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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 2

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

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Verse 1


The apostle mentions his journey to Jerusalem with Barnabas and

Titus, 1.

Shows that he went thither by revelation; and what he did while

there, and the persons with whom he had intercourse, 2-8.

How the apostles gave him the right hand of fellowship, 9, 10.

Here he opposes Peter at Antioch, and the reason why, 11-14.

Shows that the Jews as well as the Gentiles must be justified by

faith, 15, 16.

They who seek this justification should act with consistency,

17, 18.

Gives his own religious experience, and shows, that through the

law he was dead to the law, and crucified with Christ, 19, 20.

Justification is not of the law, but by the faith of Christ, 21.


Verse Galatians 2:1. Then fourteen years after — There is a considerable difference among critics concerning the time specified in this verse; the apostle is however generally supposed to refer to the journey he took to Jerusalem, about the question of circumcision, mentioned in Acts 15:4-5, c. These years, says Dr. Whitby, must be reckoned from the time of his conversion, mentioned here Galatians 1:18, which took place A.D. 35 (33) his journey to Peter was A.D. 38 (36,) and then between that and the council of Jerusalem, assembled A.D. 49 (52,) will be fourteen intervening years. The dates in brackets are according to the chronology which I follow in the Acts of the Apostles. Dr. Whitby has some objections against this chronology, which may be seen in his notes.

Others contend that the journey of which the apostle speaks is that mentioned Acts 11:27, c., when Barnabas and Saul were sent by the Church of Antioch with relief to the poor Christians in Judea there being at that time a great dearth in that land. St. Luke's not mentioning Titus in that journey is no valid objection against it: for he does not mention him in any part of his history, this being the first place in which his name occurs. And it does seem as if St. Paul did intend purposely to supply that defect, by his saying, I went up with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. The former St. Luke relates, Acts 11:30; the latter St. Paul supplies.

Verse 2

Verse Galatians 2:2. I went up by revelation — This either means, that he went up at that time by an express revelation from God that it was his duty to do so, made either to the Church of Antioch to send these persons to Jerusalem, or to these persons to go according to the directions of that Church; or the apostle here wishes to say, that, having received the Gospel by revelation from God, to preach Christ among the Gentiles, he went up according to that revelation, and told what God had done by him among the Gentiles: or it may refer to the revelation made to certain prophets who came to Antioch, and particularly Agabus, who signified by the Spirit that there would be a dearth; in consequence of which the disciples purposed to send relief to their poor brethren at Jerusalem. See Acts 11:27-30.

But privately to them which were of reputation — τοις δοκουσι. To the chief men; those who were highest in reputation among the apostles. δοκουντες, according to Hesychius, is οι ενδοξοι, the honourable. With these the apostle intimates that he had some private conferences.

Lest by any means — And he held these private conferences with those more eminent men, to give them information how, in consequence of his Divine call, he had preached the Gospel to the Gentiles, and the great good which God had wrought by his ministry; but they, not knowing the nature and end of his call, might be led to suppose he had acted wrong, and thus laboured in vain; and that, if he still continued to act thus, he should labour in vain. It was necessary, therefore, that he should give the apostolic council the fullest information that he had acted according to the Divine mind in every respect, and had been blessed in his deed.

Verse 3

Verse Galatians 2:3. But neither Titus, who was with me — The apostle proceeds to state that his account was so satisfactory to the apostles, that they not only did not require him to insist on the necessity of circumcision among the Gentiles, but did not even require him to have Titus, who was a Greek, circumcised; though that might have appeared expedient, especially at Jerusalem, to have prevented false brethren from making a handle of his uncircumcision, and turning it to the prejudice of the Gospel in Judea.

To spy out our liberty — The Judaizing brethren got introduced into the assembly of the apostles, in order to find out what was implied in the liberty of the Gospel, that they might know the better how to oppose St. Paul and his fellows in their preaching Christ to the Gentiles, and admitting them into the Church without obliging them to observe circumcision and keep the law. The apostle saw that while such men were in the assembly it was better not to mention his mission among the Gentiles, lest, by means of those false brethren, occasion should be given to altercations and disputes; therefore he took the opportunity, by private conferences, to set the whole matter, relative to his work among the Gentiles, before the chief of the apostles.

