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5. Was Paul a Man-Pleaser? (Galatians 1:10-2:10)


I can distinctly recall a particular occasion on which I attempted, in vain, to please men. In all honesty, it would be more accurate to say that I attempted to please (young) women. I was a high school student attending a church camp. I had grown up on a lake, and I thought I knew all there was to know about swimming. While several of the girls were watching, I decided to show them how a “pro” would dive. Running full force from the beach and plunging headlong into the water, I discovered to my dismay that the water was exceedingly shallow and my face scraped along the graveled bottom. There was no choice but to come to the surface (only inches above) and to expose my bloody face.

Likely each of you can remember stories about yourself, too. All of us have been guilty of trying to please men. Paul was accused of being a man-pleaser by those who proclaimed a gospel different from that which the apostle preached. This accusation was intended to undermine Paul’s authority and to accredit the “different gospel,” which the Judaizers had been preaching among the Galatian churches. Paul, however, was innocent. The passage which we are to study is a part of Paul’s defense against the charge of being a man-pleaser.

We need first to refresh our memories with respect to the context in which our passage is found. The first two chapters of Galatians are introductory and foundational. The Galatian Christians had deserted God by adopting a perverted version of the gospel (1:6-9). This, we shall see more clearly, was the result of the teaching of the Judaizers, who sought to add the keeping of the Old Testament law to faith as a requirement for salvation. The Judaizers attacked Paul’s apostleship as part of their teaching of a “different gospel,” a gospel different from that which Paul had proclaimed. Chapters 1 and 2 are a defense of both Paul’s apostleship and of the gospel which he had proclaimed. Chapters 3 and 4 expose the theological error of Judaism by turning back to the Old Testament law, demonstrating that it was neither intended, nor able, to accomplish what the Judaizers promised. Finally in chapters 5 and 6 Paul explains how God has made provision for holiness through the grace of the gospel. Thus, it is only grace which supplies the holiness which the law demanded.

The Issue of Paul’s Motives and Message

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. 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.

There is nothing indirect about Paul’s approach in chapter 1. He has already bluntly stated that some of the Galatian saints have forsaken God by following another gospel. Having outlined the false teaching within the church, he hastened to address the problem which the church seemed to have with him. The Judaizers could not attack the gospel Paul preached without attacking him. This they did by an assault on his character. They alleged that Paul had changed not for the better, but for the worse, and that his message was motivated by a desire to win man’s approval, rather than God’s. Such charges are implied by Paul’s statement in verse 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.

The word “now” appears first in the Greek text, underscoring its emphasis. It centers upon the change in Paul since his conversion. Indeed, it almost begrudges his conversion. The charges infer that Paul once sought to please God, but now he only wishes to please men. Paul focuses on this change which has occurred and upon the motive which his opponents are suggesting underlies his gospel. Paul’s opponents charged that he had thrown out the requirements which had been historically laid upon Gentile proselytes to Judaism. Now, he was preaching that Gentiles could be saved apart from Judaism, by mere faith in a Jewish Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. They claimed that he acted not out of integrity, not out of necessity, but out of a desire to gain easy converts who would be indebted to Paul and who would look upon him with favor.

It is very difficult for us to feel the intensity of emotion involved in this issue. Let me attempt to illustrate it in a way that comes a little closer to home. Suppose that you were a white, southern aristocrat who belonged to a very private club. A reason for the club’s exclusiveness was the extremely high initiation fee. For years and years membership had been restricted to only those whom the members themselves chose to admit. The club even had its own religious rituals, all very formal and “high church.” Suddenly, with the change in federal law, such private clubs were now outlawed. Members could not be excluded on the basis of race, creed, or social status. One of the members radically changed his mind and began to bring in new members, precisely those who had previously been purposely excluded. To add insult to injury, this person had the audacity to bring in new members without requiring any initiation fee whatsoever.

