Commentary on Galatians, 2:1-5

Galatians 2:1-5

“1 Then after a period of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also with me.
2 I went up by revelation, and I laid before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles, but privately before them who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.”

Paul continues to give an account of his life and ministry. When he returned to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus, it was by revelation, a direct command from the Lord. There is some question about which visit this actually was. Was it the time when he and Barnabas went for the purpose of delivering aid during the famine, spoken of in Acts 11:19-30, or was it when he and Barnabas went before the Jerusalem Council (apostles and elders) spoken of in Acts 15:1-35? I believe the visit Paul referred to in Gal 1:18 must have been the one where Barnabas took him to the apostles (Peter and James) not long after his conversion, spoken of in Acts 9:23-28. 

After reading the accounts of Acts 11 and 15, I believe what Paul was referring to in verse one, is the trip they took to Jerusalem when they met with the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. I’ve come to that conclusion because of the fact that the situation there was much the same as it was among the churches of Galatia. The reason Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to meet with the Council, was because the church of Antioch had sent them there, over the issue of circumcision. Judaizers had come to Antioch claiming that in order to be saved, one must be circumcised. That’s the same issue that the churches of Galatia where dealing with. Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to confer with the Jerusalem Council to settle the matter. 

Furthermore, Paul mentions a couple other things that lead me to believe that he was referring to the Jerusalem Council visit: In this context he mentions Antioch (Gal 2:11), and he also mentions the fact that Titus, who was a Greek, was not required (by the apostles) to be circumcised (Gal 2:3). Thus the church of Antioch and the churches of Galatia were both experiencing the same problems that were created by the Judaizers. Paul wanted the Galatian Christians to know that this matter had already been dealt with by the leaders of the Jerusalem church.

“but privately before them who were of reputation” 

Apparently, Paul and Barnabas initially met only with the top leaders of the Jerusalem church. This would have been those he mentions in verse nine: James, Peter (Cephas), and John. 

“for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.”

Here Paul gives the reason for meeting with these leaders first. He was not saying that he doubted the gospel message that he was preaching, and that he needed confirmation from those leaders. Paul knew the truth. He knew that the revelation he received from the Lord was genuine. He in no way believed that he was preaching anything but the truth. He had seen the changed lives of so many people by this time. He didn’t need anyone to confirm the truthfulness of it. It wouldn’t have made any difference if they had agreed with him or not.

I believe what he was saying, is that if anyone else was going to support the message that he preached among the Gentiles, he would need the confirmation of the apostles and elders, and that began with the three main leaders of the church. Not for his benefit, but for the benefit of others. So by meeting with these three leaders privately, they could fully discuss the issue before they met with the rest of the Council. It was important that Paul knew ahead of time that he had their support going in.

“3 But not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.”

“compelled”  (Gr. anagkazo – 315)

Drive to, constrain by force, required.

The leaders of the Jerusalem church agreed with Paul, that Titus, who was a Greek, didn’t need to be circumcised in order to be saved. They understood that the message of Christ was a message of grace, apart from circumcision and the works of the law. 

“4 and that because of the false brethren privily brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage;”

Reworded:

“Now this happened because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who came in on the sly to spy out our liberty that we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage;”

I think it’s likely that the false brethren mentioned here, are the same ones mentioned in Acts 15:1, who came from Judea. It’s reasonable to assume that they had followed Paul back to Jerusalem.

“Now this happened because of”

Considering what was at stake, there was no way that Paul was going to allow this to lead to the circumcision of Titus. If he and Titus had consented to his circumcision, it would have been a confirmation of what the Judaizers were teaching. It would have been a major blow to Paul’s message and ministry. Who knows how much ground he would have lost if the leaders of the church had required it. Therefore, because of, or for the sake of, the truth, Titus was not compelled (required) to be circumcised.

The statement that they were “brought in,” may indicate that someone, or a group of men, had put them up to this. Perhaps a ringleader of some sort.

These Judaizers had wormed their way into this church meeting, bringing the same arguments that they had used in Antioch, and were now using in Galatia. They couldn’t handle the idea that the gospel of Jesus Christ didn’t include circumcision and the keeping of the law of Moses (Acts 15:5). To them, it was faith in Jesus plus works. This of course means to again be brought back under the bondage of the law that cannot save. The Judaizers didn’t understand the grace that characterizes the message of salvation. They didn’t understand that faith in Christ sets us free from the bondage of the law. 

“5 to whom we gave place in the way of subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.”

Reworded:

” to whom we did not yield in subjection, not even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.”

“for an hour”

The sense is that Paul didn’t yield to them even one little bit.

If Paul had yielded to these Judaizers, with their false gospel, it would have hindered his message and ministry to the Gentiles. So Paul here is telling the Galatian Christians that he stood fast in the truth for the sake of all Gentiles. He knew that his understanding of the gospel message was directly from Jesus Himself, and so he was not going to be swayed by anyone. 

There’s a lesson for us here. When we know that God has called us to a particular work or ministry, we shouldn’t let anyone steer us away from that path. There’s always going to be some people, even Christians, who will cast doubt about what we’re called to do. But we shouldn’t allow anyone to discourage us, but to move ahead in faith, with our eyes firmly on the vision that God has given us. However, we need to make sure that we truly are in the will of God. That comes from a solid understanding of the Word of God, and walking in the Spirit in true surrender to God’s will.