After receiving a comment regarding the date this letter was written (view this comment by scrolling to bottom of this page and clicking on "comments"), I’ve taken another look at the timeline of Paul’s missionary journeys and other events during that period of time. I’ve concluded the book of Galatians was probably written sometime AFTER the Jerusalem council, making it sometime between 49AD and 53AD.
In chapter 1, Paul told about visiting Peter in Jerusalem and meeting James. He explained he had already been preaching the gospel for years before meeting these men. Therefore, he could not have received the gospel from them as the false teachers had claimed.
Vs.1: Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also.
Here, Paul is continuing to explain that it was 14 years later before he returned to Jerusalem, and Barnabas and Titus had gone with him.
- Barnabas’s given name was Joseph, and he was a Levite from the island of Cyprus. He had been Paul’s companion on the first missionary journey.
- Titus was a Gentile and a Christian who served as Paul’s delegate to Corinth and was later left in Crete to oversee the church there. Paul had a specific reason for taking Titus with him on this trip; he wanted to see how the leaders of the church accepted Titus since he was a Gentile who had not been circumcised.
Vs. 2: I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.
Paul went to the ones who seemed to be the leaders of the church (probably James, Peter, and John) to explain to them what he had been preaching and to confer with them. He was beginning to feel as if all he had taught had been in vain because the churches were already beginning to listen to the false teachers. He was looking for moral support and advice from fellow Christians.
Vs. 3: Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.
Even the leaders of the church in Jerusalem must have agreed with him concerning the old law not needing to be followed anymore because Titus, who was a Greek, had been accepted as a Christian without circumcision.
Vs. 4: This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.
The Judaizers had entered into the church and tried to convince everyone that in order to be saved, you had to first be a Jew. If you were a Gentile, then you had to be circumcised to convert to being a Jew. So Paul is saying by doing this, these Judaizers were taking away the freedom God was trying to give us from the slavery of the old law. Jesus Christ freed us from those laws when he died on the cross. We need only to believe and accept the grace of God for salvation, not live by a lot of out-dated laws.
Vs. 5: We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.
Vs. 6: As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message.
Vs. 7: On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews.
In fact, they had agreed with all of what he had taught. They understood it was his job to preach to the Gentiles just as it was Peter’s job to teach the gospel to the Jews. This is not to say Paul didn’t preach to Jews at all. In fact, he usually went to the synagogue first whenever he arrived in a city. But he did consider himself to be foremost an apostle to the Gentiles.
Vs. 9: James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.
Pillars—a common metaphor used during that time for those who represent and strongly support an institution. These ‘pillars’ of the church had recognized Paul and Barnabas as fellow Christians. The ‘right hand of fellowship’ was a common practice during that time among both Hebrews and Greeks indicating a pledge of friendship. We still use this ritual today in a handshake.
Vs. 11: When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.
Antioch was the leading city in Syria and the third leading city of the Roman empire. Paul had left from this city for each of his missionary journeys, so it was like home base for him.
Peter used to fellowship with the Gentiles until some Jews came from Jerusalem, sent by James. Then he separated himself from the Gentiles and began hanging out with the Judaizers so these important people from the leading church in Jerusalem would see he was a good Jew. He knew the Judaizers were wrong in their teachings, but he was afraid to go up against them.
There are preachers doing this today. They don’t always agree with the church associations, but must abide by what they say or they might be thrown out. Or they are afraid to preach certain sermons from the pulpit for fear of upsetting some church members. In the future, we may see the government telling church leaders what they may preach, and what they cannot. If the church goes against what the government dictates, they may lose their tax exempt status and pay more taxes. This is already happening on a small scale, but I'm sure we will see it more in the future.
Vs. 14: When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?"
That is NOT the way a faithful follower of Jesus will treat anyone. The Apostle Paul got very upset with a Christian brother. He was upset because Peter had not acted as he should. Paul, however, did not run around telling this one and that one about it. What he wanted to say ABOUT Peter he said TO Peter.
I suggest the next time we get upset with or want to criticize someone, we need to ask ourselves a couple of questions. One would be, "Are we so sure what we are upset or critical of is valid enough to say to the person’s face without fear of being proven wrong?" The second question would be, "If it is valid, then shouldn’t I be talking to the person face to face instead of talking about the person behind their back?"
Vs. 15-16: We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
While we are seeking justification, we obviously will discover how sinful we really are; does this mean that Christ made us sinners? Of course not.
Vs. 18: If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker.
Vs. 19: For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.
Vs. 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.
Vs. 21: I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
If we ignore the gospel message which says we are saved by faith and believe we are saved by obedience to the law, then Christ died for nothing! Paul is saying if we are saved by the law, and not by grace, then this makes a complete mockery of the cross.
Obviously, circumcision is not a hotly debated subject today, but how is Paul’s message still relevant?
- Many people still believe man’s ability to get into heaven depends on how many rules he keeps and how respectable he is. Paul shows us what counts is FAITH, not works.
- The freedom a Christian obtains through acceptance of Christ is not the freedom to live as we please. It only frees us from obeying laws that have nothing to do with salvation, such as circumcision or not eating pork. When we become Christians, we will not be motivated by our own selfishness, but by our desire to express the joy and comfort we receive from the Holy Spirit in our character, behavior, and relationships.