There is a mentality, common among religious fundamentalists, which suspects anything which is too easy.31 This mindset distrusts anything that appears to be too tolerant and not sufficiently difficult and demanding. The underlying assumption is the more demanding the duty, the more painful the process, the higher the price of piety, the more likely it is to be of God. Thus, there is an immediate suspicion concerning anything which appears to be too easy. Contradictory to this attitude is the fact that biblical Christianity is founded upon the principles and the processes of grace. The danger of a fundamentalist mindset (as good as this may be), is that it may question the grace upon which salvation and sanctification rest. Paul not only preached grace, he practiced it, and in so doing brought about a strong reaction from the Judaizers who questioned both Paul’s message and his motives.

There is an element of truth in the accusation of the Judaizers against Paul. Paul admitted to changing his conduct depending upon the cultural preferences of his audience. This he did to avoid undue offense to the gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-23). While Paul was willing to make cultural concessions, he was unbending concerning any concession with regard to the gospel which he preached. He was unwilling to make any requirements of the Gentiles concerning the keeping of the Old Testament law, for this was contrary to grace.

The issue in question is whether Paul deliberately diluted his message to suit his audience in order to gain status among them. Paul’s defense begins with the word “still” in verse 10. He thus turned the tables on his opponents. His conversion was not a change for the worse, but a change for the better. It was not that he had begun to be a man-pleaser since his conversion, but that he had ceased to be so. As a zealous Pharisee he was a man-pleaser. Had he not been converted, he would still be a man-pleaser. In verses 11 and 12 Paul gives a general answer in his own defense: “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Paul’s motives, according to the Judaizers, were human. They claimed that he desired more to please men than he did to please God. Furthermore they charged that the divine message had been corrupted by Paul’s fallen humanity. Paul insisted that nothing could be farther from the truth. The details of his conversion and growth as a Christian (and an apostle) refute the charge that he was a man-pleaser. What he learned about the gospel, he learned apart from men (vv. 11, 12). No one could claim more independence from human contamination of the gospel than he. Paul buttresses his argument by more specific examples from his experiences: (1) his conversion (1:13-17); (2) his relationship to the apostles in Jerusalem (1:18–2:10); and (3) his confrontation of Peter (2:11-21).

Paul’s Conversion

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. 15 But when He 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, 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.

The gospel Paul preached was that same message by which he was saved; thus, his gospel and his conversion were intertwined. In verses 13-17 Paul outlines his conversion experience. Verses 13 and 14 describe him as he was before his conversion. He was devoutly religious as a defender of Judaism.32 Not only was Paul zealous for Judaism, but he was also successful as a Pharisee. He claimed that before his conversion he was “advancing in Judaism” beyond many of his contemporaries (1:14). No one advances in prominence and position unless people are pleased with his performance. Paul, therefore, informs us that it was his devotion to duty which earned him his status within Judaism.

Not only was Paul’s success as a Pharisee the result of pleasing men, but his belief in Judaism was based upon the teachings of men. According to verse 14 Paul was a devotee of Judaism with a zeal for his “ancestral traditions.” Would his opponents charge him with forsaking that which was divine for that which was human? They were wrong, for Judaism was a religion that men had prescribed and promoted. Paul’s zeal to advance within the ranks of Judaism was based upon his desire to win the favor and approval of his contemporaries.

Paul’s new faith came about in an entirely different way, as he describes in verses 15-17. His conversion was initiated by God, rather than by any human agent. God had set him apart, even while in his mother’s womb, for the express purpose of preaching Christ to the Gentiles (1:15-16). God revealed His Son in Paul, not just “to” him (1:16). Specifically, Paul’s conversion was one which took place “within” him through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit who brings the dead to life (cf. John 3:8; Eph. 2:5; Titus 3:5). You will remember that in Paul’s recorded encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus Paul was directly addressed by the risen Lord; however, though Paul’s companions heard the sound, they did not understand Christ’s voice (Acts 22:9). Paul’s conversion resulted from a direct confrontation with the risen Son of God.

