September 11, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Tom Lowe

II. Personal: Defense of Paul’s Apostleship (1:11–2:21)

II.B: Independent of Jerusalem Apostles (1:13-2.21)

II.B.3: Confirmed by the Jerusalem Apostles (2.1-10)

Chapter II.B.3.a: The Treatment of Titus (2.1-5)

Galatians 2.1-5 (KJV)

1 Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. 

2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. 

3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: 

4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: 

5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. 


1 Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.

Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, 

Paul has given us the timetable for his third trip to Jerusalem. It is, either fourteen years after God called him by His grace, and revealed His Son to him on the road to Damascus; or, as I take it to mean, fourteen years after he had been at Jerusalem to see Peter (his first trip to Jerusalem.), with whom he stayed fifteen days, and then went into Syria and Cilicia (His time there was spent chiefly in preaching the gospel); so that it was seventeen years after his conversion that he took this journey to Jerusalem; and he seems to refer to the time when he and Barnabas went from the church at Antioch to the apostles and elders about the question of whether circumcision was necessary to salvation. Some persons from Judea who had come among the Gentile converts had insisted on the necessity of being circumcised in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas had opposed them; and the dispute had become so heated that it was agreed to submit the subject to the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. For that purpose Paul and Barnabas had been sent, with certain others, to lay the case before all the apostles. The background for that particular trip is given in Acts 15.1, 2, where it says: “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question”—which entirely agrees with the account the apostle gives of this journey. The next two verses give more details of this journey which took place around A.D. 50: “And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.” It was a successful occasion, because the council of the apostles and Church decided that Gentile Christians do not need to be circumcised. He does not mention that decree, however, and the reason he does not may be: 

1. Because his purpose here is to show the Galatians his own independent apostolic authority, which is not likely to be supported by the council. Thus we see that general councils are not above apostles. 

2. Because he argues the point upon principle, not upon the authority of the council’s decisions.

3. The decree did not go as far as far as Paul thought it should: the council did not impose Mosaic ordinances; but the apostle maintains that the Mosaic institution itself is at an end.

4. The Galatians were following the false teachers who were Judaizers, not because the Jewish law was imposed by authority of the Church as being necessary to Christianity, but because they thought it was necessary for those who aspired to higher perfection to observe the Law of Moses in addition to Christian faith and doctrine—“Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3); also “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?” (Gal. 4:21). The decree would not help him refute their view, and therefore would have been useless to quote. Paul provides them with a far more direct repudiation, "Christ is of no effect unto you whosoever are justified by the law" (Ga 5:4). His argument is that those who sought to be justified by their obedience to the law, or who thought they were, and believed they were in fact righteous, were in reality otherwise, because no one has ever been, or ever will be, justified by the deeds of the law.

Paul in actual fact had made another journey to Jerusalem before this with the collection for the poor saints in Judea which took place in A.D. 44 (See Acts 11:29-30; Acts 12:25), but he does not mention that here, probably because he did not see the other apostles at that time, or more probably because that journey could not add anything to the point now under debate. 

and took Titus with me also.

Titus was a Greek; but he had been converted to Christianity. Paul had not circumcised him; but had admitted him to the full privileges of the Christian church. Here then was the case in point; and it may have been important to have had such a case under discussion, so that they might fully understand it. This is the first mention of Titus which occurs in the Bible. He is not mentioned by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, and though his name occurs several times in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (See 2 Corinthians 7:6, 2 Corinthians 8:6, 2 Corinthians 8:16, 2 Corinthians 8:23, 2 Corinthians 12:18), yet it is to be remembered that that Epistle was written a considerable time after this Epistle to the Galatians. He accompanied Paul frequently in his travels; was utilized by him in important services (see 2 Corinthians—the places referred to above); was left by him in Crete “to set in order the things that were missing, and to ordain elders there” (Titus 1:5); after that, he went into Dalmatia (2 Timothy 4:10), and is supposed to have returned again to Crete, where it is said he spread the gospel in the neighboring islands, and died at the age of 94. 

