Galatians 2:11–21

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When Paul Rebuked Peter (Grace Has Replaced Law)

John Hepp, Jr.

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Paul Rebuked Peter
(Grace Has
Replaced Law)

John Hepp, Jr.

This happened when Simon Peter, the #1 church leader,
visited the Gentile church at Antioch of Syria. The text is quoted
in short sections from the New International Version (but see
footnotes), each followed by an explanation and a summary.


2:11-13 Peter’s hypocrisy prompts Paul’s rebuke.

11 When Peter [note 1]
came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in
the wrong. note 12 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. note
13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that
by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

By his actions at Antioch Peter prompted Paul’s rebuke. Peter
knew that the law was no longer valid, which had created a wall of
separation between Jews and Gentiles (see Acts 10). Therefore, Peter
at first ate with the Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-12a). Later, however, he
withdrew from them in fear of some men of the circumcision party who
came “from James” (i.e., from Jerusalem, v. 12b). By not
giving his real reason for withdrawing, Peter implied that God
required it—that the law was still valid. His example drew the
other Jews, even Barnabas, into the same hypocrisy (v. 13).

Summary: On a visit to
Antioch Peter lived with Gentile Christians until some Jewish
Christians came from Jerusalem. In fear of them he—followed by
other Jews—withdrew as though the law were still valid and
Gentiles were still unclean.

2:14 Peter has acted as though lawkeeping

must be added to grace.

When I saw that they were not acting in line with
the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You
are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it,
then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

Because Peter’s example contradicted the gospel, Paul publicly rebuked
him as follows. Until now you have been living like Gentiles, not
under the law. Now, however, you withdraw from them. By doing so,
you make it look as though Gentiles cannot please God without keeping
the law.

Summary: Peter has been
living like a Gentile, but now by his actions makes Gentiles think
they must keep the Jewish law.

Having only one way of justification

makes us all “sinners.”

15 “We who are
Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law,
but by faith in Jesus Messiah. [note 2]
So we, too, have put our faith in Messiah Jesus that we may be
justified by faith in Messiah and not by observing the law, because
by observing the law no one will be justified.

our lives we Jews have not classified ourselves with “Gentile
sinners” (who do not keep God’s holy law). But now that
the Messiah Jesus has come, we have finally understood that
obeying the law cannot make us right with God. The only thing that
can do that is believing in Messiah, which we have done.

Summary: Jews, because
they had the law, did not consider themselves “Gentile
sinners.” The gospel, however, taught them to get right with
God by faith in Messiah. Those who did so forsook the law.

Rebuilding the law slanders Messiah.

17 “If, while we seek to
be justified in Messiah, it becomes evident that we ourselves
are sinners, does that mean that Messiah promotes sin? Absolutely
not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, I
prove that I am a lawbreaker.

So in obedience to the gospel we forsook the law to believe in
Messiah. That has put us into the category of sinners the same as
the Gentiles. Shall we conclude, then, that Messiah actually serves
the interests of (favors and facilitates) sin? [note 3] Of course not. 18. Yet, that is what I imply if I (like you)
rebuild the wall of separation Messiah made me tear down. [note 4]
Rebuilding it implies that tearing it down was wrong.

Summary: It was Messiah,
then, who made Jews “sinners” by making them tear down
the wall separating Jews from Gentiles. By doing that, did He
promote sin? If I rebuild the wall, I imply that He did.

Do not cancel God’s grace by adding law.

19 “For through the law I
died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I
have been crucified with Messiah and I no longer live, but Messiah
lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son
of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I
do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be
gained through the law, Messiah died for nothing!”

In what way did I tear down the law? [note 5]

By letting it kill me so that I could live for God. 20. Yes, it
killed me when it killed Messiah. [note 6]
His only reason to let that happen was that He loved me and wanted
to save me. Now I have a new life, not my own but His resurrection
life in me. 21. This is God’s own plan to produce a new and
holy life. If I try to become acceptable to God through law keeping,
I reject God’s plan. I act as though there were no reason for
Messiah to die.

Summary: The law exacted
all its penalty on Messiah when He died. In Him I also died—and
rose with Him to new life. Therefore, the law has done its worst and
has no more power over me. To go back to the law in order to please
God would make Messiah’s death mean nothing.

John, run, the law commands

But gives us neither feet nor hands.

Far better news the gospel brings;

It bids us fly and gives us wings.

                                         John Bunyan

Note 1 (return to text)
“Peter” is not a translation but Greek Petros

written in English, as in Gal. 2:7, 8. In 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14, the
original does not even have Petros but its equivalent in
Aramaic, Kephas. Kephas is the name Jesus promised to
Simon (John 1:42) and later gave him (Matt. 16:18). Both terms mean

Note 2 (return to text)
NIV has “Christ,” not a translation but Greek Cristos
written in English. Wherever Cristos is used, I have put
Aramaic Messiah, which retains some of the royal meaning.
Both titles mean “Anointed [as King],” John 1:41.

Note 3 (return to text)
The Greek at the end of 2:17 says, “So then, is Messiah a
servant of sin?”

Note 4 (return to text)
Note the following about 2:18, a key verse. (1) It gives a reason
why one might conclude, as the question implies in v. 17, that
Messiah serves the interests of sin. The second word in Greek (but
omitted in the NIV) is gar, which usually introduces a reason
(or explanation) for something just said. Here, rebuilding the law
barrier implies that Messiah was wrong when He made me tear it down.
(2) Rebuilding the law does not make me a “law-breaker”

but demonstrates that I became one by tearing it down. The
verb translated “proves” (sunistano) means
“demonstrates” an existing condition, not “makes”
a new condition. (3) The noun translated “law-breaker”

(parabaten) means “transgressor, sinner” without
specifically referring to the law. In several passages it is
accompanied by the word for “law” (e.g., Romans 2:25,
), but not here. (4) When Paul says “if I rebuild…I…I,”
he supposes himself doing what Cephas did. This helps him bridge
into the following statements (vv. 19-21), which are true of every

Note 5 (return to text)
As in verse 18, gar in verse 19 shows that verses 19-20
include an explanation of something just said.

Note 6 (return to text)

How and why the law killed Messiah will be explained in 3:13-14;
4:4-5; 5:24; and 6:14. My union with Him in dying to the law and
living to God is the main idea in Romans 7:1-6.


Galatians 2:7-8
7On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews.  8For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.

Galatians 1:18

18Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days.

Galatians 2:9, 11, 14
9James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.
11When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.
14When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

John 1:42

42And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

Matthew 16:18
18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.


John 1:41
41The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).


Romans 2:25, 27

25Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised.
27The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.


Galatians 3:13-14
13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”  14He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Galatians 4:4-5
4But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

Galatians 5:24
24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.

Galatians 6:14
14May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Romans 7:1-6

1Do you not know, brothers–for I am speaking to men who know the law–that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives?  2For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage.  3So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.
4So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.  5For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.  6But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

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