Galatians 2:1-10: Is This an Agreement?

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[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as….)]

The result of the meeting described in Gal 2:1-10 seems to be that both sides agree that Paul is correct.  Titus is not compelled to be circumcised and an in-principle agreement is reached dividing up the labor of the Gospel between Paul (to the Gentiles) and Peter (to the Jews).  But do these two “sides” really come to an agreement?

Paul says that the Pillars of the Jerusalem church “added nothing” to him.  This can be taken in two different ways: Most commonly this is taken to mean that the Pillars did not add anything to Paul’s gospel, meaning that they “approved” of the Gospel Paul was teaching and did not require him to include something more in his preaching to the Gentiles.

On the other hand, this may mean that the approval of the Apostles did nothing to enhance Paul’s honor or prestige, since he was already commissioned by God to preach this Gospel (Witherington, Galatians, 140).  In the context, Paul’s dismissal of the honor of the Apostles indicates that he did not require their approval and it did not matter if they agreed with him or not, since he knew he was right.

In addition to “adding nothing” to Paul, the Pillars give Paul the “right hand of fellowship.”  Does this indicate some sort of formal agreement?  The “giving of a hand” is found in the Hebrew Bible several time (2 Kings 10:15, Ezra 10:19, Ezek 17:16, 1 Chron 29:24, 2Chron 30:8, Lam 5:6).  In general, this is an offer of friendship.  But sometimes this is an offer from a socially superior person to an inferior (Antiq. 18:328-29), but other times between equals (Xenophon, Anab. 1.6.6, 2.5.3).  It is possible that Paul understood this gesture as friendship between equals, but the Apostles understood it as friendship with an inferior Paul (Witherington, Galatians, 144). That this is a “hand of fellowship” indicates that Paul and the Apostles are agreeing to work together in some sort of partnership. Again, this is an agreement between two socially equal partners.

Whatever the case, Paul sees this as an agreement which is broken by the presence of Judaizers in his Galatia churches.

Is this a “division of labor”?  Was this division ethnic or geographical?  According to 1 Peter, Peter ministers in northern Asia Minor.  1 Corinthians implies that he had some influence in Corinth, but this may not imply that he actually ministered in that city.  It is likely that Peter continued doing the sort of ministry Acts 10-12 describes.  Like Jesus, Peter seems to have ministered primarily to the Jews, but especially to those on the fringe of Judaism.

Paul, on the other hand, continues to go to synagogues as a part of his regular pattern of ministry (Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea and Corinth, all on the second missionary journey), and in 2 Cor 11:24 Paul indicates that he has been disciplined in the synagogue several times before A.D. 52.  It might be possible to argue that Paul himself broke this agreement by continuing to begin his time in a new territory by first going into the synagogue and bringing the God-fearers and Jews to faith in Jesus.