Galatians 2:11-21 and the Interpretive Context of ‘Works of the Law’

Bibliographic information:

Scacewater, Todd A. “Galatians 2:11-21 and the Interpretive Context of ‘Works of the Law’,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 56 (2013), 307-23.



The New Perspective on Paul is based heavily upon the supposition that Gal 2:15-21 is a polemic against Peter’s actions in Antioch (2:11-14). The thesis of this article is that Gal 2:15-21 is not aimed polemically at Peter, but at the Galatian opponents. The implication of this thesis, if correct, is that New Perspective advocates should re-evaluate their understanding of “works of the law” in 2:16 and interpret the phrase in light of the Galatian situation, not the Antioch incident.

The three arguments to support this thesis are outlined as follows. (1) Peter’s actions were sociologically, not soteriologically, motivated. More specifically, Peter’s fault was fear-induced, implied ethnocentrism, not an attempt to maintain covenant righteousness. If Peter’s actions were not soteriologically motivated, then we have less reason to believe that 2:16, which denies justification through works of the law, is aimed at Peter. (2) Paul’s quotation to Peter does not continue beyond 2:14. This exegetical decision has created problems through the centuries, and if Paul’s quotation extends beyond 2:14, then he is speaking (at least) 2:15-16 directly to Peter’s face, which would invalidate our thesis. (3) Building upon the first two arguments, 2:15-16 functions to transition from Paul’s defense of his apostolic authority to resuming his polemic against the Galatian opponents, which he left off in 1:9 to begin his autobiographical defense.


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