In my last post, Paul had begun to explain how he had confronted Peter over his being carried away by the practices of some false teachers who had come to Antioch. Today we will continue with Paul's explanation.
Galatians 2:14-21 (KJV)
But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.
For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.
For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
When the false teachers (men from James) arrived in Antioch, Peter, Barnabas, and the other Jewish Messianic believers separated themselves from the Gentile believers. Paul stated in verse 14 that they were not behaving in a manner consistent with the truth of the gospel. So, he called Peter out in front of all of them. He asked the question, "If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" What does this mean exactly? Peter, who was a Jew (ethnically and religiously in that he had been circumcised) was now living as a Gentile. Traditional Christianity has insisted that this has meant that Peter no longer followed the Torah, especially the food laws, but in light of the fact that the men from James most likely came from the same assembly as Peter and James, this seems unlikely. This issue would have been dealt with in Jerusalem long before Peter and the men came to Antioch. The problem was not the food laws, but rather a Jewish tradition of Jews and Gentiles eating separately. So how did Peter live as a Gentile? Peter understood that the gospel was for both Jew and Gentile. The traditions in the oral law that were binding on Jews was no longer binding on the believers. Peter had been living in accord with this understanding. Apparently, his understanding had not been put to the test very strenuously in Jerusalem. He had no problem eating with Gentiles until the men from James pressured him into old ways of thought. If Peter understood that there was no difference between Jews and Gentiles in Messiah, Paul asked him why he wanted to compel the Gentiles to live according to all the oral traditions?
From this point on Paul explained why he had taken Peter to task.
In verse 15 Paul's use of "Jews by nature" and "sinners of the Gentiles" was not pejorative, but his Jewish way of differentiating the two groups. In traditional Judaism Gentiles were by nature "sinful." Paul used this description, although he was fully aware that both Jews and Gentiles were sinners.
Verse 16 makes it clear that the Jews knew that justification didn't come through doing any works, including the observance of Torah, but through faith in Messiah Yeshua. There has been a misunderstanding in Christianity that Judaism is a works-based religion. This is not true. We see this in Genesis.
Genesis 15:6 (KJV)
And he (Abraham) believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Yet, this has not stopped either Jews or Christians from acting as if righteousness comes from obeying laws. This is what the men from James were guilty of, believing that the Gentiles' salvation was dependent on righteous deeds, not only those of the Torah, but of the Jewish traditions as well. Paul, who knew how that understanding can lead believers astray, pointedly stated that "no man is justified by works.
In verse 17 Paul anticipated the reaction of his statement to all false teachers like those that came to Antioch. If receiving salvation came by faith and it was not dependent on works of righteousness, was not Messiah a minister of sin, if believers were found to be sinners? Paul emphatically exclaimed "No way!"
Paul then added that if he built back up the foundation of a works-based salvation as demonstrated by the false teachers, that he had worked so hard to destroy, he would be guilty of transgressing the real Torah (verse 18). In other words the Jewish religious system had created a god of their own making, by insisting that the Jewish traditions were essential, not the true God who allowed both Jews and Gentiles into salvation through faith and not works of any kind.
In verse 19 Paul used the word "law" in two different ways. The first was as "the Torah", but the second was as "the Jewish traditions." In other words, Paul, by understanding the true Torah's method of salvation, the Jewish traditions of the oral Torah were dead to him.
Believers share in Yeshua's death and resurrection (verse 20). Although, they still live in the flesh, the life they live is no longer controlled by the sinful nature, but is lived by Yeshua living within them. This is a picture of the new covenant where the Law was to be written on the hearts of believers.
Jeremiah 31:33 (KJV)
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Verse 21 then recaps Paul's statements by reiterating that if salvation had come by works of righteousness then Yeshua would have died in vain.
In summary, the false teachers were demonstrating that faith in Yeshua was not enough for salvation, that works were needed. Paul boldly corrected that notion. Faith in Yeshua was all that was required. Paul was pointing out that not even following Torah would result in the salvation of anyone. So certainly, the traditions of the Jews were not needed. However, just because salvation is not gained by doing works, it doesn't mean that the the Laws of the Torah are done away with. The Torah was now written on the believers' hearts and those good works would follow after salvation. The false teachers were wrong in trying to add Jewish tradition into what was required for salvation.