COMMENTARY ON GALATIANS
LESSON NUMBER 15
Gal 2:9“And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. 10 Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Galatians 2:9-10
THE RIGHT HANDS OF FELLOWSHIP
Paul continues to contrast the response of the most elite in the church to that of the Galatians, who had been ”bewitched” (3:1), and hindered (5:7). Submitting to erroneous teaching, they had deserted Him who called them, in favor of “another gospel” (1:6), and were no longer obeying the truth (3:1; 5:7). Now Paul relates the reaction of those to whom he had testified of the very Gospel the Galatians had heard – and the reaction of these spiritual stalwarts was nothing at all like the attitude the Galatians now had toward him. It is not possible to reject the Gospel that one preaches, yet entertain a favorable attitude toward the one who delivered it. When the Jews rejected the message delivered to them by the Prophets, they rejected the prophets themselves, even shedding their blood (Acts 7:52; Matt 23:30-31; Jer 2:30; Neh 9:26). Similarly, by rejecting the Gospel Paul preached, in favor of a lie, the Galatians had demonstrated a disdain for Paul himself. There was no way this contempt could be justified, for it was antithetical to the assessment of Paul that was confirmed in the leading men in the body of Christ. Paul had taken this personal, because it was something personal. For example, in rejecting what Jesus said, there was also a rejection of His Person. That is why the Jews are said to have “slew and hanged on a tree” Jesus, whom God raised up in contradiction of their decision (Acts 5:30). In the rejection of the prophets’ message, there was a commensurate rejection of the prophets themselves. That is why the Jews killed the prophets, and it is why the Lord will hold them accountable for the shedding of the blood of the prophets (Lk 11:50-51). In addition to these things, the churches of Galatia had disrupted the unity of the Spirit instead of keeping it in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3). They divided themselves from the brethren in Jerusalem by embracing “another Gospel,” for the fellowship of the saints cannot be maintained while some hold to the truth of the Gospel, and others embrace a corrupted gospel. A professed love for Christ cannot compensate for embracing a false gospel.
THOSE WHO SEEMED TO BE PILLARS
Gal 2:9a “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars . . .”
Paul does not compare the assessment of the weaker brethren in Galatia with the assessment of the weaker brethren in Jerusalem – and there were some weaker ones there, like “certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed” (Acts 15:5). In today’s church environment, a special congregation would be formed for those who believed it is “needful to circumcise” Gentile believers, and “command them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5b). However, this is not Paul’s approach. He rather compares the “persuasion” of the Gentiles (Gal 5:8), with the response of the strongest and most informed brethren in Jerusalem: those who were “acknowledged pillars” NRSV When someone – anyone – takes it upon themselves to speak of God, Christ, or the salvation of God, their words are to be compared with the expressions of the most spiritually informed people in the body of Christ – those who have a grasp of the truth, and can articulate it with godly precision. This is exactly what Paul is doing, and it does not blend at all with the erroneous methodologies of our day.
JAMES, CEPHAS, AND JOHN. Other versions read, “James, Peter, and John.” NIV/NIB/NLT Notice the order – and every version maintains this order: First James, then Cephas, then John. Cephas, or Peter, was the chief among the Apostles, and was given the keys to the Kingdom. John was a close companion of Peter (Acts 3:1,3,4,11; 4:13,19; 8:14), and was even referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20). James was not an apostle, but was “the Lord’s brother” (Gal 1:19). Yet, here, he is listed first.
The reason for James’ preeminence was apparently that he was the leading elder in the assembly, for he belonged to the category of “elders,” not “apostles” – we read of “apostles and elders” at Jerusalem (Acts 15:2,4,6,22,23; 16:4). The apostles were placed “first” in the church at large, not in a mere local assembly (1 Cor 12:28). James was an elder at Jerusalem, and did not carry authority in all of the churches, as did the apostles. Therefore, he is viewed here as the preeminent leader in the church of Jerusalem itself, while Peter and John were members of the universal body of “apostles,” whose word was law in all of the churches (Eph 2:20; 3:5; 2 Pet 3:2; Jude 1:17; Rev 21:14). This circumstance confirms that while all brethren are equal in the sense of being in Christ and members of His body, they are not equal in function. There really is such a thing as “pillars” in the local church.
WHO SEEMED. Other versions read, “reputed to be,” NASB “acknowledged,” NRSV “had the name of being,” BBE “recognized,” CSB “conspicuous as being,” DARBY “counted to be,” GENEVA “accounted,” MRD “known as,” NLT and “esteemed to be.” YLT
The word “seemed” does not contain the element of doubt, as though these three men were actually different than they appeared. As it is used here, the meaning of “seemed” is “be accounted, reputed,” THAYER “be recognized as, count for, be regarded as,” FRIBERG and “Be influential, have a reputation, be recognized.” GINGRICH In the crucible of difficulty, decision-making, and doctrinal evaluation, these men surfaced as true leaders, or principle men. They knew what to do when widows were being neglected (Acts 6:1-4). They knew what to do when people had falsified what they gave to the work (Acts 5:1-10). They knew what to do when false teachers from that region began insisting that men ought to be circumcised (Acts 15:8-22). Over a period of time, it became apparent to the brethren in Jerusalem that these men were true leaders: i.e. They came to recognize them in that capacity.
