The Expositor's Bible

Epistle to the Galatians

Rev. Prof. G. G. Findlay, B.A.

The Personal History
Chapter 1:11 - 2:21

Chapter 7


"Then after the space of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also with me. And I went up by revelation; and I laid before them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately before them who were of repute, [asking them whether I am running, or had run, in vain: but not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. But it was32 because of the false brethren privily brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: to whom we gave place in the way of subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you."—Ga 2:1-5

"FOURTEEN years" had elapsed since Paul left Jerusalem for Tarsus, and commenced his Gentile mission.33 During this long period—a full half of his missionary course—the Apostle was lost to the sight of the Judean Churches. For nearly half this time, until Barnabas brought him to Antioch, we have no further trace of his movements. But these years of obscure labour had, we may be sure, no small influence in shaping the Apostle’s subsequent career. It was a kind of Apostolic apprenticeship. Then his evangelistic plans were laid; his powers were practised; his methods of teaching and administration formed and tested. This first, unnoted period of Paul’s missionary life held, we imagine, much the same relation to his public ministry that the time of the Arabian retreat did to his spiritual development.

We are apt to think of the Apostle Paul only as we see him in the full tide of his activity, carrying "from Jerusalem round about unto Illyricum" the standard of the cross and planting it in one after another of the great cities of the Empire, "always triumphing in every place"; or issuing those mighty Epistles whose voice shakes the world. We forget the earlier term of preparation, these years of silence and patience, of unrecorded toil in a comparatively narrow and humble sphere, which had after all their part in making Paul the man he was. If Christ Himself would not "clutch" at His Divine prerogatives, (Php 2:5-2) nor win them by self-assertion and before the time, how much more did it become His servant to rise to his great office by slow degrees. Paul served first as a private missionary pioneer in his native land, then as a junior colleague and assistant to Barnabas, until the summons came to take a higher place, when "the signs of an Apostle" had been fully "wrought in him." Not in a day, nor by the effect of a single revelation did he become the fully armed and all-accomplished Apostle of the Gentiles whom we meet in this Epistle. "After the space of fourteen years" it was time for him to stand forth the approved witness and minister of Jesus Christ, whom Peter and John publicly embraced as their equal.

Paul claims here the initiative in the momentous visit to Jerusalem undertaken by himself and Barnabas, of which he is going to speak. In Ac 15:2 he is similarly placed at the head of the deputation sent from Antioch about the question of circumcision. The account of the preceding missionary tour in Ac 13,14., shows how the headship of the Gentile Church had come to devolve on Paul. In Luke’s narrative they are "Barnabas and Saul" who set out; "Paul and Barnabas" who return.34 Under the trials and hazards of this adventure at Paphos, Pisidian Antioch, Lystra—Paul’s native ascendency and his higher vocation irresistibly declared themselves. Age and rank yielded to the fire of inspiration, to the gifts of speech, the splendid powers of leadership which the difficulties of this expedition revealed in Paul. Barnabas returned to Antioch with the thought in his heart, "He must increase; I must decrease." And Barnabas was too generous a man not to yield cheerfully to his companion the precedence for which God thus marked him out. Yet the "sharp contention" in which the two men parted soon after this time, (Ac 15:36-40) was, we may conjecture, due in some degree to a lingering soreness in the mind of Barnabas on this account.

The Apostle expresses himself with modesty, but in such a way as to show that he was regarded in this juncture as the champion of the Gentile cause. The "revelation" that prompted the visit came to him. The "taking up of Titus" was his distinct act (ver. 1). Unless Paul has deceived himself, he was quite the leading figure in. the Council; it was his doctrine and his Apostleship that exercised the minds of the chiefs at Jerusalem, when the delegates from Antioch appeared before them. Whatever Peter and James may have known of surmised previously concerning Paul’s vocation, it was only now that it became a public question for the Church. But as matters stood, it was a vital question. The status of uncircumcised Christians, and the Apostolic rank of Paul, constituted the twofold problem placed before the chiefs of the Jewish Church. At the same time, the Apostle, while fixing our attention mainly on his own position, gives to Barnabas his meed of honour; for he says, "I went up with Barnabas,"—"we never yielded for an hour to the false brethren,"—"the Pillars gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we might go to the Gentiles." But it is evident that the elder Gentile missionary stood in the background. By the action that he takes Paul unmistakably declares, "I am the Apostle of the Gentiles";35 and that claim is admitted by the consenting voice of both branches of the Church. The Apostle stepped to the front at this solemn crisis, not for his own rank or office’s sake, but at the call of God, in defence of the truth of the gospel and the spiritual freedom of mankind.

