Galatians 2:11-21 – The Arrival Of Judaizers/Legalists In Antioch

The Arrival Of Judaizers/Legalists In Antioch; A Confrontation Between Two Great Apostles; Paul Is Not Inferior To Peter; Saved And Justified By Grace And A Faith-Based Response And Not Torah-Observance; Living By Faith And Empowered By Messiah – Not Human Effort

The Holy Spirit had used Paul and members of his team to bring the Gospel, the Good News, the Message about the salvation made possible by the Messiah to Galatia, which would be part of present day Turkey. People responded to the message, and Paul started New Covenant Communities in Galatia. Some time after he left, others showed up and told God’s people, probably mostly Gentile Christians and some Messianic Jews, that Paul was wrong and hadn’t been giving them the full message. These leaders told the Galatians that yes, they needed faith in the Three-In-One God, but they also needed more. They had to observe all the laws of the Sinai Covenant. They undermined not only Paul’s message that faith alone in Yeshua was sufficient for salvation and for living; they also undermined Paul. Paul discovered this has been going on and wrote this letter to defend himself, his authority and his message.

Galatians is relevant for us today for several reasons. It’s part of the Word of God, and man must not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Galatians establishes Paul’s authority. It’s full of very important truths: the centrality of Messiah; salvation by grace – God’s unearned, undeserved blessing, working through our faith – our loyalty to Messiah – not salvation by works, or law-keeping or human effort. It tells us the true Gospel, the true message, and contrasts it with all other messages.

Galatians tells us that God’s grace and our faith-reponse, not works, is not only the way we are saved, but is the way we are to live. We live, not by human effort or law-keeping or Torah-observance. We live by Holy Spirit empowered, close-to-God empowered living. We are able live God-honoring, successful lives by being born again, by having the Spirit of Messiah live in us and empowering us to be holy. All of us need to know how to live this kind of Holy Spirit empowered, faith-based life.

This is so important to understand because so many people think the essence of religion is doing things – doing the right things, doing good things – and that is an essential part of religion – but true faith, a faith that will save us, is more than doing good things. Our good works are to be the result of ending our rebellion against the Creator; getting right with God. Our good deeds are to flow from a close personal relationship with the living God and a new, godly nature that is birthed in us when we are saved; right living is sourced from the Holy Spirit living in us and teaching us and equipping us and empowering us.

This is a radically different approach to religion than religion based on human effort, Torah-observance, keeping the Ten Commandments, or good deeds outweighing bad deeds.

Galatians is of particular relevance to the Messianic Jewish movement because many of those who have been getting involved in our movement, including some leaders, are making the exact same error that the Galatians were – legalism, a distorted kind of Torah-observance; Judaizing – pressuring Gentiles to become Jews or live like Jews; demanding that peoples from the nations observe the Sabbath or the holidays or other laws of the Sinai Covenant.

To defend himself and his message, Paul shares with the Galatians some of his history. Paul’s first religious experience in Judaism was a mixture of truth and error, human teachings mixed with Biblical truths. This kind of Judaism emphasized law-keeping and human effort and human traditions. But, Rabbi Paul’s involvement in this kind of religion had the opposite effect of what he wanted. It resulted in Paul opposing God and harming God’s Messianic Community. That kind of false religious system didn’t work for Paul, and it won’t work for the Galatians, and they needed to know that.

Then, after his supernatural salvation experience and receiving  the Gospel Message directly from Messiah Himself, Paul was isolated from the other leaders of Messiah’s Community for a time, so that Paul and his message were not influenced by anyone else. His message was uncontaminated. It remained pure. And, when he finally met other key apostles in Jerusalem, they shared the same message he did and welcomed him.

After meeting with Peter and James in Jerusalem, Paul went north to Syria and Cilicia. He didn’t go to Messiah’s Communities in Israel, probably because he understood that he was the Lord’s Representative to the nations and was to direct his efforts to the peoples outside of Israel. But, he wasn’t rejected by Messiah’s Communities in Israel. Quite the opposite. Those good communities praised God because of Paul’s new loyalties and transformed life and the Message he proclaimed – and so should the Galatians.

Paul’s history continues with another visit to Jerusalem 14 years later. The purpose of this second visit was to go to the leaders and make sure that the message he had consistently been teaching all that time was right; and he went to Jerusalem to inform the leaders about another revelation he received. When he arrived, he told them what he was teaching. The leaders confirmed that Paul’s message was the right one.

Paul’s opponents in Galatia were undermining Paul by saying that he was an inferior leader and not worth listening to. Paul let the Galatians know that he was not inferior to the greatest of the apostles. He was as gifted in his sphere of influence, among the Gentiles, as were James, Peter and John in their sphere of influence among the Jewish people. And, those leaders recognized it too. And they formalized this understanding by giving Paul and Barnabas, who worked so closely with Paul, “the right hand of fellowship.”  They accepted Paul and Barnabas as partners and shook hands to affirm their partnership.

