Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Galatians 2:1-5

V1-5 – 1Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. 3Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 4This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.

Vincent Cheung offers a superb summary so far and preview of what’s to come: “Paul has been narrating an account of his life that very likely counters the Judaizers’ accusations and misrepresentations. In the previous passage (Galatians 1:13-24), he recalled his condition prior to conversion and how God consecrated and transformed him, having revealed Christ to him and called him to preach the gospel. By the time he met the apostles, his theology and ministry were already established, so that as far as anything that has to do with this controversy is concerned, he was directly called by God and taught by Christ, and he owed nothing to Jerusalem. Paul continues his story and sets the record straight. Building on the previous verses, he describes another visit to Jerusalem. While maintaining his independence, he now shows that the other apostles are in agreement with him.”

At the beginning of Galatians 2, we read that Paul, “fourteen years later…went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas.” In Acts 11:25, Barnabas went to Tarsus, found Paul, and brought him back to Antioch. Acts 11:28 says that Agabus predicted a famine, and some commentators suggest that this was the revelation Paul speaks of in v2, though others disagree. As we’ve seen, Paul received much revelation directly from God throughout his ministry, so we need not be dogmatic on this particular instance. Acts 11:30 seems to indicate that Barnabas and Paul, then called Saul, took an offering for the suffering Christians of Judea in response to the prophesied famine, but no mention is given of the city to which they journeyed. (Most would say that city had to be Jerusalem.) Some commentators say this was Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem, with the third coming in Acts 15 for the council meeting, but others say Paul and Barnabas never went to Jerusalem with the offering but stopped elsewhere in Judea, making Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem the time of the council meeting. Still others conclude that Paul sees no relevance for including all the details of his life over the course of those fourteen years; thus, Paul may have visited Jerusalem for the second time in Acts 11 without mentioning it here in Galatians, and he may have come to Jerusalem for the third time in Acts 15, speaking of that here when he uses the word, “again.” “Again” could refer to the second visit to Jerusalem that had an impact on the Judaizer controversy; or it could refer to the third or fourth trip there since Paul’s conversion.

Anyway, moving on without over-speculation, after Paul and Barnabas went on a mission trip to Galatia (Acts 13-14), they returned to Antioch. Barnabas, originally named Joseph, was a Levite from Cyprus; his new name, given by the apostles in Acts 4:36, meant “Son of Encouragment,” and he was that, especially to Paul throughout his ministry and to his cousin, John Mark, who would later write the Gospel of Mark and be deemed helpful in ministry, even by Paul, who refused to put up with his homesickness on their first mission trip together (see Acts 9:27, 12:25, 13:13, 15:36-41; Colossians 4:10-11; 2 Timothy 4:11). Paul says here in v1 that Titus was with them as well, and though Acts doesn’t include his name, we know that Titus was very important (2 Corinthians 7:13-16, 8:6,16-17,23; Titus), especially given the context of the council to discuss the doctrine of Christianity regarding Jew and Gentile converts – the very issue the Judaizers promoted in Galatia. Titus was a Gentile convert to Christianity who was not circumcised but who served the kingdom of God better than Jewish converts to Christianity who had been circumcised. Vincent Cheung concludes with a comment on Titus: “Based on the biblical evidence, we must conclude that Titus was most likely a competent, fearless, and resourceful Christian. He was honest, loyal, and could follow instructions, and at the same time, one could hardly find superior leadership material. He was the one for the tough jobs. He was the one who got things done no matter how difficult the people or situation was, or how much pressure he would come under.” We would do well to emulate Titus. And the fact that he was not circumcised reveals that the Christian leaders in Jerusalem accepted Paul’s doctrine.

Moving on, Acts 15:1-2 says, “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: ‘Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.’ This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas [accompanied by Titus] were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” It was during this visit to Jerusalem to discuss the Judaizer issue that Paul was formally esteemed as an apostle, though his apostleship came long before by grace and the calling of God, and found to have doctrinal agreement with “those who seemed to be [Jerusalem church] leaders.”

This interesting statement, in v2, that Paul spoke privately with “those who seemed to be leaders” (James, Peter, and John, “those reputed to be pillars” from v9) about his gospel to the Gentiles, deserves more attention. Paul “set before them the gospel;” he did not do this to gain their authority, for if that were the case, then everything he’s been saying thus far in Galatians about his unique ministry would be refuted and instead uphold the Judaizers’ claims against him. Rather, Paul “went in response to a revelation,” meaning that, as Vincent Cheung notes, “he might not have gone at all if he had not been sent by a divine command.” But then we read that he did this privately, out of fear that he had run or was running his race in vain. At first glance, we might conclude that, despite having a preaching ministry for some 14-17 years, Paul was actually afraid that he might have been doctrinally wrong. We’ll be reminded in v6-10 that this is not the case. He told them the truth and waited to get their response to the truth. Calvin says that it’s as if Paul was saying, “That my former labors might not be thrown away and rendered useless, I have set at rest the question which disturbed many minds, whether I or Peter deserved your confidence; for in all that I had ever taught we were perfectly at one.” He continues, “If many teachers in our own day were as heartily desirous as Paul was to edify the Church, they would take more pains to be agreed among themselves.” And Cheung continues his thoughts to explain Paul’s fear that he was running in vain:

“If this means that Paul wanted a confirmation of the accuracy of his message, so that he would not have done all that he did for nothing, then certainly he would be undermining himself. He had just said that his message came to him by divine revelation, but if so, then there was no superior or even equal authority by which his message could be verified, and it would be strange to require human confirmation at this point. The same is true regarding his calling and authority.