Verse 5

Verse Galatians 2:5. To whom we gave place by subjection — So fully satisfied was he with his Divine call, and that he had in preaching among the Gentiles acted in strict conformity to it, that he did not submit in the least to the opinion of those Judaizing teachers; and therefore he continued to insist on the exemption of the Gentiles from the necessity of submitting to Jewish rites; that the truth of the Gospel-this grand doctrine, that the Gentiles are admitted by the Gospel of Christ to be fellow-heirs with the Jews, might continue; and thus the same doctrine is continued with you Gentiles.

Verse 6

Verse Galatians 2:6. Those who seemed to be somewhat — των δοκουντων ειναι τι. Those who were of acknowledged reputation; so the words should be understood, see Galatians 2:2. The verb δοκειν, to seem, is repeatedly used by the best Greek writers, not to call the sense in question, or to lessen it, but to deepen and extend it. Luke 8:18. Perhaps this verse had best be translated thus, connecting διαφερει with απο των δοκουντων: But there is no difference between those who were of acknowledged reputation and myself; God accepts no man's person; but, in the conferences which I held with then, they added nothing to me-gave me no new light; did not attempt to impose on me any obligation, because they saw that God had appointed me my work, and that his counsel was with me.

Verse 7

Verse 7. But contrariwise — They were so far from wishing me to alter my plan, or to introduce any thing new in my doctrine to the Gentiles, that they saw plainly that my doctrine was the same as their own, coming immediately from the same source; and therefore gave to me and to Barnabas the right hand of fellowship.

The Gospel of the uncircumcision — They saw, to their utmost satisfaction, that I was as expressly sent by God to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, as Peter was to preach it to the Jews.

Verse 8

Verse 8. For he that wrought effectually — Ὁ ενεργησας Πετρῳ, ενηργησε και εμοι· He who wrought powerfully with Peter, wrought powerfully also with me. He gave us both those talents which were suited to our work, and equal success in our different departments.

Verse 9

Verse 9. James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars — Οἱ δοκουντες στυλοι ειναι· Who were known to be very eminent, and acknowledged as chief men among the apostles. Luke 8:18, for the meaning of the verb δοκειν, and Galatians 2:6.

Among the Jews, persons of great eminence and importance are represented as pillars and foundations of the world. So Abraham is said to be עמוד העולם ammud heolam, "the pillar of the universe; for by him to this day are the earth and heavens supported." Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 29. "Rabbi Simeon said, Behold, we are the pillars of the world." Idra Rabba, s. 23.

"When Rabbi Jochanan ben Zachai was near death, he wept with a loud voice. His disciples said unto him, O Rabbi, thou high pillar, thou light of the world, thou strong hammer, why dost thou weep?" Aboth. R. Nathan, chap. 24.

So, in Sohar Genes, fol. 5, it is said: "And he saw that Rab. Eleazar went up, and stood there, and with him שאר עמודין shear ammudin, the rest of the pillars (eminent men) who sat there."

Ibid., fol. 13: "These are the seven righteous men who cleave to the holy blessed God with a pure heart, and they are the seven pillars of the world."

Ibid., fol. 21, on the words bearing fruit, Genesis 1:11, it is said: "By this we are to understand the just one, who is the pillar of the world." See Schoettgen, who adds: "These pillars must be distinguished from the foundation. The foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ alone; the pillars are the more eminent teachers, which, without the foundation, are of no value."

The right hands of fellowship — Giving the right hand to another was the mark of confidence, friendship, and fellowship. See Leviticus 6:2: If a soul-lie unto his neighbor in that which was delivered him to keep, or in fellowship, בתשומת יד bithsumeth yad, "in giving the hand."

Verse 10

Verse 10. Only they would that we should remember the poor — They saw plainly that God had as expressly called Barnabas and me to go to the Gentiles as he had called them to preach to the Jews; and they did not attempt to give us any new injunctions, only wished us to remember the poor in Judea; but this was a thing to which we were previously disposed.

