SESSION 4. Stand Your Ground November 3, 2013
The Point: Never compromise when the issue is a matter of biblical right and wrong.
For many of us, our preferred way of dealing with conflict is not to deal with it at all. We ignore it
and hope the conflict goes away on its own. While there are some conflicts that may be minor enough to
dissipate on its own, many do not. Moreover, there are some conflicts we should walk away from, in the
sense of letting go of what we want in the matter (as we saw in the previous study). However, there are some
issues on which we should not compromise by giving in, walking away, or ignoring. When conflict is caused
because of an issue of right and wrong, it‘s time to stand our ground.
The Passage: Galatians 2:1-14
The Setting: In response to opposition from some of the people in the Galatian churches, Paul defended his
ministry to the Gentiles. He explained that even the leaders in Jerusalem affirmed his ministry to the
Gentiles and the truth that the gospel is for all people, free from any Jewish rules or rituals. This was an
uncompromising truth that led Paul to confront Peter when Peter‘s hypocritical actions made a distinction
between Jews and Gentiles. What did the Bible say?
Background: The Council at Jerusalem. Acts 15.
1Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: ―Unless you are
circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.‖ 2 This brought Paul
and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along
with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.
The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told
how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they came
to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported
everything God had done through them.
Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, ―The
Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.‖
The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and
addressed them: ―Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the
Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart,
showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.
He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why
do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors
have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved,
just as they are.‖
The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs
and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke
up. ―Brothers,‖ he said, ―listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to
choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with
this, as it is written:
―‗After this I will return and rebuild David‘s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will
restore it, 17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my
name, says the Lord, who does these things, 18 things known from long ago.‖‘
―It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning
to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from
sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has
been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.‖
The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers
Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and
send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men
who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them, they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
Greetings. 24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and
disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some
men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— 26 men who have risked
their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas
to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to
us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain
from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual
Note and compare, the commands given to the Gentile Believers are basically the equivalent of most
of the seven Laws of Noah which are a set of moral imperatives that, according to the Talmud1, were given by
God as a binding set of laws for the "children of Noah" – that is, all of humanity.
The Talmud (200-500 AD) consists of 63 tractates, and is over 6,200 pages long. It contains the teachings and opinions of thousands
of rabbis on a variety of subjects including law, ethics, philosophy, customs, history, and lore.
According to the Talmud, any non-Jew who adheres to these laws is regarded as a righteous gentile,
and is assured of a place in the World to Come. The seven laws listed by the Tosefta2 and the Talmud are:
1. The prohibition of Idolatry.
2. The prohibition of Murder.
3. The prohibition of Theft.
4. The prohibition of sexual immorality.
5. The prohibition of Blasphemy.
6. The prohibition of eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive.
7. The requirement of maintaining courts to provide legal recourse.
The Seven Laws comprise the six commandments that were given to Adam in the Garden of Eden,
according to the Talmud's interpretation of Gen 2:16, and a seventh, which was added after the Flood of
In Galatians, Paul writes his account of the meeting and its outcome.
Galatians 2:1-14 (NIV)
1 Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus
along also. 2 I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as
leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was
not running and had not been running my race in vain. 3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was
compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 4 This matter arose because some false
believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us
slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be
preserved for you. 6 As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no
difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. 7 On the
contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the
uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. 8 For God, who was at work in Peter as
an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James,
Cephas and John, those esteemed as 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 circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the
very thing I had been eager to do all along.
The Tosefta is a compilation of the Jewish Oral Laws compiled around 220 AD. It predates the Talmud.
11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For
before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. Nevertheless, 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. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so
that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14 When I saw that they were not acting in
line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas 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 was thrust into a conflict whose outcome would affect the course of the church. He had
preached the gospel in Galatia, won converts, and established churches. After he left the area, JewishChristian teachers (Judaizers) came and insisted that to be full-fledged Christians, Gentile converts would
need to become Jewish proselytes. When Paul received news of this, he passionately defended the gospel
truth that salvation comes through faith in Christ—period. He drew a line in the sand.3
His Letter to the Galatians laid out the true gospel he preached. People are not redeemed by faith
plus legalism; they are forgiven by grace through faith. After a brief greeting (Gal. 1:1-5), Paul began to
battle for the gospel. He expressed shock that the Galatian believers turned to the Judaizers‘ pseudo-gospel
so soon after heeding God‘s call to salvation (vv. 6-10). He answered the false charge he was not really an
apostle (vv. 11-24). He demonstrated the gospel is neither divisive nor different from the church‘s received
Line in the sand - In 168 BC, a Roman Consul named Gaius Popillius Laenas drew a circular line in the sand around
King Antiochus IV of the Seleucid Empire, then said, "Before you cross this circle I want you to give me a reply for the Roman
Senate" – implying that Rome would declare war if the King stepped out of the circle without committing to leave Egypt
immediately. Weighing his options, Antiochus wisely decided to withdraw. Only then did Popillius agree to shake hands with
him. In the United States, the phrase is most commonly associated with Texas history surrounding the Battle of the Alamo, as it
is attributed to Colonel William Travis, commander of the Alamo defense forces. In the waning days of the Battle (somewhere
between March 3–5, 1836), with Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna having the Alamo completely surrounded,
Santa Anna sent a messenger to Travis demanding surrender, or else everyone in the compound would be killed. According to
the legend, Travis called the Alamo defenders together, explained that defeat was almost certain, and read the letter of
surrender; Travis then (having chosen to die instead of surrender) reportedly pulled his battle sword, used it to draw a line in the
ground of the Alamo, and asked for volunteers to cross over the line and join him, understanding their decision would be
Barnabas, Paul‘s early mentor and his partner in the first missionary journey, accompanied Paul to
Jerusalem. Paul also took Titus with them. Titus was an early Gentile convert to Christianity and a coworker
in Paul‘s ministry (2 Cor. 8:23). Toward the end of his ministry, Paul wrote Titus, who was working on the
island of Crete, and called Titus his true son in their common faith (Titus 1:4). Titus would prove invaluable
in Paul‘s missionary endeavor.
That the group went up to Jerusalem to confer with the Jerusalem church reflected the city‘s
elevation and religious significance.
Paul did not go to Jerusalem on his own or at the Antioch church‘s urging, and the Jerusalem church
did not summon him. He went in response to a revelation, a divine disclosure. Paul‘s purpose for meeting
with the Jerusalem believers was to lay out for their consideration (presented to) the gospel he consistently
preached among the Gentiles, likely including Jews living in the various areas. Paul‘s concern was that
Gentile converts have equal standing with Jewish Christians. Paul well may have taken Titus to Jerusalem as
a trial. Paul was contending for salvation by grace though faith alone, without any appended Jewish rituals.
Titus was a Greek, an uncircumcised Gentile. Paul stressed that the Jerusalem church and its leaders did not
demand that Titus be circumcised. He was not compelled to submit to the Jewish rite.
The issue of whether Titus, a Gentile convert to Christianity, should be circumcised probably arose
during the meeting in Jerusalem rather than sometime earlier. Pseudo Jewish-Christians (false believers)
either were planted in the Christian community by non-Christian Jews or were helped to infiltrate the
Christian ranks by members of the church. The picture is that of spies or defectors sneaking into inside
positions. The purpose was to spy on genuine believers‘ freedom … in Christ Jesus (relationship with God
through grace alone) with the false claim to have the right or authority to pass judgment on it.
