry of the gospel, he would have laid a wrong foundation in many churches already. Read Acts 13, 14. But if he had preached the truth as it is in Jesus, then he would long have been a preacher of the glorious gospel, and laid the only foundation as a master-builder, besides which none other can be laid.
c. Paul “went to Jerusalem by revelation.” It is true that he was sent by the church at Antoich. Acts 15:1,2. Nevertheless, Paul does not go up without seeking God’s will in prayer, and the Lord must have made known unto him by means of special revelation that He approved of the act of the congregation in their sending Paul and Barnabas. Remember that Paul does not go up to Jerusalem to learn whether he is preaching the gospel of Christ. He went in the confidence that such a meeting with the Apostles and elders could only set at rest the disturbed hearts of the saints. Paul obeyed God’s direction both in the Church and directly. He had nothing to lose and everything to gain!
d. Two things of note Paul records here in Galatians concerning this visit:
1. The one was that Paul delivered the gospel to the Apostles which he preaches (note the present tense). This gospel Paul is still preaching at the time of the writing of this Epistle. He writes in this letter what he had preached prior to the meeting recorded in Acts 15. That he still preaches. He had not changed in his preaching. He hews to the line!
2. That Paul delivered this gospel which he preaches on a private meeting with the Apostles. Paul was not tried, examined on this meeting at Jerusalem, but he simply told the apostles on a private meeting what he taught. He simply informed Peter, John and James. And they, hearing what he preached, gave him the right hand of fellowship. They acknowledged him as an equal, as an Apostle, and approved of his preaching. What a far cry from placing Paul on trial because of the false accusations of these evil-speakers, those who were spying out the liberty of the saints in Christ Jesus. How discreet of the apostles! What sweetness when there is no discrepancy in error!
3. The verses 4-6. It was in the public gathering that there was a show-down. This was not between Paul and the apostles and elders, but between the truth of the gospel and the false brethren who insisted that a man is saved by works of the law that we perform.
a. An incident: Paul and Barnabas had taken Titus with them. He was a Greek and had not received the sign of circumcision. The show-down came over his person.
b. The “false-brethren” that crept in insisted that Titus be circumcised; they insisted the elders and the apostles decide in this matter. They forced the issue. But the gathering did not decide in favor of these Judaizers. The false-brethren were defeated. The church passed triumphantly through the great Crisis! The first of many Crises! The freedom of the Church stands in Christ Jesus. The positive decision of this gathering is recorded in Acts 15:20, 21. And that decision was made not to insist on a little legalism, but rather to avoid all offense. Read Romans 14 on the matter of a “weak conscience.”
4. Verses 7-10.
a. Paul is wholly acknowledged as being an equal by the apostles. The latter added nothing to his stature, nor was there anything corrected in his preaching.
b. They recognized Paul’s place in God’s dispensation of salvation. They ask for collections from the Gentile churches for the dire need of the saints in Jerusalem Thus God’s unspeakable gift is manifested in both the Gentile and the Jewish Christians. Compare Gal. 2:10 and II Cor. 9:12-15.
Paul’s Reproof of Peter for the Gospel’s Sake
1. The Crisis between the Judaizers and the truth of the gospel also flamed up once more at another occasion. This time it manifested itself in that congregation where the gospel was first preached to the Gentiles. Acts 11:19-26. Here the gospel was preached to the Greeks; here the hand of the Lord had been revealed. Confer Isaiah 53:1.
a. In Antioch too the Jewish element again insisted that the middle wall of partition, contained in the ordinances and commandments, must be maintained as sanctioned still by the Lord. The Cross of Christ would thus be made of none effect. Col. 2:13, 14.
b. Since this was a show-down once more in which the truth of the gospel triumphed gloriously. Paul cites this incident as a proof to be marshalled in defense of the gospel.
c. And this incident is a proof against a mortal blow to the lie that Paul is inferior as an apostle to the other apostles, even to the Apostle Peter. This is not an attack against Peter, whom Paul loves and who himself calls Paul “our beloved brother Paul.” (Compare II Peter 3:15, 16) but it is cited that from here on it shall forever be impossible to play out Peter, the Apostle of the Circumcision, against Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. See verse 7.
