Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us — we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you. And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) — those leaders contributed nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.Galatians 2:1-10
When Paul went down to Jerusalem, he met with the acknowledged leaders of the faith, which included James, John, and Peter (v. 9), and shared with them the Gospel that he had been preaching to the Gentiles – the facts of his Gospel, if you will. But Paul wasn’t doing this to check and make sure that his Gospel was correct, as the phrase, “in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain” might suggest. He went to Jerusalem because God told him to in a revelation (v. 2). And when he got there, he met with the leaders in private, not to make sure that they might correct him, but that any disagreement between leaders in the church might be kept out of the eyes of those most likely to be swayed by these disagreements. They did this in order to maintain unity.
This idea of unity is important here, because the disagreement touched upon the idea of inclusion. If the people who Paul converted to the freedom in Christ were then required to follow the Mosaic Law, then they would be “enslaved” to the requirement to follow the entire law, and not just the requirement to get circumcised. It would force them to lose their freedom in Christ, which, according to Paul, comes merely through belief in the death and resurrection of Christ (see Galatians 3:1-14, and Ephesians 2:8-9). The reason that this is important, is that Christ is the lord of the whole world, and no longer the salvation of Israel alone. If the Gentiles were required to come to faith in the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then the “family of God” would be dependent upon more than faith – it would divide people based on nationality and race1.
It seems that the people who were demanding that all Christians become circumcised like the Jewish believers, were the ones who had cast doubts about Paul’s authority to preach the Gospel in Galatia. And, it appears, that people of the same mindset (“false believers”) were present at this meeting of the Jerusalem leadership and Paul. And so, basically, Paul is continuing the defense of his credentials, stating again that his credentials are valid, and that he would not even “submit to them even for a moment.” As proof that he did not yield, he tells us that not even Titus was compelled to get circumcised by these acknowledged leaders of the faith. Paul is, in a certain way, saying, “You want proof of the result of this discussion? Talk to Titus. He can prove what I say is true,” since there really is no way to fake being circumcised.
As more proof, Paul lets us know that these people “added nothing to me.” Or, stated differently, they found no fault with his Gospel, and therefore did not need to correct him. Moreover, they saw, they recognized, that Paul had “been entrusted with the Gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised.” And so they all agreed that Paul and Barnabas would go to the Gentiles, and Peter and the others would work on sharing the Gospel with the Jews.
The final verse, v. 10, seems almost out of place, which give it a bit of added emphasis. “They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.” They agreed on this fact that the church should remember the poor. It seems that no matter what church we go to, no matter where they place their theological emphasis, the church still has an outreach program to those less fortunate. Given the vast number of denominations not just in the world, but in the United States alone, it seems that this desire to help those in need might be the one thing that we can all agree on, whether we disagree on everything else or not.
The Only Opinion that Matters
Several years ago, I remember reading a news article about a well-known Hollywood actor who had been pulled over for driving while under the influence. Apparently, in trying to get out of the ticket, he got angry with the police officer, and questioned him, asking, “Don’t you know who I am?” It was a question based entirely on the perceived self-importance of the one asking. Naturally, the police officers did not care who the driver was. The important fact in the situation was that the driver had been driving impaired, and, of course, a ticket was written.
Trying to take advantage of our position, or our perceived importance is nothing new. But in Paul’s case, those that had come through the churches in Galatia had tried to tarnish his reputation and question his authority as an apostle. But Paul won’t have any of it. He tells a story of how the acknowledged leaders in Jerusalem not only agreed that the Gospel he preached was correct, but that they agreed that he was a fellow apostle, and sent him off with their blessings. He finishes off this story with stating that “those who appeared to be something – whatever they were doesn’t matter to me – because God doesn’t play favorites.”
Paul didn’t care whether they were the Emperor of Rome, the leaders of the local gathering, or those who were perceived to lead the entire faith. The only opinion that mattered to Paul was what God thought of him, and whether he was doing what God had commanded him to do. Our own concern should be to follow the idea stated in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” If we are doing what God has asked of us, it should not matter what others say about us. It shouldn’t, though in practice it is not always so easy. But we must continue in our path, seeking to do what we believe to be God’s will in our lives, despite whatever others might say.
Important Words and Phrases
ψευδάδελφος, ου, ὁ – pseudodelphos – literally, fake brothers; from ψευδής, ές and ἀδελφός, οῦ, ὁ; Paul primarily uses “adelphos” to refer to spiritual brothers, roughly 130 times, so the false brothers are false spiritual brothers, those who do not believe according to what was agreed upon by Paul and the others. 2
ὑποταγή, ῆς, ἡ – hypotage – This word means “submission” or “subordination,” as well as “slavery.” Occurs only in Paul in the New Testament, and in 2:5 refers to submission. 3 The thing is.
διαφέρει – “made no difference,” from διαφέρω diaphero – I surpass, excel – In the phrase in Gal. 2:6, it means “to be of no account,” or “makes no difference.” 4
- N. T. Wright, “Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians,” pp. 16-17
- Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume; pp. 22
- TDNT, I Vol., pp. 1160
- TDNT, 1 Vol., pp 1254
Mike is a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s a data analyst, programmer, and loves to cook. If he doesn’t have his face buried in a book or is staring blankly at a computer screen, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride.
Mike holds a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary.