A Commentary by John Stott
The bane of Paul’s life and ministry was the insidious activity of false teachers. Wherever he went, they dogged his footsteps. No sooner had he planted the gospel in some locality, than false teachers began to trouble the church by perverting it. Further, as we have seen, in order to discredit Paul’s message, they also challenged his authority.
This matter is of importance for us because Paul’s distracters have plenty of successors in the Christian church today. They tell us that we do not need to pay too much attention to his writings. They forget or deny that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ, uniquely called, commissioned, authorized and inspired to teach in His name. They ignore Paul’s own claim (1:11, 12) that he derived his gospel not from men but from Jesus Christ.
One of the ways in which some false teachers of Paul’s day tried to undermine his authority was to hint that his gospel was different from Peter’s, and indeed from the views of all the other apostles in Jerusalem. ‘As a result’, they said, ‘the church is being saddled with two gospels, Paul’s and Peter’s, each claiming a divine origin. Which are we to accept?’ ‘Surely’ they went on, ‘we cannot follow Paul if he is in a minority of one, and if Peter and the rest of the apostles disagree with him?’ This was evidently one of the specious arguments of the Judaizers. They were trying to disrupt the unity of the apostolic circle. They were openly alleging that the apostles contradicted one another. Their game, we might say, was not ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’, but exalting Peter to spite Paul!
To this insinuation Paul now addresses himself. He has shown in chapter 1 that his gospel came from God not man. He now shows in the first part of chapter 2 that his gospel was precisely the same as that of the other apostles; it was not different. To prove that his gospel was independent of the other apostles, he has stressed that he paid only one visit to Jerusalem in fourteen years, and that this lasted only fifteen days. To prove that his gospel was yet identical with theirs, he now stresses that when he paid a proper visit to Jerusalem, his gospel was endorsed and approved by them.
Let us consider the circumstances of this visit to Jerusalem. Verses 1 and 2: *Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up by revelation; and I laid before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain*,
This was his second visit (‘I went up again’), and it was ‘after fourteen years’ (dating probably from his conversion, not from his first visit). There are two important aspects of this visit, namely his companions and his message.
First, his *companions*. These were Barnabas and Titus. What is particularly remarkable about that is that Barnabas was a Jew (although he was associated with Paul in his mission to the Gentiles in Antioch and later on his first missionary journey), whereas Titus was a Greek. That is, Titus was an uncircumcised Gentile, himself a product of the very Gentile mission which was then in dispute and which the Judaizers were challenging.
Second. his *gospel*. Paul’s gospel which he preached to the Gentiles, he now laid before the other apostles. True, this was not his reason for going to Jerusalem. The occasion of his visit was different. He ‘went up by revelation’ he says (verse 2). That is to say, he went up because God told him to go, not because the Jerusalem apostles had sent for him to put him on the mat. (What this revelation was we do not know, but the reference may be to Agabus’ prophesy of famine, as a result of which Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem on a relief mission. Cf. Acts 11:27-30.) True also, the consultation between Paul and the other apostles was a small and private affair. It was not in any sense an official conference or ‘synod’
Nevertheless, although it was neither the purpose of his visit to Jerusalem nor an official arrangement, this consultation did take place. In it, Paul ‘laid before’ the Jerusalem apostles the gospel that he was preaching to the Gentiles, and he says he did it ‘lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain’. It was not, we may be sure, that he had any personal doubts or misgivings about his gospel and needed the assurance of the other Jerusalem apostles, for he had been preaching it for fourteen years; but rather lest his ministry, past and present, should be rendered fruitless by the Judaizers. It was to overthrow their influence, not to strengthen his own conviction, that he laid his gospel before the Jerusalem apostles.
Such were the two vital features of his visit. He took with him to Jerusalem a Gentile companion and a Gentile gospel. It was a tense and crucial situation, an occasion fraught with great peril and equally great possibility for the subsequent history of the Christian church. What would be the reaction of the apostles in Jerusalem to Paul’s Gentile companion and Gentile mission? Would they receive Titus as a brother or repudiate him because he was uncircumcised? Would they endorse Paul’s gospel or attempt to modify it in some way? These were the questions in everybody’s mind. Behind them was the fundamental question : would the liberty with which Christ has made us free be maintained, or would the church be condemned to bondage and sterility? Had the Judaizers any ground for their rumour that there was a rift in the ranks of the apostles?
Paul tells his readers what happened at that epoch-making consultation. His Gentile companion Titus was not compelled to be circumcised (verses 3-5), and his Gentile gospel was not contradicted or even modified in any way (verses 6-10). On the contrary, Titus was accepted, and Paul’s gospel was accepted also. Thus a great and resounding victory was won for the truth of the gospel. The rift in the apostolic ranks was a myth; there was no substance to it.
Having introduced the main thrust of the argument in these verses, we must now examine them in greater detail.