2. The incident in which Peter was withstood by Paul. Vs. 11.
a. The charge with which Peter is blamed, and rightly so.
1. Peter had come down, in his itinerary of the churches, to Antioch in Syria. He must have been at Antioch some time before certain Jews arrived, who belonged to the Christian church at Jerusalem. Before these Jews arrived Peter conducted himself properly according to the truth of the gospel, as this gospel had been made known unto him in the vision at Joppa. Compare Acts 1:9-17. He did not account the Gentile Christians common or unclean while at Antioch, but held them to be fellow-heirs of the grace of life, brethren and sisters in the Lord.
2. But Peter’s conduct changed. Note well: Peter did not preach error! He did not join these false-brethren in their teaching! But by his conduct he gave great offense to the Gentile brethren and gave great comfort to these false-brethren from James. He was not walking according to the “rule,” the canon that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision hath any power but a new creature! Hence, he stood accused and blame-worthy.
3. What was his offense? He separated himself from the Gentile brethren and went and ate with the Jews “from James!” Thus he allowed the wedge of Judaism to separate what Christ’s work on the cross had made one “new man.” Compare John 10:14-18; 12:20-25; Ephesians 2:13-22. His conduct was very reprehensible and highly offensive in God’s sight.
b. The motive of Peter in thus separating himself from the Gentile Christians: Vs. 12,13.
1. It was not the motive of hypocrisy. This motive of hypocrisy Paul ascribes to neither Peter nor to Barnabas. Paul says that Barnabas “was carried away” by the hypocrisy of these Jews, while of Peter he says that he “dissimulated.”
2. The reason? Peter does not act the hypocrite, but he acts the coward. He shrank back in fear before the strong insistence of these Jews. Paul never did this; he never shrank back from preaching the full counsel of God. For the idea of dissimulation and shrinking back see Acts 20:27 and Heb. 10:38. Yet, Paul himself felt the need of being empowered from on high to boldly speak the word as he ought to speak. Read Eph. 6:20; Col. 4:4. The pressure was put on Peter at Antioch and he succumbs, his soul is timid and fearful and thus he shrinks back!
c. At this occasion Paul stands forth in the fullness of his apostolic stature. He speaks the Word with boldness as he ought to speak. It required great courage but Paul stands immovable and abounds in the work of the Lord! Paul’s defense is masterful. He only wishes to defend the gospel. Thus he saved himself and those that hear him, including Peter and Barnabas. Compare I Timothy 4:16. Peter was going back rather than pressing forward. It was a good word spoken in due time. How good it was. The reproof of a brother is better than the flattery of an enemy!
d. And this reproof was administered publicly, before all! Verse 14.
3. The Argument of Paul against Peter.
a. The argument is in part ad hominem, that is, against the person of Peter, against the incongruity of Peter’s confession and walk. Did not Peter confess how he himself could not possibly be saved by works of law that we perform. Compare Peter’s address in the meeting at Jerusalem. Acts 15:7-11. Notice Peter’s strong language on this point. Also remember Peter’s conduct at the gathering of the fish, both at the occasion of his first and second calling unto apostleship. Luke 5:8; John 13:10 and 21:15-19. Then too notice Peter’s defense of his conduct in preaching to the Gentiles as recorded in Acts 11:1-8. Paul has an abundance of proof that Peter’s conduct is not “upright, orthodox,” that is, walking in the straight paths of the gospel as he himself had so strongly professed to believe.
b. The argument is from the least sinner to the greater sinner. Verse 17.
1. Paul says: You, Peter are not a great sinner like the Gentiles. Well and good. But even you confess that you cannot be justified by works of law that we perform. You, Peter, have learned the spiritual sense of Psalm 143:2, namely, that no flesh is justified before God out of works of law! You too have cast your works of law aside as being so much loss and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ your Lord! Compare Phil. 3:8-11.
