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An Exploration of Galatians: A Second (or Third?) Visit to Jerusalem
Galatians 2:1-2, Acts 11:27-30, Acts 15:1-6 - What God reveals is the most important thing for us to remember
“Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.”
Galatians 2:1-2 NASB1995
A quick explanation on the lead-in photos for this devotional and the last one, as I had a question about the photo from the last devotional - I looked for generic pictures on Unsplash of old Jerusalem to set the tone for the visits to Jerusalem that Paul is recounting in Galatians. Perhaps you can imagine him and the apostles walking through the streets.
There’s a lesson that we can learn in the early passages of Galatians 2: God wants us to focus MORE on the message and less on dry reconciliation of biblical timelines. When I went to research these two verses, it was extraordinary how many expert Bible commentators argued about the “fourteen years”. Was it fourteen years after Paul’s conversion or was it fourteen years after his last visit to Jerusalem? I showed a timeline chart in the last devotional that implies the former rather than the latter.
To satisfy our curiosity and give folks ammunition for those nay-sayers who question everything in the Bible, let’s briefly explore the two possibilities. If Paul returned to Jerusalem fourteen years after his conversion, this event (famine relief) is documented in Acts 11:
“Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.”
Acts 11:27-30 NASB1995
Coincidentally (or not) this happens after Peter returns to Jerusalem and is accused of consorting with uncircumcised believers. He tells them about his vision of many creatures on a big tarp and God telling him that all were clean and shortly thereafter Peter meets with Gentile and Roman Cornelius and his family and they are baptized into the faith. Perhaps Paul talked to a few of them behind the scenes (as he alludes to in Galatians 2:1-2) and brought up the subject. Peter should have been in agreement.
The other timeline is fourteen years after Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem . This coincides with Acts 15:1-6+:
“Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.” The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter.”
Acts 15:1-6 NASB1995
Take your pick - I’m inclined to believe some of the more traditional Biblical experts who point at the council that took place in Acts 15 as the event that Paul is referring to in Galatians 2, but a persuasive argument can also be made for the famine relief visit in Acts 11 (David Guzik from Enduring Word is one who argues for that answer).
Paul brings two other brethren with him, Barnabas and Titus, after Paul has received a revelation from God. Barnabas is described as follows from Gotquestions.org; a few Biblical scholars (not enough to influence the majority) are convinced that Barnabas wrote Hebrews:
As the early church began to grow, in spite of Herod’s persecution, Barnabas was called by the Holy Spirit to go with Paul on a missionary journey. Barnabas’ cousin, John Mark, served him and Paul as their assistant (Acts 13:5). During that first missions trip, for an unspecified reason, John Mark left them and did not complete the journey (Acts 13:13). However, Barnabas continued with Paul and was with him when Paul’s ministry was redirected to reaching the Gentiles with the gospel (Acts 13:42-52). The only negative mention of Barnabas in Scripture is in reference to an incident in which Peter’s hypocrisy influenced other Jews (including Barnabas) to shun some Gentiles at dinner (Galatians 2:13).
After that first trip, Paul and Barnabas began planning their next journey. Barnabas wanted to take his cousin, but Paul refused, and a rift grew between them to the point that they parted company (Acts 15:36-41). Barnabas, true to his nickname, took John Mark and spent time discipling him. That ministry was so effective that, years later, Paul specifically asked for John Mark to come to him, as Mark had matured to the point of becoming helpful to Paul in his ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).
Like Barnabas, as Christians we are called to be encouragers, particularly of those who are weak in the faith or struggling. Acts 11:23 depicts Barnabas as a man who was delighted to see others exhibiting the grace of God in their lives, exhorting and encouraging them to remain faithful. In the same way, we should look for opportunities to praise those who bring glory and honor to God through lives that reflect their faith. In addition, Barnabas is an example of a generous spirit when it comes to giving sacrificially to the work of the Lord.
Paul was probably a pretty abrasive character as the early church developed (ya think?), as we will see as Galatians unfolds. Barnabas, with his sacrificial and generous spirit, probably softened that zealotry that carried over from Paul’s persecuting days to his preaching days. So who is Titus? We will find out more about Titus in my next devotional.
So what do we gain from these first two verses in Galatians? I gained an understanding that, for believers, the minutiae like the various timelines is probably not that important unless God points to time events as important. What IS important is that God has revealed Himself to Paul again and he and his companions are compelled to go to Jerusalem and speak to the church leadership there about the Judaizers and their negative impact on Gentiles joining the faith.
My next devotional examines Galatians 2:3-5, where we learn more about Titus and the efforts to bring in the rabbinical law aspects into the churches at Galatia and elsewhere.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Thank you for selecting men like Paul and Barnabas to effectively establish the early church, setting down the principles that demonstrate our freedom in Christ. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Gotquestions.org was accessed on 11/9/2023 to see the answer to the question “who was Barnabas”.