A very distressing situation had developed in Galatia. In short, the liberty of the gospel was being undermined by Jewish Christians that were insisting adherence to the Mosaic Law. These were people that were distorting the gospel! I took as my key verse for this chapter verse 20.
NIV Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Paul’s words, “I live by faith in the Son of God” were being changed to something like, “I live by faith in the Son of God and works of the law.” How did they get there?
The growth of churches in pagan gentile areas had become exponential. Before long there would be more “Gentile Christians” than “Jewish Christians” in the world. The Jewish Christians feared that the increase of so many Gentile believers would bring about a weakening of Christian moral standards in the church, and frankly, the indication of Paul’s Corinthian letters show that their doubts were not totally unjustified. How could they control this worrisome situation?
Some key and outspoken participants of the Jerusalem church had a simple solution. Let the Gentiles be received under the provisos similar to those required of proselytes to Judaism! Let them first be circumcised and adhere to the keeping of the Mosaic Law. These Judaizers (as they would later be known as) felt these obligations would keep the weakening of Christian moral standards and worldliness at bay. Commitment to observe the law would maintain the necessary holiness in the church. What they hadn’t figured was it would squeeze the life and liberty right out of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Holiness does not come by works of the law through the flesh but by a life in the Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ!
And so the Judaizers came to Antioch, where Paul fellowshipped, and there they attempted to teach “faith in Jesus” plus more. In the book of Acts we see Paul, with other key people in Antioch, withstanding these Judaizers.
NIV Acts 15:1 Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.
The issue would eventually take Paul and Barnabas all the way to Jerusalem – but not before our narrative turns to Galatia. The problem that developed in Antioch would not be confined to the Antioch church. It wasn’t long before Paul gets wind of something else. The Judaizers were spreading their teaching to the young churches of South Galatia – places that Paul had personally labored.
They were urging upon the Gentile believers that “faith in Jesus” required the supplementation of circumcision and observance to the Jewish ceremonial law – the same damaging message given in Antioch. And, in their innocence, these new Christians were disposed to accept this new teaching. When news of this came to Paul at Antioch, just before he left with Barnabas to go deal with the problem in Jerusalem, it is thought that he wrote his Epistle to the Galatians. Out of urgency, he enjoined them not to be seduced from Christian simplicity by these who were distorting the gospel that really was not a gospel at all.
NASB Galatians 1:6 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel ; 7 which is really not another ; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
The Judaizers in their presentation pointed strongly that since they came from Jerusalem, and were personally connected with the original Apostles who firsthand knew the Lord when He walked this earth, they should be listened to! They inferred they carried the weight of apostolic authority and were much more qualified and knowledgeable than Paul in these matters.
That’s why in Chapter One Paul gives a short personal testimony of how he received the gospel and His calling from God. He received it by direct revelation from God without any influence of the 12 apostles. In fact, Paul notes that the only contact he had after the first 3 years of being saved was the 15 days he spent with Peter and visiting James the Elder – half brother of the Lord. On none of these occasions did Paul receive his apostolic authority from Jerusalem or them. What he’s saying is something like, the Judaizers come on the strength of their call by the apostles and leaders in Jerusalem; I do not. God called me personally, if you have problems with my authority as an apostle you’ll have to go to God and talk to him about it personally.
When we come to Chapter Two a transition is taking place. In light of these issues Paul is going to give two personal experiences that weigh heavy on his authority and then he wraps up the chapter by setting up the occasion to present the doctrinal reasons these Judaizers are wrong. I continue with verses 1-10 in part 2.
J. Robert Hanson