My Sunday morning Bible class at Sunset Church of Christ is studying the Book of Galatians this quarter (March – May). To help my class get the “big picture” I created a brief outline of Galatians.

Outlines of Bible books are very useful for seeing and following the author’s flow of thought. Especially is this valuable for the epistles written by Paul since his logic, doctrinal points and applications are so tightly woven together. Using the well-worn expression, “you can’t see the forest for the trees,” a teacher or student may focus on a single passage or section of a Bible book or epistle without ever grasping how that passage fits into the overall purpose and design of the writing. Below I have reproduced my outline followed by comments on how one section of Galatians – specifically 2:11-21 – fits in.

Outline of Galatians

  1. Introduction + The problem and reason for the letter – 1:1-10
  2. Paul’s Line of Argument from His Own History:
    1. His conversion and apostleship – 1:11-17
    2. His first meeting with Peter and James – 1:18-24
    3. His attendance at the Jerusalem conference – 2:1-10
    4. His rebuke of Peter in Antioch – 2:11-14
  3. The implications of returning to “works of law” after faith in Christ – 2:15-21
  4. Paul’s Line of Argument Contrasting the Law and Faith in Christ:
    1. How did they/we receive the Holy Spirit? – 3:1-5
    2. How was Abraham justified? – 3:6-9
    3. Why does the Law bring about a curse? – 3:10-14
    4. What are the terms of the covenant which believers are under? – 3:15-22
    5. What purpose did the Law serve? – 3:23-26
    6. What are the rights of God’s children in Christ? – 3:27 – 4:7
    7. His personal plea to the Galatians – 4:8-20
    8. A final illustration drawn from the story of Sarah and Hagar – 4:21-31
  5. Enjoying the Blessings Found Only in Christ:
    1. Freedom – 5:1-15
    2. The fruit of the Spirit – 5:16-26
    3. Living out the law of Christ in His church – 6:1-10
  6. Closing Remarks – 6:11-18

Now, let’s take a look at Galatians 2:11-21. This section describes Paul’s confrontation of the Apostle Peter about Peter’s hypocritical actions while in Antioch. If we look above at the outline we see that this is the fourth and final “story” from Paul’s own personal history which he is using to illustrate his point. So, the event with Peter does not stand alone, but is part of a planned argument Paul is making.

The argument goes something like this:

  1. Certain Jewish Christians of the “circumcision party” (Galatians 2:12) have visited the churches in Galatia where Paul had ministered. They were teaching that faith in Christ and obedience to the Gospel was not sufficient to be justified (in right standing) with God. That the Galatians also needed to be circumcised and keep other “works of the Law” (probably Sabbath, Holy Days, and the clean and unclean dietary regulations).
  2. To blunt Paul’s influence in Galatia they seem to have questioned both his calling to genuine apostleship as well as claiming his Gospel message was an incomplete teaching he got from Peter and James in Jerusalem. They seem to further claim that Peter and James support their own teachings.
  3. Paul’s response to these accusations is found in these four stories:
    1. 1:11-17 – Paul’s apostleship and message came directly from Jesus Christ during his conversion. In fact, nothing less than this could explain his radical conversion from persecutor to preacher. While persecutor he had actually believed like these men that circumcision and other works of the Law were essential to justification.
    2. 1:18-24 – It was three years after his conversion and appointment that he met with Peter and James for the first time, but neither of them questioned either his apostleship or his message of salvation by faith apart from the works of the law.
    3. 2:1-10 – After another 4 years of fruitful ministry, including in Galatia, Paul attends the Jerusalem conference recorded in Acts 15. There his and Barnabas’ work was not only vindicated and approved, but the teachings of this “circumcision party” were actually rejected and a letter sent out which made this clear (see Acts 15).
    4. 2:11-21 – When Peter had visited the church in Antioch where Paul and Barnabas ministered, he had freely associated with the uncircumcised Gentile believers. This continued until certain ones came up from Jerusalem advocating this circumcision doctrine and Peter hypocritically withdrew his association from the Gentile Christians and by his actions led the other Jewish Christians and even Barnabas to follow his example. Paul’s public rebuke of Peter showed that even Peter and the church considered Paul his equal; the implication that Peter repented and changed demonstrated the correctness of Paul’s teaching and the error and divisiveness of the circumcision doctrine.
  4. There is a great deal more that can be said about our passage in its context, but this at least illustrates the value of placing any passage within its context.

Our image is taken from the Hoshanah Rabbah Blog.