Paul took both Barnabas and Titus with him on this trip; Barnabas is mentioned going with him at this time in Luke's account and here, but Titus is only mentioned here. The reason he is not mentioned in Acts is probably because he was not sent by the church, as Paul and Barnabas were, yet the apostle might have thought it fitting and prudent to take him along, since he was converted by him, was a minister of the Gospel, and continued uncircumcised: In Titus 1.4, he calls him his own "son," (Titus 1:4). In addition, it is probable that he chose to take him along, partly in order to obtain the other apostles approval and endorsement of Titus as a minister of the Gospel; and partly so that he might be a living testimony of the fact that the apostle does what he preaches; and that by having him and Barnabas with him, he might have a competent number of witnesses to testify to the doctrines he preached, the miracles he had done, and the success that he had among the Gentiles; and to relate to the church at Antioch, upon their return, what had been said between him and the elders at Jerusalem; “for by the mouth of two or three witnesses everything is established.” 

2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. 

And I went up by revelation, 

And I went up by revelation (or, and I went up in accordance with a revelation), but not for the purpose of receiving instruction from the apostles there in regard to the nature of the Christian religion. We should remember that the purpose which the apostle has in view is to show that he had not received the gospel from human beings. He is wise, therefore, to state that he went there by the express command of God. He did not go there to receive instructions from the apostles in regard to his own ministry, or to be endorsed by them in his apostolic office, but he went to submit to the apostles an important question pertaining to the church at large. In Acts 15:2, it is said that Paul and Barnabas were appointed by the church at Antioch to go to Jerusalem. But there is no discrepancy between that account and this, for though he was designated by the church in Antioch, there is no improbability in supposing that he was directed by a special revelation to comply with their request. The reason why he says that he went up by direct revelation seems to be to show that he did not seek instruction from the apostles; he did not go of his own accord to consult with them as if he were dependent upon them; but even in a case where he went to consult with them he was under the influence of explicit and direct revelation, proving that he was commissioned by God as much as they were. Revelations were frequently made to the apostle, both to communicate important truths (Ephesians 3:3) and to direct or encourage his actions. They appear to have been made in different ways: some through dreams and some through visions (Acts 16:9, 10; Acts 18:9; Acts 22:18-21; Acts 27:23); through prophets (Acts 13:2; Acts 21:11); often, no doubt, through a strong impulse brought to bear upon his spirit, prompting him to, or barring him from, some particular line of conduct (Acts 16:6, 7).

The journey Paul refers to here is the one recorded in Acts 15. The apostle may have hesitated going, taking into consideration, perhaps, the prejudice against him by the Jews at Jerusalem, not only, as Christ had himself indicated to him, by the unbelieving Jews—“and saw the Lord speaking. 'Quick!' he said to me. 'Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.'” (Acts 22:18), but, as James later on confessed, by even the members of the Church itself—“They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs” (Acts 21:21); but his hesitation was overruled by Christ himself, who in some way revealed to him that it was his will that he go. Likewise, when visiting Jerusalem for the first time after his conversion, his hasty departure from the city is attributed by St. Luke to the concern of the disciples for his safety—“But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall” (Acts 9:25); whereas St. Paul, in his speech from the stairs, ascribes it to a" trance," in which the Lord appearing to him told him to depart from there without delay—“When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance…Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.' “(Acts 22:17, 21). The two accounts in each instance are mutually complementary, the one viewing the case historically from the outside, the other as an autobiographical reminiscence from the person involved. The apostle's reason for mentioning the incredible direction under which he took this journey, had evidently indicated its being the design and will of Christ, and for that reason the doctrine and ministerial work of Paul should be sealed with the recognition of the first apostles and of the early Church—something of prime necessity for the successful development of the whole Church.  

and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, 

By “them,” that is, by those who were there, obviously means, not the inhabitants in general, but the Christians currently present in the place, though not mentioned before this.

