In the first entry in the Bible Junkies Online Commentary on Galatians, I discussed introductory matters concerning the founding of the churches to the Galatians, the situation when Paul wrote to them, when the letter might have been written and the type of letters which Paul wrote, based on the common Greco-Roman letters of his day. In the second post, I considered the basic content and breakdown of a Pauline letter. I noted the major sections of the formal letter structure and, in the context of each section, outlined the theological and ethical (as well as other) concerns of Paul, including some Greek words which will be examined more fully as we continue with the commentary. In the third entry, I looked at the salutation, which is long for Paul’s corpus (only Romans 1:1-7 is longer) and briefly commented on the lack of a Thanksgiving, the only letter of Paul’s which does not have one. The fourth entry discussed the opening of the body of the letter, a significant part of the letter especially in light of the absence of a Thanksgiving. In the fifth entry, I examined the beginning of the opening of the body of the letter, in which Paul describes his background in Judaism and I placed this in the context of Judaism in the Hellenistic period. In the sixth post in the online commentary, I continued to look at Paul’s biographical sketch of his life, this concerning his earliest life as a Christian. In the seventh post, I examine what Paul says about his subsequent visit to Jerusalem to see the apostles and the Church in Jerusalem.
4. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians
d) Body of the Letter (1:13-6:10):
ii) Paul's Background in the Church 2 (2:1-10):
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us— 5 we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you. 6 And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those leaders contributed nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do. (NRSV)
Paul recalls his second visit with the Apostles in Jerusalem “after fourteen years.” At least, that is the generally accepted translation of this phrase, which begins with epeita dia dekatessarôn. Epeita means “then” or “after” or more formally “thereupon.” Dia means “through” more often than “after” and dekatesserôn is “fourteen.”I still think the best reading of this phrase is “after fourteen years.” That leads to another question, though, and that is fourteen years after what? Paul’s last visit? Or his conversion?
I believe that Paul intends to say that this was fourteen years after the first visit, which occurred three years after his conversion. Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J. believes the fourteen years implies fourteen years after his conversion. Fitzmyer also places the conversion in the year 36 AD (NJBC, 783). I place this visit around 17 years after Paul’s conversion. It is difficult to date Paul’s conversion with precision, but I believe that Paul’s apokalypsis or “revelation” takes place not long after the crucifixion and resurrection, so I would place Paul’s conversion, therefore, around 32 or 33 AD, much earlier than Fitmyer and many others. What is interesting is that both sorts of dating wind up placing Paul in Jerusalem around 50 AD.
This is important because although there are many details not in common and many issues to resolve it seems most likely that this second visit to Jerusalem that Paul describes in Galatians 2 must be the same visit described in Acts 15 which is now called the Apostolic Council. This council has generally been dated to around 50 AD. Certainly Barnabas (2:1) is at the council with Paul (Acts 15:2, 12, 22), although Titus (2:1, 3) is not mentioned in Acts 15. Titus, however, being Greek and uncircumcised, might not have had a major role or any role among the apostles in Jerusalem, especially since the decisions being made had to do with the role and place of Gentile Christians who did not follow the Law of Moses in the Church. The claim being discussed in Acts 15 is that “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). It was precisely Christians like Titus who were the topic of conversation among the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, but whether they were welcome to participate in the conversation is another matter. We will return to the issue of Titus shortly.
Paul also says that he returned to Jerusalem “in response to a revelation” (2:2). I suspect that this refers to Paul’s own revelatory experience, which he has already noted in Galatians 1:12 and 1:16 (see entry 4 and entry 5). Acts 15:2 says that “Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders,” which suggests a formal decision making process not a revelation, although it is possible that one could locate the origin of a decision in a private revelation which was then secured by a formal decision of the (Antiochene) Church. Galatians 2 and Acts 15 on this score are not identical, yet they need not be seen as antithetical. It is also possible, of course, that Paul simply remembers events differently than Acts or that he has another interpretation of events.
