Galatians 2:1-17 Bible study notes

I. Purpose for visit to Jerusalem (v. 1-10)

  • Paul’s companions on this visit were Barnabas and Titus
  • Barnabas
      • He was a Levite from Cyprus
      • His name was Joseph
          • The apostles called him Barnabas which means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36)
      • The Scripture reports him as being “a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith” who led many people unto the Lord
      • He was recognized as a prophet and a teacher (Acts 13:1)
      • He is also called an apostle (Acts 14:14)
      • In Acts 9 he was the first one in Jerusalem to accept the conversion of Saul and pleaded his case before the apostles
      • In Acts 11 Barnabas had been sent by the Jerusalem church to to investigate the rumor of Greek converts
      • Instead of returning to Jerusalem to give feedback to the senior Apostles, he went to find Paul in Tarsus
      • After he found him they went back to Antioch and taught the church there for an entire year
          • This was the church that first took the name “Christian”
      • In Acts 13 he went with Paul on his first missionary journey
      • Later in Acts 15 they parted company after a dispute when Barnabas refused to go without John Mark
      • There is no more mention of Barnabas & Paul together in the rest of Acts
      • Although the date, place, and circumstances of his death are historically unverifiable, Christian tradition holds that Barnabas was martyred at Salamis, Cyprus, in AD 61. He is traditionally identified as the founder of the Cypriot Orthodox Church. The feast day of Barnabas is celebrated on June 11
  • Titus
      • Titus was Greek
      • He had converted to Christianity apparently under Paul’s ministry
      • From the subscript at the end of the book of Titus, we find that Titus was ordained the first bishop of the Cretians, which was basically stated by Paul in Titus 1:5. 
      • Titus was not mentioned by name in the book of Acts, although it is evident by Paul’s statements that he was Paul’s companion in travel.
      • Paul said Titus was his “partner and fellow helper” to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 8:23).
      • Titus was with Paul during Paul’s voyage to Rome.
      • After Paul’s release from his first imprisonment at Rome, he took Titus with him to Crete and left him in charge of the work there (Titus 1:5).
          • From Crete it is said he propagated the gospel into the neighboring islands. 
      • He died at the age of ninety-four, and was buried in Crete. 
      • The Greeks keep his festival on the 25th of August, and the Latins on the 4th of January.
  • Paul traveled to Jerusalem to defend the Gospel that God had given him to preach.
      • Nothing was threatening Paul’s certainty, but something was threatening his fruitfulness. If the other apostles did not confirm his message and renounce the false teachers, it would be very hard for him to retain his converts. 
      • False teachers were telling these young Christians that Paul was preaching a gospel that was inadequate and not as full as the original apostolic gospel preached by the Jerusalem leaders. 
      • They insisted that Paul taught an “easy believism” that was his own very eccentric message. 
      • Paul knew his message was God-revealed and therefore true. 
      • But he would not be able to keep his churches in sound gospel teaching if he could not disprove this falsehood.
  • On the one side of this dispute we have Paul, who is saying: The gospel of faith in Christ is for people of all cultures. 
  • On the other we have his opponents, claiming: Not all Jewish people are Christians, but all Christians must become Jewish. 
  • If the Jerusalem apostles had sided with, or even merely tolerated, those who were teaching against Paul, this would have split the church in two. 
      • Neither side would have accepted the other fully, and would have questioned if the others were saved!
  • So he met with James, John and Peter.
  • Paul had taken Titus with him to Jerusalem as a test case of a full-fledged converted Gentile to faith in Jesus Christ.
  • There were religious zealots who had acknowledged Christ as their Messiah but believed a person must still keep the Old Testament Law in order to be right with God. 
      • They taught faith in Christ alone was not enough. 
      • This was in direct opposition to the Gospel that Paul taught. 
      • Paul called these men false brethren. 
      • These are the ones whom he referred to in Galatians 1:8-9.
      • These men were saying that faith alone was not enough; holiness was needed as well.
  • Paul made the motives of these legalistic Jews very clear. 
      • They were not motivated out of love — they were on a witch-hunt. 
      • They had already made up their minds and were looking for some way of discrediting Paul and the Gospel he preached. 
  • Galatians 2:5 shows us Paul’s reaction.
      • The Greek word that was translated “gave place” literally means “to be weak, i.e. yield.”
          • He didn’t give place…. He didn’t yield to them or become weak
          • He never submitted any of his authority to them — “To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour.”
  • There is a time for standing strong against those who oppose us, as Paul did here, and there is a time for turning the other cheek, as Jesus instructed us to do in Matthew 5:39. 
      • Sometimes, it is very hard to know which is the right reaction. 
      • Ultimately, we have to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit in each individual case. 
      • But Paul gave us a general rule to follow in this passage of Scripture. 
          • He declared that the motivation for his actions against these false brethren was not selfish.
          • Paul was not defending his own reputation or sowing strife because of pride-related issues. 
          • His only concern was that the Galatians might continue in the truth of the Gospel.
  • The Jerusalem apostles agreed that it is faith in Christ alone, and not any other performance or ritual, that is necessary for salvation.
      • They heard his message and added nothing to it. It was accurate and complete just the way Paul presented it.
      • Instead of Peter, James, and John correcting Paul’s Gospel, they approved it and encouraged Paul in his work. 
      • Peter and Paul did not preach two different gospels–a gospel of the circumcision and a gospel of the uncircumcision. 
      • There is only one true Gospel, as stated very emphatically by Paul in Galatians 1:6-7. 
      • God was simply using Peter in a mighty way among the Jews, and He was using Paul in a mighty way among the Gentiles.
  • The phrase “the right hands of fellowship” (in verse 9) implies a united missionary partnership to work together for the spreading of the Gospel among Jews and Gentiles. 
      • Peter took the good news of salvation primarily to the Jews, and Paul ministered primarily to the Gentiles.
      • God had entrusted both with the Gospel of Grace — same message for both Jews and Gentiles — the one new man in Christ

