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The Gospel Not Bondage to the Law
Summary —Paul's Later Journey to Jerusalem. The Object of the Visit, Titus with Him, but Uncircumcised. Peter, James and John Apostles to the Circumcision; Paul and Barnabas to the Uncircumcision. The Right Hand of Fellowship. The Rebuke of Peter at Antioch. Justified by Faith in Christ; Not by Works of the Law.
1. Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem. “Three years after” his conversion he went up to Jerusalem (1:18); fourteen years after, he went up again. If his conversion took place about a.d. 37, as is generally supposed, the visit now spoken of was in a.d. 51. At that time we find that Paul and Barnabas and “certain others” went up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this very question of the relation of the Gentile Christians to Judaism. See Acts 15. That this is the visit Paul means, is evident (1) because it is the right date; (2) the right persons are present, viz: Paul, Barnabas, Peter and James, and (3) the right question is the one discussed. The visit of Gal. 1:17. is mentioned in Acts 9:22 and took place in a.d. 40. Another, to carry relief at a time of famine, took place in a.d. 44 (Acts 11:30; 12:25); and the third, here referred to, took place in a.d. 50 or 51. Took Titus with me. Titus is not named in Acts 15:2, but only that “certain other” went with Paul and Barnabas.
2–5. And I went up by revelation. Because Christ revealed to me that I ought to go. Communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles. For at least ten years he had been preaching among the Gentiles with great success, calling upon them to obey the gospel; not the law of Moses. He now explained to the Jerusalem Christians the gospel which he had preached, privately to them who were of reputation, to such men as Peter and James, so that there would be a full understanding before the public meeting described in Acts 15. Lest, perchance, I should run. Lest his apostolic labor should be made fruitless by the action of the Jewish Christians. 3. But neither Titus, etc. Though Titus, a Gentile Christian and a minister, was with him, he was not compelled to be circumcised. 4. And that because of false brethren. In the case of Timothy (Acts 16:3) Paul had circumcised him, not as a matter of obligation, or out of deference to the views of Jewish Christians, but so that he could reach unconverted Jews better, who would not listen to a Gentile. The apostles might have recommended the circumcision of Titus, Paul here intimates, not as a matter of duty, but of prudence, had it not been made an issue by the false brethren. He could not yield to such a demand without a sacrifice of principle. Unawares brought in. These false brethren were really Jews who had slipped into the church. To spy out our liberty. Really enemies in the guise of friends whose object was to take away the freedom of the gospel, and subject Christians to the bondage of the Jewish law. 5. To whom we gave place, no, not for an hour. We refused to yield 169to any of their demands. See Acts 15:5. Paul sternly opposed their demands in order to preserve the truth of the gospel among the Gentiles. The motive of his firmness was to make the future safe. Had he yielded a jot, advantage would have been taken of it.
6–10. But of these who seemed to be somewhat. Who held high positions in the church; the apostles at Jerusalem; Peter, James and John, who are mentioned below. Whatsoever they are, it maketh no matter. However high their position, that does not alter the facts. They who seemed to be somewhat in conference. The leaders in the conference described in Acts 15. Added nothing to me. They gave me no new instructions or authority. They had no change to suggest in the gospel I preached. 7. When they saw. They perceived that I had been sent to the Gentiles, as Peter had the leading part in preaching to the Jews. 8. For he that wrought effectually in Peter. As Christ gave Peter the wisdom, knowledge and power needful to establish the church among the Jews, so he had fully endowed Paul for a similar work among the Gentiles. 9. And when James, Cephas and John. Cephas is the Hebrew name of Peter. See John 1:42. The rest of the apostles were probably absent from Jerusalem at the time of this visit. Who seemed to be pillars. Chief men; supports of the church. Perceived the grace. See verse 7. They gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship. An agreement was made that Paul and Barnabas should have supervision of the work among the Gentiles, and as a pledge of that agreement their hands were given. 10. Only they would that we should remember the poor. Continue the collections in the Gentile churches for the poor at Jerusalem. We have seen Paul constantly active in this work (1 Cor. 16:1).
Note —In order to understand this epistle and parts of others, the reader must keep in mind the two great divisions of apostolic Christianity, the Jew and the Gentile. Of the Jewish, Peter, James and John were leaders; of the Gentile, Paul and Barnabas. These leaders were in full harmony, but the two sections of the church were not equally harmonious. The Jewish Christians, as a rule, still kept the Jewish law, and hoped for the conversion of the whole Jewish nation, until the destruction of Jerusalem; one extreme wing of them insisted that the Gentiles should keep the Jewish law, also. It is with this wing that Paul comes in conflict. Here in this chapter, and also in Acts 15, we have accounts of the conflict. After Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple in ruins, and the church removed elsewhere, the Jewish Christians gradually gave up the Jewish law, and the two divisions welded into one body in which there was neither Jew nor Gentile, but all one in Christ.
