The Apostles and Paul’s Gospel (Galatians 2:6-10)

Commenting on his meeting in Jerusalem, Paul says that the Pillars “added nothing” to him (2:6). This can be taken in two different ways. First, the Pillars did not add anything to Paul’s gospel, meaning they “approved” of the Gospel Paul was teaching and did not require him to include something more in his preaching to the Gentiles. Second, this may mean 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 he did not require their approval and it did not matter if they agreed with him or not, since he knew he was right. This might be something like a doctor who is has an M.D. getting an approval to practice medicine from a local high school. The approval of Jerusalem does not matter to Paul since a higher authority has already given him all approval he needs.

Peter and Paul Hugging

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 for example). In general, this is an offer of friendship between equals, but occasionally it is a gesture from a superior person to a socially inferior person. Giving the “right hand” is ambiguous. It is possible Paul understood this gesture as friendship between equals, but the Apostles understood it as friendship with an inferior Paul. Whatever the case, Paul takes the presence of the opponents in the Galatia churches as a breach of this agreement.

Was the agreement a “division of labor”? Peter will go to the Jews, while Paul goes to Gentiles? It may be the division ethnic or geographical. According to 1 Peter, Peter ministers in northern Asia Minor. 1 Corinthians implies Peter had some influence in Corinth, but this may not imply he actually ministered in that city. It is likely 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. James may have remained in Jerusalem and minister to Jews who remained faithful to the Law (Acts 21:20).

Paul, on the other hand, continued to go to synagogues as a part of his regular pattern of ministry (Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea and Corinth) and in 2 Cor 11:24 Paul indicates he has been disciplined in the synagogue several times before A.D. 52. But Paul did avoid regions which were already evangelized by others; his intention was always to move west into regions which had not yet heard the Gospel (Rom 15:23-24).

As it stands in Galatians, what is Paul’s point in recounting this encounter with the Jerusalem Leadership? It is possible Paul’s reasons for including the information in Galatians differ from Luke’s reasons for omitting it (if the encounter is not Acts 15) or Luke’s emphasis on the unity between Paul and Jerusalem.

12 thoughts on “The Apostles and Paul’s Gospel (Galatians 2:6-10)

  1. I would say that Paul tells of the account to prove his point. He is saying look at these leaders, John, James, and Peter. These guys approved my message. They gave me permission to preach the gospel to the gentiles and didn’t add anything to it. It’s a good use because Paul is trying to get the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians to live at peace. That peace can’t happen if one group thinks they are better than the other. According to Longenecker writes, Paul had fought against the separation of Jewish Jesus-followers from Gentile Jesus followers in those corporate gatherings” (TTP 98). I believe Paul used this point to bring peace between the two groups.

  2. I agree with Brandon when he said that Paul is presenting this information as a means of proving that his message is legitimate and that he has leadership that approved of the message that he was spreading. James, Cephas and John gave Paul and Barnabas the “right hand of fellowship” because the pillars saw the calling of God in Paul to the Gentiles (Gala. 2:9). Paul uses this to show that even they approved of Paul going to the Gentiles. Another thing that Paul could be showing is that he had the whole truth of the Gospel and not even the Jerusalem Leaders had anything to add to it (Gala. 2:6).

