Author: Ron Graham
Setting the Record Straight
—Galatians, first main section
In this lesson we study the first main section of Paul’s letter, Galatians 1:10 through to 2:21.
Paul answers misrepresentation and opposition by certain Jewish brethren who promote
- (a) obedience to commandments in the law of Moses, and
- (b) distinctions between Jew and Gentile.
1 Paul not a “pleaser of men”
Paul exempted Christians from keeping the law of Moses. He did not do this to please Gentiles or to offend the Jews. He did it because it was God’s will (Galatians 1:10).
¶ “10Am I now trying to win the approval of people, or of God? I used to be a people pleaser. If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10).
Paul did not get his gospel from men. Paul received his message directly from the risen Christ. Therefore his doctrine could not possibly be false (Galatians 1:11-12).
¶ “11I want you to know, brethren, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12I did not receive the gospel from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12).
2 How Paul came to know Jesus
We can fill in many details not given in Galatians 1:13-17. Paul tells the story of his conversion in Acts 22 and Acts 26. Luke also records it in Acts 9.
Between verses 25 and 26 of Acts 9 there is the three years (not mentioned there in Acts, but mentioned here in Galatians 1:17-18). During part of this period, before returning to Damascus, Paul was in Arabia being taught by Jesus Christ.
¶ “13For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how zealously I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15But God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son in me. This was done so that I might preach God among the Gentiles. My immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was. Instead I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. 18Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas...” (Galatians 1:13-18).
There is, by the way, no contradiction in the accounts. The information in one account supplements the information in the other accounts. By harmonising the four accounts (the three in Acts and this one in Galatians) we get the complete story.
Before he was called and became a Christian, Paul persecuted the church of Christ. Paul was, however, a devoutly religious man in Judaism.
After he was helped to believe and obey the gospel, he was not taught by anyone other than Jesus Christ who gave Paul direct revelation of the gospel.
3 Paul’s trips to Jerusalem
- Paul’s first trip to Jerusalem, after his conversion, is described in Galatians 1:18-24 and in Acts 9:26-30. On this trip Paul introduced himself through Barnabas to the apostles Peter and James and did some preaching in their company.
¶ “18Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas [Peter] and I lodged with him fifteen days. 19I saw none of the other apostles, except James the Lord’s brother. 20I assure you before God that I write you no lie.21Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23They only heard it said of me, 'The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy!' 24And they glorified God because of me” (Galatians 1:18-24).
- A subsequent trip is mentioned in Acts 11:28-30, in which Paul and Barnabas carried the first relief funds to Jerusalem from Antioch in Syria.
- A third trip is described in Galatians 2:1-10 and in Acts 15. Between his first and second missionary journeys, Paul met with the apostles to discuss his doctrine which they commended.
¶ “1Then, after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2 I went in response to a revelation. I met privately with those highly regarded as leaders. I presented to them the message that I preach among the Gentiles. I desired assurance that I haven't been running my race in vain. 3Titus my companion was a Greek. Yet he wasn't compelled to be circumcised. 4These circumstances arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks. They tried to spy on our freedom in Christ Jesus, and to make us slaves. 5We did not yield to them for a moment. We kept the truth of the gospel safe for you.”
¶ “6As for those who were held in high esteem, I wasn't interested in their status. God does not have favourites. They did not add anything to my message. 7On the contrary, they recognized that I'd been trusted to preach the gospel to the uncircumcised. In the same way, Peter had been trusted to preach to the circumcised. 8God was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised. God was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9James, Peter and John, those highly regarded as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. They recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10They just asked that we should continue to remember the poor —exactly what I'd been keen to do all along.” (Galatians 2:1-10).
- A final trip (the latter part of Paul’s third missionary journey) is recorded in Romans 15:25-28, 1Corinthians 16:1-4 and Acts 21:15-18. Paul and others carried a gathered contribution to Jerusalem for the needy saints.
The second and fourth trips are not mentioned in Galatians (although the Galatians had contributed) because those trips are irrelevant to the matters discussed in the letter.
During Paul’s first decade as an apostle, he faced no opposition or interference from the apostles in Jerusalem. They did not require Paul to bind or practice circumcision (or any other element of Moses’s law) among his converts. The apostles in Jerusalem did not tell Paul to add anything to his doctrine. They and the apostle Paul considered each other to be equals.
4 Paul’s dispute with Peter
In Antioch, Peter was acting inconsistently with what he believed and taught (Galatians 2:11-14).
¶ “11When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. However, when they arrived, he withdrew and separated himself from the Gentiles. He did this because he feared the circumcision faction. 13The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy. And by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14I saw that they were not being living uprightly by the gospel truth. So I questioned Peter in front of them all. 'You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. So why do you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?'” (Galatians 2:11-14).
Paul’s dispute with Peter was not about doctrine, for Peter believed and preached the same thing. Neither apostle believed that Jews were saved by a different plan than Gentiles, and both apostles taught that all believers were one in Christ Jesus (Acts 10:34-48). We will note Paul’s summary of his doctrine in our next point. Peter had no issue with what Paul said.
The dispute was about Peter’s practice, which was inconsistent with his preaching. Peter was compelling Gentiles to live like Jews. He did not do this by his preaching. He did it by his action: by effectively withdrawing his company from them.
To associate with Peter, Gentiles had to comply with Jewish ways, otherwise they would not be accepted into the circle Peter had entered. In this situation, Peter was being a hypocrite and acting against what he personally believed and preached.
5 Paul summarises his position
In Galatians 2:15-21, Paul shows that Jews, although more righteous in general than pagans, are still found sinners in God’s sight. Jews and Gentiles alike need the cross of Christ and faith in Christ to be justified before God.
¶ “15We are Jews by birth and not Gentiles sinners. 16We know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we have put our faith in Christ Jesus to be justified in him. We can't be justified by the works of the law —no one can be. 17We Jews seek to be justified in Christ along with the Gentile sinners. Does that mean that Christ serves to make sinners of us? No, not at all! 18But I will be a sinner if I rebuild the law that I destroyed.”
¶ “19For the law killed me so that I could live for God. 20I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. My present life in the flesh is lived by faith in the Son of God. He loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not set aside the grace of God —if there is justification through the law, then Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:15-21).
One who has been "crucified with Christ" has destroyed the old person who tried but failed to keep the law. Adding the law of Moses (or for that matter any other law but Christ’s) to the Christian life reverses that process. It raises up again that old person and nullifies the grace of God and the cross of Christ.
This was why Paul took the situation in Galatia so seriously and wrote so strongly about it.