Galatians 2:6-10 Commentary
Paul stressed that in the private meeting with the Jerusalem church‘s leaders (2:2), they added nothing to
him—to the gospel he preached. They did not instruct him to add works of the law to faith as a requirement
for salvation. Possibly, Paul also indicated the leaders added nothing to his commission as an apostle. They
conferred nothing new to him. Paul described the leaders as those who were held in high esteem. Jerusalem
believers respected their leaders. These leaders contrasted sharply to the pseudo-Christians to whom Paul
referred in 2:4. His statement did not mean he was indifferent to the leaders‘ status as apostles and to their
association with Jesus; rather, he was not concerned about their commissioning him. Paul‘s opponents could
charge he was inferior to the other apostles, but God showed no favoritism; He did not show deference
(favor) because of their position.
The church leaders recognized he had been entrusted with proclaiming the gospel to the
uncircumcised. Peter had been commissioned to proclaim the gospel to Jews, the circumcised; Paul had
been designated to take the good news to Gentiles, the uncircumcised. Both had special ministries. Their
areas of work differed, but their message was the same. They proclaimed one gospel. Their action
refuted the claim of Paul‘s enemies that he was not an apostle or at best an inferior one. The same God
called and equipped both men for their ministries to different audiences. Paul identified the Jerusalem
church‘s leaders with whom he met privately: James, Cephas and John. These men were pillars of the
church; they had the valid reputation of giving solid leadership. They provided strength and stability.
Paul referred to the privilege of taking the gospel to the Gentiles as grace. He viewed his missionary
work as God‘s gift to him. The three church leaders acknowledged that gift of grace and gave … the right
hand of fellowship to Paul and Barnabas. Interestingly, James, Peter, and John took the initiative to shake
hands as a sign of accepting Paul‘s God-given ministry. The gesture of clasping hands expressed unity; was a
recognized guarantee of friendship; and affirmed the participants‘ shared life in the Spirit. The leaders agreed
on general directions of labor.
Paul and Barnabas would work primarily among the Gentiles; the Jerusalem leaders would work
primarily among Jews. The only request the church leaders made was that Paul and Barnabas remember the
poor. This meant more than keeping them in mind or even praying for them; the leaders asked that Paul and
Barnabas continue to take action on behalf of poverty-stricken believers. The leaders may have referred to
Judean Christians in general or primarily to the believers in the Jerusalem church. Christians in Judea
suffered severe economic hardship.
Such compassionate ministry was a work Paul already had done. As representatives of the church in
Antioch of Syria, Paul and Barnabas had brought famine relief to Christians in Judea (see Acts 11:27-30).
Paul already had exercised efforts to help the poor.
Galatians 2:11-14 Commentary
The church in Antioch had become the center of the Christian movement and Paul‘s base of
operations. Barnabas had enlisted Paul to help in the work there (Acts 11:25-26). Later, the church sent out
Barnabas and Paul as missionaries and thus took the lead in taking the gospel to Gentiles. At some point,
when Peter came to Antioch, Paul boldly stood up against him in a face-to-face confrontation. Peter was a
respected church leader, but he was in error, and Paul did not hesitate to call Peter‘s attention to the misstep
publicly. By his puzzling and unacceptable behavior, Peter condemned himself.
When Peter visited Antioch, at first he regularly enjoyed table fellowship with Gentile believers. In
the Antioch church, Jewish Christians and Gentile believers ate together, perhaps sharing the love feast that
included celebrating the Lord‘s Supper. They ignored or rejected strict Jewish dietary practice that precluded
Jews eating with uncircumcised Gentiles. When Jewish-Christians from the Jerusalem church came to
Antioch, however, Peter gradually withdrew—began to separate himself from table fellowship with Gentile
believers. The visiting representatives were members of the circumcision group, Jewish Christians who
insisted Gentile converts be circumcised and keep the Jewish law.
Peter feared them, perhaps fearing they would report his conduct to the Jerusalem church with the
result that his influence in the church would be diminished or his work among Jews would be hampered.
Peter‘s retreat under pressure gave tacit approval to the Judaizers‘ insistence on circumcision and obedience
to Jewish law as necessary for salvation. He knew better than to withdraw from association with Gentile
believers. God taught Peter a pivotal lesson concerning Gentile inclusion in His grace (see Acts 10:9-48).
Peter‘s experience taught him that God does not show favoritism but accepts and forgives every
person who places faith in Christ. Peter‘s treatment of Gentile believers in Antioch denied that truth.
Incredibly, Peter allowed fear to overshadow God‘s dramatic lesson concerning Gentiles. In Galatians 2:1114, Paul described Peter‘s withdrawal from table fellowship with Gentile believers as hypocrisy that
influenced the rest of the Jewish Christians. Surprisingly, even Barnabas, Paul‘s fellow worker among
Gentiles, was caught up and swept along by their hypocrisy. They pretended their behavior issued from
obedience to Jewish law; in actuality it was a result of fear. That is, they gave a false impression.
Paul‘s confronting Peter had a redemptive purpose: to bring Peter back to conduct that was true to
the gospel. When Paul saw that Peter and the Jewish Christians were deviating from (literally, ―not walking a
straight course‖ in moral conduct) the truth of the gospel, Paul addressed Peter in front of everyone, pointing
out Peter‘s inconsistent behavior. How could Peter reverse himself and force Gentile believers to adopt
Jewish customs? Peter‘s alarming example could have had a devastating influence on Jewish Christians,
leading them to associate with Gentile believers only if those believers kept Jewish customs.
Greek—Verse 3 describes Titus as a Greek. Although the Romans were in political control, Greek
language and culture was dominant in society. Titus had a Greek father and mother. This made him a
Gentile, and no Gentile was allowed into the temple of the Lord unless he had converted to Judaism. Titus
became a kind of test case. The Judaizers insisted that he be circumcised in order to be saved; but Paul
insisted that a person is saved by grace through faith in Christ.
In the New Testament, a Greek can refer to an inhabitant of Hellas or Greece. Sometimes any
Greek-speaking person might be called a Greek (v. 3). In the broadest sense, the term was applied to any
people who were not Jews and who made the Greek language, customs, and culture their primary way of
life. In that sense, the word virtually became synonymous with Gentile.
Circumcised—For many people today being circumcised is only a medical procedure. In the thinking of
the Judaizers, it was necessary for believers to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul considered it a
sign of God‘s covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17). He did not believe that it was necessary for salvation.
As a physical act, to be circumcised (v. 3) is to remove the male prepuce or foreskin. The origin of
the practice in the Old Testament is traced to Abraham‘s circumcision as a sign of the covenant between
Abraham and God (Gen. 17:10). By New Testament times, circumcision had become so significant to the
Jews that they came to have no regard for the uncircumcised.
In the first century, Christian Jews struggled with whether circumcision was to be required of
Gentiles as a sign of full faith in God and essential to their entry into the fellowship of believers. In some
of his letters, Paul used the word circumcision in a spiritual sense to refer to the purification of the heart
by repentance and faith.
Circumcision is the act of removing the foreskin of the male genital. In ancient Israel this act was
ritually performed on the eighth day after birth upon children of natives, servants, and aliens (Lev. 9:3).
