We last saw Paul on the boat out of Caesarea, heading for Tarsus, and home. His point is made. His apostleship was not a human appointment, and his gospel did not come from human teachers. Rather, he had been called by God, he had been appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and he had been given his gospel by heaven itself. Most of the time after his conversion had been spent in Damascus and Arabia, well away from Jerusalem. A mere fifteen days had been spent in Jerusalem, in the company of Peter.

But Paul is not yet done with his argument. Having established his independence of the apostles, he will now demonstrate that the “pillars” in Jerusalem – Peter, John and James – accepted his divinely ordained mission to the Gentiles, agreed with the content of his gospel, and endorsed his activities. Furthermore, he had confronted the very issue raised by the Judaisers – circumcision – in their very heartland – the Jerusalem ecclesia itself – and won the debate!

iv. Paul in distant parts: Syria and Cilicia (1:21–24)

21 Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria  and Cilicia; 22 And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: 23 But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.  24 And they glorified God in me.

1:21–24. In Cilicia, a long way from the thriving hub of Christianity in Jerusalem, Saul dropped out of sight for some years. News filtered back to Judea –“they kept hearing” (nasb) – that their great persecutor was now enthusiastically “proclaiming the good news” (net; Gk. euaggelizomai) in those parts, and they praised God for His extraordinary providence in Paul’s life. “Then had the ecclesias rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, were multiplied” (Acts 9:31).

Elsewhere in the Christian community great things were afoot. Scattered far and wide by Saul’s persecution, “men of Cyprus and Cyrene” had arrived in Antioch (Acts 11:20), at that time one of the largest cities in the world, with a multi-cultural population of half a million people, and one of the largest Jewish communities in the world outside Palestine, rivalling Alexandria. Not long after Peter had shared the good news with Cornelius and his household, these men shared the same good news with the Greeks of Antioch. They flocked to Christ in large numbers. The ecclesia grew rapidly. Jerusalem heard the news. Barnabas, who was from Cyprus and perhaps related to some of the preachers, was sent north to investigate. He was delighted with what he saw: “When he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord” (11:22–24).

Excited by Antioch’s potential, Barnabas stayed on to minister to the growing number of brothers and sisters in that place. But he knew that he needed help; and he thought at once of the man he had taken under his wing in Jerusalem. Saul’s unique combination of intellectual brilliance, profound Scriptural knowledge, insights into Greek philosophy and culture, passion for preaching, and openness to the Gentile mission, was the perfect mix for Antioch’s challenges and opportunities. So Barnabas took the 240 km journey from Antioch to Tarsus in search of Saul. Saul was not easy to find, perhaps because he was not in Tarsus, but somewhere in the backblocks of Cilicia, but Barnabas kept looking until he found him (11:25–26). He persuaded Saul to return to Antioch with him, where they ministered together, “and taught much people.” The profile of the ecclesia lifted enormously, and the famously witty Antiochenes shaped a new name for them: “The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.”

Paul’s gospel accepted in Jerusalem (2:1–10)

i. Paul directed to Jerusalem by revelation  (2:1–2) 

1 Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. 2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.

Paul does not describe these events, however.  His purpose is to defend his apostleship and his  gospel. He focuses on providing a complete narrative  of his contact with the apostles, and therefore  he passes over them to speak about his next visit  to Jerusalem.

Scholars have d

ebated the timing of this visit. Some have identified it with the visit of Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem for the conference that accepted Paul’s case for imposing minimal requirements on Gentile brothers and sisters, a year or two after their first missionary journey to Galatia (15:1–6, ca. 49 ad). Among Christadelphian commentators, Brother Roberts held this view.

The chief difficulty with this identification is that Saul’s famine relief visit is then omitted entirely from his narrative. Such an omission would give Saul’s opponents the perfect opportunity to accuse him of fudging his record to cover up his dependence on the other apostles. That is precisely the reason Paul so strenuously affirmed the truth of his account: “Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not” (Gal 1:20).

Other scholars have identified this visit with Barnabas and Saul’s earlier visit to Jerusalem to deliver famine relief, before their first missionary journey to Galatia (Acts 11:27–30; 12:25, ca. 47 ad).

