But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood self-condemned. For until certain people came from James, he used to eat with Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this duplicity, so that even Barnabas was led astray by the hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not walking straight according to the truth of the Gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you though a Jew, live like a Gentile, and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"
     We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet we know that a person is reckoned right [in standing] not by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no-one will be justified by the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? By no means! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live in God. I have been crucified with Christ and [yet] it is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if right-standing comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing. - Galatians 2:11-21/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne.

Jesus Saves

Paul writes of how he has been crucified with Christ so that Christ now lives in him. PICTURE: Edwin Andrade/Unsplash

 

IN A NUTSHELL

Paul explains to the Galatian church their misunderstanding of how the Holy Spirit brought the Gospel to them.

We back-tracked to repeat 11-14. It is not only that Paul had said to Peter: "My dear colleague - if you though a Jew are willing to live like a Gentile among Gentiles why is it that you are going along with those who demand that Gentile followers of Our Lord adopt the ways of the Jews? This simply makes you look two-faced."

Such a two-faced way, means that believers in Christ will have to adapt themselves to playing a game, a way of life conceived as a Greek tragedy.

We begin to see the depth of Paul's concern about the instability in the Galatian congregations. It would threaten the ongoing reception of the Gospel everywhere, in Syrian Antioch and also in Jerusalem. It would confirm trends in the Judaean churches, which threatened the integrity of these churches, which had been present for many years since the aftermath of Stephen's execution.

As we have said, Paul outlines his confrontation with Peter's hypocrisy to illustrate how Peter's duplicity was overcome before the events already recounted. In other words, Paul is explaining how it was that the Gospel emancipated the Jerusalem church from the troubling Judaic instability. Recall that under Gamaliel's direction (Acts 5), the apostles had been kept from the persecution that erupted around the time Stephen was stoned. That was when Paul led the persecution against the groups of believers (Acts 8).

So let us try and identify the underlying divide and conquer strategy.

The aim seems to have been to constrain the 'Jewish' part of the movement by their connection to the specially protected apostles, while the Gentile and proselyte sectors of the movement were subject to the intense persecution under Saul's raging campaign.

To elevate some disciples over others, even if only in terms of taken-for-granted rules of social precedent and courtesy, would depart from Jesus' explicit teaching about the authority of service. But then, in the historical situation recounted by Luke in Acts, the Jewish leaders of the young church in Jerusalem, had been preserved by a "cordon sanitaire" thrown up by Jewish religious leaders.

Such a divide and conquer strategy had tried to incorporate "the way" within the negotiated parameters of the Jewish religion countenanced by Roman authorities. But this development would mean that among the Gentiles, "the way" would be adapting to conventional everyday understandings derived from an assumption that "the way" would survive by adopting a "two- faced" way of life. This "world-view framework" would accommodate the outward expression of Christian discipleship rather than living according to "the way". But then, that strategy had been effectively overthrown, as Paul puts it, by Jesus' intervention, by sending Paul to the Gentiles.

That is all part of the "background" to Paul's relationship with these "pillars" - he, after all, had, with Barnabas, been involved in a far-flung ministry which included Jewish believers who had had to flee from Jerusalem under that persecution. Here in this letter he is focusing upon a later development when the demand was made that Gentile brothers be circumcised (I presume that the sisters were simply being ignored here).

This, in effect, subordinated the Promise (to Abraham) to the Law (of Moses), subordinating the Gospel to Jewish custom and nobbling Jesus' "great commission" in a fundamental way. As a presumptuous re-definition it would potentially ascribe pre-eminence among all Christians to the Judaean churches while also countenancing a view that the "way" was a superior way of life among Gentile people. Its emphasis would be upon the way the Jews would sacrifice their spiritual integrity in order to entice (ie colonise) Gentiles into their law- oriented way of life.

The Lord had already warned His disciples against this view, when they were on the verge of adopting a "Gentile view" of their life together. In that same spirit, we hear Paul refer to "reputed pillars": "what they were makes no difference to me; God looks not on a person's outward appearance" (2:6).

