Paul’s Uncircumcised Friend (Galatians, Part 13)
This week we continue exploring the book of Galatians using a question-and-answer format.
2:1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 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. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.
What did Paul and Barnabas go to Jerusalem for?
We can’t be entirely sure, since Paul doesn’t give a whole lot of information in this letter. (He doesn’t need to, since his purpose in writing is not to give an exhaustive history of his life story and ministry travels, but rather to defend his legitimacy as an apostle and therefore the legitimacy of the gospel he preached.)
However, it is possible that this trip to Jerusalem is the same one described in Acts 12:25, when Paul and Barnabas brought money from the church in Antioch (their “home church”) to help out the church in Jerusalem, which was suffering from a famine.
What “revelation” is Paul referring to in v. 2?
Again, we can’t be entirely sure, but he could be referring to the prophet Agabus’ prediction (found in Acts 11:28-29) that there was going to be a famine in the region and that the Jerusalem church was going to be hit particularly hard by it. Agabus’ prediction of the future famine (which he could only have received from God) is what spurred the church in Antioch to take up an offering for the Jerusalem church and send it by way of Paul and Barnabas. So in a real sense, Paul ended up in Jerusalem “because of a revelation.”
Who is “them,” and why did Paul “set before them” the gospel he was preaching?
“Them” is the other apostles (the ones who had, unlike Paul, been Jesus’ disciples during Jesus’ earthly ministry). Paul earlier in Galatians stated that he didn’t receive his gospel message from men (i.e., the other apostles) but from Jesus himself, but apparently he took the opportunity while in Jerusalem to compare notes with the other apostles just to see if what he was preaching jived with what they were preaching. (It did—see 2:6-10.)
Why is it significant that Titus was not circumcised?
The false teachers in Galatia were insisting that Paul had left out the all-important requirement of circumcision for those who wanted to follow Jesus. They were saying that, no, simply trusting and loving Jesus is not enough to be adopted by God and given a place in God’s kingdom. If someone wanted to be accepted by God, they had to become like Jews and get circumcised.
Those false teachers were claiming that this was essential to the gospel of Christ, and that Paul had left it out. But, as Paul points out here, the original apostles (Peter, James, John, and the other big-wigs in the church) had been introduced to Paul’s uncircumcised friend Titus, and had no beef with the fact that he was not circumcised. “See?” Paul is saying, “even Jesus’ original disciples-turned-apostles know that God doesn’t require circumcision from anybody anymore!”
What’s the big deal about circumcision? Why can’t the guy get circumcised if he wants to?
He certainly could if he wanted to (see Acts 16:3, where Paul circumcised Timothy for strategic reasons). The issue is not that people wanted to be circumcised and Paul wouldn’t let them. The issue is that false teachers were saying that people had to be circumcised, and that they couldn’t follow Jesus unless they were. They were, in effect, saying that God would not accept them unless they became Jewish first. And Paul says, no way. God accepts all people everywhere who trust in Jesus, because of what Jesus has done on their behalf. Gentiles don’t need to jump through hoops to get God to accept them into his family. Jesus has done everything necessary to secure us a place in the kingdom!