Galatians 2:1-5: More About Paul's Visit to Jerusalem

Galatians 2:1‑5  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 9
In v.3 we read: “But not even Titus, he with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.” The word “Greek” has three meanings in the New Testament. First, a Greek by nationality; second, in contrast to a Jew, it means any Gentile—not necessarily one of Greek nationality; third, in a wider sense, it means all nations who are not Jews, but who were under the influence of Greek learning and customs. In this verse, we believe the meaning is simply that Titus was a Gentile.
The word “compelled,” in the same verse, tells us that the Jewish teachers made very strong efforts to compel Titus to receive circumcision. As we read further down in this chapter, we will be astonished at the power that these men had in the Church in those days. It is evident that they were determined not to receive Titus as a Christian unless he would receive circumcision, which was a sign that he was under the law. We can see from these verses in Galatians that the attack made on the freedom of the Church of God was very bitter, and very terrible.
Paul’s description of these men is very strong. First, he says they were false. They were traitors. They were not true believers in Christ at all. They had outwardly accepted Christianity, but they knew nothing of the power of the precious blood of Christ to cleanse their sins. They were professors merely, and really did not have eternal life. They were in Paul’s words “false brethren.” This word is only used twice in the New Testament, here and in 2 Cor. 11:2626In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; (2 Corinthians 11:26). They were “the false brethren,” (vs. 4) showing the Galatians knew them. Sad to say, we have multitudes of this kind of men around us today. There are very many everywhere who are only Christians in name, but have never known what it means to be “born again.” (See John 3.) They have never known real conviction of sin, nor have they known what a terrible burden their sins really are: nor have they ever known the power of the precious blood of the Lord Jesus to take away those sins. These false brethren had been brought in by stealth, brought in without the other brethren knowing. This Greek word is used of what we now call “fifth columnists,” that is, enemies brought in secretly, who pretend to be friends, and do their evil work from the inside, instead of attacking from the outside as honest men do. These men had come in before, not by the door, but had climbed up some other way and so come in (see John 10) “to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus.” The words “to spy out” are used in the Greek Old Testament for spying out a city. (2 Sam. 10:33And the princes of the children of Ammon said unto Hanun their lord, Thinkest thou that David doth honor thy father, that he hath sent comforters unto thee? hath not David rather sent his servants unto thee, to search the city, and to spy it out, and to overthrow it? (2 Samuel 10:3).) It means to spy out with the intention of overthrowing by an enemy. Notice that our freedom is not freedom to sin, but freedom in Christ Jesus. That is the foundation of true Christianity, and these false brethren wanted to overthrow this foundation. Notice the uncommon expression, “in order that they shall bring us to abject slavery.” Usually we would say, “in order that they might bring us...”—there is the idea of doubt here. But these false teachers were so strong and so sure of success that they had no doubt whatever that they would succeed in bring the Church of God into abject slavery. For this reason we find “shall,” not “might.” And notice not only did they wish to bring us into slavery, but also “abject slavery” —slavery with no hope of release: cruel, bitter, hopeless slavery. Such is the true position of those who are under the law. This word is only used here and in 2 Cor. 11:2020For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face. (2 Corinthians 11:20), speaking of these same men.
Now Paul leaves the description of these wicked men to tell us how he met their attacks. In the original Greek in this part, the sentences are broken off; the grammar is not complete, all telling us of the very strong feeling that Paul had, as he recalled that terrible attack, and though the truth was victorious, yet the struggle was very great. Paul says: “To whom we yielded by subjection, not even for an hour, in order that the truth of the good news might remain with you.” Others might yield, for the sake of peace, but Paul would never yield; no, not even for an hour. How we Gentiles can thank God for such a man as Paul. What a mighty debt we owe to him and his fellow servant Barnabas. The word translated “remain” has the meaning of “firm possession.” Paul and Barnabas fought a bitter fight that we in China, and the whole Church of God, might firmly possess and never give up the precious truth of complete justification and sanctification by faith alone, and not by works of the law.
“But from the ones being reputed to be something,—whatever they formerly were, it makes no difference to me; God does not accept man’s person [literally, man’s face],—for to me the ones being reputed (to be something) imparted nothing.” ch. 2:6.
