Galatians

tmjbog

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One of my facebook friends that was a member of the old FFF (don't remember what his name on the FFF was) fits this description. He celebrates the Jewish holidays and never spells out "God" or "Yahweh".
I remember about 10-12 years ago when I first moved to the DC area there was a baptist church that called themselves Seventh Day Baptists. There are quite a few Seventh Day Adventists in the area so maybe they broke off from them.
 

tmjbog

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Legalism can also mean elevating a pious application of the law to the status of law itself. Here, I think, is where we can find all those rules and traditions in fundydom that we call "standards." Paul wrote that "it is good for a man not to touch a woman" (1 Cor. 7:1 KJV). Of course, he meant in a sexual sense. Yet, on this forum and others, I've read many stories about fundamentalist Bible colleges where a woman had fallen down, and no man would help her up because the rules forbade holding hands. In a misguided effort to honour the spirit of Paul's instructions, the school forbade the letter. I think many of these extrabiblical "standards" began their lives as a well-meaning effort to erect a fence around bigger sins. There is also a more malevolent tendency, with the fundamentalist emphasis on separation, to see who can "out-separate" everyone else. Either way, when these well-meaning commandments of men are elevated to the same importance as the commandments of God, you have a legalism problem.
I still call my self a fundamentalist based on the historic meaning. I just don't believe in all the extra fundamentals.
 

Ransom

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I remember about 10-12 years ago when I first moved to the DC area there was a baptist church that called themselves Seventh Day Baptists. There are quite a few Seventh Day Adventists in the area so maybe they broke off from them.
I was curious about that myself, so I did a little bit of investigating. I had assumed that the Seventh-day Adventists came first, as well. Turns out Seventh Day Baptists go right back to the seventeenth century; their first recorded meetings are in the Oliver Cromwell period. So the SDBs didn't break off from the SDAs--quite the opposite. The person who introduced Sabbatarian worship to the Millerites (who eventually became the SDAs) was an SDB.

I could be wrong, and, being Baptist, SDB churches or organizations set their own creeds, so you woudln't expect uniformity in any case. But as far as I can tell, they've chosen to move their worship day to Saturday. Beyond that, I don't know if they'd qualify as Judaizers.
 

illinoisguy

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Yes, the 7th Day Baptists go back as least as far as the 17th Century in Rhode Island. Years ago I visited a 7th Day Baptist church out in the country near Stonefort, Saline County, Illinois. My impression was that they were very nice people, not legalistic, they informed me that they are not judgmental about Sunday-worshipping churches but prefer Saturday worship. They didn't appear to be in violation of Paul's warning in Colossians 2:16 that we should not judge others (or, more accurately, not let ourselves be judged) with regard to Sabbath observance. [Not intended as a blanket endorsement of the SDB movement].
 

Bob H

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It is Covenant Theologians' lack of study......

Pease dude! The "if you would only study more you would see it my way" argument, which has been used by both sides in times past, is gotten old here. Just state your opinions.
 

Ransom

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. . . but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (1:7b-9)​

but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ: Maybe the Judaizers were well-intentioned, and just wanted to lead other believers into a more authentic form of Christianity, as they understood it. "What you've been told about salvation by faith is good, as far as it goes," they may have said. "But here, let me tell you the whole truth." It's not implausible; look at Apollos, who knew enough of the Gospel to be an effective evangelist, even though what he did know was incomplete and needed to be corrected (Acts 18:24-28). Furthermore, those who disputed the point at the council of Jerusalem are called "believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees" (Acts 15:5, emphasis added).

But I don't think that's true of the Galatian Judaizers. Paul doesn't speak of them like fellow Christian brothers who are acting in good faith. Instead, he says they want to distort the Gospel. Elsewhere in this letter, he calls their kind "false brothers" (2:4) and accuses them of collecting disciples for bragging rights (4:17).