To be sure, there was human instrumentality. It was through Ananias that the way of salvation was made known to Paul, along with his calling as God’s instrument to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 9:10-18). Paul spent several days with the saints at Damascus (Acts 9:19). Apart from these minimal involvements with human instruments, Paul’s conversion and spiritual growth was primarily the result of direct divine encounter. Paul claims that he did not immediately confer with men in general, nor with the apostles in Jerusalem, but instead he grew largely in solitude (1:16b-17).33 During the critical, early formative years of Paul’s life as a Christian, he had few men about him to corrupt the gospel. Paul’s salvation and the gospel he was being taught were remarkably free from human contamination.

Paul’s First Visit to Jerusalem

18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 But 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. 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; 23 but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they were glorifying God because of me.

It was not until three years after his conversion that Paul finally went to Jerusalem.34 This chronological fact easily meshes with Luke’s abbreviated account in the book of Acts.35 In Acts 9 we are told that Paul was converted in Damascus (vv. 8-19a), where he spent several days with the believers (v. 19b). We are told that he boldly preached Christ (v. 20), and that after “many days had elapsed,” Paul left Damascus because of a death plot (v. 23) and went up to Jerusalem (v. 26). As a result of a plot to kill Paul in Jerusalem, he was sent to Caesarea and then on to Tarsus, his home town36 (vv. 29-30). Thus we can account for a period of three years from the time Paul was first saved in Damascus to the time he fled “after many days” to Jerusalem, only to flee again after a very brief stay.

Even three years after his conversion, Paul did not seek to formulate his gospel on the basis of apostolic approval. Paul tells us in verse 18 that he went up to Jerusalem “to become acquainted with Cephas.” This expression does not suggest a desire to have his message given the “apostolic seal of approval.” Instead, it conveys Paul’s desire to know Peter better. What a wealth of information Peter could supply about the life of our Lord—matters about which Paul would have intense interest, just as you and I do. The visit with Peter lasted for fifteen days (v. 18). In addition to Peter, only James,37 the brother of our Lord, was seen by Paul.

The gospel which Paul preached had very little human input, especially from those who were regarded to be significant—the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. Paul was known more by reputation than by appearance to Christian leaders in Jerusalem. While he was an enemy of the church and trying to destroy it, no one wanted to see him. Once he became a believer, few were able to see him. Nevertheless, the saints in Jerusalem rejoiced at the report that Paul, who had once persecuted the church, now proclaimed the gospel himself (Gal. 1:22-24).

The Implications of Paul’s Conversion Experience

Before we go on to chapter 2, let us pause to contemplate the impact of what Paul has just written concerning his conversion. I believe that his conversion experience contains a strong argument against the teaching of the Judaizers. There are two major implications which establish Paul’s apostolic authority and demonstrate the superiority of his gospel to that “different gospel” which some were preaching.

(1) If any religious system promoted man-pleasing it was Judaism, not Paul’s gospel. Judaism had become a tradition-bound religion. Before his conversion and while a Pharisee, Paul was zealous for his “ancestral traditions” (1:14). Paul’s zeal and success were fueled by the nature of Judaism, which placed an excessive emphasis on appearances and external criteria for commitment. Paul’s diligence was based upon a desire to win the approval of his peers. Judaism did not seek to prevent man-pleasing; it promoted it. Let those who insinuated that Paul had changed from a God-pleaser to a man-pleaser give more careful thought to the nature of Judaism. Judaism focused attention on man’s self-righteousness as judged by other men; the gospel focuses attention on God’s righteousness as given to men apart from works. The true saint has reason only to boast in Christ.

(2) Judaism failed to produce the righteousness which it promised. Notice the contrast between Paul’s conduct as a zealous Pharisee and his conduct as a Christian. In verses 13 and 14 Paul claimed to be at “the head of the pack” concerning his zeal and performance as a Pharisee. With this his opponents would have agreed. Their complaint was that Paul had changed—for the worse. The facts reveal just the reverse. It was as a zealous, but unbelieving Jew that Paul was a persecutor and destroyer of the church. Apparently the Judaizers measured righteousness by the number of Christians one had killed or imprisoned. However, in verses 23 and 24 the Christians of Jerusalem were able to praise God that the one who had once persecuted Christians now preached Christ.

