“Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. As for those who seemed to be important – whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance – those men added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” Galatians 2:1-10
Paul’s travel companions to Jerusalem were Barnabas and Titus. We are first introduced to Barnabas in the Acts of the Apostles. He was called Barnabas, a nickname the apostles gave him, because he was an encourager of others. His given name was Joseph. Barnabas was a Jew from Cyprus from the lineage of Levi. In scripture, we learn that Barnabas was a part of the early church in Jerusalem. He sold land that he owned in order to contribute to the needs of others (Acts 4:36,37). He was one of the first to welcome Paul into the faith. When Paul came to Jerusalem following his conversion on the Damascus road, Paul was rejected by the disciples because of his past actions. Barnabas went to his aid and took him before the apostles. He spoke on Paul’s behalf. Barnabas’s courageous actions reassured and led others to accept Paul within their community (Acts 9:26-28). Barnabas later was sent by the Jerusalem church to the church at Antioch to discover if the reports of their thriving faith were true and to encourage the believers there. Barnabas went to Tarsus to retrieve Paul and they returned to Antioch together. They served in ministry there for a year. Barnabas and Paul were later commissioned and sent off to share the message of Jesus (Acts 11:19-30; 13-15). However, some time later, these two men part ways and serve God in different areas. Scripture describes Barnabas in this manner.
“He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” Acts 11:24
We are also introduced to Titus, one of Paul’s converts (Titus 1:4), who will become one of his frequent companions. Scholars believe that Titus worked with Paul at Ephesus during his third missionary journey. From there, Paul sent Titus to work in Corinth ( 2 Corinthians 2:12,13; 7:5,6; 8:6). Today’s passage informs us that Titus was Greek and uncircumcised. He had also most likely converted from paganism. An interesting point to consider is why he accompanied Paul to Jerusalem. Was Titus a literal example of the importance of Paul’s message to the Gentiles? Was he used as a test subject to refute the necessity of circumcision as a means to prove true belief? Was Paul pushing the boundaries to elicit a response from the Jewish Christians by bringing a Greek converted pagan into their midst? These questions deserve our pondering in order to place ourselves within the context of this historical account.
Paul told the Galatians that he sought an audience privately with the leaders of the Jerusalem church. Perhaps this meeting was requested in light of the information given by Agabus concerning a famine to come ( for more see Acts 11:27-30). Paul did not seek their guidance about Jewish Christians refraining from the Mosaic law. Paul sought their guidance, wisdom, and understanding about another matter: The issue of “what Gentiles must or must not do to be considered full-fledged Christians by everyone.” He sought their response because of the intruders bringing controversy. Paul also found himself roadblocked in ministry as well. “Paul finds himself in a role socially inferior to the Jerusalem leaders in the social network of the church. This position he finds awkward at least because he feels he was commissioned and given a message by Christ, and so is not beholden to the Jerusalem church for his authority or ministry or message.” False brothers had infiltrated their ranks and their ability to sway and manipulate the mindset of others could impact Paul’s status negatively in the eyes of his converts and those in leadership within the Jerusalem church. These men were possibly behind Titus refraining from being compelled to becoming circumcised. The language used in these verses of these false men infiltrating and spying is “military language which [was] later used in political rhetoric as here.” The question we should ponder is who smuggled them in? When and where were they smuggled in? We see a very human response in Paul to the destructive work of these men. Paul felt strongly that he had been called to the Gentiles and that the message of grace meant freedom from the burdens of the Law including circumcision. Paul told the Galatians that the actions of these men would not pressure them “to give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with [them]”.
What is behind Paul’s motivation for sharing this story with the church of Galatia? What point does he want them to see? The question raised is“whether the ‘false brothers’ and the agitators in Galatia are one and the same. Even if they are not, Paul sees the modus operandi and the goals of the two groups as the same – they will attempt to impose the Mosaic Law upon his Gentile converts or else say that Gentiles cannot have fellowship (in particular table fellowship) with Jewish Christians. In short they want a church that is either united in the strict observance of the Mosaic Law, and so a church that is seen as part of Judaism, or else two churches. To neither of these options will Paul accede.” Paul wanted them to see how to resist false teaching, how to remain steadfast, and how to live the Christian life according to what they had been taught. He also wanted them to experience the freedom made available to them through the message of grace that they had received.
Paul wrote that the approval of the pillars of the church, James, Peter, and John, did not matter to him. What mattered was God’s approval. But within these verses, Paul reiterates the fact that he was given support and approval of his ministry and work among them as well as “the work of grace done in [his ]life and … his apostolic status….” We should bear in mind that this society was an honor/shame culture. This societal mode of operation has great bearing on all interactions in scripture. He also subtly indicates that he has equal standing with Peter not unequal status, a very significant point in an honor/shame society to mention. Paul knew that Peter was called to the Jews as he was called to the ministry of the Gentiles. Each would still minister to the other people groups they were not called to but their primary mission would always be to the group to which they were called.
Paul was eager to help and support the poor in Jerusalem. By the wording and context, the poor in this instance would have been those in need in the Jerusalem church. “Their condition seems to have been caused perhaps in part by the combination of famine, food shortage, and sabbatical year that affected the area in the late 40s A.D., 46-48 in particular. The food shortage had apparently overtaxed the system of food distribution in the Jerusalem church … that may have still been in place at this time. In view of Acts 4.35-36 one would assume that Barnabas would be very ready to agree to this sort of request, as was Paul…. It will be remembered that Acts 2.44-45 and 4.32-34 speaks of the Jerusalem church as sharing all things in common, such that there were no needy ones among them. Could it be that the right hand of fellowship refers to an agreement to participate in the economic sharing in common that already existed in Jerusalem?” Irregardless, the right hand of fellowship extended to Paul and Barnabas showed blessing, approval, and acceptance of them among the main church and their ministry.