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Galatians 2



Paul Accepted by Other Apostles Defending the Gospel Paul's Apostleship Recognized in Jerusalem Paul and the Other Apostles The Meeting at Jerusalem
2:1-10 2:1-10 2:1-10 2:1-5 2:1-10
Paul Rebukes Peter at Antioch No Return To the Law Paul Rebukes Peter's Inconsistency at Antioch Paul Argues with Peter Peter and Paul at Antioch
2:11-21 2:11-21 2:11-14 2:11-14 2:11-13
    A Statement of Principle   The Gospel as Preached by Paul
    2:15-21 2:15-16 2:15-21

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. This section continues the literary unit (Paul defends his Apostleship) which began in 1:11 and extends through 2:14.

B. In 2:15-21 a transition passage introduces the content of Paul's gospel, further elaborated in chapters 3 & 4. This is Paul's autobiographical defense of his apostleship and gospel as based on the revelatory will of God and not on any human tradition, even those traditions derived from the Twelve Apostles and the Jerusalem Church.

C. This passage is notoriously difficult to interpret for two reasons:

1. The first section, vv. 1-10, contains grammatical idiosyncrasies. Paul began a subject in vv. 1 and 2, but in vv. 3-10 he broke into this subject with a series of three parentheses and broken sentences. The subject of vv. 1-2 resumes again in verses 6-10. Although this is difficult to graph grammatically, the overall meaning is clear.

By comparing the unusual punctuation of vv. 1-10 in modern translations (i.e., parentheses, dashes, three dots), one can see the problems in trying to follow Paul's thought.

2. The next section, vv. 11-21, is also difficult to interpret because the conclusion of Paul and Peter's discussion is uncertain. The NRSV, TEV, and JB translations restrict the quote to v. 14 while, the NASB ends the quote at v. 21. I think Paul concluded his address to Peter at v. 14 and a theological summary relating to believing Jews and Judaizers' understanding of the place of the Law begins in v. 15 and goes through v. 21.

Paul answers a series of questions, charges, or misunderstandings about his gospel of God's free grace in verses 15-21. The questions are not from Peter but from the Judaizers and their Pharisee backers. His response to these questions will be expanded in chapters 3 and 4.


 1Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. 3But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. 5But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. 6But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference; God shows no partiality)—well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. 7But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised 8(for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), 9and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.

2:1 "after an interval of fourteen years" The fourteen year period has been the subject of much scholarly disagreement. This period of time may either relate to

1. Paul's conversion (cf. 1:15-16)

2. Paul's time in Arabia (cf. 1:17)

3. his first visit to Jerusalem (cf. 1:18)

The time element is only significant to show how delayed and sporadic were his visits and contacts with the Apostles in Jerusalem.

▣ "I went up again to Jerusalem" "Again" implies the second or later visit. The exact time is uncertain, for in Acts five different visits by Paul to Jerusalem are recorded. The last two are too late to refer to this context, but which of the other three he meant is uncertain. I personally believe Galatians 2 relates to Acts 15 because in both cases Barnabas was present, the subject matter is the same, and Peter and James are both named. Beyond this author's speculation, other scholars such as the preeminent F. F. Bruce in the New International Commentary Series and Richard Longenecker in the Word Biblical Commentary Series believe that Galatians 2 relates to the famine visit recorded in Acts 11:30.

The phrase "went up to Jerusalem" is theological in nature. A converse reference occurs in Acts 11:27 when they went "down to Antioch." Jerusalem, because it is the holy city, is considered to be "up" from any direction.

▣ "with Barnabas " Acts 4:6 provides the information that Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus whose name was Joseph. The disciples nicknamed him Barnabas meaning "son of encouragement." He was the first one to accept Paul's conversion (cf. Acts 11:24). He was obviously a leader in the Jerusalem Church (cf. Acts 11:22) as was Silas (cf. Acts 15:22). He went to Tarsus and searched for Saul to get him to help with the work in Antioch (cf. Acts 11:19-27). He was the missionary companion of Paul on the first missionary journey (cf. I Cor. 9:6). See Special Topic at 2:13.

