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This is a verse-by-verse commentary on Paul's epistle to the Galatians, which was written to combat those Jewish Christians who were unable to leave the Old Covenant and adhere to the New Covenant. In their attempt to add the New Covenant to the Old, and to add Jesus to the temple system of animal sacrifices and other rituals, they had distorted the gospel.
Category - Bible Commentaries
I have written many times about King Saul as a prophetic type of the Church under Pentecost. King Saul, crowned on the day of wheat harvest (i.e., Pentecost), was made king because the people wanted a man to rule over them (1 Sam. 8:5). God told the prophet in verse 7 that “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.”
Saul represented the heart of the people, and therefore it was not long before he began to rule as if the throne were his, instead of being entrusted to rule by the mind and will of God. This is, in effect, antichrist, in the sense of usurping the throne. Note the contrast between Saul and David. Both ruled in God's throne, but Saul usurped power, while David ruled as a steward of the throne.
The desire for a man to rule over them is the foundation of the denominational systems found also in the Church almost since the beginning. This did not begin with the bishops of Rome, but with the Judaizers in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the “Mother Church” in those days, and the Judaizers had been steeped in the political-religious philosophy represented by King Saul.
That is, they believed in submitting to the authority of men regardless of what those men believed. In the first century they were in submission to the temple priests. It was a cultural fact that to assert a doctrine, they had to give it authority of a recognized rabbi. Hence, the question was asked of Jesus in Matt. 21:23,
23 And when He had come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave You this authority?”
Their question came because of what we read earlier in Matt. 7:29,
29 for He was teaching as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
The Judaizers in Jerusalem, who thought that the Messiah was simply the capstone of Old Covenant Judaism, questioned Paul's authority in nearly the same manner. They thought that if they could get Paul to submit to the Jerusalem Church and to James that somehow Paul could be induced to affirm Christianity as a sect of Judaism, even with its animal sacrifices and physical circumcision.
It is clear that the Judaizers did not understand that James agreed with Paul in the assertion that circumcision was not to be imposed upon the Greeks, even though the first Church Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) had made this clear. See also Gal. 2:3, regarding Titus not being required to be circumcised.
Paul now speaks in the common terminology of the time, which divided men into two categories: “the circumcision” and “the uncircumcision.” It refers essentially to Jews and non-Jews. Gal. 2:7 reads,
7 But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. . .
Many Dispensationalists in the past 150 years have taken this to mean that there were two gospels, or two ways to be saved. Such teachers would have us believe that Jews are saved by the law through physical circumcision, while non-Jews are saved by grace through faith through heart-circumcision. In other words, Jews are supposedly saved by the law, while Gentiles are saved by grace through faith.
Such teachers try to make both sides correct in this dispute. But when they teach that Jews are saved by the Old Covenant and its vow to obey the whole law, they establish one of two things:
The first option lowers the righteous standard of the law to accommodate mortal man who cannot otherwise be good enough to be saved. Since no Jew is sinless, the only way that the law could save a Jew (by this proposition) is to lower the standard of the law to accommodate their failures.
The second option excludes all Jews (and Israelites) from salvation, including Peter, Paul, and James. If salvation for Jews is to be attained by the Old Covenant vow of obedience to the law, then who among them can be saved? Was Peter sinless? No, he denied Christ three times. What about Paul? No, he persecuted the Church and consented to the murder of Stephen.
The “two gospels” theory has been brought today into many circles of Christian Zionism, where more and more the Old Covenant is replacing the New Covenant. We are faced with the same problem of “false brethren” that Paul faced in his day. (See Gal. 2:4 and 2 Cor. 11:26.) Whether these were just misguided Jewish Christians or infiltrators sent to spy on the Christians, we cannot know for sure. However, Gal. 2:4 certainly implies the latter, when he speaks of “the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus.”
Calling such men “spies” implies that they were sent by the temple priests to pretend to be Christians and to report back on the activities of the Christians. I have no doubt that there are many such “false brethren” even today pretending to be Christians, but who fund, bribe, and sponsor leaders of Christian Zionism. Their purpose is to turn Christianity back into Judaism and the Old Covenant. Then, by getting the Christians to agree that the Romans killed Jesus, they can “prove” that He was not the divine Sacrifice for sin. By removing the essential core of Jesus' mission on earth, they intend to destroy Christianity from within.
This is why it is important that we do not teach either the “two gospels” theory or the “dual-covenant” theology. We cannot compromise the gospel without destroying its foundations.