The message of the Judaizers is a distortion of the true Gospel, they are bringing trouble, not truth, and their motives are suspect.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed: Paul guards the Gospel very closely, and he is so perturbed by the distortion of it being preached to the Galatians, he pronounces a curse upon the Judaizers, condemning them in the proverbial "strongest possible terms"--only, unlike a political leader, Paul actually uses the strongest possible terms: "accursed" is anathema. In the Greek Old Testament, this term was used of consecrated items such as sacrifices that were destined to be destroyed. Later in church history it would be identified with the severest excommunication for the gravest of offences, in which the person on whom the anathema was pronounced was formally banned from the Christian community and judged to be doomed to destruction along with Satan and his angels.

In other words, for Paul to pronounce an anathema upon someone for preaching a false gospel, is to say that person is in danger of hell. It's such an important point, he says it again.

We cannot afford to compromise the integrity of the Gospel. There is one Gospel alone; all others are counterfeits. The cost of a compromised gospel is too high, not only to the souls to whom we witness, who need the truth. But the witness who preaches the false gospel incurs the wrath of God. "You know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness," wrote James (3:1). The ones who teach false doctrine are accountable for those whom they deceive by it.
 

Ransom

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For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (1:10)​

Now we need to start reading between the lines a bit. As I noted before, when we read Paul's letters, we only see his half of the conversation. He is obviously responding to criticism, but it's not clear what that criticism was. He was being accused of trying to gain men's approval, but how was he supposedly doing that? By telling people what they wanted to hear? By making much of himself and his credentials? The context seems to suggest the former, but I don't think we can say for sure.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man?: I can't help hearing the sarcasm in these rhetorical questions. He's just finished pronouncing an anathema on anyone who preaches a contradictory gospel. The tone feels something like, "There, is that the feel-good message you think I'm using to win friends and influence people?"

If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ: If Paul was the servant of men and wanted to please men, he would indeed be preaching a message that they found pleasing. He wouldn't be dropping curses on them. But Paul is the servant of Christ, so he is doing what pleases Christ. As Jesus taught, you can't serve two masters.

In recent years, the prevailing secular worldview seems to have shifted away from the easygoing relativism of postmodernism. After postmodernism has come a new authoritarian absolutism (typified by such Internet phenomena as "cancel culture") to replace the old relativism. Both have this in common: they want to be free from judgment. Postmodernism did it by seeking understanding rather than truth (which postmodernists claimed was impossible to know objectively). The new post-postmodernism does it by erecting "safe spaces" where opposing views are disallowed. Both philosophies want to be free from judgment; they want only to hear what pleases them.

This isn't an exclusive malady of secular leftists. There have always been prophets that only told people what they wanted to hear. Ahab hated Micaiah, because he was the only prophet who never told him anything good (1 Kings 22:8). Closer to home, a generation ago, the late Robert Schuller criticized the preaching of sin and judgment because it drove people away from the church: "you'll drive them farther away and they'll be madder than hell at you and they'll turn the Bible off, and they'll switch you off, and they'll turn on the rock music and Madonna," he told Michael Horton in 1992. Today, Joel Osteen also avoids talking much about sin; in his theology, sinners don't fall short of the glory of God, but achieving their "best life now." One comes from the perspective of positive thinking, and the other from the prosperity gospel, but they both reach the same conclusion: Sin is a turn-off, so we shouldn't warn people about it.

Of course, you've seen video of "old-fashioned preaching" from fundamentalist preachers. Maybe you've even attended those churches. "Old-fashioned" or "hard" preaching consists largely of theatrics: strutting on the stage, pounding the pulpit, standing on the pews, hollering, and sweating, punctuated with the occasional "Haymen!" It purports to step on toes, call sin sin, and name names. Pay attention to the congregation while listening to "hard preaching." They're hooting and hollering, amenning, waving their Bibles, maybe even running laps around the auditorium. Does "hard preaching" make them uncomfortable? No. It's exactly what they came to hear. Their emotions are being manipulated, and they're going along willingly. Man-pleasing isn't the exclusive domain of the liberals and prosperity preachers.