Among Christadelphian commentators, Brother

that the visit occurred “after fourteen years”. If Paul means, “fourteen years since the visit to Jerusalem referred to in Galatians 1:18–19”, this visit, fourteen years later, would have to have occurred ca. ad 50, in the middle of his second missionary journey. It is much more likely, however, that Paul means, “fourteen years since my conversion” (cf 1:18). Identification of the visit recorded in these verses with the famine relief visit avoids any gaps in Paul’s narrative, and makes much better sense of the history as a whole. Furthermore, the request of the apostles that Saul and Barnabas should “remember the poor” (2:10) is specially meaningful in the context of a visit that had brought funds to Jerusalem for that very purpose. The exposition that follows assumes this identification.

2:1. At this point in Saul’s narrative, therefore, he had been in Antioch for about a year, working busily and fruitfully alongside Barnabas as they ministered to the brothers and sisters in that place. One day prophets arrived from Jerusalem. Agabus, the ‘locust’, as his name means, was among them. While in Antioch he received a momentous prophecy. A great famine was to descend on the Empire. It would hit the large number of poor brothers and sisters in Jerusalem especially hard. The Antioch ecclesia was moved by his prophecy to raise funds for their support. When the collection was completed, Barnabas and Saul were chosen to carry the fund to Jerusalem. With them Saul took Titus, a young Greek man he had personally converted. As we have argued above, it was “fourteen years after” his own conversion.

2:2. Actually, Saul went up to Jerusalem “by revelation”. He does not indicate who received the revelation, or exactly what was communicated. But clearly God had business for Saul in Jerusalem. And as the visit unfolded, God’s purpose in setting it up became clear. In His plan it laid the basis for the next great movement of the Gospel, from the Jewish synagogues to the Greek marketplaces and the Roman palaces. The events of the visit brought to the surface the simmering discontent over the extension of the Gospel to the Gentiles, and exposed those false brethren who were working to bring the disciples back into the Jewish fold, back under the Law of Moses. Titus himself became the test case for Christian liberty. But from the tussle Saul emerged victorious. His interpretation of the Gospel was accepted. His apostolic commission was recognised. The apostles embraced him as an apostle and partner, and agreed to divide the work with him. Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch ready for the Spirit’s call, when it came: “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (13:1–3).

Paul’s detailed account of this visit supplements the bare outline contained in the Acts record (11:27–30; 12:25). The story of the visit plays an important role in the vigorous defence of his apostleship and his gospel, drawing attention both to pre–existing opposition to his work and to apostolic support for his work. Let us have a close look, therefore, at what Paul has to tell us about the visit.

Winning over the disciples in Jerusalem Arriving in Jerusalem, Saul “communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation”. As James later reminded him, he knew “how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law” (21:20). Most of them were sincere brothers and sisters who were simply unready, and perhaps unable, to embrace the true breadth of God’s purpose among the nations. These brothers and sisters met in myriad private houses all over Jerusalem and its nearby towns. Saul would be unable to reach them, to tell the story of his conversion and calling, to explain the strong biblical case for his approach, to answer their questions and allay their concerns. Open, uncontrolled discussion of his plans would cause uproar in the ecclesia, dismay and distress for thousands of brothers and sisters, and, potentially irreconcilable divisions between those open to his approach and those dead against it.

For this reason Saul spoke “privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.” He was concerned about the possibility that all his work should come to nought, and he wanted to ensure that these brethren would not later undermine him and his preaching work, alienate his converts, and frustrate God’s purpose. He wanted them ‘on side’, and he therefore took the diplomatic path.

ii.  Paul refuses to concede to false brethren (2:3–5)

3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: 4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: 5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

2:3. But Saul could not keep his visit out of the public eye, and news quickly spread that Titus, being a Greek, was uncircumcised. This horrified the circumcision party, and they put great pressure on Saul to circumcise him. 2:4. No doubt there were many who simply misunderstood the gospel in its fullness. As they were exposed to further exposition, their understanding grew, and they became strong supporters of Paul’s mission. John Mark is one such example. Others, however, Paul labels “false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.” These had a hidden agenda. They had joined the brotherhood under false pretences. They were really reconnoitring for the Jewish establishment, and their objective was to bring the brotherhood back under the Law, which Paul styles “bondage”.