We continue now in Gal. 2:8,
8 (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles). . .
In other words, Paul recognizes that it was the same Christ who revealed the gospel to both Peter and himself. The same Christ had empowered each to minister among different people. While their methods would be different culturally, their gospel was identical when taught properly and thoroughly.
9 and 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, that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.
Paul presents a unified picture here insofar as the gospel is concerned. The only difference was in their audience. In going to different cultures, Paul said in 1 Cor. 9:19-21,
19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. 20 And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews as those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law, that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law.
So when Paul went to a synagogue to discuss Jesus Christ, there is no doubt that he dressed as a Jew and discussed the Law with them, showing how the Law prophesied of Christ. But when he went to Greeks, he dressed in a way that was acceptable and comfortable to the Greeks, while preaching Christ to them. Paul would have no reason to enter an in-depth discussion of the law with the Greeks, but he could certainly tell them how to enter a covenantal relationship with Christ, the Savior of the world.
The gospel is ultimately the same, but the starting points would be different, depending upon the knowledge and interests of the audience. Most of Peter's early life had been spent as a fisherman on the shores of Galilee. Most of Paul's early life had been spent in the Greek-speaking world, where he had learned all the philosophies of the Greeks before coming to Jerusalem to study under Gamaliel. So while Peter was well qualified to deal with the Jewish religious culture, Paul was equally qualified to deal with Greek culture and philosophy.
One Jewish cultural factor often unappreciated fully is the idea of a triumphant Messiah who could never be utterly humiliated by dying on a cross. The idea of a humiliated Messiah was a “stumblingblock” (i.e., an insult) to Jewish aspirations (1 Cor. 1:23). In a prideful world where an insult is a highly emotional act that can cause perpetual war, the idea of a crucified Messiah horrified the sensitivities of Jews everywhere.
For Paul to change course from extreme Judaism to a crucified Messiah was one of the most radical of all conversions. The other apostles were not so steeped in radical Judaism, and they had the benefit of prophetic statements that Jesus made along the way to prepare them for the inevitable. Even so, their minds were unprepared for the reality of the event. After the resurrection, however, they were able to understand the divine wisdom in this.
The next apostolic problem that they faced was Judaistic prejudice against all non-Jews. Even proselytes could remain on religious probation for generations. Greeks were required to be circumcised, and yet they were still considered to be unclean. Jews would not eat with them, nor fellowship with them, for no matter what they did, they were still despised Greeks with an idolatrous past.
The gospel writers included an abundance of material to counter this narrow prejudice. Jesus healed Canaanites, Romans, and Greeks as well as Jews. Jesus knew His world-wide mission, though He made it clear that the first priority was to reach His own people.
Luke's historical account (the book of Acts) is careful to show Philip going to Samaria, where these most-despised people received the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the hands of the apostles. Peter's vision taught him not to call any man common or unclean, and hence he preached the gospel to the Roman centurion and his friends. When they too received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, it was proof that the promise of the fathers was not just to a few “chosen” ones, but had been given to all men (Acts 11:15-18).
Within the context of our own culture, it is difficult to picture how radical a change this was to the apostles. Yet not all Jewish believers had received or accepted such revelation. In the desire of the Jerusalem Church to reach their brethren, they had downplayed or hidden the more controversial revelations of the gospel. It was hard enough to get around the idea of a crucified Messiah, but if they had openly proclaimed that no man should be called common or unclean, they would have further offended Jewish sensitivities.
Hence, there grew a class of Jewish Christians who were not asked to leave Judaism, but who were apparently told that Christianity was a sect of Judaism, and that if they merely added Jesus to their Jewish traditions, they would be saved.
When Peter was in Antioch, safely away from the judgmental eyes of the Judaizers, he freely ate with the Greeks and remained in full and undivided fellowship with them. But when the Judaizers arrived from Jerusalem, Peter withdrew himself from the Greeks, being afraid that the Judaizers would give an evil report about him to the Church in Jerusalem. The story is told in Gal. 2:11-13,
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For 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. 13 And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
In a small way, Christianity in Jerusalem had become like a mystery religion, having certain truths withheld from outsiders and even from mainstream believers. The truth of the unity of believers was known in Antioch, so Peter and the other Jewish believers had no problem treating the Greek believers with equal respect; but when men came from Jerusalem who were unaware of these higher truths, they felt it necessary to pretend that they believed the Greek believers were still common and unclean.
Worse yet, it was a public display of inequality, sanctioned by Peter, no less, who certainly knew better. Paul immediately recognized the far-reaching consequences of this charade and was bold enough to confront Peter to his face in public. The dirty little secret was exposed when Paul revealed to the Judaizers that Peter and the others had been eating with Greeks all along, and were now trying to hide their revelation for fear of offending the Judaizers. One can only imagine Peter’s embarrassment at the revelation of his secret life among the Greeks.
It is interesting that Luke makes no mention of this incident in the book of Acts. It is likely that Luke considered the incident to have been corrected sufficiently, and no further need existed to expose Peter's faults any further. But in Paul's letter to the Galatians, this was a very important issue that was central to the purpose of his letter. Because of the urgency of the moment, Paul reveals a highly enlightening incident that otherwise would have been lost to history.
Paul explains the situation and sets forth his position beginning in Gal. 2:14,
14 But 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 [when the Judaizers were not around to witness this] and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? 15 We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles; [Do I detect a bit of sarcasm here?] 16 nevertheless, 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, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.”
Verse 16 is the core of the argument. It states plainly that there is only one way to be justified before God, and that is through faith in Christ Jesus. Paul makes it clear that no flesh is justified by the works of the Law, and that all are justified in the same manner. There is only one path to justification.
This verse ought to lay to rest any distorted gospel that allows for two methods of justification. Jews are not justified by the Old Covenant, nor is anyone else. “Even we,” Paul says, “Jews by nature,” were justified by faith in Jesus Christ. The Dual Covenant theology is part of the distorted gospel included in Paul's anathema.
The lesson here is universal and applies to us today as well. I have observed how many Christian missionaries to the Jews feel it necessary to look for ways to make the gospel more palatable to the Jews. Sometimes they engage in outright deception in order to reach the Jewish people with the gospel. They massage the Jewish ego and appeal to them as specially “chosen” ones who will rule the world in the age to come. They are chosen even without Christ. In fact, many are now saying that Jews are saved apart from Christ. All they must do is be good Jews and follow Moses and their traditions.
In trying to make Jesus appealing to the Jews, they water down the gospel and accept the Jewish idea of what a messiah ought to be. He loves Jews more than Christians. He is a military Messiah who hates Arabs and anyone who stands in the way of Jewish ownership of land in Palestine—and ultimately, the whole world. He was killed by Romans and therefore not the true Sacrifice for sin. A physical temple must be built in which to resume animal sacrifices. Levi will again replace Melchizedek. The Old Jerusalem (Hagar) is the mother of the promises of God. The New Covenant is merely the Old Covenant reinstated. The traditions of men (Talmud) are the true interpretation of the law.
In the end, these Christians will find that they have compromised the character of Christ and the divine plan so much that they have re-established Judaism as the “true religion” apart from Jesus Christ Himself.
The motive is the same as Peter's in Galatians 2. It is based upon fear that if a Jew is told the truth of the gospel, then he might not accept Jesus as the Messiah. The “solution” is to water down the gospel, hide the truth, pretend that Judaism is correct after all, and hope that this will make Jesus more acceptable.
We need to adopt Paul's policy and not worry about offending the Jews or anyone else. The truth is the truth, and we do them no favors by withholding the truth from them (as Peter tried to do). Obviously, we should speak the truth in love, but compromising the gospel is not love. To compromise the gospel is to risk confirming that a Jew is saved or “chosen” when in fact he is not.
There is only one way a man can be justified. There is no “Jewish way” vs. a “Gentile way.” There is only one gospel, and God is building His Temple made of living stones which constitute “one new man” (Eph. 2:15). There are no “Jewish stones” to be placed higher than “Gentile stones” in this Temple.
The only advantage of being a Jew or an Israelite is that the gospel went to them first. They were the first to receive the oracles of God under Moses, because they were there. They were the first to receive the oracles of God under Jesus Christ as well, for it was prophesied that He would be born in Bethlehem of the seed of David and of the tribe of Judah.
But this did not mean that the gospel was given to them exclusively. No, the Abrahamic promise was to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). To the extent that they fulfill this prophecy, to that extent are they the seed of Abraham, the chosen of God. They are chosen and “elected” with an authoritative commission to bring the gospel to the rest of the world. By this shall the earth be subdued to the rule of Christ (Gen. 1:28; 1 Cor. 15:28), and in this way the Stone Kingdom will grow until it fills the whole earth (Dan. 2:35).