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 (with list of suggested readings)

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 7, 2012

Text in red, if any, are my additions. I’ve included a short list of suggested readings on Galatians at the end of this post.


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.

Gal 2:1. 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.

Gal 2:2. 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).

Gal 2:3. But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Gentile, was compelled to be circumcised.

The case of Titus (the subject of verses 3-5)is a proof that St. Paul’s preaching was not in vain. Not only did the Apostles approve his Gospel, but, in spite of strong pressure that was brought to bear by the Judaizers, they held that it was not necessary for Titus, although a Gentile, to be circumcised.

Who was with me, i.e., who was present as Paul’s companion in the Holy City—an uncircumcised convert from paganism among the circumcised Jewish Christians! This was to make the case as strong as it could possibly be. It is to misunderstand both the context and the argument of St. Paul to argue, as some have done, that was compelled (ηναγκασθη) implies that Titus was indeed circumcised, as a matter of prudence and considerateness on the part of St. Paul, even though there was no compulsory action to this end. Verse 5 is a complete refutation of any such interpretation. How could Paul have yielded to the demands of false brethren at Jerusalem, and then ask the Galatians resolutely to resist similar false teachers?

Gentile (Vulg., gentilis) is “Greek” in the MSS.

Gal 2:4. But because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privately to spy our liberty, which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into servitude.

But because. According to the common opinion this verse shows the reason why Titus was not circumcised, and why the Apostles in Council decided authoritatively against circumcision for Gentiles: it was because false brethren tried to force their point in making this Mosaic rite a necessity for salvation. If it had been only a question of yielding to the sensibilities in minor matters of some well-disposed Christians, Titus would have been circumcised, as was the case with Timothy; but in their attempt to make circumcision necessary for salvation the fanatical Judaizers moved the Apostles to take a firm and definite stand against such a doctrine. According to Lagrange and others, verse 4 is only explanatory of verse 3; it gives the reason why the case of Titus is spoken of in this letter.

False brethren, i.e., Jewish Christians whom, on account of their animosity towards Gentile converts and their failure to seek salvation in Christ only, St. Paul could not regard as real brethren.

Unawares brought in, i.e., these Judaizers had stealthily entered the Christian Church, probably through the influence and action of other Christians who, like themselves, were over-zealous for the Mosaic observances, and who regarded Christianity as a continuation of the Law. Where these false brethren entered the Church, whether at Jerusalem or in Syria, is not certain; but it seems most conformable to the context to say it was in Jerusalem. There they had perhaps observed St. Paul and his companions, who had come from afar and had likely attracted attention as a party of strangers.

To spy. These Judaizers were anxious to find some flaws or weak points in St. Paul’s preaching, and for this purpose they frequented his assemblies.

Our liberty, etc., i.e., our freedom from the Mosaic observances which has been given by Jesus Christ (verse 19). “As spies enter a city for the purpose of opposing and betraying it to others, so these Judaizers came among the Christians with the aim and intention of reducing them by sly methods to a state servitude to the old Law” (St. Chrys.).

Gal 2:5. To whom we yielded not by subjection, no not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

A full stop should not separate this verse from the preceding one. The Apostle here assures us that he and his companions, especially Barnabas, refused to yield to the Judaizers even for a moment.

We, i.e., St. Paul, Barnabas, and those who were with them at the time of the attack by the Judaizers.

An hour, i.e., a moment, an instant (cf. 2 Cor 7:8; Philemon 15; John 5:35).

The truth of the gospel, i.e., the teachings revealed in the Gospel by Christ, unadulterated by any false doctrines, like those of the Judaizers.

With you, i.e., with the Galatians and all true Christians. To have yielded in the case of Titus would have imperiled the integrity of the Gospel truths for all the faithful.

When this conflict with the Judaizers and the consequent decision of the Council of Jerusalem took place St. Paul had not yet visited North Galatia. Hence patrons of the South Galatian Theory say that the “with you” of the present verse is a clear proof that the Apostle was addressing the Galatian Churches which he had previously established in Lycaonia and Pisidia. This conclusion, however, does not necessarily follow, because St. Paul’s victory and the decision of the Council were on behalf of all future, as well as past converts.

Gal 2:6. But of them who seemed to be some thing, (what they were some time, it is nothing to me, God accepteth not the person of man), for to me they that seemed to be some thing added nothing.

After the digression about the case of Titus (verses 3-5) the Apostle returns to the thought of verse 2. He wants to say that, although he conferred privately with the other Apostles, they added nothing to his Gospel and gave him no new information. But the warmth of his feelings again asserts itself; and, having begun his sentence in the passive voice, he interjects several parenthetical thoughts, and terminates the sentence in the active. His parenthetical remarks are called forth by the thought that his readers might think that he should have taken more account of the authority of the older Apostles, who had lived so long with Christ and who were esteemed so highly at the Council of Jerusalem.

Of them who seemed, etc. See comments on verse 2.