“And communicated unto them that gospel” indicates that he made them acquainted with the doctrines which he preached among the Gentiles; but certainly not with any intention of having it modified by their suggestions. He stated completely the principles on which he acted; the nature of the gospel which he taught; and his doctrine about the exemption of the Gentiles from the obligations of the Law of Moses. By doing so, he satisfied them in regard to his views of the gospel; and showed them that he understood the system of Christianity which had been revealed to him by Christ Himself. The result was, that they had complete confidence in him, and welcomed him into their fellowship—“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” (Galatians 2:9). They recognized Paul as a colleague in the apostleship, and that the Gospel he received by special revelation and preached to the Gentiles was the same as theirs.

“That gospel which I preach” refers to the whole period of his ministry up to the time at which he was writing. It is implied that his teaching had been the same all along. 

“Among the Gentiles” indicates the nature of his doctrine which is focused upon the acceptance of Gentiles before God simply upon their faith in Christ—“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles…This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus…Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:1, 6, 8).

but privately to them which were of reputation, 

“To them which were of reputation” means the leading men among the apostles. The Greek is, literally, "those who seem;" and in Galatians 2:6 it is those "who seem to be something"—“As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message” (Gal. 2.6), that is, who are persons of note, or who are distinguished. Paul may have used this expression, because of some disparaging remark describing him as a man of NO reputation and no importance. 

The men “of reputation” with whom he met “privately” were representatives of larger bodies of men—"James" representing the elders (James "the Lord's brother" was the presiding officer or Bishop of the Church of Jerusalem, and not one of the twelve apostles), and "Cephas and John" representing the twelve, who may have been the only apostles in Jerusalem at this time, though these two were certainly the leading ones.

 “But privately” means that he did not confer with the apostles in public; not before a general assembly; not even before all the apostles together, but in a private manner to a few of the leaders and chief persons. He gave them a private explanation of his intentions and opinions, so that they might understand it before it became a matter of public discussion. The point on which Paul made this private explanation was not whether the gospel was to be preached to the Gentiles, because that issue had no doubt been settled by the revelation Peter had (Acts 10); but whether the rites of the Jews were to be imposed on the Gentile converts. Paul explained his views and his practice on that point, which were that he did not impose those rites on the Gentiles; that he taught that people are justified without observing those rites; and that they were not necessary in order to be saved. The reasons why he sought this private meeting with the leading men in Jerusalem has not been stated. But we may suppose that they were somewhat like the following:

1. The Jews in general had very strong bonds to their own customs, and this attachment existed in a high degree in those Jews who were converted to the Christian faith. They would be very excited, therefore, by the doctrine that it was not necessary to observe those customs. 

2. If the matter were submitted to a general assembly of converts from Judaism, it could not fail to produce great excitement. They could not be made to readily understand the reasons why Paul believed and taught this doctrine; it would be impossible in an aroused and agitated assemblage to offer the explanations which might be accepted; and after every explanation which could be given in this matter, they would probably have been unable to understand all the circumstances of the case.

3. Paul was sure that if a few of the chief men were made to understand it, their influence would make convincing the other believers much easier. Therefore, he sought an early opportunity to lay the case before them in private, and to acquire their agreement; and this approach contributed to the favorable settlement of the whole affair; see Acts 15. There was certainly a good deal of disagreement and heated discussion when the question was submitted to "the apostles and elders" Acts 15:7, because many of the sect of the Pharisees in that assembly maintained that it was necessary to teach the Gentiles that the Law of Moses was to be kept—“But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed , saying , That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). Of course, no one can tell what the issue would have been or how the discussion among the excitable minds of the converts from Judaism would have been settled had not Paul taken the precaution, as he here says, to have submitted the case in private to those who were “of reputation;" and if Peter and James had not been satisfied with Paul’s explanation and had not submitted the good appraisals they did, as recorded in Acts 15:7-21, which ended the whole controversy.

lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.

“Lest by any means I should run, or had run in vain” is like saying, “For fear that the effects of my labors and journeys would be lost.” Paul feared that if he did not place the case before them privately, they would not understand it. Others might misrepresent him, or their prejudices might become aroused, and when the case came before the assembled apostles and elders, a decision might be adopted which would go against him—that he had been entirely wrong in his views, or which would lead those whom he had taught, to believe that he was indeed wrong, such a decision would greatly hinder and embarrass him in his future ministry and service for Christ. In order to prevent this, and secure an unbiased and justified decision, and one which would not hinder his future usefulness, he had sought this private meeting, and this is how he gained his objective.

