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Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Galatians 2:1-5

Paul Accepted by the Apostles

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

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Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written not to one church in Galatia but to the group of churches in that region, which was in Asia Minor.

Matthew Henry‘s commentary says (emphases mine):

This epistle of Paul is directed not to the church or churches of a single city, as some others are, but of a country or province, for so Galatia was. It is very probable that these Galatians were first converted to the Christian faith by his ministry; or, if he was not the instrument of planting, yet at least he had been employed in watering these churches, as is evident from this epistle itself, and also from Acts 18:23, where we find him going over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.

As ever, the Galatians received the Apostle favourably. Unfortunately, after he left, false teachers — Judaizers — moved in and preached against Paul and the Gospel. They advocated works-based salvation instead of the doctrine of justification:

… he had not been long absent from them before some judaizing teachers got in among them, by whose arts and insinuations they were soon drawn into a meaner opinion both of the one and of the other. That which these false teachers chiefly aimed at was to draw them off from the truth as it is in Jesus, particularly in the great doctrine of justification, which they grossly perverted, by asserting the necessity of joining the observance of the law of Moses with faith in Christ in order to it: and, the better to accomplish this their design, they did all they could to lessen the character and reputation of the apostle, and to raise up their own on the ruins of his, representing him as one who, if he was to be owned as an apostle, yet was much inferior to others, and particularly who deserved not such a regard as Peter, James, and John, whose followers, it is likely, they pretended to be: and in both these attempts they had but too great success.

Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians to bring them back to the truth and to defend his own reputation as a true Apostle:

This was the occasion of his writing this epistle, wherein he expresses his great concern that they had suffered themselves to be so soon turned aside from the faith of the gospel, vindicates his own character and authority as an apostle against the aspersions of his enemies, showing that his mission and doctrine were both divine, and that he was not, upon any account, behind the very chief of the apostles, 2 Corinthians 11:5. He then sets himself to assert and maintain the great gospel doctrine of justification by faith without the works of the law, and to obviate some difficulties that might be apt to arise in their minds concerning it: and, having established this important doctrine, he exhorts them to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free, cautions them against the abuse of this liberty, gives them several very needful counsels and directions and then concludes the epistle by giving them a just description of those false teachers by whom they had been ensnared, and, on the contrary, of his own temper and behaviour. In all this his great scope and design were to recover those who had been perverted, to settle those who might be wavering, and to confirm such among them as had kept their integrity.

John MacArthur says that Galatians was influential during the Reformation, particularly with Martin Luther:

… in a general sense, Galatians had a very strong impact on the Reformation.

… an Augustinian monk and priest by the name of Martin Luther, launched the Protestant Reformation. He did that by writing up 95 theses, all of which condemned some practice in the Roman Catholic system. He posted those 95 condemning theses on the door of the Roman Catholic Church in Wittenberg, Germany; and with the posting of that launched essentially the Reformation. That was the first shot fired and eventually heard around the world.

… And, in particular, when he came to Galatians chapter 3, and verse 11, and the words, “The just” – or the righteous – “shall live by faith,” he understood for the first time the true gospel.

That statement, of course, drawn out of the Old Testament, Habakkuk 2:4. Paul refers to it in Romans 1:17. It is referred to here in Galatians 3:11; and again, a third time in the New Testament in Hebrews 10:38. A very critical statement: “The just shall live” – or the righteous – “shall live by faith.” That launched Luther’s understanding of the gospel, brought about his salvation, and gave force and power to his ministry as God used him as a key part of the great recovery of the gospel known as the Reformation.

Galatians 1 is in the Lectionary, but reading it helps set the background for Galatians 2. Some of the verses will be familiar to students of the Bible. It says, in part:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant[b] of Christ.

Paul tells the Galatians how he received the Gospel and his calling to apostleship directly from Jesus in his Damascene conversion and God the Father:

Paul Called by God

11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.[c] 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born,[d] and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to[e] me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;[f] 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Paul says that he later went to Jerusalem to meet Cephas — the Apostle Peter — and James, the brother of Jesus:

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

This brings us to Galatians 2, wherein Paul continues, saying that, after 14 more years, he returned to Jerusalem, taking with him Barnabas and Titus (verse 1).

Paul is giving us a summary of 17 years of his ministry.

John MacArthur says that Paul spent three years in the desert, divinely directed, so that he could have the same advantage of receiving the Good News first hand, just as the Twelve did from Jesus:

In verse 11 of chapter 1, he says, “I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it. I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. My apostleship came from Christ, and my message came from Christ.”

Remember what we saw? He was converted on the road to Damascus when Jesus encountered him there: struck him blind, knocked him down. Three days later he receives his sight, and immediately he is sent to Arabia for three years. He goes to Arabia, Nabataean Arabia, and he spends three years there being instructed by Jesus. He has seen no apostle, met no apostle. He has three years of private tutoring by Jesus.

