Lecture 3: Galatians 2:1-14
Lecture: Galatians 2:1-14
I. Verses 2:1-14
Paul is continuing what he started at 1:13 in talking about his early contacts after his conversion and his years as he was learning the Gospel and reflecting on it. Chapter 2 and verses 1 to 10 gives us a consultation with some leaders presenting the Gospel to them. What we have here is not a public broad consultation as such that Acts 15 seems to suggest, but a private meeting with some of the key Jerusalem apostles. Paul came from Antioch and brought both Barnabas and Titus along with him; this would be right at the beginning of Acts 15 where Paul has returned from his first missionary journey, arriving back at Antioch with rumors of what Paul was doing beginning to circulate. There were those in Jerusalem expressing concern over Paul, and then you have the Jerusalem council. In my view, what Paul is describing here is earlier than that; something that takes place before that event. And in the context that was before the first missionary journey.
Titus is significant in the story because he was a gentile in his background and yet as Paul points out, he was not compelled to be circumcised (verse 3). Paul’s purpose here is to indicate to the Galatian gentiles that there was no insistence when he met with James, Peter, and John, that Titus, even though a gentile had to be circumcised. This was important at the time in terms of policies. The issue for Paul, ultimately as he indicates, was the truth of the Gospel; the Gospel that he preached among the Gentiles. So for Paul, central to the message of the good news is the free offer of salvation to anyone who responds to Christ in faith. He was reluctant to load that with any other specific requirements. We will look at what this means in practice along with some other texts. But this raises questions as to whether the Gospel being contingent upon obedience to the Law on part of the Gentiles. Is there any kind of contingency then? What is the expected conclusion once a person has embraced the Gospel? Are there standards of behavior a person has to expect even though it may not be conformity to the Law? Galatians 5 and 6 is where Paul turns his attention to some of those things. In verses 6 and following, Paul talks about the apostles again; those who are held in high esteem, those who are reckoned to be pillars, he says later on. The language that Paul uses here is trying to establish a narrow path between giving the apostles too much credit; acting as if Peter, James, and John were the final arbiters of Christian truth as Paul doesn’t want to admit that. But yet, to recognize that they do have an appropriate place in the church and should be accorded respect because of the position they do have. If you read the Greek text here, Galatians 2:1-10 is full of very convoluted Greek. It shows that Paul is trying to carefully balance these two kinds of ways of looking at things. He is trying to steer a very narrow course between appropriate respect for them without giving them a sort of undue position of influence or responsibility that he doesn’t think any human being should have in the church.
The key point is expressed in verse 7; they, that is: Peter, James, and John, recognize that I’ve been entrusted with the task of preaching the Gospel to the uncircumcised just as Peter had been to the circumcised. God, who is at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, he is also at work in me as an apostle to the gentiles. So James, Peter, and John gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They did agree that they would have separate sort of focal points in their ministry, Paul working mainly with gentles and Peter mainly with Jews. This should be seen, however, as a sort of two separate Gospels; a Gospel for the gentles and a Gospel for the Jews. There is only one Gospel, of which Paul is very clear about. But as we understand in preaching in different parts of the world and different audiences, there is an appropriate sort of contextualizing of that central message that can be done. This is done to meet the needs of various audiences and speaking in terms of particular audiences will resonate with and respond to. I think that is what is reflected here. They did, however, ask that Paul to continue to remember the poor, the very thing that he had been eager to do all along. This might be the earliest reference to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem. Here is where the chronology becomes involved. Remember that on the third missionary journey, Paul was very much interested in collecting money from the Gentile churches to send to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. We call it the collection and Paul talks about it in Romans 15, 1st Corinthians 16 and at some length 2nd Corinthians 8-9. All three of these passages were written on the third missionary journey. Remember, some people date Galatians on the third missionary journey also. Those who take the theory that it was written to the Galatians in the northern part of the province. They see it written about the same time as Romans. If we date it at that time, then verse 10 might be a reference to the collection. I doubt that it is; I think it is a more general kind of concern that the apostles would have had. But it does raise a question I think.
