Those in Jerusalem Agree with Paul
Paul’s Visit to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1-3)
There is some debate when Paul gives a time interval as to what period of time he was measuring. Was it fourteen years from the last-mentioned event or was it fourteen years from a significant event in Paul’s life? Most believe that Paul is referring to fourteen years from his conversion in Damascus.
Acts 11:27-30 mentions that Paul and Barnabas had taken relief funds from Antioch to Judea because of a great famine. Agabus had come from Jerusalem and prophesied about the famine and this matches Paul’s statement: “It was because of a revelation that I went up” (Galatians 2:2). This famine took place during the reign of Claudius, who was emperor from AD 41 to 54. From history, we know that famine struck Rome in the first year of Claudius’ reign. It hit Egypt during his fifth year and Greece during his eighth and ninth years [Suetonius, Life of Claudius 18.2; Tacitus, Annals 12.43; Dio Cassius, History of Rome 60.11; Orosious, History 7.6.17.] Josephus mentions that the queen-mother of a region called Adiabene made a visit to Jerusalem. “Now her coming was of very great advantage to the people of Jerusalem. For whereas a famine did oppress them at that time, and many people died for want of what was necessary to procure food withal; Queen Helena sent some of her servants to Alexandria, with money to buy a great quantity of corn; and others of them to Cyprus, to bring a cargo of dried figs. And as soon as they were come back, and had brought those provisions; which was done very quickly; she distributed food to those that were in want of it: and left a most excellent memorial behind her of this benefaction, which she bestowed on our whole nation. And when her son Izates was informed of this famine, he sent great sums of money to the principal men in Jerusalem. However what favours this Queen and King conferred upon our city Jerusalem shall be farther related hereafter.” [Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20:2.5]. This is dated to have happened around AD 45-47. This would place Paul’s conversion to be around AD 32, about two years after Jesus’ crucifixion.
While in Jerusalem, Paul privately talked to the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. He did it in a private meeting because he was concerned that the leader might have been the source of recent problems in the church. Paul’s fear was if the leaders in Jerusalem were spreading a false gospel, then all his efforts to teach among the Gentiles would have proven to be useless. However, Paul did not find a problem with the leaders. As evidence, Paul points out that Titus, who was an uncircumcised Gentile and who had accompanied Paul, was not told to get circumcised.
The Source of the Problem (Galatians 2:4-5)
The true source of the problem was Jews among the brethren who were not truly converted to Christ. They had joined the brethren, not to become Christians, but to try and change the church to their way of thinking. Rather than acknowledge that Christians were free from the Law of Moses (Galatians 5:1), they sought to bring Christians back under the bondage of the Old Law.
Paul, however, never gave an inch to these false brethren. He refused to acknowledge that they had any sort of authority over him. Paul always kept in mind his duty to the Gentiles that Christ charged him.
Recognition of Paul’s Duty (Galatians 2:6-10)
Even the highly respected in the church in Jerusalem did not teach Paul anything. It is likely that the false brethren were attempting to bolster their claims by saying the leading men in Jerusalem taught as they did. Instead, these leading men recognized that just as Peter was sent by Jesus to primarily the Jews, Paul was sent primarily to the Gentiles. James, Peter, and John recognized Paul and Barnabas’ work. But Paul wants to make sure the Galatians understood that their recognition did not change anything or give him credibility. He did not need to appeal to other men to give himself credibility. The leaders in Jerusalem did ask that while focusing on their respective groups that neither neglect the poor, regardless of whether they were Jew or Gentile.
In order to effectively teach the gospel of Christ, different audiences will require different emphasis.
If you were teaching a Jew, it would be best to start with a common ground, say the prophecies concerning the Messiah. The Jews had the advantage of knowing the Laws of God (Romans 3:1-2). They were already predisposed to pleasing God. Thus, you see Philip teaching the eunuch by starting with a passage from Isaiah (Acts 8:30-36). You see Peter in his first sermon starting with a miracle and then pointing out how it fulfilled prophecy (Acts 2:17-36).
If you were teaching a Gentile, it would require a different approach because there isn’t a common acceptance of the Scriptures among the Gentiles. Thus, in Paul’s sermon to the Athenians, he starts with the acceptance of higher beings (gods) and then moves quickly to the idea of a supreme God. He then discusses how idols cannot capture the idea of such a being nor could anything made by human hands. He moved on to the need to serve this God and God’s right to judge the world’s service to Him. He finally spoke of the proof God has given – the raising of the dead, which became a point of conflict with his particular audience.
The same message is taught, but different avenues were used to present the message. It required different starting points. It required different evidence and lines of reasoning. But it wasn’t a different message.
How would you live to best gain the confidence of your audience, showing that you are a reliable authority for learning about God?
The Jews thought they knew how to serve God. A Gentile would be unable to teach a Jew. Many areas of Jewish society were unreachable by a Gentile. Thus, when Paul took Timothy to work with him, he had him circumcised (Acts 16:1-3). Why? Because of the Jews in Timothy’s region. Even though circumcision was of no direct profit (I Corinthians 7:18-20), it was necessary to reach the Jews with the Gospel (I Corinthians 9:19-20). Paul was not under the Law. He was not bound by its teachings, but he lived by the rules of the Law so he might reach those who lived by that Law.
It went the other way as well, when Paul taught the Gentiles, he followed their customs to the extent that he could (I Corinthians 9:21). He did not act as if there was no law at all, but where he could take on the customs of the Gentiles without violating the laws of Christ, he so did.
Even to new Christians, Paul tailored his message to benefit his audience (I Corinthians 9:22-23). We can see it in I Corinthians 3:1-3. The Corinthians were not ready (mature enough) to receive all that Paul wanted to teach. Solid food belongs to the mature (Hebrews 5:11-14).
Paul specialized in teaching Gentiles about Christ. Peter specialized in teaching Jews about Christ. Paul was appointed a preacher, apostle, and teacher of the Gentiles (I Timothy 2:7). His purpose was to bring obedience of faith to all Gentiles (Romans 1:5). It does not mean that Paul worked exclusively with the Gentiles. When he entered a new city, he generally first approach the Jews (Acts 17:1-4). And Peter was the first to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 10).
- Find approximate dates for events that are mentioned and record them in your margins. Sometimes you are going to find a variety of dates, depending on when people think the events took place. For instance, Paul’s visit to Jerusalem in Galatians 2:1 is connected by various people to Acts 11:27-30 or Acts 15:1-35. You don’t have to decide which is most likely immediately, but you do want to know what the choices are.
- Draw maps when places are mentioned to understand the movement of various people and the order of events.
- Look up other references to people and build a character sketch of each person. For example: What was Peter like? What events in his life show the consistency of his behavior? Record the verses that help you understand why a person behaved in a certain manner or show a consistent tendency to do similar things.
- Use a Manners and Customs book to learn how things were done in that period of history.