I believe that we have seen a modern-day example of this same kind of marvelous change which occurred in Paul in the conversion of Charles Colson. Here was as tough a man as could be found. He was aptly suited to the task and the title of “hatchet man” for the Nixon administration. Yet, when he was born again, this once cruel and insensitive tyrant was transformed into a man who could not sleep at night out of concern for his brothers who remained in prison. Ten years after his release from prison he is now more involved than ever in ministering to this forsaken segment of society. The gospel has the power to radically transform even the most cruel of men.

Now stop and think about the implication of Paul’s conversion for a moment. The error of the Judaizers seemed to originate from the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem (cf. Acts 15:1, 5). Paul was able to write that the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem, while they did not know Paul personally, were able to praise God because of his conversion from a persecutor to a preacher. Yet it was some of these same Christians who would foolishly teach that adding the traditions of Judaism to the requirement of faith was beneficial to the promotion of godliness.

In what way had Judaism promoted purity and piety in the life of the apostle? The more diligent (and praised) he was, the greater became his persecution of the church. Judaism contributed nothing to godliness in the life of Paul. It produced the very opposite. It was the power of the gospel which transformed Paul from a persecutor to a preacher. How, then, could the Judaizers possibly contend that the gospel was not sufficient to save and to sanctify the sinner? How could they conceivably believe that adding Judaism to the gospel would in any way contribute to godliness? Paul’s conversion proved the opposite. What Judaism could never accomplish, the gospel did.

Paul’s Second Journey to Jerusalem

1 Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2 And 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. 3 But not even Titus who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4 But it was because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. 5 But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. 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. 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, that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.

It was not until fourteen years later38 that Paul returned to Jerusalem again. There are different opinions as to which account in Acts parallels this occasion, but in my estimation the text points to the journey of Barnabas and Paul from Antioch, bearing the contribution of that church to the poor in Judea (Acts 11:27-30). Several factors suggest this conclusion. First, both the accounts of Luke (Acts 11:27-30) and Paul (Gal. 2:1ff.) present this journey to Jerusalem as Paul’s second visit. Second, both Paul and Barnabas are said to have made the journey together (Acts 11:30; Gal. 2:1).39 Third, Paul said that the reason for his visit was “because of a revelation” (Gal. 2:2). It was the revelation of a famine through the prophet Agabus (Acts 11:27-28) which provided the occasion for the visit of Barnabas and Paul. This would have afforded Paul an excellent opportunity for a private meeting with Peter, James, and John. Fourth, Peter, James, and John urged Paul and Barnabas to “continue to remember the poor”40 (2:10, NIV), which strongly implies that the occasion for this visit was the presentation of the gift from Antioch to the leaders (“elders”) of the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:30).

Paul’s purpose in seeking a private interview with the apostles41 is explained in verses 2 and 3. At first glance, one would suppose that Paul sought apostolic approval of the gospel he preached, but this can hardly be so. Let me enumerate some of the reasons for the conclusion that Paul was not submitting his gospel for approval. First, the context militates against it. Since Paul is trying to establish the fact that his gospel was obtained independently from men, to say he was seeking the approval of the apostles would be contradictory. If Paul had received his message directly from the Lord, why would he feel compelled to seek the approval of men, even of the apostles? In verse 6, Paul makes a point of saying that the apostles “contributed nothing to him.” This was not intended to disparage the role of the apostles, but to emphasize the independence of Paul’s gospel while in full agreement with the gospel which the apostles preached. Second, Paul would hardly have waited 14 years to gain such approval. Paul had been preaching for 14 years without any approval. If he had serious doubts (as the need to seek apostolic approval would suggest), why would he have waited so long to approach the apostles? Why would he not have obtained approval on his first visit, for example?