II. Paul & Peter (v.11-17)

  • It’s not clear where Paul gained this knowledge of Peter’s actions. 
      • It’s possible that Peter himself told this to Paul (Galatians 1:18).
  • The Scriptures are a bit vague about when it happened.
  • Andrew Wommack teaches that it happened when Peter was at Cornelius’ house (Acts 10)
  • I’m not sure.  I know in this letter Paul is taking time to clear up misunderstandings the Galatians are having with the Gospel that Paul has taught them.  
      • The Jerusalem council meeting took place in Acts 15 (approx 50 AD) and Cornelius’ conversion took place in Acts 10 (approx 40 AD)
      • It would make sense to me that Peter had come to Antioch some time after the meeting and still withdrew from Gentiles when Jews came on the scene.
      • But maybe the Galatians had heard about Cornelius’ conversion and were confused about why Peter had acted the way he did and then at the council meeting he agreed with James and John that no Jewish requirements needed to be added.
      • Again, I don’t know… there are different viewpoints when you look it up.
      • I don’t know that it’s important
  • What I do know is…..
  • Peter knew that the Gentiles did not have to conform to Jewish Law for salvation. 
      • The Lord had shown Peter in a vision that the Gentiles were to become heirs with those who receive Jesus by faith and that he was not to call Gentile Christians unclean (Acts 10:28). 
          • The Old Testament instituted the “clean laws”, a complicated series of regulations for worshippers to follow in order to be “ceremonially clean” and acceptable for the presence of God in worship. 
          • People could not draw near to God if they ate certain “unclean” foods, if they had touched dead things, if they had a disease or touched someone who did, and so on (see Leviticus 11; 15; 20). 
          • This “ceremonial” law was a teaching method by which the holy God showed that sinful people cannot go into His presence without cleansing. 
          • Despite Jesus explaining that with His arrival the time for these laws had passed (Mark 7:14-23), God had to send Peter a vision to show him why the ceremonial law was finished.
          • He showed him a great sheet full of animals forbidden for eating in the Old Testament, and he heard a voice saying: “Kill and eat … Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 11:7, 9). 
          • Immediately, Peter is sent to a repentant Gentile, Cornelius, who receives Christ and is born again. 
          • Peter realizes: “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him” (Acts 10:34-35).
  • Barnabas was with Peter and also got caught up in hypocrisy.
  • The lack of any mention of problems caused by this encounter between Paul and Peter is a good indication that Peter took heed to Paul’s admonition and repented.
  • Paul’s point was that Peter (when he was with the Gentiles) was not adhering strictly to Jewish Law yet he was compelling the Gentiles to live after the Jewish traditions. 
  • That was hypocritical. He wasn’t practicing what he was preaching. 
  • The Jerusalem Bible translation says, “If you, though a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, you have no right to make the Gentiles copy Jewish ways.”
  • Peter was enjoying the freedom while eating with Gentiles and by avoiding them when the Jews came, he was being a hypocrite and causing the Galatians to be confused about this Gospel of Grace that Paul preached.
  • Paul was stating to Peter, “We who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, know that a person is not declared righteous by the works of the law but by faith in Christ” (paraphrase taken from Today’s English Version and King James Version).
  • Paul went on to say that no one is declared righteous “by the works of the law but by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). 
  • Although the Law of Moses was being spoken of here, this can also be understood as any religious law (what day you worship, the length of hair, dress, the mode of baptism, or other religious codes), for by those works no person can be justified.

We’ll look at verses 18-21 next week and discuss the “faith of Christ” that was Paul’s new life under the New Covenant

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