Peter and John understood the folly of trying to please men, when the Sanhedrin arrested them and ordered them to stop preaching Christianity. They replied, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19-20). They were servants of Christ, so they defied the ungodly orders of the Sanhedrin.
 

tmjbog

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Of course, you've seen video of "old-fashioned preaching" from fundamentalist preachers. Maybe you've even attended those churches. "Old-fashioned" or "hard" preaching consists largely of theatrics: strutting on the stage, pounding the pulpit, standing on the pews, hollering, and sweating, punctuated with the occasional "Haymen!" It purports to step on toes, call sin sin, and name names. Pay attention to the congregation while listening to "hard preaching." They're hooting and hollering, amenning, waving their Bibles, maybe even running laps around the auditorium. Does "hard preaching" make them uncomfortable? No. It's exactly what they came to hear. Their emotions are being manipulated, and they're going along willingly. Man-pleasing isn't the exclusive domain of the liberals and prosperity preachers.
Even back when I liked the yelling and the hootin' and hollerin' I used to wonder why it was that we would always criticize the Charismatics for getting caught up in their emotionalism. It seemed we were doing the same thing.
 

Twisted

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I used to wonder why it was that we would always criticize the Charismatics for getting caught up in their emotionalism. It seemed we were doing the same thing.
You mean like this? Don't worry, Tarheel dried out just fine.

 

Ransom

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For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel.[c] 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (1:11-12)​

Paul came through Galatia preaching the Gospel of justification by faith alone. The Judaizers, on the other hand, were teaching the Galatians that circumcision and keeping the Law were also necessary for salvation. Again, we aren't sure what Paul is responding to in this passage. However, it makes sense that for the Judaizers' false gospel to penetrate the Gentile churches, they would need to discredit the apostle appointed to preach to the Gentiles. Reading between the lines, it appears as though they attempted to drive a wedge between Paul and the twelve disciples in Jerusalem, who continued to minister primarily to the Jews there. They may also have tried to discredit his preaching by claiming ''his'' Gospel was the false one, since he never personally walked with Jesus, so he got his message secondhand, from men who distorted the message.

Aside from his apostolic credentials, Paul is the most influential theologian of the apostolic era. If you count words, he wrote over a quarter of the New Testament; his letters comprise over half the individual documents that make it up. Anyone who wants to undermine justification by faith has a serious hurdle to clear. And many individuals and organizations have tried to discredit the divine origin of Paul's teaching. I've often said that trying to set Paul apart from Jesus or the other disciples is prima facie evidence of apostasy, or well on its way.

The Ebionites were a second-century, heretical sect of Judaistic Christians. They claimed Jesus was a mere man whom God had selected to be the Messiah because he had obeyed the Law perfectly. Other than a revised version of the Gospel of Matthew, hey rejected the New Testament. Their canon of Scripture also included something called the "Ascents of James," which claimed Paul was a Gentile who converted to Judaism so he could marry the high priest's daughter. He became embittered when the high priest forbade the marriage, so he began railing against the Law and circumcision.

According to the Hadith (authoritative Islamic commentaries on the Quran): "I heard Allah's Apostle [Mohammed] saying, 'I am the nearest of all the people to the son of Mary, and all the prophets are paternal brothers, and there has been no prophet between me and him [Jesus]'" [Sahih al-Bukhari 4.55.651]). Christians are seen as followers of Paul, a false apostle who corrupted the pure (Islamic) religion of the Prophet Jesus. It's possible the Muslim view of Paul was taken from Ebionism.

Similarly, the Deists of the 17th and 18th centuries sometimes claimed that the ethical religion of Jesus had been corrupted by his followers. Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States and a Deist, published his own edition of the Bible, in which he literally cut and pasted the supposed pure religion of Jesus, separating it from the corruptions of the other biblical authors. In a letter to fellow Deist John Adams, he said they were "as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill."[1] Jefferson believed Paul was the villain of the Bible who had turned the religion of Jesus into a religion about Jesus.

