CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CONGREGATIONS OF BELIEVERS

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XI)

2:6-7 Those men who were considered to be important leaders in the congregation who offered no changes the Good News message I preach to people. (It doesn’t matter to me if they were “important” or not. To God everyone is the same.)  But these leaders saw that God gave me a special responsibility, the same as He did to Peter. God gave Peter the work of telling the Good News to the Jews. But God gave me the work of telling the Good News to the non-Jewish people.

In addition, some of those present at the meeting who appeared to be very prominent leaders in the congregation offered no suggestions on what I should preach. That was fine because whatever they were at one time makes no difference to me; it’s what God thinks of them that counts with me. As a matter of fact, they were just as impressed with the ministry God gave me to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles as they were with the ministry God gave Peter to preach the Gospel to the Jews.

George B. Stevens (1854-1906) offers a paraphrase of these verses that really set his true feelings about what he went through during this visit to see the Apostles and Council at Jerusalem. He renders: “The influential primitive apostles and however great their influence or authority might be, it could not affect the truth and divisiveness of my mission, since God’s approval does not follow human judgment did not in any way attempt to supplement or correct my teaching, but rather agreed that I had a divine commission to continue my present work among the Gentiles as had Peter to proceed with his among the Jews.”[1]

Here Paul lets us know that he was not egotistical when it came to his position vis-à-vis the Apostles. In fact, he told the Corinthians that while he did not think of himself as less than those special apostles coming to them,[2] he certainly was not above them. But if Paul were to see himself as more educated and polished than there were, it gave him a lot to go on.[3] Nevertheless, even talking about it makes Paul feel uneasy and foolish.[4]

At the same time, Paul did not feel like Elihu the son of Barakh’el who was afraid to lift his voice to anyone older than he was.[5] Rather, it could be said of Paul what some of the Herodians said about Jesus, that it didn’t really matter what people thought about him as a man sent from God,[6] even though it cost John the Baptizer his life.[7] Paul also knew that looks could be deceiving, from all that is said in Scripture and Christian tradition, Paul was not an imposing figure, nor did he think of himself as an eloquent speaker. That’s why he told the Corinthians not to judge people by the way they look.[8]

And why shouldn’t he feel that way? With the Spirit of God in him, Paul knew from what Job said that God is not impressed nor is he intimidated by anyone.[9] This was a lesson that Peter learned when he preached at Cornelius’ house.[10] That’s why Paul told the Roman believers that God did not treat the Jews nicer than He did the Gentiles.[11] The same is said of sinners. God does not show more respect to a sinful banker who repents than He does to a homeless sinner.[12]

This all seemed to come to a head when Paul met the assembly in Jerusalem. Since Peter was not only the one looked upon as the head Apostle, he also knew what it was to preach to Gentiles for their conversion to become children of God. So, it was Peter who first stood up to address the Council and the assembly. Basically, he told them that Gentile believer should be treated no different than Jewish believers.[13] And when Peter finished, James got up and reinforced Peter’s statement. He added only that which he thought the Gentile believers could learn from the Jewish brethren as it relates to morality and partaking in anything offered to an idol.[14] The assembly was so moved that they agreed to write the Gentile believers in Antioch a letter explaining the whole thing and giving them their total support as fellow believers in the Anointed One.[15]

The one thing that seemed to impress Paul the most was that all those who were gathered together in the assembly said nothing. They listened to Paul and Barnabas who told of the powerful works God did through them among the people who are not Jews.[16] Later on, Peter would mention this in his letter to all the Jews who were scattered throughout the Greek and Roman empires.[17] So it seemed clear to Paul, Bar Nabba, and Titus that the Council and assembly assessed the situation to be that Paul was the head Apostle to the Gentiles and Peter the head Apostle to the Jews.

No wonder that when Paul tried to share the Gospel with the Jews in their synagogues and they showed little interest in listening, he quietly moved on to the Gentiles who were ready to listen and believe.[18] Even when things became confrontational and abusive,[19] Paul just moved on knowing that if they were to be reached, Peter needed to send out missionaries. But he was called to the Gentiles.[20] But Paul never missed the opportunity to share the Gospel with the Jews as well.[21] However, Paul did admit to having an ulterior motive.[22] Yet, Paul never tried to persuade the Jews by using flowery language that was meant to tickle their ears.[23]

Some psychologists feel that Paul shows disrespect for the original disciples by using the questionable Greek verb dokeō translated by the KJV as “were of reputation,” in verse two, “who seemed” in verses 6 and 9. The NIV reads, “important.” Today they might be called “influential.”[24] They say that after Paul presents himself as a model of Christian leadership in verse six, he shows disdain for his peers in Jerusalem with the Greek phrase hoi dokountes,” (they who seemed to be somewhat),[25] which in today’s English might be taken as “big shots.”

