The Jewish Paul: A Running Commentary on Galatians (Part 2)

As I indicated in the previous blog, this running commentary on Galatians is designed to demonstrate that Paul remained an observant Jew throughout his life. He neither advocated the abandonment of Judaism or Torah for himself nor for any Jew, whether they believed that Jesus was the Messiah or not. When we left off, Paul had laid out his Jewish credentials and described his call to mission to his pagan converts in the Roman province of Galatia. He hinted that there was someone in Galatia preaching a “different gospel” from his. What that alternative gospel was, he hasn’t yet said. He has been more focused on validating his gospel as the result of divine revelation. We resume our commentary at 2:1 with Paul describing his interactions with the founding apostles of Jerusalem over the nature of Gentile membership in the Kingdom of God.

2:2 Then after fourteen years I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas [identified in Acts 4:36 as a Hellenist Jew], taking Titus [identified below as a Christ-believing Gentile] along too. 2 I went there because of a revelation [additional evidence that Paul was a mystic] and presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles [re-read this; his is one form of gospel; it is the one he preaches to Gentiles. It is not one that is preached (by others) to Jews. Thus, there are, as Paul will admit again below, multiple, valid gospels or “good news” messages]. But I did so only in a private meeting with the influential people, to make sure that I was not running—or had not run—in vain [now Paul seems to want apostolic – human – validation for his mission and gospel]. 3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, although he was a Greek [Paul wants to imply that the main topic of the meeting was whether or not Gentile believers in Christ should be circumcised. However, it remains unclear whether the subject of Gentile redemption from sin without circumcision was raised although such a claim became a hallmark of Paul’s gospel. That Titus was not required to be circumcised was hardly novel – many Gentiles attended Jewish synagogues in the Greco-Roman world without having to be circumcised. It did not imply that attending Gentiles were redeemed from their sins. How the “influential people” regarded uncircumcised Gentiles when it came to entering the Kingdom of God is left unsaid by Paul.]. 4 Now this matter arose because of the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy on our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, to make us slaves [We cannot tell whether the “false brothers” were simply Jews or Christ-believing Jews. Paul says that “this matter” arose – is it the matter of Titus’s circumcision or Gentile circumcision as a whole? And if the “false brothers” insisted on circumcision for Gentiles, then to what end? If it is redemption from sin, then the “false brothers” are likely saying what was obvious to most Jews: if a Gentile male wanted to be in right standing with the God of Israel, he must be circumcised, that is, become Jewish and obey the law. There is no indication here that Paul argued for righteousness for Gentiles absent circumcision. He only says that Titus was not required to be circumcised. What “freedom” did Paul and his people have in Christ that was being threatened by the false brothers? Freedom for Gentiles to join in Christ-believing Jewish gatherings? Neither the freedom to enter the kingdom or freedom from sin is mentioned as part of the argument. And what is the “slavery” that Paul insists the false brothers want to shackle them with? Is it the freedom of Jews and Gentiles to associate together in communion? Paul speaks elsewhere of Gentile slavery to sin (Rom. 7:14). If this is what he means here, then he is saying in the letter that his gospel redeems Gentiles from sin without circumcision. But he is not presenting that as the argument made at the meeting. Yet Paul deftly places this gospel idea alongside the “false brothers’” insistence on Gentile circumcision without ever connecting the two. In any event, Paul is not saying that by getting circumcised and converting to Judaism Gentiles become slaves to Torah.] 5 But we did not surrender to them even for a moment, in order that the truth of the gospel would remain with you [Surrender what? By portraying this meeting as a single-topic discussion – whether Gentiles must be circumcised or not – Paul is using the event to support his battle with the opposing teachers in Galatia who advocate circumcision for salvation. Unfortunately for us, he nowhere specifies what impact the false brothers’ insistence on circumcision had on his “truth of the gospel.”].

Continue reading “The Jewish Paul: A Running Commentary on Galatians (Part 2)”