▣ "taking Titus along also" Titus was one of Paul's faithful helpers (cf. II Cor. 8:23). He used him in especially difficult places such as Corinth and Crete. He was a full Gentile, and not half-Gentile as Timothy. The Jerusalem church did not demand that Paul circumcise him (cf. Acts 15). Surprisingly, Titus is never mentioned by name in Acts. Sir William Ramsay and A. T. Robertson speculate that Titus was Luke's brother, explaining the absence of any specific mention of him (an act of family humility), but this is unsubstantiated. Martin Luther speculated that Paul took Titus with him to Jerusalem as a test case. Others say that he took Titus along, but only later did Paul realize the significance of the Jerusalem Church's failure to demand that Titus be circumcised because he was a pure Greek (cf. v. 3).

2:2 "It was because of a revelation that I went up" If one assumes that Acts 15 is the setting, Acts 15:2 produces a discrepancy. However, it has been supposed that the revelation came from one of the five prophets at Antioch who conveyed it to the church. Then the church at Antioch passed on to Paul the need for a visit to Jerusalem.

▣ "and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles" This is very significant in its relationship to vv. 3-5. Why did Paul lay his gospel before the Apostles? (1) Did he want them to agree with him and affirm his gospel? or (2) Was he reacting to the presence of false teachers? The latter possibility best fits the parenthetical aside of vv. 4 and 5. This reporting session seems to parallel Acts 15:12.

NASB"but I did so in private to those who were of reputation"
NKJV"but privately to those who were of reputation"
NRSV"(though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders)"
TEV"In a private meeting with the leaders"
NJB"and privately I laid before the leading men"

Reading Acts 15 to find a private meeting first poses a difficulty. However, Acts 15:2b and v. 6 could refer to a meeting of the top leadership. Paul may have met with the leadership first for the purpose of getting a better hearing instead of meeting with the whole congregation which may have been previously infiltrated with Judaizers (those who demanded that one had to be a Jew before one could be saved).

Some scholars have suggested in recent years, probably due to the overemphasis of the Tübingen theologians from Germany, that tension existed between Paul and the Apostles in Jerusalem. Some assert that Paul's three unusual phrases referring to the Jerusalem leaders found in 2:2, 6 (twice), and 9 are somewhat disparaging. These phrases may be viewed pejoratively with three points in mind.

1. They underscore the false teachers' overemphasis of the original Twelve Apostles in their attempt to depreciate Paul, not that Paul had any personal tension with the Twelve.

2. Possibly Paul was disappointed with some of the Apostles' actions as in Acts 8:1, where they did not really grasp the worldwide mission of the Church, or in Peter's shameful withdrawal from the fellowship table with Gentiles because of the arrivals of some from Jerusalem in Gal. 2:11-14.

3. These phrases may refer not to the Apostles, but to other church leaders who claimed authority or they refer to only some of the Apostles.


NASB, TEV"for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain"
NKJV"lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain"
NRSV"in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain"
NJB"for fear the course I was adopting or had already adopted would not be allowed"

This obviously does not refer to Paul seeking theological affirmation from the Jerusalem leaders for this would go against the entire context. But here, the practicality of the mission effort among the Gentiles was at stake(cf. II Cor. 7:14; 9:9) and Paul hoped and prayed for a consensus which he would subsequently receive. Paul expressed similar fears elsewhere (cf. Phil. 2:16; I Thess. 3:5).

2:3 "But not even Titus who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised" Even with its straightforward meaning, questions arise regarding:

1. a manuscript variation in verse 5 where the word "not" is omitted in the western family of manuscripts, particularly manuscript D

2. the ambiguity of verse 4 which has caused some to say that Paul did circumcise Titus, not out of compulsion but to show his freedom

However, this undermines the entire structure of Paul's argument. Paul was already under attack, apparently for circumcising Timothy (cf. Acts 16:3), who was half-Jewish, but he would not, for a minute, yield to the circumcision of Titus. In reality the issue was not really circumcision (cf. Rom. 2:28-29 and Gal. 6:15), but how a human becomes right with God. In Galatians Paul contrasted the works-oriented way of the Jews and Judaizers with the grace-oriented way of the gospel of Jesus.