Third, the Greek word rendered “submitted to them” in verse 2 does not suggest an act seeking official approval. In the ancient Greek papyri, it had the sense of “… ‘impart,’ ‘communicate,’ with a view to consultation.”42 This term is found elsewhere only in Acts 25:14, where “Festus laid Paul’s case before the king [Agrippa].” In the context, it is evident that Agrippa was not asked to decide this matter, nor to approve the decision of Festus, but rather was consulted for an opinion which was not binding. In fact, Agrippa did not really make a pronouncement, other than to agree with what Festus had concluded. So, also, in Galatians 2:2. Paul was not nervously seeking the sanction of the apostles, but was consulting with them.

What, then, was Paul’s purpose for this private meeting? It is my understanding that Paul happened to be in Jerusalem and in contact with Peter, James, and John in connection with the collection he and Barnabas were conveying to the elders of the church. It was an appropriate moment for Paul to speak privately so as to avoid any unnecessary misunderstanding between himself and the leaders of the Jerusalem church, especially in light of growing opposition from the Judaizers, who claimed to be supported by the apostles.

Paul did not say that he feared his message might be in error, but rather that “he might be running, or had run, in vain” (2:2). Paul’s fear was that, because of a misunderstanding of his message, there might be an unnecessary rift between himself and the other apostles who were in Jerusalem. To “run in vain” is to run in such a way as to fail to achieve the goal. Any rift between Paul and the apostles could mean division and strife between those Jews and Gentiles who had been saved and brought into unity through the gospel (cf. Eph. 2:11-22). This would only hinder the proclamation of the gospel. Paul approached the apostles privately in order to prevent any misunderstandings which would hinder the gospel in its proclamation or practice.

During his second visit to Jerusalem Paul and Barnabas received a mixed response to their presence. The first response was that of the Judaizers concerning Titus, who was an uncircumcised Greek Christian (vv. 3-5). The second response was that of the principal leaders, James, Peter, and John, who recognized God’s hand upon Paul as an apostle to the Gentiles and who gave Paul and Barnabas the “right hand of fellowship” (vv. 6-10). The contrast in these two responses to Paul provide yet another argument in favor of Paul’s apostolic authority, and thus, for the gospel which he preached.

When Paul and Barnabas arrived with Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile (2:3), the Judaizers immediately began to demand that he be circumcised (2:4). Paul referred to these men as “false brethren,” which raises a question concerning their salvation. Their aim, Paul wrote, was to replace the liberty of the grace of the gospel with the slavery of righteousness by self-effort (2:4). Paul refused to surrender to such pressure, and we have no indication that the apostles pressured Paul to capitulate by having Titus circumcised.43 To have given in to the Judaizers would have been to surrender to those who had perverted the gospel (2:5).

We are not taken by surprise that Paul would refuse to have Titus circumcised, for he would have viewed this as a surrender to those who had directly attacked the truth of the gospel (cf. 2:5). I believe the point Paul is stressing here is that even under strong pressure to compel Titus to be circumcised, the apostles did not insist upon his circumcision as a matter of necessity. What the Judaizers demanded, the apostles did not. Paul and Barnabas thus were in accord with the apostles in withstanding the Judaizers.

While the Judaizers accused and accosted Paul and Barnabas, the apostles accepted them (vv. 6-10). In verses 3-5 the apostles in Jerusalem supported the decision of Paul and Barnabas not to have Titus circumcised (a specific issue). Furthermore, in verses 6-10 the apostles went on to indicate their recognition of God’s hand and calling of Paul and Barnabas in their ministry of proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles. Contrary to the Judaizers (cf. “But on the contrary,” 2:7), the apostles could see that Paul had been divinely commissioned to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter’s calling was to the Jews (2:7-8). The evidence of the apostles’ acceptance of God’s will and work through Paul was the granting of “the right hand of fellowship.” The giving of the right hand was not a sign of approval so much as a gesture of unity and fellowship. The apostles perceived the content of Paul’s preaching to be the same as that which God had given to them, differing only in the audience to whom Christ was proclaimed.

