Who Were the Judaizers?

Question. “Who were the Judaizers of Judea who visited the churches in Galatia?”

Answer. There are two possibilities as to the identity of the Judaizers.

First Possibility. The Judaizers were born again Jews who were trying to convince Gentiles to live as the Jews, under the Law.

Second Possibility. The Judaizers were born again Gentiles, influenced by Jews to live under the Law, and trying to convince other Gentiles to do the same.

The solution to the question hinges, in part, on the identity of the “certain” individuals who “came from James” c. AD 49.  

These individuals are first identified and defined in Acts 15:1. “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.”

We know that Peter ministered to those of the circumcision (Gal. 2:7), as did James and John (Gal. 2:9).

It would be natural that Peter would want James, and the delegates from him, to receive a good report that he, Peter, was doing his job, and ministering to the Jewish brethren. Remember, to Peter had been given the ministry of the circumcision. So when Peter was caught having fellowship with the Gentiles, he was embarrassed. “For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision” (Gal. 2:12).

Peter was not influenced by Gentile converts who had embraced Jewish practices. Peter was intimidated by those of “the circumcision,” a technical reference reserved for the Jews. Peter was intimated by the Judaizers “who were early converts to Christianity who tried to force believers from non-Jewish backgrounds to adopt Jewish customs as a condition of salvation. Evidence of this movement within the early church first emerged about  A.D. 49, when “certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'” (Acts 15:1) (Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary).

Every trusted Bible teacher, and resource material I consulted, identify the Judaizes as born again Jews who were trying to convince Gentiles to live as the Jews, under the Law.

Albert Barnes wrote: Some of the Jews who had been converted to Christianity. They evidently observed in the strictest manner the rites of the Jewish religion” (Barnes’ Notes, on Galatians 2:12)

Matthew Henry commented: “Antioch was one of the chief churches of the Gentile Christians, as Jerusalem was of those Christians who turned from Judaism to the faith of Christ.When Peter came among the Gentile churches in the region of Galatia, he complied with them, and did eat with them, though they were not circumcised, agreeably to the instructions which were given in particular to him (Acts 10), when he was warned by the heavenly vision to call nothing common or unclean.

But, when there came some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, he grew more shy of the Gentiles, only to humor those of the circumcision and for fear of giving them offence, which doubtless was to the great grief and discouragement of the Gentile churches. Then he withdrew, and separated himself. His fault herein had a bad influence upon others, for the other Jews also dissembled with him; though before they might be better disposed, yet now, from his example, they took on them to scruple eating with the Gentiles, and pretended they could not in conscience do it, because they were not circumcised (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Note on Galatians 2:12ff).

H. A. Ironside said: “To Antioch, a Gentile city in which there was a large church composed mainly of Gentile believers, where Paul and Barnabas had been laboring for a long time, Peter came for a visit. I suppose he was welcomed with open arms. It must have been a very joyous thing for the apostle Paul to welcome Peter, and to be his fellow laborer in ministering the Word of God to these people of Antioch. At first they had a wonderfully happy time.

Together they went in and out of the homes of the believers and sat down at the same tables with Gentile Christians. Peter was once so rigid a Jew that he could not even think of going into the house of a Gentile to have any fellowship whatsoever. What a happy thing it was to see these different believers, some at one time Jews, and others once Gentiles, now members of one body, the body of Christ, enjoying fellowship together, not only at the Lord’s Table, but also in their homes.

For when Paul speaks of eating with Gentiles I take it that it was at their own tables where they could have the sweetest Christian fellowship talking together of the things of God while enjoying the good things that the Lord provides. But unhappily there came in something that hindered, that spoiled that hallowed communion.

Some brethren came from Jerusalem who were of the rigid Pharisaic type, and although they called themselves (and possibly were) Christians, they had never been delivered from legalism. Peter realized that his reputation was at stake. If they should find him eating with Gentile believers and go back to Jerusalem and report this, it might shut the door on him there, and so prudently, as he might have thought, he withdrew from them, he no longer ate with them.

If he chose not to eat with the Gentiles, could anyone find fault with him for that? If he regarded the prejudices of these brethren might he not be showing a certain amount of Christian courtesy? He felt free to do these things, but not if they distressed these others. But Paul saw deeper than that; he saw that our liberty in Christ actually hung upon the question of whether one would sit down at the dinner table or not with those who had come out from the Gentiles unto the name of our Lord Jesus, and so this controversy.

“When Peter was come to Antioch,” Paul says, “I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” There is no subserviency on Paul’s part here, no recognition of Peter as the head of the church. Paul realized that a divine authority was vested in him, and that he was free to call in question the behavior of Peter himself though he was one of the original twelve. “For before that certain came from James”—James was the leader at Jerusalem—“he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision” (Ironside Commentaries, Galatians 2:1-12ff).

CONCLUSION

I can find no Bible scholar who identifies the Judaizers as Gentile converts influenced by Jewish culture trying to tell other Gentile converts to follow their example and go back under the Law.

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