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Galatians 2:1-10, confronting error

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, A Reading from Homer (detail), 1885


The Early Epistles—

Galatians 2:1-10

a private meeting,
no compromise,
publicly acknowledged Paul’s work

Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. 2And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.

Pressured by False Brethren
3But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: 4And 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: 5To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

Acknowledged Paul’s Work
6But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: 7But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; 8(For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)9And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. 10Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.

Critical Notes

(2: 1) took Titus] The same word is used over the disagreement about Mark.  Barnabas wanted to take him on the second missionary journey, but Paul thought it unwise (Acts 15:37, 38).

(2: 2) I preach] Iterative Present with emphasis on repeated action.  The gospel which I formerly preached and still am preaching.  Neither the gospel nor Paul’s approach had changed.  Compare: “which I am accustomed to preached” (NEB).

those held in esteem] lit. “the one seeming” used as an idiom in classical Greek to describe people who are well respected— people of renown.  The words can, of course, be used in a caustic sense, but that is not the throught here.  James, Cephas, and John are later named as those esteemed as pillars (2:9).

(2: 4) stealthy brought in] A word used of foreign enemies insidiously entering a walled city.  The false brethren were enemies of the gospel.

who, being what the are] The relative pronoun of quality (hostis), characteristic (but sometimes used as a simple relative.  The strong tone of the sentence suggests an emphasis on quality rather than description.  they were false brethren and acted the part.  Compare: “A wise man who (hostis, or who being what he is) built his house on a rock” (Matt. 7:24).

(2: 6) what they formerly were] The adverb is better understood as temporal rather than intensive.  Compare the ASV footnote: “what they once were.”  Even though these had personally known Christ, that did not place them above Paul.  His apostleship was equal to theirs.

Literary Summary

Directed by God,
No compromise,
Asked Paul for help

(2:1-1—10) God directed Paul to go to Jerusalem.  He went with Barnabas and took Titus with him as well.  A confrontation ensued over whether the gospel would preserve Jewish tadition or stand as a spiritual religion, confronting men of different backgrounds, languages, and races.  Titus, as a Greek, was the test case.  The result was that he was not circumcised even though others insisted that he must be forced to comply.

A compromise certainly would have been much easier.  Yet, if Titus had been circumcised, then the gospel would have been distorted.  The question was not over circumcision, but over the implications.  The gospel simply had not commanded men to circumcised, and therefore Paul refused to yield even for a moment.  And the pressure applied behind the scenes by those brethren favoring circumcision unmasked them for what they actually were — false brethren.

As for James, Cephas, and John — the matter was far from easy for them as well.  They, like Paul, had come from a strong Jewish background, but unlike Paul, their home was Jerusalem, the very center of Judaism.  Yet, these factors did not keep them from backing Paul — someone whom they could have known only slightly.  They not only endorsed Paul and the gospel he preached, but asked for his help in another matter.

Questions for Further Study

  1. Why did Paul go to Jerusalem?  Who told him to go?  Who went with Paul?
  2. The conduct of those favoring circumcision unmasked them for what they really were— false brethren.  How is their conduct described?
  3. In a crisis it is as important to act right as it is to be right.  How did Paul react under pressure?  How do we react?
  4. Why was Paul so adamant in refusing to compromise?  After all, isn’t compromise a good thing?
  5. The whole affair may have been more difficult for Peter, James, and John than it was for Paul; they lived in Jerusalem and some of the Judaizers may have even been former friends of theirs.  But how did Peter, James, and John react under pressure?  In a similar circumstance, what might you have done?
  6. What does it mean that God accepts no man’s personal standing?
  7. Paul and Peter were both apostles, but each had a different sphere from God.  Can you explain?

James Sanders

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