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Galatians 2 - Gentile Circumcision

INTRODUCTION: In this second chapter Paul begins to lay out the background that should have settled the question of circumcision for Gentile believers. He adds to this the discussion of some other hypocrisy that may continue even after faith in Christ alone had been agreed as that which was to bring Jew and Gentile believers together while eliminating former distinctions.

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the Revised Webster Bible.


Galatians 2 "1 Then fourteen years after I went again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with [me] also. 2 And I went by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them who were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. 3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: 4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in secretly to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: 5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. "

COMMENTS: Paul indicates that it was fourteen years after he had first met with Peter in Jerusalem before he went back there from Antioch. His ministry of the gospel to the Gentiles without requiring them to be circumcised, had not been authorized by any man; as Paul asserts that when he returned to Jerusalem and communicated his ministry of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, his preaching was based on revelation. Paul met privately with those who were of reputation in the church to allow an open discussion among them until a consensus was reached, "lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain." A major point was that Titus, a Greek who had accompanied Paul, was not compelled to be circumcised, thus providing a very personal example of agreement among apostles on this topic. False brethren who had traveled to Antioch had claimed that Gentiles must be circumcised to be saved, but Paul said these men had come in under a cloak of secrecy to undermine the liberty that disciples have in Christ Jesus. Paul said that he and Barnabas did not allow those false brethren to promote their false doctrine at Antioch without serious dispute. This was a crucial issue, and it is rooted in the truth of the gospel that salvation from sin comes by faith alone, not by works of the law. This is the gospel that Paul had taken in person to Galatia, and now documents in this letter.


Galatians 2 "6 But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed [to be somewhat] in conference added nothing to me: 7 But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed to me, as [the gospel] of the circumcision [was] to Peter; 8 (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) 9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we [should go] to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcision. 10 Only [they would] that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was diligent to do. "

COMMENTS: Paul again is making the point as he did in chapter one, that the true preaching of the gospel of Christ comes not from man, but is given by the Holy Spirit. Paul is not belittling the apostles at Jerusalem, but he is saying that no man has the authority to appoint another man to be an apostle: that authority is reserved for Christ alone to do. Apostleship is not achieved in any way through physical inheritance or by the independent exercise of talent or ability of any individual, but only by the calling of God. By going to Jerusalem to consult others who were called of God, this did not add anything to Paul's authority which he had received directly from Christ. As Paul was called by the Lord as an apostle to Gentiles, Peter, James, and John were called by the Lord as apostles to the Jews. When James, Peter, and John discerned that the grace of the Lord was at work, they extended warm recognition of a fellowship in gospel ministry that Paul and Barnabas had to Gentiles, as they had for the Jews. A common factor of ministry for all of them would be to remember the poor.


Galatians 2 "11 But when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. 12 For before that certain came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles: but when they had come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them who were of the circumcision. 13 And the other Jews likewise were hypocrites with him; so that Barnabas also was carried away with their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before [them] all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? 15 We [who are] Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we may be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. "

COMMENTS: But when Peter came to Antioch, Paul needed to confront him directly because he had the personal blame of changing his conduct toward Gentiles. He ate with the Gentiles until certain ones came from James, then Peter withdrew himself and ate only with the Jews, wanting to be separated to them. Peter's actions apparently influenced other Jews at Antioch, including even Barnabas, and they joined him his hypocrisy. Paul said that when he saw their behavior being contrary to the truth of the gospel, he spoke to Peter in front of them all. His reasoning was that Jews could now be free of the law for justification as were the Gentiles, and therefore they should not compel Gentiles to live in the strict manner of the Jews. Those who are Jews by nature now know that no man is justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ. Even the apostles who were born as Jews believe that in Jesus Christ they may be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no person be justified.


Galatians 2 "17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, [is] therefore Christ the minister of sin? By no means. 18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. 19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I may live to God. 20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God: for if righteousness is [gained] by the law, then Christ hath died in vain."

COMMENTS: Even though we are still sinners while we depend upon faith in Christ for our justification, this by no means indicates that Christ is condoning any sin in our lives. At the same time, we cannot go back to depending on the keeping of the law to please God, because that would mean that we have returned to the point of not placing our full trust in his finished work in our behalf. Through understanding of the law we know as Paul has already said that no one can keep the whole law, and thus be justified through the law. The law actually proves our condemnation, and our need to live for God only through his grace through faith in Christ. Christ took our sin upon himself as he died on the cross, so we who are disciples must then consider that we died on that cross with him, that we might also share in his resurrection to new life by faith as his Spirit indwells us. Our life is no longer our own because Christ loved us and gave himself for us. We cannot set aside the grace of God: for if righteousness is gained by the law, then Christ has died in vain. This should bring our full attention to the essential truth that Christ came to die to redeem sinners from the sentence of death that is inherent in all offspring of Adam.

--- Reflections in prayer ---

Lord I thank you for the record of scripture that even your chosen apostles not only struggled with their nature in the flesh before your death, burial, and resurrection; but even in the early development of your church there were disagreements among them that needed to be resolved through the guidance of your Holy Spirit. It can be difficult for me to understand that you truly are no respecter of persons, and that from the least to the greatest in your kingdom, all must depend fully on your Spirit to do the work you have designed for each member of the body of Christ. Guide me Lord to seek the proper balance of being subject to those in authority over me , while searching the scriptures constantly to verify the truth of what is being taught or preached by them. I want to honor you Lord by following the established manner of living as your disciple without having any pride that would cause me to forget your precious and unsurpassed sacrifice to remove my sin which I could never erase by my own atonement. Hallelujah and Amen.

Published 2 November 2012