This meeting at Jerusalem took place in 51, or it may be, 52 A.D. We make no doubt that it is the same with the Council of Ac 15. The identification has been controverted by several able scholars, but without success. The two accounts are different, but in no sense contradictory. In fact, as Dr. Pfleiderer acknowledges,36 they "admirably supplement each other. The agreement as to the chief points is in any case greater than the discrepancies in the details; and these discrepancies can for the most part be explained by the different standpoint of the relaters." A difficulty lies, however, in the fact that the historian of the Acts makes this the third visit of Paul to Jerusalem subsequently to his conversion; whereas, from the Apostle’s statement, it appears to have been the second. This discrepancy has already come up for discussion in the last chapter (p. 836). Two further observations may be added on this point. In the first place, Paul does not say that he had never been to Jerusalem since the visit of Ga 1:18; he does say, that on this occasion he "went up again," and that meanwhile he "remained unknown by face" to the Christians of Judea (Ga 1:22) -a fact quite compatible, as we have shown, with what is related in Ac 11:29,30. And further, the request addressed at this conference to the Gentile missionaries, that they should "remember the poor," and the reference made by the Apostle to his previous zeal in the same business (vv. 9, 10), are in agreement with the earlier visit of charity mentioned by Luke.

1. The emphasis of ver. 1 rests upon its last clause, -taking along with me also Titus. Not "Titus as well as Barnabas"—this cannot be the meaning of the "also"—for Barnabas was Paul’s colleague, deputed equally with himself by the Church of Antioch; nor "Titus as well as others"—there were other members of the deputation, (Ac 15:2) out Paul makes no reference to them. The also (κα) calls attention to the fact of Paul’s taking Titus, in view of the sequel; as though he said, "I not only went up to Jerusalem at this particular time, under Divine direction, but I took along with me Titus besides." The prefixed with (συν-) of the Greek participle refers to Paul himself: compare ver. 3, "Titus who was with me." As for the "certain others" referred to in Ac 15:2, they were most likely Jews; or if any of them were Get!-tiles, still it was Titus whom Paul had chosen for his companion; and his case stood out from the rest in such a way that it became the decisive one, the test-case for the matter in dispute.

The mention of Titus’ name in this connection was calculated to raise a lively interest in the minds of the Apostle’s readers. He is introduced as known to the Galatians; indeed by this time his name was familiar in the Pauline Churches, as that of a fellow-traveller and trusted helper of the Apostle. He was with Paul in the latter part of the third missionary tour—so we learn from the Corinthian letters—and therefore probably in the earlier part of the same journey, when the Apostle paid his second visit to Galatia. He belonged to the heathen mission, and was Paul’s "true child after a common faith," (Tit 1:4) an uncircumcised man, of Gentile birth equally with the Galatians. And now they read of his "going up to Jerusalem with Paul," to the mother-city of believers, where are the pillars of the Church—the Jewish teachers would say—the true Apostles of Jesus, where His doctrine is preached in its purity, and where every Christian is circumcised and keeps the Law. Titus, the unclean Gentile, at Jerusalem! How could he be admitted or tolerated there, in the fellowship of the first disciples of the Lord? This question Paul’s readers, after what they had heard from the Circumcisionists, would be sure to ask. He will answer it directly.

But the Apostle goes on to say, that he "went up in accordance with a revelation." For this was one of those supreme moments in his life when he looked for and received the direct guidance of heaven. It was a most critical step to carry this question of Gentile circumcision up to Jerusalem, and to take Titus with him there, into the enemies’ stronghold. Moreover, on the settlement of this matter Paul knew that his Apostolic status depended, so far as human recognition was concerned. It would be seen whether the Jewish Church would acknowledge the converts of the Gentile mission as brethren in Christ; and whether the first Apostles would receive him, "the untimely one," as a colleague of their own. Never had he more urgently needed or more implicitly relied upon Divine direction than at this hour.

