NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CONGREGATIONS OF BELIEVERS
CHAPTER TWO (Lesson III) 07/17/19
2:2a I went there because God showed me in a special way that I should go. I then laid out before them the Good News that I preach among the people who are not Jews. While I was there I met privately with those considered to be prominent leaders of the church.
Sometimes the black print on a white page does not convey any real emotion or attitude. But from the way Paul communicated up until now, we should not be surprised that he continued the sense of irony that permeated his discourse so far. Irony is described as saying something serious with humor mixed in. It’s almost like laughing at a person’s misfortune in spite of all the warnings they received. Even though it may hurt, it’s still hard not to laugh. In telling the Galatians about his trip to Jerusalem, Paul indicates that God needed to give him special instructions to go because everyone else told him not to go.1
At this point, Paul makes a very interesting remark about what prompted his visit to Jerusalem. He said it came after “God told him to go.” Some scholars believe it came in a dream, others in a vision, like Peter and John, or, perhaps, an unexpected invitation from the leaders in Jerusalem. In my opinion, Paul’s reference to being told to go refers back to the prophecy by Agabus as a revelation he received to go to Jerusalem. So it did not involve any personal longing, homesickness, a business matter, or anything personal. Paul took what Agabus revealed as the Holy Spirit’s message to him. So whatever conditions existed at the time, he remained convinced beyond any doubt that the time arrived to make a visit to Jerusalem.
So once Paul and his entourage arrived in Jerusalem, they didn’t go sightseeing. Apparently a meeting was hastily called, the Apostles, church leaders, and elders in the congregation were asked to greet Paul and hear from him and Barnabas what God did through their ministry.2 Apparently their testimony proved spell-binding, because Luke records: “All those who were gathered together kept quiet as Paul and Barnabas told of all the powerful works God did through them among the Gentiles.”3 It is clear that by now Paul’s standing among ministry leaders was so impressive that just his presence brought them together to hear the great news from the mission field. That’s why one well-known Rabbi and Jewish commentator on the Psalms, expounds on verse two from the Psalms: “But may all those who seek you be glad and take joy in you. May those who love your salvation say always, ‘Adonai is great and glorious!’”4 by indicating that such men of great esteem were spiritual men, capable of judging of all spiritual things; men of full age, whose senses were exercised to discern between truth and error.5
Early church scholar Victorinus offers his opinion on what Paul says here that can be taken as a revelation Paul received in addition to the Word of Knowledge given by Agabus. Once Paul heard the Word from the Lord through Agabus, and the congregation asked him and Joseph Bar-Nabba to go to Jerusalem to get things sorted out, Paul was prompted by the Spirit that once he arrived he should meet privately with the top Apostles to explain his case as to why he didn’t require obedience to Jewish ceremonial law for the Gentiles who were being converted. This would keep them from being embarrassed in front of the Council when asked to explain.6
Chrysostom of Constantinople shares an interesting perspective on Paul’s visit. He starts out by questioning Paul’s intentions since neither at the beginning nor after three years he felt the need to confer with the Apostles, suddenly wants to discuss with them now. After all, fourteen years passed since his becoming an Apostle, so why was he now suddenly concerned that it all was in vain? Wouldn’t it have been better if he did this in the first place than after so many years? Also, why even go at all if he was not sure that he was running doing the right thing? Chrysostom describes it as Paul running a race only to find out he’s on the wrong racecourse. Who would be so senseless as to preach a message for so many years without being sure that their preaching was true?
Chrysostom also feels that there may be an answer to all this by the fact that Paul said he went up to Jerusalem because of a revelation. For if he went up to Jerusalem feeling guilty or as a last-minute decision would make it questionable. This would not be like the person who said, “I run straight for the finish line. I fight to win, not just beat the air with my fists.”7 If, therefore, he runs with such certainty, how can he say I didn’t want to be running? It is evident from this, that if he went up without a revelation he’d be laughed at upon his arrival there.8
Early church writer Haimo of Auxerre tells us that Jerome’s comments on this verse ought to be read as a question because its meaning is as follows. Did I confer with them separately because I was afraid they would rebuke me as if my teaching were not true and would be in need of their strengthening; or as if I ran in vain preaching from place to place? The answer is no, for they were the ones who needed to listen to him about such deep and profound mysteries because they proved less competent and thus could not comprehend such things without an explanation.