There is a kind of agreement being reached according to the essence of the Gospel. You don’t have to circumcise the Gentiles for them to be included in the people of God. Why do you think that one thing mentioned here has to do with collecting money for the poor? Of all the things that could have been mentioned at this point; Peter, James, and John basically saying to Paul and Barnabas, we grant that you are faithfully preaching the Gospel; we agree that Gentiles don’t need to be circumcised; let’s agree on that. But here is the one thing we still want you to do is to remember the poor. Why is that mentioned here? Perhaps to create a bond between the gentles and the Jews as the gentles have received the riches of the Gospel, they can give finances in return to help the Jews. This could be parallel to the Romans 15 collection if it is referring to that. The question is whether that is the context here. Another particular background could be the famine relief if that is what it refers to. Again, this could be the same situation as Acts 11:1-30. There were some fairly clearly identifying factors leading to the famine they were experiencing. It could also include being the mark of a Christian was to give as this was an important dimension of the early church. Bruce Longnecker has recently written a book using the title from this verse, ‘Remember the Poor.’ In that book, he talks about how important it was with the concerns of the early church and for Paul. Whether the poor be specifically Jews or not, there is an obvious sense of obligation of making sure these practical implications of the Gospel aren’t lost sight of. And the Gentiles are brought into that sense of community in which sharing and assisting those with particular needs are of a fundamental value. There could be a concern in regards to Barnabas and Paul’s influence on him from the apostles.
This is another challenging text for the purpose of preaching, Paul narrating a meeting that he had in Jerusalem over these issues. What would be some key preaching points from the text here? Paul stands against anyone who opposes the Gospel yet submits to the standing of the church. The language he is using such as, ‘I presented them the Gospel, I preached. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t running in vain.’ So he clearly thinks that the approval of James, Peter, and John is important, somehow, while still not surrendering his independence. That would then translate into some principles for us such as respecting people who are over us in legitimate ways in the church and yet insisting that my own reading of Scripture and my own engagement with Christ and the work of the Spirit in my own life is nevertheless a decisive point. Sometimes we have trouble negotiating that particular point of conflict. Paul would have been better suited to work amongst the Jews but that isn’t what God had in store for him. This happens in our day as well; we see someone who is highly qualified to work in a certain situation, yet God calls them out of that to do something entirely different. But, if you want someone who is going to do something new by reaching out to a particular group, you want them to have strong credentials with the original groups because then they will be trusted. I think that is why God used Peter as he had a vision at the house of Cornelius. Peter returned and told that this is what God seems to be doing; he had credibility because of who he was. So Paul with his strong and rich Jewish heritage is quite capable then of being trusted to build that bridge with the Gentiles. The obvious point has to do with the truth of the Gospel which I think is something that is of deep concern to Paul. In some ways it is the theme running through chapters 1 and 2; Paul’s exposure to the understanding of the truth of the Gospel and his attempt to defend that truth, both in Jerusalem (2:1-10) and in Antioch (verses 11-14). The passion that Paul had for the truth of the Gospel is the same time that he is will to engage in discussion with people about that. Even though he doesn’t submit to the Jerusalem apostles, he certainly is willing to put his Gospel before them.
II. Galatians 2:11-14
There was this dispute in Antioch. It is difficult to be sure in regards to the chronology exactly when this incident took place. Paul in the earlier verses, we have seen, uses a specific chronology stating what happened after three years and then after fourteen years in verse 2:1. In verse 2:11, it becomes more general as he states, ‘when Cephas came to Antioch.’ It would make some sense that this to have taken place after the agreement in Jerusalem and most commenters tend to go that way here. Paul brings it up because he thinks that the Galatians has probably heard about this. If we are correct about the churches that Paul is addressing, those churches in southern Galatia aren’t that far away from Antioch. They could have heard about this incident, perhaps somewhat slanted. So Paul is concerned about this and wants to make sure they have the correct understanding of things. He describes the incident to us. These men from James have come but whether they are truly representing James is uncertain. The text only says that they came from James; did James commission them with the particular message they brought or were they just claiming to represent James and were not representing him fairly? We just don’t know for sure what the situation was in terms of James’ role in the matter. The background is crucial in understanding this; Jews in Paul’s day were not uniformly prohibited from eating with gentiles. That was not always a prohibited thing; it wasn’t even in the oral laws of Jews at the time. It would have been wrong for a Jew to always eat with a Gentile. But there were those who were so concerned about contamination from the Gentiles. The inner-testament Jewish book, Jubilees says that they weren’t to eat with them for their works were unclean. So this attitude was out there. Peter even said in Acts that it was against their law for a Jew to associate with a gentile or visit them. So, while Jews would occasionally eat with gentiles, there was a certain movement among the Jews to break off any significant contact with the Gentiles because they were idolaters and so Jews wanted to avoid any association with that.