Paul continues his defense of himself and his message in 2:11. Not only is Paul not inferior to the greatest of the leaders like Peter, James and John; not only is he their equal in his sphere of influence among the nations, as they were in their sphere of influence among the Jewish people – but a confrontation took place in Antioch which revealed that Paul was right about something very important, and Simon Peter was wrong. And the issue was the very same issue the Galatians were dealing with – the issue of legalism and Judaizing – that the nations don’t need to keep all the laws of the Sinai Covenant. Is Paul inferior to the other leaders, as some of the false teachers were implying? Hardly! When Kefa (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

Antioch was a center of the Messianic Faith. It was an important city which contained a great community of Messiah’s followers. It was a community of Messianic Jews and peoples from the nations. It was a growing community. It was an evangelistic community. It was a united community – until some Messianic Jews came from Jerusalem, the center of the Faith. This group of men were “from James,” Ya’akov, the brother of the Lord, and a member of the royal family of King David and the leader of the Jerusalem Community. These Messianic Jews may have been part the Community lead by James, but had a different understanding of the need for Torah-observance than James. Or, they may have claimed to represent James, but in actuality, didn’t. Regardless, they were in error.

Paul calls them the circumcision group, or the party of the circumcision because they were convinced that Gentile followers of Messiah needed to live a Sinai-Covenant life with full “Torah-Observance,” which included circumcision; and until they did, the Messianic Jews should not accept them as members of the Community and the Messianic Jews should distance themselves from them. Another name for the party of the circumcision – Judaizers. These were influential men. They claimed association with James. Even though it was wrong, their teaching made sense. After all, for hundreds of years, Gentiles who wanted to get close to the God of Israel had converted and become Jews and lived like the Chosen People. Their teaching made sense, so much so that Peter, who was in Antioch at that time, and the other Messianic Jews in Antioch, and even Barnabas, Paul’s friend and ally and team member, distanced themselves from the Christians from the other nations. They stopped eating with them.

The only Messianic Jewish leader who stood firm in opposition to the circumcision group – Paul. But, this one man was enough to withstand them and those who were drawn into their error. Paul recognized the error. Gentiles need to live like Jews? Absolutely not! He confronted the great apostle Peter and turned things around. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the Good News, I said to Kefa 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? Paul understood that the Messianic Jews were not living according to the reality of the Good News which requires Messianic Jews and the peoples from the nations to be united in one community of salvation. We are to show our love and unity by praying together, working together, eating together. But, Jewish tradition at that time did not allow Jews and Gentiles to eat together – even if the Jews were eating kosher food – which in this case, I think they were.

The circumcision group’s position was that, if only the Gentile Christians would become Jews and be circumcised and keep all the Jewish laws, the problem could be solved. Under their influence, Peter and the other Messianic Jews, who had been going against Jewish tradition and eating with Gentiles, stopped eating with the Gentile Christians.

Paul, not privately, but publically, because this was a sin which had happened in public, and public sins need to be dealt with in a public way, confronted Peter. I said to Kefa in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. Prior to this, Peter had not been living like a Jew – which I interpret as meaning a traditional non-Messianic Jew who was following the laws of the Torah and some of the Jewish traditions, like not eating with Gentiles. I believe Peter was following the laws of the Torah, but he was not following all the Jewish traditions.

Paul continued his confrontation with Peter: How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? If up until this point Peter hadn’t been living according to some Jewish traditions, which were additions to the things that God required, like not eating with Gentiles, how could Peter demand that Gentile Christians live according to other things that God did not require of them, namely full Torah-observance? That was hypocritical. It was inconsistent. It didn’t make sense.

Paul’s wisdom and courage ended this early crisis of legalism in this key center of the new Christian Faith. Thank God the Rabbi from Tarsus was there to prevent this error from spreading and to prevent the fragmentation of Messiah’s Community.

In this confrontation between these two leaders, Paul showed himself superior to Peter, one of the greatest of the apostles. Therefor Paul’s message and his authority was to be respected by the Galatians – and by us.

Another lesson to learn from this confrontation over legalism in Antioch: men of God, even apostles, can make mistakes – like Peter did in this situation. All of us need to be open to correction – like Peter was from Paul. If Peter can make a mistake like this, so can you. So can I.

The false teaching of the circumcision group – demanding that Gentile Christians who are part of Messiah’s New Covenant observe things that God was not asking them to do, like become Jews and live like Jews, wasn’t right for the Gentiles. That same kind of legalism wasn’t right for the Jews, and Paul knew it. We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Messiah Yeshua. So we, too, have put our faith in Messiah Yeshua that we may be justified by faith in Messiah and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

There is only one way for fallen human beings, who come into this world alienated from God, to end their alienation and be justified – to get right with God, to get into a right relationship with God, and that is by having faith in Messiah Yeshua. Having faith means understanding that Yeshua is the Messiah, and the Son of God, and that He lived a perfect life, and died and came back to life, and is alive now, the living Savior. Then, after coming to that understanding, a person makes a commitment to be loyal to Messiah and to His Father. But, most human beings won’t use the only way that works. They prefer a false way that does not result in a right relationship with God. They try the “works of the law” approach – trying to approach God in a legalistic way by law-keeping and human effort, often with human traditions mixed in.

The “works of the law” – this legalistic and wrong approach to God, must be distinguished from the Law itself, the Torah, the divinely-inspired teaching. The Torah, which includes the same principles of God’s grace, and faith in God and a God-ordained sacrifice as the does New Covenant – the Torah, when properly understood and practiced, did result in a right relationship with God.

Rabbi Paul is teaching us that neither Gentiles nor Jews can successfully get into a right relationship with God if they try to approach God with this “works of the law” way of thinking. But the peoples from the nations, and the Chosen People will be able to develop a proper relationship with God if they approach God on the basis of understanding that God saves us by His grace; that God brings us into a right relationship with Himself by His grace; and we respond to that grace with a response of faith and loyalty.

I’m confident the legalists were familiar with Paul’s message that salvation is the result of understanding what God has done by sending the Messiah – that’s God’s grace; that salvation comes from our faith-response to God’s grace; and that Gentile Christians don’t need to follow the laws of the Sinai Covenant. The Judaizers may have accused Paul that teaching anyone that they don’t need the laws of the Sinai Covenant was a sinful message, and those who accept that teaching will sin because they won’t have any standards and engage in godless living.

Paul knows their arguments and, I think, responds to them: But if, in seeking to be justified in Messiah, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Messiah promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker. Followers of Messiah can sin. Followers of Messiah do sin. But our sin is not the result of the teaching that we are made right with God because we are in Messiah, united to Messiah on the basis of faith – not adherence to the laws of the Sinai Covenant. If Christians or Messianic Jews sin, we are the ones responsible for our sins, not Messiah; not this grace-based, faith-based teaching. We have been forgiven. We have been given a new nature. We have a new, internal awareness of what is right and what is wrong. We have the Messiah as our example. We have the Word of God as our guide. We have new power to resist sin. If we sin, we are the ones responsible for rebuilding a bad foundation – not Messiah, and not this faith-based, grace-based, Messiah-centered, not law-centered teaching.

And, this understanding of the right way to approach God is not new. The Torah, the Law, properly understood, teaches us the same thing. For through the law (finally coming to properly understand the Torah) I died to the law (I died to legalism) so that I might live for God. Messiah appeared to Paul and taught Paul the Good News, this faith-based, grace-based message. That helped Paul end his legalistic approach to God that didn’t work. That helped Paul understand what the Torah really teaches – that salvation can’t be earned by human effort; that justification, getting right with God, comes from knowing God and having a faith-based response to God and offering the sacrifices He provided to make atonement for us. So, here is what Paul is saying: Through the law, assisted by knowing Messiah and His teaching, I finally came to properly understand the Torah. The Torah is very useful, very beneficial, if it is understood properly. I was able to end my legalistic understanding of Torah-observance, so that I might truly live for God – which I wasn’t doing before.

Paul, like all fallen human beings with a sin nature and confused thinking about God, needed a death experience and a new life experience. And, that’s what he got. I have been crucified with Messiah and I no longer live, but Messiah lives in me. When Paul encountered the risen Messiah, and understood who Yeshua is, and became loyal to Him, something in Paul died – his old nature. His sin nature die and he received a new nature and he received the Spirit of God – Messiah lives in me – by means of Messiah’s Spirit. Paul’s nature was changed and his spiritual confusion ended and was replaced by spiritual understanding. And the same thing happens to every born-again, new birthed, new-natured son and daughter of God. Our old nature dies. We are given a new, godly nature. The Holy Spirit gets close to us and lives in us. Our spiritual confusion comes to an end.

That grace-based, faith-based, Messiah-centered approach to God is the only way we are saved. It’s the only way we are justified – made right with God. And, that’s the way we are to live. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Knowing who Messiah is, who loves us; being loyal to the Son of God who sacrificed Himself for us; living empowered by the Spirit of the Messiah who lives in us – that’s the only way to be saved and it’s the right way to live.

In contrast to this, is the wrong approach to try and be saved and the wrong way to live: I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Messiah died for nothing!” The wrong way to be saved is minimizing the grace of God and a faith/loyalty-based response to the grace of God in salvation, and trying to get right with God by law-keeping, or human effort, or a legalistic kind of Torah-observance. If that approach really worked, then Messiah would not have had to come into this world, suffer and die. It would have been unnecessary. But He did come. He did suffer. He did die a horrible, agonizing death – which means that our salvation needed something more than what the Torah could provide. We needed the Messiah to come! We needed the Messiah to live a perfect life, die an atoning death, rise from the dead, ascend to Heaven and pour out His Spirit to those who become loyal to Him.

May God keep us from being influenced away from the truth. Amen?

And if we stray, may the Lord send someone to confront us with the truth, and may we receive that correction. Amen?

May God keep our community unified, and help us be a force for unity in the Evangelical Church. Amen?

May each one of us die to the things we need to, and be reborn to the things we need to. Amen?

May each one of us be able to say, and really mean: I have been crucified with Messiah and I no longer live, but Messiah lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Amen?

May each one of us approach God in a faith-based, grace-based, Messiah centered way, and live for God in a faith-based, Messiah-centered, Holy Spirit empowered way. Amen?