2. If we, you and I, Peter, as irreproachable Jews cannot be justified by our works of law which we perform, that is, by means of a law-righteousness, how then can be placed these “great-sinners” under the law. If lesser sinners cannot be justified by works of law, how can greater sinners fare well under this same law! Compare Phil. 3:6b for Paul’s confession of what he thinks of the works of law, and Acts 10:14 of Peter being irreproachable by the standard of the law.
c. The argument, finally, is from the very nature of Christ’s work. Christ cannot subject us once more to the very bondage from which He delivered us. Christ is no minister of sin!
Questions: What is worse, heretical statements or the conduct of Peter? Did Peter resent this rebuke from Paul, or did he have the grace to confess the error? Did Peter put his personal pride before the liberty of the church in Jesus Christ?
The Sublime Confession of Paul
1. It is not wholly clear whether, in these verses, Paul is still telling the Galatian churches what he told Peter when he publicly withstood him to the face in Antioch, or whether Paul is here addressing the Galatians and reproving them for their backsliding. The truth of the matter probably is that since Paul is here addressing the Galatians, and cites this incident of publicly withstanding Peter to the face, that Paul here gives his own grand confession. From the fullness of his heart his mouth overflows. Paul the great preacher of the glories of the Cross, says elsewhere, “I believed, therefore have I spoken.” II Cor. 4:13 and Psalm 116:10. This personal faith, justifying faith in the heart of Paul is the secret of Paul’s courage and great endurance in the ministry. He has received mercy from God. Therefore he faints not. See II Cor. 4:1-5; Eph. 3:13, 14.
2. In these verses Paul gives the motivation for his insistence that salvation is not by works of law which we perform. It is a spiritual-ethical impossibility for anyone who has deeply tasted of the mercies and glories of the Cross to boast in ought else. For the joy of it a man will sell all that he has. Matt. 13:44-46. (Parable of the pearl of great price).
a. The first argument of Paul here is the logical-theological argument. The Word of the cross places us in the “reasonable-logical” service of God. The Word of the cross, with its implications, is the only consistent logic and ethics, conduct of life! The Word of God’s wisdom in the cross is not “nay” and “yea” at the same time. The logic is: if it be of grace then it is no more of works! Such if of works it is no more of grace! Such is the “logic-theological” argument of Rom. 11:5, 6. The law of works, the principle of works, is never out of faith! Gal. 3:12.
More in detail, this theological-logical argument is as follows:
1. That there are but two alternatives. Either Paul must build and continue to build by preaching justification without works of law, or he must discontinue teaching this gospel and teach justification by works, placing men under law! It is either-or; it is never both-and!
2. He had “broken down” all the false teaching of salvation by works, with all that it implies, denial of God’s eternal election, atonement, efficacious calling, preservation in the faith. All this he had cast aside. Will he now again teach this horrible doctrine of salvation by works, denying the golden chain of God’s elective love? God forbid! Should he rebuild all this, even for an hour, he would therefore make Christ a minister of sin, placing men in the hopelessness of redeeming themselves from the curse of the law!
b. The second argument (verses 19, 20) is the argument of the confession of faith! Paul believes and he speaks of his personal salvation. Paul has died to the former state of being under law. He cannot ever return. Hallelujah! We notice here the following elements:
1. The “pin-pointed” truth of Paul’s steadfastness in the gospel of grace as given in verse 19. “For I through law died unto law that I might live unto God!” As impossible as it is for a man, who is ingrafted into Christ by a true and living faith, to continue in sin that grace may abound, so impossible it is for the believing Paul to place the church under law, which law is the power of sin! Compare I Cor. 15:56 and Rom. 7:13 and 6:14.
2. The “law” to which Paul died was not the law as a guide to our walk of faith, repentance, and thankfulness in Christ Jesus. For the law in the latter sense see Gal. 5:13-15. Here we have the law as it is simply fulfilled in “loving our neighbor as ourselves,” as it is written in our hearts, and as we “live unto God.” Compare Romans 7:1-4. Compare Lord’s Days 32-52 of the Heidelberg Catechism! On the contrary, Paul has in mind “law” as it is the dispensation of the law of Sinai, Hagar, who is in bondage with her children. Gal. 4:21-31. Here the rule is: the man that doeth the same shall live thereby. And to this the law of Sinai adds: Cursed is everyone that does not remain in all that is written in the book of the law to perform it! Gal. 3:10.
