Can you explain Galatians 2:11-16?

CAN YOU EXPLAIN GALATIANS 2:11-16? WAS PAUL TELLING PETER THAT THE LITTLE FLOCK WAS UNDER GRACE?

by Shawn Brasseaux

“I have a question! It is about Peter in Galatians 2:11-21. I understand that Paul reproves Peter, because he acted under the law between Body of Christ. The question is, did Paul remind Peter that the Little Flock is now also under grace? To me it looks like Paul is teaching Peter that he is justified without works of the law (Galatians 2:16-18).”

Thank you for that question, brother. It is a technical topic, but if we compare related verses, we can then arrive at a rather easy answer. We just need to be willing to let the verses say what they say. Yes, it will get lengthy, so I have tried to make it as short as I can. For simplicity’s sake, I will give a brief answer first, and then provide the details in a “longer answer.”

Let us first read the passage in question, Galatians 2:11-21:

“[11] But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. [12] For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. [13] And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. [14] But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, 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? [15] We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, [16] Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”

“[17] But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. [18] For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. [19] For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. [20] I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. [21] I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

THE BRIEF ANSWER

My understanding of the above passage is that Paul’s quote ends at the close of verse 16. That is why I reproduced the passage above with a paragraph break between verses 16 and 17. Verses 11 through 16 involve Peter and Paul, while verse 17 through to the end of the epistle are the words of Paul to the Galatians. Acknowledging this break will help dispel much of the confusion as to what Paul actually told Peter.

I do not think Paul was telling Peter and the Little Flock they were now under grace. Peter and the Little Flock were still under the Law. Remember, James throughout his epistle instructed the Little Flock to continue Law-keeping. In Acts chapter 21—which occurred years after Galatians chapter 2 (Acts chapter 15)—the Little Flock still kept the Mosaic Law and participated in Temple worship (“thousands of Jews… which believe; and they are all zealous of the law;” Acts 21:20). So, it seems to me that Paul, in Galatians 2:16-18, was telling Peter/Little Flock that his (that is, Paul’s) converts were under grace, and Peter’s actions were confusing Paul’s converts.

Remember, Jesus (like the epistles of James and 1 John) told the Little Flock to keep the Law of Moses. The Lord Jesus said that if the members of the Messianic Church did not keep the commandments of the Mosaic Law and teach others to do the same, they would be “least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20; cf. Matthew 28:19-20). The only possible exception to this rule that I can see is if members of the Little Flock went and fellowshipped/ate with Paul’s Gentile converts (such as in Galatians chapter 2, your question). For the sake of these new converts in Paul’s ministry, Israel’s Little Flock could temporarily abandon their Law-keeping. In day-to-day living amongst themselves, apart from fellowshipping with Paul’s Gentile converts, the Little Flock was to follow Moses. That goes back to James’ epistle and John’s epistle of Law-keeping, Acts chapter 21, and Jesus’ legalistic commands to the Little Flock.

That is the simple answer, but it leaves various questions unanswered, so we proceed to “fill in the details.”

THE MORE DETAILED ANSWER

Here are some assorted notes I have collected while researching your question. They may help you with details as well as cause you to see the overall picture.

Once more, please note that Paul’s words to Peter are found in Galatians 2:14-16. Paul did not speak to Peter the words of verses 17-21. Verses 17-21 seem to be Paul’s words written to the Galatians. So, Paul’s verbal/spoken quotation closes at the end of verse 16. We can avoid much confusion by realizing this. (Paul’s discussion with Peter is what Paul uses in verses 17-21 to demonstrate to the Galatians that Law-keeping was unnecessary for the Body of Christ. Verses 1-16 are two illustrations [1-10 and 11-16] Paul used to teach the Galatians about the dispensational change from Law to Grace, Peter to Paul, prophecy to mystery, Israel to Body of Christ, et cetera. Paul’s argument in epistle to the Galatians was not that the Little Flock was under grace, but rather that the Body of Christ was under grace.)

To better understand Galatians 2:11-16, remember the previous 10 verses. Galatians 2:1-10 is the famous Jerusalem Council of Acts chapter 15 that I mentioned earlier. Galatians 2:11-16 occurred immediately after that apostolic council. Note the circumstances surrounding, and the results of, that Jerusalem Council.

Firstly, why was this Jerusalem Council of Acts chapter 15 even held? Believing Law-keeping Messianic Jews had confused Paul’s converts into embracing legalism. We will briefly read Acts 15:1-5:

“[1] And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. [2] When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. [3] And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. [4] And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. [5] But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”

Jesus Christ instructed Paul to go to Jerusalem and tell the elders and apostles of Israel about his new Gospel message and God’s change in programs. Luke recorded it in Acts and Paul wrote about it in Galatians 2:1-10. That Jerusalem Council, when you study all of Acts chapter 15, agreed that legalism was not necessary for Paul’s converts because of the dispensational change. At that apostolic council, Peter and the 10 (minus James) learned of Paul’s Gospel for the first time. They agreed that Paul’s converts did not have to observe the Mosaic Law, including the kosher food laws (see Acts 15:19-29). In fact, the Jerusalem kingdom saints even sent a letter to Paul’s converts to apologize for those legalizers who had oppressed and confused them.

Now, right after this council, Peter came to Antioch. That is the passage you have asked about. Let us read Galatians 2:11-16, once more:

“[11] But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. [12] For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. [13] And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. [14] But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, 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? [15] We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, [16] Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”

Please note again that the dialogue/conversation between Peter and Paul stopped here. In other words, Paul did not tell Peter the words of verses 17-21. A close examination of the change in language seems to indicate that verse 17 onward was Paul’s words to the Galatians.

So, how was Peter acting wrong in Antioch? He was turning away from that agreement reached in Acts chapter 15 earlier. By him fearing those Jewish visitors and then withdrawing from eating with Paul’s Gentile converts, it caused Paul’s converts to stumble. Paul then (rightly but respectfully) rebuked Peter. Paul’s words in Galatians 2:14 indicate that Peter was, by example, greatly pressuring Paul’s Gentiles to now observe kosher food laws as well. Peter was “compelling the Gentiles to live as do the Jews.” These believing Gentiles had first heard from the Jerusalem Church that it was now okay for them to eat non-kosher foods, but then Peter suddenly acted like it was not okay for them to eat non-kosher foods. Even Barnabas was negatively affected, carried away with their “dissimulation” (hypocrisy), verse 13 says. “Dissembled” means “to have acted hypocritically with.” There was no sincerity in Peter’s withdrawal. Other Jews and Barnabas were pressured to (and did) play the hypocrite with Peter. It was a huge stumbling block for the believing Gentiles (whom Satan had already attacked earlier prior to the Jerusalem Council).

That epistle from Jerusalem to Antioch condoned Gentile Christians eating non-kosher foods, but Peter’s actions caused the sincerity of the letter to be questioned. (The believing Gentiles probably asked themselves, “The Jerusalem Church approved our non-kosher foods, and Peter signed that letter too, but now that Peter is here he is pressuring us to follow him in avoiding the non-kosher foods, just to please these Jewish visitors?! Did those Jews from James not agree we could eat these non-kosher foods?! Were they lying to us?”) It was as if now Peter, the representative from Jerusalem, did not agree with the letter from Jerusalem he had endorsed earlier. It made the Gentiles in Antioch question that letter. The Jerusalem Church and its efforts to get along with Paul’s Gentiles in Antioch were greatly disrupted. Satan was working overtime here, and Paul rightly blamed Peter.

Paul said that Peter and those other Jews “walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel” (verse 14). “The truth of the gospel” is that we—the Body of Christ, Paul’s converts, not the Little Flock—are free from the Law of Moses and its kosher food laws. That was Paul’s whole argument in the entire epistle of Galatians. The “Gospel” here is the Gospel of the Grace of God, not Israel’s Kingdom Gospel. Paul made it clear to Peter and these other Jews again—just as he did in that Jerusalem Council—that legalism did not belong where the Gospel of Grace was present. If the Little Flock would come to his Gentile assemblies for visits, these kingdom Jews would have to give way to the current program of God and temporarily abandon those dietary restrictions. When these kingdom Jews returned to their own assemblies, they were to return to the Law as the Lord Jesus Christ had previously told them. God’s current Dispensation of Grace had not abolished Law-keeping in Israel’s program. It had merely prohibited Law-keeping among Paul’s Gentile converts and other Gentiles who would be saved later under Paul’s ministry.

Again, in Peter’s own program, Law-keeping was necessary. Matthew 5:17-18, which we looked at earlier, says that. However, when it came to Peter fellowshipping with Paul’s converts, the Holy Spirit through Paul approved Peter eating non-kosher foods. After all, Peter should have embraced the agreement reached in Acts chapter 15 and Galatians chapter 2. All the leaders of the Jerusalem Church and Paul and Barnabas—all filled with the Holy Spirit—made that agreement and Peter should have kept it. (Peter should have said in Galatians 2:11-16, “I am not going to act in such a way that Paul’s converts stumble. They have already been confused enough. I agreed they did not have to observe Moses and the kosher food laws. I should temporarily suspend my Law-keeping to show the Gentiles I meant what I said in the letter. I need to keep the weaker brethren in mind. We Jewish believers are more spiritually mature and have known righteous living longer than Paul’s converts, so we need to be mindful of their edification.”)

What was Paul really telling Peter in Galatians 2:15-16? Let us briefly talk a little more about that phrase, “the truth of the gospel.”

“[15] We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, [16] Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”

The first and foremost issue in Israel’s program or our program is faith/belief/trust. The message that Peter and the 11 preached was a works message, but it required faith first. “But without faith it is impossible to please [God]; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). That faith then led that Jewish kingdom believer to do what the message commanded (confession of sins, repentance, water baptism, Law-keeping, et cetera). In contradistinction, our gospel message does not have those works attached to it. According to Paul, Peter in Galatians 2:11-16 did not believe our message was true for Paul’s Gentiles in Antioch. Peter in his behavior was causing Paul’s Gentiles to return to the Law of Moses, directly opposing: (1) our Gospel of Grace, and (2) the agreement reached in Acts chapter 15. In short, Peter’s hypocritical behavior reversed any friendly progress that had been made between the two groups of believers, Jerusalem and Antioch.

We will briefly look at Acts 15:1-5 once more: “[1] And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. [2] When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. [3] And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. [4] And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. [5] But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”

If you notice verses 1 and 5, in bolded type, Jewish legalists had gone to Paul’s Gentile converts and told them to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses to be saved (or “justified before God”). That great apostolic meeting here was convened to settle the matter. What Paul was telling Peter in Galatians 2:15-16 was a reminder that Paul’s converts were not justified by Law-keeping (kosher foods), but by faith in Jesus Christ’s faith (His finished crosswork as sufficient payment for their sins). Works belonged with Peter and the 11 and the Little Flock in their prophetic-kingdom program, but Peter had no right to introduce religious-works into the Body of Christ. He was just as much in error as the legalists who prompted the Jerusalem Council earlier in the chapter.

Also see:
» What about Acts 15:11?
» Did Peter and Paul preach the same Gospel?
» Could you compare and contrast Peter’s ministry and Paul’s ministry?

One response to “Can you explain Galatians 2:11-16?

  1. Pingback: The Truth of the Gospel | 333 Words of Grace

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