Circumcision was carried out by the father initially, utilizing a flint knife (compare Josh. 5:3). Later
specialists were employed among the Jewish people.
Origin: Several theories seek to explain and describe the nature and origin of circumcision: (1)
initiatory rite—before marriage (as the Shechemites in Gen. 34:14-24) or at puberty; (2) physical
hygiene—to prevent the attraction or transmission of diseases; (3) tribal mark of distinction; (4) rite of
entry into the community of faith.
In the Old Testament the origin of Israelite practice was founded upon the circumcision
of Abraham as a sign of the covenant between God and the patriarch (Gen. 17:10). Physical hygiene and
tribal distinction resulted from circumcision, but the aspect of covenant sign which marked one‘s entry
into the community of Yahwistic faith is the focus in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Ancient Near Eastern background: Several Semitic and non-Semitic peoples practiced
circumcision according to biblical and other sources. Jeremiah depicts
Egyptians, Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites, and the desert-dwelling Arabians as circumcised peoples (Jer.
9:25-26; compare Ezek. 32:17-32). On the other hand Philistines, Assyrians, and Babylonians are counted
among the uncircumcised. That the Canaanites are not mentioned in either regard is noteworthy. Evidence
of their perspective of circumcision is lacking. In modern times the practice exists among Mohammedan
Arabs and many African and Australian tribes, as well as much of Western society.
Israelite Practice: The circumcision of Abraham and the male members of his entourage followed
the repetition of the covenant promise (see Gen. 15) of land and national descendants (Gen.
17). Isaac, Ishmael, and other descendants of the patriarchal family were circumcised (Gen. 17:2327). Moses‘ circumcision took place only immediately prior to his confrontation with the Pharaoh (Ex.
4:24-26). The tie between land and circumcision in the covenant is reflected in the purification of
Israelites at Gilgal following the entry of Israel into the Promised Land (Josh. 5:2-9). Passover was limited
to those who had been circumcised (Ex. 12:48; Josh. 5:10-11).
Ethical implications of circumcision can be observed in the metaphorical usage of the term.
The uncircumcised are those who are insensitive to God‘s leadership. Circumcision of the heart implies
total devotion to God (Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4); however, the uncircumcised ear cannot hear so as to respond
to the Lord (Jer. 6:10); and the uncircumcised of lips cannot speak (Ex. 6:12). Circumcision was therefore
an external sign of an internal singularity of devotion of Yahweh.
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Circumcision and Christianity: Controversy arose in the early church (Acts 10-15) as to
whether Gentile converts need be circumcised. First century A.D. Jews disdained the uncircumcised. The
leadership of the apostle Paul in the Jerusalem Council was crucial in the settlement of the dispute:
circumcision was not essential to Christian faith and fellowship. Circumcision of the heart via repentance
and faith were the only requirements (Rom. 4:9-12; Gal. 2:15-21).
BARNABAS (Bahr' nuh buhs) The name Barnabas appears 23 times in Acts and 5 times in Paul‘s letters
and probably means ―son of prophecy‖ or one who prophesies or preaches (―son of exhortation,‖ Acts
Barnabas in Acts: Barnabas was a Levite and native of the island of Cyprus, named Joseph
(Joses), before the disciples called him Barnabas. He sold his property and gave the proceeds to
the Jerusalem church (Acts 4:36-37). He introduced Saul of Tarsus to the Jerusalem church (9:26-27).
The church chose Barnabas to go to Syrian Antioch to investigate the unrestricted preaching to
the Gentiles there. He became the leader to the work and secured Saul as his assistant. They took famine
relief to the Jerusalem church (11:19-30). On Paul‘s ―first missionary journey,‖ Barnabas at first seems to
have been the leader (chs. 13-14). Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to try to settle the questions
of how Gentiles could be saved and how Jewish Christians could have fellowship with them (15:1-21).
They agreed to go on another missionary journey but separated over whether to take John Mark with them
Barnabas in Paul’s Letters: In Galatians 2:1-10, Paul recalled how he went with Barnabas
to Jerusalem and how the apostles approved of their Gentile mission (probably the same event as Acts 15).
In Galatians 2:13, however, Paul indicated that on one occasion Barnabas wavered on the issue of
full acceptance of Gentile Christians.
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In 1 Corinthians 9:6, Paul commended Barnabas for following his (Paul‘s) practice of supporting
himself rather than depending upon the churches. Colossians 4:10 simply states that Mark was
Barnabas in Later Legend: In the third century Clement of Alexandria identified Barnabas as
one of the seventy of Luke 10:1; Tertullian referred to him as the author of Hebrews; and the Clementine
Recognitions stated he was the Matthias of Acts 1:23, 26. All of these are most unlikely. In the second
century an epistle bearing Barnabas‘ name appeared, became quite popular, and even received some
consideration for a place in the New Testament. Later an apocryphal Acts of Barnabas and perhaps even
a Gospel of Barnabas were circulated. Barnabas had nothing to do with the writing of any of these.
TITUS (Ti' tuhs): Gentile companion of Paul (Gal. 2:3) and recipient of the New Testament letter
bearing his name. Titus may have been converted by Paul who called him ―my true son in our
common faith‖ (Titus 1:4 NIV). As one of Paul‘s early associates, Titus accompanied the apostle
and Barnabas to Jerusalem (Gal. 2:1), probably on the famine relief visit (Acts 11:28-30).
Though Acts does not mention Titus, he was quite involved in Paul‘s missionary activities as
shown in the Pauline letters. He was evidently known to the Galatians (Gal. 2:1, 3), possibly from the first
missionary journey to that region. Titus also seems to have been a very capable person, called by Paul ―my
partner and fellow worker‖ (2 Cor. 8:23 NIV). He was entrusted with the delicate task of delivering Paul‘s
severe letter (2 Cor. 2:1-4) to Corinth and correcting problems within the church there (2 Cor. 7:13-15).
Titus‘ genuine concern for and evenhanded dealing with the Corinthians (2 Cor. 8:16-17; 12:18) no doubt
contributed to his success which he reported in person to Paul, anxiously awaiting word in Macedonia (2
Cor. 2:13; 7:5-6, 13-15). Paul responded by writing 2 Corinthians which Titus probably delivered.
Paul apparently was released after his first Roman imprisonment and made additional journeys,
unrecorded in Acts. One of these took him and Titus to Crete, where Titus remained behind to oversee and
administer the church (Titus 1:5).
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It was to Crete that Paul wrote his letter, asking Titus to join him in Nicopolis on the west coast
of Greece (Titus 3:12). Following Paul‘s subsequent reimprisonment, Titus was sent to Dalmatia (2 Tim.
4:10). According to church tradition, Titus was the first bishop of Crete.
Judaizers: There have always been those who balk at the idea of God‘s salvation being offered
freely to those who believe. They reason that such a grand gift as forgiveness from such a holy God must
require some kind of payment from us. We thank God for His grace, but we understand that He expects us
to somehow earn that grace—in other words, there must be something that we can do to pay off the debt
we owe to God.