Verse 11

Verse 11. When Peter was come to Antioch — There has been a controversy whether πετρος, Peter, here should not be read κηφας, Kephas; and whether this Kephas was not a different person from Peter the apostle. This controversy has lasted more than 1500 years, and is not yet settled. Instead of πετρος, Peter, ABCH, several others of good note, with the Syriac, Erpenian, Coptic, Sahidic, AEthiopic, Armenian, later Syriac in the margin, Vulgate, and several of the Greek fathers, read κηφας. But whichsoever of these readings we adopt, the controversy is the same; for the great question is, whether this Peter or Kephas, no matter which name we adopt, be the same with Peter the apostle?

I shall not introduce the arguments pro and con, which may be all seen in Calmet's dissertation on the subject, but just mention the side where the strength of the evidence appears to lie.

That Peter the apostle is meant, the most sober and correct writers of antiquity maintain; and though some of the Catholic writers have fixed the whole that is here reprehensible on one Kephas, one of the seventy disciples, yet the most learned of their writers and of their popes, believe that St. Peter is meant. Some apparently plausible arguments support the contrary opinion, but they are of no weight when compared with those on the opposite side.

Verse 12

Verse 12. Before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles — Here was Peter's fault. He was convinced that God had pulled down the middle wall of partition that had so long separated the Jews and Gentiles, and he acted on this conviction, associating with the latter and eating with them; but when certain Jews came from James, who it appears considered the law still to be in force, lest he should place a stumbling-block before them he withdrew from all commerce with the converted Gentiles, and acted as if he himself believed the law to be still in force, and that the distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles should still be kept up.

Verse 13

Verse 13. And the other Jews dissembled likewise — That is: Those who were converted to Christianity from among the Jews, and who had also been convinced that the obligation of the Jewish ritual had ceased, seeing Peter act this part, and also fearing them that were of the circumcision, they separated themselves from the converted Gentiles, and acted so as to convince the Jews that they still believed the law to be of moral obligation; and so powerful was the torrent of such an example, that the gentle, loving-hearted Barnabas was carried away by their dissimulation, αυτωντηυποκρισει, with their hypocrisy-feigning to be what they really were not.

Verse 14

Verse 14. That they walked not uprightly — ουκ ορθοποδουσι. They did not walk with a straight step-they did not maintain a firm footing.

According to the truth of the Gospel — According to that true doctrine, which states that Christ is the end of the law for justification to every one that believes; and that such are under no obligation to observe circumcision and the other peculiar rites and ceremonies of the law.

If thou, being a Jew, livest — This was a cutting reproof. He was a Jew, and had been circumstantially scrupulous in every thing relative to the law, and it required a miracle to convince him that the Gentiles were admitted, on their believing in Christ, to become members of the same Church, and fellow heirs of the hope of eternal life; and in consequence of this, he went in with the Gentiles and ate with them; i.e. associated with them as he would with Jews. But now, fearing them of the circumcision, he withdrew from this fellowship.

Why compellest thou the Gentiles — Thou didst once consider that they were not under such an obligation, and now thou actest as if thou didst consider the law in full force; but thou art convinced that the contrary is the case, yet actest differently! This is hypocrisy.

Verse 15

Verse 15. We who are Jews by nature — We who belong to the Jewish nation-who have been born, bred, and educated Jews.

And not sinners of the Gentiles — αμαρτωλοι. Not without the knowledge of God, as they have been. αμαρτωλος often signifies a heathen, merely one who had no knowledge of the true God. But among the nations or Gentiles many Jews sojourned; who in Scripture are known by the name of Hellenists, and these were distinguished from those who were termed εξ εθνων αμαρτωλοι, sinners of the Gentiles-heathens, in our common sense of the word; while the others, though living among them, were worshippers of the true God, and addicted to no species of idolatry. Some have translated this passage thus: We Jews, and not Gentiles, by nature sinners; for it is supposed that φυσει here refers to that natural corruption which every man brings into the world. Now, though the doctrine be true, (and the state of man, and universal experience confirm it,) yet it can neither be supported from this place, nor even from Ephesians 2:3. Romans 2:16. It appears, from the use of this word by some of the best Greek authors, that φυσει did not signify by nature, as we use the word, but expressed the natural birth, family, or nation of a man; to distinguish him from any other family or nation. I can give a few instances of this, which are brought to my hand in a small elegant pamphlet, written by Dr. Munter, the present bishop of Zealand, entitled Observationum ex marmoribus Graecis Sacrarum Specimen, and which has been lent to me by the right honourable Lord Teignmouth, to whose condescension, kindness, and learning, many of my studies have been laid under particular obligation.

