Galatians 2

This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap. You can read all my New Testament notes in my book New Testament: Chapter by Chapter.

Chapter two records yet another visit Paul made to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas and Titus (Galatians 2:1-5). The fact that Luke never mentioned Titus in Acts makes it difficult to make a certain determination, but the “FOURTEEN YEARS” Paul mentioned makes it possible that this was the famine relief visit in Acts 11:30. This interpretation is preferred because this visit was “ONLY . . . A PRIVATE MEETING WITH THE INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE” rather than all the apostles and elders and congregation at the Jerusalem Council. 1 In this meeting, Paul made sure to emphasize that he preached justification by grace through faith alone and did not insist on circumcision for Gentiles (Galatians 2:6-10). The other apostles agreed with his message and agreed that he and Barnabas “WOULD GO TO THE GENTILES AND THEY TO THE CIRCUMCISED.” (This also implies that their Acts 13-14 missionary tour had not taken place yet.)

In a show of “goodwill” for Paul and Barnabas’ ministry in Antioch, Peter made a visit there (Galatians 2:11-14). Although he had good relations with them for a while, including eating meals with them, when “CERTAIN PEOPLE CAME FROM JAMES” 2 he began to pull away from the Gentiles. This hypocrisy grew to such a level “THAT EVEN BARNABAS” got caught up in it. Because of the public humiliation these Jews imposed on their Gentile brothers, Paul publicly called them out.

Paul used the recollection of this event to segue into his first major doctrinal statement of the letter’s body and introduced his main thesis: “WE KNOW THAT NO ONE IS JUSTIFIED BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW BUT BY THE FAITHFULNESS OF JESUS CHRIST” (Galatians 2:16). To the Jews God gave the covenants, promises, etc. (Romans 9:1-5), and Jesus said that “SALVATION IS FROM THE JEWS” (John 4:22). Paul’s emphasis that he was a Jew “BY BIRTH” (literally, “by nature”) rather than “by conversion” was to show that he was not justified by any of those. Even a Jew must believe in Jesus, something Paul expands in detail in Romans.

One debated point in this passage and several others in Paul’s writings has to do with the phrase “THE FAITHFULNESS OF JESUS.” Although this is often considered the best translation of the Greek text, most translations offer “FAITH IN JESUS.” This seems to do damage to Paul’s meaning, emphasizing our faith rather than his work. 3 Much has been written on this, and it is impossible to work through the whole debate here.

Notes:

  1. Some of this depends on whether “FOURTEEN YEARS” goes back to Paul’s salvation, including the “THREE YEARS” of Galatians 1:18, or if it follows consecutively after those three years. In the latter case, this visit may be the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, meaning this letter must have been written later. I prefer the former view.
  2. There are some who believe this means that James instigated this display. While this was possible, there is nothing else in Scripture to corroborate this charge.
  3. The Greek text of Galatians 2:16 reads in part ἵνα δικαιωθῶμεν ἐκ πίστεως Χριστοῦ καὶ οὐκ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, “so that we might be declared righteous by faith/faithfulness of Christ and not by works of law.” To translate the first half “by faith in Christ” loses the effect of the parallel between “faithfulness of Christ” and “works of law.”

Galatians 1

This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap. You can read all my New Testament notes in my book New Testament: Chapter by Chapter.

Introduction
Galatians is possibly the earliest letter we have from Paul. 1 Unlike most of his other letters, this was written to “THE CHURCHES OF GALATIA” (Galatians 1:2) rather than to an individual congregation. Paul visited 2 these churches during his first missionary tour (Acts 13-14), before returning to Antioch and subsequently defending God’s work among the Gentiles at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). The purpose of that council was to decide what Gentiles were required to do to fully participate in the Church. Specifically, the debate was over the circumcision of Gentiles. After much debate, the apostles and elders finally determined that only belief was necessary, as with the Jews, yet they encouraged the Gentiles to refrain from a few practices that would unnecessarily offend the Jews among them (Acts 15:19-21).

Paul’s letter to the Galatian believers is a treatise on justification by grace through faith alone, second only to Romans in its importance to our understanding of the doctrine of salvation. The entire letter is an explanation and defense of that doctrine because the Galatians were turning away from it due to a contingent of Jewish legalists who demanded that they accept circumcision as a part of salvation or spiritual maturity. If this letter were written later in Paul’s ministry (as some infer from Galatians 4:13 3), after the Jerusalem Council, it seems he would certainly have referred to that decision to shut down the claims of his detractors. Instead, Paul’s entire argument was based on the doctrine of justification which came to him directly from Jesus and the Hebrew Scriptures.