Certainly, this term is used positively, negatively, or ironically. For some, it seems Paul uses this phrase ironically here when he says that their being big shots make no difference to him because God’s isn’t impressed with big shots either. It appears that Paul was making a subtle reference to what God said to Moses: “You must be fair in judgment. You must not show special favor to the poor. And you must not show special favor to important people.”[26] Paul no doubt was trying to show that one may disagree with leaders without treating them as super-spiritual. One must always remember, that when something a leader says is dismissed as being wrong, their feelings of love and respect for their supporters is also rejected, thereby making both of them instant opponents.

However, Augustine of Hippo offers a unique insight into Paul’s perception of these prominent people.  He quotes from a Latin version of Matthew which reads: “But from those reputed to be something what they once were makes no difference to me.” Then he goes on to say: “For they are reputed to be something by carnal people; they are not something in themselves. Even if they are good servants of God, it is the Anointed One in them who is something, not they themselves. If they were something in themselves, then they would always have been so. What they once were – the fact that they themselves were once sinners – makes no difference to him.”[27] Some scholars believe that Paul was referencing the fact that Peter, James, John and to others were ordinary uneducated fishermen before they were called.  And the only thing which now brought them respect and prestige is the fact that they were privileged to enjoy personal connections with Jesus while He was here on earth.[28] So Paul is actually saying, it’s not what they used to be that affects my respect for them, but what they are now through God’s grace that impresses me the most.

African Bible scholar Marius Victorinus who wrote during this same period made the observation that Paul is saying, whatever they are not is enough for me, I really don’t care what they used to be. Paul then backs up his statement by noting that God does not regard the public face of a person; rather God regards the person’s mindset, the person’s faith. Whether one is Greek or Jew, whether one is treated as important by others, God does not regard this as important to Him. Rather God regards what one is, and whether possesses unshakable faith in the Gospel. For when God examines us to see if we are being truthful, He doesn’t consider a person’s social position in His assessment. Some scholars believe that what Victorinus is commenting on here involved the opinion these prominent members of the council perceived about Paul, especially knowing all about of his past as a vicious persecutor of the congregation.

Victorinus does not see Paul speaking disparagingly of those who appeared to be important leaders in the congregation. He does not doubt that they follow the Gospel, but it suggests that at one time they were not truly committed to having Gentiles receive the Good News. After all, look at Paul’s past. So, he more or less says that regardless of how high their position was in the congregation, he, and they, all came from the same place so there was no reason to think of what they used to be. It appeared that they were accepted by the other members of the Assembly and that’s all that mattered to Paul.[29] We can say the same thing happens today when it is discovered that members of the congregation council were formerly members of the Mormon congregation, Jehovah’s Witness, or Jesus Only Movement. There is always that tinge of doubt about how convinced they are that of what they now profess to believe.

[1] George B. Stevens: Paraphrase, op. cit., pp. 26-27

[2] 2 Corinthians 11:5

[3] Ibid. 11:21-23

[4] Ibid. 12:11

[5] Job 32:6-7

[6] Matthew 22:16; Mark 12:14; Luke 20:12

[7] Mark 6:17-20

[8] 2 Corinthians 5:16

[9] Job 34:19

[10] Acts of the Apostles 10:34

[11] Romans 2:11

[12] Cf. 1 Peter 1:17

[13] Acts of the Apostles 15:1-11

[14] Ibid. 15:13-21

[15] Ibid. 15:22

[16] Ibid. 15:12

[17] 2 Peter 3:15-16

[18] Acts of the Apostles 13:46-48

[19] Ibid. 18:6

[20] Ibid. 28:28

[21] Romans 1:5

[22] Ibid. 11:13-14

[23] 1 Thessalonians 2:4

[24] Lexham English Bible, loc. cit

[25] See Interlinear Greek/English N. T. loc. cit. The Tyndale Interlinear has “great leaders.

[26] See Leviticus 19:15

[27] Augustine’s Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit

[28] Ibid, footnote (24)

[29] Marius Victorinus: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., Edwards, M. J. (Ed.) p. 21

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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