So, people in Jerusalem had heard about the movement of God in bringing gentiles into the Christian community. Remember Antioch was the first place that people were called Christian (Acts 11), precisely because you have Jews and gentiles now joining together in a kind of third race. They were a mixed group that would have to be called something else and hence they were called Christians. People are hearing about this and are very concerned that this news is going to undercut any attempts they are making to evangelize fellow Jews. If they are going to have any success convincing fellow Jews that Jesus is the Messiah; to acknowledge this and find forgiveness of sins in him; they will have to convince their fellow Jews that this wasn’t a separatist movement. You are not going to have to stop being a Jew in order to embrace Jesus as the Messiah. And this matter of eating meals together in Antioch could have sent an unfortunate signal. It could have hampered evangelistic efforts in Jerusalem. This was also a period of time that the so-called zealous movement; the biblical idea of zeal for the Lord lent its name to a movement of the Jews about this time. A strong nationalistic movement in which Jews were joining together to resist the Roman oppressor. This was to resist any pagan influence and gentile domination, to fight for the liberty of Israel, its independent theocracy. All of these were strong social and political pressures on the Jews living in Jerusalem. And so you can understand them saying, please go up to Antioch and tell the Jewish Christians there to stop eating with gentiles because it is undercutting all of our efforts here in Jerusalem. So tell Peter to stop eating with the Gentiles.
The argument, it seems, was convincing, to both Peter and Barnabas, who withdrew from their shared meals with the Gentiles and Paul became incensed with this. He says, ‘I opposed Peter to his face.’ I got in his face would be the modern idiomatic language. This was done directly and publically. For Paul, the truth of the Gospel was at stake. What is interesting about this incident; first was the fact that some of these very practical matters, like eating together, can take on both theological and social importance. And in negotiating these questions becomes complicated because of these competing motives and concerns. You can understand why some of the Jews in Jerusalem were arguing the point they were making. It is a concession, please don’t eat with them anymore as this will help us in our effort to evangelize Jews; this is an obvious good cause, so let’s not cause trouble and not do anything unnecessary to create problems among the Jews. Let’s try to remain loyal and therefore be successful in bringing more and more Jews into the Kingdom. You would have Peter and James on one side and then Paul on the other side, who is claiming it as being a betrayal of the truth of the Gospel. For Paul, an over-riding consideration is this unifying effect of the Gospel. We will talk about the new perspective later on as it starts to come in. The truth of the Gospel for Paul doesn’t seem so much as faith and grace, but instead, Gentile inclusion and equal terms for the Jews. You will see that flavor in some of the language Paul is using.
So clearly for Paul, Peter has betrayed his understanding; he is hypercritical according to Paul’s language. He is someone who is acting in a way that is contradictory to what they really believe. This was as if the Gentiles had to engage Jews on Jewish terms and those terms were still being dictated by the Old Testament and Jewish tradition. We know what Peter really believes, as Acts 11 tells us that, along with Acts 15 where Paul records an agreement on the same thing. And yet, now Peter is acting in a way, not in keeping with that. Did Peter see it that way? It would be fascinating to hear Paul and Peter debating this in front of us in order to hear both their viewpoints. And obviously what Paul says is inspired Scripture for us and so we see this as the final word. You can imagine how Peter defends himself by arguing that he isn’t betraying any principle or changing his view on anything. In not eating with the Gentiles is only a temporary concession for the sake of preaching the Gospel among the Jews. I’m not departing from my own view nor is my behavior departing from that view. But Paul is saying that by failing to eat with the Gentiles, you are basically saying that gentiles by definition are still people who are unclean idolaters and I, as a Jew, can have nothing to do with them. That is contrary to the Gospel according to which by faith and by grace everybody Jew and Gentile alike is brought into the kingdom of God and therefore need to associate together as equals in the Kingdom of God; this is Paul argument. This reminds me of a lot of the issues we fight through in our own day when we trying to negotiate issues of principle and concession and for the sake of ministry. How far do we concede this sort of thing and what kind of concessions do we make? Would any of these concessions betray the Gospel? When would they foster the Gospel? Those decisions are not always easy to make. And the window here with Paul and Peter is interesting in this light.