NASB"But it was because of the false brethren. . .secretly brought in"
NKJV"but this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in"
NRSV"But because of false believers secretly brought in"
TEV"had pretended to be brothers and joined the group"
NJB"The question came up only because some who do not really belong to the brotherhood have furtively crept in"

These false brothers are mentioned in other places (cf. Acts 15:1,5; II Cor. 11:13,26 and I Thess. 2:14-16). The verbal form is passive, implying that they were smuggled in by someone, possibly

1. unbelieving Jews

2. a sect of believing Jews called Judaizers

3. Satan himself

The term "false brothers" (pseudadelphous) is similar to the compound used in II Pet. 2:1 to designate "false leadership" (pseudoprophētai and pseudodidaskaloi). The term's usage in Koine Greek commonly designated traitors within a city who allowed the enemy to sneak into the city and survey its defenses.

Another problem in interpretation concerns the locale of the treachery. Did the false brothers sneak into:

1. the Church at Jerusalem

2. the Jerusalem Council

3. the Church at Antioch

On these minutiae of interpretation, certainty is impossible and, therefore, dogmatism is unwarranted.

▣ "to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage" Paul's emphasis on freedom in Christ was paramount (cf. Acts 13:39; Gal. 5:1,13). In this context, freedom from Jewish rules and regulations is meant, a concept expanded in the following chapters. It is important to note that we are truly free in Christ, but our freedom is not intended as a license for sin (cf. Rom. 14:1-15:13 and I Corinthians 8-10). This dialectical tension between freedom and responsibility, inherent in the gospel, is illustrated in Paul's emphases on "responsibility" to the church at Corinth but on "freedom" to the churches of Galatia. Both are true! They must be held in balance!

2:5 "But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour" "We" must refer to Paul and Barnabas. They were agreed in their opposition to the requirement that all Gentiles be circumcised (and become responsible to the Mosaic Law) after their conversion.

"Not" is present in manuscripts P46, א, B, C, D1, F, and G (UBS4 gives its inclusion an "A" rating). It is missing only in the corrector of the sixth century manuscript D2 and the Old Latin Version. The reason that Paul emphasizes submission to each other in Eph. 5:21 and yet staunchly stands against submission in this case is because he believes that these "false brothers" are not really Christians. Paul asserts his belief that those who base their right standing with God upon their own effort are not true Christians (cf. Gal. 1:8,9; 5:2-12; Rom. 10:2-5; and I Thess. 2:14-16). The crucial question, then, is "on whom did they base their trust: themselves or Christ?"

▣ "so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you" No small matter, this argument was the basis for continuing the Gentile mission. Truth is such an important NT word. See Special Topic following.



NASB"But from those who were of high reputation"
NKJV"But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were"
NRSV"And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders"
TEV"But those who seemed to be the leaders"
NJB"these people who are acknowledged leaders"

This phrase can either refer to: (1) some of the Twelve; or (2) certain leaders in the Jerusalem church. Paul's point was that their opposition does not affect his God-given call, assignment and gospel. However, F. F. Bruce quotes Josephus in War of the Jews, 3.453; 4.141,159 to illustrate that "seemed" is not always used derogatorily.

▣ "God shows no partiality" This OT judicial metaphor (cf. Deut. 10:17; II Chr. 19:7) originally meant "to lift the face" (cf. Lev. 19:15; Deut. 1:17; 16:19; Acts 10:34). Paul was alluding to the practice of judges making decisions based on favoritism or special standing of the person accused. There is no partiality in God (cf. Rom. 2:11; Eph. 6:9; Col. 3:25; I Pet. 1:17).

NASB, NRSV"contributed nothing to me"
NKJV"added nothing to me"
TEV"made no new suggestions to me"
NJB"had nothing to add to the Good News as I preach it"

Here is Paul's central affirmation of independence ("to me" is fronted for emphasis), both for himself and for his gospel, from the authority of the Twelve or the Mother Church in Jerusalem. This is not a debasement of the Twelve or the leaders of the Jerusalem Church but an emphasis on the divine nature of Paul's call and revelation.