In the early church, those who taught a combination of God‘s grace and human effort were called
―Judaizers.‖ The word Judaizer comes from a Greek verb meaning ―to live according to Jewish customs.‖
The word appears in Galatians 2:14 where Paul describes how he confronted Peter for forcing Gentile
Christians to ―Judaize.‖
Judaizers taught that, in order for a Christian to truly be right with God, he must conform to the
Mosaic Law. Circumcision, especially, was promoted as necessary for salvation. Gentiles had to become
Jewish proselytes first, and then they could come to Christ. The doctrine of the Judaizers was a mixture of
grace (through Christ) and works (through the keeping of the Law). This false doctrine was dealt with in
Acts 15 and strongly condemned in the book of Galatians.
At the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, a group of Judaizers opposed Paul and Barnabas. Some men
who belonged to the party of the Pharisees insisted that Gentiles could not be saved unless they were first
circumcised and obeyed the Law of Moses. Paul made the case that, in Christ, there was no longer any
distinction between Jew and Gentile, for God had purified the hearts of the Gentiles by faith (Acts 15:8–
9). He said it plainly in Galatians 2:16: ―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.‖
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To add anything to the work that Christ did for salvation is to negate God‘s grace. We are saved by
grace alone, through faith alone, not by returning to the Law. ―I do not set aside the grace of God, for if
righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing‖ (Galatians 2:21).
Right hand of fellowship—The Jerusalem apostles showed their approval of Paul and Barnabas by
extending their right hand and shaking the hand of the missionaries. Some churches today still ―extend
the right hand of fellowship‖ to new members.
ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING:
OPPONENTS OF PAUL: Everywhere Paul went, he met opposition. At times, the opposition came from
official sources; at other times it came from riot. Perhaps the best way to understand the opposition Paul
faced is to review the complementary evidence from Acts and the relevant Pauline Letters.
The Book of Acts: The Book of Acts describes Paul‘s opponents more from historical and sociological
perspectives than theological. The early opposition came from Jewish sources in Damascus (Acts 9:23)
and Jerusalem (Acts 9:28-30). That trend continued as Paul and his companions conducted their
In almost every city there was a violent reaction to Paul‘s preaching. Most of the time it arose from
his preaching in the synagogue. On some occasions, however, Paul appeared before civil courts to explain
his activities, sometimes as a result of Jewish uproar in the city and sometimes because of Gentile
opposition to his message (Acts 16:19-40; 19:23; 23:12). Generally, the opponents objected either to
Paul‘s Christocentric gospel or to its broad implications. The gospel changed people‘s social, economic,
and religious values. In Acts, Luke emphasized that reactions to Paul arose in religious circles, primarily
Jewish, and that ultimately Paul was no threat to Rome.
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Paul‘s Letters reveal a more directed theological attack against him and the gospel. The opponents
apparently organized, hoping to counter Paul wherever he went. The primary passages to study are
Galatians, 1,2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 Timothy.
Galatians. Opposition to Paul‘s early ministry is recorded in Galatians. Paul expressed surprise that the
new converts embraced a ―different gospel‖ so quickly after he left them (Gal 1:6-8). Traditionally, the
opponents, called Judaizers, have been identified with a group of Jewish people who called new converts
back to Judaism. Since Paul stated that they wanted to avoid the persecution of the cross (Gal 6:12), it
seems possible that they were nominal Christians who were uncomfortable with Paul‘s emphasis on
freedom from circumcision and the law. A few scholars identify them as Gentiles, and others view them as
Jewish-Christian Gnostics. Most, however, conclude they are Jewish.
The debate in Galatians supports the interpretation that they were Jews who had an exposure to
Christianity. Primarily the opponents taught about Jewish law and ritual. They hoped Paul‘s converts
would accept a full gospel that included circumcision (Gal 5:2-3; 6:13), ritual feasts (Gal 4:10),
celebrations, and probably Jewish dietary regulations (Gal 2:11-16). Paul responded by affirming his call
from the Lord and the gospel he preached. He accused them of fearing persecution (6:12) and desiring to
return to elementary aspects of religion, the OT legal code (Gal 4:9).
The opponents were not Paul‘s converts as is clearly seen in the interchange of third-person
address for the opponents and second-person address for the church. The opponents at Galatia, therefore,
seem to have been Hellenized Jews from outside the church. They called Paul‘s converts to what they
considered a full gospel, mixing elements of Judaism and popular Greek religion. It included a return to
the legalism of the law. Paul had concluded that their message was not the gospel (Gal 1:6-7).
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Corinthians. Paul also faced severe attack at Corinth. The Corinthian Epistles reveal a general church
disorder, a questioning of Paul‘s integrity, and an organized opposition from outside the church. In 1
Corinthians, however, the problems encountered arose from within the congregation. Groups within
differed about how best to build the church, and they appealed to various leaders who had left their mark
on the congregation (1 Cor 13). Although this situation demanded a strong word, the proponents of this
division did not attack Paul and the church as severely as outsiders did.
In 2 Corinthians the opponents resembled those who opposed Paul elsewhere. Second Corinthians
is the primary source for understanding the opponents at Corinth. The issues in 2 Corinthians involve
Paul‘s character and calling.
The opponents used several avenues of approach in undermining Paul‘s authority. They said he had
no credentials (2 Cor 3; 11). Paul responded by saying that the Corinthian Christians stood as his
credentials. They said he had no confidence (2 Cor 10). Paul responded with a theology of personal
weakness that allowed the power of Christ to appear. They said he had no character (2 Cor 1:17; 11:7). He
responded by informing them that he followed the will of God for his life. Neither did he wish to burden
them financially when he preached. They said he had no charisma (2 Cor 11:5-6), to which he responded
that he would not use the wisdom of the world to manipulate conversions.
Finally, they claimed Paul had no calling (2 Cor 3:12; 12:11). The apostle replied that his ministry
was from God Himself (2 Cor 5:20).
Additional attacks came from those concerned about Paul‘s seeming carelessness about the law.
Some have interpreted Paul‘s opponents to have been Gnostic. The immediate issues, however, focused on
the place of the law in the believer‘s life. These include the relationship of law and grace (2 Cor 3:1-18).
Further, Paul defended himself against an attack on his true Jewishness by a comparison to other Jewish
apostles (2 Cor 11:22).
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The concern for the law was mixed with a concern for some of the finer points of oratory that were
practiced so well at Corinth.
Paul defended himself because the purity of the gospel was at stake. He would not allow anyone to
capture his converts and bring them under a legal code. The gospel would not be trivialized by using
rhetorical devices of manipulation. At Corinth, therefore, Paul‘s opposition came from both Jewish and
Gentile sources. The primary opposition, however, came from Jews with some exposure to Christianity
intent on reaffirming the law as a vital part of Christian faith.
Philippians. The Letter to the Philippians contains some of the most directed attacks against Paul‘s
opponents. The profile of the opponents must be developed from 1:12-30 and 3:1-21. Historically,
scholars have determined that the passages reflect two different groups of people. In 1:12-30 Christian
preachers opposed Paul. They hoped that by their preaching they would bring an unfavorable court verdict
against Paul. Although they had insincere motives (Phil 1:15-17), they preached a gospel that Paul
affirmed. These opponents were motivated by (1) jealousy of Paul, (2) opposition to Paul‘s calling as the
apostle to the Gentiles, or (3) opposition to Paul‘s message of freedom from law. Perhaps more than one
motivation characterized them.
In contrast to chapter 1, the opponents mentioned in chapter 3 came from outside the Christian
community and preached a different message. Paul‘s attitude changed as he characterized them as
unethical scavengers (Phil 3:2) who were preoccupied with dietary laws and circumcision (Phil 3:19).
