The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on Galatians 2:1-2,7-14

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 6, 2010

For context I’ve included Father Callan’s summary of verses 1-10 and 11-14. The latter summary occurs after the notes on verse 10.


Summary of Galatians 2:1-10. Having shown the divine origin of his Gospel and Apostolic authority the Apostle goes on now to refute another argument of his enemies, namely, that he had not the approval of the twelve. After fourteen years, moved by divine revelation, he paid another visit to Jerusalem, accompanied by Barnabas, his co-worker, and Titus, his attendant. While there a statement of his whole Gospel and preaching was laid before the other Apostles and met with their entire and wholehearted approval, in spite of certain objections raised by some false brethren who were secretly brought in to spy on him.

1. Then, after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also with me.

Then (ἔπειτα = epeita), as in 1:18 and 21, indicates the occurrence of some new and notable event. The labors in Syria and Cilicia are succeeded by a journey to Jerusalem.

After fourteen years, i.e., fourteen years from the first visit to Jerusalem mentioned in 1:18, and therefore seventeen years after his conversion, or around 49-51 a.d., the time of the Council of Jerusalem (St. Jerome, St. Chrys., Comely, Lagrange, Zahn, etc.). Ramsay, Loisy and some others believe the date is from St. Paul’s conversion, and so eleven years after the visit of 1:18.

The present visit is doubtless to be identified with that of Acts xv. 2 ff., and not with the previous one of Acts 11:29, 30. Reasons for this opinion are: (a) The chief persons are the same in both instances, namely, Paul and Barnabas, Peter and James; (b) the same question is presented for discussion, i.e., whether Gentile converts should be subjected to the Mosaic observances; (c) the outcome is the same, which was perfect agreement between Paul and the other Apostles, and the decision that the Gentiles were free; (d) the visit of Acts 11:29, 30 occurred before the death of Herod Agrippa I in 44 a.d. Now the visit of the present verse was at least fourteen, and more probably seventeen years after St. Paul’s conversion. To identify these two visits, therefore, would mean pushing the Apostle’s conversion back to 28 of 30 a.d., which is plainly inadmissible.

If St. Paul passes over here the visit to Jerusalem recorded in Acts 11:29, 30, it is because that visit had nothing to do with showing his approval by the other Apostles—the question before him at present. The visit of Acts 11:29, 30 took place about the time of the martyrdom of St. James the Greater, 43-44 a.d.; St. Peter was in prison or had fled, and the rest of the Apostles were most probably scattered. At all events, it seems clear from Acts 11:30 that St. Paul saw none of the Apostles on that occasion, and hence a mention
of it here would be to no purpose.

With Barnabas. St. Paul mentions Barnabas who, as being a Jewish Christian, was an unimpeachable witness of what took place at Jerusalem during his meeting with the other Apostles.

Titus is also spoken of, because, being a Gentile by birth, and uncircumcised, he would illustrate the rightfulness of Paul’s practice of not circumcising converts from paganism.

2. And I went up according to revelation; and communicated to them the gospel, which I preach among the Gentiles, but apart to them who seemed to be some thing: lest perhaps I should run, or had run in vain.

And I went up. Better, “Now I went up,” etc. To show that this journey to Jerusalem was not the result of any doubt on his part St. Paul says that he was prompted to undertake it by divine revelation. This is not contrary to Acts 15:2, where St. Luke says that Paul was sent by the Church at Antioch; for, in the first place, the decision of the Church could have coincided with the manifestation of the divine will made to Paul, and secondly, it is possible that the revelation was made not to Paul alone, but to the whole Church.

Communicated to. Better, “I laid before” (ἀνατίθεμαι = anatithemai).

Them, i.e., the faithful of Jerusalem. Whether this explanation of his preaching was made first in a general way to all the faithful (Acts 15:4, 5), and then more particularly to those who were in authority (Acts 15:6), St. Paul does not state here; he is concerned at present only with proving that when he explained his Gospel, it was approved by all.

The gospel, which I preach, etc., i.e., that the Gentiles need not be circumcised and made to conform to the Mosaic observances in order to be saved.

But apart to. Better, “In particular, however, before,” etc. (κατ ιδιαν), i.e., he laid his Gospel especially and privately before those in authority.

