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Paul Accepted by the Apostles January 5, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Galatians 2:1-10.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Galatians that fourteen years after he first visited Peter in Jerusalem, he made a return visit with Barnabas and Titus – the chief overseer in Crete. He made this trip in response to a divine warning, and during this visit he discussed the Gospel with the other apostles; he conferred with other believers and their leaders in order to curb the misguided notion that his preaching had been in vain, which stemmed from his assertion that the Gentiles did not need to observe the law in order to be saved. The church council in Jerusalem then decided that Titus should not be forcibly circumcised, even though he was a Gentile. He states that this visit stemmed from the false apostles’ efforts to trap him and endanger the Gentiles’ liberty in Jesus Christ. Yet he did not yield to the false apostles, allowing the true Gospel to remain with the Gentile churches.

Paul then asserts that the other apostles – irrespective of their greatness, as God does not focus on human dignity – did not teach him anything concerning the Gospel. In fact, they recognized that God had sent him out of Judea to Gentile countries, while He had (temporarily) caused Peter to remain in Jerusalem. Moreover, God gave Peter his power just as He gave Paul his power. Now James, Peter and John – who were esteemed as the chief apostles – witnessed that:

  • he had been called by God as an apostle
  • Jesus Christ had taught him the Gospel
  • Jesus Christ had given him spiritual gifts.

They recognized that although he had been entrusted with preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles – while they had been entrusted with preaching it to the Jews – mutual agreement existed between them in everything. Paul concludes by noting that they exhorted him to remember the poor and needy – who he already cared for – in his ministry.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see that Paul’s opponents earnestly attempted to defeat him, yet he emerged victorious. Luther offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 3:

Indeed, Paul might have let Titus be circumcised, but he would not because he saw that they wanted to force it on him. If they had prevailed in this, they would soon have gathered that it had been necessary for salvation, and so they would have triumphed against Paul.

Paul won. The council decided, with the consent of all the apostles and the whole church, that Titus did not have to be circumcised, and Paul was thus able to put down all his enemies.

We see that this was a high-stakes contest, as Luther implies that if Paul had been defeated, the movement for church-wide adherence to the law would have “triumphed.” One must imagine how Gentile believers would have responded to these Judaizers in that case; Gentiles had been neither circumcised nor compelled to obey the (foreign) law from their birth, so why should they obey the (foreign) law after their salvation? Perhaps some of these Gentiles would have submitted to the Judaizers, but my conjecture is that most of them would have abandoned Christianity – stifling the growth of the early church. All modern-day believers, then, should be thankful that Paul was able to preserve the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ at that critical juncture.

In verse 10, we see that the other apostles exhorted Paul to continue ministering to the needy. Luther offers some pointed thoughts:

Where the church is, there will be poor people, who often are the only true disciples of the Gospel (see Isaiah 61:1; Matthew 11:5; Luke 4:26). The world and the devil persecute the church and reduce to poverty many people who are afterwards abandoned and despised by the world…Conversely, false religion and impiety flourishes and abounds with worldly wealth and prosperity. A true and faithful pastor, therefore, must care for the poor; and Paul confesses that he indeed cared for them.

As I currently attend a church with many members from the upper middle class, this quote reminds me of the inherent difficulties of our calling in the midst of material temptations. My stance on this thorny issue is as follows: any believer who has been given the ability to create wealth must also consider how they will use the wealth that they create. These believers must consciously strive to avoid “false religion and impiety,” using their time and resources to “care for the poor.” In this way they can be “true disciples of the Gospel,” though this will be a lifelong struggle in a materialistic world.

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