  3. It is possible that Paul was trying to show them that Paul is himself a legitimate apostle and so convince them of the legitimacy of his argument. He is saying that it is not necessary to prove himself with those other apostles, but nonetheless they too are on the same page (Longenecker 98). He explains that he is trying to please God not man (Galatians 1:10). He then explains that he received his message from God and that he did not receive the gospel from the apostles (Galatians 1:11-17). It is almost as though he is trying to separate himself from that group of people so that they understand that this gospel to the gentiles is different. He describes his ministry as being different than Peter’s ministry. He does not negate Peter’s ministry but simply says they have different mission fields (Galatians 2:9). Paul goes into a story where he confronts Peter about his behavior the point being that the works of the law do not save a person (Galatians 2:14-15). Paul is trying to separate his ministry from Peter’s as different as well as explain to the gentiles that their faith is not supposed to be Judaism. In acts 15 there does seem to be an emphasis on unity however Paul’s point is that his ministry is different and it is unreasonable for those agitators to expect the Galatians to follow the works of the law. Paul’s fear is that they may try and earn their salvation not trusting in Christ’s sacrifice as enough (Galatians 2:21). Perhaps the agitators were coming with some sort of credentials and so Paul too presented his credentials. Paul finds it necessary to write with his own hand perhaps to authenticate his letter (Galatians 6:11). ”In closing he says “from now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). Paul has suffered on behalf of the gospel that he is presenting something that he explains the agitators have sought to escape (Galatians 6:12). Longenecker explains that “Paul pulled out all the stops in this letter, attempting to ensure that Galatian Jesus-followers continued ‘obeying the truth’ (Gal 5:7)” (Longenecker 104). Paul may not have thought it necessary to legitimize himself. However he did whatever he thought was needed in order to convince the believers of the completeness of the gospel that he had presented.

    • I really like Mary’s point that Paul may have felt he needed to reveal his credentials because the agitators were not only challenging him but also his credentials. Longenecker and still state that one of the possible aims the agitators had was to undermine “Paul’s credentials and gospel intentionally in order to bring Jesus-followers out from under the influence” of someone they felt had questionable credentials (90). Paul states at the end of Galatians that he has suffered for Christ and that his scars legitimize his apostleship and his gospel to the doubters and agitators (TTP 104). Paul felt the need to write in his own hand at the end of the letter to add to the authenticity of his letter. He wanted to reassure the congregation that it was him and that “for now on let no one cause me trouble” for he was under God’s authority, no man’s (Galatians 6:17).

  4. As I was reading it over again, my interpretation was that Paul was trying to prove his point, and why he was a legitimate apostle. It intrigues me at Gal 1:20 that while Paul was explaining his call from God, he says “…I assure you before God that what I am writing to you is no lie”. I mean, I would he say something like that? For me he was definitely trying to prove his point.

    While he explains his encounter, he highlight the fact that even tough the others are considered pillars, that doesn’t mean a thing to him for God doesn’t have favorites. What I believe he was just trying to politely say “Dude…doesn’t matter what they think about me, God called me from the womb of my mother. I’ve seen His glory, I’ve experienced His presence. No matter what, I’ll keep doing what He called me to do.”
    But he also states that the pillars actually recognized the grace that was given to him (Gal 2:9). All of that was a way that Paul found to explain and reaffirm to the Galatians that everything that was being taught by him was the true Gospel, and anything beyond/different than that was not from God, as he states in Gal 1:8-10.

  5. I think that Paul, being as educated as he was, meant that the Pillars had nothing to add to his overall message. I believe that had Paul been trying to pull one over on the Twelve the Holy Spirit would have alerted them, much like with Aninias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. I think the Lord would have confirmed with the Twelve His plan concerning Paul, which is why they did not oppose him, but rather chose to work with him in planting churches and evangelizing. I think that the extension of the right hand was from one minister of the gospel to another, as equals. I think that Paul recitation of this encounter in Jerusalem was to reinforce that the Galatians should be listening to him in his authority rather than the “agitators” that have been plaguing the church, trying to pollute their gospel with a very oppressive message.

  6. There is a lot to draw from Galatians 2. First of all when Paul mentions that he went to in response to revelation, I believe that he is saying he went up to Jerusalem as a direct message from God. Simply that no man told him to do so, rather that those were the instructions from God. Secondly, Paul goes on to tell the people why he was the one that was chosen. “James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me” (Gal 2:9). I believe that Paul makes it point to tell the people why they should trust him, perhaps because the people needed to be reminded of that.

  7. You said nothing was added to him because perhaps the Pillars had nothing more for him to preach about, or they simply could do nothing to enhance his prestige because God commissioned him, but I think there could be another reason. Maybe he just simply did not care for them. I mean, he didn’t hate them. Obviously, they were apostles, too. But Paul has had a “fight” before which led him to just depart after a disagreement, like when Barnabas and Paul had a disagreement about whether to have John/Mark along for the trip or not (Acts 15). It seemed easy enough for him to just not agree with others, so maybe nothing was added to him because he did not like him. A few verses after saying “those… influential added nothing to me,” Paul condemned Peter face to face for being a hypocrite by eating with the Gentiles, and then when James comes along, he separated himself, for fear of being judged (Gal 2:6-12). This led others to act like him because they saw how an apostle acted. That probably really bothered Paul because Peter was supposed to be someone others could look up to.