They failed to realize that Christ delivers from such earthly concerns (Phil 3:19-20). In their place He
offered an eternal perspective for living. Paul countered them by recalling his experience as one under law
but who disavowed personal achievements in order to gain Christ (Phil 3:7-11).
These people, like the opponents of Galatians, feared Paul‘s apparent disregard of the legal code
and sought to educate the Philippians in this area.
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It is possible that these opponents believed they had already reached the ultimate spiritual
experience, perhaps by already experiencing the spiritual resurrection. Some even may have denied a
physical resurrection, arguing God only promised a spiritual resurrection. Since Paul acknowledged his
need to mature and develop in the Christian life (see 3:12-16), the opponents argued that his apparent
immaturity made him inferior to them.
Colossians. This letter has produced the most discussion of the opponents of Paul. In 2:6-19 the issues
raised by the opponents were the law and circumcision. Paul argued that in Christ believers already
experience a spiritual circumcision and that the law‘s demands have been satisfied. Christians are not to
focus on such earthly matters as the elements associated with the law (Col 2:20).
The specific doctrines of the opponents, however, cannot be easily and clearly identified with the
same issues as those at Philippi and Galatia. In the last 150 years many scholars have argued for a Gnostic
or pre-Gnostic environment.
“Gnosticism.” Gnosticism was a philosophy that emphasized spiritual deliverance through an
experience of insight or knowledge. The name of the movement comes from the Greek word for
Both Gnosticism and the Colossians Letter share similar vocabularies. Paul‘s teaching may
certainly be understood to counter that movement if Colossians is understood as a response to Gnosticism.
One problem with this, however, is that there is no concrete evidence that Gnosticism existed in the first
century A.D. Some have therefore suggested a pre-Gnostic environment in Colossae.
On the other hand, others have offered the Jewish Essenes as possible identification of the
opponents in Colossae. This group of Jewish teachers promoted a Christian gospel mixed with ascetic
tendencies. Their community and worship patterns resembled the Essenes of Palestine. Understood this
way, these Jewish opponents advocated an inferior Christianity.
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They taught that Jesus was less than God and that all persons must adhere strictly to the law and its
demands. Paul countered them by teaching that Jesus was indeed God in flesh (2:9-10) and that His
sacrifice on the cross provided for a complete salvation (2:11-19).
First Timothy. In 1 Timothy Paul countered a similar heresy as that in Colossae, but it came in a slightly
different form. He combated a preoccupation with ―myths and genealogies‖ (1 Tim 1:2-4) and the law (1
Tim 1:8-11). The advocates had a quarrelsome temperament that involved the minutia of words and
controversies (1 Tim 6:4). These were Jewish concerns, and the general tenor of the letter reinforces that
idea. Paul stated that these teachers were motivated by greed (1 Tim 6:5) and pride (1 Tim 1:7). The
language Paul used to counter them differed from the earlier writings. However, similar themes such as
the law, spiritual maturity, and asceticism were present.
Since Timothy served in Ephesus, probably in the mid-60s, the same opponents had access to him
as they did to the church at Colossae. Again, some have looked to Gnosticism and Greek philosophy to
describe the opponents.
The issues, however, are clearly suited to Jewish interests. Since the other letters give evidence of
similar problems from those outside the Pauline churches, it seems Paul countered a mature form of those
issues in 1 Timothy. These opponents appear to have been Jews with an interest in the legalistic type
arguments of the OT law and its application to Jewish congregations.
Summary: Some general conclusions provide direction. First, historically scholars have reached different
conclusions regarding Paul‘s opponents. Until the eighteenth century the consensus was that Paul opposed
Jewish teachers called Judaizers who sought to bring his liberated Christians back under the law. In the
eighteenth century, however, some scholars advanced the theory that Paul opposed many Gentile
philosophers. This theory grew into an assumption by many that Paul countered the Gnostics.
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Later, however, it was demonstrated that Gnosticism did not exist until the second century, so
people began to think of what is called incipient Gnosticism. That view still prevails in many circles.
Others hold to the predominantly Jewish identity of the opponents. Few hold to the earlier view
that they were pure Judaizers. More likely they were Jews who held a theology containing a mixture of
Essene, Jewish, and Christian ideas. Throughout his ministry Paul, the champion of Gentile Christianity,
faced opposition from Jews who shared his background, but not his theological insights.
Second, Paul‘s opponents attacked him, his credentials, and his message. The attacks were vicious
and varied (see 2 Cor 10-13; Gal 1-2; Phil 3). Equally, the attempts to undermine his theology were
systematic and well conceived. In defending himself Paul first defended the gospel and then himself only
as an apostolic proponent of that gospel. Personal attacks mattered only if they hindered the message.
The gospel mattered supremely; it was Paul‘s very life.
Third, although at times the identification of Paul‘s opponents depended on wild speculation, the
study brings many benefits. Biblical readers must look for a textual context to bring the text to life. The
opponents provided an occasion for some of the loftiest theology, especially Christology.
Further, as is true in many other disciplines, history repeats itself. Many heresies encountered
throughout Christian history share doctrinal tenets with these early heresies. The better we know them, the
more effectively we can counter others.
Finally, knowing Paul‘s opponents provides insights into how to defend the gospel and its
representatives today. Since Paul faced constant theological controversy, his life models a Christian
response. Each generation of Christians bears the same responsibility.
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Were They Talking About The Same Thing? Paul, Luke, and the Jerusalem Council
By C. Mack Roark, Professor of Bible, Oklahoma Baptist University, retired, Shawnee, Oklahoma.
TWICE THE NEW TESTAMENT REPORTS DETAILS of a conference in Jerusalem, occasioned by an
influx of Gentiles converted under the ministry of Paul and Barnabas. Some in the Jerusalem church were
insisting that these Gentile converts were obligated to keep the law of Moses, especially the circumcision
requirement. To this Paul took great exception, especially in his Letter to the Galatians. Luke, in Acts
15:1-20, reported such a conference; Paul, in Galatians 2:1-10, wrote about a conference quite similar.
However, are they the same conference? The two vary in significant details. Do differences between the
two outweigh the similarities? If both wrote about the same event, how does one explain the differences?
A cursory reading of the two texts could make one think these are two reports of the same event. Both
address the same issue: Gentile inclusion in the church. In both, the confrontation on this issue marks a
tipping point in the Christian mission.
In Acts the tipping point is clearly historical; the rest of the book is about Paul‘s expanding mission
to the Gentiles. In Galatians the tipping point is more theological; the gospel proclaims one way of
salvation—by grace through faith plus nothing.1
Likewise, the principal players were the same: Paul and Barnabas, James and Peter. In both, the
conflict was resolved with both an apostolic agreement and the Jerusalem church expressing approval of
Paul‘s circumcision-free gospel. Both accounts recognize the Jerusalem church‘s authority. However, if
the preceding is so, why would the Jerusalem church call for a second conference? Why re-hash what has
been settled? At first glance, the two accounts seem to point to the same event.
