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Galatians Chapters 1-2

(The false brethren)


          Galatians is one of the biblical books most often quoted to refute the following of God's law in our daily lives.  It is not uncommon for someone to say, "the law of God is abolished, just read Galatians."  This is unfortunate for the law of God is our friend and teacher.  It is designed to protect us and keep us safe.  When we don't follow God's law we reap natural penalties.  There are many passages in scripture that are taken off point and out of context to say that God's law does not apply for today.  Most of them are easily refuted; however, the book of Galatians is one of the more difficult passages to understand.  This is mostly due to the length of time the Apostle Paul takes to make his points.  Instead of just a few verses misquoted to make the false claim that God's law is abolished, the entirety of Galatians is taken off point and out of context to make that claim.  Please read the entire article to get a full understanding of what Paul the Apostle is trying to say in the book of Galatians.  Please read Galatians chapter one and two before continuing.
          Before we start, the Apostle Peter gave us a warning regarding the writings of the Apostle Paul.  Peter said, "And think of the long-suffering of our Lord as salvation, as our beloved brother Paul also has written to you according to the wisdom given to him as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable pervert, as also they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction" (2 Pet. 3:15-16).  Remember, Peter is not refuting the writings of Paul, but warning us to make sure we have a correct understanding.  Peter says the "unlearned and unstable pervert" the scriptures, which implies that Paul was apparently learned and stable.  We might ask, what was Paul learned and stable in?  Here is a quick resume of the Apostle Paul; he was "Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Phil. 3:5-6), and educated at the "feet of Gamaliel" (Acts 22:3).  The Apostle Paul was well educated in the Mosaic law.  He would be what we would call today a prosecuting attorney for he was sent out by the High Priest to prosecute the church (Acts 9:1-2).  We, however, have a hard time understanding his writings because we are, "unlearned and unstable" in the Mosaic law.  Those who say Paul advocated the abolishment of the Mosaic law are "unlearned and unstable" in that law.  It is important for us to use the Mosaic law to properly understand Paul's writings.  In so doing we will see that he never once advocated the abolishment of God's law, but rather endorsed the proper understanding and practice of it.
          The purpose of this series of articles is to go through the book of Galatians and try to understand God's law in light of Paul's superior legal mind.  We will move quickly throughout the book, but spend more time in the sections relating to the law of God.  Chapter one is an explanation of where the Apostle gets his doctrine from.  He is, "an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1:1).  Paul is concerned because the Galatians have been "removed from him that called [them] into the grace of Christ unto another gospel" (Gal. 1:6).  The Galatians are troubled by some that "would pervert the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:7).  The purpose of this whole letter is to refute "another gospel" which is false and defend the true gospel which Paul received directly from the Messiah (Gal. 1:9-12).  Paul then defends himself and his apostleship by showing his past of persecuting the church (Gal. 1:13-14) and how God Himself called him (Gal. 1:15-16).  Paul did not go to the Apostles before him immediately, but rather went to Arabia, and three years later went to see the Apostles (Gal. 1:17-19).  The end result was that the Apostles "glorified God in [him]" (Gal. 1:24).

The place of circumcision:


          Chapter two begins with Paul describing his trip to Jerusalem fourteen years ago (Gal. 2:1).  Paul then states the purpose of his visit to Jerusalem was to communicate the Gospel he preached to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:2).  This visit is recorded in Acts chapter fifteen.  The whole crux of the discussion was regarding the place of circumcision and the law within salvation.  There were those among the Jews who believed circumcision and keeping the law was necessary for salvation (Acts 15:5).  The Apostles and elders came together to discuss this matter (Acts 15:6).  The answer to the question was given by Peter in Acts 15:7-11.  The proof of the Gentile's salvation before circumcision is that of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:8).  The Holy Spirit was the evidence of their salvation, which they had.  Why then should they, "tempt God" and put a, "yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither [their] fathers nor [they] were able to bear" (Acts 15:10).
          The problem the Jews were having, was distinguishing the difference between Justification and Sanctification.  Justification is a one time act where the believer is pardoned from his sins (see article on Justification).  Sanctification is the life of the believer after Justification whereby the believer works with God to become the person he ought to be (see article on Sanctification).  The Jews were not allowing for grace during the Gentile's conversion.  The Gentiles believed and were justified and forgiven of their sins.  This was evidenced by the Holy Spirit.  The Jews saw the evidence of their conversion and wanted them to be immediately circumcised.  Remember that the Jews were trying to destroy the believers through persecution and the spreading of false doctrines.  James stood up to answer this question by citing the Prophets (Acts 15:14-18) and concluding, "trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood" (Acts 15:19-20).  James, being level headed, suggested not to start the Gentiles off with circumcision, but with the idolatry laws, adultery laws, and dietary laws.  Afterall, "Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day" (Acts 15:21).  They had every Sabbath day to continue to learn the law of God in the synagogues.  It is unreasonable to expect someone to quit cold turkey their old way of living and start immediately following every commandment, statute and judgment of God.  There is need for Grace as they learn.  The following example might help clarify what was happening in Acts fifteen.
          Forgive me for this crude example, but it makes the point very well.  Image if you will, a missionary going to far off country and preaching the Messiah and the forgiveness of sins.  This group has never heard the Gospel and do not know anything of God's law.  They receive the Messiah and are Justified and immediately you line up all the males and say, "Now drop your pants so we can start cutting."  How effective is this going to be?  The Jews were circumcised on the eighth day as a baby.  They did not do this as an adult.  Perhaps a little grace is necessary for them to see the benefits of God's law before they are circumcised.  In fact, you can even argue that this is a private matter and not anyone elses business.  Each male should decide when and where they will do this.  This is the point James is making.  It is not that circumcision is a bad thing.  On the contrary, those who are circumcised virtually never get diseases such as penile cancer, but this is not necessary for salvation.  Circumcision is a health statute.  The Gospel of the Messiah is that of Grace.  Grace to learn God's law and apply it to our lives.  It is not up to anyone to judge but yourself (Col. 2:16).

False Brethren:


         With this in mind, let's continue in Galatians chapter two.  "Titus, being a Greek, was [not] compelled to be circumcised" (Gal. 2:3).  For circumcision was not necessary for salvation, Titus would determine when he would take care of his own circumcision.  There are over seven hundred laws in God's Holy Law.  Trying to stop sinning cold turkey and start following every statute in God's law is impossible.  The Greek word for "compelled" is anagkazō which means "to necessitate: - compel, constrain" (Strong's Concordance G315).  This is a legal term used to enforce law, but with God's grace each believer is accountable for their own practice of God's law.  This is evidenced in the next verse where, "false brethren unawares ... came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 2:4).  This liberty we have in Christ is not permission to break God's law, but rather it is liberty to learn God's law.  James calls the law of God "the perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25, James 2:12).  We have liberty in the Law of God.  Believe it or not, Grace is found throughout God's Law (Ex. 34:9, Num. 32:5).  All through the Old Testament, God demonstrated His Grace to Israel and Gentile alike (Ezra 9:8, Psalm 84:11).  God has given us liberty to learn His law and practice it.  This is Sanctification.  Paul was so emphatic in his position that he states he did not give place by subjection even "for an hour" (Gal. 2:5).
          Paul then elaborates on who these "false brethren" were.  They "seemed to be somewhat" (Gal. 2:6), they were "of the circumcision" (Gal. 2:7-9), they were from Judea (Acts 15:1), they were of the "sect of the Pharisees" (Acts 15:5), they claimed to be believers, but were false brethren (Acts 15:5, Gal. 2:4), they believed you must be circumcised prior to salvation (Acts 15:1), and they did so that they may "glory in their flesh" (Gal. 6:12-13).  It appears the circumcision they were offering was quite different than the circumcision God was offering.  The term circumcision in the book of Galatians refers to a group of people, not an act of obedience to God.  In Gal. 2:6-9, Paul clearly distinguishes between the circumcision and the uncircumcision.  The circumcision spoken of here is not simply the act of circumcising a man, but becoming part of a group from the Pharisees, of which the Messiah was in conflict with His whole ministry.  By circumcising into this group the Pharisees could "glory in the flesh" (Gal. 6:12-13).  Paul uses the terms circumcision and uncircumcision to refer to the Pharisees and the new believers throughout his letter to the Galatians, so keep this explanation in mind as you read the rest of the book. 

