A Commentary by John Stott
Galatians. 2:14-16. b). Why Paul did it (continued).
What, then is the truth of the gospel? Every reader of the Epistle to the Galatians should know the answer to this question. It is the good news that we sinners, guilty and under the judgment of God, may be pardoned and accepted by His sheer grace, His free and unmerited favour, on the ground of His Son’s death and not for any works or merits of our own. More briefly, the truth of the gospel is the doctrine of justification (which means acceptance before God) by grace alone through faith alone, which he goes on to expound in verses 15-17.
Any deviation from this gospel Paul simply will not tolerate. At the beginning of the Epistle he pronounced a fearful *anathema* on those who distort it (1:8, 9). In Jerusalem he refused to submit to the Judaizers even for a moment, ‘that the truth of the gospel might be preserved’ (2:5). And now in Antioch, out of the same vehement loyalty to the gospel, he withstands Peter to his face because his behaviour has contradicted it. Paul is determined to defend and uphold the gospel at all costs, even at the expense of publicly humiliating a brother apostle.
But someone may wonder how Peter’s withdrawal contradicted the truth of the gospel. Consider Paul’s reasoning carefully. Verses 15, 16: *We ourselves (that is, Peter and Paul)…know that a man (any man, whether Jew or Gentile) is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ*. These words are part of what Paul said to Peter in Antioch. He is reminding him of the gospel which they both knew and which they held in common. On this matter there was no difference of opinion between them. They were agreed that God accepts the sinner through faith in Christ and in the work He finished on the cross. This is the way of salvation for all sinners, Jews and Gentiles alike. There is no distinction between them in the fact of their sin; and there is therefore no distinction between them in the means of their salvation.
Now, if God justifies Jews and Gentiles on the same terms, through simple faith in Christ crucified, and puts no difference between them, who are we to withhold our fellowship from Gentile believers unless they are circumcised? If God does not require this work of the law called circumcision before He accepts them, how dare we impose a condition upon them which He does not impose? If God has accepted them, how can we reject them? If He receives them to *His* fellowship, shall we deny them *ours*? He has reconciled them to Himself; how can we withdraw from those whom God has reconciled? The principle is well stated in Romans 15:9: ‘Welcome one another…, as Christ has welcomed you.’
Besides, Peter himself had been justified by faith in Jesus. He not only ‘knew’ the doctrine of justification by faith, but had himself acted on it and ‘believed’ in Jesus in order to be justified (verse 16). And Peter no longer observed Jewish food regulations. *If you*, Paul says to him, *though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? (verse 14).
c). What happened as a result.
We are not told explicitly in this passage the result of Paul’s action, but the perspective of later history tells us. For this incident in Antioch precipitated the future Council in Jerusalem, described in Acts 15. It is possible that Paul was actually on his way up to Jerusalem for the Council while he was writing this Epistle. We know from Acts 15:1, 2 that the dissensions provoked by the Judaizers in Antioch were the immediate cause of the Council. Paul, Barnabas and certain others were appointed by the church to go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this very question. We also know the decision which the Jerusalem Council reached, namely that circumcision was not to be required of Gentile believers. And so, partly as a result of the stand that Paul took at Antioch against Peter that day, a great triumph for the gospel was won.
Tomorrow: Galatians 2. Conclusion.