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A closer reading, though, clouds the matter. The differences between the two accounts argue for two
separate, if somewhat similar councils. In Acts, Paul and the others were ―appointed‖ to go to Jerusalem
for the encounter (Acts 15:2); Galatians says Paul went in response to a ―revelation‖ (Gal. 2:2).2 In Acts
the meeting was more public, the ―church and the apostles and the elders‖ (Acts 15:4, NRSV) or at least
the ―apostles and elders‖ (v. 6, NRSV) heard Paul‘s argument. Galatians, though, described a private
meeting with ―the acknowledged leaders‖ (Gal. 2:2, NRSV). And although both show that Peter had a
role in the proceedings, in Acts Peter spoke in Paul‘s defense and argued from his own experience for
Gentile inclusion (Acts 15:7-11); while in Galatians Paul makes clear that Peter‘s mission was to the
circumcised (Gal. 2:7-8).
Another significant difference is evident in the conclusion of each report. In Acts the so-called
Apostolic Decree (Acts 15:19-20,29) was a major feature of the letter James sent announcing the decision
that circumcision was not required.3 In the decree he called on the Gentiles to ―abstain only from things
polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled‖ (15:29, NRSV; see vv. 1920). Paul, however, gave no hint of this decree in his report. He instead made brief mention of an offering
for the poor (Gal. 2:10).
Chronology further compounds the problem. According to Acts the conference took place on
Paul‘s third reported visit to Jerusalem after his conversion (9:26-30; 11:25-30; 15:1-20). The first visit
was his initial introduction to Jerusalem Christians by Barnabas. On the second visit, Barnabas and Paul
(Saul) brought an offering from Antioch to the needy in Jerusalem. The third was the conference about
Gentile inclusion. This chronology clearly does not match what Paul reported. He made clear that he had
only been twice to Jerusalem, and these visits separated by 14 years (Gal. 1:17-18; 2:1).
On balance then one could argue that these were two different conferences in Jerusalem. If, on the
other hand, they were the same, as I will argue, how account for the differences?
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In proposing a solution, I begin with a general observation about written accounts of past events. Anyone
writing about the past (reporter, historian, biographer, letter writer) views the events through his or her
lens and writes with a purpose that can shape or shade what is recorded. Alert readers can detect this
perspective and purpose by looking carefully at what the writer chooses to include and how he reports it.
Choosing what to include involves de-selecting some things. Next, a close look at the writer‘s
presentation and what he reports brings his circumstance and intent into focus. One should notice word
choice, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs to see how the writer thinks and how he may be leading the reader.
This may help us read Luke and Galatians.
We must read Paul and Luke in their own contexts. Luke wrote at a time and in circumstances that
were not the same as the events themselves. Paul wrote while the conflict and its resolution were still
fresh. At least 10 and perhaps 20 or more years passed between what happened and Luke‘s writing. Luke
wrote more dispassionately, wanting to facilitate a consensus, to minimize the animosity, with an eye on
the need for unity in the spreading church. Luke chose to emphasize not the division but the harmony.
The church was fast becoming Gentile; his readers would be mostly Gentiles. He wrote for them.
For Paul, on the other hand, this was personal. He wrote not to report but to defend. In chapter 1 of
Galatians, Paul made clear that not only was his message threatened but his whole ministry, in fact even
the authenticity of his apostolicity. Paul made clear that even though he was not one of the Twelve, he
was nevertheless an apostle—―not from man nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father‖ (Gal.
1:1; HCSB). Moreover, his message of a law-free gospel came from no human source but by revelation
from God (v. 12). This shape the way he remembered and recorded the events at Jerusalem.
Paul wrote thinking about the churches in Galatia; Luke wrote thinking about his readers who were
decades removed from the event. From his closer proximity to the heat of the conflict, Paul wrote using
more polemical or controversial language; Luke‘s presentation was more conciliatory.
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With this in mind let‘s look at the particulars. Was this meeting by ―appointment‖ or by
―revelation‖? Both may be true. Luke reported it from the perspective of the church at Jerusalem; Paul
from his own. He cooperated because of his revelation. Was the meeting private or public? Did Paul
perhaps meet privately with the leadership mentioned in Galatians, then, having come to a resolution,
come before the church at large? Perhaps Luke did not know about the private meeting, only the public—
he was not there.
What about the difference in the way Simon Peter is presented? Peter, along with James, carried
the argument according to Acts, while scarcely mentioning Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:12). Paul put
himself center stage in Galatians because his whole ministry was at stake. However, for Luke, beginning
with Acts 16, the story is Paul‘s—and Peter is off the stage, so at this turning point Luke wanted no hint of
space between the two men. Again, Luke was emphasizing their harmony.
The final discrepancy between Luke and Paul is more complicated. Paul included the collection
(Gal. 2:10) because of its great importance to him (1 Cor. 16:1; 2 Cor. 8; Rom. 15:25-28), but left out
mention of the Apostolic Decree (Acts 15:19-20,29). Why? It may simply be that the churches of Galatia
already knew of the decree—they had received the letter (Acts 16:4).
Further, Paul already knew that not only circumcision but Jewish food laws would be a potential
source of conflict in the interface of Jewish and Gentile Christians. Paul‘s next paragraph is evidence
(Gal. 2:11-14). Later he would have to deal at length with the question of how mature Christians should
handle and balance Christian liberty and the scruples of believers still influenced by Jewish food practices
(see Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8; esp. Rom. 14:15-19; 1 Cor. 8:9-13). In neither of these instances did Paul mention
the Apostolic Decree. Is this avoidance in all three instances (Gal. 2:10; 1 Cor. 8; Rom. 14) a case of Paul
selecting what he wanted to report, and de-selecting the decree, lest it give ammunition to those arguing
for abiding by Jewish food laws? Perhaps, but we cannot know.
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To sum up: Luke and Paul, each under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, wrote about the same
event. That differences exist should not surprise. The story is one, but the reporting varies. Two
intelligent and committed Christian leaders wrote, each from his own perspective and for his own purpose,
affecting selection and presentation in their report, neither invalidating the account of the other, each
complementing the other.
A Different Gospel
By Bill Tolar, Vice President, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.
AFTER BEGINNING Galatians in a rather typical way (1:1-5), Paul made a startling declaration (1:6-9).
What did he mean in verse 6 when he said the Galatians were quickly deserting God ―for a different
gospel‖ which was really not another gospel at all? In verse 7 Paul declared there were ―some‖ persons
bothering them, persons unidentified by Paul, who wanted to ―distort‖ the gospel of Christ.1
What was this ―different gospel,‖ and who were these persons who preached it? Whoever they
were, Paul anted the ―anathema‖ or cirse‖2 of God to be upon them and upon anyone, human or angel,
who preached a gospel ―contrary to‖ or ―other than‖ the gospel he had preached to them (1:8-9).
The most widely held view is that Paul was opposing a group of Jewish Christians known to us as
―judaizers‖3 who early began to oppose Paul‘s message. Paul‘s ―gospel‖ was that any person (Jew or
Gentile) could be saved and come into a covenant relation with God by faith in Christ. Nothing else was
necessary! Faith in Christ alone was sufficient! (Romans is Paul‘s longest and most carefully deliberated
statement on this subject. The relationship of Galatians to Romans is an interesting subject itself, and
passages like Romans 3:7-8 and 16:17 may refer to Judaizers in that distant city).
Apparently some Jewish Christians through Paul was not telling the truth! To offer Gentiles the
full messianic hope of Israel (by only having faith in Jesus) without the ceremonial, ethical, and legal
guidelines of their Jewish cultural heritage seemed totally wrong to these devout people.