2:7 "But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised" A major Pauline point, he continued to build on the context begun in 1:10. When the Jerusalem leaders saw and heard Paul, they affirmed that God had called and chosen him. "Their" refers to the Apostles mentioned in v. 9. "I had been entrusted" is a perfect passive verbal form, emphasizing Paul's continuing role as a steward of the gospel by means of God's call and equipping through the Spirit (cf. I Cor. 9:17; I Thess. 2:4; I Tim. 1:11; Titus 1:3). Other passages further support Paul's call to be an Apostle to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 9:15; Rom. 1:5; 11:13; 15:16; Gal. 1:16; Eph. 3:8; I Tim. 2:7; II Tim. 4:17).

▣ "just as Peter" The use of the term "Peter" in vv. 7 and 8 is somewhat unusual in Galatians. In all of the other citations by Paul in Galatians where Peter is named, he is called "Cephas," Aramaic for "rock," (cf. 1:18; 2:9,11,14). However, "Peter" does seem to be original here, and the two names are synonymous.

2:8 Another parenthesis inside the complex grammatical structure of verses 1-10, it may refer to either geography or an ethnic community (cf. v. 9d). Both Peter and Paul had divine assignments!

2:9 "and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James, Cephas, and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship" These "pillars" were the three leaders of the Christian church in Jerusalem. This title was used in connection with "the Apostles" by Clement of Rome (writing in a.d. 95) and Ignatius. It is also used positively in Rev. 3:12. Possibly the phrase originated in the rabbis' use of the term to describe Abraham and Moses. Paul again supported his claim that not only was he independent, but that at least some of the Apostles (Peter and John, part of Jesus' inner circle) recognized his God-given authority and affirmed him with the right hand of fellowship. This "James" is not one of the Twelve, but Jesus' half-brother and the leader of the Jerusalem church (cf. Acts 15).

The phrase, "who were reputed to be pillars," is not a negative assessment, but probably a reference to the false teachers' accusation against Paul. In this context Paul does not want to depreciate these three leaders, but accentuate the fact that they publically acknowledged his and Barnabas' ministry!

▣ "the grace that had been given to me" the verbal is an aorist passive participle. See note at 1:15 about the relationship between "grace" and "Spirit."

"James" See Special Topic below.


▣ "fellowship" See Special Topic following.


"so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised" This phrase refers primarily to geography, not race. There were Gentiles in Palestine and Jews outside Palestine. Many of Paul's churches were a mixture of both because when he came to a new city, he went first to the synagogue to preach.

2:10 "They only asked us to remember the poor" Paul was first introduced to the concept of a special offering for the poor in Jerusalem by the church at Antioch (cf. Acts 11:27-30). He developed this into a project for Gentile churches (cf. Acts 24:17; I Cor. 16:1-2; II Cor. 8,9; and Rom. 15:25-27). If Galatians 2 parallels Acts 15, explaining why the other fellowship stipulations of Acts 15:23-29 are not mentioned becomes more difficult. Therefore many have seen this verse as an argument for making this visit contemporary with Acts 11:27-30.

 11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. 13The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? 15We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; 16nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. 17But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! 18For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. 20I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. 21I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly."

2:11 "But when Cephas came to Antioch" The time of Peter's visit to Antioch is unknown. Some scholars place the visit immediately after the Jerusalem Council; some place it before. Apparently the mention of this visit is out of chronological order. It could have followed the Council meeting of Acts 15 highlighting the fact that all of the practical problems were not completely solved. However, it is difficult to imagine Peter acting like this after affirming Paul and his gospel at the Council (cf. 2:9; Acts 15:6-11), this then becomes another argument for those who think it refers to the Acts 11 vision.

▣ "I opposed him to his face" Paul uses this example to assert his independence from and equality with the Jerusalem Apostles. This is a strong idiom (cf. Eph. 6:13 and James 4:7).