TO BE PILLARS. What God has given a person – their spiritual gift – defines who they are in the body of Christ. A person, for example, who lacks godly wisdom and spiritual understanding, is not a leader in the body of Christ, and should not be so regarded. It is not enough to have organizational skills and a glowing personality.
God has placed the members in the body “as it hath pleased Him” (1 Cor 12:18). By His own determination, those who rank the highest are specified: “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues” (1 Cor 12:28). Notice that even miraculous gifts and governments come AFTER apostles, prophets, and teachers. Apostles remain with us by virtue of their writings. Prophets are those who can effectively speak “to edification, and exhortation, and comfort” (1 Cor 14:3). Note that the text does not say “edification OR exhortation OR comfort.” The holy aptitude of a prophet includes all three of those ministries. That can open up the Word of God, employ the Scriptures to stir the hearts of the people, and speak in such a way as to comfort and encourage the people. Those who can actually do those things are among the “pillars” of any given congregation. If no such people exist, then the church cannot possibly be stable.
Once again, the point that Paul is making is that the most informed and able men in the body of Christ recognized him for what Christ had, in fact, made him. Yet, the Galatians had shuffled him off to the side in favor of imposters who were causing them to leave the Lord.
THEY PERCEIVED THE GRACE GIVEN TO PAUL
2:9b “ . . . perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.”
Paul did not bring letters of commendation with him to Jerusalem. He will simply tell the leading men what he had been preaching. When declaring such a thing before insightful men, truth cannot be feigned. A deceived heart will make itself known when attempting to explain how the Gospel is being preached.
PERCEIVED THE GRACE. Other versions read, “recognizing the grace,” NASB “saw the grace,” BBE “acknowledged the grace,” CSB “had known the grace,” DOUAY and “perceived, recognized, understood, and acknowledged the grace (God’s unmerited favor and spiritual blessing)” AMPLIFIED
The term “perceived” includes the idea of familiarity with the grace of God, and the ability to recognize it when it is seen. Notice that these pillars associated the Gospel that Paul was preaching with ”the grace of God.” They were able to make this association because they were familiar with the grace of God, and themselves “knew the grace of God in truth” (Col 1:6), and were standing in it (1 Pet 5:12).
I have come from a background where this kind of assessment was rarely expressed. Talk about the grace of God was thought to be an evidence of association with a denomination that was not acceptable. Such assessments are a display of the worst kind of ignorance.
It is questionable whether grace that cannot be “perceived” is really grace. How could such a thing possibly be known if there was no evidence of grace?
GIVEN UNTO ME. Other versions read, “had been given to me,” NKJV “God had given me this special gift,” GWN and “bestowed upon me.” NAB
They did not merely recognize the grace of God in the technicalities of what Paul declared. Rather, they recognized the grace that had been given to Paul in the message that he preached. And, what does it mean to receive the grace of God? The grace of God is affirmed to be associated with believing (Acts 18:27), everlasting consolation and good hope (2 Thess 2:16), being a wise masterbuilder(1 Cor 3:10), laboring abundantly (1 Cor 15:10), living a godly life in the world (2 Cor 1:2), giving to the saints during a time of great trial (2 Cor 8:1-2), being made a minister of Christ (Eph 3:7), bringing forth fruit (Col 1:6), bringing salvation (Tit 2:11), teaching us to deny ungodliness and live righteously (Tit 2:12), Jesus tasting death for every man (Heb 2:9), being a good steward of spiritual gifts (1 Pet 4:10), standing firm in Christ (1 Pet 5:12), being made alive in Christ (Eph 2:5), being saved (Acts 15:11; Eph 2:8), being justified (Rom 3:24; Tit 3:7), reigning in life (Rom 5:17), sin not having dominion over us (Rom 6:14-15), having differing gifts (Rom 12:6), having all sufficiency in all things (2 Cor 9:8), sufficiency in trial (2 Cor 12:9), redemption and the forgiveness of sins (Eph:7), preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph 3:8), edifying speaking (Eph 4:29), teaching and admonishing one another (Col 3:16), giving a God-glorifying answer (Col 4:6), the name of Christ being glorified in you (2 Thess 1:12), an abundance of faith and love (1 Tim 1:14), our holy calling (2 Tim 1:9), being strong (2 Tim 2:1), obtaining help (Heb 4:16), serving God acceptably (Heb 12:28), establishing the heart (Heb 13:9), hoping to the end (1 Pet 1:13), humility (1 Pet 5:5), spiritual growth (2 Pet 3:18).
Notice that grace is not declared to be the difference between a drunkard and a sober person, or an adulterer and a moral person, or a liar and one who tells the truth. While grace may be involved in such changes, it is also possible that it is not involved at all, for such changes can be made independently of Christ and His great salvation. All of the associations the Spirit makes with grace have to do with what is obtained, not what is abandoned. That is the kind of thing that distinguished what Paul preached, and the pillars recognized it.
