11 But when Cephas came to Antioch,
It isn’t clear when this happened, but Acts 12:17 says that Peter had to leave Jerusalem and go to “another place.”
I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.
Paul’s language expresses a “depth of feeling and outrage” (Dunn 117).
12 For before certain men came from James,
Paul is careful to say that James did not send these men, but that they came from James (in Jerusalem). Acts 15:24 makes this explicit.
he was eating with the Gentiles;
He did so after the vision in Acts 10 before going to the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:9-16; 11:1-3).
The act of sharing a meal with someone had a social and religious significance in the first century that it doesn’t have today. Just think about the many times Jesus was condemned for eating with the “wrong people” (Luke 15:1-2).
Some Jews refrained from a social contact with Gentiles (“Eat not with them…for their works are unclean”, Jubilees 22:16). Others refrained from eating because of concern for kosher, the way the animal was killed (Deut. 12:16), or idolatry (4 Mac. 5:2).
These issues were very serious in the time between the testaments, when Jews were persecuted for such food laws (1 Mac. 1:62-63).
but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.
In 6:12 Paul says the Judaizers were also motivated by fear.
13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him,
The church at Antioch was comprised of Jews and Gentiles (Acts 11:19-21).
so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
Paul takes some of the edge off of the actions of Barnabas by speaking of “their” hypocrisy rather than “his,” but it is startling that the “son of encouragement” would revert back to the traditional Jewish line. However, it is important to remember that Barnabas was a Levite (Acts 4:36), and this heritage may have made him more prone to concerns about the dietary code.
Some commentators have suggested that the political situation in Palestine was becoming more tense during this period, and that Jewish nationalism was on the rise. If so, that may have motivated some Jewish believers to stake out their identity.
14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel,
The gospel Paul preached was the common salvation of Jews and Gentiles through Christ, not the Law. Their actions were tantamount to calling unclean what God had made clean (Acts 10:15).
I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Peter had abandoned the customary Jewish practice of not eating with Gentiles, and now he was trying to “force” Gentiles to live like Jews. In 2:3 Paul uses this word to describe what he did not permit happen to Titus.
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;
Paul’s language here reflects the typical Jewish attitude toward pagans (see also Eph. 2:1-3).
16 yet we know that a person is not justified
“Justified” or justification is the language of the law court. It refers to being vindicated, pronounced “in the right.”
by works of the law
Some interpreters think that “works of the law” refer to any human works of merit. But in the context of the first century, the phrase clearly refers to the works of the Law of Moses. Some commentators have suggested it has special reference to the boundary markers of the Law like circumcision, food laws, and holy days. But this is an unnecessary restriction of the language. Just looking at the bog picture of Israel’s history, the nation had demonstrated over and over its failure to keep the Law. The Law of Moses could therefore not be the basis of right standing before God.
but through faith in Jesus Christ,
It is possible that this phrase should be translated “the faithfulness of Jesus Christ,” but in the context I think the traditional translation is correct (2:20). However, the two do go hand in hand - the faithfulness of Jesus Christ is what we trust in.
so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
Paul may be quoting Psalm 143:2, which says that no one could be worthy of right standing before God.
17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners,
Since the men from James claim that eating with Gentiles was sinful (since they are sinners - v. 15), those like Paul who did so on the basis of their belief in justification in Christ were also sinners.
is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!
Since it is Christ who revealed this gospel to Paul, then if practicing Christ’s gospel made one a sinner, that would also mean Christ is in the service of sin!
18 For if I rebuild what I tore down,
What Paul tore down was the barrier between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:14-15).
I prove myself to be a transgressor.
Transgressing against his commission from the Lord.
19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.
Ironically, it was Saul’s duty to the Law that led him to Damascus and to Christ! This anticipates an argument Paul will make in 3:19-25. The Law’s purpose was to bring us to Christ.
20 I have been crucified with Christ.
See 6:14. Paul may be alluding to baptism here (cf. Rom. 6:3-4).
It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
Conversion to Christ radically transformed Paul, which explains his radical change of course regarding Gentiles.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Paul was always astonished that Christ could love someone like him (1 Tim. 1:12-17).
21 I do not nullify the grace of God,
Paul may be implying that his critics claimed he nullified the grace of God (in choosing Israel) by accepting Gentiles. Obviously, from Paul’s point of view, the exact opposite was the case.
for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
I think this phrase captures the essence of Galatians. The way God’s plan of salvation works is like this:
Israel —-> The Law ——> Christ
Gentiles ——-> [ ] ——> Christ
Gentiles ——> Christ ——-> The Law
If the Law was the ultimate basis of justification, why did Christ come and die?