Galatians II:1-13: Review and Supplementary Material (Monday, June 25, 2012)

Galatians 2

Fourth Week


June 25, 2012

(Gal 2:1 ESV) Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.

1. Who was Titus? (Gal 2:1-3; 2 Cor 7:6-14; 8:6-23; Tit 1:4)

Titus was a fellow missionary of Paul’s, whom he had converted and who often traveled with him. Titus was uncircumcised, meaning he was almost certainly a Gentile. His name is Greek.

Paul’s epistles place him with Paul and Timothy at Ephesus, from where Paul sent him to Corinth for the purpose of gathering the contributions of the church there on behalf of the poor Christians at Jerusalem. He rejoined Paul when he was in Macedon, and cheered him with the tidings he brought from Corinth.

He was engaged in the organization of the church in Crete, as instructed by Paul’s epistle to Titus. According to tradition, Paul ordained Titus bishop of Gortyn in Crete and he died in the year 107, aged about 95.

2. Fourteen years after his first visit with Peter would likely put him in Jerusalem around the time of Acts 15, when the council of apostles and elders gathered to decide about how to deal with the conversion of Gentiles, following Paul’s return from his first missionary journey.

(Act 15:1-3 ESV) But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.

If you were Paul, how would you have felt coming to Jerusalem at that time, only to learn that many wanted the Gentile converts to be circumcised, in effect, to convert to Judaism, to be saved?

I’d have felt extremely frustrated, even angry. After all, Paul repeatedly risked his life and health to convert Gentiles on this journey, planted several churches, and was at risk of having to go back and tell his converts to all be circumcised. It would have destroyed much of God’s work through him!

(Gal 2:2 ESV) 2 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.

3. Why did Paul speak privately to those of greatest influence?

It was sign of respect and common courtesy. He wasn’t originally there to rebuke anyone but to persuade them. And it appears to have worked. Peter’s words at the Jerusalem council sound amazingly like Paul —

(Act 15:7-11 NET)  7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that some time ago God chose me to preach to the Gentiles so they would hear the message of the gospel and believe.  8 And God, who knows the heart, has testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us,  9 and he made no distinction between them and us, cleansing their hearts by faith.  10 So now why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?  11 On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they are.”

(Gal 2:2 ESV) 2 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.

4. Since revelations come from God, why would God have sent Paul there at this time?

The Jerusalem council of Acts 15 was a major turning point in Christian history. Had the Twelve and the elders there imposed circumcision, the gospel would not have spread nearly so rapidly. And if one Jewish rite was required to be saved, why not all? Where do you stop drawing the line?

Paul was the man to persuade the leadership because he had far more experience in dealing with the Gentiles, having just finished his first missionary journey and because he had unimpeachable credentials as a rabbi and Pharisee (Phil 3:5). No one could stand astride both the Gentile and Jewish worlds better than Paul

Moreover, God had worked very powerfully through him. His success as a missionary gave him great credibility, and surely it was obvious to those around him that he was deeply filled with the Spirit.

(Gal 2:3 ESV) 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.

5. Paul had obviously already been converting Gentiles without requiring circumcision. Why do you suppose Paul required Timothy to be circumcised (Acts 16:3) “because of the Jews” but not Titus?

The text doesn’t say, but there are several good possibilities.

First, Timothy was circumcised after the Jerusalem council had made its decision that circumcision was not required. Therefore, the circumcision of Timothy would have been less likely to imply that circumcision is essential.

Second, Timothy was a Jew by birth, and Paul did most of his preaching in synagogues. There he was dealing with unconverted Jews who’d have insisted that Timothy be circumcised to participate.

In fact, Timothy was likely a mamzer, the son of a mixed marriage by  Jewish woman to a Greek husband. As such, he would have suffered severe discrimination at the hands of strict Jews. Had he further refused circumcision, he’d have been considered an abomination and not listened to.

Titus, on the other hand, was almost certainly Gentile, and if Paul had had him circumcised before the Jerusalem council’s decision, he’d have given credence to the view of many that circumcision is essential to salvation.

