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.”

Acts 13

Chapter thirteen records the first missionary tour from Antioch to other Gentile regions. It is important to note that the Holy Spirit specifically chose Barnabas and Saul for this mission (Acts 13:1-3), a nod back to Jesus’ discussion with Ananias in Acts 9:15. There are five significant points about their work shown in this chapter that would characterize the rest of Paul’s ministry. First, they started “IN THE JEWISH SYNAGOGUES” wherever they went (Acts 13:5, 46). This was a theological issue for them (see Romans 1:16; John 4:22). Second, the Holy Spirit empowered them to perform miracles as a part of their ministry (Acts 13:6-12). This is the first time Luke associated miracles with either Barnabas or Saul. Third, Saul’s message in the synagogues was similar to what he had heard Stephen say in chapter seven, a recounting of Israel’s history of prophets sent by God, culminating with Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 13:16-41). Whereas Stephen emphasized their rejection of the prophets, Saul focused on Jesus as the one they had always anticipated. Fourth, their message was often received warmly by many God-fearing Gentiles but only a few Jews (Acts 13:42-45, 50). Twice Luke wrote that the Jews became jealous because of the Gentile response to Paul (Acts 13:45; 17:5). Later Paul told the Romans that was exactly part of God’s plan (Romans 11:11). Fifth, the Jewish rejection of the gospel helped spur Paul on to his ultimate commission, preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46-52).

It is also important to recognize that Saul used his Gentile name, Paul, as he ministered in Gentile lands. 1 Luke’s note in Acts 13:9 that he was “ALSO KNOWN AS PAUL” seems to indicate that he probably went by both names in Antioch, depending on who he was with. However, since the majority of his work from this point on was in Gentile territory, Luke felt comfortable changing his usage to “Paul,” as he would call himself in his messages and letters. During his regular trips to Jerusalem and the Temple, he most certainly would have gone by “Saul.”

Their first stop was in Cyprus (Acts 13:4-12), where the Holy Spirit used Paul to identify and punish a sorcerer who was actively working against the gospel. Much like Peter with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), Paul spoke under the power of the Spirit and blinded Elymas, the sorcerer. This display of power convinced the audience, including the proconsul, leading to their belief in Christ.

As they worked through southern Galatia, many people believed. However, a coalition of legalistic Jews had followed them and “INCITED THE GOD-FEARING WOMEN OF HIGH SOCIAL STANDING AND THE PROMINENT MEN OF THE CITY” to stand against and begin persecuting Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:50). So they continued to Iconium.

Notes:

  1. A Jew born outside of Israel would have both a Hebrew (synagogue) name and a Greek or Latin name. Saul/Paul embraced both names and backgrounds, depending on his immediate audience.

Acts 1

This second volume of the Luke-Acts set is entitled “The Acts of the Apostles.” However, some prefer to call it “The Acts of the Holy Spirit,” because, no matter how much recognition the apostles get, the Holy Spirit was the person and power behind them. In Acts alone, the Holy Spirit is referred to more than sixty times, at least twice the mentions he received in any other book of the Bible.
Acts is the story of the Church – what it is and how it began. Many favorite Sunday School stories appear in its pages as Luke introduced his reader, initially Theophilus, to both the good and the bad events the early Christians experienced. The book covers the first 30 years of Church history, from its inception in A.D. 33 through Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, ending in A.D. 62.

There are at least three different ways to outline the book into its natural, broad divisions. The shortest outline is the simple division between Peter’s work (chapters 1-12) and Paul’s (chapters 13-28). Secondly, Acts 1:8 gives a threefold outline. Jesus told the apostles they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem (chapters 1-8), Judea and Samaria (chapters 9-12), and the furthest parts of the earth (chapters 13-28). Another outline, less obvious, reveals six key divisions using Luke’s “progress reports” of the Church’s growth in Acts 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; and 28:31.

The major key to interpreting Acts is understanding that it is transitional in nature. Much of the book is descriptive (what the early Christians experienced or did) rather than prescriptive (what all Christians should experience or do). In fact, there are many things Luke recorded that we should not expect to be normative today, and recognizing those differences is an important component of correct interpretation.

Chapter one picks up immediately where Luke’s gospel ended. It is obvious that Luke intended for this to be a second volume, as his introduction to Theophilus shows (Acts 1:1-2). 1 None of the gospels gives a full account of Jesus’ work following his resurrection, but Luke noted in verse three that Jesus spent 40 days with the apostles, teaching them “ABOUT MATTERS CONCERNING THE KINGDOM OF GOD.” One of these matters was the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which would occur shortly. Until that time (Jesus did not say how long), they were to wait in Jerusalem. However, after it happened, Jesus promised that they would “RECEIVE POWER,” with the result that they would “BE…WITNESSES” (Acts 1:8). “My witnesses” means they would preach about Jesus, which makes sense because he had already told them that they would receive “THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH WHO GOES OUT FROM THE FATHER – HE WILL TESTIFY ABOUT ME, AND YOU ALSO WILL TESTIFY” (John 15:26-27).

Although they wanted to know more about the Messianic kingdom and its timing, Jesus would tell them no more. In what was apparently a surprise to them, Jesus ascended into heaven, slowly disappearing until they could no longer see him (Acts 1:9-11). As they searched the skies, two angels told them to obey Jesus’ instructions to wait in Jerusalem. He would come back the same way he left – physically and visibly.

During the next ten days, they waited and prayed (Acts 1:12-14). At this time there were about 120 believers waiting for whatever was going to come next. Based on their interpretation of two psalms, they decided that Judas’ position needed to be filled with a twelfth apostle (Acts 1:15-26). Rather than putting it to a popular vote, they took two steps. First, they nominated only those with specific qualifications – a man, who had accompanied them everywhere, and who had been part of the group since Jesus’ baptism, which eliminated all but two candidates. Second, they placed these two men before God, praying and casting lots for direction. The lot fell to Matthias, “SO HE WAS COUNTED WITH THE ELEVEN APOSTLES.”

Notes:

  1. Based on the almost “hurried” ending in chapter 28, some people propose that Luke may have intended a third volume of Paul’s later travels and additional Church history.