Galatians 2:1 –Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.
In this chapter, Paul continues to defend his apostleship to the Galatian churches. He continues to offer proof that he had not been taught the gospel message by any man. Rather, he gained his knowledge by direct revelation from God.
In chapter 1, Paul explained that he was not in direct contact with the apostles; upon his conversion he immediately operated independently of them in his preaching of the gospel. It was three years before he first went to Jerusalem to even make Peter’s acquaintance. That visit lasted only 15 days – far too short of a time for Paul to have been ‘trained’ by the other apostles.
After that short visit Paul was sent to Syria and Cilicia. It wasn’t until eleven years later (14 years from his conversion), that Paul finally returned to Jerusalem a second time.
When he returned, he brought Barnabas and Titus with him. Titus was a Gentile (Greek) who was obviously converted to Christianity through the preaching of Paul. Because Paul believed exclusively in salvation by faith alone, he did not compel Titus to be circumcised. Titus was a living example of the freedom of the Gentile converts from the bondage of the law. Perhaps Paul traveled with him for just this reason.
Galatians 2:2 – 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.
Why would Paul bother making a second trip to Jerusalem after 14 years? His reason was a good one – he traveled to Jerusalem at the express command (revelation) of God! And in this portion of scripture, Paul tells us what passed between him and the other apostles during this trip.
First, it should be noted that Paul acts with prudence. We know that there were loads of Jews in Jerusalem who had accepted Christ as savior, yet they still practiced the law.
Acts 21:20 – … and they [the apostles] said to him [Paul], “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law….”
It would have been a disaster for Paul to confront thousands of Christian Jews about their belief in the law. If he mishandled this situation, it could create a chasm of contention and division between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. It could nullify all the work he had done for the last 14 years; it could make all of his efforts vain.
Instead, Paul meets with only the twelve apostles and some leaders of the church. While privately meeting with them, he openly communicated the pure gospel message he was sharing with the Gentiles. It was a message that did not require any of the rites of Judaism. He also shared the results of that message – large numbers of Gentiles were being saved and set free from the bondage of sin to become a part of the family of God!
Paul then left the apostles to judge for themselves whether or not his gospel message was the true gospel of Christ. Sure enough, the 12 apostles were in full agreement with the doctrine Paul was preaching to the Gentiles.
Therefore, the Galatians can be sure that Paul is not preaching a false or changeable doctrine like the Pharisees are claiming. His authority and qualifications as an apostle are in every way equal to the other twelve. His pure gospel message of salvation by faith is a true message; the Galatians do not need to observe the Law.
Galatians 2:3-5 – But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 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 – to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
At some point, Paul had come into contention with ‘false brethren’. It is unclear whether Paul encountered them in Jerusalem or Antioch (or both), but it really does not matter.
These men were Jewish believers who maintained that Christians must keep the Jewish law. Were they hypocrites or just good men who did not truly understand Christianity? We have no way of knowing. What we do know is that they were opinionated, obstinate and determined to have their way in the church. They fully opposed Paul. They regarded his teaching/doctrine as dangerous and false. They perverted his message, spoke out against him and claimed to have a clearer understanding of the gospel than he did!
In some ways, the trip to Jerusalem was like a western show down – the Jews who believed in keeping the law were staunchly opposed to the grace message that Paul was spreading. For his part, Paul had absolutely no intention of backing down from the freedom of the gospel message as given to him by Holy Spirit. There was no way he was going to allow these Jews to bring the Gentile believers into slavery by the law!
Paul came to the fight with a secret weapon – Titus.
As previously mentioned, Titus was a Gentile. He heard the preaching of Paul, repented of his sin and was admitted to the church purely on the basis of justification by faith. In fact, he was a teacher within the church. He was not required to submit himself to any of the Jewish laws such as food laws, observing the Sabbath or, most particularly, circumcision. He was an example of the freedom in Christ which was available to any/all believers.
In other words, Titus did not have to become a Jew first, so he could then become a Christian. Jewish rites, like circumcision, were not necessary for salvation. Titus was admitted to the family of faith simply on the merits of the shed blood of Christ. (As the Galatian believers had been, before they went astray.)
This raises a question – could Titus have been circumcised and still been a Christian? Of course! Since salvation is not dependent on works, he could be a Christian regardless of being circumcised or not.
However, Paul confidently declares that he never ever, not even for a moment, considered having Titus submit to circumcision. Why?
If Paul had given in to the demands of the majority of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem and forced Titus to become circumcised, then the Jews would have considered this a precedent. Based on this one single incident, they would have made circumcision obligatory for any male seeking salvation in Christ. Thus, slavery to the law would be introduced into the gospel message.
So while Titus actually had the freedom to be circumcised or not circumcised, it was essential in this case that he remain uncircumcised, so that the ‘false brethren’ or those fighting to introduce Jewish customs into the church would not have any basis for their doctrine of works. It was essential that the purity of the gospel message be preserved and not clouded with works.
Earlier, I made the comment that this meeting was kind of like a western show down. But in reality, that was not the case. There was no show down. Holy Spirit was going to direct the church in the way it needed to go. Heaven was not going to allow Hell to pervert the gospel message!
At the same time, it is good to note that God was understanding and patient with the Jews. Even though the ceremonial rites had been put to death by the sacrifice of Christ, God allowed the Jews to continue their practice of the law, if they wished. While God tolerated (and was merciful to) this weakness, it was not his plan for all of mankind for all ages.
