23 June 2016

Galatians 2:1-14

“God shows no partiality” (v. 6)

Psalm: Psalm 111


Today's passage is not a straightforward one. There is much background detail that we do not have and at times the writer, Paul, seems to become so excited that his grammar suffers somewhat! At the heart of the text, though, lies a very important dispute in the early Christian Church.

Paul tells us that he travelled to Jerusalem with two fellow Christians, Barnabas and Titus. Importantly, Paul insists that he was not summoned to the city by the leaders of the Church but went because God had directed him so to do through a "revelation" (v. 2). This is consistent with what Paul affirms elsewhere in this letter to new Christians in Galatia: that his authority comes from God, not any human.

The issue at stake was whether or not followers of Christ had to abide by Jewish laws and customs, especially male circumcision (v. 3). This was a huge question for the early Church and one that threatened to tear it apart. Some faithful Christians believed that circumcision was necessary to be a full member of the Church, including those missionaries who apparently came to Galatia after Paul, and claimed to speak with the authority of the Apostles in Jerusalem. Paul disagreed with their position strongly and told the leaders of the church in Jerusalem so. The compromise they agreed was that Paul would continue his missionary work among non-Jews ("the uncircumcised" (v. 7)) while Peter and the others would continue theirs to Jews ("the circumcised" (v. 7)). We may, or may not, find another version of this meeting in Acts 15.

The problem with this compromise was that it could not last. How could circumcised and uncircumcised members of the same Church share fellowship together, if some thought that the others were not fully members of the Church? Matters came to a head in Antioch. Peter, who elsewhere had shown great bravery in abandoning traditional food laws (Acts 10:9-43) and had apparently been happy to eat with non-Jews, suddenly changed his mind. Paul blames the factions in Jerusalem for this and condemns Peter for his lack of courage and seeming hypocrisy.

To Ponder

  • Sadly, factions and cliques seem to be an inevitable part of any human organisation. How can we avoid them?
  • When do you think it is right to compromise your beliefs and when to hold firm to them, even if it causes great pain and discomfort to others?
  • Are there any circumstances under which a Christian should refuse to share food with another person? If so, what are they? If not, why not?


Bible notes author

The Revd Geoffrey Farrar

Geoffrey Farrar is currently a Methodist presbyter in the West Hertfordshire and Borders Circuit of the Methodist Church, where he has pastoral charge of three churches in the Watford area. He trained at Wesley House in Cambridge and has recently completed an MA in Ancient History with the University of Trinity Saint David.