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An Exploration of Galatians: Paul was Approved to Preach to the Gentiles
Galatians 2:6-10 - Don’t wait for someone else to make you a great Christian!
“But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.”
Galatians 2:6-10 NASB1995
The public domain artwork above was found with an article describing this first major controversy in the early church. I liked the fact that the leaders of the early church are explaining their missions to the gathered believers. Paul continues his dissertation about how those of “high reputation” contributed nothing to him and made no difference in his beliefs and how he preached the Gospel. This, at first, sounds remarkably arrogant, but Paul was merely stating the fact that they did not give him the Gospel he preached as it came directly from God. Here’s what Enduring Word says about this passage:
But from those who seemed to be something: Paul knew that in his day, there were leaders of high reputation – “famous” Christians, if you will. But they did not overly impress or intimidate Paul; whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man.
Those who seemed to be something added nothing to me: Even though Paul met with influential and famous Christians a few times, they did not give him the gospel he preached. The leaders in Jerusalem added nothing to the gospel Paul preached or to the apostolic authority he possessed.
Paul didn’t wait for someone else to make him a great Christian. He knew that it came down to a personal relationship between himself and Jesus. This isn’t to say that Paul received nothing from others or that no one else could ever bless him; but his Christian life was not built upon what other people did for him.
“Paul’s words are neither a denial of, nor a mark of disrespect for, their apostolic authority. He is simply indicating that, although he accepts their office as apostles, he is not overawed by their person as it was being inflated (by the false teachers).” (John Stott)
It is particularly interesting today that this passage comes up, after a very religious friend of ours (who does not read our devotionals - at least we don’t think she reads them) shared a link on her Facebook feed to a commentary from Plough magazine by Christian existentialist Soren Kierkegaard; that article said that expert Biblical commentary is not needed to understand the Bible. I do rely on commentary to help me write my devotionals, as I am not a trained theologist; I’m wondering if this friend is making a subtle point about our reliance on others with more experience to help us gain understanding. It is a good point, in light of Paul’s insistence on his own independence from the “famous” Christians, while still accepting their office as apostles. I still prefer to defer to others that are more knowledgeable to help me learn and I believe these extracts from commentaries and sermons lend credence to my efforts.
If our friend is using the commentary by Kierkegaard to make this point, however, she would certainly not like this perspective that the philosopher had as noted in Gotquestions.org; she tells her friends on social media quite often that only churches that do liturgies and creeds are “correct” and she also seems to dislike the term “personal relationship” with Christ:
Kierkegaard taught that there are three stages of life: aesthetic, ethical, and religious. The aesthetic stage is the most immature; in this stage, a person is ruled by passion and sensory experiences. In the ethical stage of life, one is ruled by society’s regulations; the individual begins to live for others and make choices based on what is right, rather than on what feels good. The religious stage is the most mature stage of life and the highest goal of every man; in this stage, total faith in God (apart from reason) charts one’s course. The most important task of every individual is to have a personal relationship with Christ, to engage in the life of the Spirit with abandon. Kierkegaard was critical of churches that kept a person from truly experiencing the spiritual life that God wants for us. True, passionate faith does not come through ritual or memorizing liturgies. Individual, subjective love of God cannot be mediated by the clergy or by manmade objects.
Søren Kierkegaard rightly recognized the problem of a complacent church that requires nothing of Christians but to be respectable and regurgitate a creed. He decried nominal Christianity, or what he called “Christendom”; such empty religion leads many people to be officially “Christians” without having any idea of what it actually means to be a Christian. What faith demands, Kierkegaard said, is adventure and risk and pain. Anything less than total commitment to Christ is “playing church” and out of step with the New Testament model of the church. Kierkegaard is to be commended for his attempts to awaken Christians to the need for total religious commitment.
I may have to dig more into the writings of Kierkegaard! Paul, at least the iconoclastic Paul of Galatians, was likely one of the influencers on his ideas.
So Paul, having been entrusted with the Lord’s grace with bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles, believed that he and Barnabas had received the right hand of fellowship from James, Cephas (Peter) and John. The only condition that they put on Paul’s ministry from this meeting was that they should remember the poor, something that Paul heartily agrees with. Here is relevant commentary on this passage from the new Gospel Coalition Biblical collection of commentaries:
Apparently, some within the early church regarded James, Cephas, and John as “pillars,” which has been understood primarily in two different ways. Some argue that this language is rooted in the Jewish expectation of a new Jerusalem and a new temple, with the apostles viewed as pillars for their foundational role. Others suggest that the mention of three pillars was an intentional parallel to the three patriarchs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the OT. Thus, just as God established Israel as a covenant community on the basis of the promise to the three patriarchs, so in the messianic period God has established the new covenant community (the church) on the basis of these three pillars.
Paul simply mentions their reputation as pillars without expressing his agreement or disagreement regarding their status as such. But it was these very pillars who gave him “the right hand of fellowship,” which in this context goes beyond an expression of agreement and friendship to refer to a formal partnership in gospel ministry. Paul and Barnabas would focus their ministry on the Gentiles, while the pillars would focus theirs on the Jews. The closest the Jerusalem leaders came to adding something to him was the request that Paul continue to remember the poor, a staple of Jewish and early Christian piety. Paul eagerly affirmed his desire to do this, making it clear that they were in fact adding nothing to Paul and his ministry.
Everything sounds hunky-dory! The five titans of the faith agreed on their complementary, not contradictory approaches to gathering sheep of both kinds (circumcised and uncircumcised) into the church of Christ believers.
But wait, things are not settled after all! My next devotional examines Galatians 2:11-14, where Peter comes to Antioch and Paul has a public confrontation with him about his shunning of Gentiles and what that means.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - I thank you for the resources I have found doing research for my devotionals. I want to be discerning and wise and, although the Bible is quite clear on the expectations for believers, sometimes the clarity that comes through this research is truly enlightening. Thank you also for the Pillars of the early faith and their bravery and resourcefulness. 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
Commentary on Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.
Gotquestions.org was accessed on 11/13/2023 to answer the question “Who was Soren Kierkegaard?”
The Gospel Coalition (TGC) gives permission to reproduce this work in its entirety, without any changes, in English for noncommercial distribution throughout the world. Crossway, the holder of the copyright to the ESV Bible text, grants permission to include the ESV quotations within this work, in English.