Paul continues to defend his message from the criticism of the false teachers – criticism that says he is a second-rate apostle who simply distorts the gospel he was given by the real apostles in Jerusalem. He has already told the Galatians that during the first years after his conversion he spent very little time in Jerusalem – only 15 days – and only really spent time with Peter. He has given them a persuasive defense that says his gospel did not come to him by man but from God directly. In this text he continues and directly responds to criticism that the Jerusalem apostles teach a different gospel than his.
The false teachers claim to teach the same gospel the Jerusalem apostles teach. If Paul’s gospel is different than what the false teachers preach and the false teachers agree with the Jerusalem apostles, then apparently the apostles are not in agreement and the gospel as a whole is in doubt. Paul explains – and gives proof – that his message and the other apostles’ message are the same even though he is independent from them. He shows the Galatians that he is not the one out of touch with the big-name apostles; it is the very ones who claim solidarity with Jerusalem who teach a different message.
At the end of chapter 1 he told the Galatians that after he left Peter in Jerusalem he did not stay in Judea but went north to Syria and his home region of Cilicia. In verse 1 of Chapter 2 he says he stayed away from Jerusalem for 14 years (this means either that it was 14 years after his first visit or 14 years after his conversion). He ministered on his own with no outside apostolic consultation for as many as 17 years. He clearly establishes that he is no one’s apprentice (other than Christ’s).
Even when he decided to go to Jerusalem it was not because he needed help or was summoned by the other apostles. He went up because God told him to – it was because of a revelation that I went up. God specifically told him to go to Jerusalem probably to make his ministry to the Gentiles public and to confront head-on the question of freedom versus law. It also was a way to publicly declare unity of message among the leadership.
He says when he went, he submitted to the apostles the gospel he had been preaching (actually he uses the present tense – the gospel I preach – to show that he continues to preach it currently) for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. He does not mean that he needed reassurance as to whether his theology was correct. What he wanted was reassurance that the Jerusalem apostles agreed with him about freedom for the Gentiles. If they did not, he would know he must separate from them and his ministry would effectively end – thus his words about possibly running in vain. If the apostles did not agree then the foundation of the church would crumble and there would be no gospel to spread.
He consulted with the apostles in private. This was not for any personal reason but was likely an attempt to avoid the Judaizers who would stir up trouble when they realized what Paul was there for. This explains Paul’s words in verse 4 that the Judaizers sneaked in to spy out our liberty. Meeting in private was also a way to avoid the public airing of disagreements should there have been any.
Titus’ presence made it very clear where Paul’s ministry and theology were targeted. Paul did not just decide to confront the apostles in the capital of Judaism with his Gentile teaching, he brought an uncircumcised Greek believer with him. By bringing Titus he probably did not intend to provoke, but he left no doubt as to the gospel he preached and the people he felt called to minister to. Titus was “Exhibit A” in Paul’s case for teaching freedom from the Law.
Paul tells the Galatians that none of the big-name apostles called for Titus’ circumcision (which undoubtedly made Titus happy). Unlike what the people had heard, Peter, James and John were in complete agreement with Paul over the question of circumcision. As a matter of fact, the only reason it came up was because of the false brethren who made it an issue (verse 4 is hard to understand, but what seems to make sense is that Paul says the false brethren sneaked in and raised a cry that Gentiles must be circumcised – the same teaching they spread in Galatia – and that specifically Titus needed to be. Their cry is what forced the group to address Titus’ situation – otherwise it would not have been an issue. This interpretation makes more sense contextually – especially in light of verse 5 – than to read the verse as saying Paul ended up circumcising Titus because of the influence of people who were not truly believers).
Do not miss how Paul describes the ones who called for adherence to the Law. He says they were false brethren. These men claimed to be Christians but they were not. They were lost and their gospel was damned. This goes along with Paul’s words in 1:8-9 that anyone who preaches a gospel different than his is accursed. These are the same men – or same types of men – who are plaguing the Galatians. He effectively says to the Galatians, “The very men who are telling you that they have the true gospel are not even Christians!”
