For the Love of God, Volume 1/September 26
From Gospel Translations
2 Samuel 22; Galatians 2; Ezekiel 29; Psalm 78:1-39
SOME COMMENTATORS UNDERSTAND Paul in Galatians 2:1ff. to be saying that after some years he returned to Jerusalem to set before the Jerusalem apostles and other leaders the Gospel he had been preaching among the Gentiles, because he wanted to have himself checked out. He did this privately, of course; yet the fact of the matter is that Paul was afraid he was running or had run his race in vain (2:2). This proves that Paul was not as secure in his own mind as he pretends to be in the previous chapter. There is a sense in which he was a derivative apostle.
This reading will not stand up. What Paul means is something quite different. The Galatians have been invaded by agitators from the outside, men who have presented themselves as being authorized by Jerusalem, as somehow supported by the “regular” apostles. The book of Acts supplies evidence that Paul was sometimes dogged by such people. So he goes to Jerusalem, not to have his gospel validated or recast (at this point, Paul is not going to change his mind or direction), but to ensure there are no misrepresentations among the Jerusalem leaders as to what he is preaching, and to encourage those leaders to disassociate themselves entirely from the “false brothers” who are unfairly appealing to Jerusalem to damage Paul and his ministry among the Gentiles. In short, Paul takes steps to ensure that he is not running his race in vain; these agitators are trying to undo his work. He wants to take all proper steps to undermine their pretensions and destroy their influence. Acts 15 shows that that is precisely what the Jerusalem Council achieved. Indeed, Galatians 2:11-14 suggests that Paul achieved gospel consistency more quickly than some of the other apostles. Far from submitting to their judgment on the content of what he was preaching, he was prepared to administer his own rebukes if he saw them behaving inconsistently.
Although there are many piercingly important theological issues that emerge from these confrontations, at this juncture we may fasten on a practical one. While the Gospel is something worth contending for, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about this business. When Peter’s inconsistency is public and doing public damage, Paul’s rebuke is public (2:11-21). When Paul is trying to clear the air, find out what is going on, and present the tenor of his own work, he approaches the others “privately” (2:2). His concern, after all, is the advance of the undiluted Gospel, not his own public vindication. When we find ourselves in the place where we must tenaciously contend for the Gospel, we must think through how to do so most winsomely and strategically.