I am taking a class with Scot McKnight at Biblical Theological Seminary. He is teaching through the book of Galatians which is an aweosme book. One of our assignments (and the largest of them all) is to write a basic commentary on five different verses of the book of Galtians and show how these verses relate to the ‘grace-creating freedom’ we have in Christ. This is the first of five mini-posts I am going to post from this paper. It is my hope that you will be blessed and encouraged throughout its entirety.
The first set of verses we will look at is Galatians 2: 1-5. This event is where Paul meets the Jerusalem Council to discuss the matters of his Apostleship and his message to the Gentile people. H.A. Ironside writes, “In this second chapter Paul tells of another visit to Jerusalem, a very important one, referred to in Acts 15… This was after certain persons came from James to Antioch, where the apostle was laboring, and insisted upon things that are mentioned in this letter” (Ironside 58-59). Acts 15 is a very important marker for this text. Many believe this is where Paul defends his ministry and calling from God. The issue surrounding Acts 15 is exactly in which the context of the book of Galatians. Luke records the events of the Jerusalem Council stating,
And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question… When they came to Jerusalem, the church and the apostles and the elders welcomed them, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the Law of Moses.” The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter… Therefore, my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood… So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement (Acts 15: 1-2, 4-6, 19-20, 30-31).
As we reflect then on the context of Galatians 2, we have a broader picture of what had taken place during this meeting of the believers in Jerusalem. Paul had gone to Jerusalem for his own benefit but to ensure the Gospel message for the Gentiles and their safety from being bound to the Law of Moses. After the debating had subsided, Peter stood and granted both Paul and Barnabas freedom to preach the Gospel to the Gentile converts without the necessity of receiving circumcision. Paul even states that Titus, who apparently was with he and Barnabas, was not circumcised even though he was a Gentile (Gal. 2:3). Longenecker asserts the significance of this verse in his commentary stating, “Ελλην ων, “even though he was a Greek,” like ο συν εμοι, “who was with me,” adds a fact probably already known to the readers, but necessary to be kept in mind to appreciate fully the significance of what is about to be said” (Longenecker 50). There is a discussion that has arisen among scholars over the term ‘compelled’ in reference to Titus being circumcised (ηναγκασθη περιτμηθηναι). Longenecker states there are two views: Either Titus was not circumcised at all or that the term ‘being compelled’ meant that Titus was in fact circumcised because Paul had encouraged him to do it. Not because the Jerusalem Council told him or ‘forced’ him, which they had not. I am more convinced of the latter choice. It would explain why, in Acts 16, which follows the Jerusalem Council, the circumcision of Timothy whose mother was a Jew and Father was a Gentile.
One would think after the Jerusalem Council’s decision to allow the Gentile people to live according to the Spirit rather than according to the Law of Moses, there would cease to be opposition towards Paul, Barnabas and others. However, Paul states, ‘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” (Gal. 2: 4-5). Dunn writes in his commentary, “The implication is that they would have given Paul’s account of his missionary work a suspicious hearing, with the intention of subverting it. The piling up of such language (‘False brother’, ‘smuggled in’, sneaked in’, ‘spy out’) indicates Paul’s total lack of sympathy towards this group” (Dunn 99). As I think about these words myself, I cannot help but think of someone who attempts to commit a robbery of someone’s house or a consumer business. My thoughts also consider the workings of 9/11 and the implications of those who ‘sneaked in’ and ‘spied out’ our aviation schools to steal our sense of safety and freedom in America. Can we really negate the two? If we consider these ‘false brothers’ as ‘terrorists’ who have come to take away our freedom, I believe we can get a better sense of the urgency of Paul’s message. We need to always be on guard. We need to raise the ‘red flags’ when there arises a need of concern. Paul makes this very clear in verse five. He states, “…even for a moment.’ As I consider the implications of this manner, I have to sit and wonder how often I am on guard of my freedom in Christ. Do I allow other people to lead me to a yoke of bondage in which Christ has ultimately set me free from now that I am a new Creation in Him? Do I recognize the warning signs; the birth pain of bondage before it is manifested in my community of faith? These are open and honest questions we need to continually ask ourselves so that those who seek to “spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus so that they might bring us into slavery” will not lead us astray.