What they were, etc., i.e., however highly they were esteemed at the Council of Jerusalem (Lagrange), or however great their privilege of having lived with Jesus (Lightfoot), this is of no present consequence to St. Paul; for God accepteth not, etc., i.e., God does not regard external conditions or appearances, but the internal man—what a person is in reality (cf. 2 Cor 5:16; Rom 2:11). The inference is that the twelve enjoy no greater real privileges and dignity before God than does St. Paul himself. At any rate, the other Apostles added nothing to St. Paul’s

Gal 2:7. 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.

Gal 2:8. (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.

Gal 2:9. 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.

Gal 2:10. 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.

Gal 2:11. 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.).

Gal 2:12. 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.).

Gal 2:13. 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.

Gal 2:14. 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.


A Summary of Galatians 2:15-21~It is a question among scholars whether this section is the substance of St. Paul’s discourse to the Jewish Christians at Antioch, or whether it was rather a summing-up of his principles to the Galatians. The common opinion of the Fathers, which alone seems to be in harmony with the context, maintains that this discourse was given at Antioch, and that St. Paul has reproduced here only the substance of it. After reproving St. Peter, the Apostle directed his words to all present (verse 14), having in mind not only Peter, Barnabas and the Jewish Christians, who were well disposed, but also, and in particular, most likely those Judaizers of Antioch who were in favor of subjecting all Gentile converts to circumcision and the Mosaic observances. St. Peter’s conduct gave the occasion to St. Paul of showing how foolish and inconsistent it was to have sought justice in Jesus Christ, and thereafter to pretend to seek it in the Law.

St. Paul gives the substance of that discourse in this letter, first to show the Galatians how inflexible he was in principle; and secondly, to convince them that if it was wrong for Jewish Christians to seek justice in the Law, how much worse it was for Gentile converts (Lagrange).

Gal 2:15. We by nature are Jews, and not of the Gentile sinners.

We by nature are Jews, i.e., St. Paul, St. Peter, Barnabas and the rest of verse 14 were Jews by birth, enjoying, through the privileges granted by special revelation to their race, an atmosphere of moral purity which set them apart from the Gentiles, whose origin had been so much less favored (Rom 2:17-20; Rom 3:1-2; Rom 9:4-5). This statement is a proof that the Apostle was not addressing the Galatians, who were of Gentile origin.

Gal 2:16. But knowing that man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ; we also believe in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

Knowing (ειδοτες) refers to St. Paul and St. Peter, as also does we (ημεις = “we”) further along. Peter and Paul before their conversion were, like all other good Jews, most zealous for the Law and its observance; but afterwards they became thoroughly aware of the fact that justification was not to be obtained through the works prescribed by the Law, but only through faith in Jesus Christ. The works of the Law here in question were its ceremonial precepts, such as circumcision, clean and unclean meats, etc., and not its moral precepts, the Ten Commandments; these latter have always been obligatory on all men.

Is not justified (ου δικαιουται) , i.e., is not now, in this present life, justified, except ( εαν μη translated above as “but by”) through active faith in Christ, the exclusive means of justification.

No flesh shall be justified, a quotation from Psalm 143:1-2. The
meaning is enduring, namely, that no one can ever be justified by the works, i.e., the ceremonial precepts of the Law, as was long ago foretold by the Psalmist. See on Rom 3:20, Rom 3:27, Rom 3:30. His comments on these verses can be found here.

Jesus Christ should be “Christ Jesus,” as in the Greek.

Gal 2:17. But if while we seek to be justified in Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners; is Christ then the minister of sin? God forbid.

This verse is very difficult, and is explained in different ways. We give first what seems to be the more probable solution.

The two preceding verses give the reasons why St. Paul, or any Jewish Christian, abandoned the Law for the faith of Christ, namely, that he might obtain justification. But a difficulty may here present itself: Is it not sinful to leave the Law? do we not become sinners by seeking to be justified in Christ, thus abandoning the Law? If so, Christ is the cause of sin to us, and we have become sinners like the Gentiles (verse 15). The inference is rejected as a blasphemy. The conclusion, then, is that it cannot be wrong to leave the Law; rather a return to it would be sinful (verse 18) (Lagrange, Lightfoot, etc.).

Another explanation is as follows: If we, Jews by birth, while seeking to be justified through faith in Christ, are also found guilty of some sins, do you hold Christ responsible for that? Is He the cause of our sins because He has induced us to give up the Law? Most certainly not. We are to be blamed, because we are building up again the things we had before destroyed through virtuous living (verse 18).

18. For if I build up again the things which I have destroyed, I make myself a prevaricator.

The Apostle seems to say that if, after abandoning the Law in order to seek justification in Christ, one returns to its practice, one becomes a transgressor of the positive law (παραβατην = “prevaricator”) and will of God which has pointed out that justification is to be obtained only through faith in Christ. Comely holds that to return to the Law is to transgress the Law itself, which by its very nature was intended to lead to Christ. According to other scholars, St. Paul means to say: If, after having abandoned the Law, I return again to its observance, I show by my action that I realize that I am a transgressor for having left the Law; my own act convicts me. St. Peter is not at all included in this condemnation, since he had no intention of reestablishing the authority of the Law as a principle (Lagrange).