That’s what the disciples had. The original twelve spent three years with Him, so Paul gets his three years in a private tutorial in the desert. For those three years Jesus gives him the gospel and divine truth out of His own mouth straight from heaven. So he is saying, “Look, I am an apostle. I was called by God, I saw the risen Christ on the Damascus Road, and I spent three years with Him as He personally instructed me in the gospel.”

“It was only after three years” – he said in chapter 1 – “that I even went to Jerusalem and met the apostles. I went there for fifteen days; and I met Peter, and I met Barnabas; and that struck up a friendship that continued. But I wasn’t taught by them; I wasn’t there long enough to be taught by them. I didn’t get my message from them. And it got dangerous for me there, because they started preaching there, and they wanted me to get out of town because it was so dangerous. They sent me back to where I came from, Syria and Cilicia, and I was there for the next fourteen years,” he says at the beginning of chapter 2.

Now that’s the biographical data. Converted on the Damascus Road; blinded; eventually receives his sight. Sent to the desert, three years tutored by Christ. Comes back after three years. Goes to Jerusalem for a couple of weeks; wants to meet Peter. Finds Barnabas, who becomes a companion in the future. Is sent away because of persecution. Goes back and spends fourteen years in ministry, fourteen years: planting churches in Syria, planting churches in Cilicia, planting churches in Galatia on his first missionary trip. During that fourteen years he did make one visit to Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 11 and 12, and that’s when he brought money from the church at Antioch down to Jerusalem because there was a famine in Jerusalem, and the people in the church needed food and he brought resources to them: money, perhaps even some food. But apart from going to meet Peter for a couple of weeks, bringing food as a matter of relief to the Jerusalem church from the church at Antioch, he hadn’t spent any time at all in Jerusalem, not at all.

MacArthur tells us more about the Judaizers:

They were Jews from Jerusalem who had come into the region of Galatia in the Gentile world purposely following Paul into the churches that he had established in the region of Galatia. There were a number of cities there where he had planted churches. They followed him, they dogged his steps, and they came into those churches preaching a different gospel, another gospel. Paul was shocked that the believers in Galatia, the church members in Galatia had given them an ear

What was happening is what continued to happen through Paul’s entire ministry. He would preach the true gospel of grace and faith, and along would come the Judaizers and say, “No, Gentiles cannot be saved unless they come through Mosaic constraints: circumcision, the law of Moses, the ceremonies, ancestral traditions.” They made those a necessary pre-salvation work, and they wanted to impose those on Gentiles who, of course, in their own history were utterly ignorant of Moses and the rest of the Old Testament.

MacArthur reminds us that Paul met Barnabas at the time the Jerusalem Council took place in Acts 15 (see here, here, here, here, here and here):

Barnabas remember, he had met on that first visit. According to Acts 15 they wouldn’t let him in, they were afraid of him: the believers, the disciples. Barnabas gave him access. Barnabas became his friend. Barnabas then went back with him to minister alongside him. He brought Titus

MacArthur tells us about Titus, who was a Gentile:

… as we come to chapter 2, he comes to Jerusalem after a total of seventeen years, and went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas and also Titus. So we saw his coming last time. We saw his companion Titus; that’s very, very important.

“Titus was with me. He was a Gentile, a Greek, not a Jew.” And here’s the important thing to note, that he’s telling the Galatians, “I brought Titus. We went to Jerusalem. When we got to Jerusalem we were in the mother church; we were there with the apostles. We were there actually at the Jerusalem Council.” – recorded in Acts 15 when the apostles were gathered together – “We were there at that time, and none of them compelled Titus to be circumcised. Nobody brought that up that he was needing to be circumcised or he couldn’t be a true Christian.”

Paul says that he made that trip because he received a divine revelation and that he privately told the elders of the church in Jerusalem of the Gospel that he preaches to the Gentiles; he wanted to prove to them that he was not preaching in vain (verse 2).

MacArthur elaborates on the Judaizers in the church in Antioch and Jerusalem:

… go to Acts 15. What was going on in Acts 15 fits in perfectly. Meanwhile in Jerusalem while Paul is off in Syria and Cilicia, “Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’” So here we find Jews coming to Antioch and demanding that these Gentiles be circumcised or they can’t be saved.

Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them. The brethren determined then that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through Phoenicia, Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and reported all that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.’” And that set the debate. Verse 6: “The elders, apostles came together to look into that matter.”

Up in Antioch, some Judaizers came there, and they’re preaching this false gospel. They’re the satanic emissaries. Paul and Barnabas take them on with such impact and such power that the church sends Paul and Barnabas with some others down to Jerusalem to help them with that issue.

But notice what it says in verse 2: “It was because of a revelation that I went up.” You always go up to Jerusalem because it’s so high. “It was because of a revelation.” He’s still getting direct revelation. He got direct revelation on the road to Damascus. He got direct revelation in the house of Ananias. He got direct revelation three years in Arabia. He’s been getting direct revelation from the Lord for the fourteen years of his ministry. And now another of these rather common revelations from heaven comes, and that’s the reason he goes to Jerusalem.

Verse 2: “I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles.” Them, meaning the church, Acts 15 says, the elders, and the apostles. “I submitted to them the gospel which I preach.” God knew the problems. God knew the circumcision party. God knew the Judaizers were doing horrible damage with their mandatory circumcision and legalism, very much like forms of Christianity today that say you can’t be saved without baptism and a certain fulfillment of moral and ceremonial behaviors. God knew the issue. Paul and Barnabas were the right instruments to use.

Paul comes, and the first thing he does is submit to them the gospel which he preached. Literally, “I laid it out for them. I laid it out for the whole church to hear. But also I did in private to those who were of reputation.” That would be to the real leaders, the apostles named in verse 9: James, Peter, John, who were reputed to be pillars. They were the ones of reputation, the pillars. “I went to the inner circle of Jesus – Peter, James, and John – and I told them, laid before them the gospel which I preached. They were the ones of reputation.” Might be a little bit of reference to sarcasm used by the Judaizers as they mockingly referred to the apostles as those of reputation.

The Judaizers, though they would have believed in Christ, would have held onto their Judaism, and therefore held onto their spiritual pride, and even looked down at the apostles and spoken of them sarcastically in a ridiculing way. “But I went to those who were of reputation, namely James, Peter, and John, and other apostles who might have been there; and I went there because I feared that I might be running or had run in vain.” That’s genuine honesty.

I wanted their affirmation. I’ve never doubted the truth that the Lord gave me. I heard it from His lips. I’ve never doubted its power. I’ve watched it for seventeen years. I’ve seen it in my own life. How else can you explain me?” That was the whole case in chapter 1. “How could you explain me, being a persecutor of this, and now preaching it. I know the power of the gospel, I know the truth of it, but I want apostolic affirmation. I want you to know that it isn’t just that I received it from the Lord, but the apostles confirmed it. I wanted their confirmation, and so I came.” And the confirmation came quickly. It came almost instantaneously.

Paul then says that Titus did not have a circumcision — the elders having agreed it was not in keeping with the Gospel — even though he was Greek, a Gentile (verse 3). The circumcision issue was the whole reason for the Jerusalem Council.

MacArthur expands on Paul’s meaning:

Paul says to the Galatians, “Though he was a Greek, he was not compelled to be circumcised while at Jerusalem in the presence of the apostles.” That is a devastating blow to the Judaizers. The Judaizers are looking for a corroboration of their view; they failed to get it. If the Jewish apostles in Jerusalem didn’t require this Gentile to be circumcised, then how could the Judaizers require it all over the Gentile world? …

The Council at Jerusalem said, “No, circumcision is not required. There is no work, there is no ceremony, there is no tradition that is necessary for salvation. The Gentile is saved exactly like the Jew through faith apart from works.”

They went on to formulate a letter, if you keep reading in Acts 15 – do that this afternoon. They formulated a letter that said, “Be careful not to purposely offend the Jews, but preach the gospel of faith alone.”

Some will think of Timothy here. Paul insisted that he be circumcised. This was because his mother was Jewish (his father was a Gentile), and Paul thought that circumcision would enable him to preach more easily to the Jews in synagogues. Paul wanted Timothy to be his successor:

It was important for Timothy to be circumcised, because he was considered a Jew, so that he, along with Paul, would have access to those places. It added nothing to his life spiritually, it added nothing to his life in a saving sense. It was simply a way to give him access to the Jews along with Paul.

Paul calls the Judaizers ‘false brothers’, brought into the Church in secret, ‘slipped in to spy’ on the freedom they have in Christ Jesus (verse 4).

Paul’s language suggests serpents — ‘slipped in’ — directed by Satan.

MacArthur says:

They secretly were smuggled in by Satan. They came into the church. They came in to corrupt the truth. They came in to sow tares. They came in secretly. They came in to attack freedom from the law.

Paul emphasises that he and the rest of the men on the Jerusalem Council did not give the Judaizers any attention in order that the Gospel would be preserved for the Galatians (verse 5) — and, indeed, all Christians.

MacArthur tells us:

Paul then has to defend the gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone, and that’s why he wrote the book of Galatians. The first of his thirteen epistles chronologically, he sets the record straight at the very beginning about the gospel. And the sum of the purpose of the book is at the end of verse 5: all of this that he is writing is “so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you, so you would not be drawn away, leaning toward a different gospel, a different gospel which is not another gospel, but merely a message that brings about damnation.”

Paul has more to say on the subject, to be continued next week.

Next time — Galatians 2:6-10

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