Dispute between Peter and Paul:


          We now move into a section of scripture many use to challenge the practice of God's law.  Galatians 2:11-15 contains a dispute between Peter and Paul.  In verse eleven, Paul describes how he had to "with[stand Peter] to his face" (Gal. 2:11).  Why, because Peter, out of fear of "them which were of the circumcision," only ate with Gentiles when the Jews were not around (Gal. 2:12).  It gets worse, Peter also brought other Jews, including Barnabas, along with him in this manner (Gal. 2:13).  The result is Paul saying to Peter, "If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" (Gal. 2:14).  At first glance, it appears Paul is suggesting that Peter should not compel Gentiles to follow God's law because he cannot himself follow God's law.  This, however, is not the case.  A look at other translations might shed some light.  The Weymouth New Testament says, "If you, though you are a Jew, live as a Gentile does, and not as a Jew, how can you make the Gentiles follow Jewish customs?"  Using this translation you might conclude that Peter's efforts to get Gentiles to follow God's laws, like the Jews do, are hindered because he is living as the Gentiles.  The Nestle-Aland translation reads, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"  The latter two translations make the phrase "live like the Gentiles" a negative statement and the phrase "compel the Gentiles to live like Jews" a positive statement.  Viewing this verse in this manner helps the next verse make more sense.  "We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles" (Gal. 2:15) means exactly what it says.  Remember, sin is the "transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4).  A Jew, that practiced the law, was not a sinner, but a Gentile, was a sinner because he did not practice God's law (Gal. 2:15).
          With this in mind, Paul is saying to Peter, how can you convert Gentiles to stop sinning and follow God's law when you yourself are sinning as a Gentile does?  After all, leaders in the church are to be "above reproach" (1 Tim. 3:2, Tit. 1:6-7) and examples to follow (Heb. 13:7, 1 Pet. 5:3).  Peter's job as the "Apostle to the Circumcision" (Gal. 2:8) was to lead them by example, but instead, he was being hypocritical and living one way to the Jews and another way to the Gentiles.  We can expect the Gentiles to sin for they do not know God's law yet, but Peter and the Jews do know God's law and should be examples for the Gentiles to follow.
          The remainder of the chapter solidifies this understanding.  Paul reminds us of the Gospel that we are, "not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ ... for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal. 2:16).  This is our Justification where we are pardoned for all of our sins.  Our Sanctification is next, for if, "while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid" (Gal. 2:17).  God forbid, if we are justified by Christ, that we continue in sin and break God's law.  For if we, "build again the things (sins) which [we] destroyed, [we] make [ourselves] a transgressor" (Gal. 2:18).  The Messiah mentioned how some would come to Him and say, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works" (Matt. 7:22)?  But the Messiah replied, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt. 7:23).  The word for "iniquity" is the Greek word anomia which means "illegality, that is, violation of law" (Strong's Concordance G458).  Apparently, many people who profess the Messiah will be turned away because they refused to practice God's law.  This is a serious issue for Paul to be addressing.
          The end result is that we are "dead to the law, that [we] might live unto God" (Gal. 2:19).  How are we, "dead to the law?"  We are "crucified with Christ" and "Christ liveth in" us and we now "live by the faith of the Son of God" (Gal. 2:20).  We are dead to the law so we can live in Christ and fulfill the law.  Those who continue in sin will, "frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain" (Gal. 2:21).  We will frustrate God's grace by gaining righteousness by faith in the Messiah, but not walking as He walked by following His law (1 John 2:6).  To continue this study in chapter three click here.


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By Steve Siefken

  Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth

not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15 KJV