NASB"because he stood condemned"
NKJV"because he was to be blamed"
NRSV"because he stood self-condemned"
TEV"because he was clearly wrong"
NJB"since he was manifestly in the wrong"

This periphrastic pluperfect passive verb speaks of something that had already happened, that had become a settled position and had been performed by the outside agent. This construction does not imply that Peter continued in this attitude. Also notice that the leader of the Apostolic group made a mistake. The Apostles were inspired to write trustworthy and eternal Scripture, but this never implied that they did not sin or did not make poor choices in other areas!

2:12 "For prior to the coming of certain men from James" The "certain men" were probably members of the Church in Jerusalem, but whether they had official authority or not is uncertain. Clearly they were not representatives sent from James, for James agreed completely with Paul's position concerning Gentile Christianity (cf. Acts 15:13-21). Perhaps they were a fact-finding committee that had exceeded their authority. They were possibly there to check on the implementations of the Council's stipulations (cf. Acts 15:20-21). They caught Peter, a believing Jew, in table fellowship with Gentile believers in direct violation of the oral law (i.e., Talmud). Peter had struggled with this very issue earlier (cf. Acts 11:1-18). This was not a minor issue even during Jesus' life (cf. Matt. 9:11; 11:19; Luke 19:1-10; 15:2; Acts 15:28-29).

▣ "he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision" Three imperfect tense verbs occur in v. 12. The first states that Peter ate regularly with the Gentile believers. The second and third stress that when the delegation from the Jerusalem Church arrived Peter began to reduce his social contact with the Gentile believers. This was not over the single issue of circumcision but rather the general relationship of the Mosaic Law to the new Gentile believers.

2:13 "The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy" The deadly tentacles of the Judaizers' corrupting influence affected even the most faithful. Paul was clearly disappointed by the actions of Barnabas. Barnabas had preached to Gentiles and stood up for the free gospel in Acts 15. The problem here was not the freedom of Gentile believers from the requirements of the Mosaic Law, but rather the implications of this freedom for the Jewish believers. Were Peter and Barnabas also free to reject the oral tradition which interpreted the Mosaic Law? See Special Topic: Paul's View of the Mosaic Law at 3:19.



NASB, NKJV"straightforward"
NRSV"not acting consistently"
TEV"not walking a straight path"

This is literally "that they walked not straight." This has two metaphors.

1. "walked" means lifestyle

2. "straight" is a play on walking the clear path of righteousness (i.e., straight measuring rod, see Special Topic: Righteousness at 2:21)


▣ "the truth of the gospel" See Special Topic: "Truth" in Paul's Writings at 2:5.

▣ "I said to Cephas in the presence of all" Usually church problems need to be dealt with privately, but the actions of Peter hit at the heart of the gospel. The conflict had affected the entire church at Antioch and had to be addressed publicly and decisively in order to resolve the church's disunity (cf. I Tim. 5:20).

▣ "If you, being a Jew" This first class conditional sentence (assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes) is the beginning of Paul's discussion with Peter. Gal. 2:15-21 is probably a theological summary and not necessarily Paul's exact words to Peter. Paul's public confrontation of Peter over his hypocrisy and inconsistency further proved Paul's independence.

▣ "to live like Jews" Paul turns the noun "Jews" into an infinitive (present active), found only here in the NT.

2:15-21 See note at the beginning of the chapter (i.e., Contextual Insights, C.). It seems to me that Paul's address to Peter may stop at v. 14 because vv. 15-21 address a wider audience (note paragraphing of NRSV, TEV, NJB). The problem is that there is no apparent textual marker for the transition. It is possible that vv. 15-21 are addressed to the Galatian Christians. If so, they form a summary statement of the truths of the gospel related to the claims of the Judaizers, not just the inappropriate actions of Peter and Barnabas (and other Jewish Christians who were present).

