By Peter Amsterdam
August 29, 2023
In Galatians chapter 1, Paul gives the personal testimony of his conversion and how he went to Arabia and then returned to Damascus. Three years later, he went to Jerusalem, where he met with Peter and James for fifteen days; after that, he went to Syria and Cilicia.1
The passage in which Paul gives his personal testimony of becoming a believer and of his ministry starts in Galatians chapter 1:11–242 and continues here in chapter 2.
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.3
Paul continued to tell of his relationship with the apostles in Jerusalem and the churches in Judea. It was after fourteen years that he again traveled to Jerusalem. This lengthy period since his last visit accentuates the independence of Paul’s ministry and message. He wasn’t dependent on the Jerusalem church.
Throughout the book of Acts we see that Barnabas was a longtime partner of Paul. The Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”4 After the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.5 Barnabas was given the nickname “Son of Encouragement.”6
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.7
Paul went to Jerusalem at the direction of divine revelation. We’re not told about the revelation he received, so we know nothing of its content. Once he arrived, he explained to the apostles the message that he preached to the Gentiles, the message he had received on the road to Damascus. Paul knew that his gospel had been given to him by Jesus, but also knew that it was important for the apostles to agree with the message that he preached. The meeting between Paul and the apostles was private. Four times in this letter Peter, James, and John are described as “influential” or “those of reputation.”8 Paul probably referred to them in this manner because they deserved the title.
While it was not required that Paul meet with the apostles, he likely felt it was pragmatic to do so. If the apostles had declared that Paul’s message was false, it would have significantly damaged his ministry.
But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.9
The issue of circumcision was a major matter, as according to the Old Testament, circumcision was required in order to be part of God’s people.10 Some Jewish Christians felt that Gentiles who became Christians were required to receive circumcision and to follow the law of Moses to be saved.11 Since Titus was a Gentile, they felt that he could not be part of God’s people unless he was circumcised.
Paul relates the outcome of the private meeting in Jerusalem. Some commentators say that Titus was circumcised voluntarily and that he was not forced to be circumcised. They feel that Titus’s situation was similar to Timothy’s in Acts 16:3. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.12
Timothy agreed to be circumcised, not because it would mean he was saved, but because it allowed him to enter the synagogues with Paul so that he could preach the gospel there. Timothy was considered Jewish because he was the son of a Jewish mother, though he had a Gentile father.13 However, if Titus, who was Greek, agreed to be circumcised, then it followed that all the Galatian believers should be as well. Paul makes the point that Titus was not compelled to be circumcised by the Jerusalem leaders. If Paul had circumcised Titus, he would not be able to claim that circumcision wasn’t a requirement for Gentiles.
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…14
Paul refers to false brothers who were stealthily brought into the church. We’re not told what occurred at the meeting, and the information given is vague. Some commentators have understood that the text says the question of Titus’s circumcision did not come up in the meeting with the Jerusalem leaders but rather that it arose when the false brothers arrived. Others feel that these events probably took place at the same time. The questions regarding Titus’s circumcision came to the forefront because of influence from the false brothers.
Paul called those who brought about the controversy “false brothers.” They insisted that Titus must be circumcised to become a Christian. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah; however, Paul concluded that they were not brothers in the Lord. In his view, requiring circumcision and keeping of the Mosaic law in order to be saved put them outside the circle of redemption.
He had already said that those who preach another gospel are cursed.15 He saw that those who pushed for obedience to the Mosaic law were not just mistaken on a minor matter. Requiring observance of the law makes salvation a work done by human beings rather than a work of God.
Paul made the point that false brothers had been secretly brought into the church. They were meddlers who had infiltrated the body and were not authentic Christians, their reason for membership was to spy on the believers, and their presence brought dissension. Paul saw them as false brothers who were stuck in bondage, and rather than being set free, they wanted to bring others into bondage.
…to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.16
The false brothers did not make any headway with Paul. He fought against the pressure to circumcise Titus in order to stay true to the gospel message. He recognized that the pressure to circumcise Titus was a false teaching and he repudiated it. Had he yielded to the Judaizers who insisted that these new believers be circumcised, he would have been denying the gospel, which teaches that Gentiles are justified in the same way as the Jews, by faith in Jesus.