The word in question is the xxviiith example in the above pamphlet, the substance of which is as follows: In an inscription on a Greek marble, given by Dr. Chandler, page 27, we find these words Ὁ γαμβρος μου Λεων Αρτεμεισιου, ὁ επικαλουμενος Ιασων, οικονει μεν Μειλησιος, φυσει δε Ιασευς· "My son-in-law, Leo, the son of Artemisius, who is called a Jasian, is of the house of Milesius, though by nature he is from Jaso." That is: Jaso being a town of Caria, this Leo is said to be φυσειιασευς, by nature a Jasian, although he sprang from the Milesian family. The following examples will place this in a clearer light. Josephus, Ant. Jud., lib. xi. cap. vi. sec. 5, speaking of Amanes, the Amalekite, says: Και γαρ φυσει τοις Ιουδαιοις απηχθανετο, ὁτι και το γενος των Αμαλεκιτων, εξ ὡν ην αυτος, ὑπ' αυτων διεφθαρτο· "For he was by nature incensed against the Jews, because the nation of the Amalekites, from whom he sprang, had been destroyed by them;" that is, he had a national prejudice or hatred to the Jewish people on the above account. The following example from Dio Chrysostom, Orat. xxxi., is also to the point: Οἱγε (Αθηναιοι) τον δεινα μεν Ολυμπιον κεκληκασι, ουδε φυσει πολιτην ἑαυτων· "For they (the Athenians) called this person an Olympian, though by nature he was not their citizen;" that is, he was called an Olympian, though he was not naturally of that city, or, in other words, he was not born there. From these examples, and the scope of the place, we may argue that the words, we who are Jews by nature, mean, we who were born in the land of Judea, and of Jewish parents. And hence the passage in Ephesians 2:3, which speaks most evidently of the heathens, "and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others," may be thus understood: Being Gentiles, and brought up in gross darkness, without any knowledge of God, abandoned to all sensual living, we were, from our very condition, and practical state, exposed to punishment. This sense is at least equally good with that given of the words in Romans 2:16, where it is proved that φυσει, in several connections, means truly, certainly, incontestably; "we were, beyond all controversy, exposed to punishment, because we had been born among idolaters, and have lived as they did. Here both senses of the word apply.

Verse 16

Verse 16. Knowing that a man is not justified — See the notes on Romans 1:17; Romans 3:24; Romans 3:27; Romans 8:3. And see on Acts 13:38; Acts 13:39, in which places the subject of this verse is largely discussed. Neither the works of the Jewish law, nor of any other law, could justify any man; and if justification or pardon could not have been attained in some other way, the world must have perished. Justification by faith, in the boundless mercy of God, is as reasonable as it is Scriptural and necessary.

Verse 17

Verse 17. But if while we seek to be justified — If, while we acknowledge that we must be justified by faith in Christ, we ourselves are found sinners, enjoining the necessity of observing the rites and ceremonies of the law, which never could and never can justify, and yet, by submitting to circumcision, we lay ourselves under the necessity of fulfilling the law, which is impossible, we thus constitute ourselves sinners; is, therefore, Christ the minister of sin? Christ, who has taught us to renounce the law, and expect justification through his death?. God forbid! that we should either act so, or think so.

Verse 18

Verse 18. For if I build again the things which I destroyed — If I act like a Jew, and enjoin the observance of the law on the Gentiles, which I have repeatedly asserted and proved to be abolished by the death of Christ, then I build up what I destroyed, and thus make myself a transgressor, by not observing the law in that way in which I appear to enjoin the observance of it upon others.