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They believed in Jesus as their Messiah, but they brought with them into their new faith not only
their Old Testament knowledge but also their strong bonds of Jewish culture and tradition. They could not
believe that a Gentile‘s faith, commitment to Christ (without obeying the law and being circumcised)
could save, and they were totally convinced that faith in Christ and keeping the Jewish law were tied
together in one inseparable package. Hence, in order to have the Jewish Messiah, Gentiles had to take on
the Jewish way of life. Gentiles, in order to be saved, thus would have to circumcised, keep the Mosaic
laws, as well as believe in Jesus as their Savior. For Jews to be saved, they would have to believe in Jesus
and keep on observing their Jewish laws. Not all Jewish Christians believed this, but those who did are
Paul was adamant that Gentiles did not have to convert to Judaism in order to become Christians.4
In Galatians 2:16 he declared that a person ―is not justified by the works of the Law, but through faith in
Christ Jesus,‖ because ―by the works of the Law shall no flesh by justified.‖
Many Jewish Christians had fled Jerusalem during the persecution of Christianity by unbelieving
Jews (Acts 8:1,4; 11:19a). Some journeyed as far as Antioch nearly 300 miles to the north.5 Some of
these believers preached Jesus as Messiah only to their fellow Jews (Acts 11:19b). Others, however,
preached to non-Jews as well (Acts 11:20). The Jerusalem church sent emissaries (including Barnabas) to
Antioch, and prophets also went from Jerusalem to Antioch (Acts 11:27), perhaps to check on the
orthodoxy of the church!
Most certainly some of these Jewish Christian did not share Paul‘s theology of salvation by faith
alone. Luke wrote in Acts 14:26-28 that when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch at the close of the
first journey, they gathered the church and reported what God had done through them among the Gentiles.
Then immediately in 15:1 Luke said, ―some men came down from Judea‖ (Jerusalem?) and began
teaching the Christians (Gentile Christians apparently) that ―unless you are circumcised according to the
custom of Moses, you cannot be save.‖
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Next, Luke said (15:2) that both Paul and Barnabas dissented and debated these Jewish-Christian
brothers (Judaizers were converted Pharisees who brought much of their rigid, legalistic thinking with
them into the Christian faith.
The leaders of the early church sided with Paul and Barnabas after hearing all sides in the long
debate (15:7). The Jerusalem Council did not require circumcision of Gentile converts but did strongly
urge them to respect Jewish-Christian scruples on four issues: idolatry, fornication, eating things strangled,
and eating blood. Nevertheless, the forbidding of these things were not conditions for salvation.
In Galatians 2:11-14 Paul recorded a confrontation with Peter while both were in Antioch. Peter was
fellowshipping with Gentile-Christian converts until ―certain men‖ (apparently Judaizers) came from
Jerusalem. Then Peter and Barnabas both withdrew from the Gentile Christians, ―fearing the party of the
circumcision.‖ Paul strongly condemned Peter for his actions because it led other Jewish Christians in
Antioch to do the same (Gal. 2:13).
In Galatians 4:9 Paul warned his readers against turning ―back again to the weak and worthless
elemental things.‖ He declared in 4:10 that they were observing ―days and months and season and years.‖
These were Jewish terms and point toward a law-centered, tradition-oriented, works-related kind of
religion.7 These terms clearly imply the Judaizing heresy of a ―different gospel.‖ Paul‘s allegory of Sarah
and Hagar in Galatians (4:21-31 is a powerful argument for the view that his opponents were Judaizers.
Paul‘s declaration in Galatians 5:1 on ―freedom‖ and ―slavery‖ and the unimportance of circumcision to
one who has faith in Christ also points toward a Judaizing enemy. He told his readers in 6:12 that it was
fleshly, worldly pride that caused some to compel the Galatians to be circumcised.
By why did the Galatians ―so quickly‖ desert Paul‘s kind of gospel for something else? The
answer is complex. In part it was because of the ability of the Judaizers. They were intelligent, devout,
persuasive, confident, and authoritative.
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They also raised questions about Paul‘s apostolic authority since he was not a disciple of Jesus
during His earthly ministry or a witness to the resurrection (as required of the successor to Judas in Acts
1:15-26). In addition, perhaps it was due in part to the nature of the Galatians themselves.8
Not only does the Book of Galatians tell us about some opponents of Paul, but 2 Corinthians also
reveals some person (or persons) who opposed Paul‘s preaching and leadership at Corinth. Paul denied
that he (Paul) was like ―many‖ who corrupted or peddled the word of God out of insincere motives (2 Cor.
2:17). Were these ―:many‖ the Judaizers who were preaching a ―different gospel‖? Paul implied in 2
Corinthians 4:12 that some professing Christians were engaging in a ministry characterized by a hidden
agenda, shameful in nature, living ―crafty‖ life-styles, and adulterating the word of God. Were these
people like Paul‘s opponents in Galatia? Did they follow Paul everywhere he went, and as soon as he
moved on to preach in another city, move in to subvert and undercut him?
In 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 Paul declared his godly jealousy for the Corinthian believers (mostly
Gentile-Christians) and expressed his fear that they might be led astray from their simple and pure
devotion to Christ. Then he immediately and sarcastically exclaimed that ―if one comes and preaches
another Jesus whom we have not preached, …or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear
this beautifully‖ (2 Cor. 11:4). In 2 Corinthians 11:13 Paul declared such men to be ―false apostles,
deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.‖
These people must have been Judaizers, for listen to Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:22-23: ―Are they
Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they
servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten
times without number, often in danger of death.‖ Then Paul proceeded to give an incredible catalog of his
sufferings for Christ as credentials for his being a true apostle.
A few other passages may be important to this topic. In 1 Timothy 1:3-11 Paul urged Timothy to
―instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies .
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. . . For some men straying . . . have turned aside to fruitless discussion wanting to be teachers of the
Law.‖ Again, in 1 timothy 6:3-5 Paul denounced anyone who ―advocates a different doctrine‖ (not the
identical word in the Greek text which he used in 2 Cor. 11:4 and Gal. 1:6, but similar in idea.)
In Paul‘s advice to Titus, he told him to help select pastors who, among other things, would hold
fast the ―faithful word‖ and ―exhort in sound doctrine‖ and ―refute those who contradict. For there are
many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision who . . . are . . .
teaching things they should not teach‖ (1:9-11). Paul especially called attention to ―those of the
circumcision.‖ Titus 1:14 and 3:9 may also be relevant.
In light of these passages, apparently the ―different gospel‖ in Galatians 1:6 was the gospel as
presented by the Judaizers to the effect that ―faith alone in Christ is not enough to save; a person must do
other things also, such as keep the Mosaic law and be circumcised.‖
Today‘s equivalent would be that in addition to faith in Christ one must be baptized, join the
church, tithe, be good, and meet many other requirements in order to be saved. The reader should
immediately recognize the critical importance of this matter. One contemporary scholar has declared that
―Galatians has a relevant message of justification by faith for modern man, with all his cults and religious
systems that seek to gain heaven by good works.‖9 A prominent pastor-scholar has declared the message
of Galatians as ―perhaps the most controversial in Christendom today.‖10 The alternatives are clearly
drawn: salvation comes either by good deeds, or it comes by pure grace through faith in Christ apart from
To add anything else to faith in Christ in order to be saved is to commit the heresy of the Judaizers!