With this verse St. Paul begins again to speak in the singular, (a) perhaps because he does not wish directly to include others in his supposition of doing wrong; or (b) because, having reproduced for his Galatian readers his discussion concerning Jewish converts, he returns more directly to his own personal case.

19. For I, through the law, am dead to the law, that I may live to God: with Christ I am nailed to the cross.

According to Cornely’s understanding of the preceding verse the meaning here is that, since the Law was intended to lead to Christ, it became useless and dead, or one became dead to it, when one had obtained Christ, i.e., had received Baptism. Hence of its own nature and intention the Law had its term, and one became, as it were, dead to it, in order to be able to live to God in virtue of one’s union with Christ through faith and love.

St. Chrysostom and others say that the Law, by its numerous commands and exactions, which it did not give the necessary help to fulfil, brought its subjects to a state of moral and spiritual death. The consequence was that man was forced, by the very burden and inadequacy of the Law, to seek refuge in God Himself through Christ, who gives not only commands and precepts, but help to carry them out (Rom 7:7-24).

With Christ I am nailed, etc., i.e., St. Paul and every good Christian, by virtue of his union with Christ through faith and Baptism, is dead to the Law, from the malediction of which (Gal 3:13-14, Rom 7:9-10) Christ by His death on the cross has delivered us (Gal 3:10, Gal 3:13).

Gal 2:20. And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. And that I live now in the flesh: I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself for me.

I live. Although dead to the Law, St. Paul says he is living a new and more abundant life with Christ (Rom 6:4; 2 Cor 5:15). Through the Law came death; through faith in Christ, full and overflowing life.

Now not I, i.e., in this new life it is not I, the old natural man, that live; but a new and elevated man, transformed by the grace of Christ. This new life is a supernatural existence, as contrasted with the former natural and physical life. The meaning is not that St. Paul has lost his personality, but that the influence of Christ is now dominant in him.

And that I live now, i.e., this new supernatural life which, since my conversion, I live with Christ, I have not attained to by the works of the Law; but through faith in the Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself up to death for my salvation (Gal 1:4; John 3:16; John 15:13). It is evident from the context that this life of faith which Paul is now leading is animated by charity towards the Son of God who so loved him. What the Apostle says here of himself is proportionately true of all devout Christians. He is thus reminding the Galatians of Christ’s love for them individually, hoping thereby to draw them back to Christian faithfulness.

Now ( νυν) does not mean the present, as opposed to the future life, but the life of St. Paul since his conversion. Neither does in the flesh (εν σαρκι) signify a life of concupiscence as opposed to the life of the spirit, but simply the physical life of which we must take account, since leading a spiritual life does not entirely absorb and transform our physical existence (Lagrange).

Gal 2:21. I cast not away the grace of God. For if justice be by the law, then Christ died in vain.

A return to the Law would mean to cast away that spiritual life which is given only through Christianity. If one seeks justification and sanctity in the Law, being persuaded that they can be found there, then for such surely Christ died in vain, i.e., for naught, because He died in order to procure for us that justification which the works of the Law were unable to give (Rom 3:21-26).

These final words of the Apostle were directed against the Judaizers who were trying to lead the Galatians away from the true Gospel. For such as they Christ died in vain. There is no thought here of St. Peter, who was in perfect agreement with Paul that justification was only through faith in Christ.


The Letters of St Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Ignatius Study Bible Series). By Dr. Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch. The text of the letters with extended footnotes. A good place to begin. The entire NT is now available in a single volume.

Seven Pauline Letters. By Peter F. Ellis. An excellent place to begin acquiring a deeper understanding of St Paul. Succinct commentaries on 1 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians; Philippians, Galatians, Romans, Philemon.

Romans and Galatians (The Navarre Bible)Very popular, and deservedly so. Oriented towards both study and devotion.

Galatians (New Testament for Spiritual Reading). By Gerhard Schneider. From a critically acclaimed series originally published in 1969.

Galatians (New Testament Message Series). By Carolyn Osiek. A biblical-theological commentary designed for a wide audience. This series “concentrates on bringing to the fore in understandable terms the specific message of each biblical author.”

Galatians and Romans. By Brendan Byrne. Insightful, easy to read.

Galatians (Sacra Pagina Series). By Frank Matera. A very good commentary designed for a slightly more advanced audience than the two previous books.

Commentary on St Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Aquinas Scripture Series). Not easy reading.

One Response to “Father Callan’s Commentary on Galatians 2 (with list of suggested readings)”

  1. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Gal 2:16, 19-21. Notes on all of chapter 2. Post includes suggested readings at the end. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: