Then after 14 years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. And I went up according to a revelation and I put before them the Gospel which I [then and since] proclaim among the nations, but [it was done] privately to the ones who seemed [to us] to have the authority, lest I had been running and would [continue to] run in vain.
     But even Titus, the one [coming] with me, being a Greek, was not required to be circumcised. But because of false brethren, coming in upon us [in our meeting] secretly - slipping in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us - we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the Gospel [as we had proclaimed it to you] might be maintained with you. And from those who were supposed to be the recognised leaders - what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality - those leaders contributed nothing to me [at that stage].
     On the contrary, when they saw I had been entrusted with the Gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the Gospel for the circumcised - for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles - and when James and Cephas and John, the acknowledged pillars recognised the grace that had been given to me, they extended to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should [indeed] go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They also asked only one thing and that was that we remember the poor, which was indeed what I was eager to do.
     But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood self-condemned. For until certain people came from James, he used to eat with Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this duplicity, so that even Barnabas was led astray by the hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not walking straight according to the truth of the Gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you though a Jew, live like a Gentile, and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" - Galatians 2:1-14/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne

Railway tracks

On the wrong track? Bruce C Wearne says Paul's letter is a rebuff to the hypocrisy which is making a common life in God between Jewish and Gentile believers "impossible". PICTURE: Eberhard Grossgasteiger/Unsplash 

 

IN A NUTSHELL

Pauls explains to the Galatian church the danger of completely misunderstanding how the Holy Spirit brought the Gospel to them.

Paul explains to his Galatian readers how the mission to the Gentiles, of which they were the fruit, came about and how it was endorsed in Jerusalem by James the brother of Jesus and the other apostles. At that point, there had been a definitive endorsement of the work of Paul and Barnabas by Peter (Cephas) (Acts 15:6-11).

Here, Paul refers to Peter and Cephas; clearly it is one and the same person. So, why does he do that?

Cephas is the Aramaic name by which Jesus had said Peter would be known. We might say it is the name by which his Jewish fellows knew him. Jesus had said to him, "So you are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas" (John 1:42). Peter is the Greek equivalent and means "rock". This was a prophecy fulfilled when Peter became known by that name to believing Jews and Gentiles. And this also related to Peter's confession of Jesus as Messiah (Matthew 16:13-20) which Jesus identified as the stone (petra) on which He would build His church.

So, we might wonder: was this taken by Peter as his Master's suggestion that he should give himself to mastering the Greek (koine) language?

This is all significant. It helps us see what Paul is getting at when he used stage terms to accuse Peter of play-acting (verse 13). Paul accused Cephas, and his apostolic associates, of "playing" a double game, playing to two audiences, acting out two parts.

Such hypocrisy was making the common life given by God to Jewish and Gentile believers impossible.

Besides, in that cultural context it would promote a way of life structured according to a dramatic duplicity, rather than an authentic Holy Spirited unity. The Jewish believers would play a double-game, zealously maintaining their Jewish connections, thereby ascribing second place to their Gentile brothers and sisters. Meanwhile the Gentiles would be required to be circumcised, acknowledging Jewish pre-eminence, assuming that their identity is henceforth established by association with their Jewish brethren.

It is noteworthy that Paul in this letter is reiterating, in this post-resurrection, post-ascension context what Jesus had taught His disciples: 
"You know right well that those reckoned as rulers among the Gentiles lord it over them, and that's how their high officials exercise their authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great in your midst must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For that is how the Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve, giving his life up as a ransom for man" (Mark 10:42-45).

Now recall that this is Paul's account of how the community of faith was put at risk almost as soon as it was born. He is insistent that the work among the Gentiles was not begun at the initiative of Paul and Barnabas. It arose at Antioch. There, Paul and Barnabas were set aside, by the Holy Spirit, in order to do this work. And then later, when they reported to Jerusalem about the work they had been doing, they were indeed "given the right hand of fellowship" by James and the others. Note also that the reference to "remembering the poor" emphasises the mutual obligation fellow believers have for each other and their communities and was not a request to recognise any Judaean pre-eminence.

This then leads us to the matters referred to in verses 11 to 14. What Paul writes here about Jews and Gentiles receiving right standing before God is completely consistent with Luke's account of Peter's declaration that they must not "put God to the test by yoking Gentile disciples with a burden that neither themselves nor all their Jewish ancestors had been able to carry!" (Acts 15:10).

Indeed, that is why we shouldn't too quickly assume that Paul here is, once again, and from a Galatian context, confronting a salvation-by-works recidivistic back-slider - that hermeneutic understates this affirmation made when the Jerusalem church had given thanks to the Lord for allowing Gentiles to believe in the Messiah Jesus. After all, it is also by grace that Jewish disciples come to faith: "But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will" (Acts 15:11).