To add anything else to faith in Christ implies that Christ alone is not sufficient, that His life, death, and
resurrection are not enough to save us, which we must add something to what He was and did so that we
can be saved. In the words of Paul, ―May God forbid!‖
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PAUL versus PETER
By Mack Roark, Dickinson Professor of Bible, Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.
THE GIANTS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, aside from the Lord Jesus, are the apostles Paul and
Peter. Records show that their combined efforts were the most formative force in the early church. Yet
Paul‘s letter to the Galatians makes clear that the two did not always see eye-to-eye. How strained was
their relationship? What does Paul say about Peter? Was their dispute ever resolved?
Galatians 1:11—2:14 is the longest autobiographical section of Paul‘s letters. Yet Paul did not
write it as autobiography, but to make a point about his mission to take a law-free gospel to the Gentiles.
He was at pains to legitimate his gospel in face of opposition from some Jerusalem Christians who
preached that circumcision must be added to faith as a requirement for salvation. Paul‘s desire in this
passage was to show his independence from the Jerusalem church, and at the same time show their
agreement with his law-free gospel. Moreover, at the core of this effort we find Paul in dispute with
Peter1 is mentioned in only two of Paul‘s 13 letters, Galatians and 1 Corinthians (Gal. 1:18; 2:79,11,14; 1 Cor. 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5). In both letters the context is conflict. The Corinthian letters gives
little indication of how Peter figured in the party spirit dividing that congregation. Nevertheless, in
Galatians clearly these two heroes were at odds with one another.
Both had risen to places of leadership in the early church. Paul, after a dramatic conversion, was
now a missionary to the Gentiles. Peter, one of the original apostles and a leader of the Jerusalem church,
was now also a missionary. Little, however, is known about Peter the missionary. The first 11 chapters of
Acts show him to be the leader of the Jerusalem church.
However, by Acts 12:17, James the brother of Jesus seems to have surfaced as leader of that
church and he certainly was by Acts 15. Peter‘s diminished role as leader in Jerusalem is explained by his
departure on the mission.
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Acts 12 reports that after escaping prison and reporting to James, Peter ―departed and went into
another place‖ (Acts 12:17, KJV). Where the ―other place‖ was we cannot be sure. Eusebius thought it
was Rome.2 More likely it was northern and western Asia Minor, since his first letter was written to
churches in that area (1 Pet. 1:1). This is all we know of Peter‘s missionary work, save for the mention in
Galatians. We do know that Paul recognized missionary activity other than his own (Rom. 15:20) and
looked on Peter as a fellow missionary (1 Cor. 9:5).
In the Galatians passage, Paul mentioned three contacts he had with Peter (1:18, 2:1-10, 2:11-14).
The initial contact came when Paul visited Jerusalem three years after his conversion. The visit was brief
and private. He stayed only two weeks and saw no one but Peter and James. The verb used for ―visit‖
could mean he simply ―paid a visit.‖ On the other hand, it could be translated to mean ―he inquired of,
interviewed.‖ Either way Paul surely learned more about the life and ministry of Jesus from one who had
been with Him during His ministry. Nevertheless, this was not why Paul reported this visit. Rather he
wanted to show that considerable time lapsed after his conversion before he came to Jerusalem and that he
stayed only a few days and that he spent no time with the Jerusalem church at large.
Paul‘s next encounter with Peter occurred on his second visit to Jerusalem, 14 years after the first
(Gal. 2:1-10). Sometimes called the Jerusalem Conference, this contact was crucial to the future of
Christianity. Three groups of persons must be identified to understand this passage. First there was Paul
and Barnabas, along with Titus; then there was James, Peter, and John, leaders of the Jerusalem church;
and finally there were the agitators, ―false brethren,‖ Paul called them, who had intruded themselves into
Paul‘s ministry insisting that his gospel was incomplete without the Jewish rite of circumcision. These
agitators probably came from Jerusalem (Gal. 2:12; Acts 15:1) and at least claimed the support of the
I conclude that the conference reported in Galatians 2:1-10 is the same as that reported by Luke in
Acts 15. The ―false brethren‖ of Galatians 2:4 is the same as the Pharisaic Christians in Acts 15:5.
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Interestingly, Luke‘s account of this conference (Acts 15) smoothes over any hint of the dispute
between Paul and Peter. Paul knew that the future of his missionary activity depended on a proper working
relationship between his mission to the Gentiles and the work of the Jerusalem (Jewish) church. His visit
to Jerusalem, therefore, was not so much to get their approval as to reach an agreement that would
override the negative effect of the agitators.
To recognize that Peter was not one of the agitators is important. Paul distinguished between the
―false brethren secretly brought in‖ (Gal. 2:4, NASB) and the pillars of the church. Theirs was ―no
gospel‖ (1:7, NIV) but Peter has a ―gospel to the circumcised‖ (2:7, NASB). Circumcision was central to
the agitators; it was not to Peter. In both reports, Luke‘s and Paul‘s, Peter served in a mediating position
between Paul and the agitators. While there may have been tension between Paul and Peter, they were not
opponents. Peter‘s gospel may have been nuanced differently from Paul‘s, but Paul recognized that it was
still the gospel.
Titus may have been a test cast in the matter of circumcision (2:3). A Gentile, he was not required
by the Jerusalem church to be circumcised, thus becoming a parade example to the agitators that
mainstream Christendom was committed to the doctrine of salvation through faith alone.
After much discussion, recorded more fully in Acts 15, all agreed on this. The outcome was
strategic. Jerusalem added nothing to this gospel (Gal 2:6), suggesting only that the Gentiles remember
the poor (2:10), already on Paul‘s agenda. More importantly they agreed on a division of labor that
recognized the validity of both missions, Peter‘s to the Jewish world and Paul‘s to the Gentile.
That the agitators did not give up or give in to the agreement is clear from Paul‘s third meeting
with Peter (vv. 11-14). About three hundred miles north of Jerusalem, at Antioch of Syria, the handshake
of Paul and Peter was tested. That the Antioch incident is to be read in light of the Jerusalem conference is
clear from its placement in the letter. Peter, eating with Gentiles, had been doing what came naturally to
him, given his experience with Cornelius (Acts 10).
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However, when some of the same agitators called him down on this, perhaps citing texts like
Leviticus 17, Peter backed away from this table fellowship. Even Barnabas caved in. Paul called it
Paul knew that he and Peter agreed on the matter of Gentile inclusion. Now he saw that Peter,
under pressure, did not stand up for what he knew was right. Paul reported this incident to make sure the
Galatians knew that if the ―pillar apostle Peter can fall from the truth of the gospel, how careful the
Galatians must be not to do the same.‖3 The ―truth of the gospel‖ (Gal. 2:5,14) is maintained only when
faith alone is the requirement of salvation.
Did Paul win the Antioch debate? At least in his mind he did, for he used the incident to convince
the Galatians. What about Peter? Acts says nothing of Peter after chapter 15. Nevertheless, Peter‘s own
words, written much later, reflect love and respect for Paul (2 Pet. 3:15-16). To Peter, Paul was a
―beloved brother‖ whose writings though difficult, were like Scripture to him.
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