NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CONGREGATIONS OF BELIEVERS
CHAPTER TWO (Lesson I)
2:1 It took another fourteen years before I returned to Jerusalem, and this time I took Barnabas and Titus along with me.
Paul now moves on with his story as to why he’s claiming the right, as well as the blessing, of the original Apostles to teach and preach the Gospel the Anointed One revealed to him. Since his conversion to Christianity marked the starting point for his time reference; the fourteen years he speaks of here began at that point. What did he do during those years? A quick review of his journeys listed in the Book of Acts tells us.1 But his main point to the Galatians was that he stayed in contact with the leaders in Jerusalem and is very mindful and respectful of their Ecclesiastical authority.
Luke records this journey to Jerusalem by Paul and tells us it all started with an argument. Paul and Barnabas returned to the congregation in Antioch from their first missionary journey. And while they were there, some questionable so-called apostles came over from Judea and started telling them and the congregation members that they needed to add circumcision and other practiced rites and rituals of the Jewish faith to their Christian faith, if they wanted to be absolutely certain of their salvation.
But Paul and Barnabas got into a debate and argued with them. That didn’t seem to settle the matter, however, so the congregation in Antioch decided to send Paul and Barnabas, and some others, up to Jerusalem to report this to the Council. Along the way, they stopped and visited the churches in Phoenicia and Samaria, and told them how many Gentiles on the mission field were turning to God. This made the members of these congregations very glad and they rejoiced in the Lord.2
The associates Paul chose to take with him to Jerusalem were emblematic of his ministry. Barnabas, a Cypriot Jewish Levite, one who vouched for Paul before the Council in Jerusalem when Paul returned from Damascus3, and Titus, a non-Jew living in Antioch and one of his first converts. What better way to prove his ministry being effective both among the Jews and non-Jews than to bring witnesses to show that in a part of the world no other Apostles ever visited, heathens were being won to Christ through Paul’s preaching of the Gospel.
Early church scholar Irenaeus wrote that Paul went to Jerusalem to meet with the Apostle in response to their request. Apparently, the Jewish legalistic contingent of the congregation in Jerusalem were all upset that no one confronted and questioned this rebel Apostle formerly named, Saul of Tarsus, asking him to explain who gave him the authority to excuse the Gentile Christians from being circumcised before they were baptized. Paul feels that this information proved important enough not only to share with the congregations of believers in Galatia but also hoping that the converted Pharisee troublemakers might also see the light.
That’s why Paul did not hesitate to include this story in his letter to them in the opening verse of this second chapter. But it was in Jerusalem that something else happened that Paul wanted the Galatians to know about, so he told them, “We refused to yield for a single instant to their claims; we were determined that the truth of the Gospel should hold steady for you.”1 However, Irenaeus may have uncovered some information passed down by the Apostles that Paul did not include here. He tells that Paul and his entourage admitted that “for about an hour they did take time to receive advice.”5
Early church writer Ambrosiaster points out that Paul found himself dealing with a reputation that preceded him no matter where he went, especially among Jews who never met him. This allowed the possibility of a false impression being created in their minds. And in Galatia, the added pressure of explaining how his Gospel matched that of the Apostles in Jerusalem needed to be explained. No doubt, many of those in the synagogues in Galatia were suspicious when their neighbor to the southeast by the name of Saul of Tarsus, planned to come their way. So Paul is taking as much space as needed in his letter to remind them that all of their fears dissipated when he got there because they found out he was the real thing. Now, unfortunately, some reputation assassins still embarked on attacking Paul’s message as well as the messenger.
Ambrosiaster is convinced that Paul insisted on a private meeting with the Apostles for them to realize that he did not go around propagating some new version of the Gospel, that is to say, that they wouldn’t think he knowingly or unknowingly developed an error in his interpretation,6 as quite a few of the Jewish believers imagined.7 The ultimate goal remained that any hesitation or suspicion on the part of his brothers or fellow Apostles might be removed and the Gentile believers would be reassured that Paul’s Gospel proved to be the same as that of the other Apostles, especially after they decreed that Gentile believers would not be bothered as long as they kept the law by refraining from fornication and idolatry.