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.17
Here Paul refers to “pillars” of the church, the apostles. He points out that the Galatians should not overestimate these pillars. They shouldn’t be venerated just because they were disciples of Christ during His earthly ministry. Paul didn’t reject their authority, but he did reject the veneration of them. It’s likely that the false brethren and the Judaizers in Galatia felt the apostles were the reliable authorities, rather than Paul. He was not in awe of the Jerusalem leaders. He didn’t reject the authority of the apostles, but their stature didn’t seem to matter much to him.
The Judaizers in Galatia, who probably hoped that the apostles in Jerusalem would validate their gospel, were mistaken, as the apostles agreed with Paul. Their alignment with Paul was a strong rebuttal to the view of the Judaizers in Galatia.
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.18
The apostles agreed with Paul’s message and saw no reason to change any of his teachings. They saw that his teaching spoke to the uncircumcised, meaning the non-Jews. The word entrusted is understood here as a divine passive, meaning that it is God who entrusted Paul with the gospel for the uncircumcised. Thus the apostles in Jerusalem didn’t establish Paul’s authority; rather they recognized that it was God who had given him such authority.
The phrase “gospel to the uncircumcised” points to the gospel which Paul preached to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people). He would not demand that circumcision was required for salvation. However, he did not object to the gospel that Peter was entrusted with “for the circumcised.” Peter was entrusted by God with the gospel, but his area of service was to the circumcision, the Jews. Paul makes the point that both he and Peter had authority as apostles, but they worked in different spheres. Paul did not question Peter’s apostolic authority. Peter was entrusted with the gospel and Paul believed that Peter preached the same gospel that he did.
He who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles.19
Both Peter and Paul preached the same gospel. Peter was called to be an apostle for the circumcision, meaning for the Jewish people, because God had worked in Peter’s life so that he was prepared to be an apostle to them. Likewise, God worked in Paul’s life so that he could be an apostle to the Gentiles.
Though Paul wasn’t specifically called an “apostle” here, the fact that Peter validated Paul’s gospel means that he also validated his apostolic authority.
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.20
The second reason that the Jerusalem leaders recognized Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles was that they saw that God was working in Paul’s life. They recognized his ministry and acknowledged that God’s grace was bestowed on him. They endorsed the message that Paul and Barnabas preached and gave them the right hand of fellowship. Giving the right hand of fellowship signified a solemn act of partnership, acceptance, agreement, and trust. Paul recognized the authority of the pillars, while he also cautioned against venerating them.
The main point here is that the leadership of the Jerusalem church extended their fellowship to Paul and his team. They recognized the truth of the gospel which Paul preached. They did not require Titus to be circumcised21 and they did not add anything to Paul’s message. Rather, they understood that they were aligned in partnership with Paul and Barnabas through proclaiming the same gospel.
They agreed that Paul and his team had a special calling to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, while the apostles focused on the Jewish people. This does not mean that the apostles were never allowed to preach to Gentiles, nor that ministering to Jews was off-limits to Paul. It was rather a recognition of the main spheres of ministry for Paul and his team as well as for the church pillars at that time.
Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.22
The only request the Jerusalem leaders made was for Paul to assist the poor believers. Paul writes that the request was something he was already doing, as he had been raising money to help the poor.
Because his gospel was validated by the pillars of the church, they added nothing to the message he preached, so Paul assured the Galatians that the gospel he preached was the same one preached by the apostles from Jerusalem. Paul only added the request that the Galatians remember the poor and continue to help them.
(To be continued.)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Galatians 1:18–19, 21.
3 Galatians 2:1.
4 Acts 13:2.
5 Acts 13:43.
6 Acts 4:36.
7 Galatians 2:2.
8 Galatians 2:2, 6 (2x), 9.
9 Galatians 2:3.
10 Genesis 17:9–14.
11 Acts 15:1–31.
12 Acts 16:3.
13 Acts 16:1, 3.
14 Galatians 2:4.
15 Galatians 1:8–9.
16 Galatians 2:5.
17 Galatians 2:6.
18 Galatians 2:7.
19 Galatians 2:8.
20 Galatians 2:9.
21 Galatians 2:3.
22 Galatians 2:10.