Paul is rebuking those who are teaching a gospel different than the gospel he and the other Apostles originally delivered to the Galatians. They taught that the true gospel included not only faith in Jesus Christ and baptism as an expression of that faith, but also full adherence to the Jewish Law and custom fully accepted in circumcision.
They accused Paul of toning down the demands of the "true gospel" (which included circumcision) in order to gain favor with Gentiles, to make the gospel palatable to them. Their argument was that in his zeal and ambition to build churches among the Gentiles, Paul had stripped the gospel of some of its teachings (i.e. circumcision). They said that these teachings were in accordance with what was taught in Jerusalem.
The Judaizers came to Galatia in order to restore it to its true content. Their plan was to first discredit Paul and then to substitute what they taught for what Paul had originally taught. Their plan was succeeding and so Paul writes this urgent letter denouncing the Judaizers and re-confirming the fact that the gospel he gave them was the only true gospel and that anyone who taught anything else should be cursed.
This background explains why he says in Galatians 1:10 that he is not trying to please men, and his language concerning the Judaizers in this letter was not the kind of language used to please men, but he was speaking as a servant of Christ.
10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.
Paul responds to accusations that his gospel is not the same as the other Apostles with three replies:
- The fact that he received the gospel from Christ Himself and not second-hand from other Apostles.
- That the other Apostles fully acknowledge Paul's gospel.
- That on one occasion he was obliged to correct Peter himself regarding this very point of liberty from the Law, and that Peter accepted the correction.
As far as the Galatians and Judaizers were concerned, if Paul and Peter argued on the substance of the gospel, that settled it. All replies tied into his meetings with Peter.
Paul begins by explaining that the gospel he preached to them was originally received by him from Jesus Himself and later confirmed by Peter, Jesus's chosen Apostle, at their first meeting in Jerusalem.
11 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
- Galatians 1:11-12
Paul refers to the gospel (the content and response) that he originally preached to them was not taught to him by man, but came to him as a revelation from God:
- He knew about Jesus because he was a Jew in Jerusalem.
- He met Jesus in a miraculous way on the road to Damascus.
- He obeyed Jesus just like everyone else, by being baptized.
- He received the ability to know and teach accurately all the things that Christ taught in the same way the Apostles did, through the power of the Holy Spirit given to him by Christ (John 16:13).
13 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; 14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
Paul explains his own conversion. He persecuted the church and did so "beyond measure," he was fanatical about it, extremist, not only wanting to limit its growth but wanting to destroy it.
The reason for his fanaticism is that he was raised to be a strict Pharisee, zealous for tradition. The Rabbis had created a series of six hundred and thirteen human commandments, which they built around the Law as a hedge, to protect the purity of the Law. The Pharisees were the "guardians" of these human commandments or traditions. For example, the Law said no work on the Sabbath. The Rabbis created a number of rules to protect this command such as the prohibition to walk more than a certain distance, or the prohibition of a scribe to carry his pen. The Pharisees were then to teach and enforce these laws.
Paul, the zealous Pharisee, was so against Christianity because the church meant death to Phariseeism. Paul saw the crown of Judaism in the traditions that he fought to preserve and knew that if Jews became Christians they might keep parts of the Mosaic Law (adultery, murder, stealing, etc.) that were confirmed by Jesus, but quickly do away with the burdensome traditions from which Christianity had freed them.
The Judaizers were merely Jewish Pharisees who had become Christians, and who wanted to impose these things on Christianity in the same way they were imposed on Judaism. Their starting point was circumcision, but they would have certainly added from there in the same way they had added to the Law in the Old Testament.
Paul reminds them that he was the worst of these Pharisees, but now he preached freedom from these things in Christ. Why? Because of the revelation received from Christ, since no man could have convinced him. If anyone should have been a Judaizer he was the perfect candidate, but he was against it because it was against the gospel.
15But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.
Paul refers to both his conversion and commission in the same context.
- God knew from the very beginning of Paul's life that when he was called, he would respond.
- It was the grace of God expressed in the death of Jesus for sin that Paul responded to, this is what melted his heart.
- God's purpose for him was to demonstrate the living Christ in the dramatically changed life of Paul. What better way than through the transformed life of a fanatical Jew who formerly despised Gentiles?
Paul says that when this transformation happened to him, he did not consult with other Apostles first, but went off to Arabia and then returned to Damascus for some time.
18Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. 19But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother. 20(Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.)