Them who seemed, etc., i.e., those who are held in esteem, recognized leaders (τοις δοκουσιν). The reference is most likely to Peter, James and John. Comely thinks the “apostles and ancients” (bishops) of Acts 15:6 are here referred to. That St. Paul’s words are free from all irony and disrespect is evident from his well-known regard for the Apostles.

Lest perhaps I should run, etc. St. Paul wishes to say that he laid his Gospel before the supreme authority in the Church for approval, not because he had any personal doubt about it, but in order to guard his future, as well as his past labors against the attacks of his enemies. He submitted his preaching to the Apostles “not that he might learn anything himself, but that he might show his opponents that he had not run in vain” (St. Chrys.).

Doubtless, also, St. Paul wished to forestall any possible uneasiness on the part of his superiors. For the greater success of his work he wanted to unite to his private inspirations the approval of the lawful external authority of the Church. “Neither was he able to learn anything from them, since he had been instructed by God; but, for the sake of concord and peace, it was the will of God (that he should submit his Gospel), in order that suspicion and scruples on the part of his brethren and co-Apostles should be removed, and that his work among the Gentiles should be furthered by the knowledge that his Gospel agreed with the Apostles'” (Ambrosiaster).

7. But contrariwise, when they had seen that to me was committed the gospel of the uncircumcision, as to Peter was that of the circumcision.

Far from interfering in any way with St. Paul’s teaching the other Apostles saw from the explanations he had given that he enjoyed in every way equal authority to preach and equal soundness of doctrine with themselves. They understood that as their chief work at that time was among the Jews, so St. Paul’s was among the Gentiles. The Apostle does not wish to say that his vocation had been to preach exclusively among the Gentiles (Acts 13:43; Rom 9:3), nor that St. Peter, who had opened the Church to the Gentiles, was to remain always with the Jews. Our Lord was the “minister of circumcision” (Rom 15:8), and yet His Church was to extend to all nations.

If St. Peter alone is cited as charged with preaching among the Jews, this is on account of his prominence as head of the Church. There is no more thought of questioning the vocation of the rest of the Apostles to work among the Jews than there is of questioning the vocation of Barnabas to work among the Gentiles. St. Paul is not thinking of setting up two Churches, or two governments in the Church, any more than he is contending for two Gospels. He is maintaining only that his office of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles is of the same nature as that of Peter among the Hebrews. Neither is there any thought in his mind of arrogating to himself equal authority with Peter in the Church as a whole. There is question of two Apostolates, two missions, and not of two Churches, two governments in the Church, or two chiefs in authority (Lagr., Loisy).

Was committed. Better, “Has been entrusted.” The use of the perfect tense suggests permanent charge.

8. (For he who wrought in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, wrought in me also among the Gentiles).

This verse is a parenthetical explanation of the preceding one. The subject is God, understood. Just as God, through His grace, had given to Peter a fruitful mission among the Jews, so had He in like manner given Paul a commission among the Gentiles.

9. And when they had known the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship: that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision:

The thought of verse 7 is resumed.

Had known. Better, “Recognizing” (γινώσκω = ginōskō), i.e., having reflected and understood that special graces had been given to Paul for his Gentile labors James, Peter and John, who, when this letter was written, were still regarded as the pillars of the Church, gave to St. Paul and Barnabas their right hands as tokens of entire approval.

James, i.e., the “brother of the Lord” (1:19), the first Bishop of Jerusalem. James, the son of Zebedee, had been dead for some years, and so there could be no doubt as to who was meant. If James is here mentioned first, it is because the Judaizers appealed especially to his authority. In certain MSS. Peter is put first, but this is doubtless a correction for the sake of emphasizing
the primacy of St. Peter.

Cephas is the Aramaic name by which Peter was called among the Jews.

Who seemed, i.e., who were esteemed (verse 2) as pillars or chief authorities in the Church; Peter was the foundation, the others were as pillars.

The right hands of fellowship means solemn approval; it was solemnly agreed that both Jew and Gentile converts were on a common level, and were to form one Church. The phrase does not imply that before there had been any discord or disagreement. St. Paul is telling the Galatians just what took place at the Council of Jerusalem, how his doctrines and methods among the Gentiles were approved. It is farthest from his thought to wish to say that it was there decided that the other Apostles were ever to confine their ministry to the Jews. At the very time he was writing he knew, in the case of St. Peter, that the facts were otherwise.