Verse 10 provides us with further confirmation of the independent relationship which existed between Paul and the other apostles in Jerusalem. When they gave Paul and Barnabas the “right hand of fellowship” they made only one request: Paul and Barnabas should continue caring for the poor. First, the Jerusalem apostles found no need to correct any error or weakness on the part of Paul. This is in sharp contrast with the Judaizers, who strongly differed with him and would have gladly used any authority they possessed to force Paul to change significantly (actually they had no authority, which is evident in this passage). Second, the “request” of James, Peter, and John is just that, a request, and not a command. They did not act as Paul’s superiors by giving him instructions, but evidenced their equality (as they did by giving him the “right hand of fellowship”) by making a request. Third, their request was not that something new be initiated (caring for the poor), but that what they had already begun (which was the occasion for this visit of Paul and Barnabas) might continue.

Paul’s account of his second journey dealt a devastating blow to the Judaizers, who were preaching a “different gospel” and who had, by insinuation or accusation, attacked both Paul’s preaching and his position as an apostle. These Judaizers, like those in Acts 15:1,5 (cf. also v. 24), were from Jerusalem. Their only authority was derived from their association with Jerusalem and the apostles. When they attacked Paul, they had to do so on the pretext that Paul’s gospel was not the same as that of the apostles. They implied that the apostles in Jerusalem were fully in support of their insistence that Gentile converts must be circumcised and keep the traditions of Judaism. Thus, the Judaizers deceitfully aligned themselves with the apostles and against Paul.

The facts which Paul has shared about his second journey to Jerusalem reveal several important truths, all of which buttress his apostolic authority and refute the claims and charges of the Judaizers. Allow me to outline the ground that Paul has gained in Galatians 2:1-10.

(1) Paul was certainly not a man-pleaser. The charge behind Galatians 1:10 is that Paul had modified his message in order to please men. Those whom he most wished to please supposedly were the other apostles. The facts reveal that Paul was seldom in Jerusalem and that when he did go there he did not seek the approval of the apostles, but rather sought the advancement of the gospel. The expression “those who were of reputation” (2:2, 6; cf. v. 9) is not meant to show any disrespect for the apostles, but rather to reveal that Paul had no undue sense of awe, since he also was an apostle. This is hardly the mentality of a man-pleaser.

(2) Paul was in full agreement with the apostles in Jerusalem, and had their full support. The alleged differences between Paul and the apostles in Jerusalem, which the Judaizers continually stressed, simply did not exist. The apostles in Jerusalem found no necessity of correcting anything in Paul’s preaching (vv. 6-10) or in his practice (vv.3-5). All they could do was to extend the “right hand of fellowship” and exhort him to “keep up the good work” (vv. 9-10).

(3) Paul and the apostles in Jerusalem were in agreement in opposing the Judaizers. The deception which the Judaizers continually sought to promote was that they and the Jerusalem leaders were in accord in preaching a gospel of faith and law-keeping. The events surrounding the demand that Titus be circumcised proved otherwise. Not only did Paul and Barnabas refuse to submit to this heresy, but the apostles concurred with them. Titus was not compelled to be circumcised, because the Judaizers were wrong (2:3).

(4) The Jerusalem apostles recognized that unity was a matter of truth, not of tradition. The adamant demand of the Judaizers that Titus be circumcised contrasted with the open acceptance of Paul and Barnabas by the apostles. The Judaizers dealt with Paul and Barnabas (and Titus) in light of their traditions. The apostles dealt with them on the basis of the truth of the gospel. Granted, Paul had not been “one of their own,” in the sense of being one of the original number or of being taught by any of the original disciples of our Lord. Nevertheless, the gospel which Paul believed for salvation and which he preached to the Gentiles was the same gospel which they had been given by the Lord. Thus, both Paul and the apostles could claim to have received the gospel directly by the Lord.

It has always been difficult for Christians to fully accept others as Christians who have not come out of their own tradition. Calvinists suspect Arminians, and vice-versa. The assumption is that we can be sure of one’s salvation and ministry if we have had a part in it. The apostles were much bigger men. They recognized that it is God who seeks out men and saves them. Thus, they are willing to accept others whom God has brought to Himself independent of them. While the narrowness of the Judaizers caused them to insist that Paul conform to their traditions before they could accept him, the broadmindedness of the apostles enabled them to accept Paul, even though he was different from them. Their common ground, in which they had unity, was the gospel. Though they had a different calling, they all had the same Christ. That was enough.