The interpretive question is, "Who does the ‘we' of vv. 15,16,17 refer to":

1. Paul, Peter, and other believing Jews

2. Paul and the Galatian believers (generalizing the theological principle of justification by faith, cf. v. 16; Rom. 2:28-29)


2:15 "We are Jews by nature" Obviously, the Jews had some spiritual advantages (cf. Rom. 3:1,2; 9:4,5). But their advantages did not relate to salvation but to revelation and fellowship with God through the Old Covenant as the People of God. Thus, the heart of Paul's gospel to the Gentiles was the equality of believing Jews and Gentiles before God (cf. 3:28; I Cor. 12:13;Eph. 2:11-3:13; Col. 3:11).

▣ "and not sinners from among the Gentiles" Paul was apparently using a derogatory phrase which was common in rabbinical Judaism and was possibly used by the false teachers. Gentiles were sinners by virtue of their being outside the OT covenant people (cf. Eph. 2:11-12).

2:16 "that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus" This verse contains a threefold emphasis concerning the doctrine that justification by grace through faith alone is for every human (cf. Eph. 2:8-9), beginning with "a man," then to "we" and concluding with "no flesh." This threefold repetition is overwhelming in its impact. The truth of justification by faith for all mankind (Jews and Gentiles) is the essence of Paul's definitive theological presentation in Romans 1-8, summarized in Rom. 3:21-31.

"Justified" (as well as "righteous") denoted the OT concept of a measuring reed (see Special Topic at 2:21). YHWH used this metaphor for His own character and moral standards. God is the standard of spiritual measurement (cf. Matt. 5:48). In the NT God gives us His own righteousness through the death of Christ (cf. II Cor. 5:21), received by repentance and faith on a person's part (cf. Mark 1:15 and Acts 3:16,19; 20:21).

Justification by grace through faith—presented in vv. 16 and 17 as our position in Christ—is based entirely on God's initiating love, Christ's finished work, and the wooing of the Spirit. However, the emphasis on our Christlike living is fully stated in verse 21 where our position must result in living a Christlike life (i.e., Special Topic: Sanctification at I Thess. 4:3, cf. Rom. 8:29; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 1:4; 2:10; I John 1:7). Paul did not deny that good works were significant. He just denied that they were the grounds of our acceptance. Ephesians 2:8-10 shows Paul's gospel clearly—God's initiating grace, through mankind's faith response, unto good works. Even Gal. 2:20, which seems to emphasize our sanctification—but in the context of the paragraph, proves the validity and pervasiveness of the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Jesus, totally apart from human merit or lifestyle or ethnic origin.

Paul emphasizes the requirement of justification is not

1. "by works of the Law," v. 16a

2. "and not by the works of the Law," v. 16b

3. since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified," v. 16c

Then Paul gives the only way for sinful mankind to be justified.

1. "through faith in Christ Jesus" (lit. "through [dia] faith of Christ Jesus"), v. 16a

2. "we have believed in Christ Jesus' (lit. "in [eis] Christ Jesus we believed" [aorist active indicative]), v. 16b

3. "by faith in Christ" (lit. "by [ek] faith of Christ"), v. 16c

This threefold repetition is for clarity and emphasis! The only problem comes in how to understand and translate the genitives "of Christ Jesus," v. 16a and "of Christ," v. 16c. Most translations take the phrase as an objective genitive, "faith in Christ," but it can be a subjective genitive (cf. NET Bible), reflecting an OT idiom of "Christ's faithfulness" to the Father's will. This same grammatical question affects the understanding of Rom. 3:22,26; Gal. 2:20; 3:22; Eph. 3:12; Phil. 3:9. Whichever was Paul's intent, they both show that justification is not found in human actions, merit, or obedience, but in Jesus Christ's actions and obedience. Jesus is our only hope!

NASB, NKJV"even we have believed in Christ Jesus"
NRSV"And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus"
TEV"We, too, have believed in Christ Jesus"
NJB"we had to become believers in Christ Jesus"

The Greek terms pistis (noun) and pisteuō (verb) may be translated in English as "trust," "believe," or "faith." This term conveys two distinct aspects of our relationship with God.

