The epistle to the Galatians is the text which Browning’s monk “in a Spanish cloister” was hoping to use to tempt his enemy into heretical
Certainly this letter stands out among the letters of Paul as presenting the contrast between Faith and legalism.
In the first chapter, Paul was telling the Galatians that the gospel which he taught them had been given to him direct from Christ. He had not
received it from other men.
His purpose in telling them this was to explain why the gospel, as taught, should not be compromised by human interference.
Paul drives home this point in the second chapter by describing how he refused to compromise in the past.
He talks about two episodes, namely his own visit to Jerusalem (vv1-10), and Peter’s visit to Antioch (vv11-16).
Fourteen years after meeting Peter in Jerusalem, Paul returned there, with Barnabas and Titus (vv1-2)
He was moved “by revelation”; presumably from a prophet like Agabus.
That is, he was not summoned or commanded by men.
Then he explained his teaching to the leaders there, to forestall the danger that his work might be frustrated.
But before we go any further, we need to consider the problem of vv4-5, which seem to be misplaced.
They are misplaced geographically. If the “false brethren” came in to “spy out the freedom” of the Gentile church, that cannot have been part
of the events in Jerusalem. It must have been happening in Antioch.
They are also misplaced grammatically, since “because of the false brethren” doesn’t really follow on from anything.
The best solution is that Paul, in the middle of dictating this letter, is picking up a point which he should have mentioned in v2; his journey had
been prompted by the interference of the false brethren in Antioch, which could have suppressed the truth of the gospel.
This agrees very well with the account we find at the beginning of Acts ch15.
Luke says that some men came down from Judaea (the “false brethren”) and began teaching the local brethren that they needed to be circumcised in
order to be saved (“that they might bring us into bondage”).
Since they would have been claiming the authority of Jerusalem, a delegation led by Paul and Barnabas was appointed (“by revelation”) to go up to
Jerusalem and sort the question out.
Paul is adamant that he did not “yield submission even for a moment” to these intruders.
The Jerusalem leaders themselves found no need to add anything to his teaching.
They did not even demand that his companion Titus should receive circumcision.
Paul is treading cautiously as he gives this account (vv6-10).
On the one hand, he does not want to acknowledge that he is under the authority of the leaders in Jerusalem, or that he needs their endorsement in any
So he makes a point of slightly disparaging the claims that are made for them.
They are only “reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me)”, they are only “reputed to be pillars”.
On the other hand, the fact that they did endorse him is worth using, if their authority is now being quoted against his own.
So he reports how they recognised his mission as complementary to Peter’s mission.
Evidently God was active in his work among the Gentiles, as in Peter’s work among the circumcised.
Thus they accepted the line of demarcation and “gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship”.
In effect, they acknowledged that Paul’s gospel did come from Christ, as he claims in the first chapter.
The only request they made was that the Gentile church should “remember the poor”, and Paul was being faithful to this promise when he organised
the collection which he later took to Jerusalem.
The second episode took place when Peter came to Antioch (vv11-14).
When he first arrived, he was happy just to be part of the community.
But when other visitors came who were closely associated with James, he drew back from eating with the Gentiles, fearing that James would
Other Jews by birth, including even Barnabas, began to follow his example.
This behaviour was capable of dividing the church and wrecking the mission to the Gentiles, because it implied that you could not be a member of
God’s people without following the Jewish food restrictions.
Therefore Paul criticised him bluntly.
It’s not clear how much of what follows is meant to be part of what Paul said at the time.
The N.I.V. does not close the quotation marks until the end of the chapter, but that seems implausible. The situation calls for a sharp rebuke, and
this is a very long and elaborate passage. Would Peter not have interrupted him at some point?
On the other hand, the R.S.V. and the Jerusalem Bible (it seems to me) make the speech too short.
They limit the rebuke to v14; that is, the absurdity of a Jew living like a Gentile (on the food question) trying to make Gentiles live like Jews.
But surely it continues into the next verse, at least. “We ourselves, who are Jews by birth” can hardly be addressed to the Galatians, and must be
part of what he said to Peter.
So I’m inclined to think that the speech to Peter includes v15 and at least the central portion of v16;
“we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law.”
(The present version of v16 is lengthened by the fact that Paul says “justified by faith in Christ” twice, and “not justified by works of the
law” three times, which is probably done to impress the point upon his readers)
The following verses continue this line of argument, whether they were spoken to Peter or not.
“We” Jews have prided ourselves on not being “Gentile sinners”. So it would be an astonishing result if seeking to be justified through Christ
should cause us, to our surprise, to be “found sinners”.
Would that not have the effect of turning Christ into an “agent of sin”? God forbid!
But the only way out of that dilemma is to accept that setting aside the Law and seeking to be justified by faith in Christ alone does NOT turn them
into “sinners” (v17)
“If I build up again what I destroyed [that is, the bondage of the Law]…” (v18)
I would take this to be the hypothetical “If I, or anyone…” (as in ch1 v8). In fact it looks like another dig at Peter, who did “destroy”
the old constraints in the Cornelius episode, and was now trying to reinstate them.
Anyone who reinstates the Law is really a transgressor against the Law, because the Law itself
caused us to die to the Law and live only to God
It does this (as he explains elsewhere) by exposing our sinful nature and its own ineffectiveness in controlling our sin.
There is a running theme in this narrative to the effect that the gospel gives us liberty and a return to the Law takes it away again.
Was not the purpose of the false brethren to “spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus”?
They wanted to “bring us into bondage” (v4), but Paul did not “yield submission” (v5), and he rebuked Peter for wanting to compel
Gentiles to live like Jews (v14).
This freedom from slavery is one of the benefits of the gospel, part of the “good news”, and that is why the integrity of the gospel must not be
edit on 15-1-2016 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)