In 1991, John Shelby Spong, then the very liberal Episcopalian bishop of Newark, wrote an influential and controversial book titled Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, in which he defended every fashionable error of liberal biblical criticism of the past century. He argues about Paul, "No evidence points to any direct knowledge of the earthly Jesus on the part of this man. What he knew of Jesus he seems to have gotten through the oral tradition at the feet of itinerant preachers, from the various apostles, or from disciples of the apostles."[2] In the midst of this, he also tries to argue that Paul was a repressed homosexual who persecuted Christians to prove his masculinity to his fellow Jews. (Some people will say anything outrageous for press attention.)

We have a softer form of theological liberalism in the post-evangelical, progressive, "red-letter Christians." This movement, associated with the Evangelical left (in particular, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, and Shane Claiborne), claims Christians should pay closer attention to the words of Jesus, and the issues that he addressed directly should be our priorities for public policy. While not specifically repudiating the words of Paul as Spong does, the red-letter movement does imply that the words recorded as being spoken by Jesus are more inspired than the words spoken by other inspired messengers--and that issues not directly addressed by Jesus, such as homosexuality, which Paul directly addresses, are of secondary importance. I doubt it's a coincidence that Campolo and Wallis are both in favour of same-sex marriage. Like the more traditional liberals of the last century, red-letter Christians are embarrassed by Paul.

Against those who would apparently drive a wedge between him and the rest of the apostles, Paul begins to defend his own apostolic authority. He tells us four things about his Gospel.

  • First, it is not man's gospel. It did not have a human origin. He did not, as Spong put it, learn it secondhand at the feet of itinerant preachers or from the other apostles.
  • Second and third, he did not receive it from any man, nor was [he] taught it. The difference between these two points is subtle, but I think the distinction Paul is making is that he was not merely handed a "gospel" by someone else and told to preach it, nor did he go through the labour of learning it through study.
  • Fourth, he received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. Paul's Gospel was not the result of human impulse or learning; it was of direct divine origin, taught to him directly by the risen and ascended Jesus.

This is the thumbnail of Paul's credentials, which he defends in more detail in subsequent verses.

References

[1] Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 12 October 1813, Founders Online, accessed 3 May 2020, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-06-02-0431.

[2] John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 100.
 

Ransom

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For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. (1:13-14)​

With this passage, Paul continues to answer his critics. His answers imply that the Judaizers were attempting to undermine his ministry by many approaches: questioning the source of his message, the authenticity of his apostleship, his motives, and so forth. He has already stated that the Gospel he preaches came, not from other men, but from a direct revelation of Christ himself. He begins now to make his case in more detail.

The first proof of his authenticity is the story of his former life.

For you have heard of my former life in Judaism: Here, he doesn't really say much about this. Presumably, it's something they had already heard. Paul goes into some more detail in his letter to the Philippians, who had also had some controversy with the Judaizers. He writes:

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Phil. 3:2-6)​

By birth, Paul was a Benjamite. The tribe of Benjamin had prestige among the Jews. Benjamin was specially loved by Jacob because he was a son of Rachel rather than Leah. Moses' final blessings to the twelve tribes called Benjamin the "beloved of the Lord" (Deut. 33:12). The territory given to the tribe of Benjamin included the holy city of Jerusalem, and therefore also the Temple. "Paulus" was the apostle's Roman name; as a Jew, he was a namesake of Saul, the first king of Israel, who was a Benjamite. When the northern ten tribes rebelled against King David, Benjamin remained loyal. Paul knew his lineage, when most Jews of the day did not. It was obviously important to his family if they preserved that knowledge.