10. Only that we should be mindful of the poor: which same thing also I was careful to do.

St. Paul had succored the poor of Palestine before this request was made, as we know from Acts 11:29, 30; and that he was mindful of them afterwards is clear from 1 Cor 16:3 ; 2 Cor 9:1 ff. ; Rom 15:26, 27; Acts 24:17. He says I was careful, etc., in the singular, because Barnabas left him shortly after the Council of Jerusalem.


Summary of Galatians 2:11-14. The incident at Antioch is a striking illustration of St. Paul’s insistence on the true character of the Gospel, which was one for all men, Jews and Gentiles. At first when Peter came there he ate with the Gentiles, but later, upon the arrival of some Jews sent by James, he withdrew from the Gentiles. His example was followed by the rest of the Jewish Christians at Antioch, and finally even by Barnabas. Seeing this weakness and inconsistency on the part of Peter and the harm that was resulting, St. Paul, in the presence of all, rebuked Peter, accusing him of morally forcing the Gentile Christians to conform to Jewish practices.

11. But when Cephas was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

When Cephas was come, etc. When this visit took place and why it was made, we cannot determine exactly. But since Paul and Barnabas were most probably never together after the time mentioned in Acts 15:35-40, which was soon after the Council of Jerusalem, it seems next to certain that St. Peter came to Antioch at that time to visit the Church there, of which, according to tradition (Euseb., Chron.), he had been the founder.

Some commentators find it very difficult to explain how Peter and Barnabas, so soon after the Council of Jerusalem, could have exhibited such extraordinary weakness and disregarded the decisions so generously and unanimously arrived at during the Council. One reply is that the Council had decided, as a matter of doctrine, that the Gentile converts were not obliged to be circumcised, but that in practice the Jewish Christians could abstain from eating with their Gentile brethren (Steinmann). But the toleration of a practice contrary to doctrine solemnly agreed upon is hardly admissible. Again, it has been said that St. Peter, by his action, surrendered no principle, but was guided by prudence and opportunism; he thought it was too soon to disregard the sensibilities of the Jewish converts, and that to do so would only antagonize and bitterly offend them without sufficient reason (Hort). This solution leaves out of account the serious effect which such reasoning
and such a mode of acting would have had on the many Gentile Christians of Antioch who, till then, had been treated on terms of perfect equality with Jewish converts; and such action would, moreover, have sanctioned the existence of two groups, socially unequal, in the Church. A third explanation would place this whole incident before the Council of Jerusalem (Williams).
This, we are told, (a) agrees with St. Paul’s reference to Peter’s previous life (verse 14); (b) it explains the similarity between those who came from James (verse 12) and those who “came down from Judea” (Acts 15:1); (c) it helps us to understand the controversy described in Acts 15:1, 2; (d) it makes easier the explanation of the readiness with which Peter and Barnabas
withdrew from the Gentiles upon the appearance of the Jews. A fourth opinion says that the Cephas of this incident was not St. Peter, but one of the seventy-two disciples of our Lord (Clement of Alex.). Finally, some of the Fathers have inclined to the view that the whole affair had been previously agreed upon between St. Peter and St. Paul as a means of impressing on the
Jewish Christians the necessity of treating their Gentile brethren on terms of equality (Origen, St. Chrys., Theodoret). However well these last three opinions would explain certain difficulties, they must be rejected as out of harmony with the uniform tradition of the Church and with the context.

To the face, i.e., openly and publicly (verse 14).

To be blamed, i.e., was culpable. The words and action of St, Paul show that he regarded St. Peter as his superior; so secure is he in the approval of his Gospel that he does not hesitate to reprove the head of the Church, when there is question of deviating from the recognized and authorized teaching. St. Paul’s part in resisting the head of the Church for his unbecoming conduct
was no more out of place than was the part taken by St. Catherine of Siena against Pope Gregory for living in Avignon (Rick.).

12. For before that some came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them who were of the circumcision.

Why James sent these messengers to Antioch we do not know. Perhaps it was to collect alms for the poor at home. In Jerusalem these emissaries had been accustomed to practice the Mosaic observances, which, for Jews, had not been prohibited by the Council. Moreover, they knew that St. Peter, whom they regarded as their leader, had never failed to observe the Law when with them in the Holy City.

