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Bible: What Does Galatians 2 Teach Us About the Church in Jerusalem?

Updated on August 21, 2016

The Apostle Paul




False Brethren

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Galatians 2--Jerusalem Church Leaders Acknowledge Paul's Message as Authoritative

Paul spends fourteen years in the regions of Syria and Cilicia, presumably serving the churches there; at the end of this period, he receives divine revelation.

Convinced that God had called him to preach among the Gentiles, Paul travels to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to consult privately with “those who were of reputation” and in order to attain greater certainty in his own mind (vv. 1-2).

[Paul busied himself with preaching the gospel to the Gentiles in Syria.

Was he at all uncertain that his gospel was not the gospel?

If he was, he certainly did wait a long time before bringing before the Jerusalem brethren the controversial message he preached to the Gentiles.]

After vigorous debate with “false brethren”—Judaizing spies who maintained that Gentiles needed to become circumcised in order to be saved—, Paul convinces the leadership that all believers are free from the Law, that “grace is everything, and for everyone” (Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 333).

Therefore, his traveling companion, the Greek Titus, has remained uncircumcised (vv. 3-5).

The apostle asserts that he did not regard these leaders (“those who seemed to be something”) as having contributed or added anything to him (v. 6).

[Who were these leaders? What does he mean by “added nothing to me”?

As support for his attitude toward them, Paul cites parenthetically the principle of God’s impartiality toward people.]

Having recognized the grace of God in their ministry, and being convinced that God had indeed called them to take the word to the Gentiles (as He had sent Peter to evangelize the Jews), the three foremost leaders in Jerusalem—James, Peter, and John (whom Paul refers to as “pillars”)—welcome the apostle and Barnabas as partners in the gospel (vv. 7-9).

[Were these leaders (listed in verse nine) the same ones Paul mentions in verses six and seven?]

They express no disagreement with the apostle, but only stress their desire that Paul should not forget to minister to the poor—a plan that he had not forgotten (v. 10).

The Apostle Peter


Peter: The First Pope?

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Paul Recalls Confronting Peter

To further substantiate his apostleship to the Galatians, Paul now recounts an episode in which he confronted Peter about not being straightforward about certain aspects of the gospel (vv. 11-21).

While visiting Paul in Antioch, Peter fellowshiped with Gentiles at Paul’s table; however, when James and other Hebrew-Christian leaders arrived on the scene, Peter separated himself from Paul’s disciples, fearing the leaders’ reaction to this violation of tradition (vv. 11-12).

Seeing even faithful Barnabas failing to maintain a consistent practice of grace because he allowed Peter’s faulty leadership to draw him away from it, Paul publicly criticized the latter apostle about his hypocrisy.

He showed Peter his error in judgment; that is to say, Peter had no right to live like a Gentile while demanding Gentile-Christians to live according to Jewish customs (vv. 13-14).

Paul reminded Peter that they, as Hebrew Christians, know that God has declared them righteous by faith in Christ, not by obedience to the Law; therefore, they themselves have believed so that they might be justified (vv. 15-16).

He believed that reconstructing the system of Law-keeping for salvation (“build again those things I destroyed”) leads into sin; Christ would not lead into sin those whom He had justified by faith (vv. 17-18).

Paul avers that he died to the Law’s condemnation when Christ paid the penalty for the sin the apostle committed against that Law. Now Paul is free to live for God’s glory (v. 19).

Paul Maintains the Primacy of Grace

Through his crucifixion with Christ (and his subsequent “resurrection” to newness of life), Paul no longer lives independently of his indwelling Lord’s control; by means of “the faith of the Son of God,” the apostle lives His life of service, stepping aside (so to speak) and allowing His loving, self-sacrificing God to live His life through him (v. 20).

Unlike the Galatians, who are trying to bring legal obedience back into the system and thus are nullifying God’s grace, Paul maintains the primacy of grace.

The apostle concludes that it makes no sense for God to send Christ to die for sins if people could attain righteousness by keeping the Law (v. 21).

© 2013 glynch1


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