Galatians 2:1–4, 6–14 comment (0)
October 31, 2013
By James Riley Strange
Related Scripture: Galatians 2:1–4, 6–14
Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor of Religion, Samford University
Stand Your Ground
Galatians 2:1–4, 6–14
The famous passage from Galatians might be Paul’s take on what Luke narrates in Acts 15:1–29. The problem is, it is devilishly difficult to work out the differences in the two accounts. Consequently some wonder whether Paul and Luke are talking about the same event at all, or whether Luke softens the dispute between Paul and Peter (and possibly James) because he wants to present a harmonious young church, or whether Paul accentuates it to underscore his own authority. Some combination of the two is also possible. Readers can work out differences for themselves or find them in commentaries or online.
What the two accounts share is the fact that when Gentiles started to respond to the proclamation about Jesus, many of them did not also live according to Torah (see Acts 10:44–11:18; 15:1; Gal. 3:1–5; 4:21; 5:2), and that caused a seismic crisis in the brand-new church. This is not surprising: logically, if one turns to Israel’s God he or she becomes a member of the people of the Covenant, an Israelite who keeps God’s Torah. What can it mean, therefore, that Gentiles who turn to God do not take up Torah?
There were already Gentiles who worshipped God without becoming full converts to Judaism. Many so-called “God-fearers” prayed in the synagogues and kept kosher. Cornelius was one of them (we don’t know if he kept kosher; Luke mentions only that he prayed and gave to the poor), and Acts presents the crisis that begins in Jerusalem when the gift of the Holy Spirit comes to his household. Start reading at 10:1 to get the full story.
It is not clear from what event we should count these 14 years: Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18) or his encounter with God’s living Son (1:15–16).
Acts does not mention Titus (Acts 15:2), but his presence is important to Paul who apparently takes him as a test: will the church leaders in Jerusalem accept an uncircumcised Gentile as a fellow believer? They do.
Who these “false brothers” are, who brings them in secretly and for what purpose Paul never says. Apparently they were supposed to convince Paul that he was proclaiming an incomplete or inferior gospel. It did not work.
At the same time that he speaks in a non-deferential manner about the Jerusalem leaders, Paul wants his readers to know that they gave their blessing to his mission.
Paul names some of these leaders: Cephas (Aramaic for “rock” [side note: this is the same name as Caiaphas the high priest]; “Peter” comes from the Greek translation of this name), John son of Zebedee and James the brother of Jesus. Paul “remembers the poor” of Jerusalem by taking up a collection (see Rom. 15:25–27; 1 Cor. 16:1–4; 2 Cor. 8:1–9:15).
Luke does not record this confrontation. In fact in Acts, Peter convinces Jewish believers that it is OK to abandon kosher rules (see Acts 11:1–18).
Why does Paul write so forcefully here and throughout Galatians, and why does he oppose Peter to his face? We can guess why based on clues in the text. Apparently some people have questioned his authority. More importantly, however, is this: although it is hard to tell exactly who they are and what they are saying, Paul is convinced that their preaching contradicts the good news that he has proclaimed. The issue is not whether people should keep kosher or circumcise males. Paul himself will remain true to Torah. Paul wants people to know that Christ’s faithful obedience to God — His death on the cross — is what makes people righteous. So Paul stands his ground.