We have seen that the false brethren had tried to make the Galatian assemblies believe that Paul was not a true apostle because he had not received his authority or his teaching from the apostles at Jerusalem. Paul has shown us that he received both his authority as an apostle and his teaching from the Lord Jesus Christ, and not from any man. These false brethren wished to make Peter and James and John head of the Church, and all would receive their authority from them. These men were apostles, they had seen the Lord and been in His company on earth, and men looked up to them as men of very great importance. But Paul entirely rejected their authority. To Paul, Peter was only a man. Paul knew that he himself was sent, not from men, but from God. It is strange that today so many men look up to Peter as head of the Church. Paul refused to do such a thing. The Church among the Gentiles is the fruit of Paul’s labor, not of Peter’s labor. Peter fully acknowledged Paul’s position and, as we will see, gave to him and to Barnabas the right hand of fellowship that they should go to the Gentiles. So we may see that during this visit to Jerusalem, Paul received no further authority from the apostles there and no further revelation of the good news from them. His own words are that they “imparted nothing to me.” It is also possible that the meaning is that they “imposed nothing on me.” If this is the true meaning, it would tell us that the apostles at Jerusalem did not in any way impose the teaching of the law on Paul’s good news.
“But, on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the good news of the uncircumcision, just as Peter (that) of the circumcision, (for the One having worked for Peter unto (the) apostleship of the circumcised, worked also for me unto the nations), and recognizing the grace given to me, James and Cephas and John, the ones being reputed to be pillars, gave to me and to Barnabas (the) right hands of fellowship, in order that we (should go) unto the nations, but they unto the circumcised. Only that we should remember the poor, which very thing also I have been eager to do.” ch. 2:7-10.
In the verses we have just quoted, we must not suppose that the “good news of the uncircumcised [or, uncircumcision]” is different in any way from the “good news of the circumcised [or, circumcision].” It is not a different good news. There is only one good news, but it is presented to different people: one to the Gentiles, the other to the Jews. We must notice also that Paul was put on an equality with Peter. One is the apostle to the nations, the other is the apostle to the Jews. Peter is not placed in the smallest degree above Paul. They are alike, and there is not the least sign of Peter wishing, or expecting, to be considered in a higher position than Paul: nor, is there any record that James and John considered Peter above Paul. Further, there was no sign of the least jealousy between these great servants of God. They recognized that Paul had been entrusted with the good news to the nations, and they knew well that it was the Lord Jesus Christ who had entrusted this good news to him: gladly then do they give the right hands of fellowship to Paul and to Barnabas. Do not think that this is a matter of no importance. Alas, there are many millions of Gentile men and women today who believe that Peter is the head of the Church, and even the foundation of the Church. Although the Lord greatly blessed Peter, he is the apostle of the circumcision, and only of the circumcision. Paul is the apostle of the uncircumcision, that is, of the Gentiles. Paul is the only one of the apostles who writes about the Church, the body of Christ. The Lord entrusted this to him, as He had entrusted to him the gospel of the uncircumcision.
Do not think that any division had come into the Church because Paul was to go to the nations and the other apostles at Jerusalem to the Jews. The Lord of the harvest may send His servants to any part of the harvest field He wishes; and the Lord chose to send Paul to one part, and Peter to another; but they went in full fellowship one with the other.
You will remember that Paul and Barnabas had already visited Jerusalem with alms for the poor Jewish Christians, sent to them by the Gentile Christians. (Acts 11:12, 27-30:25.) The brethren at Jerusalem ask that the Gentile Christians, although not under law or subject to circumcision, should still remember the poor. This care of the poor was a very strong bond between the Gentile believers and the Jewish believers. There was much to divide them, much to cause jealousy between them, but the loving care for the poor saints in Judea, by their more wealthy Gentile brethren, bound together these Jewish and Gentile Christians. This is exactly what Paul longed to see, so he adds, “Which very thing I have been eager to do.”
Paul tells us in some of his other epistles about this very matter. We have noticed that in 1 Cor. 16:1,21Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. 2Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. (1 Corinthians 16:1‑2), Paul tells the Corinthian assembly of the instructions he had already given to the assemblies of Galatia: “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come” (1 Cor. 16:22Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. (1 Corinthians 16:2)). The first day of the week is the resurrection day. It was on the first day of the week that the disciples in Troas came together to break bread. (Acts 20:77And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:7).) And on the first day of the week the Spirit of God tells believers to put aside as God has prospered them. In Heb. 13:1616But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. (Hebrews 13:16) this is called “a sacrifice,” and “with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13:1616But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)). This sacrifice is connected with “the sacrifice of praise” in the previous verse (Heb. 13:1515By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)); and both these sacrifices which we may offer to the Lord are connected with His sacrifice of Himself for us. (See Heb. 13:10-1210We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. 11For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. 12Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. (Hebrews 13:10‑12).) For this reason when we come together on the first day of the week to break bread, on the one hand we eat the one loaf and we drink the one cup, remembering the Lord’s sacrifice; and on the other hand we offer to Him the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks unto His name (Heb. 13:1515By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)); and we also offer to Him the sacrifice of giving money as God has prospered us, a sacrifice to show forth our gratitude for all He has done for us and to “remember the poor” (vs. 10). With this sacrifice God is well pleased.
