You can begin this session by recapping what you covered in your study of Galatians 1:
- Paul got his gospel message from Jesus Christ himself
- This gospel message centers on God’s grace and on Christ’s sacrificial death to pay the penalty for our sins.
- An example of this grace is God choosing Paul to be an apostle while Paul was persecuting Christians and proclaiming obeying the Jewish law and traditions as the way to be right with God.
- False teachers were proclaiming a false gospel to the Galatians, a gospel this was somehow opposed to Paul’s message of grace.
- So far in Galatians, Paul hasn’t mentioned God’s kingdom or the name “Jehovah.”
Continue working your way through Galatians with the Witnesses, taking turns reading the verses aloud.
2:1-2: Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.
Ask the Witnesses when this meeting in Jerusalem took place. They may identify it as the Acts 15 conference. You might ask, “Does this mean that Paul was unsure of his message and was checking with the leaders in Jerusalem to make sure he had their approval?” In Galatians 1, he pointed out that he got his gospel from Christ himself, so his meeting with the apostles wasn’t to seek their approval or authorization to continue.
It seems far more likely to conclude that these false gospels were becoming more and more of a problem and he wanted to see how far the false teachings had spread and find out what the apostles were doing to combat them.
2:3: But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.
Ask the Witnesses why Paul is discussing circumcision here. Apparently, the false teachers were claiming that people had to get circumcised and keep the law God gave to the Jews in order to be saved. This is confirmed by Acts 15:5, which says that at that conference “…some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.’”
Acts 15:7-8 says that Peter spoke up and said, ‘Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
2:4-5: Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in– who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
Ask the Witnesses to explain to you their understanding of what Paul means when he refers to the freedom that is in Christ and how the false teachers were trying to enslave Christians. Ask why Paul considered it so important to oppose them.
They will probably talk about trying to force Christians to obey the Jewish ceremonial law. They will agree that this is wrong. Ask why stressing the law constitutes such a serious threat to the real gospel that Paul opposed it so strenuously. Pray silently that they will see that the Watchtower salvation system is a similar mixture of law and grace in which rule-keeping supplants grace.
2:6: And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)– those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
Ironically, the Watchtower teaches that because of the Acts 15 conference, it is wrong for Christians to have blood transfusions. That’s because the apostles wrote to the church at Antioch, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15:28-29).
If they don’t bring this up, then don’t get into it.
If they do bring it up, you can say, “If the apostles really meant to say that abstaining from food sacrificed to idols and from blood was a requirement for salvation, it seems very strange to me that Paul doesn’t mention that here at all. In fact, he says that he steadfastly opposed teachers who wanted to compromise his gospel of salvation by grace apart from law.
“He only describes the apostles as ‘those who seemed to be influential’ and says that they added nothing to his message of grace. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul says that idols have no real existence so it is acceptable for Christians to eat meat that pagans have sacrificed to idols as long as their conscience doesn’t trouble them and as long as they won’t be leading someone with a weaker conscience to sin. It doesn’t sound like he considered those directives to be binding in all circumstances or to be salvation issues. It seems to me that those were practical—not doctrinal—decisions made for the sake of avoiding conflict with Jewish Christians.”
2:11-12: But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, 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?”
In your discussion, establish that Cephas is another name for the apostle Peter. It’s important to note that Paul had the courage to oppose Peter to his face when he was wrong and to accuse him of hypocrisy. (This is important because the Watchtower considers the Acts 15 conference to be an example of the existence of a centralized Governing Body of Christians. Yet Paul didn’t view it that way at all.)
2:15-16: “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, 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.”
Ask the Witnesses to explain to you what Paul means by this statement. Through a judicious use of follow-up questions you can emphasize that no one is considered righteous in God’s sight by works of the law. He doesn’t just say “through being circumcised.” He says “by works of the law.” Does God declare us righteous, then, by such things as baptism or by what rules we keep or by how well we keep them?” No, the gospel—the good news Paul proclaimed—is that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ’s sacrifice and not partly by grace and partly by works.
2:17-18: But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.”
This is a hard passage to understand. Paul seems to be pointing out to Peter that they had been saved by grace and not by law-keeping, yet now because of Peter’s hypocritical behavior, many Christians seemed to be going back to law, tearing down the very freedom from law that God had led him to proclaim.
2:19-20: For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. 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.
Ask the Witnesses to explain these verses to you. They won’t be able do it. If they ask what you think it means, point out that Paul is highlighting the fact that the Christian life is a supernatural life that comes from our identification with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. Ask the Witnesses if they have had this transforming experience. (They haven’t.)
If they insist that Paul’s statement applies only to the 144,000, then ask them what Paul makes this distinction. Also ask them to explain how their own relationship to God and the law is different than Paul’s. Ask where Paul indicates that there are two different gospels and two different paths to salvation.
2:21: I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
Ask the Witnesses to explain what Paul means by this. Is our salvation based on keeping God’s laws or is it not?
Jehovah’s Witnesses will agree that Christians are not under the Old Testament law covenant, yet they still believe that we must “obey God’s laws” in order to be saved. Ask them to explain how Paul would have responded to this supposed requirement.
You can sum up Galatians 2 as follows:
- Paul says that the gospel of salvation by keeping the law is opposed to his gospel of salvation by grace
- So far, in discussing his gospel, Paul still hasn’t mentioned God’s kingdom or the name “Jehovah.”