11–14. But when Peter came to Antioch. It is not certainly known when this event occurred, but probably not far from a.d. 51. Paul narrates it to show that Peter had no superiority over him, as 170the Judaizers claimed, and as the Romanists still assert. Peter did a wrong thing, and Paul rebuked him for it. 12. Before certain came from James. Men sent from Jerusalem by James, who stood now at the head of that church. He did eat with Gentiles. See Acts 11:3. Peter had no scruples about eating with Gentile Christians, but many of the Jewish Christians did. Hence he did before the messengers came from James what he refused to do after they came, “separating himself” from the Gentile Christians at Antioch. 13. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him. The other Jewish Christians at Antioch. To change their course thus, because of fear of these men from Jerusalem, was to dissemble. Even Barnabas, Paul's long-time companion in labor, was infected. 14. But when I saw. It was time to act decisively. Antioch was a great center. It was important that no wrong influences go forth from that center. Hence Paul administered the stern rebuke to Peter which follows. Before them all. The rebuke was on a public occasion. If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles. He had, right there in Antioch, lived with the Gentile Christians according to their customs (verse 12). Why compellest thou the Gentiles, etc. Now, he insisted, at least by his example, that the Gentile Christians should become Jews. He virtually refused to fellowship them.
15–21. We. You and I. Both Paul and Peter were Jews by birth, and not Gentiles sinners. As Jews were wont to call the Gentile heathen. 16. Knowing. There were certain facts that both of them knew. One of them was that men were justified (that is, forgiven) not by the works of the law (of Moses), but by the faith of Jesus Christ; that is, by the gospel. Both had believed on Christ in order that they might be justified. For by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. This passage, quoted in Rom. 3:20, is found in Psalm 143:2. 17. But if … we were found sinners. We, Paul and Peter. We came to Christ for justification, because the gospel revealed to us that we were sinners, though professing to keep the law of Moses. Is therefore Christ the minister of sin? Did Christ make us Jews sinners? No, but when the knowledge of the gospel comes, they find that they are and have been sinners like the Gentiles. Christ only reveals to them their sinful 171state. 18. If I build up again the things which I destroyed. Go back from Christ to Moses, and teach others to do the same. I make myself a transgressor. For thus I teach men to trust in the works of the law which cannot justify. 19. For I through the law am dead to the law. Compare Rom. 7:4–6, and see notes there; also Col. 2:20. When the knowledge of Christ came, and he saw his faulty obedience to the law, he realized that he was dead in sin, slain by the law. But having died, he was freed from the law, when he became a new creature in Christ. 20. I have been crucified with Christ. By faith Paul was crucified at his conversion, crucified in the flesh, died to the old life with Christ. Now he lives, or rather, Christ liveth in him. The old life is laid aside, and the new life is a Christlike life, due to the spirit of Christ. He is now merged in Christ. Live by faith. Faith is the bond that binds him to Christ and enables him to live the new life. 21. I do not frustrate the grace of God. He would do so, if he went back to the Jewish law, and trusted in it. If it gave righteousness, then the gospel was not needed, and Christ died in vain.
Note —The account in this chapter of Paul's visit to Jerusalem, and of his controversy with Peter, is utterly inconsistent with the Romish doctrine of the supremacy of Peter. No Pope could or would allow a bishop or cardinal to “rebuke him openly,” as Paul did Peter. So, too, the reference of the controversy in Acts 15, to “the apostles and elders,” instead of to Peter, and the final judgment of James, which was received, contradict the Vatican system. Indeed, the doctrine of popedom is utterly inconsistent with the whole tenor of the Acts, and the Pauline Epistles.… This meeting at Antioch is the last between Peter and Paul of which the New Testament gives record. Early church tradition, however, reports that they met once in Rome, where they were tried and condemned on the same day, and then parted, Peter to be crucified on the hill of the Janiculum, and Paul, the Roman citizen, to be beheaded at the Three Fountains on the Ostian Way. Could we rely upon this tradition it would seem fitting that the two greatest apostles, of the Circumcision and of the Uncircumcision, should lay down their burdens together and go side by side to report their work to their common Lord. 171
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