In verse 5 Paul says the apostles did not give in to the demands of the false brethren. They did not yield one point of the gospel message to their false theology. This was so the truth of the gospel might remain with the Galatians (and all Gentile believers). If Paul and the other apostles would have agreed to go along with the Judaizers it would have meant the truth of salvation through faith alone was compromised. The freedom of the gospel would cease for the Gentiles and their status as believers would come into question. The Galatians may not realize it, but their eternity rests on the issues the Jerusalem group wrestled with.
Consider: This shows that fighting for the core of the gospel is always worthwhile. In the midst of a culture that celebrates tolerance and cooperation and says that acceptance of all views is a virtue, it is instructive to read Paul’s words and remember that some things cannot be compromised. We should, as brothers and sisters in Christ, determine to get along on issues of conscience or gray areas of theology, and we should strive wherever it is possible to get along well with the unsaved. But we must never forget that the gospel message cannot be changed and it cannot be massaged to fit the opinions of man or the social norms of the day. Paul says the apostles did not yield for even an hour – they did not give up a single point to the false believers. A gospel other than the full and true one leads to damnation – thus to compromise it or change it is to render it meaningless.
[A note on the circumcision of Timothy. In Acts 16:1-3 Luke tells of Paul circumcising Timothy before allowing him to join Paul in ministry. At first glance this appears to be a direct contradiction of Paul’s words in Galatians 2 about Titus. One difference between the two men is key, however; Timothy’s mother was Jewish. This means the Jews considered him a Jew. In this case his lack of circumcision was a cultural issue as much as a religious one. Paul never instructs the Jews to stop circumcising – it was strictly a Gentile issue. Since Timothy was not technically a Gentile it was appropriate for him to be circumcised. Also, the Acts text says the Jews all knew that his father was a Greek. This likely means either that they knew as a result that Timothy was not circumcised or that they looked down on him and his mother because she married a Greek. Either way, circumcision increased Timothy’s reputation and standing amongst the Jews and made his ministry more effective than it otherwise would have been.]
Paul moves from the circumcision question to his actual consultation with the big names of Christianity. He says the men who were of high reputation contributed nothing to me. He does not mean this as an insult to the Jerusalem apostles. What he means is that they did not add anything to his gospel message because it was complete. What he preached – and continues to preach – had their wholehearted commendation and they did not need to add or change anything. It is the complete gospel and the same message they heard from Jesus and the same message they themselves preached.
They also recognized his calling to the Gentiles and endorsed it. They saw that he was called to the Gentiles just like Peter was called to the Jews. [Interesting that Paul refers to Peter as ‘Peter’ in verses 7 and 8 whereas he uses ‘Cephas’ for every other reference in the book. Some conjecture that these verses are an extract from an official transcript of the consultation and that Paul simply copied them into the letter.] Paul says they realized the Holy Spirit was working in his ministry just as He was working in Peter’s. Both ministries were all of God – He effectually worked for Peter and He effectually worked for Paul.
Paul’s parenthetical statement in verse 8 reminds everyone of the reality of what they debate. They can talk about theology and mission and who they are called to. They can discuss who is going where and how effective they are. But in the end it is God who calls the shots and God who calls the souls. Every worker and soldier for Christ must never forget that He alone causes the harvest. We are to go and work and strive – but the mission must be about Him and any success or failure is measured by Him alone because He is the one who causes it. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth – I Cor 3:6-7.
Paul says that Peter, James and John acknowledged the grace that had been given to me. God called him to the Gentiles and enabled him to be effective among them. This was obvious to the others and was a clear sign of God’s grace in Paul’s life. It was grace that saved Paul on the road to Damascus and grace that enabled his ministry from then on. God’s grace poured out on Paul’s life was such that the other apostles saw it clearly and encouraged Paul to excel in it.
The final piece of evidence that the Jerusalem apostles were on Paul’s side was their symbolic show of unity with him. The pillars of the movement gave to Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. They were behind him 100%. They were united with Paul in message and mission. Their mission was to the Jews and Paul’s was to the Gentiles – but their gospel was the same. They were unified in their calling as apostles and in the message they preached.
