Galatians 2:1-21


galatians-mclellanCommentary on the Epistle to the Galatians

This is the third message in a series of studies by pastor Murray McClellan.
It is our prayer that you are blessed through his labors in God’s Word.


The Apostolic Message Confirmed and Challenged (2:1-21)

Paul’s gospel confirmed by God in Jerusalem (2:1-10)

“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.” 

Wherever the good seed of God’s Word is sown, Satan will be there to sow his seed of lying deception. Dogging Paul wherever he went, as the Son of Man sowed good seed through His faithful messenger, Satan’s false teachers (right from within the “church”) were there planting doctrines of demons. These troublers of the church; these perverters of the gospel of grace, through their addition of human works, attacked the authority of the Word of God by attacking the authority of Paul as an apostle. It seems that they were declaring that Peter’s gospel (and that of the other apostles) and Paul’s gospel were not the same. You can see how this might really begin to sway the weak new Galatian believers, if it was put to them as a choice between Peter and all the other apostles and this, so-called, “self-appointed” apostle.

In chapter one, Paul had shown that both his calling and his gospel were not of men (and certainly not his own invention as evidenced by his transforming conversion), but from Jesus Christ Himself. If the gospel that Paul preached was given to him directly through the revelation of Jesus Christ, then it should be the same message as that of Christ’s other apostles – for certainly Christ is not divided. This is what Paul now begins to demonstrate.

Paul tells them of his visit to Jerusalem, some 14 years later (after his conversion, I assume).  There the apostles added nothing to his message. In fact, they approved and praised God for all that Paul had been doing and preaching over those years.

In verse one, Paul mentions two companions by name. Barnabas was a Jew who was a co-laborer with Paul, and thus preached the same gospel as Paul. Titus was an uncircumcised Greek – at least as far the circumcision made in the flesh by hands. He was a product of the very gospel which the Judaizers were challenging. Titus was brought in as exhibit ‘a’. He was the evidence that could be examined to see if a man needs anything other than Jesus Christ to be made put right with God.

In verse two, Paul stated that the same gospel that he preached and is currently still preaching (the same gospel that he preached to the Galatians), is the same gospel he laid before the apostles in Jerusalem. Paul had not been summoned there by the apostles to be granted their authoritative blessing. Nor was his purpose to check and see if he was right. Paul had no doubts about his gospel. This was done simply because his only Lord and Master had communicated to him by revelation. God, through this visit to Jerusalem was going to testify and vindicate His own apostle.

So Paul in obedience for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ and for the sake of those who were being confused and deceived by the Judaizers, met with these men to show they were in one accord. This may well be the very episode we read of in Acts 15. At this counsel, described in Acts 15, verse 24 indicates that Paul is vindicated and the Judaizers are denounced as the “self-appointed” preachers.

If Paul’s apostleship and message were not vindicated, then his “running” to bring them the gospel would be in vain. If they were to forsake Christ and the truth, then they were yet in bondage and would die in their sins. Paul’s gospel message would testify against them in the day of judgment.  Their lives would have been lived in vain. Their Bible studies, prayer meetings, worship would have all been vanity, for it would all be done in the flesh. Indeed they would have been the world’s biggest fools (Gal. 3:1) to forsake the one and only Savior, whose righteousness is perfect; trying to adorn themselves with rags of self-righteousness in order to impress God. Cursed is the one who draws back, insulting the Spirit of grace. In Rom. 15:16, Paul reveals his desire to fulfill his ministry. He sees as the end of his ministry, a glorious offering of sanctified Gentiles to His Lord and Master for the praise of the glory of His grace. That offering will only include the circumcised in heart, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. (Phil. 3:3)

In verse 3, the issue is brought to a head with what happens to Titus. In bringing Titus with him, Paul is declaring to those “who seemed to be something”, “What are you going to do with Titus?  Are you going to give him the right hand of fellowship and welcome him as a brother in Christ, or are you going to force him to be circumcised?”

Does God accept Jews and Gentiles on the same terms without distinction? The sole ground of our acceptance, Jew or Gentile, is the atoning blood sacrifice and righteousness of Jesus Christ. In Christ is the only basis anyone has ever – can ever – and will ever be justified before God.  If we are accepted by God, we are in fellowship. Someone has said that fellowship is simply some fellows in the same ship. And the name of that “ship” is Jesus Christ – the true ark of God. He is the refuge and salvation of all who come to Him in faith. Lack of physical circumcision does not get Titus tossed out of the Ark, for he had been circumcised in heart! “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, but putting off the body of sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.” (Col. 2:11)

You do not stand proudly in the shadow of the Ark and think you will be saved from the judgment to come that will be poured out on the world. The substance is of Christ (Col. 2:17). If your faith is not wholly fixed on Him, you will perish in the shadows.

 “And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us to bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. But from those who seemed to be something – whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man – for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles),” (Gal. 2:4-8) 

Satan’s most deceptive tool is religion – a religion that does not save but damns people. False religion creates an illusion that all is well between those practicing it and God. The world is engulfed in religion that does not save – in religion of ceremony, ritual, and self-righteous works – in religion that confirms their damnation in everlasting hell. Their religion may be a “boat” and many may be in it. It may even be a very externally impressive and seemingly sea-worthy vessel, but it is not the Ark, which is our Lord Jesus Christ! “Read the label” is not enough. You must examine the contents! Paul examined the content of the “gospel” message of the Judaizers and declared that they were “false brethren”. They added to the pure gospel of justification through faith alone in Christ alone. Any other way of trying to gain acceptance with God brings only condemnation, for what sinner can even ascend God’s holy hill (Psalm 24:3-4) to present his filthy rags ( his self-righteousness)? [Isa. 64:6].

How can I know that I am accepted by the holy God of heaven and earth? Do I look and see that I am circumcised and thus my guilty and accusing conscience is quieted? Are you kidding? My conscience can reach back into my past and pull up all manner of wretched sin, of which even now I can hardly bear to have come into my mind. Does circumcision or any other act or ceremony in which I’ve ever been involved, bring me peace from an accusing conscience? No. How do you find peace from an accusing conscience? I look to the Son of God. I look to my once crucified and living Savior. He is my shield and refuge and hiding place. Look at Him and see the answer!  We have peace with God through the blood of His cross. Will you forsake such a complete Redeemer and liberty found in Him? There is more hope for a fool than a man wise in his own eyes (Prov. 26:12).

This is why Titus was not compelled to be circumcised. What’s the point? Titus, as every true believer, is perfected forever through the one offering of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:14). The works of the law cannot make those who try to approach God on that basis, perfect (Heb. 10:1). To have Titus circumcised would be confessing that the atoning work of Christ is not sufficient to save – that the gospel of the apostles is incomplete. It would be promoting a religion that not only cannot save but will damn every adherent to hell.

It was their message that clearly revealed these Judaizers were “false brethren”. They were not what they appeared to be. They were not brothers but were “brought in” by the enemy. (Whether or not the Judaizers realized this, it is still the case). They were like undercover agents for the enemy, brought in for sabotage. They did “not enter the sheepfold by the door, but [climbed] up some other way … [as thieves] and [robbers].” (John 10:1) They came “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” (John 10:10) They were capturing those in the churches and bringing them into bondage.

Their message was an old covenant yoke around the neck that blind and shortsighted people were putting on, never realizing that this yoke was one that they would never be able to bear (Acts 15:10). This would never purify their hearts before God (Acts 15:9). God is not a God who will wink at sin! Thus, “as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.'” (Gal. 3:10)

In verse 5, Paul says they did not yield, because it involved “the truth of the gospel”. When it came to the gospel, Paul would not move an inch. There is but one true gospel by which a man may be saved. There are two gospels only in the sense of a true one and a false one.  Paul has no worship for those “who seemed to be something” (v. 6). It is by the grace of God that anyone is what he is. God is sovereign in dispensing His gifts. He “shows personal favoritism to no man.” Paul states that these ones (i.e. Peter, James, John – see v. 9) who you exalt as authorities, agree with me. These “great apostles” that the false teachers say contradict Paul, don’t. They contradict the Judaizers! Paul says that when he was in conference with them, they “added nothing to me.” They didn’t contradict Paul in any way. They didn’t tell Paul that his message didn’t go far enough.

They preached the same gospel. They took that one gospel to two audiences. They may have approached the two different groups with perhaps different approaches, but always with the same message (v. 7). And there is one Spirit who worked effectively through the same gospel through both Peter and Paul (v. 8). This is why Paul and Barnabas were given the right hand of fellowship in verse 9, because the other apostles acknowledged Paul as a true apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and the message preached by Paul and Barnabas was the true gospel of God.

There are not two ways of salvation – one for Jews and one for Gentiles. Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [Him]” (John 14:6). All those saved through Jesus Christ are brought into one fold – not one for Jews and one for Gentiles. “There will be one flock and one Shepherd.” (John 10:16) “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.” This new creation is a work of God alone through the foolish means of preaching the gospel. The gospel that Paul preached and the gospel that Peter preached – for they are one and the same.

Peter: “knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Paul: “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith” (Rom. 3:24-25).

 “and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.” (Gal. 2:9-10) 

Paul, in his defense of the gospel of Jesus Christ, has been proving that he is a real apostle. In chapter one of this epistle, he has shown that his conversion, his call as an apostle, and his gospel, have nothing to do with human authority. He is what he is by the grace and determination of God.

In chapter two, he shows that there was a time when he went up to Jerusalem and saw the other apostles on an official visit. When he was there, they “added nothing to” him (Gal. 2:6). They did not contradict him in any way “but on the contrary” “they gave [both he] and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship.” (Gal. 2:7,9) They recognized “the grace that had been given to” Paul (Gal. 2:9) and that it was good that he labored, taking the one true gospel to the Gentiles, even as Peter and the others labored among “the circumcised”. (Gal. 2:9)

The one thing, they encouraged Paul to do, was to “remember the poor,” which Paul was “eager to do”. (Gal. 2:10) This is consistent with the gospel of grace and the unity in Christ it brings about. Several years later, in his letter to the Romans, Paul stated: “But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution to the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.” (Rom. 15:25-27) Paul also exhorted the Galatians to this manifest expression of the love of the saints. “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must also do.” (1 Cor. 16:1) Paul was eager to help the distressed believers in Jerusalem who, for the gospel’s sake, had suffered the loss of all things. He was eager to do this, because he viewed them as brothers; one in Christ. Sharing of his physical resources that he had received from the Lord, was a tangible way to express the unity in the body of Christ, achieved through the gospel.

~ Murray

Murray McLellan

Murray is the lead church planter and Bible teacher at Grace Fellowship Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife Cheryl have labored in the Gospel for many years despite the many discouragements along the way. Our brother is associated with “InDepth Studies”, the Acts 29 network of church planters, and more recently the uniquely Canadian C2C church planting network. In new covenant circles Murray is a long time contributor to new covenant thought and discussion.