3. Paul died to this law. Notice the following:
a. That the law did not die, cease to be.
b. But Paul died to the law. Every inclination in Paul to be justified by works of law died. He desires no more to keep the law to be saved. He no longer feels in his heart as a slave, who must perform certain works not to incur the wrath of his master. His anxious conscience finds peace with God apart from works of law! The fear of God’s wrath is gone, for he has been saved from wrath!
c. Paul died unto law through law! Under justifying grace and in the faith Paul was taught by the law that all attempts at justification by law is absolutely futile. There is absolutely no hope of salvation for us in our keeping of the law! Is not the law weak through our sins, and is it not the power of sin? Have you learned this by law, covenant youth?!
d. Now Paul can live unto God. He lives unto the God of all grace in Jesus Christ. Only they who died unto law through law no longer live the life described in Romans 3:9-18, which see.
4. The entire mystery of this faith of Paul, this grand change from death to life, from despair to hope is:
a. It is all in the “Christ,” the Messiah, the appointed and qualified Servant of Jehovah, God’s anointed Son in Zion. He was crucified. He became a curse for us and removed the curse of the law from Paul. Legally Paul was represented in Christ’s crucifixion and thus Paul was crucified with Christ! In God’s statute book in heaven it is written: Paul of Tarsus, crucified with Christ, Anno 33 on Golgotha! What a notation in God’s book of life!
b. Christ so completely united Paul by faith with Himself as the glorified Head of the church, that Paul lives. Yet, always so that Paul must say: it is no more I but Christ dwells, lives in me! What I now live I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself in my behalf!
c. And therefore, Paul cannot preach salvation by works. God has revealed His son in Paul. (1:15, 16). Grace will remain sovereignly free grace, and faith will be preached as God’s gift, and all of salvation will be of grace. For Christ did not die in vain on the cross.
Questions: What is the “rule,” the “canon” in the law of works? Does preaching of the gospel of free grace and justification by faith include the command to faith and repentance? Is there a distinction between the “doing of the law” and the “walking in faith whereby the law is established”? Is it necessary for a good Christian life and walk to recognize this distinction? Do we need to be admonished unto this new obedience, living unto God? Is this not spontaneous in the Christian? Does God work this spontaneity in us through the preaching of the gospel? What does Canons III, IV, XVII say of this?
The Crucial Question to Bewitched Galatians
1. In the light of Paul’s great confession of his legally partaking in Christ’s crucifixion and of his spiritual union with Christ, it is quite natural for Paul to now give a more positive exposition of the gospel, which is justification without works of law that we have performed. He will refute, with the Scriptures, once and for all the necessity of works of law to be justified. In so doing Paul strikes a vigorous blow at the lie of the false brethren. What a polemic!
2. In verse 1 he asks the ironical question: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been set forth crucified?” Notice the following:
a. That although Paul chides the Galatian brethren and sisters very severely, yet he speaks to them, under the circumstances, as kindly as possible. He does not make matters worse than what they are. For Paul calls the Galatians “foolish” only in the sense of “those without understanding” and not in the sense of fools, who say, There is no God! They fear God. But they lack the understanding, being as it were bewitched, to see that the leaven of work-and law-righteousness will make them debtors to keep the whole law. Gal. 4:9, 5:3. This leaven will bring them wholly under the curse of the law. What a lack of spiritual insight and understanding!
b. How to explain?
1. It cannot be explained out of Paul’s preaching. He had preached Jesus Christ as the crucified One. He had known nothing else. Christ has thus been set forth before their very eyes. Paul had magnified the cross.
2. Hence, there is but one explanation left. These Galatians had been bewitched. As snakes are charmed by their charmers, so these Galatians had been deceived by the false-teachers. What a spiritual ignorance and blind stupor!