By education and affiliation, Paul was a Pharisee. There were three major sects during Second Temple Judaism. The Essenes (from whom we received the Dead Sea Scrolls) lived communally and largely kept to themselves. The Sadducees belonged to the upper classes of Jewish society, and thus had most of the political power, controlling both the Sanhedrin and the Temple. Notwithstanding their controversies with Jesus and the early Christians, the Pharisees generally had the goodwill of the Jewish people. The Sadducees supported Hellenization, while the Pharisees opposed it. While the Sadducees viewed the Temple as the sole institution of Jewish religious life, the Pharisees recognized the need for spirituality in everyday life. As a result, after the destruction of the second Temple in AD 70, the Sadducees largely went extinct, while Pharisaic Judaism evolved into the Rabbinic Judaism that survives to this day. Paul's teacher, Gamaliel, while notable on his own merits, was the grandson of Hillel the Elder, probably the most famous Pharisee of all time and one of the most influential thinkers in Jewish thought. The pedigree of Paul's education, like that of his lineage, was impeccable.

Nonetheless, he continues, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ" (Phil. 3:7); indeed, in comparison to the riches of Christ, those things are like "dung," as the KJV puts it (2:8). Even the KJV's literal translation softens the force of that word, which connotes both worthlessness and revulsion. Paul isn't prone to vulgarities in his writing, which only makes the occasional vulgarity he does use all the more striking.

how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it: He was unmatched in his zeal. He was a notoriouis persecutor of Christians on behalf of the Sanhedrin. When we first meet Paul in the New Testament, he is abetting the murder of Stephen (Acts 7:58; 8:1). Afterwards, he was "ravaging the church (8:3) and "breathing threats and murder" against it (9:1).

And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers: He was, as he wrote to the Philippians, a "Hebrew of Hebrews" (3:5). He was ambitious and sought to outperform his contemporaries. His zealousness for Judaism was made manifest in his rage against Christians.

And yet, we know what happens next, on the road to Damascus. Paul was one of the most unlikely converts to Christianity that you can imagine. It's easy to see why, even after he received Christ, the church was still afraid of him.
 

IFB X-Files

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By popular demand, I'm starting a thread to work through Galatians bit by bit.

Full disclosure: I started doing this a few years ago. But I only got a few verses in before personal life occupied too much of my time. I've revisited that thread, and if you can be bothered to look it up, you may notice that many of the initial posts in this thread are rewritten versions of the old one.

One thing I found interesting was that I started that thread in the very same way: a call for suggestions. The consensus back then was to study Galatians, as well. Is this a favourite book, or one that people feel they need to understand better?

Anyway, enjoy. Feel free to jump in with comments, and I'll be glad to discuss them. Other than that, I intend to post a verse or so on a daily basis, more or less. Hopefully I can strike a balance between what I post, and the amount I need to write day to day.
I've enjoyed the posts.
 

Ransom

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But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles . . . (1:15-16a)​

Paul's second proof of his authenticity is his conversion. As I said in the last instalment, he was an unlikely convert. When he met the risen Christ on the Damascus road, he wasn't seeking him; he was seeking to kill more of his disciples. But God had a different plan.

But when he who had set me apart before I was born: Paul wasn't converted by his own choice. Of his own volition, it seems next to impossible that he would have become a Christian. He hated Christ and Christians and was doing the bidding of the Sanhedrin by destroying the church. But what is impossible for men, is possible with God (Mark 10:27), and so Paul really never stood a chance. God had a plan for Paul that was made before he was born (before anyone was born, really), and its time came while Paul was on the Damascus road.

and who called me by his grace: Paul didn't deserve his conversion. As a fanatical persecutor of the church, he was an enemy of God and his people, which is why he called himself "the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle" (1 Cor. 15:9). He regarded himself as the "chief of sinners" even to the end of his life because of his persecution of Christians (1 Tim. 1:15). He was wicked, but God was good. Jesus saved him even though he had been the worst kind of sinner. Paul's conversion was not by on his merits, but by God's grace.

