Paul’s Authority Demonstrated

Galatians 2:11-21


Peter’s Hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-14)

The equality of the apostles was demonstrated in an event that occurred in Antioch. It most likely occurred after Paul’s first journey (Acts 13-14). Galatians 2:5 indicates that the churches in Galatia were already established, which happened during the first journey. Acts 14:28 mentions that Paul and Barnabas spent a long time in Antioch. Acts 15:1 mentions that brethren came from Jerusalem teaching that the Gentiles had to be circumcised, and Acts 15:2 mentions that Paul and Barnabas opposed the teaching.

Peter visited this congregation and at first, treated the Gentiles and Jews equally. However, when certain men, sent by James, also came to Antioch, Peter stopped associating with the Gentiles out of fear of offending those who believed that circumcision was still required (Acts 15:5). It should not be assumed that James shared these men’s views (Acts 15:13-19,24); rather, these men likely claimed authority simply because James sent them to Antioch.

Because Peter was seen as the apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2:7), other Jewish Christians in Antioch began to imitate his behavior. Even Barnabas, who traveled with Paul into the Gentile regions, got caught up with this exclusive behavior.

Paul, however, saw this behavior by the Jews as a twisting of the Gospel. He opposed Peter because Peter was condemned before God. Paul saw the withdrawal from the Gentiles as hypocrisy (an act). Paul rebuked Peter publically because his leadership position led others to also stray (I Timothy 5:20).

We Are Justified by Christ and Not the Law (Galatians 2:14-17)

Paul’s initial point is that Peter and the other Jews do no live completely according to the laws of Moses. Rather, they kept some of Moses’ Law and expected others to do the same. But if Peter understood that he wasn’t under all the ordinances of the Old Law, then why would he insist that those who had never been under the Law keep portions of the Old Law? His stance is not consistent.

Peter had been the one to first teach Gentiles the Gospel and he spent time with them (Acts 10:48; 11:3). And when he first came to Antioch, he was associating with the Gentile Christians (Galatians 2:12). He changed, but not because God commanded a change. He allowed his fear of offending others to take a hypocritical stance.

Both Peter and Paul were by physical lineage Jews. They were men who strove for righteousness and did not grow up as sinners among the Gentiles. But even with their advantages in upbringing, they both know that justification from God does not come from keeping the Law of Moses but from an obedient belief in Christ (Romans 4:16). That is how they became justified. No one is justified by an observance of the Old Law (Romans 3:19-20). In this, Paul is bringing up a point similar to one Peter made when the Gentiles were first converted (Acts 11:17).

Since the Old Law could not justify a man, both Peter and Paul sought for justification in Christ. However, such a justification cannot be obtained while remaining in the sinful state they formerly found themselves in. To argue that you could continue in your former state while being justified by Christ would be to argue Christ accepts sinners in their sins. This is an impossibility.

I Cannot Go Back (Galatians 2:18-21)

Paul shifts his arguments to his personal situation. He does not include Peter and the Jewish Christians because they have not spent years teaching the end of the Law of Moses.

If Paul restored the Old Law after spending years tearing it down, he would prove himself to be a sinner. Either he was wrong in claiming the Old Law is no longer in effect, or he would be wrong in trying to reestablish it.

Paul has died to the Law (Romans 7:4). It no longer has control over his life. It was the law itself that led to its own conclusion (Galatians 3:24; Romans 10:4). The Law spoke of its own end (Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Jeremiah 31:31-32).

By leaving the Law that brought about death, Paul now lives (Romans 8:2). Paul was crucified with Christ through baptism (Romans 6:3-7; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 2:11-14). But he did not remain dead and inactive; instead, he was made alive by Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). Therefore, Paul understands that his life is no longer his own (Colossians 3:3-4). He remains in this physical world, but his life is now spiritual (II Corinthians 4:11). It belongs to the one who gave him life (II Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 5:24; 6:14; I Peter 4:1-2). Christ lives in him (II Corinthians 13:5; Colossians 1:27). His life came about by his faith in the Son of God who loved him (John 15:13).

If Paul were to go back to the Law of Moses, he would be nullifying the gift God gave him.

If it were really true that you could be righteous under the Old Law, then there would have been no need for Christ’s death upon the cross – a death necessary to bring about a change in the law (Hebrews 9:15).

For Discussion:

  1. Why do you suppose Paul calls Simon by his Aramaic name, Cephas, instead of his commonly used Greek nickname, Peter?


  1. Write a short summary in the margins of your Bible of what each chapter in Galatians is about. These will help you locate information in the future.
  2. Add section themes. They will help you see the flow of the discussion in the book.
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