false brethren in acts 15 and galatians 2

Act 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.
Act 15:2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.

These events in Acts 15 is parallel to events described in Galatians 2. In Galatians 2, Paul is recounting the reasons he journeyed back to Jerusalem to meet with the church leaders. He writes of these “certain men”:

Gal 2:4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

He calls them false brethren. So we know they were representing themselves as brethren. It also appears from the Acts passage that they accept the authority of those in Jerusalem. Why else would a journey to Jerusalem solve the issue? Even if the journey was intended to satisfy Paul’s converts, and not the false brethren, the false brethren must have accepted the authority of those in Jerusalem, how else are they convincing those who are Paul’s converts and who do accept the authority of Jerusalem?

Once in Jerusalem, two more contextual clues tell us about these false brethren. The first is that an entirely new contingent arises preaching the exact same thing. Luke, the author of Acts, calls them believers:

Act 15:5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.

Compare the teachings of this sect of “Pharisees which believed” to the teachings of these “false brethren”. We know from Gal 2:3 that it had to do with circumcision, and we know from Acts 15 that it definitely was about needing circumcision to be saved:

Act 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.

The next piece of evidence is that Peter claims the men were from the congregation headed by him and James. These very men were believers who communed with Peter and James:

Act 15:24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment:

I had a conversation with a pastor who claimed that these were heretics that were casted out by Peter and James, but the text in no way indicates this. The text indicates that they are still accepted (just not their proselytizing Paul’s converts), not to mention that a contingent of James and Peter mentioned in Acts 15:5 preached the exact same thing and are considered believers. The men from Judea were brethren. Why does Paul call them false? Because Paul was extremely protective of his converts:

Gal 1:6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
Gal 1:7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
Gal 1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
Gal 1:9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

Paul states that even if he was preaching another gospel that they should not believe him. He states that even an angel from heaven were preaching another gospel, not to believe him. Paul curses these people. Is it any stretch of the imagination to contend that he would call James and Peter’s acolytes false brethren if they attempted to preach a different gospel to Paul’s converts?

Note that Paul says the gospel they teach is “not another”. This makes sense of James and Peter’s converts. They are still teaching the death and resurrection of Christ (the gospel), only they are adding in conditions for salvation. Paul goes on to label the gospel being taught as the “Gospel of Christ”, only perverted.

One further clue is that Galatians describes an incident well after the events in Acts 15 in which “men from James” came again to Antioch, but this time Peter is there. Peter, it seems, pre-emptively withdrawals from the Gentiles and the following happens:

Gal 2:11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.
Gal 2:12 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.

Who is this “them which were of the circumicision”? It is the same as the men from James. What are they teaching and what do they believe? Could it have to do with circumcision? Why does Peter, a leader in the church, react to what these certain men would think? Paul refutes Peter to his face:

Gal 2:14 But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?

Peter was compelling Gentiles to be circumcised, through withdrawing from uncircumcised Gentiles. Paul links this to the gospel. Paul claims Peter did not live according to the truth of the Gospel. Paul goes on:

…Gal 2:16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified…
Gal 2:19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God…
Gal 2:21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

Paul talks about Law and Works. This is how he is withstanding Peter to his face. So men from James came, and Peter responded by mimicking a gospel of law and works. Isn’t this is a settled issue? Doesn’t James and Peter teach salvation by faith alone and that works are dead? It is obvious that they did not. Both James and Peter, and their converts, seem to have been teaching something which Paul did not teach.

Paul spends Galatians 3 then explaining further that works and law are not required. With all this in mind, we can get a clear picture of who the false brethren were, where they came from, who their teachers were, and the extent they were affected by the Jerusalem council (not much).

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
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22 Responses to false brethren in acts 15 and galatians 2

  1. Gamer Smith says:

    Can you talk about Galatians 3-5 in a post? I’m a little confused about the Abraham being justified by faith (Paul) vs Abraham being justified by faith and works (James). Thanks.

    • I apologize. Either I forgot about your request or didn’t see it. My latest post is on this issue: https://christopherfisher.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/how-could-both-paul-and-james-use-abraham-as-an-example/


        Who were the false brethren? They were those Judiazers who infiltrated the churches of Christ in Galatia. The Judiazers were Jewish Christians who were advocating keeping the Law of Moses in order to be saved.(Galatians)

        Galatians 2:4 But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.

        These Jewish Christians where adding to the gospel.


        Galatians 1:6-10 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only these are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ…….

        All you have to do to gain membership in the “The False Brethren Club” is distort the gospel of Christ.


        Can embracing the doctrine of salvation by “grace alone” grant you membership in the “False Brethren Club”?

        The Calvinistic doctrine of salvation by grace alone is that God preselected a few to be saved and chooses all others to be lost to an eternity in hell. The true Calvinist believes that man has no responsibility in their salvation. They believe that God imputes the selected few with faith so that they might believe and be saved. Calvinism teaches that man has no free-will to accept or reject the terms of pardon for salvation. The doctrine of salvation by grace alone states that man goes through life waiting for God to save him. In effect, if you are lost under the doctrine of grace alone, it is not your fault, it is because God chose not to save you.

        Calvinism rejects the Biblical account of the apostle Paul, Silas, and the jailer. (Acts 16:30-31 and after he brought them out he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”.) Accord to the doctrine of, grace alone, the jailer could do nothing to be saved because it was God who forced him to believe.

        Calvinism rejects the words of Jesus Christ who said (Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved….) Taking the doctrine of grace alone at face value, believing and being baptized by your own free-will would be works apart from God’s grace of forced salvation.

        The doctrine of salvation by grace alone, is another gospel, it a distortion of the gospel preached by the apostles.

        Galatians 1:8 But even if we, or angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!


        (All Scripture from: NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)

        YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com

        • Bob Evans says:

          I thank you for your comparison between the legalists in Gal 2:4 and Acts 15:5. And commiserate with you re: the ugly and unwarranted responses you received. Might I suggest an additional support for your point of view: a linguistic one. The phrase “false brethren” can linguistically be a brother who is not acting faithfully to being a brother – hence in his experience he is a false brother, but in his eternal position is a child of God, born of God as 1 Jn indicates throughout that book, (www.biblestudymanuals.net/1jn1_observe.htm). Your logic has helped me to resolve this difficulty between the two passages. The Pharisees are acting so totally against the gospel of grace that they are reported as believing in that they are as “false brethren.” Paul vigorously condemns this legalistic stance in order to be saved. They must be saved because they are reported as having believed, and are standing up in the congregation of the Jersusalem Church outrageously declaring that Gentiles [and all] must be circumcised and keep the Law evidently in order to be saved. That is outrageous and they are not at all acting like fellow brethren – they are aptly described as false brethren, [until and unless they repent of that behavior]. Nevertheless their eternal destiny is heaven – because the text stipulates that they believed – implied: unto Christ alone for eternal life. I am sure this will bring hateful comments upon me as well.

    • carrierwave~ says:

      Hello, The raging controversy between FAITH and WORKS and Salvation has been going on for centuries. The modern-day resolution over this “seeming” contradiction in the Book of James chapter 2 has led some to accept “another gospel” which is indeed a perversion that adds works to God’s simple plan of Salvation. We are in the last days and it is not strange that we find attacks by satan against the most important doctrine in the Bible–the salvation of the human soul. Any perversion of God’s plan can cause eternal repercussions that CANNOT be reversed, thus the attacks against the “COMMON” (the same FOR ALL PEOPLE) “FAITH” that was “ONCE” delivered to the saints is very active and at times, vicious. (JUDE 1:3)

      We are supposed to be “earnestly contending” (actual confrontational striving) for the FAITH, yet we find individuals demanding to bring in along side “works” (Law and or good-deeds performed by man as co-savior with Jesus Christ’s) NOTE: There is only ONE Savior; Jesus said “I am the WAY the truth and the life”. John 14:6 and O.T. Hosea 13:4 declares…” there is no savior beside me.” Works cannot save; nor a plan that would even SHARE works as co-savior with the Gospel of GRACE. Eph. 2:8-9 also see Rom. 3:28. and Rom.11:6 (Grace and Works cannot be mixed for salvation of the soul.)

      However, when people read James 2 they find what appears be a “contradiction” that FAITH must accompany WORKS for salvation. So there is a “seeming” contradiction between Paul and James, particularly Romans 3,4 and 5 and James 2. I contend they are BOTH RIGHT as both are taught in the WORD OF GOD. But there is however a BIG DIFFERENCE, and herein is where the misunderstanding and confusion and seeming contradiction is RESOLVED COMPLETELY. The difference is, Paul in Romans is describing “justification” in the EYES OF GOD, where James 2 is describing “justification” in the EYES OF MAN. When a careful reading and contextual application of James 2 is implemented you will SEE there is NO contradiction.

