Paul and the apostles of note.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 March
Galatians 2.6-10 KWL
6 As for the apostles of note:
Being “someone,” whatever one might be, doesn’t matter to me.
God doesn’t regard a person’s appearance.
The apostles of note contribute nothing to me—
7 on the contrary.
They were merely observing I had been entrusted
with the gospel to “foreskins,”
just as Simon Peter to the circumcised.
7 For the power granted to Peter
as apostle to the circumcised
empowers me as well towards the gentiles.
8 Recognizing the grace given to me,
James, Peter, and John, the “pillars” of note,
placed their hands on me and Barnabas in fellowship,
so we would go to the gentiles,
and they to the circumcised.
9 They only asked that we remember the poor,
which I myself also do my best to do.
  • “The Council of Jerusalem.” Ac 15.1-12
  • “The former persecutor turned evangelist.” Ga 1.13-24
  • “How Paul remembered the Council of Jerusalem.” Ga 2.1-5
  • At the time of the Council of Jerusalem, the Jerusalem church was no longer being run by the Twelve. (Nor, as Roman Catholics like to imagine, Simon Peter.) It was run by Jesus’s brother James, and apparently the apostles Peter and John were still there; Peter hadn’t yet gone to Rome, and John hadn’t yet gone to Ephesus. John’s brother James had died, and the other nine guys in the Twelve had moved on to other parts of the world—to start churches and spread the gospel.

    These were “the apostles of note” Paul referred to in Galatians 2.2. Different translations render the phrase different ways: “Them which were of reputation” in the KJV, “those esteemed as leaders” in the NIV, “the acknowledged leaders” in the NRSV, “those who seemed influential” in the ESV, “the influential people” in the NET. All of these are ways of translating τοῖς δοκοῦσιν/tis dokúsin, “to the thought-of.” In other words, if someone said “the apostles,” these would be the apostles you first thought of. The top apostles. The guys who personally knew Jesus best: His brother, his cousin, and his best student.

    And Paul shrugged at them: “Being ‘someone,’ whatever one might be, doesn’t matter to me. God doesn’t regard a person’s appearance.”

    Which is entirely true. It’s exactly what the LORD told Samuel when the prophet was picking kings.

    1 Samuel 16.7 KJV
    But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.

    Not that the LORD rejected his apostles! Too many Christians, projecting their own anti-authoritarian attitudes, interpret Paul’s statement as if he’s trying to slap down the other apostles, or knock ’em down a few notches. He’s not. He is trying to knock down the unhealthy attitude, all too common among Christians, of turning our leaders into idols, and treating them as if they’re infallible holy beings. To be fair, all these guys did write infallible books of the New Testament. But apart from that, these were just men. Human beings, same as us—who had the privilege of knowing Jesus in the flesh, but otherwise same as us.

    This, Paul recognized. They were apostles… but he and Barnabas were also apostles, personally selected by the Holy Spirit for a mission to preach the gospel. Ac 13.2 They weren’t made apostles by the other apostles; they were made apostles by God Himself. The notable apostles only recognized their appointment by God. When they laid hands on them, it wasn’t to pass along God’s commission, nor empower them themselves; that’s not what laying hands is about, even though plenty of Christians certainly treat it that way. Laying hands is only to acknowledge something God has already done, and show our support of it.

    So yeah, if you’re reading any level of sarcasm into Paul’s description of these notable apostles (“whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me,” as one might read the KJV) you’re doing it wrong. Hero-worship among Christians is wholly inappropriate. We have one hero, Christ. Everybody else is just trying to follow him… and sometimes makes mistakes. Peter’s gonna make a doozy later in this very chapter.

    “On the contrary.”

    Likewise Paul’s statement in verse 7, ἀλλὰ τοὐναντίον/allá tunantíon, “but on the contrary.” Too many Christians presume Paul means,

    They contribute nothing to me;
    on the contrary, [they take away from me.]

    Yes that could be one way of logically interpreting “on the contrary.” It’d be wrong though. How about this one instead?

    They contribute nothing to me;
    on the contrary, [I contribute to them.]

    Which is exactly what Paul described in the verses thereafter.

    James, Peter, and John were all from the province of the Galilee, but at the time they were stationed in Judea, ministering to Judeans. To fellow Jews. Only to fellow Jews; there weren’t many gentiles there! And Paul states they recognized their ministry was only to those fellow Jews—“to the circumcised.”

    Now, that mission later changed. As I said, Peter moved on to Rome, and John to Ephesus. And yes, there were some exceptions to this ministry; you recall the Holy Spirit had Peter present the gospel to Romans, Ac 10 but this seems to be a one-time thing in order to convince Peter, and later the rest of the Jerusalem Christians, that God likewise wants to save gentiles. Ac 11.1-18 But their ministry was still headquartered in Judea, which meant they were gonna be deeply surrounded by Jews.

    Whereas others, like Barnabas and Paul, were gonna be headquartered in Syria, which meant they were gonna be deeply surrounded by gentiles. Not many Jews there! So clearly their mission was to Syrian Greek gentiles; same as James, Peter, and John’s mission was to Judean Jews; same as a Galilee church’s mission would be to Galilean Jews, same as a Galatian church’s mission would be to Galatian gentiles. You work with what there is in the place the Holy Spirit puts you.

    James, Peter, and John could have tried to spread out their mission and cover nearby provinces, but they’d have been stretched very thin… and usually the Holy Spirit isn’t a big fan of this technique. Even though we nowadays have the technology to do it, the Spirit still prefers to have people in-country, doing things from within, raising up Christians from that nation who will eventually take over the ministry so that foreigners won’t have to be shipped in to do it. In any event they didn’t have to arrange to travel back and forth to Syria and run the Antioch church; Barnabas and Paul did that. They had the mission to the gentiles… same as Peter to “the circumcised.”

    And importantly, these notable apostles saw no reason to interfere with the Holy Spirit’s setup. Nor pull rank, and demand Barnabas and Paul do things their way. The only order they gave them, if we can call it that… is really the same order our Lord gives all of us. We’re to remember the poor. Too many Christians tend to shaft them, and treat ’em as undeserving. Jesus does not, and his followers must not. But too many of us are too Mammonist to realize we’ve confounded social Darwinism with Christianity, and find all sorts of ways to shut out the poor and drive them away. It’s evil, and we who live in wealthy countries need regular reminders of this evil.

    Paul and the notable apostles were all on the same team, following Jesus. It’s in no way an us-versus-them situation. Don’t read anything competitive, nor hostile, into this passage.