THE RIGHT HANDS OF FELLOWSHIP. There was a sense in which these men joined with Paul in his work, fully sanctioning it because they recognized that grace had been given to him. Actually, no person should be part of any other kind of religious work. It should be abundantly evident that God has bestowed grace upon the messenger.
THAT WE SHOULD GO TO THE HEATHEN. James, Cephas, and John fully condoned Paul and Barnabas going to the heathen and delivering the message they reported they were preaching. They added nothing to their message, nor did they take anything from it. They did not view it as a kind of independent work, but one in which the one true Gospel was being disseminated. They knew there would be no competitiveness between the Jews and the Gentiles who believed this message. There would not be a Gentile church and a Jewish one.
AND THEY TO THE CIRCUMCISION. Paul’s message did not alter what James, Cephas, and John were declaring. It did not change the way James conducted himself in Jerusalem. Peter and John did not have to backtrack and make corrections in what they had preached, or develop a new kind of message to declare. The unity of the faith prevailed.
THEY WOULD THAT WE REMEMBER THE POOR
2:10 “Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.”
ONLY THEY WOULD. Other versions read, “desired only,” NKJV “only asked,” NASB “all they asked,” NIV “they asked only one thing,” NRSV “their only request,” CJB “warning only,” GENEVA “they asked nothing more,” NJB “the only thing they did suggest,” LIVING “only they urged,” WEYMOUTH “they stipulated only.” MONTGOMERY
One can only imagine what kind of requests a modern church would have made. They might have asked Paul and Barnabas to remember their singles ministry, or their outreach ministry, or some of their programs for the youth, or community involvement. However, the kind of religious environment that has been produced by the professed Christian leaders of the day was not present at the time of our text.
REMEMBER THE POOR. Other versions read, “continue to remember the poor,” NIV “give thought to the poor,” BBE “be mindful of the poor,” DOUAY “be mindful of the needy,” MRD “remember to help the poor,” LIVING “remember their poor,” WEYMOUTH “remember the needy in their group.” GNB
This is not a word that pertains to the poor in general. Such a word would not fit into this context. The point being made is that the only obligation was toward the Jewish people – “the circumcision.” The words “the poor” occur 145 times in Scripture. JKV With few exceptions, these texts refer to God’s people. Under the Old Covenant “the poor of the land” referred to the land of Canaan. With few exceptions, throughout the Law and the Prophets “the poor” were mentioned in connection with God’s people. In the Law, God referred to “the poor of thy people” Ex 23:11). There was reference to “the poor” as “thy brother” (Deut 15:11). In Isaiah God spoke of “the poor” as being among “My people” (Isa 3:15). Without lingering too long on this subject, when the Jews spoke of “poor,” they were not generally speaking of the poor of the world. God gave no indication of having raised up Israel to be world-wide philanthropists. Such giving was never the accent of either the Jewish economy or the church of our Lord.
When gathering a collection for the “poor saints in Jerusalem,” Paul provided the following reasoning for such beneficence. “For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things” (Rom 15:26-27). This is “the poor” to which the James, Cephas, and John referred.
I WAS FORWARD TO DO. Paul was, in fact, aggressive to urge Gentile churches to contribute to the needs of the poorer Jewish brethren. Such were poor, we are told, because of a dearth, or famine (Acts 11:28-29). Further distinguishing the objective of this assistance, it was the Jewish “brethren” that were the object of support, as affirmed in Acts: “Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea” (Acts 11:29).
When Paul brought an offering to Jerusalem, it was to “bring alms to my nation, and offerings” Acts 24:16). In the account of this trip this trip, Acts 15:25-26 states that it was to bring “a certain collection for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.”This was the special “collection” to which Paul referred in his letters to Corinth (1 Cor 16:1-2; 2 Cor 8:1-9:15). In his letter to the Romans, he mentioned “distributing to the necessity of saints” (Rom 12:13).
James also spoke of the poor in these words: “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food” (James 2:15). He also referred to “the poor” who were “rich in faith” (James 2:5). John spoke similarly in his first epistle: “But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17). Jesus spoke of ministering to His “brethren” (Matt 25:40). In giving instruction on the ongoing support of widows, Paul wrote of several restrictions; “Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints' feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work” (1 Tim 5:9-10). Younger widows were to be “refused”
(1 Tim 5:11). This does not mean younger Christian widows were to be neglected, but that permanent and ongoing support was not to be supplied to them by the church.
When the early church supported the poor, they were those within the church (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-35). Stephanas, who was the firstfruits of Achaia, is said to have addicted himself “to the ministry of the saints” (1 Cor 16:15). Paul stated the case well when he wrote, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). Concerning his own ministry, he was “forward,” or “eager,” to garner support for the poorer Jewish brethren. With all of the religious emphasis on feeding the poor today, I do not hear this emphasis being made. We should not be confused on this matter.