Galatians 2:11-21 Did Jesus die for nothing?

by | Sep 13, 2023 | 01 Podcasts, Galatians

Galatians 2:11-21: Paul includes rebuking Peter as part of his defense. Paul could rebuke Peter because they had the same view of the gospel. This incident serves two purposes: 1) it furthers Paul’s claim that he and the apostles teach the same gospel; and 2) it introduces this issue of whether gentile believers must keep the law.


Paul wrote this letter around 49 AD, about 15 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus to churches he founded during his first missionary journey. After Paul left, the Judaizers began teaching the Galatians they must keep the law to be fully Christian. Paul wrote this letter in response.

Paul opens his letter by defending his authority and his gospel. He argues you can recognize the true gospel by its source and its substance. Its source is divine revelation from God. Its substance is a complete understanding of the cross of Jesus Christ.

Paul defends his trustworthiness. He argues they can have utter confidence in the message he preached to them because he received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. Further, his message is the same as the other apostles.

This event probably occurred around 48 AD before the Council of Jerusalem.

Passage: Galatians 2:11-21:

11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” – Galatians 2:11-14

For each apostle, we’ll ask three questions: What did he do? Why did he do it? What resulted from his actions?

  • Cephas is Peter’s Aramaic name.
  • The men “from James” are Judaizers from Jerusalem.
  • James need not agree with them. In the same way, we might same we had visitors from John MacArthur’s church. John MacArthur may never have met them.
  • Before these Judaizers came, Paul, Barnabas and Peter were sharing meals with Gentile believers. After the Judaizers came, Peter stopped socializing with Gentiles and many Jews joined him in this behavior.
  • We know Peter believed Gentiles are also saved by faith (Acts 10:34-35).
  • Peter still believed the gospel, but he failed to practice it.
  • Paul makes his rebuke public because the truth of the gospel is at stake and this is a public debate.
  • Peter’s actions make it appear he sides with the Judaizers when, in fact, he does not.
  • We are not explicitly told that Peter repented, but it is implied.
  • Paul could rebuke Peter because they believed the same gospel.
  • Paul argues: If Jews have the freedom to live like Gentiles, then why pressure Gentiles to live like Jews? If you, a Jew, come to God by faith, then how can you pressure the Gentiles to please God by keeping the law?

15We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.  – Galatians 2:15-26

  • 2:15-16—Paul defines justification by faith.
  • 2:17-21—Paul refutes a common objection to this doctrine.
  • Unlike the Gentiles, Jews were born into a culture which knew God and taught to keep the Law. Every guilt or sin offering acknowledges their failure to keep the law. Through keeping the law they learned the only way to be justified was by faith in Jesus Christ.

See What is justification?

  • Justification is the forgiveness of our debt to justice, which qualifies us to receive Life and God’s blessings. To be justified is to be in a position where God’s justice is satisfied.
  • Jesus’s death on the cross paid the penalty for our guilt, reconciled us to God and allowed Him to give us His Spirit to make us holy.
  • All we have to do is believe.

See What is saving faith?

17But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. – Galatians 2:17-21

  • 2:17 Paul’s critics say if law-keeping doesn’t matter, he’s giving people a license to sin. That would promote sinful behavior, so Paul’s gospel must be wrong. Paul refutes that claim.
  • 2:18 If I go back to law-keeping, I will only prove that I am sinful.
  • 2:19 I gave up trying to keep the law to gain justification and I now seek justification through faith in Christ.
  • 2:20 It’s as if I died to that old way of living. I agree I am sinful and need a savior. I trust God will forgive me because of the cross of Jesus. The gospel does not mean that we cannot sin again, but that we no longer want to sin. We have metaphorically died to that way of life.
  • 2:21 The gospel does not contradict the grace of God. If anyone can gain life under the Mosaic covenant, then Christ did not need to die.

Paul rebuked Peter over the same issues now troubling the Galatians: that law-keeping is a necessary part of the being a believer, required of Gentiles and Jews alike. Paul’s laying the foundation to contradict that view. Paul appealed to Peter based on what they both knew to be true.

Please listen to the podcast for more detail and explanation.

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Series: Galatians: Living by Faith

Study: Galatians Resources

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