"And I put before them (the Church at Jerusalem) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles—but privately to those of repute: am I running (said I), or have I run, in vain?" The latter clause we read interrogatively, along with such excellent grammatical interpreters as Meyer, Wieseler, and Hofmann. Paul had not come to Jerusalem in order to solve any doubt in his own mind; but he wished the Church of Jerusalem to declare its mind respecting the character of his ministry. He was not "running as uncertainly"; nor in view of the "revelation" just given him could he have any fear for the result of his appeal. But it was in every way necessary that the appeal should be made.

The interjected words, "out privately," etc., indicate that there were two meetings during the conference, such as those which seem to be distinguished in Ac 15:4 and 6; and that the Apostle’s statement and the question arising out of it were addressed more pointedly to "those of repute." By this term we understand, here and in ver. 6, "the apostles and elders," (Ac 15) headed by Peter and James, amongst whom "those reputed to be pillars" are distinguished in ver. 9. Paul dwells upon the phrase οἱ δοκοῦντες, because, to be sure, it was so often on the lips of the Judaisers, who were in the habit of speaking with an imposing air, and by way of contrast with Paul, of "the authorities" (at Jerusalem)—as the designation might appropriately be rendered. These very men whom the Legalists were exalting at Paul’s expense, the venerated chiefs of the mother Church, had on this occasion, Paul is going to say, given their approval to his doctrine; they declined to impose circumcision on Gentile believers. The Twelve were not stationary at Jerusalem, and therefore could not form a fixed court of reference there; hence a greater importance accrued to the Elders of the city Church, with the revered James at their head, the brother of the Lord.

The Apostle, in bringing Titus, had brought up the subject-matter of the controversy. The "gospel of the uncircumcision" stood before the Jewish authorities, an accomplished fact. Titus was there, by the side of Paul, a sample—and a noble specimen, we can well believe—of the Gentile Christendom which the Jewish Church must either acknowledge or repudiate. How will they treat him? Will they admit this foreign protégé of Paul to their communion? Or will they require him first to be circumcised? The question at issue could not take a form more crucial for the prejudices of the mother Church. It was one thing to acknowledge uncircumcised fellow-believers in the abstract, away yonder at Antioch or Iconium, or even at Caesarea; and another thing to see Titus standing amongst them in his heathen uncleanness, on the sacred soil of Jerusalem, under the shadow of the Temple, and to hear Paul claiming for him—for this "dog" of a Gentile—equally with himself the rights of Christian brotherhood! The demand was most offensive to the pride of Judaism, as no one knew better than Paul; and we cannot wonder that a revelation was required to justify the Apostle in making it. The case of Trophimus, whose presence with the Apostle at Jerusalem many years afterwards proved so nearly fatal, (Ac 21:27-30) shows how exasperating to the legalist party his action in this instance must have been. Had not Peter and the better spirits of the Church in Jerusalem laid to heart the lesson of the vision of Joppa, that "no man must be called common or unclean," and had not the wisdom of the Holy Spirit eminently guided this first Council of the Church,37 Paul’s challenge would have received a negative answer: and Jewish and Gentile Christianity must have been driven asunder.

The answer, the triumphant answer, to Paul’s appeal comes in the next verse: "Nay, not even38 Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised." Titus was not circumcised, in point of fact—how can we doubt this in view of the language of ver. 5: "Not even for an hour did we yield in subjection?" And he "was not compelled to be circumcised"—a mode of putting the denial which implies that in refusing his circumcision urgent solicitation had to be withstood, solicitation addressed to Titus himself, as well as to the leaders of his party. The kind of pressure brought to bear in the case and the quarter from which it proceeded, the Galatians would understand from their own experience. (Ga 6:12; comp. Ga 2:14)

The attempt made to bring about Titus’ circumcision signally failed. Its failure was the practical reply to the question which Paul tells us (ver. 2) he had put to the authorities in Jerusalem; or, according to the more common rendering of ver. 2 b, it was the answer to the apprehension under which he addressed himself to them. On the former of these views of the connection, which we decidedly prefer, the authorities are clear of any share in the "compulsion" of Titus. When the Apostle gives the statement that his Gentile companion "was not compelled to be circumcised" as the reply to his appeal to "those of repute," it is as much as to say: "The chiefs at Jerusalem did not require Titus’ circumcision. They repudiated the attempt of certain parties to force this rite upon him." This testimony precisely accords with the terms of the rescript of the Council, and with the speeches of Peter and James, given in Ac 15. But it was a great point gained to have the liberality of the Jewish Christian leaders put to the proof in this way, to have the generous sentiments of speech and letter made good in this example of uncircumcised Christianity brought to their doors.