Once Paul went to Jerusalem to meet with the other apostles, the arguments of the false teachers simply washed away. The twelve accepted Paul as a true apostle and agreed with his doctrine.
Thus, the attempts by the false brethren to create scandal and offense among the believers were thwarted. God had protected the reputation of Paul and the integrity of his gospel message.
This should serve as proof to the Galatians that Jewish rites like circumcision were not required for salvation. They could enjoy the full freedom and liberty of the gospel message, just as Jesus intended it to be.
Galatians 2:6 – 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.
Here Paul is referring to men who were of reputation or influence in the church of Jerusalem but who were not apostles. Regardless of their rank among the Jews, it did not in any way affect Paul’s authority as an apostle appointed by Jesus Christ.
While he must have been happy that they concurred with his teaching, their opinions didn’t really matter. After all, they had not appointed him as an apostle, nor had they taught him the gospel message. Jesus himself had done that. While Paul no doubt treated them with dignity and respect, he openly acknowledged that they had no right to claim authority over him or his message.
Galatians 2:7-8 – 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 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles),
We need to pause and make an important point here. God did not make an official division in the church, sending Peter to minister exclusively to the Jews and Paul exclusively to the Gentiles.
We find many instances in the New Testament where Paul preached to the Jews in their synagogues (Acts 13:13-15). Likewise, Peter was the first apostle to share the gospel message with a Gentile household – that of Cornelius, in Acts chapter 10.
What Paul meant here was that the main business of Paul was to share the gospel with Gentiles, and the main business of Peter/Cephas was to share the same message with Jews.
But it was and continues to be the work of all Christians to bring the salvation message to a lost world. And it is the constant job of Holy Spirit to bring conviction upon men that leads to salvation in Christ.
Galatians 2:9-10 – 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. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
James was the head pastor of the Jerusalem church, John was the beloved disciple, and Peter was the leader of the twelve apostles. These men were certainly ‘pillars’ or persons of leadership and influence in the church.
When they met with Paul and had a chance to hear his doctrine, they agreed with his message. When these men saw the favor that God had placed upon Paul for the salvation of the Gentiles, they gave him the ‘right hand of fellowship’.
This means that the twelve were entirely satisfied that God had indeed called Paul as an apostle, and they approved of his ministry. They were neither jealous nor critical of the work Paul had done. They rejoiced at the success Holy Spirit had given Paul and his companions; they were glad that Gentiles were being welcomed into the kingdom of God.
They did not throw any obstacles in Paul and Barnabas’ path or contend with them in any way. In fact, the twelve publicly acknowledged Paul and Barnabas as partners in the great work of spreading the gospel around the world. Paul and Barnabas were now associated with the apostles, in the great work of salvation.
Rather than duplicating their efforts, it was decided to follow the path that God had already outlined – the twelve would continue to minister to the Jews first and foremost, while Paul and his companions would continue to minister mainly to the Gentiles.
The only request of the Jerusalem leaders was that Paul continue to remember the poor. By this, they meant the poor Christians of Jerusalem. Due to a regional famine, and persecution against Christians, this group of people seemed to be suffering intensely; they were in great financial need.
Paul had already collected contributions for them from the wealthier churches of Antioch (Acts 11:29-30). He promised to continue sending aid to this group of believers and scripture confirms that he did exactly that.
Romans 15:25-27 – But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it has pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints who are at Jerusalem. It has pleased them greatly; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in material things.
Also see Acts 24:17, I Corinthians 16:3, II Corinthians 8:1-2 and others.
Thus, Paul’s visit to Jerusalem produced a spirit of harmony between himself and the other twelve apostles. The church of Jesus was knit together in unity, each man having his individual task to complete for the master.
The agreement of all the apostles and leaders in the church to the doctrine of Paul should be certain proof to the churches of Galatia that Paul’s authority and doctrine were genuine. Those preaching a message of works mixed with grace were false teachers.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul draws a parallel between the human body and the church. Just as our bodies are made up of many parts (hands, ears, knees, feet, etc), so the spiritual church of Jesus is made up of individual members, having individual callings and gifts.
What is your spiritual gift to the body of Christ? Are you an encourager, a leader, a teacher or something else? I encourage you to find your gift and begin to operate in it, for the sake of the church.
Let me offer you some relief:
False teachers tricked the Galatians into abandoning their salvation by grace. False teachers have not gone away; they are still at work in the world today. But we don’t have to fear them or be fooled by them.
First and foremost, God has given us his word. Anything a teacher says can be verified by searching the scriptures we already possess. Holy Spirit, who is residing in our hearts, is also of tremendous benefit in this area. If he gives you a warning signal about a certain teaching or minister, pay attention!
If we are diligent to look at the scriptures and listen to the Spirit, we can avoid being led astray.
Let me offer you some strength:
Paul faced a lot, I mean A LOT of opposition in his ministry from both Jews and Gentiles. But the good news is that God gave him the strength he needed to complete his mission. In order to get that strength, Paul had to trust in God alone, and not be so concerned about what men said about him.
This is good advice for us too. God is standing by ready to give us all the strength we need to stand up to opposition and run the race he has set before us. All we need to do is trust in him!