Read Galatians 2 at Bible Gateway.
Now we are getting to the heart of the different gospel that Paul has written this letter about. The header, which is in my Bible, which was put there by man and not by Paul, says, “No Return to the Law.” Most people who object to obeying the LORD’s commandments written in the Old Testament, object because of phrases like “No Return to the Law” from Galatians. But what is Paul saying?
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.
And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me.
But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do. Gal 2:1-10
We must read these ten verses together. This meeting is recorded elsewhere in the New Testament, in Act 15. Paul gives a condensed version of it here in Gal 2, and leaves out some details. But the details he does give match up to the details recorded in Act 15, so we know that he is speaking of the same meeting. At this meeting some very specific things happened.
In Gal 2:4, Paul says false brethren were stirring up trouble in the church, and we have an inkling by the comment about Titus and circumcision in Gal 2:3, that the trouble had something to do with circumcision.
And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Act 15:1
Ah! Here is the different gospel! Men from Judea are Jews, and the dispute was what is required for salvation; i.e. being made right before God in His eyes so as to attain to eternal life. That is the gospel or good news.
Going on in Act 15, we find that Paul and Barnabas with others were sent on purpose to Jerusalem to ask the apostles to settle the matter of what is the true gospel. This jives with Paul’s account in Gal 2:1.
Paul had been arguing for a salvation which was through grace by faith in Jesus Christ for Jew and Gentile alike (Act 15:2), and some of the brethren from Judea, who were causing the dispute, were arguing for a salvation which first required Gentiles to convert to Judaism (of which the sign was circumcision) and then they could be saved, after they had met the requirements of the Law (Act 15:5). That the dispute was about what was necessary to be saved, Peter reaffirms:
“But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” Act 15:11
The apostles agreed with Paul, as Paul relates in Gal 2, and then they had a few further instructions for the Gentiles, as Paul relates in Gal 2:10.
Now we have to be careful reading Act 15 and Gal 2. Because of our pre-conditioning, it is easy to read these two chapters and assume Paul is saying that no one is any more to obey the Law. But they were not disputing whether the Law was to be obeyed or not. James even says in Act 15:21 that the Gentiles will hear Moses (the Law) being taught every Sabbath in the synagogue in every city. That is where believers met in those days. Anyone who believed in Jesus as the Messiah, Jew and Gentile alike, met in the synagogue on the Sabbath (unless they met for prayer together or specific teaching in someone’s home).
The implication is, Gentiles only need to do one thing to get saved, and that is believe in Jesus; but after they have been saved and start attending church (synagogue), they will hear Moses being taught, and as they learn the Law, they will learn what they ought to do and not do, in the process of time. But obeying the Law is not a prerequisite for salvation.
Going on in Gal 2:
Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. Gal 2:11-15
In the Law, Israel is commanded to have no association with Gentile idolators. In the same Law, over and over again, it says that if a Gentile attaches himself to YHVH, then he is to be treated as one who is native born, and there is to be one Law for the native and the foreigner (Gentile) among them. In fact, if an Israelite refused to treat a Gentile who had attached himself to YHVH as one who was native born, then he himself was breaking Torah.
But ever since the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity in 480 BC, the religious leaders who became the Pharisees and Saducees and rabbis, began adding traditions of men to the Torah, which are written in a book called the Talmud (Oral Law). The Talmud is Babylonian traditions added to Judaism, just as Babylonian traditions have been added to Christianity through Catholicism.
So the Jews of Paul’s day obeyed the Torah, and the Talmud. Jesus was constantly butting heads with the Pharisees over this. The Pharisees wanted Him to obey the Talmud too (do not heal people on the Sabbath) but Jesus refused to obey traditions of men when they conflicted with the true meaning of obeying the Torah.
Now Peter came to Antioch and was eating with Gentile believers. He was obeying Torah, but not Talmud. Talmud said no Jews were ever to eat with Gentiles, period. So when Jews came from James, Peter, knowing them, withdrew from the Gentiles, and this threw Paul into a tizzy fit.
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” Gal 2:14-16
So Paul reproved Peter publically about the issue of justification (salvation, the gospel, that which makes us right before God – acquited as in a court of law for our accused transgressions of the Law; vs. 16). It must mean that Peter was intimidated by the Jews which came from James, maybe knowing them that they were sticklers for obedience to Torah and Talmud, as most Jews were in those days? Or perhaps they were sympathetic with the you must be circumcised side of the argument.
“But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!” Gal 2:17
In other words, even when we have received Christ by faith, we still sin and make mistakes, but that does not make Messiah Yeshua or His gospel a minister of sin.
“For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.” Gal 2:18-19
What has been destroyed, is this idea of the religious leaders that righteousness can be obtained by obeying the Law. Even Moses said in Deu 9 that obtaining righteousness before God was not the purpose of obeying the Law — and all through the book he reiterates over and over again that the purpose of obeying the Law is so that we might have physical blessings of happiness and health, and well being in this life.
Paul, through the Law, i.e. because grace was prophesied by the Law, died to the Law, died to it as a means of gaining God’s favor and gaining salvation. He did not have to work his own works of righteousness anymore in order to be in right standing with God (salvation), so with that not hanging over his head anymore, he can now live for God.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” Gal 2:20-21
With the understanding we have now, we can see what Paul is saying. If it was possible to get saved by our own righteousness of obedience to the Law, then Jesus died for no reason. I have heard preachers say that anyone who tries to obey the Law has set aside the grace of God and makes the death of Christ in vain. But Paul doesn’t say that. We have only set aside the grace of God if we are trying to gain righteousness in God’s eyes (right- standing, justification, or salvation) by obeying the Law.
For further reading:
The righteousness that is of faith