    So, I am not even sure of Paul saw Peter and him as “equals” or Peter as a more “superior person” like you propose. He does say in Galatians 3:28 they are equals when it comes to being saved, but as far I can tell, him condemning Peter makes Paul seem more superior, even if the Pillars did give him the “right hand of fellowship.”

    • Some good points, Sam. Paul’s intense personality and tendency to feel certain (and/or superior) and probably “bossy” may well have contributed to interpersonal conflicts. And this is added to clear theological and “church rules” differences partly based on Gentile/Jewish differences in lifestyle (diet, circumcision, etc.).

  8. Phillip, again thanks for the post. You’ve got me looking again at the history cited in Acts, and comparing it to Paul’s accounts… analyzing the dynamics in play as well as trying to decipher the puzzles created.

    This time I noted (what I don’t recall I had before) that even IF Paul refers to the same “Jerusalem Council” described in Acts, the reason for it, why it happened, and even the outcome are all different between the accounts. If it is another occasion, I don’t recall it being described in Acts… correct me if I’m wrong, please.

    As to one interesting hint re. why accounts (not just on the “Council”) vary: In Gal. 1:20 he virtually “swears” that “… before God, I do not lie!” (NRSV). Why this emphatic declaration? Unless he was generally distrusted (unlikely), doesn’t it imply he is correcting some other info? Like saying, “Despite what else you’ve heard, THIS is the truth!” And the context has to do with his sources and doctrinal development (God vs. Apostles, basically, and the point of “his” gospel not having come from them, with their tendency to either continue–as perhaps with James and others–or support others in continuing Jewish religious practices).

    Then, as to the content of the Council, whenever it took place, we seem to have 3 possibilities as to Paul’s lack of honoring it. (It seems he did not, in that it was clear re. avoidance of “things polluted by idols… strangled…and…blood”). Paul, (I Cor.) basically clears eating of meat offered to idols (and not killed “kosher”), unless it causes a weaker brother to stumble. Possible reasons:
    1) The Council never happened at all
    2) He wasn’t there and never got the word
    3) He was either there or got the word but chose to ignore it

    And I’d never expect Luke, who of course says it happened and that Paul was there, to report that Paul failed to adhere to the core points of the decision handed down.

  9. It is evident in some places that Paul’s encounter could have meant to prove his point, like in the example of Gal. 2. He may have looked at it as ‘equal’, while the Apostles thought of it as greeting a lesser. In 2 Corinthians, Paul says “Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles.” Here he is claiming his equally with the Apostles, despite having a terrible past. Was this Paul remembering the incident with the ‘Pillars’? In Galatians there is also, as Longenecker puts it, that there were Jewish-Christians that “advocated one of two strategies in relation to preserving the covenant identity of Jewish Jesus-followers.” This causes the split of Paul and Peter, and is accounted directly after the ‘right hand of fellowship’. That incident was concerning Gentile believers, however, the incident with the ‘pillars’ is different in that there is, though it seems Paul and the pillars agreed, a different field. Paul recounts, “that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” This seemed to be the general agreement, primarily because of Paul’s God given call to the apostles, but something subtle as well. Could it be, that though there should not have been a difference in the Gospel preached, that the circumcised party ministered to the Jews, and Paul to the Gentiles, not because of theology, but because of emphasis? Maybe the pillars wanted to let Jews keep living out the old covenant lifestyle because it was so ingrained, and Paul preached the opposite to the Gentiles, that they needed not accept the Law?
    The reason Paul includes the account, and Luke omits it is perhaps Luke’s desire to emphasize unity in the body of Christ, and Paul just being real. ‘There will be disagreements’ is what Paul could be conveying. ‘Deal with them in truth” is his answer.

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