galatians 2 – Paul writes incoherently

In most position papers or letters, individuals write in such a way to focus their words towards a common goal. If someone is writing about how sorry they are for missing a violin practice they would not say:

I am sorry for missing the practice. My car died. I attempted to fix it. I ate a bunch of jelly beans I found in the glove compartment. I called the tow truck, and the entire ordeal lasted 2 hours, making attending practice impossible.

The statement about jelly beans lumped in the middle of the sentence, although it may have happened, does not lend itself to the objective of explaining an apology. Certain individuals, Covenant Theologians and Acts 2 Dispensationalists claim Paul likewise writes incoherently.

Paul starts Galatians with an admonition:

Gal 1:6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel,

The Galatians were turning to a different gospel which “was not another”. Paul then goes on to establish his authority on the gospel:

Gal 1:11 But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.
Gal 1:12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Paul then goes on to explain how he persecuted the church, then was converted through a direct revelation. He also stresses he did not confer with the apostles on this. He stresses this by insisting “he does not lie”. He tells his reader that after 14 years he goes to Jerusalem, and here is where things get real interesting:

Gal 2:2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain.
Gal 2:3 Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.

So what is happening here? Paul continues on talking about how certain people were spying on his teaching of liberty and then goes on to say God finds favoritism with no man. He follows that statement with:

Gal 2:7 But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter
Gal 2:8 (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles),
Gal 2:9 and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

So here is what Covenant Theologians and Acts 2 Dispensationalists think Paul is writing:

1. Shame on you for going to a new gospel
2. The gospel was given to me directly from God
3. I persecuted the church, but was given a divine revelation about this gospel
4. I didn’t talk to even one apostle about it
5. After 14 years, I came to Jerusalem and proselytized some high status non-Christians
6. Those guys didn’t convince Titus to be circumcised

7. Those guys saw the gospel of gentiles was given to me, and the gospel of Jews to Peter
8. James, Peter and John then saw I had grace and accepted us

This is the reading by those who claim Paul and Peter taught the exact same thing. It is extremely forced on the text. Paul is distancing himself from the apostles for a reason. That fact resonates throughout all of Galatians. Paul is not throwing in a random statement about proselytizing high ranking non-Christians, talking about spying liberty, and Titus’ circumcision. Instead, Paul is describing his first encounter with the apostles. The text is clear:

Gal 2:2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain.

Who was of reputation? Paul names them later. Watch for any hints of who “those of reputation” might be. The first hint is that without contacting these people, Paul’s ministry might be “in vain”. If Paul failed to convert high ranking non-Christians, would his ministry be in jeopardy? Probably not. If Paul was unable to convince the apostles of what he was teaching, would his ministry be in jeopardy? Yes. Acts 15, describing the same visit, specifically states he is going to Jerusalem to ask the apostles and elders about his teachings. The apostles and elders are “of reputation”.

Gal 2:3 Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.

Why would Paul talk about circumcising Titus with high ranking non-Christians? Was Titus in danger of becoming a Jew without Jesus? Why does Paul mention this if that is the case? That would be like a missionary to Tibet boasting his wife was not compelled to become Buddhist. Instead, those of repute were the same who controlled the doctrine of Christianity. The apostles conceivably could cause Titus to get circumcised. This is further evidence that the apostles were teaching: “It is necessary to circumcise… and… keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5)

Gal 2:4 And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage),
Gal 2:5 to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

This is setting up the situation described in Acts 15. Paul had to talk to “those of high rank” because he confronted individuals in Acts 15. He hadn’t mentioned his reason for the Jerusalem trip earlier in Galatians; he is telling his reader why he came. Acts 15 explicitly states with whom he intended to speak (“the apostles and elders”).

Gal 2:6 But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me.

Paul goes on to discredit the individuals, stating they did not influence him. Would Paul boast that non-Christians didn’t influence him? This statement echoes Paul’s entire letter in Galatians which distances himself from the apostles.

Gal 2:7 But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter
Gal 2:8 (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles),

This sentence seems incomplete. What happens after they see? Covenant Theologians and Acts 2 Dispensationalists think Paul just writes fragmentary sentences. In reality Paul is using repetition, a literary technique, to reinforce his point. He finally names the people of “high reputation” and tells his reader the final outcome:

Gal 2:9 and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

Paul uses Galatians up to this point to stress his own authority. Adding the list of James Peter and John should silence any critic. Paul finishes Galatians using implications of this authority.

Here is how the first part of Galatians should read:

1. Shame on you for going to a new gospel
2. The gospel was given to me directly from God
3. I persecuted the church, but was given a divine revelation about this gospel
4. I didn’t talk to even one apostle about it
5. After 14 years, I came to Jerusalem and won over the apostles to my teaching
6. The apostles, who still were teaching circumcision, didn’t convince Titus to be circumcised
7. The apostles saw the gospel of gentiles was given to me, and the gospel of Jews to Peter
8. They accepted Paul as a fellow believer and sent them back to the gentiles

The very next verse talks about Peter coming to Antioch and Paul confronting Peter about the gospel when men from James appear. The whole theme of Galatians is about Paul’s dynamics with the apostles: that Paul was distinct, accepted, and authoritative. It is not about him wining trust by proselytizing non-Christians of repute in Jerusalem, dashing in random non-sequitur sentences.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Church History, Dispensationalism, History, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to galatians 2 – Paul writes incoherently

  1. Vera Avila says:

    [5] The truth of the gospel: the true gospel, in contrast to the false one of the opponents ( Gal 1:6-9 ); the gospel of grace, used as a norm ( Gal 2:14 ).

  2. iii. Of course, this is the great tragedy of legalism. In trying to be more right with God, they end up being less right with God. This was exactly the situation of the Pharisees that opposed Jesus so much during His years of earthly ministry. Paul knew this thinking well, having been a Pharisee himself (Acts 23:6).

  3. Don Julian says:

    The text claims not that the apostles (if you mean the 11 chosen by Jesus and Mathias) were teaching circumcision but certain of the sect of Pharisees who had become christians.

  4. Pingback: does galatians 2 7 indicate two gospels | reality is not optional

  5. Pingback: name calling | reality is not optional

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