Study of Galatians 2
“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” Gal 2:21. Which law was Paul talking about? To get a better understanding of this chapter, we’d have to look at the entire context, including the surrounding chapters (1,3) Today I will touch on Chapters 1 and 2.
Chapter 1 to me was introductory and a brief history on Paul’s travels, and nothing pertaining to our discussion on the “Law”. However, I’ll highlight this text:
Gal 1:18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter,[a] and remained with him fifteen days.
Notice that Peter was ministering in Jerusalem to the Jews.
1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me.
So Paul talks about going back to Jerusalem.
3 Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4 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), 5 to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
So from this text, there were some who were compelling Titus to get circumcised, and Paul calls that act bringing into bondage. As Paul said, they didn’t need to yield. Notice how it also says “false brethren” who came in by stealth. These were Jewish Christians that still held on to the old traditions trying to force the old laws upon Titus, for example, trying to get him circumcised.
6 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. 7 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 8 (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles),
We can tell from this verse that Paul specialized in ministering to the Gentiles (uncircumcised), and Peter the Jews (circumcised), and they were equally effective in their respective fields.
9 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. 10They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.
Again, the disciples in Jerusalem acknowledged that each group had their own specialties, and encouraged Paul to ‘go to the Gentiles’ while they (James, Cephas aka (Peter) John preached to the Jews.
11 Now when Peter[a] had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 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. 13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.
Now what did Peter do in the above text. He was ashamed of eating with the Gentiles, but when Jews came around, he quickly withdrew and separated himself. Please recall that Jewish customs back then forbid the mingling of Jews and Gentiles, and that’s what Paul was upset about with Peter. Because Peter wasn’t practicing what he taught, hence the usage of hypocrite. Even Barnabas got caught up in the old tradition of not mingling.
14 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?15who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 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…..21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comesthrough the law, then Christ died in vain.”
Which laws were Peter and the rest still abiding by? The traditional Jewish laws. Remember Peter’s dream in Acts 10 about the blanket from heaven with “unclean” animals, and God’s instruction to eat of those, with Peter refusing 3 times? God was saying it was okay to preach and live among the “unclean” people. When Peter goes downstairs right after, he’s invited to go to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile.
(Coincidentally, a lot of people use this dream as proof that we can eat anything now, because God “cleansed” the food, but as you can see, they’re taking it out of context. )
Back to my point, Peter still had his old ways and thoughts of not being allowed to ‘hang out’ with Gentiles. It’s like the mindset of the cool kids at school sitting in the caf at lunch with nerds. Then one of their cool friends comes along and sees them, and the cool kid gets up and makes some weird excuse why they were eating with them. Same concept.
Where in the 10 commandments does it forbid eating with the “unclean” Gentiles? Nowhere. So clearly, we have Paul rebuking the adherence to traditional/ceremonial Jewish laws, and it’s continued in Galatians 3.
If we take the whole entire chapter so far into context (1-3), we can understand which laws Paul was talking about. So no contradiction of the Bible there. Christ doing away with the Decalogue would spur a whole bunch of contradictions and would add to the case for those who say the Bible wasn’t inspired.