was pleased to reveal his Son to me: It was God's pleasure to save Paul; that is, he did so not because Paul pleased him or because it gave him pleasure to do so, but because it was according to his "good pleasure" (Eph. 1:9 NIV) or "kind intention" (NASB).

in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles: Paul's conversion on the Damascus road came about at God's initiative, in his timing, and for his purposes. His intent was that Paul preach the Gospel to the Gentiles: "he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel" (Acts 9:15). Indeed, he took the Gospel outside of Palestine to Asia Minor and Greece, where he preached Jesus to Jews in the synagogues and Greeks in the marketplace. When he was arrested, he proclaimed the Gospel to two Roman procurators, Antonius Felix (Acts 24) and his successor, Porcius Festus (Acts 25). Since he appealed his case to Caesar and was sent to Rome, we can assume he had the same opportunity before Nero himself. He did indeed carry Christ's name to Jews, Gentiles, and kings. Not because this was his chosen career, but because it was the one God had appointed for him.
 

Ransom

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Thanks for the kind compliments. I'm glad people are finding value in this thread. Of course, feel free to disagree, question, comment, or whatever. I'm not trying to monologue!

Anyway, on with the next installment:

I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. (1:16b-17)​

Paul's third proof of his apostleship is his whereabouts since his conversion.

I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me: If the Judaizers were accusing Paul of receiving his commission from men (v. 1), or seeking the approval of men (v. 10), then here he is quick to point out that he was slow to meet with the Twelve and gain their approval. His first thought after his conversion was not to go to Jerusalem and meet the apostles. There was no collusion with them or anyone else.

but I went away into Arabia: Instead, the first place he went was Arabia. This isn't Saudi Arabia, as we would understand the name today. Rather, he meant the Roman province of Arabia Petraea, which corresponds roughly to present-day Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula, and parts of Syria. One of its capitals was Petra, that ancient city famous for its stone façades carved into the cliffs.

Paul doesn't say why he went to Arabia. It's been suggested that he preached to the Gentiles while there, and others have speculated that he remained alone and reflected upon his conversion. Still another theory says this is the time when he received the direct revelation of his teachings. But why he was there is less important than that he was there: if he was in Arabia, he wasn't in Jerusalem consulting with the Apostles.

and returned again to Damascus: Luke's chronology of Paul's post-conversion activities is ambiguous, since he makes no mention of his trip to Arabia. This gives the impression that his time in Damascus (Acts 9:19-25) was only a few days before he was forced to escape. It could be that Luke telescopes his entire stay in Damascus and ignores the Arabian trip, or that he focuses on Paul's escape and ignores the second visit to Damascus as well. There isn't a frame of reference in Acts to be sure. They have different purposes in writing. Luke is describing the reactions of the local Jews and Christians to the news of his conversion and early ministry. Paul, on the other hand, is saying he was in Damascus early on, and didn't have time to go to Jerusalem and collude with the apostles.
 

Ransom

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Picking up again on Galatians--sorry it's been a week since the last installment. I've both been unwell and busy with other things.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) (1:18-24)​

Paul continues to establish his alibi as part of his defense of his apostleship. There's an implicit accusation that he seems to be responding to: that his apostolic credentials are bogus, because he is riding the coattails of the apostles. If that was the case, why didn't he meet with them sooner? After his conversion to Christianity, Paul didn't seek out the apostles in Jerusalem. Instead, he travelled to Arabia, then to Damascus, and he preached the Gospel--without the endorsement the Twelve and effectively enough to make enemies of the Jews, who sought to murder him (Acts 9:23-25).

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days: Then, three years later, Paul finally goes to Jerusalem on church business. This is likely the trip to Jerusalem described in Acts 9:26-30. There, he gets a chilly reception, because the church is still afraid of him. Only Barnabas is willing to vouch for him. Acts doesn't say, but it seems as though he had been in Damascus while Paul was there and may have met him. Certainly he has a different idea of his reputation than the Twelve did from a distance.