1. we put our trust in the trustworthiness of God's promises and Jesus' finished work

2. we believe the message about God, mankind, sin, Christ, salvation, etc. (i.e., Scripture)

Hence, it can refer to the message of the gospel or our trust in the person of the gospel. The gospel is a person (Jesus Christ) to welcome, a message about that person to believe, and a life like that person to live. See Special Topic: Believe at 3:6 and I Thess. 5:9.

▣ "the Law" (twice) The NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEV, and JB translations all have the definite article twice. The definite article does not appear in the Greek text, but it is assumed because of Paul's continuing use of this phrase for the Mosaic Law. Although he had this primarily in mind, any other human effort (societal norm) serving as a supposed basis for our right standing with God could be implied here.

▣ "no flesh" This expression means "no human being." See Special Topic: Flesh (sarx) at 1:16.

2:17 "if" "If" introduces a first class conditional sentence, assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. Paul and his companions (like all humans) are assumed to be sinners (cf. Rom. 3:9-18,19,23; 11:32; Gal. 3:22).

▣ "we ourselves have also been found sinners" This phrase proves difficult to interpret. Several possible theories have been advanced.

1. most commentators relate it to Rom. 3:23 and say "We, like the heathen, are all in need of God's righteousness because we all have sinned"

2. some relate this phrase to the antinomian question of Romans 6-8, that if one is saved apart from human effort, why does God judge us in relation to our sin

3. this phrase may set the stage for Paul's discussion of the Law in chap. 3, where to break it once, in any area, removes the possibility of being right with God through keeping the Law. The believing Jews, Peter, Paul, and Barnabas had broken the Law by eating forbidden food. This view would relate v. 17 to the immediate context denying an untrue conclusion which has been based on a valid premise

4. Paul was referring to Jews and Gentiles being one in Christ

If this is not God's will, this unity would make the Jewish believers sinners and Christ a party to their sin (cf. Eph. 2:11-3:6).

NASB"is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be"
NRSV"is Christ then a servant of sin"
NKJV"is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not"
TEV"does this mean that Christ has served the interest of sin? By no means"
NJB"it would follow that Christ had induced us to sin, which would be absurd"

Paul's argument continued, though difficult to follow. That he was responding to (1) Peter's actions or (2) the charges and/or the teachings of the false teachers is obvious, but the exact issue to which this relates remains uncertain.

Paul's other usages of the phrase "may it never be" or "God forbid" are important in interpreting this passage (cf. Gal. 3:21; Rom. 6:2). Usually Paul used this rare optative structure to deny an untrue conclusion based on a valid premise.

2:18 "For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor" This is a first class conditional sentence, which is assumed true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. Scholars are unsure of Paul's exact reference here. Was it his preaching of the gospel or his previous life in Judaism? This same ambiguity is found in Romans 7.  "Rebuild" and "destroy" may be rabbinical terms similar to "bind" and "loose" of Matt. 16:19.

2:19 "For through the Law I died to the Law" This significant statement is not so much mystical in its focus as it is legal. Somehow when Jesus died on our behalf, we died with Him (cf. 2:20; Rom. 6:6-7; II Cor. 5:14-15). Therefore, our mandatory relationship to the Law, as far as salvation is concerned, was broken. We are able to come to Christ freely. This is the focus in vv. 20 and 21, similar to Paul's developed argument in Rom. 6:1-7:6.

▣ "so that I may live to God" Again, the twin theological aspects of our position in Christ and our mandated lifestyle for Christ are asserted. This paradoxical truth can be stated in several ways.

1. the indicative (statement of our position) and the imperative (demand to live out our position)

2. objective (the truth of the gospel) and subjective (living the gospel)

3. "we have won" (we are accepted by God in Christ) but now "we must run" (we must live for Christ out of gratitude)

This is the dual nature of the gospel—salvation is absolutely free, but it costs everything that we are and have! It must be reiterated that the free gift comes before the call to Christlikeness. We died to sin that we might serve God (cf. Rom. 6:10)!

2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ" In the Greek sentence, "with Christ" is placed first for emphasis (in the UBS4 Greek text it occurs in v. 19). The verb (a perfect passive indicative) implies that something happened in the past with abiding results and was accomplished by an outside agent. It is the focus of Rom. 6:1-11 and 7:1-6.