Only after three years did he go to Jerusalem and meet with Peter and James for two weeks. No repudiation or rejection came from them, and if he were not genuine he would have been revealed as a false Apostle at this time.
21Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; 23but only, they kept hearing, "He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy." 24And they were glorifying God because of me.
On the contrary, he went into the northern regions of Syria and Cilicia to preach and other places kept hearing of his success in preaching the gospel in these areas. Note that all were glorifying God because of his ministry. There was no disapproval by the Apostles, and this is his point. From the beginning his gospel has not been rejected but rather encouraged by Peter and the other Apostles. So his first reply to their accusations is to refer to the divine source of his gospel.
All the Apostles acknowledge the contents of his gospel – 2:1-10
During the interval between his time in Syria we know that Paul:
- Was brought to Antioch by Barnabas to teach.
- Gathered funds for a relief mission concerning Jerusalem.
- Returned with Barnabas and John Mark to Antioch.
- Went on his first missionary journey and established the churches in Galatia.
The Judaizers begin to cause trouble in these and other churches with their false doctrine and attacks against Paul. These events go by in a period of fourteen years, and now Paul finds himself back in Jerusalem with all the Apostles and the church this time.
Paul is describing in Galatians 2:1-10 what Luke also describes in Acts 15:
- Paul has returned from his first missionary journey and is reporting in Antioch the things they have done.
- The Judaizers begin to debate with them there and so the church sends them down to Jerusalem to get the opinion of the Apostles there.
- Paul, Barnabas, Titus and others go down to Jerusalem.
- They reported this work to the church and the Judaizers challenged them openly again.
- The Apostles and elders gathered together with Paul, Barnabas and the Judaizers to explain the matter.
- The outcome was that the Apostles and elders supported Paul and confirmed his gospel and work, and wrote a letter to all the churches proclaiming this, thus repudiating the Judaizers and their doctrine.
Paul is now commenting on the events in Galatians 2:1-10 as he tells the story to the Galatians.
1Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2 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.
Paul is guided by the Lord to go and lay his cares before the other Apostles. The fear raised by the Judaizers in the minds of the Galatians was that all of Paul's work had been for nothing (running in vain) because his gospel was not true, but Paul was laying it before the Apostles themselves to show it was not for nothing.
3 But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.
He quickly demonstrates that his work was not in vain since Titus, a Greek, was not required to be circumcised even by the Apostles in Jerusalem. Positive proof that the Judaizers' claims were groundless.
4 But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. 5But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.
He did this (report to the Apostles) because of the challenge of the Judaizers, who want to restrict their freedom in Christ. They were false brethren. Their purpose was to imprison the brothers with the Law again. Paul did not give in to their demands so that they might remain free in Christ (this demand was that Titus be circumcised as a test case for their position – Paul refused and stood his ground because if Titus was not circumcised in Jerusalem, none in Galatia would be either).
In verses 6-10 Paul summarizes the outcome of the confrontation with the Judaizers and meeting with the Apostles and leaders in Jerusalem.
6 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.
Those who were reported to be of high reputation in comparison to me by the Judaizers, did not object to, add or subtract from the gospel that is presented.
Paul considers himself and the other Apostles as equal in the Lord's service; it was the Judaizers who tried to elevate one against the other. In God's sight, God makes no partiality between brethren based on name, reputation or position. The Apostles did not do this, Paul did not do this, but the Judaizers tried.
7 But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised 8 (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), 9 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.
Peter, James and John gave Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship as a public witness of their solidarity of purpose, and content of message (what we do when someone joins our fellowship). They recognized that Paul's Apostleship and gospel had the same source as their own. Paul's ministry to the Gentiles was encouraged and confirmed, as was this to the Jews.
10 They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.
They even argued to share the work among the poor within the churches.
In this way, Paul demonstrates how his ministry and his message was confirmed by all the Apostles and how the false gospel of the Judaizers had been rejected by the Apostles in Jerusalem.
It is not who you know, who you are, how educated or not you are; it is what you preach and teach that is important. God can raise up preachers from any race or social position and put the zeal of ministry into his heart. This is why, in looking for ministers, the most important qualifications we seek are knowledge of, faithfulness to, and zeal for God's word.
We cannot grow as a church if we are more involved in arguing over the word than proclaiming it to the lost. We need to stay focused on spreading the gospel and teaching what we know and are sure of, rather than wasting time and energy debating and dividing over issues that don't affect our souls. Jesus said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." (Mark 16:15), not, "Go and debate the brethren at all the lectureships."