Early church commentator, Bruno the Carthusian, felt that Paul recalled this event to correct any misgivings the Galatians harbored after his departure. He goes on to explain that Paul’s intentions were to dismiss any of his opponents’ claims that he concealed the real truth when he preached to the Gentiles. Paul wanted them to know that he preached the authentic Gospel among the Gentiles. Nor did he at any time keep the true Word under wraps. In fact, he conferred with the Council in Jerusalem publicly.8
The reason Paul emphasized this visit showed his critics that if the leaders in Jerusalem found any reason to oppose his ministry, they would have made it known as soon as possible to everyone. But just the opposite happened; they agreed that the Anointed One chose Paul specifically to preach the Gospel among the Gentiles. So little by little, Paul is tearing down the Judaizers’ arguments against his authority; he refutes their claim that he’s an independent maverick organizer of a new Jesus Movement and never given the right hand of fellowship by the original disciples.
Thomas Aquinas sees Paul making a series of important points for the Galatians, so as to assure them that the Gospel he brought them was genuine. The first thing he does is to show that the other Apostles approved of his teaching. This is what allowed him to rebuke the Judaizers who opposed his Gospel. The second thing involved showing how he scheduled a private session with the top Apostles. Not only did they gladly receive him, but they approved of what he did there in Galatia. And the third thing his visit accomplished, concerned those who came to oppose him did not succeed. In fact, the other Apostles accepted Paul’s view as part of their Gospel.9
Reformist Martin Luther sees a similarity between what Paul experienced with the Jews and what he observed in trying to get Roman Catholics to convert to his way of understanding the Bible. Just like the Jews who were brought up in the Law of Moses and the traditions that were embedded in Judaism, so Roman Catholics were prone to cling to their teachings and their traditions. After all, do not both Jews and Catholics believe that what they received came from God? Jews believe that it came through Moses and the Prophets, while Roman Catholics believe that it came through the Apostles to the Pope and then to the Church.
So Luther understood how impossible it proved for recent converts from Judaism to suddenly break with the Law and Tradition. However, God showed the same patience with them that He had with the infirmity of Israel when the people switched back and forth between two religions. In addition, didn’t God show patience with us while we remained blindfolded by our religion and traditions? But God is patient and full of mercy. But once the Jews learned the truth, they did not dare abuse the patience of the Lord. Same is true of those who continue in error once the truth of the Gospel is revealed to them. How long will they continue to test God’s merciful patience?10
Matthew Henry (1662-1714) feels that he can see a pattern here in why Paul picked the two companions he did to go up with him to Jerusalem to inform Peter, James, John, and the Council there about their missionary ministry to the Gentiles. For Henry, he says that we have a clear reason why Barnabas went along with Paul for he was chosen by the Christians at Antioch to be his companion and associate for this particular effort. But, as it does not appear that Titus was put into the same commission with him, so the chief reason of his taking him along with him seems to have been to let those at Jerusalem see that he was neither ashamed nor afraid to own the doctrine which he constantly preached in his evangelistic endeavors among the Jews and Gentiles.
In other words, Paul brought Titus along so he could testify that salvation without circumcision works. For although Titus became not only a convert to the Christian faith, but a preacher, and later a Bishop, of it as well, yet he was by birth a Gentile and uncircumcised, and, therefore, by making him his companion, it appeared that their doctrine and practice were cut from the same piece of the same cloth, and that as he preached that circumcision and observing the Law of Moses were unnecessary, so Paul presented through Titus the evidence that his message worked for the salvation of all who heard.11
Luke does not mention who went with Paul besides Barnabas, but here Paul tells us that one of them was Titus. William Ramsay suggests that Titus was Luke’s little brother, that’s why Luke never mentions him in Acts of the Apostles.12 As far as Barnabas is concerned. Luke gives us a little background on this young man. He attended the prayer group in Jerusalem that prayed for Peter and John when they were kicked out of the Temple and then forbidden to speak about this Jesus anymore.13 But Peter and John stood steadfast and refused to stop preaching Jesus as the Messiah. When they reported this to the congregation there in Jerusalem, everyone rejoiced in what happened.
1 Acts of the Apostles 13-21
2 Ibid 15:1-3
3 See Acts 9:27
4 See Galatians 2:5 – A New Testament Translation by James Moffatt
5 The Ante-Nicene Fathers: A. Roberts & J. Donaldson Eds., Vol. 1, Irenaeus Against Heresies, Bk. 3, Ch. 13, pp. 868-869, AGES Library, 1997
6 The Latin term used here is “vacuum”, which means developing into “emptiness” or “futility.”
7 Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.
8 Bruno the Carthusian, Letter to the Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Thomas Aquinas: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.,
10 Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 28
11 Matthew Henry: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Ramsay, William: St Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen (Illustrated), 1895, Kindle Location 910-913
13 Acts of the Apostles 4:1-23