But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother: And Peter (Cephas), of course, as the previous passage says. Luke says Barnabas "brought him to the apostles" (Acts 9:27), but Paul names only two and explicitly denies seeing the others. If these are indeed the same event, then we can give Luke the benefit of the doubt and say he generalizing. There's a more interesting controversy here: is Paul naming James as one of the apostles? The Greek could be translated in more than one way. It could mean something like "I saw none of the apostles except for James" implies James was one of the apostles; on the other hand it could mean "I didn't see any of the other apostles, but I did see James," implying he wasn't. I tend to go with the first, as do most Bible translators. The office of "apostle" is not strictly limited to twelve persons, like they were some exclusive secret order. Outside of the twelve disciples, other persons are also called an apostle, such as Barnabas and Paul himself. The general details of James' religious life were the same as Paul's: he was originally an unbeliever, until he had an encounter with the risen Jesus (1 Cor. 15:7), and then became a leader in the church. In fact, it appears as though James was the de facto leader in Jerusalem, which would seem odd if he wasn't one of those whom Christ had chosen to lead.

Contrast the time Paul spent in Arabia and Damascus with the time he spent in Jerusalem: 3 or more years versus 15 days. He came to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Peter. Two weeks is hardly enough time to consider him one of Peter's disciples. Yet, this is apparently how the Judaizers were trying to discredit Paul: he was, at best, an apostle of secondary importance, who got his theology by sitting at the feet of the Twelve and was then commissioned by them. Their claims just don't add up.

In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!: Paul is literally swearing under oath that he is telling the truth. Swearing falsely was a violation of the Third Commandment--a serious sin. He is not taking this defense of his reputation lightly.
 

Ransom

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Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 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. (2:1-2)​

Paul continues his accounting of his travels after his conversion. There's a chapter break here, but the Bible's chapter divisions were added in the 12th century by Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury whose opposition to King John ultimately led to the signing of the Magna Carta. Paul's narrative is actually unbroken; chapter and verse are a more recent convenience for finding a passage more easily.

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas: Seventeen years. When you read the history of the birth of the church in Acts, it always feels to me like it's relatively brief and action-packed. Luke occasionally mentions that a significant amount of time passed, but you certainly don't get the impression from reading the book that the whole story takes something around twenty years or more to unfold.

This trip to Jerusalem again causes some difficulties for harmonizing. Most authorities seem to equate it with the Jerusalem council of Acts 15. But the problem with this is, again, it seems to me, that the decisions made at the council would render Paul's letter redundant: the issue of circumcision had been debated, an apostolic letter circulated, and the matter supposedly settled.

taking Titus along with me: Details on Titus are relatively obscure. Luke never mentions him, as he does Paul's other travelling companions. Notwithstanding his very common Roman name, he was a Greek (v. 3). He was the courier who bore 2 Corinthians to Corinth. In the letter, Paul vouches for him, because he has also been sent to pick up a monetary gift from the Corinthians to the Judaean church. Like Paul's other protegé Timothy, he was delegated by Paul to plant churches--most notably in Crete, where he received the canonical epistle that bears his name. (Tradition says he was later consecrated the bishop of Crete. He is still venerated as the island's patron saint.) He had been with Paul during his house arrest in Rome, but left to go to Dalmatia (2 Tim. 4:10). Despite the relative paucity of details, we can see that Titus was very important to Paul's work: he functioned as his secretary and courier, as well as an administrator, troubleshooter, and missionary.

Note that Paul went to Jerusalem "with Barnabas" while they took Titus "along with" them. At this time, it appears that Barnabas was still the senior member of the party. But Titus was clearly subordinate to both.

I went up because of a revelation: This is possibly the main reason I question whether Paul's second Jerusalem visit should be equated to the Jerusalem council to debate circumcision. After the church in Antioch was disturbed by some men who came from Judaea and preached the necessity of circumcision, Paul and Barnabas were selected by the church to take the matter to Jerusalem. However, Paul says they went because of a revelation.