To the authorities at Jerusalem the question put by the delegates from Antioch on the one side, and by the Circumcisionists on the other, was perfectly clear. If they insist on Titus’ circumcision, they disown Paul and the Gentile mission: if they accept Paul’s gospel, they must leave Titus alone. Paul and Barnabas stated the case in a manner that left no room for doubt or compromise. Their action was marked, as ver. 5 declares, with the utmost decision. And the response of the Jewish leaders was equally frank and definite. We have no business, says James, (Ac 15:19) "to trouble those from the Gentiles that turn to God." Their judgment is virtually affirmed in ver. 3, in reference to Titus, in whose person the Galatians could not fail to see that their own case had been settled by anticipation. "Those of repute" disowned the Circumcisionists; the demand that the yoke of circumcision should be imposed on. the Gentiles had no sanction from them. If the Judaisers claimed their sanction, the claim was false.

Here the Apostle pauses, as his Gentile readers must have paused and drawn a long breath of relief or of astonishment at what he has just alleged. If Titus was not compelled to be circumcised, even at Jerusalem, who, they might ask, was going to compel them?—The full stop should therefore be placed at the end of ver. 3, not ver. 2. Vv. 1-3 form a paragraph complete in itself. Its last sentence resolves the decisive question raised in this visit of Paul’s to Jerusalem, when he "took with him also Titus."

2. The opening words of ver. 4 have all the appearance of commencing a new sentence. This sentence, concluded in ver. 5, is grammatically incomplete; but that is no reason for throwing it upon the previous sentence, to the confusion of both. There is a transition of thought, marked by the introductory But,39 from the issue of Paul’s second critical visit to Jerusalem (vv. 1-3) to the cause which made it necessary. This was the action of "false brethren," to whom the Apostle made a determined and successful resistance (vv. 4, 5). The opening "But" does not refer to ver. 3 in particular, rather to the entire foregoing paragraph. The ellipsis (after "But") is suitably supplied in the marginal rendering of the Revisers, where we take it was to mean, not "Because of the false brethren Titus was not (or was not compelled to be) circumcised, " but "Because of the false brethren this meeting came about, or I took the course aforesaid."

To know what Paul means by "false brethren," we must turn to Ga 1:6-9,3:1,4:17,5:7-12,6:12-14, in this Epistle; and again to 2Co 2:17-3:1,4:2,11:3,4,12-22,26 Ro 16:17,18 Php 3:2. They were men bearing the name of Christ and professing faith in Him, but Pharisees at heart, self-seeking, rancorous, unscrupulous men, bent on exploiting the Pauline Churches for their own advantage, and regarding Gentile converts to Christ as so many possible recruits for the ranks of the Circumcision.

But where, and how, were these traitors "privily brought in"? Brought in, we answer, to the field of the Gentile mission; and doubtless by local Jewish sympathisers, who introduced them without the concurrence of the officers of the Church. They "came in privily":—slipped in by stealth—"to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus." Now it was at Antioch and in the pagan Churches that this liberty existed in its normal exercise—the liberty for which our Epistle contends, the enjoyment of Christian privileges independently of Jewish law—in which Paul and his brother missionaries had identified themselves with their Gentile followers. The "false brethren" were Jewish spies in the Gentile Christian camp. We do not see how the Galatians could have read the Apostle’s words otherwise; nor how it could have occurred to them that he was referring to the way in which these men had been originally "brought into" the Jewish Church. That concerned neither him nor them. But their getting into the Gentile fold was the serious thing. They are the certain who came down from Judea, and taught the (Gentile) brethren, saying, Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, "ye cannot be saved"; and whom their own Church afterwards repudiated. (Ac 15:24) With Antioch for the centre of their operations, these mischief-makers disturbed the whole field of Paul and Barnabas’ labours in Syria and Cilicia. (Ac 15:23 Ga 1:21) For the Galatian readers, the terms of this sentence, coming after the anathema of Ga 1:6-9, threw a startling light on the character of the Judean emissaries busy in their midst. This description of the former "troublers" strikes at the Judaic opposition in Galatia. It is as if the Apostle said: "These false brethren, smuggled in amongst us, to filch away our liberties in Christ, wolves in sheep’s clothing—I know them well; I have encountered them before this. I never yielded to their demands a single inch. I carried the struggle with them to Jerusalem. There, in the citadel of Judaism, and before the assembled chiefs of the Judean Church, I vindicated once and for all, under the person of Titus, your imperilled Christian rights."