Chapter one does not follow the pattern of Paul’s other letters, or those of the day, in that he did not offer a word/prayer of thanksgiving after his greeting. Instead, he jumped immediately into the purpose of his letter – “I AM ASTONISHED THAT YOU ARE SO QUICKLY DESERTING THE ONE WHO CALLED YOU BY THE GRACE OF CHRIST AND ARE FOLLOWING A DIFFERENT GOSPEL” (Galatians 1:6). “So quickly” seems to indicate that it had not been long since they had accepted the gospel that they were turning away from, though the Greek word can also mean “so easily.” Paul noted that they had deserted, not just the gospel, but the Savior himself, and began to follow “A DIFFERENT GOSPEL,” another message they had been given by those who would “DISTORT THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST” (Galatians 1:7). This brought Paul’s fiercest condemnation – eternal hell for those who preach a heretical message of salvation (Galatians 1:8-9). Today, this includes many false gospels in religions like Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam, and so many others.

It seems that Paul’s accusers painted a picture of him as a “hit-and-run” charlatan. As some of his other letters show (especially 2 Corinthians), they claimed that he did not genuinely care about his listeners, changed his message to gain favor with his audience, and was in it primarily for what he could get out of it. It seems they also continued to attack his authority as a genuine apostle (Galatians 1:1). His response was measured but firm.

First, he stated that one cannot work to please both people and God (Galatians 1:10). Second, he insisted that his message was not fluid. In fact, it did not even come from a fluid source, from whom he could have received the wrong message. Instead, Paul’s message came from Jesus himself (Galatians 1:2, 11-12). Third, his own story of dramatic life change proved that he broke close ties with his former colleagues and intentionally stayed away from the apostles in Jerusalem so he would not be swayed by anyone’s doctrine except the Savior’s (Galatians 1:13-24). When he finally did begin to meet with the other apostles, it was with only a few of them and only for a short time. Fourth, he declared that God had chosen him for this very specific ministry, that his previous life was utterly opposed to that calling, and that it required direct intervention by God to set him on the correct path. Thus, anything his opponents claimed could only make him more, not less, insistent on his message.

Notes:

  1. This is certainly debated, but it makes the most sense to me when all the available facts are considered.
  2. While it is possible that he founded them during this tour, it is also possible (and more likely) that he founded at least some of them during his tenure in “SYRIA AND CILICIA” (Galatians 1:21), years before Barnabas called him to Antioch (Acts 11:25-26).
  3. They see Paul’s statement, “I PREACHED THE GOSPEL TO YOU THE FIRST TIME” (NASB), to mean that he had been there at least twice before writing this letter. Even so, he easily could have been there more than once in the fourteen years of ministry (Galatians 2:1) preceding this letter.

2 Corinthians 11

Chapter eleven continues Paul’s defense of himself to the Corinthian believers. Many of them had been on the verge of rejecting him, but his previous letter brought them back a little. Now he wanted to stop their retreat once-and-for-all. This chapter contains some of the harshest words we have recorded from Paul’s hand toward believers or unbelievers (other examples include 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; 5:1-5; 11:17-18; Galatians 3:1-5; 5:12; Philippians 3:2; 1 Timothy 1:20). Reminiscent of a courtroom, at this point in his self-defense he presented four accusations against his prosecutors.

First, he accused the Corinthian believers of embracing anyone and anything except Paul and his message (2 Corinthians 11:1-4), including those who would abuse them (2 Corinthians 11:16-21). Second, he accused them of scorning him because of his gentle demeanor and graciousness (2 Corinthians 11:5-6). Third, he accused both the Corinthians and the false teachers of dismissing his service for Christ, including taking support from other churches instead of Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:7-9) and experiencing great suffering for his ministry (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). Fourth, he accused his critics of being agents of Satan who were working undercover, only pretending to be apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).

Although this was harsh and even full of sarcasm and contempt for those against him, Paul made sure to show his love and concern for the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:1-3, 9-11). This was not as much an attack on them as it was their sinful actions and those who led them astray. However, even at this Paul still had the court’s attention, and he was not done yet.