In the last post we looked at Paul’s defense of the gospel given in the first part of the letter to the Galatians.
Paul defended his claim that his gospel is from God using two assertions.
- My gospel was received independent of the Apostles (1:12-24)
- The gospel I defend is the same gospel as the Apostles (2:1-14)
Paul, having defended his independence in receiving the gospel (1:12-24) moves the argument forward by talking about his visit to Jerusalem.
Then after fourteen years I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas, taking Titus along too. I went there because of a revelation and presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. 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. – Paul (Gal 2:1-2; NET)
This was no vacation, Paul was persuaded to go on this trip because of a revelation. There is considerable debate as to what the revelation was and to whom it was given. I have advocated for an early dating with Paul writing the letter to the Galatians around 49 AD from Antioch before the Council of Jerusalem. If this is correct then this trip would line up well with the account in Acts 11:27-30.
At that time the city of Antioch was visited by some prophets from Jerusalem. Among them was Agabus who brought with him some unsettling news. The Judean area was going to be hit with a famine. Knowing the devastation and hardship that would face the people in that area, the community at Antioch sought to provide relief and aid in advance of the looming crisis. After collecting gifts, these offerings were carried to Jerusalem by Paul and Barnabas.
While Paul was there, according to the account in Galatians, he presented his gospel to the Apostles. His goal in presenting his gospel was to remove any possibility that he was “running in vain”. No one wants to expend effort and work towards something that is of no value. Paul had given up his pursuit of becoming a Pharisee and been nearly killed on his first missionary journey (1MJ). He wanted to be sure that his efforts and sacrifices had not been without purpose.
That struck me as rather odd. Had Paul suddenly been hit with doubt regarding the veracity of the message? Did he need the encouragement and affirmation of the Apostles to make sure that his gospel message was correct? And if so what triggered these doubts?
While that seemed like what was happening, I could not make sense of that. Especially in light of Paul’s argument in the prior assertion (1:12-24). Paul, by his own testimony, has been sharing the gospel for 14 years. He has given up everything confident that this message of hope was given to him directly by God. His argument so far has rested on the fact that he was so confident in his gospel that he did not check in with anyone, including the Apostles.
Paul’s is a trained lawyer and his writing demonstrates that he is skilled in rhetoric and logical argument. Certainly in the middle of his defense he would not contradict his first premise. After stressing 14 years of confident ministry, Paul’s going to shift his defense to doubting his gospel and his ministry? How does that logically follow?
If Paul had reached the point where he had to check in with the Apostles to make sure he was not running in vain then how does this reconcile with his bold statement that it does matter to him who the Apostles are (2:6). This statement comes right after telling the Galatians that he was checking his gospel with them? If that were true, then how could they help him regain confidence in the gospel he proclaims? And how would that encourage the Galatians to accept the gospel that both he and the Apostles had in common? And why would Paul immediately follow this admission of doubt by sharing a dispute between Peter and himself in the following set of verses (2:11-14). This story only demonstrates that Paul was confident enough in his gospel to publicly rebuke one of the “pillars of the church”, who was not living it out.
The Galatians already doubted Paul’s gospel, that is why Paul is writing in the first place. How can Paul’s seemingly illogical defense persuade them to confidently accept his gospel and stand firm in Christ?
Did Paul doubt his gospel message at some point during his ministry?
And why, with the Galatians doubting his gospel, would Paul also express doubt in it?
Why do you think Paul presented his gospel to the Apostles in Jerusalem?
[be sure to check back for my thoughts on this puzzling passage]