He did eat, i.e., he was accustomed to eat. The use of the imperfect,
(συνεσθίω = sunesthiō) shows that Peter’s practice of eating with the
Gentiles had continued for some time. He had opened the Church to the Gentiles, had clearly understood that there was to be no distinction between Jewish and Gentile converts (Acts 10:1 ff.; 11:1 ff.; etc.), and as before at Caesarea, so now at Antioch he ate with the Gentiles all kinds of food. The only trouble was that when at Jerusalem he seems to have accommodated himself to Jewish practices out of sympathy for his fellow-countrymen.

He withdrew. The verb here is also in the imperfect, and thus signifies that his changed attitude had continued for a considerable time.

Fearing them, i.e., fearing to scandalize his fellow-Jews from Jerusalem who had been used to his observing the Law like themselves, and who, if he continued to eat with the Gentiles in their presence and under their observation, might lose the faith altogether (St. Chrys.).

13. And to his dissimulation the rest of the Jews consented, so that Barnabas also was led by them into that dissimulation.

So great was the authority and influence of St. Peter that his conduct, in separating himself from the Gentile Christians, was soon followed by the Jewish converts of Antioch, who had long before given up the Mosaic observances. Even Barnabas, who had been St. Paul’s companion in converting the Gentiles, and who at the Council of Jerusalem had so fully accepted the decisions there given, was also finally led by the example of St.
Peter and the Jewish converts to separate himself from the Gentiles. St. Paul stood alone. Rightly incensed at the weakness of St. Peter in particular he made up his mind energetically to

Although St. Peter’s conduct, as well as that of those who imitated his action, was contrary to inner convictions, the expression τη ὑπόκρισις (= hay hupokrisis) must not be understood in the evil sense of hypocrisy. Peter’s weakness led him and the others into dissimulation and pretense.

14. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly unto the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all: If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as the Jews do, how dost thou compel the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?

Walked not uprightly. The literal meaning is that they did not walk straightly (ὀρθοποδέω = orthopodeo, ̄ from ὀρθός = orthos, straight, and πούς = pous, foot), but deviated from the right path of the Gospel teaching.

The truth of the gospel was the rule according to which they were supposed to act, and that truth proclaimed freedom from the Mosaic observances. St. Paul rebuked Peter, not for error in doctrine, but for the weak inconsistency of acting contrary to admitted principle. Conversationis fuit vitium, non praedicationis (Tertull.)-

Before them all, i.e., probably when both the Gentile and Jewish Christians were having a reunion, which would show that they had not ceased entirely to come together at certain intervals, perhaps for the Agape or love-feast (1 Cor 11:20 ff.). “All,” however, may refer to St. Peter, Barnabas and the other
Jews who, by Peter’s conduct, had been led into dissimulation.

If thou, being a Jew, etc., i.e., Peter, who was a Jew by birth and training, freely consented and ate with the Gentile Christians at Antioch until after the arrival of those messengers from James. Then, for fear of offending his fellow-countrymen, he changed and conformed to Jewish observances, thereby morally compelling the Gentile converts to do likewise. The word compel (ἀναγκάζω = anagkazō) means nothing more than moral constraint, but it serves to show how powerful was the example and authority of St. Peter in the early Church. Although the faithful of Antioch had been instructed by St. Paul, they did not hesitate to follow St. Peter, whom they regarded as the head of the Church.

To live as do the Jews, i.e., to conform to the Mosaic observances. This shows that the Gentile converts at Antioch were exceedingly troubled. No one would have wondered to see the Christians from Jerusalem practicing Mosaic observances, for the Council had left them free in this matter; but to see the Jewish converts of Antioch going back to their old practices was nothing else than a disavowal of their conduct and an admission that the Law still obliged.

The assent given by St. Peter to St. Paul’s correction clearly proves that he thoroughly recognized the truth and correctness of the Apostle’s words.


One Response to “Father Callan’s Commentary on Galatians 2:1-2,7-14”

  1. […] Father Callan on Today’s Epistle (Galatians 2:1-2, 7-14). Available 12:05 AM EST. […]

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