(Gal 2:4-5 ESV) 4 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 — 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

6. Who were the “false brothers”? (Compare Acts 15:24)

These were surely the teachers who, contrary to the instructions of the Jerusalem council and Paul, demanded circumcision as a condition of salvation. They placed their identity as Jews over the teachings of the apostles.

7. What teaching would the false brothers have brought that Paul would call “slavery”? (Compare Gal 5:1-6.)

Paul will discuss this idea is much more detail later, especially in Gal 4 and 5. The gist of it is that once you require anything beyond faith in Jesus as a requirement for salvation, you don’t just add to the gospel, you destroy the gospel.

This is true in at least two senses. First, because we can’t be saved by our own merits, any effort to seek merit salvation is destined to lead to damnation. Only grace through faith in Jesus can save.

Second, once we permit someone to impose circumcision on us, all sorts of other commands soon follow — all argued to be what defines our identity. And then we become defined by these practices rather than Jesus.

In the case of the Galatians, the teachers were already adding Jewish holy days to the list (Gal 4:10-11). How would they decide which commands are essential to salvation? Well, people would disagree resulting in divisions, splits, and discord: slavery.

8. Would Paul have considered having Titus circumcised as yielding to the false brothers?

Yes. He could not yield an inch to those who were teaching a false gospel and leading others to damnation.

9. Why not yield to the Jews — as he did for Timothy — just to preserve peace and unity? Aren’t unity and preserving a valued tradition and identity of more importance than circumcision?

There are several good reasons:

* The apostles had already spoken on this issue. If he’d submitted to the false teachers, he’d have undermined their authority — as well as his own.

* The church can’t be united with the damned, and Paul had pronounces damnation on the teachers of a different gospel in chapter 1.

*  Allowing those with a false, works-based gospel to rule the church by giving them their way would ultimately defeat the gospel, because it would quickly become much harder to convert the lost and would lead to having to capitulate to further demands. Legalism never stops finding new rules!

(Gal 2:6 ESV) 6 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.

10. Doesn’t this verse sound a bit braggadocio? Why was is necessary that Paul establish his independence from the Twelve?

Paul had to stand strong for the true gospel. At that point in church history, Paul had been sent by God himself to Jerusalem to advocate on behalf of the mission to the Gentiles.

Remember how God had to force Peter’s hand so that he’d preach Jesus to Cornelius. Despite God pouring out the Spirit on Cornelius without circumcision, there were those still insisting that a Gentile must become a Jew to be saved.

(Gal 2:7-9 ESV) 7 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 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and 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.

11. Paul had already been on one missionary journey. Why had the apostles not yet seen that he had been entrusted with the gospel to the Gentiles? (Acts 13:1-3)

Paul had been sent out by the church in Antioch. They’d surely heard stories about his work, but communications in those days were slow and inefficient. At best, they’d heard of his work second and third hand.

(Gal 2:10 ESV) 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

12. This seems to come out of left field, doesn’t it? Why in a discussion on how Gentiles are saved do the apostles insist on remembering the poor? Just how central to the gospel is this?

There are two common interpretations of this passage. The first is that the Twelve were referring particularly to the poor in Jerusalem. And we know from the other letters of Paul that he worked hard to raise funds to relieve poverty in the Jerusalem church.

The second is that care for those in need is a central theme of Christianity — going back to the Torah and the prophets. Jesus repeatedly emphasized this teaching — as does James in his letter written while he led the Jerusalem church (James 1:27, for example).

These two theories, of course, don’t contradict each other, and so both could well be true.

(Gal 2:11-13 ESV) 11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

13. Some translations say “in the wrong” or “to be blamed” rather than “stood condemned.” But see how the word is used 1 John 3:20-21 and Deuteronomy 25:1. Why would Peter be condemned just for refusing to eat with uncircumcised believers?

This is a truly astonishing statement by Paul — so astonishing that some commentators and translators refuse to believe it. But the ESV, NASB, RSV, and the original NIV all say “condemned.”

This event surely happened before the Acts 15 council in Jerusalem — and it gives a sense of how very difficult it was for a First Century Jew to accept a Gentile as a fellow follower of the Messiah.

But Paul doesn’t say that Peter believed the uncircumcised to be damned. Rather, “fearing the circumcision party,” Peter chose to act contrary to his conscience, discriminating for the sake of church politics.

As Romans 14 teaches, there are circumstances in which the strong really should yield to the scruples of the weak for the sake of conscience and unity, but this was not one of those circumstances. You see, to treat a fellow Christian as outside of fellowship is to divide the body of Christ. It’s not enough that we’ll one day all be together before the throne of God. We are obligated to be united today.

It’s not just that it’s wrong to discriminate. Discrimination runs 100% contrary to the message of the gospel. Going back to Abraham, God’s covenant is —

(Zec 9:9-11 ESV)  9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.  11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.

Jesus came to bring the Kingdom and peace among the nations — not division and factions. God’s purpose is that all peoples and nations be united as part of a single kingdom under a single king.

To divide Christian from Christian, even to gain a supposed “unity,” is to stand opposed to God’s eternal purposes in Jesus.

And, of course, discrimination to please one faction only creates a partial, incomplete unity — and one that is destined to fail. After all, you can’t divide in order to unite. You can’t build unity on division!

Unity cannot come via church politics. Unity only comes when we rid ourselves of party-ism, stop finding our identity in markers such as circumcision, and instead find our identity and party in Jesus only.

14. Paul says Peter feared the circumcision party. Just what was he afraid of from fellow Christians?

Peer pressure is a powerful force in any church. And when those applying the pressure are contentious, threatening the health and unity of the congregation, it’s very tempting to submit just for the sake of peace.

Of course, the result was for Peter to give effective control of the church to the dividers rather than the leaders God chose. But the desire for peace is an intense motivator in any church.

15. Does the gospel allow us to be in mental fellowship with other Christians but not in active, real fellowship in order to avoid criticism from fellow Christians?

No. Indeed, the scriptures are filled with commands to be truly united. For example,

(1Co 12:20-25 ESV)  20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.  21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,  23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,  24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,  25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

(Eph 4:1-6 ESV) I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  4 There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–  5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

(Phi 1:27-28 ESV) 27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,  28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

15. Do we ever separate ourselves from active, real fellowship with other Christians to avoid criticism? Can such decisions be justified?

Yes. Going back for centuries, Christians have divided themselves from each other, insisting on only worshiping with those who had identical doctrine, and so dividing year after year into more and more denominations that have very little to do with each other.

Worse yet, some denominations even divide among themselves, having congregations in the same town that reject each other over doctrines that the Bible either says nothing about or treats as truly incidental.

Much of this happens even though the membership knows that it’s wrong. But to preserve “unity” with those who insist on division, they, like Peter, choose to separate themselves from fellow Christians to gain peace.

It’s a sad, sad state of affairs that is 100% opposed to the gospel of Jesus. Of course, there are real boundaries that must be respected. Christians should not treat the damned as saved and in fellowship.

This is why Paul will soon explain that the basis of our salvation is not works but faith in Jesus. It’s not until we truly understand how we’re saved that we can understand who is saved and so how to be truly united.

16. Why does a failure to be in active fellowship with other Christians offend the gospel?

Christianity is about more than having the right positions on “the issues.” It’s about living right. If we don’t live the way we understand, we are hypocrites and no better than the demons who believe in Jesus but refuse to submit to him.

If I believe that the uncircumcised are saved but treat them as damned for the sake of “peace,” I’m living and teaching a false gospel.

But, of course, it takes incredible courage to actually live your convictions and suffer the criticisms of fellow believers. Peter was surely close friends with many of those in the circumcision party. It would have been very painful to give up those relationships for the sake of a handful of new Gentile converts.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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