A number of years ago, my wife and I were visiting friends and family in a distant place, and we decided to attend church with a congregation that we thought was similar to our own beliefs and practices. When we arrived at the church we were greeted, but not with the friendliness we had expected. Instead, there was a kind of guardedness, as though they thought we might corrupt them. They asked if we had a “letter of commendation” from our church in Dallas. Of course, we had not expected to need such a letter, and so we had not obtained one. As a result, we were told to sit off in a corner by ourselves and were not allowed to partake of the Lord’s Table with them. This kind of narrowness, in my opinion, is inconsistent with the gospel of our Lord. Why could we not be accepted on the basis of our own testimony. Why was a letter from our home congregation necessary for us to be accepted as true believers? It would seem that their traditions had become more important than the truth of the gospel.

We all have a tendency to accept those who have come from the same tradition as ourselves much more readily than those who are from another tradition. Let us be content to accept men and women on the basis of the gospel which they profess and preach, rather than on the basis of the denomination or tradition from which they have come.


Our passage has proven to be a devastating blow to the Judaizers. Paul has shown that he was a man-pleaser while a top level Pharisee, rather than as a Christian (1:13-24). He further contrasts the results of his religious (Judaistic) zeal with the results of his faith in Christ (compare 1:13, 23). If legalism and Judaism were such a boon to righteousness, why was Paul a persecutor and a destroyer of Christ’s church as a front-running candidate for “Pharisee of the Year,” and a preacher of the cross of Christ after forsaking Judaism? Adding law to grace did not contribute to righteousness, but rather counterfeited it. Paul was surely no man-pleaser in his relationship to the apostles in Jerusalem, and yet they unreservedly accepted him and his ministry as equal with theirs (2:1-10). The accusations of Paul’s critics simply have not stood the test of inquiry.

The theme of man-pleasing underlies all of chapters 1 and 2. I will delay addressing this primary theme until after finishing our exposition of chapter 2 in the next lesson. However, I do wish to underscore the power of the gospel to save and to sanctify. If Paul’s gospel was inadequate without the addition of law-keeping, as the Judaizers contended, what did it lack? As far as Paul’s personal testimony was concerned, Judaism contributed only to Paul’s self-righteousness and sin, while the gospel saved him from both.

Just as the power of the gospel was sufficient to save and to sanctify one who was so sinful as to persecute the church of our Lord Jesus Christ in the name of religion, it is also sufficient to save and to sanctify you. Your sin might be as deceptive as Paul’s—garbed in the clothing of religion. On the other hand, it may be more openly manifested in various forms of depravity. Whatever your situation, the gospel of Jesus Christ is sufficient to save and to sanctify you. It is through trusting only in the shed blood of Jesus Christ on your behalf that you can find the forgiveness of your sins. While Paul’s conversion may have been more spectacular than yours might be, your salvation will be no less miraculous. Just as Paul needed to forsake his religion and to trust personally in the Lord Jesus, so you must encounter Him in a personal way, trusting only in Him. Such salvation is the promise of the gospel of God’s grace. May you turn to it and to the One of whom it speaks if you have not yet experienced the life-transforming gift of salvation. If you have already believed, may nothing or no one turn you from this gospel. Its power is sufficient to deliver you from the power and the penalty of sin.

31 It should also be said that liberalism tends to err in the opposite direction. While the fundamentalist (conservative) tends to suspect anything free or easy, the liberal immediately bristles at the mention of anything certain, absolute, or authoritative. The liberal is seldom more inconsistent with his own philosophy than when he is forced to deal with a conservative.