Galatians 2:2 continues with Paul saying that “I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain.” Such a meeting might not seem to align perfectly with the meeting described in Acts 15, which seems broader than a “private meeting,” though Paul might be “shaping” it for the Galatians to stress that he did indeed meet with the “acknowledged leaders” of the Church and gained a favorable decision from them. It is also fair to say that the Apostolic Council would not be described as an “open” meeting. Some see in this verse a disparagement of the apostles, but for all of Paul’s bluster this verse indicates that Paul knows he is dependent upon the decision of the Church to make certain “that I was not running, or had not run, in vain.” It is a startling admission of the Church’s authority, since Paul is certain that through revelation he knows the truth of the Gospel, which is intended for all men and women apart from the Law of Moses.
This makes the case of Titus even more intriguing. For Galatians 2:3 says, “But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.” One could see this as stating that Titus was not circumcised, or, conversely, that though he was not compelled to be circumcised, he made the decision to do so freely. Given the verses that follow, though, and the outcome of the Apostolic Council in Acts 15, it is most likely that Paul’s point is that Titus was not circumcised. Paul continues to say that “because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us—we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you” (Galatians 2:4-5). If they, Paul, Barnabas, Titus and others “did not submit to them even for a moment,” it is difficult to believe that Titus would have been circumcised.
Who were these “false brothers”? Acts 1:5 identifies some Christian Pharisees who argued in the Apostolic Council that “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the Law of Moses.” This aligns with those whom Paul describes as “false brothers” given Paul’s focus throughout Galatians on freedom in Christ, and from the Law, and within this passage his claim that the false brothers came “to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us” (Gal.2:4). Note for instance the image of slavery associated with the Law of Moses utilized by Paul in Galatians 4:21-5:1.
It is actually in Galatians 2:6 that Paul seems to diminish the authority of the apostles, not 2:2, as his language seems sarcastic as he speaks of “those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those leaders contributed nothing to me.”Paul’s rhetoric here is intended to stress more the sufficiency of the Gospel he received rather than to reduce the authority of the apostles, since it is Paul under attack in Galatia not the Jerusalem apostles, but the effect might seem indeed to minimize the place of the apostles. If that is the impact, Paul might still be satisfied since for him the issue is that the Gospel they both preach is identical. That is his main point and the reason why the Galatians should accept him and the Gospel he preaches.
Paul continues by saying that the council acknowledged that Paul “had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles)” (Galatians 2:7-8). This sharp division does not seem to have adhered in actual missionary practice since Peter is the one who went to the Gentile Cornelius in Acts 10-11 and Paul seems often to have gone to the synagogues in a city first and only then to Gentiles. It might be that this was considered the general breakdown of missionary activity, though not limiting either man to only a particular group. It must be said, though, that Paul continues this division of the missionary activity in 2:9, stating that when “James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (Galatians 2:9). Again, it is possible that this was the breakdown of the priority of activity, with Paul concentrating on Gentiles in the diaspora and Peter, and others, focusing on the Jews, in Judea and beyond.
Paul ends this section by saying that the Church “asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10). In fact, the collection for the poor in Jerusalem becomes a keystone of Paul’s ministry as we see in Romans and 1 and 2 Corinthians. It does not precisely agree with Acts 15, however, in which James and the Church ask that Gentile Christians should “abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood” (Acts 15:20; see also Acts 15:29). Why does Paul omit these requirements when he writes to the Galatians? Does he not know of them? Does he believe that Gentile Christians should indeed know enough to stay away from such behaviors without mentioning them, especially Gentiles who want to follow the Law of Moses? Does he feel that any list is too close to focusing on law? The basic breakdown here is between idolatrous activities and sexual activities (porneia), and Paul will be unrelenting regarding one sort of behavior (porneia, see 1 Corinthians 5-7) and more willing to compromise regarding another set (meat offered to idols, see 1 Corinthians 8-10). Does he not agree with the regulations concerning idolatry? Or, as some have offered, does the lack of mention of these regulations mean that Paul is not describing in Galatians 2 the same meeting that took place in Acts 15? I believe Paul is in fact describing the Acts 15 Apostolic Council, with all of the questions this nevertheless raises, but decides not to mention these requirements either because he does not think them significant in this context or he is worried about aligning these pronouncements too closely with the Law of Moses.
Next entry, Paul and Peter have a disagreement.
John W. Martens