Paul uses the term "crucified" in Gal. 5:24 and 6:4, which relates to the believer's relationship with this fallen world system. However, the emphasis here seems to be the believer's connection to the Law (cf. 3:13). It is important to remember that once we have died with Christ, we are alive to God (cf. v. 19; Rom. 6:10). This concept is emphasized over and over again as

1. our responsibility to walk as He walked (cf. I John 1:7)

2. that we ought to walk worthy of the calling wherewith we have been called (cf. Eph. 4:1,17; 5:2)

Once we know Christ in free forgiveness it is important that we live a life of responsible servanthood (cf. Col. 2:12-14, 20; 3:1-4; and II Cor. 5:14-15).

▣ "but Christ lives in me" Jesus is often said to indwell believers (cf. Matt. 28:20; John 14:23 [Jesus and the Father]; Rom. 8:10; Col.1:27). This is often associated with the ministry of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:9,11; I Cor. 3:16; 6:19; II Tim. 1:14). The work of the Spirit is to magnify and reproduce the Son in believers (cf. John 16:7-15; Rom. 8:28-29; Gal. 4:19).

▣ "and the life I now live in the flesh" See Special Topic: Flesh (sarx) at 1:16.

▣ "I live by faith" The Greek terms pistis (noun) and pisteuō (verb) can be translated "trust," "believe," or "faith," primarily emphasizing our trust in God's trustworthiness or our faith in God's faithfulness. See Special Topic at 3:6. This faith is our initial response to God's promises, followed by a continuing walk in those promises. "Faith" is used in three senses in the NT.

1. personal trust

2. trustworthy living

3. a reference to the body of Christian doctrine, such as in Acts 6:7; 13:8; 14:22; Gal. 1:23; Jude vv. 3 and 20

This may be an allusion to Habakkuk 2:4 (cf. Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38).

▣ "the Son of God" Some very ancient MSS (i.e., P46, B, D, F, G) have "God and Christ," but Paul does not use this phrase nor assert that belief in God brings salvation. The phrase "the Son of God" is found in MSS א, A, C, D2 and most of the early church Fathers. UBS4 gives it an "A" rating (certain).

▣ "who loved me and delivered Himself up for me" This is the heart of the substitutionary atonement (cf. Gal. 1:4; Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:6,8,10; Gen. 3:15; Isa. 53:4-6).

2:21 "if" This introduces another first class conditional sentence which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. One would have expected a second class conditional sentence. This is a good example of a first class conditional sentence to emphasize a false assertion. There is only one way to God—not through Law, but through faith in the finished work of Christ (cf. 3:21). If the Law could have brought salvation, then Christ did not need to die!

▣ "righteousness"


▣ "then Christ died needlessly" This is the theological climax of Paul's rejection of the Judaizers' emphasis on human performance. If human actions could bring right standing with God, then there was no need for Jesus to die! However, both (1) the OT, especially Judges and the history of Israel (cf. Nehemiah 9) and (2) the current experiences of diligent religionists such as Paul, show humanity's inability to obey and conform to God's covenant. The Old Covenant, instead of bringing life, brought death and condemnation (cf. Galatians 3). The New Covenant (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38) brings life as a gracious gift from a loving God by giving believing, fallen mankind a new heart, new mind, new spirit! This gift is only possibly through the sacrificial work of Christ. He fulfilled the Law! He restores the breach of fellowship (i.e., the damaged image of God in humanity from Genesis 3 has been repaired and restored!).


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is it so difficult to interpret this chapter?

2. Does Paul speak disparagingly of the Jerusalem Apostles in verses 2, 6 and 9?

3. Why was the situation concerning Titus such an important issue in connection with the Jerusalem Council?

4. Who were the false teachers? What did they infiltrate? What was their purpose?

5. Why was Peter's refusal to eat with the Gentiles so condemning in light of Paul's understanding of the gospel?

6. Define the word "justification."

7. Define the word "faith."

8. How are verses 19 and 20 related to their context?


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