32 We must be very careful to distinguish the true religion of the Old Testament saint, which was based upon the Old Testament revelation, from the distorted version of Judaism which was rigorously defended by the Pharisees and which was condemned by our Lord. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, Jesus referred to Judaism by the expression “you have heard it said,” and to true religion as “but I say to you.” A correct view of the old covenant was that it was preparatory and inferior to that of the new covenant. The Judaism which Jesus and Paul resisted (which Paul called “a different gospel” in Gal. 1:6) was perverted, and thus considered by the Judaizers to be preferable to the new covenant, as defined in Paul’s gospel.

33 Numerous biblical commentators point out that “Arabia” in verse 17 is more than likely a reference to the desolate, desert area surrounding Damascus, rather than the more distant “Arabia” which we know today.

34 It is commonly said that Paul spent “three years in the Arabian desert,” based upon the statement in Galatians 1:18. In reality, we do not know how long Paul spent in Arabia, but only that it was three years after his conversion that he went to Jerusalem. Paul was saved in Damascus, where he spent a few days with the disciples. For a time, Paul went into seclusion in Arabia, and then returned to Damascus, where “after many days” he fled from the city and eventually arrived in Jerusalem. We simply do not know what part of that three year period was spent in Arabia, but it seems somewhat less than three years, since “many days” were spent in Damascus.

35 Paul’s account of his first visit to Jerusalem does not conflict with that of Luke in Acts 9:26-30. Luke tells us that Paul fled to Jerusalem from Damascus, attempted to associate with the “disciples” there (Acts 9:26), and was shunned until Barnabas took him to the “apostles” (9:27), after which he was free to come and go with them among the believers (9:28). Paul informs us that it was only Peter and James who were present and with whom he met and then ministered. The brevity of this visit is not inconsistent with Luke’s report, which tells of a death plot and another escape. Both accounts then describe a journey to Cilicia, where Tarsus was located (compare Acts 9:30 and Galatians 1:21).

36 We know that Tarsus was Paul’s home town, certainly the place of his birth, and perhaps the place of his upbringing. However, since Paul was educated in Jerusalem under Gamaliel (cf. Acts 22:3), and may have claimed to have seen our Lord in the flesh prior to his conversion (2 Cor. 5:16), we believe that Paul spent a number of years in Jerusalem while he was growing up.

37 I believe that the mention of James is significant for he, like Paul, was not one of the original apostles. We know from the account of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 that James had become perhaps the most prominent leader of the Jerusalem churches. However, he was not an apostle since he did not meet all the qualifications for an apostle as set down by the eleven and recorded in Acts 1:21-22.

38 There is some question as to whether this “fourteen years” is to be reckoned from the time of Paul’s conversion, or from the time of his first visit to Jerusalem, described in Galatians 1:18-20. The outcome has little bearing on the thrust of Paul’s message here.

39 Since Titus is never named in Acts, his mention in Galatians does not conflict with Luke’s account. Luke simply chose not to name him.

40 A. T. Robertson indicates that the form here (present active subjunctive) calls for the rendering “that we should keep on remembering.” Unfortunately the translators of the NASB did not reflect this nuance by their rendering. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), IV, p. 286.

41 Paul has an unusual way of referring to the apostles in chapter 2. He speaks of them as “those who were of reputation” (v. 2, 6). I believe that his purpose is to underscore his purity of motive in not seeking after the praise and approval of men. Who, more than the apostles, “those who were highly regarded,” would Paul wish to please?

42 James Hope Moulton and George Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, [reprint] 1972), p. 38.

43 There were considerable differences with respect to the circumstances surrounding Timothy’s circumcision as recorded in Acts 16:1-3. Timothy’s mother was a Jew and his father a Greek (16:1). In Timothy’s case circumcision was for the purpose of giving him a better hearing among the Jews. The circumcision was a cultural concession and not a compromise of the gospel. In the case of Titus, Paul would not concede, for these “false brethren” insisted that one could not be saved apart from circumcision (cf. Acts 15:1).

It should also be said that considerable disagreement exists concerning precisely what happened in regard to Titus. Some think that he actually was circumcised. Some feel that the apostles were pressuring Paul to have Titus circumcised. I do not feel that these conjectures fit the text or the context.

Related Topics: Theology, Spiritual Life, Apologetics

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