2:5. The true character of these false brethren became apparent to Saul, and he refused to give an inch. His stubborn refusal to yield to their pressure was not due to any character defect. Rather, it was a policy he consciously adopted “that the truth of the gospel might continue with you”. The pressure to circumcise Titus would have been leveraged into a much larger demand to circumcise all Gentile converts. Indeed, that demand was made (Acts 15:1, 6). In turn, circumcision would have committed those converts to keeping the whole Law: as Paul saw clearly (Gal 5:3), with its “weak and beggarly elements … days, and months, and times, and years” (4:9–10), with its ordinances, “Touch not; taste not; handle not … after the commandments and doctrines of men” (Col 2:20–23). For all that, it could not produce a new creature (6:16). It did not empower those who were circumcised to keep the Law (6:12–13). It was a dangerous diversion from the principle of true righteousness, “faith which worketh by love” (5:6). Paul would not have it, then or later.

The roots of the conflict now involving the Galatians went back several years. It was not thefirst time Paul had confronted the circumcision party. And his policy had never wavered. For the sincere he would make every concession possible, reasonable and unreasonable. Later, writing to the Corinthians, he promised to become a lifelong vegetarian if it would help just one brother into the kingdom. To the false, however, he would adamantly refuse to make any concession. His discriminating approach still has much to teach us.

iii. Paul’s gospel recognised by Jerusalem’s  leaders (2:6–8)

6 But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: 7 But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; 8 (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)

2:6. “Privately,” therefore, “to them which were of reputation,” Saul communicated his gospel. Yet the Galatians should not get the wrong impression. Saul was not overawed by their reputations. They “seemed to be somewhat”; but then, “God accepteth no man’s person.” A man’s reputation among his fellow brothers and sisters counts for nothing with God, who looks on the heart, and judges as He knows. Neither did Saul depend on their approval, or their advice. “In conference” they “added nothing” to Saul. He needed nothing from them. But he did want them to align themselves with God’s will, if he could persuade them to see the Gospel as he saw it. 2:7–8. And that is what happened. They listened to Saul, and they saw that he had a divine mandate to take the Gospel to “the uncircumcision”, to the Gentiles, just as Peter had a divine mandate to take the gospel to Jewry, to “the circumcision”. The same God who had “wrought effectually” in Peter was already working mightily in Saul.

iv.Paul’s commission acknowledged by the apostles (2:9–10)

9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. 10 Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.

2:9. There were “those of reputation”, and there were “those who seemed to be somewhat”, and there were the apostles. Chief among them were James, Cephas (Peter) and John. Which James? Possibly the son of Zebedee, yet to fall prey to Herod’s populism (Acts 12:1–2). These were “pillars”. They, too, perceived the validity of the commission that the Lord had graciously given to Saul. In a solemn ceremony they shook hands with Saul and Barnabas, agreeing to focus on the circumcision, while allowing their partners in the gospel to “go unto the nations”.2:10. They made only one request: that Barnabas and Saul should “remember the poor”. They were undoubtedly referring to the Antioch collection, which they had received on this same visit. “Ye have the poor always with you,” the Lord had pointed out (Matt 26:1–13; Mark 14:3–9; John 12:1–8). And therefore, “wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world,” Paul would tell the story of Mary’s ‘extravagant’ devotion, and ask his converts, out of great thankfulness for the way in which the brothers and sisters of Jerusalem had shared with them the spiritual riches of the Gospel, to contribute to the material welfare of those same brothers and sisters. “The same,” said Paul, “which I also was forward to do.” The great project of the Jerusalem Poor Fund sprang directly from this request: and the Galatians, as the other Gentile ecclesias, became generous contributors to that Fund.

This kind of practical concern for the spiritual and material welfare of brothers and sisters in other places is no new thing, therefore, and we ought to look for opportunities today to honour this worthy apostolic tradition by our own generosity to those in need.