Paul continues in this chapter with two important purposes – to defend his apostleship, and by doing so, to reinforce the correct teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ that he had done there previously. Some see the visit to Jerusalem referred to in verse one as being the famine relief effort of Acts 11:29-30. But that occurred at a time of great persecution in Jerusalem (Acts 12) – so much so that James the son of Zebedee was executed, and Peter was thrown in prison. It was no time for the type of conference described in verses 1-5. Clearly, these events correspond more closely with the Jerusalem Conference outlined in Acts 15:1-5. Verse 9 confirms the conviction of Peter and James, the Lord’s brother, that bringing the gospel to the Gentiles was indeed God’s will. Had this been the case with the trip in Acts 11, the matter would have been settled then – with no need for the Jerusalem Conference to take place at all.
There are aspects of Paul’s rebuke of Peter in verses 11-14 that are much debated. Did Peter’s hypocrisy about occur before or after the Jerusalem Conference? What did Paul mean when speaking of the men of the circumcision party who “came from James?” We do not all of the answers. We know from Acts 15:13-19 that James was certain of God’s will toward the Gentiles. Paul’s relating of these facts to the Galatians showed not only that he was equal to the other apostles, but that this truly was the Lord’s will.
Paul then underscores all of this in verses 15-21 by pointing out that we as Christians are not justified (counted as righteous) by works of the law. Through the faith in Christ (some translations more accurately say “faith OF Christ”) we have died to the law (verse 19, Romans 7:4-6). As Paul says in verse 20, we “have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” We were “buried therefore with him by baptism” (Romans 6:4-6). He settles the matter in verse 24 by pointing out that “if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” If we could earn our salvation through works of the law, we would have no need of the grace that we have in Christ.
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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