One of the points that clearly emerge from the paragraph is that certain social conventions carry significant consequences and sent certain signals. It is often pointed out that eating together in the ancient world had much greater significance than it does in our day. Today we do lunch with business associates, being a fairly casual thing; you can do it with anybody at any time. But sitting at a table together in the ancient world carried consequences; that is why eating together in Antioch became so significant, not only in the Jewish world but also in the broader Greco-Roman world of which Antioch was a part of.
III. Paul’s Theology in Galatians
I am concerned for effective proclamation in our churches that forms people as those who can think in terms of Christ and therefore live Christian lives. We need to inform people in order to have good solid Christian minds. This requires that we sometimes move beyond the text to bring in these larger issues of theology within the text. The first point is this framework of salvation in history. Back to the beginning of Galatians where it talks about this present evil age; Paul along with the other New Testament authors takes over from a Jewish movement of that day, called the Jewish Apocalyptic. This was a certain way of thinking about what God was doing in historical. Within this idea, there was a very strong contrast between this age and the age to come. Certain forms of Jewish theology which came from certain strains within the Old Testament could suggest a more organic movement of history. This was no great climax of shift by God through his purposes and the servants he would send to Israel, establishing his rule. The Apocalyptic focus was more on a very climatic moment where things would change, where the old age ceased to be and the new age would come into being. The New Testament picks up on this conception of the old age and the new age but gives it a twist in the light of Christ. Because now we have two key moments in time; the Messiah isn’t going to come just once but he is going to come again. But rather than have a single point of transition from old to new, the New Testament perspective where God has now done things in revealing his Son; there is this transitional period between the old age and the new age. So with Christ’s death and resurrection, the pouring out of the Spirit, the New Age is inaugurated but the old age has not simply ceased to exist. The old age continued, Satan is alive and well, sin is still something we battle along with death and sickness and evil are still very much a part of our world. That world continues even as the new world has begun and it will be at the return of Christ and glory that the old age will finally be judged and end, thus giving way to the new age of the new heavens and the new earth for eternity. So it is this whole idea of the present evil age that sort of reflects this scheme as we look at Galatians in particular.
The question is, Christians are located right here; the new inaugurated but the new not yet come to its climax. This is where we are located and the Judaizers are saying that the Law continues and still is needed to mark off the people of Christ. But Paul says no, with the coming of Christ and the inauguration of the new age, that has changed and it is different now. So this becomes a key point of contention between them, this moving out of this basic scheme of salvation history. With the coming of Christ, we have been definitively rescued from that age, in the sense that we no longer belong there, we are no longer condemned to death, we are no longer under the power of sin; this is because now we belong to Christ. Paul is reflecting on the rescue that we have already experienced and he is careful not to say that the Law is evil in itself; God’s law even though it was a good law given for positive purposes for his people; it has been co-opted by sin and used by sin as part of this evil age. The Law is a tricky thing for Paul as we see in Romans 7 struggling with this particular point. There he talks about the law of sin and death. The Law ends of having this negative effect. The world he is referring to is not just secular but also religious. So, we really now belong to the new age and this is really now understood in terms of Christ. The Gospel, the Good News is language that is particularly important to Paul. It is very common in Paul in comparison to the remainder of the New Testament. We will see how important this is when we get to Galatians chapter 3. This is about how God revealed his purpose in history. Paul has also commented a lot on the Gospel in the first two paragraphs. Today, there is a lot of discussion on how we should define the Gospel, the Good News; how broad it is, how narrow it is and there is nothing like getting acquainted with the evidence of the text itself. So, we want to ask the question; what is the Gospel for Paul?