I think his second Jerusalem trip is actually the one mentioned in Acts 11:27-30:

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.​

Paul's "revelation" may have been God telling him to travel to Jerusalem. Or, he could have done so in response to Agabus' foretelling of a famine, prompting the church to send him and Barnabas to Judaea with relief.

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: Unlike his first Jerusalem visit, Paul appears to be on official church business this time: he meets with the leaders, presumably the Twelve, to justify his ministry. On first glance, this seems like an expression of ordinary human uncertainty. Given the apparent, organized opposition that he is getting, it is only natural that he would have some doubt and wanted to make sure he hadn't "run in vain."

But this is out of place with Paul's attitude. He's said he received his Gospel directly from Christ. He's been preaching it all over the place for 17 years. His actions aren't consistent with those of a man who has concerns about the correctness of his doctrine. I don't think he's seeking reassurance, so much as unity: if he has the endorsement of the apostles in Jerusalem, then the Judaizers can't cause him to have "run in vain" by discrediting his ministry. They question his authority, not theirs.
 

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But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 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, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. (2:3-5)​

Titus became, by circumstance, a sort of "test case" of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. From time to time, I wonder whether Paul, knowing the circumcision issue would rear its head, didn't deliberately bring Titus to Jerusalem just to be provocative.

But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek: Paul's point being, obviously, that unlike Jews, Greeks were not routinely circumcised. Circumcision was the sign of inclusion in the Old Covenant, and Titus, being a Gentile, had never been party to that covenant. We can speculate that some of the Jewish Christians raised the question of whether Titus needed to be circumcised, and Paul refused to allow it.

Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in: Pseudadelphoi, literally "false brothers." If Paul was ever willing to give the Judaizers the benefit of the doubt and allow that their efforts were a sincere, though misguided, attempt to obey Christ, he isn't extending that benefit to the Judaizers in Jerusalem. By all appearances, they were part of the church. But they were actually trying to disrupt the church. Their motives were questionable.

who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus: Whenever I read this passage, I always have a humorous mental image of robed and bearded Peeping Toms, skulking around houses and peering in windows, then getting appropriately outraged when they "accidentally" spot Titus with his pants off. Then, like good fundamentalists, once they were appropriately scandalized and offended, they rushed off to tell all their friends so they could be offended too. (It wouldn't really have been that difficult. The Greeks and Romans had brought public baths with them when they conquered Palestine. Jews and Gentiles both used them.)

I suspect that the reality is a little less humorous: the Pharisees were probably doing what the Pharisees did, and trying to entrap Paul into saying or doing something outrageous, like repudiating the Law or some other Jewish custom. (For example, some Jewish agitators would later falsely accuse him of bringing Gentiles into the temple--see Acts 21:28.)

so that they might bring us into slavery: For the Christian, Paul regarded obedience to the Law as slavery: it was antithetical to "our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus." He will elaborate on this further in chapter 4.

to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment: He has put his foot down and flatly refused to compel Titus to be circumcised. At least with respect to Paul and Titus, the Judaizers' mission has been a failure. They did not succeed in adding works to grace. They did not succeed in compelling Gentile Christians to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses. They did not succeed in driving a wedge between Paul and the other apostles.

Strangely enough, there are some commentators who have argued that Paul did have Titus circumcised. They latch onto a few corrupt Latin readings that say so, or argue that Paul wasn't compelled--he did so voluntarily. It appears to be an attempt to harmonize this passage with a similar situation in Acts 16:1-3. I'm going to leave this aside momentarily: I think it merits its own post.

so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you: The Gospel included the message of justification by faith alone, without the need of added works. Had Paul made a concession and compelled Titus to be circumcised, he would have corrupted the message that he had received from Christ. Maybe Paul would have won more Jews to Jesus if he had done so. In his evangelism, he tried not to cause unnecessary offence to those he was reaching out to. But the Gospel itself was just such an offence. If the truth itself was a stumblingblock, then so be it.
 
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