Galatians Bible Study (Galatians 2:11-21)"Justified by Faith in Christ (Galatians 2:11-21)
Church politics can be ugly. We see that in Paul's day it was ugly too. But important. If Paul had washed his hands of all church politics, where would we be today? Sometimes it's vital that we stand for the principles of our faith, even when others don't understand.
In our last study we examined a bit of Paul's history that demonstrated the independence of his gospel, that it wasn't ba
As we'll see, at the root of the problem is a common missiological issue: what is the core gospel that we teach new believers -- and how much of our own culture do we import into the target culture?
Before we can understand the incident in Antioch, we need to examine the roots and reasons for Jewish separation from Gentiles. Though not required by the Mosaic law, separation had evolved due to two factors: danger of syncretism and food laws.
1. Danger of Syncretism. When you read the history of Israel prior to the Exile, you see the sad story of Jews leaving the faith of their fathers to serve foreign gods -- Baal, Astarte, Molech, and others. Even worse, they mixed the worship of foreign gods with the worship of Yahweh, blurring the distinctions entirely. But the Israelites that returned from the Exile seemed more serious about the purity of their faith and the dangers of intermarriage with their pagan neighbors (Exodus 34:15; Leviticus 18:24; 20:25-26; Deuteronomy 7:1-6; 14:2; Ezra 10:11). This led to a custom of separation that was deeply ingrained in orthodox Jews by the first century.
2. Food laws. The Kosher laws of the Old Testament against eating pork, food sacrificed to idols, and meat without draining the blood from it made it impractical for Jews and Gentiles to eat together and enjoy any kind of table fellowship.
The early church had faced some of these issues even prior to the Christian movement in Antioch -- when Peter ate with Gentiles at the house of Cornelius:
"It is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him." (Acts 10:28a)
"The circumcised believers criticized [Peter] and said, 'You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.'" (Acts 11:2-3)
As a result of this controversy, the Council at Jerusalem counseled (but did not demand) Gentile Christians to observe the following requirements so that Jewish Christians would be able to eat alongside them.
"It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things." (Acts 15:28-29)
But we're getting ahead of ourselves again!
Jewish Christians from Jerusalem Cause a Schism (2:11-13)
To set the scene in our passage, a number of Gentiles had become Christians in Antioch. The Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to instruct them in the faith and he, in turn, got Paul to help him.
Let's examine the implications of the conflict between Paul and Peter in Antioch.
"11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray." (2:11-13)
Put that alongside a reference from Acts that probably took place after Galatians was written, following Paul's First Missionary Journey:
"Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: 'Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.'" (Acts 15:1)
Imagine the situation. Paul and Barnabas have been laboring for years in Antioch to teach the new believers who had come to Christ out of paganism. There were many bonds of mutual love and caring. Peter, also, comes to Antioch to teach and mingles freely with the new believers.
But now, Jewish Christians, purportedly representing James, Jesus' brother, head of the Jerusalem church, come to check up on the progress of the mission in Antioch. But these men are strict in their observance of the kosher laws. They have special food prepared for them in the prescribed manner and won't eat meals with the new believers in the church. That would be bad enough. It makes the believers feel like second-class citizens, not good enough to eat with -- needing circumcision to be fully accepted.
But to be fair to James, we need to notice Paul's terminology: "certain men from James," a kind of studied anonymity. There is the implied criticism that James should not have tolerated such views. Indeed, later James apologizes for their actions in the letter from the Jerusalem Council:
"We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said." (Acts 15:24)
Cole says, "They were clearly [James'] own 'right wing, 'the Pharisaic group, and a sore embarrassment even to him." But now these Jerusalem believers begin to exercise a strong influence over the rest of the Jewish Christians that have been laboring in Antioch.
"12b But when they arrived, [Peter] began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray." (2:11-13)
Before long, it isn't just a small group of Jerusalem believers who withdraw table fellowship from the new Christians, but all the Jewish Christians are now eating separate from the non-Jewish Christians! Barnabas too!
Notice the reason for the separation: Peter "was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group" (2:12b). Peter isn't acting out of conviction but out of fear of being smeared by the law-keeping Jews who threaten to ruin his reputation as the leading apostle of the Christian movement. If Peter isn't acting from conviction, then he is guilty of hypocrisy -- saying one thing, but doing another.
The Background of Peter and Barnabas
Peter was one of the pillars of the Jerusalem church (2:9). He had experienced a vision of God's acceptance of the Gentiles, preached the gospel in the house of Cornelius in Caesarea (Acts 10), and then, defended to the church in Jerusalem his action to baptize them on the grounds that the Holy Spirit had led him to do it (Acts 11). But Peter began to vacillate when the wind turned against him. He had vacillated when Jesus was on trial by denying him three times. Now he vacillated when Paul was being criticized by the Judaizers, who represented themselves as coming from Peter's colleagues in Jerusalem.
But Barnabas should have known better! Barnabas wasn't a Palestinian Jew like Peter, but was a Greek-speaking Jew who had been born in Cyprus. He had been the first to defend Paul and his gospel before James and Peter in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1-10). Later, he had been sent by the Jerusalem church to instruct the new converts in Antioch (11:22). But now, with representatives from James present to make sure that the Jewish law was being upheld, he, too, was "led astray." He looked at the reputation of the men who were zealous law-keepers, rather than the principle at stake. But perhaps it was part of Barnabas' nature to find common ground where he could. He just saw it as the loving thing to do, so as not to offend these visitors from Jerusalem.
"One anomaly is that, had not Barnabas been what he was, there might well have been no Paul to withstand him; for, under God, Paul owed to Barnabas both his introduction to the Christian circle at Jerusalem and, later, to the Christian ministry at Antioch. But Paul was too faithful a friend to allow him to go un-rebuked."
"[We] know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." (Galatians 2:16, NIV)
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20, NIV)
"I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:21, NIV)
Lord, thank you for loving us and giving yourself for us! We know we can't trust our own goodness to save us. We trust in your atoning death for our sins. Teach us, we pray, how to conduct our lives by faith, with Christ living in us by the Spirit. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen."
Again, I am indebted to Dr. Ralph F. Wilson who has been my teacher and mentor in my personal study of this great epistle.