Verse 19

Verse 19. For I through the law am dead to the law — In consequence of properly considering the nature and requisitions of the law, I am dead to all hope and expectation of help or salvation from the law, and have been obliged to take refuge in the Gospel of Christ. Or, probably the word νομος, LAW, is here put for a system of doctrine; as if he had said, I through the Gospel am dead to the law. The law itself is consigned to death, and another, the Gospel of Christ, is substituted in its stead. The law condemns to death, and I have embraced the Gospel that I might be saved from death, and live unto God.

Verse 20

Verse 20. I am crucified with Christ — The death of Christ on the cross has showed me that there is no hope of salvation by the law; I am therefore as truly dead to all expectation of justification by the law, as Christ was dead when he gave up the ghost upon the cross. Through him alone I live - enjoy a present life, and have a prospect of future glory.

Yet not I — It is not of my natural life I speak, nor of any spiritual things which I myself have procured; but Christ liveth in me. God made man to be a habitation of his own Spirit: the law cannot live in me so as to give me a Divine life; it does not animate, but kill; but Christ lives in me; he is the soul of my soul; so that I now live to God. But this life I have by the faith of the Son of God - by believing on Christ as a sacrifice for sin; for he loved me, and because he did so he gave himself for me - made himself a sacrifice unto death, that I might be saved from the bitter pains of death eternal.

Verse 21

Verse Galatians 2:21. I do not frustrate — ουκ αθετω. I do not contemn, despise, or render useless, the grace of God-the doctrine of Christ crucified; which I must do if I preach the necessity of observing the law.

For if righteousness — If justification and salvation come by an observance of the law, then Christ is dead in vain; his death is useless if an observance of the law can save us; but no observance of the law can save us, and therefore there was an absolute necessity for the death of Christ.

1. THE account of the prevarication of Peter in the preceding chapter teaches us a most useful lesson. Let him who assuredly standeth take heed lest he fall. No person in a state of probation is infallible; a man may fall into sin every moment; and he will, if he do not walk with God. Worldly prudence and fleshly wisdom would have concealed this account of the prevarication of Peter; but God tells truth. This the fountain of it; and from him we are to expect not only nothing but the truth, but also the whole truth. If the Gospel were not of God we had never heard of the denial and prevarication of Peter, nor of the contention between Paul and Barnabas. And these accounts are recorded, not that men may justify or excuse their own delinquencies by them, but that they may avoid them; for he must be inexcusable who, with these histories before his eyes, ever denies his Master, or acts the part of a hypocrite. Had the apostles acted in concert to impose a forgery on the world as a Divine revelation, the imposture would have now come out. The falling out of the parties would have led to a discovery of the cheat. This relation, therefore, is an additional evidence of the truth of the Gospel.

2. On, I through the law am dead to the law, c., pious Quesnel makes the following useful reflections:

"The ceremonial law, which is no more than a type and shadow of him, destroys itself by showing us Jesus Christ, who is the truth and the substance. The moral law, by leaving us under our own inability under sin and the curse, makes us perceive the necessity of the law of the heart, and of a Saviour to give it. The law is for the old man, as to its terrible and servile part and it was crucified and died with Christ upon the cross as well as the old man. The new man, and the new law, require a new sacrifice. What need has he of other sacrifices who has Jesus Christ? They in whom this sacrifice lives, do themselves live to God alone; but none can live to him except by faith; and this life of faith consists in dying with Christ to the things of the present world, and in expecting, as co-heirs with him, the blessings of the eternal world. And who can work all this in us but only he who lives in us? That man has arrived to a high degree of mortification, who can say Christ liveth in me, and I am crucified to the world. Such a one must have renounced not only earthly things, but his own self also."

3. Is there, or can there be, any well grounded hope of eternal life but what comes through the Gospel? In vain has the ingenuity of man tortured itself for more than 5000 years, to find out some method of mending the human heart: none has been discovered that even promised any thing likely to be effectual. The Gospel of Christ not only mends but completely cures and new makes infected nature. Who is duly apprised of the infinite excellency and importance of the Gospel? What was the world before its appearance? What would it be were this light extinguished? Blessed Lord! let neither infidelity nor false doctrine rise up to obscure this heavenly splendour!

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Galatians 2". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/galatians-2.html. 1832.
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