Haimo also feels that those gathered in Jerusalem were in no position to say to the Galatians: Do not believe Paul, for he is preaching a lie. He preaches and teaches one thing when he is around you and another when he’s with us. When he is with you, he preaches that circumcision should not be observed, and then when he is with us, he circumcised Titus. That could serve as a ploy to get the Galatians to see things their way and lessen Paul’s influence and authority. Since during all the time that Titus journeyed with Paul, he was never pressured to accept being circumcised, so why should he now be persuaded to do so just by the objection of the false brethren who were smuggled into the meeting to challenge Paul’s teaching on circumcision as not being a requirement for the Gentiles?
For this great early Church preacher, anyone hearing Paul’s explanation would be unable to harbor any suspicion of his efforts, since it was by grace that he was changed and it was by the same grace that drew him to Jerusalem. Therefore, this meeting was not the result of human planning, but by divine providence, because it concerned both the present and future of the Congregations of Believers. That’s why, one early church scholar points out that Paul discussed the Gospel he was preaching with the leaders, so they could be assured that Paul never adopted some corrupted doctrine. For Haimo, there is a difference between discussing an issue among each other and teaching or learning. Coequals discuss things, whereas teaching and learning take place between superiors and subordinates. That’s why Paul discussed it with Peter, John, and James.9 So in a way, Paul was saying that he discussed his understanding of the Gospel with people he considered his peers.
Another medieval church theologian, Peter Lombard, felt that Paul was motivated to obey his revelation to go to Jerusalem because he saw the opportunity to discuss with the Apostle, as with friends and equals, the subject of the Gospel he was preaching among the Gentiles. This made it possible for Paul to speak in private and explain his preaching because many converts, having been accosted by the Judaizers, were now worried about the Apostle’s teaching. That is why he says he discussed it with them, thereby, demonstrating greater assurance of the Gospel’s impact by receiving the Apostle Peter’s stamp of approval, as well as others in leadership.10
I imagine the brethren in Jerusalem were all saying to each other, “Why is he here? He didn’t seem interested in what we had to say up until now? Wonder what brought him here?” Augustine of Hippo offered one suggestion. For him, Paul’s going to Jerusalem was in response to a revelation. That would certainly make it easier for him to explain why he was now going up at that this time and not having gone up for some fourteen years. By saying that he came because of a revelation then it was right for him to go up at that time.11 In other words, God instructed him to go and so he went in obedience to God’s will. No doubt Paul felt that the brethren in Jerusalem would not want to argue with God’s decision to send him there.
Martin Luther agrees that without Paul hearing the prophecy by Agabus in which God revealed His will to Him personally for him to go, no scheduled visit to Jerusalem would have occurred.12 And John Calvin is struck by Paul’s use of the Greek verb anatithēmi translated by KJV as “communicated.” It strongly suggests that Paul did not go there to learn but to declare in no uncertain terms why he told the Gentiles that they no longer needed the Jewish Law to their Declaration of Christian Faith. This would then not require them to be circumcised or follow traditional Jewish rites and rituals.13
Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918), the son of an elder in the Irish Presbyterian Church, and Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department at Scotland Yard, was often referred to as “a secret service theologian.” In commenting on what Paul says here about going up to Jerusalem to explain to the Congregation Council there the Gospel he was preaching to the Gentiles, Anderson notes Paul felt such an obligation to his own people that he felt the need to defend it. But to Gentiles, he preached a Gospel which he received by special revelation. And the specific purpose of his third visit to Jerusalem was to communicate that Gospel to the other Apostles. In writing to Timothy he speaks of it as “the Gospel of the glory of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.”14 It was this precious deposit which, we are told, that on the eve of his martyrdom he handed back to the God who entrusted it to him by telling Him that he kept the faith and finished the course15.16
Oh, that all of us who are given the privilege of communicating the Good News of salvation to the lost and dying in the world, and as nutrition to His children who need greater understanding of His Word, His Way, and His Will, can do the same when our time comes to lay down our cross and surrender our spirit into His hands.
1 Mark A. Nanos: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 38
2 Acts of the Apostles 15:4
3 Ibid. 15:12
4 Psalm 49:17 – Complete Jewish Bible (This is 49:16 in English versions)
5 Rabbi Solomon ben Melech
6 Marius Victorinus: On Galatians, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.), op. cit., loc. cit., p. 19
7 1 Corinthians 9:26
8 Chrysostom, Homilies on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Haimo of Auxerre: The Letter to the Galatians (Medieval Bible Commentary series), op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Peter Lombard: The Letter to the Galatians (Medieval Bible Commentary series), loc. cit.
11 Augustine, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 20
13 John Calvin: On Galatians. op. cit., loc. cit.
14 2 Timothy 1:12
15 Ibid. 4:7-8
16 Sir Robert Anderson: Forgotten Truths, Digitized by AGES Software, Albany, OR, 1997, p. 19