“The context explains what Paul means. V5 says that he did not give in ‘so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you,’ that is, with the Galatians or with Gentiles in general. Although this statement is immediately applicable to v3-4, it also reflects his concern in v2 and in an upcoming passage, v11-14. Paul’s concern was not directly about solidarity, but about whether Jerusalem would consider his message and ministry legitimate so that his work would not be frustrated by a contradictory doctrinal pronouncement or contravening missionary effort from Jerusalem. Gaining Jerusalem’s official agreement was also an effective tactic against the Judaizers, although not a necessary one.

“That is, from an individual’s perspective, Paul wished to preserve his previous work and minimize hindrance for his future labor. From a broader perspective, he wished to protect the true gospel that so many among the Gentiles had already believed, so that they could hold fast to it and circulate it. He presented his message to the Jerusalem leaders, not hoping for a confirmation for his own assurance, but hoping for agreement so that the gospel – which he already knew to be true by revelation – would not be taken away or otherwise undermined and attacked among the Gentiles.

“Paul’s concern, then, was the effectiveness of his efforts, and not the truth of his message or the legitimacy of his ministry – he was assured of the latter by divine revelation. And precisely because he was sure about the truth of his message and the legitimacy of his ministry, if the Jerusalem leaders had disagreed with him and censored him, Paul would have defied them and went his own way. This would have produced a great schism between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, dividing Jerusalem and Antioch, so to speak, and might have severely undermined the effectiveness of Paul’s previous and future missionary efforts.

“Let us be clear as to what all of this means. If Jerusalem had rejected Paul’s message and ministry, he would have rejected them and continued with his work – he was not seeking their approval, since he had Christ’s command to preach and a revelation as to what he was to preach. Paul would have been in the right, and Jerusalem in the wrong. This would have added to the tremendous pressure that he was already experiencing from those who claimed to be believers. Keep in mind that the apostle Paul was not the apostle Paul that all Christians revere today. During his lifetime he constantly came under suspicion and criticism even from those who were supposedly his brothers in Christ. So we can understand why he did not want Jerusalem to work against him. He was not there to seek approval for his message and ministry, and based on v6-10, he did not even seek a close partnership. He knew he was legitimate, but he was there to make sure that Jerusalem would not get in his way.”
Taking all of this in, we conclude that Paul was vehemently opposed to forcing Gentile converts to Christianity to be circumcised (Galatians 5:12; Acts 15:1), as the example of Titus yielded – whether this example (v3-5) occurred parallel to Acts 11 or Acts 15, or even to some other time not mentioned in Acts. He notes that they – either Paul and those with him (if Acts 11), or Paul and the Christian leaders of Jerusalem (if Acts 15) – yielded to neither the “false brothers” – the Pharisaical (Acts 15:5) Judaizers who were professing yet not genuine Christians (the NEB translates this “sham-Christians”) – nor their false gospel. The Judaizers denied salvation “by grace through faith;” they thought Paul too liberal, but they also had motive to make slaves, so that “they may boast about your flesh” (Galatians 6:13). Theirs was a false gospel of enslavement, putting believers back under the law, in order, Cheung says, “to claim the Gentile as their own disciples and to subjugate their faith under their own customs,” whereas “the truth of the gospel,” affirmed here, was the good news of salvation, life, and freedom from the law’s condemnation. This was a matter of life and death, and Paul knew it. I like what Calvin says of this passage:
“Circumcision, being a matter of indifference, might be neglected or practiced as edification required. Our invariable rule of action is, that, if ‘all things are lawful for us,’ (1 Corinthians 10:23) we ought to inquire what is expedient. [Paul] circumcises Timothy, (Acts 16:3) in order to take away a ground of offense from weak minds; for he was at that time dealing with weak minds, which it was his duty to treat with tenderness. And he would gladly have done the same thing with Titus, for he was unwearied in his endeavors to ‘support (Acts 20:35) the weak;’ but the case was different. For some false brethren were watching for an opportunity of slandering his doctrine, and would immediately have spread the report: ‘See how the valiant champion of liberty, when he comes into the presence of the apostles, lays aside the bold and fierce aspect which he is wont to assume among the ignorant!’ Now, as it is our duty to ‘bear the infirmities of the weak,’ (Romans 15:1,) so concealed foes, who purposely watch for our liberty, must, be vigorously resisted. The duties of love to our neighbor ought never to be injurious to faith; and therefore, in matters of indifference, the love of our neighbor will be our best guide, provided that faith shall always receive our first regard.”

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