Thought: Interestingly, Paul’s explanation in this text also addresses the question of whether or not he and James are on the same page theologically. Many have thought over the years that James’ epistle is so different from the letters of Paul as to be a different doctrine. Paul teaches salvation by grace and James teaches salvation by works. This in fact is not true and a full study of the book of James compared to the many epistles of Paul shows they do not disagree. However, this text gives even more proof that they themselves felt they were in agreement. If Paul can write under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that James and the rest fully endorsed his teaching, it becomes impossible to then conclude that he and James went on to disagree in their future letters (which were also Spirit-inspired).
Paul has answered the critics directly and completely. The big-name apostles – the ones the false teachers said were the real apostles as opposed to Paul – completely endorsed Paul’s ministry and were in complete agreement with his message. They did NOT hold that believers must be circumcised or keep the Law. They also did not teach Paul anything – when he went to them he had already been teaching for at least 14 years the gospel message he received directly from Jesus. They endorsed his teaching, they taught him nothing, and they completely accepted him as one of their own. His message is sure and the false teachers are cursed – and their claim to be in agreement with the apostles who really matter is clearly a lie.
The pillars did not add anything to Paul’s gospel but they did ask one thing from him. They asked him to remember the poor. At first reading this appears an odd thing to request. Of all the things that could be brought up as they parted ways it seems strange that they felt the need to remind Paul of his responsibility to the poor. Contextually, however, it makes perfect sense. Judea at this time was impoverished in many areas probably because of a famine but also because of other economic factors. Christians especially were hard hit because of their persecution by the Jews. Consequently, the apostles urged Paul that even though his mission was to the Gentiles they did not want him to forget the Judean believers. “Go to the Gentiles, but remember your poor Jewish brethren back in Judea.”
This explains Paul’s ongoing collection that he mentions in Rom 15:25-27, I Cor 16:1-4, and especially II Cor 8-9. Paul says he was eager to do what the apostles asked of him – he actually means he was already going to do it even without their request – and he proves it by his subsequent actions. He went to the Gentiles but continually reminded them of their responsibility to help the Jewish brethren suffering in Judea.
Consider: While the apostles’ request must be considered contextually in light of the suffering of the Judean Christians, it does not mean we should dismiss its prominence at so historic a meeting. If the only thing the apostles wanted to leave with Paul was his responsibility under the gospel to address impoverished people in an emergency situation, does it not make sense that the same requirement applies to us if a similar situation presents itself? If the one thing an apostle of Jesus Christ felt he needed to do along with spreading the gospel was to remember the poor – should the same obligation not fall on those of us who directly benefited from his ministry?
The suffering of the Judean Christians during Paul’s time was likely intense. That he brings it up so often in his writing proves that it was a desperate and ongoing crisis. However, how does it compare to the desperate and ongoing crisis of poverty that exists in our world? How widespread was it compared to a world where BILLIONS are desperately poor and millions die each year from hunger?
There is no denying that we live in a time of unprecedented gaps in wealth throughout the world. Thus believers in the USA have an amazing responsibility to address the difference between how we live versus the majority of the rest of the world. There is an inequitable distribution of both goods and opportunities in this world. Therefore, if you have been assigned the goods of this world by God and you don’t share them with others, it isn’t just stinginess, it is injustice – Tim Keller.
You need to know that one of the effects that these realities has on me is to incline me away from finery and the symbols of wealth. I try to keep the destitution and suffering of the world before me. I keep records of these things. I ponder them and hold them before my mind. Because I fear the inoculating effects of wealth and of fine culture on me. In other words, for me, the more I take the lost and desperate condition of the world seriously, the more uncomfortable I feel with the symbols of wealth and refinement that tend to distance me from the poor—including 195,000,000 Christian brothers and sisters in the least developed countries. I say this simply to let you know that those impulses are at work in me, and have an impact on my life and the way I feel called to do church. – John Piper
It pays also to remember Jesus’ words:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. Lk 4:18-19
And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Matt 8:20
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”
Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when He could do something about it. The reason I don’t ask Him, however, is that I’m afraid He would ask me the same question. – Anonymous