Paul's appeal brings to mind Samuel's anointing of David - the Lord looks on the heart and He chose the one that Samuel and David's family had overlooked. And so he "did not yield submission even for a moment" to the "furtive" and "false brethren". (2:5) The mission of the church of Jesus Christ would not be subjected to the ethnic customs of its first leaders, which were also the customs of Judaean churches. Paul had countered this presumption by informing his readers that it was actually the "pillars" who fully endorsed the work he and Barnabas had been doing. That was how these Gentile congregations had become partners with the Judaean churches. Through Paul's work, they rendered much needed famine- relief. We also note here the application of Jesus' commendation of those that provide "a glass of water" to suffering people - "insofar as you did it to the least of these my brethren you did it unto Me" (Matt 25:40; see also 10:40-42).

So, this was not Paul against James and Cephas and John. Rather, he was not giving an inch (see 2:5); to do so would mean that the Judaean churches would have priority among Christians everywhere. Paul decisively rejects any such claim that required the rite of circumcision.

The passage 11-21 is Paul's account of Peter's uncertainty before he gave up his two-faced, hypocritical posturing. Paul, by the grace of the Lord Jesus, helped Peter rightly affirm the teaching he had been given - right standing with God is by the grace of Jesus Christ. Verses 15 to 21 are the fuller explanation of Paul's appeal to Peter. We read "we" in 15-17 as Paul's sympathetic getting alongside the Galilean fisherman, and the "I" in 18-21 gives us his attempt to assist Cephas/Peter overcome a deep split in his personae with which he clearly struggled. And Paul's Gospel doesn't make the statement "we are all sinners" into an excuse, let alone a principle. 

The statement "we are all sinners" explains why we have no excuse! "My" task in life is not to demonstrate that I am a sinner, it is to live in the freedom granted to me by the crucified Christ with whom I have been crucified. And that is therefore a life of faith in the Son of God who, in giving Himself for me, has granted me standing before God "so that I might live to God" (verse 19). And if, like Paul, my previous life was a notorious destruction of the things I now build up, then all that does is confirm that yes, I am a sinner, who has needed to be rescued. That is what Paul is saying here.

These early Christian leaders - apostles, disciples - had deep and perplexing struggles. But here, Paul says, it is the integrity of the Galatian church, as an initiative of the Holy Spirit, he has been busy upholding against a falsifying story put about by the circumcision party. The birth and growth of the church in that region was truly a work of the Holy Spirit.

Recall: the church in Jerusalem had acted to support the work in Syrian Antioch when Barnabas was sent to encourage them. Barnabas had then gone to Tarsus to find Paul and that was how he introduced him into their midst. And it was from that church that they were both sent out. But that didn't mean that because the "pillars" had sent Barnabas to Antioch that they could require circumcision of Gentile believers. The "pillars" had actually taken another path - led by the Holy Spirit they were slowly but surely taking the royal road of the Kingly Rule of the Messiah Jesus.

Paul here tells the Galatians how this destabilising and, as yet, unresolved issue, has already been resolved by Peter "who was entrusted with the Gospel for the circumcised" (2:7).

Luke tells us that a peace had come to the believing children of Abraham throughout all Judaea, Galilee and Samaria (Acts 9:31). That historic reconciliation was a marvellous demonstration of the power of the Gospel, but it was not the basis for Gospel's work. The tragic split into two kingdoms, from centuries before, was overcome in the lives of those who believed with the proclamation of the Gospel, confirming the Lord's power. Our life in history is but the venue from which the Spirit of Jesus does His reconciling work and the Galatian churches were also direct beneficiaries of this same Good News.

Paul reassured the Galatian church on the basis of their faith in the Messiah Jesus that they do have right standing. Their coming into being and continued existence as a church of Jesus Christ is indeed justified by this faith in His grace.

STUDY NOTE: There is a semantic use here of the phrase "faith of Christ" which at times is also translated as "faith in Christ." Those with "faith in Christ" says Paul are "in Him" since their inclusion is due to "the faith (-ful obedience) of Christ".