But as the Apostle dilates on the conduct of these Jewish intriguers, the precursors of such an army of troublers, his heart takes fire; in the rush of his emotion he is carried away from the original purport of his sentence, and breaks it off with a burst of indignation: "To whom," he cries, "not even for an hour did we yield by subjection, that the truth of the gospel might abide with you." A breakdown like this—an anacotuthon, as the grammarians call it—is nothing strange in Paul’s style. Despite the shipwrecked grammar, the sense comes off safely enough. The clause, "we did not yield," etc., describes in a negative form, and with heightened effect, the course the Apostle had pursued from the first in dealing with the false brethren. In this unyielding spirit he had acted, without a moment’s wavering, from the hour when, guided by the Holy Spirit, he set out for Jerusalem with the uncircumcised Titus by his side, until he heard his Gentile gospel vindicated by the lips of Peter and James, and received from them the clasp of fellowship as Christ’s acknowledged Apostle to the heathen.

It was therefore the action of Jewish interlopers, men of the same stamp as those infesting the Galatian Churches, which occasioned Paul’s second, public visit to Jerusalem, and his consultation with the heads of the Judean Church. This decisive course he was himself inspired to take; while at the same time it was taken on behalf and under the direction of the Church of Antioch, the metropolis of Gentile Christianity. He had gone up with Barnabas and "certain others"—including the Greek Titus chosen by himself—the company forming a representative deputation, of which Paul was the leader and spokesman. This measure was the boldest and the only effectual means of combating the Judaistic propaganda. It drew from the authorities at Jerusalem the admission that "Circumcision is nothing," and that Gentile Christians are free from the ritual law. This was a victory gained over Jewish prejudice of immense significance for the future of Christianity. The ground was already cut from under the feet of the Judaic teachers in Galatia, and of all who should at any time seek to impose external rites as things essential to salvation in Christ. To all his readers Paul can now say, so far as his part is concerned: The truth of the gospel abides with you. 


[32] The writer is compelled in this instance to depart from the rendering of the English Version, for reasons given in the sequel. See also a paper on Paul and Titus at Jerusalem, in The Expositor, 3rd series, vol. vi., pp. 435-442. The last three words within the brackets agree with the R.V. margin.

[33] These fourteen years probably amounted to something less in our reckoning,—say, from 38 to 51 A.D.Some six years elapsed before Paul was summoned to Antioch.

[34] Acts xiii. 2, 7, 13, 43, 45, 46, 50; xiv. 12, 14; xv. 2, 12.

[35] Comp. Rom. xi. 13; xv. 16, 17.

[36] Hibbert Lectures, p. 103. This testimony is the more valuable as coming from the ablest living exponent of the Baurian theory.

[37] Acts xv. 28: "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us." This was in the Early Church no mere pious official form.

[38] For this use of ἁλλ᾽οὐδὲ compare Acts xix. 2 (here also after a question); 1 Cor. iii. 2iv. 3. We observe a similar instance of the phrase in Æschylus, Persæ, l. 792. ᾈλλ᾽ opposes itself to the expectation of the Judaistic "compellers," present to the mind of Paul and his readers.

[39] This particle is a serious obstacle in the way of the ordinary punctuation, which attaches the following clause to ver. 3. The δὲ is similar to that of ver. 6 (ἀπὸ δὲ τ. δοκούντων); not of κατ ἰδίαν δὲ in ver. 2, nor of θανάτον δὲ σταύρου (Phil. ii. 8), which are parenthetical qualifications. And to say, "Because of the false brethren Titus was not compelled to be circumcised," is simply an inconsequence. Would he have been compelled to be circumcised if they had not required it? This is the assumption implied by the above construction.