3. To shake them awake out of this spiritual error Paul directs a very pointed right and wrong question to them. Incidentally, this is a very crucial question, which decides the entire matter as far as the Galatians are concerned, and is the convincing argument in all cases. The intent of this right and wrong question is to have the Galatians give the right answer when put before the two alternatives. Paul certainly forces the issue!
a. Concerning this crucial question we notice the following in general:
1. That this question can only be directed to the church in Christ in whose hearts the Holy Spirit has made His abode. John 14:15-19. Such is the point of departure for Paul; only those who understand spiritual things spiritually can be expected to give the proper reply!
2. That Paul pins all his hopes of bringing these “bewitched” Christians to their senses by the question: This only would I learn from you: did you receive the Spirit by the hearing of faith or by works of law! If this question does not break the spell of error, nothing will!
3. Surely it cannot be true that once they were free men in the Spirit, and that now they will be really content to finish this in the flesh? Is all vain? All their sufferings for the gospel and Paul’s labors? What a travail in the spirit for Paul!
b. The crucial question falls into two parts; it views two aspects of the same grand spiritual-psychological reality in the believing church.
1. The first question is: “did you receive the Spirit out of the works of the law or out of the hearing of faith?” We should notice:
a. That Paul in speaking of “receiving the Spirit” is speaking of the subjective, the spiritual-psychologically being filled with the fullness of joy, peace, hope, life. To receive the Spirit means more than simply being given a pledge that we will receive it; it is not simply the Spirit being given to the saints in a word-pledge, but it is the Spirit in the sense that the Testament promise of God is realized in our hearts, enlightening our mind and bending our will. Compare on this thought Acts 2:33 where Christ is said to have “received the promise of the Spirit” and also Hebrews 9:15 where this notion is applied to the church.
b. All this is ours either out of works of law or out of the hearing of faith as a conscious spiritual-psychological reality. Which is it? A proper and correct answer, please! Examine yourself in the light of God’s Word and your spiritual experience. It is the crucial question!
2. This same spiritual-psychological reality of grace is also viewed from the viewpoint of God’s objectively supplying us with the Spirit, as He energizes us with power and might. This is the same crucial question. This time the same question is clinched. If God thus supplies out of faith, then certainly we received out of faith. Hence the question: He that supplieth you…?
a. God is the “One supplying.” God supplies at His own expense,so to speak. He does it gratuitously. He gives a new supply of grace each moment. He energizes us with power, giving faith. Verse 4. Thus he did with Abraham. Compare Gen. 15:1-4.
b. Notice too, that He worketh this power, energizing Abraham with faith and new courage out of Abraham’s hearing of faith! Out of this faith Abraham received strength. He was empowered out of faith, waxed strong out of faith as a spiritual-psychological reality. In the critical times of his pilgrim journey this often became very evident. Then in a very clearly revealed and pronounced manner he was strengthened. Romans 4:20. See also II Cor. 12:10.
c. God gave this faith in Abraham by means of the preaching of the gospel. Abraham has a definite need of reassurance of God’s salvation in the Seed. He must see the day of Christ and rejoice. His fainting heart must be strengthened. So God takes Abraham under the stars of heaven and says: thus shall thy seed be, Abraham. And the poor sinner that Abraham was, was comforted in the forgiveness of sins. It was accounted to him for righteousness. He received this renewed insight by grace but then out of faith as the gift that God supplies in him. And so it must be with all the children of Abraham who walk in his footsteps. Compare Romans 4:20.
Questions: Why does Paul bring up the incident of Genesis 15:4 when he wishes to prove that God supplies new strength out of the hearing of faith? Could the argument not be brought up that such was the manner in Abraham’s case but that such is not the case with all believers? Is that which happens in Abraham’s case normative? Why did God not say to Abraham: Thus shall thy seed be if you believe? Would that be the correct spiritual-psychological approach? Is that the Scriptural “pedagogical” approach? Why does God say: Thus shall thy seed be? And why does Abraham believe this? Does God work faith through the preaching? Also through admonitions?