Alas, there are some who quite forget the wonderful privilege God has given us in this opportunity to show forth our love and gratitude to His name. They only think of giving this money as “a collection,” and quite forget that God sees it as “a sacrifice,” and that it is a sacrifice with which God is well pleased. There are some who give, not according as God has prospered them, but as little as they possibly can so as not to lose face. We must remember that God sees the heart, and God does not measure and judge as we measure. You remember the poor widow who threw two mites into the treasury, which the Lord tells us was “all her living.” Mark 12:4444For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living. (Mark 12:44). In the parable of the treasure hid in a field, the Lord says that the man who found it, for the joy of it, went away and “sold [exchanged, or, bartered] whatever he had and bought that field.” Matt. 13:4444Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. (Matthew 13:44). But the words are stronger in the next parable of the pearl. Of it the Lord says: “Having found one pearl of great price, having gone away, he sold [the word is different from that in the last parable, and means ‘to sell into slavery’] all things whatever he had, and bought it.” Matt. 13:45, 4645Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: 46Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it. (Matthew 13:45‑46). Of this widow, who cast in the two mites, the Lord uses exactly the same words as He used of Himself seeking that precious pearl: “She of her want cast in all things whatever she had, the whole of her living.” In Mark 10:2121Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. (Mark 10:21), to the rich ruler the Lord used exactly the words of the first of these parables: “Sell whatever thou hast,” (Mark 10:2121Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. (Mark 10:21)) but he was not willing. You remember that in God’s sight she had given more than all the great gifts of the rich men. Why do you think the Bible tells us that “she threw in two mites, which make a farthing?” (Mark 12:4242And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. (Mark 12:42)). If she had cast in a farthing, the amount would have been the same, but she would have had no choice to keep back something for herself; but as the farthing was divided into two mites, she could have kept one for herself and given the Lord one: but the divided offering showed forth her undivided heart. Many of the Christians of China are poor, but few are as poor as this widow; and they have the same opportunity that she had to offer great gifts in the sight of God. I often wonder if the reason so many of us are so poor is because we so often fail to acknowledge how “God has prospered us” by giving in this measure to Him on the first day of the week.
Our readers would do well to also read for themselves the whole of 2 Cor. 9 “As touching the ministering to the saints.” And it would be well for us all to let vv. 6, 7 sink down deep into our hearts: “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:6-76But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. 7Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:6‑7)). And notice we get a good deal about sowing and reaping in ch. 6 of our epistle.
The last visit that Paul ever made to Jerusalem (as far as we know) was to take more alms to the poor there. To take these alms cost Paul his liberty. “Now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things. When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain” (Rom. 15:25-2825But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints. 26For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. 27It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things. 28When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain. (Romans 15:25‑28)). But there is a note of sadness mixed with the joy of being the bearer of the gifts from the Gentile assemblies, for he adds in vv. 30, 31: “Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; that I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints.” It would seem that Paul knew full well the power that these Jewish teachers still had in Jerusalem; and it might be this loving gift from the Gentile Christians would be refused by the Jerusalem assembly. The victory was won at Jerusalem for the freedom of the Gentiles from circumcision and the law; but the mouths of the false teachers were not stopped, and they have been busy at their wicked work from that day down to our own day. The Church of God was not divided; but the danger of division due to these wicked men still existed.
The epistle to the Hebrews, probably written shortly before Jerusalem was completely destroyed by the Roman armies, is a burning appeal to the Jewish Christians to turn from the forms and ceremonies which they loved so well, and which were but a shadow, to the body which is Christ. The Holy Spirit powerfully sets forth in this epistle how much “better” the reality—the substance—was than the shadows to which they were clinging so strongly. (Heb. 8:5, 10:1.) We find the word “better” 13 times in Hebrews, besides other similar words, such as “more excellent,” about 7 times more, as the Spirit compares the truths of Christianity to the shadows of Judaism.