      It is vitally important to realize there are only TWO agents by which the Bible states we can be “justified”; GOD and MAN. “Justification” in the EYES of GOD is by FAITH ALONE. Romans 3:28 – 4:1-5. God can see the HEART and MAN cannot. However, since man cannot see FAITH in the heart he the only way a man can “justify” another man is by his WORKS. Realize however, man’s “justifying“ by works does NOT SAVE another man. It is only God who alone can “justify” the soul for SALVATION. (heaven). So when man “justifies” another man it is limited to “evidence” of FAITH, only. God does not need works “as evidence” to your FAITH, for the EYES OF GOD sees your FAITH already in the Heart. God sees FAITH and “justifies” a man for Heaven without “works“. Man can only see WORKS and can’t see FAITH, so WORKS is the only “evidence” that man as his proof he is “justified” by FAITH. And that is the difference. All the controversy can be resolved by careful reading and applying the illustrations God gives in James 2.

      James 2 is NOT teaching WORKS saves (or helps save) the soul; James is rebuking “Christians” for not being “profitable“; not SHOWING their FAITH by doing good deeds. “Shew ME thy FAITH without thy works, and I will SHOW THEE my FAITH BY MY WORKS.” (James 2:18). Notice here it is a MAN showing another MAN his FAITH by the only means he can; by his works. Nowhere in this verse is God being influenced by a man’s WORKS to “justify” for heaven! And of course God ALREADY KNOWS if a man has FAITH for salvation so God requires NO WORKS for Salvation.

      Scriptural proof.: Abraham is stated to be saved (justified or “made innocent”) BY FAITH without works by Paul, (Romans 4:1-4) However, James 2 says Abraham was “justified” by his WORKS and FAITH. The difference is God “justified” Abraham in Gen.15:6 in the EYES OF GOD by his FAITH for Salvation. But Abraham was “justified” AGAIN in Gen. 22:12 but BY HIS WORKS this time when he offered up Isaac in the EYES OF MAN. Abraham was justified by BOTH, man and God. Before God by his FAITH in Gen.15:6 and BY WORKS Gen 22:12. James 2:21 is simply stating Abraham was “justified” BY WORKS, but NOTICE CAREFULLY; it says “WHEN HE OFFERED UP ISSAC” (before the EYES OF MAN) and before the EYES OF GOD Gen 15:6 and Rom. 4:1. Now you can see how Abraham was “justified” by both FAITH AND WORKS! In other words, BEFORE Man and God; and his FAITH was displayed (wrought) by his WORKS made “perfect”. Abraham ALREADY had FAITH “showed” it (his FAITH) when he offered up Issac. His FAITH was now real (perfect) before Man and God.

      • I have approved this comment because you may have missed my previous one. You are welcome to comment on this blog if you remain civil and actually respond to questions levied against your position. In no case will I allow multiple crazy rants to fill up my comments page. If you are commenting, you are implicitly starting a dialogue. If I make a point or ask a question, you just can’t ignore it and then post a follow-up rant that pretends the point was never made. If you want a platform for your inconsistent theology (riddled with holes), you can start your own blog.

        You still have several unanswered questions for you about the events in Acts 15 and Galatians 2 that you refuse to answer, and you have ignored half a dozen points questioning your understanding of the term “false brethren”. Respond to those.

        For any readers, the full conversation with carrierwave can be found here. PDF Download

        Here are a couple tips for you how to be more persuasive and to generally be a better human being:

        1. Use paragraphs! Long blocks of texts makes your writing hard to follow and makes you look like a crazy ranter.
        2. If you are laying out systematic arguments, try to use numbering. It helps people track various points or questions and allows critics to better respond to your writings.
        3. Sparingly use CAPSLOCK. When you do use CAPSLOCK it should probably be to reinforce an obvious point or one that you emphasize something that it critically missed by the other individual. Make sure that if the other person does not think it is obvious that you spend some time demonstrating or proving your point. Too much capslock is hard on the eyes, and makes you look infantile.
        4. If you are going to dismiss the “experts”, at least know why they believe what they do and be able to respond to those reasons.
        5. If you are writing in reply to a blog post on a topic, try to examine any evidence that the post proffers and then discuss it. Just saying “that is not true” does not an effective argument make.
        6. If you are going to talk about what concepts from other parts of the Bible, make sure you give examples. If you are posting these comments on a blog post, you should probably do a search to see if concepts or verses have already been addressed elsewhere.
        7. Showing downright hostility towards “experts” in general is not a good idea. If they are wrong, you should have a better reason than “they are all leftists”.
        8. If someone doesn’t just accept your point, figure out why they don’t and then address that. For example, if someone says that the “false brethren” in Acts 15 and Galatians 2 were “unsaved”, a good step would be asking the person questions about the text to see how they understand what is going on.
        9. Don’t ignore criticisms. If you can’t answer a question, chances are that you should be less confident in your beliefs. Chances are that intelligent people can come to different conclusions. And, if those people actually can answer the question (that you cannot) then you should be even less confident in your own belief.
        10. You can’t just assume your presuppositions are right when talking to people who do not believe your presuppositions. Prove your points.

        Hopefully this will help you not be so crazy.

      • carrierwave~ says:

        One of the biggest cogs in the wheels of “law-keeping” and human effort for salvation is the undeniable fact that man is a LOST SINNER. Lost sinners cannot please a Holy, righteous, perfect God. The only agent available to please God is FAITH. Hebrews 11 says it is “impossible to please God” except through FAITH in His Son Jesus Christ. Any “gospel” that includes something else or adds works to Jesus Christ is “ANOTHER GOSPEL” and a perversion of the true.

      • Bob Evans says:

        The word “saved” or “salvation” is not usually referring to eternal life but a deliverance from something, often unto blessings from God. Context is the issue. Being judged as the friend of God is a blessing that Abraham received by being faithful in certain matters such as obeying God and proceeding to sacrifice his son Isaac.

        Ro chapter 10 when read in its entirety fully corroborates this point of view, especially at the end which provides salvation when one calls upon the Lord evidently to be delivered from something or to something such as blessings, both temporal and eternal. Chapter 9 is a lead in to chapter 10 mourning Israel’s failure to call upon the Lord to deliver her / save her from temporal destruction.

      • Rob says:

        You are absolutely right. Simply stated, James is referring to the works of the heart.
        Real faith will naturally produce fruit (works)

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  10. I am posting a pdf of the conversation that I had with a complete nutter about this topic. I invited him back if he would answer my direct questions. Here are my final thoughts to him on the exchange:

    “A few final thoughts on this entire exchange:

    The original blog post set out a systematic argument about who the “false brethren” were in Acts 15 and Galatians 2. It attempted to use context clues to figure out their motivations, how they were viewed, and what authority they accepted.

    Your entire argument did not respond to these points or offer a tangible alternative. Instead your goal was to distract from the text because the details of the text did not fit your theological premises. When watching a poorly written movie, the best way to expose plot holes is to ask questions. But you were not interested in answering questions about your own gaping plot holes. You were not even interested about asking me questions about what you considered my plot holes. This is excellent reaffirmation of my beliefs. If those who believe something else about this text are afraid of the text and are afraid to address my evidence, this is really good evidence that I am probably correct.

    Furthermore, your knowledge of language (idioms, uses, word morphology) was highly flawed and alien to human nature. Your entire argument was based on various terms meaning very specific (and inflexible) concepts, in which all premises are implied. The implications, you believed, that only you knew. And when I tried to ascertain if you were even willing to consider alternatives, you ignored me.

    You ignored my parallels, you ignored my questions that even assumed you were right in your premises (wow!), and you ignored all my questions about your gaping plot holes in your narrative. When I offered to even debate your understandings of these static concepts on blog posts that set a premise, you refused and then accused me of avoiding a debate on these issues (wow!).

    Your rants against both scholars and laymen were wildly entertaining, but not at all conducive to your overall objective of offering an alternative to my narrative of events. You showed outright hostility by your second post, and flipped out when I tried to make you look at the text.

    Will you advertise that your friends read this exchange? I don’t think you will. I don’t think you would like people seeing your inability to deal with the actual text of Acts 15 and Galatians 2.”

    PDF Download

  11. Monica says:

    In my opinion, false brethren are wicked people created with the purpose to destroy. A deceived believer is not a false brethren.

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