 “Lest I should be running” is in the present tense, which points to the time of this writing and afterward. The verb "run," (or “rush on,") is a favorite word of the apostle, which well characterizes the zealous, fast-moving manner of his activity. "In vain;" means an empty result, or no good. He insinuates that there had been a danger that the fruits of his work among the Gentiles, might get wrecked for some reason. This is confirmed by 1 Thessalonians 3:5—“For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.” But we should not for one moment imagine he had any fear he had been at all mistaken in the doctrine which he taught. His work would have been in danger of being spoiled if the Gentile Churches he planted by himself had been disowned by the mother Church, or if they had split into factious parties by the intervention of persons coming "from James," telling them that they were not in a state of salvation. To guard against this danger, he was led by Christ himself to seek a formal recognition of his doctrine by the apostles and the elders of the Jerusalem Church, and through them by that Church itself. Since the rank-and-file of the Jewish believers at Jerusalem were still attached in some points to the Mosaic System, and also regarded St. Paul himself with great suspicion, he might very easily have failed to gain the recognition he required, if he had brought the matter directly and immediately before the general body. If their spiritual leaders had not first come around to his way of thinking in, it was too probable that some fanatical supporter of the Mosaic Law would have gained the ear of the multitude, opposed Paul and his teaching, and forced him to leave without accomplishing anything; and it might have been very difficult to regain their respect and attention. 

3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: 

But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, 

As I read this verse, it reminded me of my children’s “show-and-tell” time when they were in grade school—here the object on display is Titus. Paul is saying,  "Though I explicitly stated to the leading men in the Church of Jerusalem what I taught respecting the relation of Gentile converts to circumcision and the Mosaic Law, yet in the end they, by their support, enabled us to withstand the pressure which was for a while applied for getting Titus circumcised. “Neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.” Paul intimates that this was a crucial case. Titus was a pure Gentile; not like Timothy who had one parent of Jewish extraction and therefore capable of being identified with the Jewish people, but both of Titus’ parents were Gentile-born. The clause, '"who was with me," was not added in order to identify Titus, but to indicate the close association he had with an uncircumcised Gentile which the apostle openly displayed at Jerusalem. He took him with him, we may suppose, when he appeared before the Church at its public assemblies; when he appeared before the select meeting of the apostles and elders; when he joined the brethren in the Lord's Supper—these were occasions of brotherly communion, in which the presence of a "dog," "an uncircumcised Greek," would be tenfold obnoxious. We cannot help but marvel at St. Paul's great courage in doing something so very shocking. Paul made sure everyone was aware of the close fellowship he shared with Titus which was sure to offend the vast majority of his Christian brethren, but it might also expose him to serious personal risks among the highly excitable and impulsive populace of the city. At Jerusalem his "soul was among lions." Titus's companionship with St. Paul was openly displayed before the eyes of all the Jews, both believers and unbelievers, and Gentile as well, yet not even in his case was circumcision persistently insisted upon. There is, however, the strong opinion that an attempt was made to get Titus to submit to the rite, but failed. We must observe that St. Paul does not write,"I was not compelled to circumcise Titus," but "Titus was not compelled to be circumcised." This appears to make a substantial difference. By putting it as he has done, the apostle suggests that it was to Titus himself that the pressure was applied. Titus was harassed, we may suppose, with theological arguments, with appeals to his brotherly sympathies, with appeals to his prudent care for public peace, with threats of social and religious excommunication, and with stern, indignant objections. But he was sustained throughout the whole ordeal, by at least St. Paul, if not also by his fellow-deputies, and he never failed to stand firm in his liberty. The question, however, arises—who were they that for a while endeavored to force circumcision upon Titus? The converts from the sect of the Pharisees, mentioned by St. Luke (Acts 15:5), occur to our minds. Another group that comes to mind are the "false brethren"—men who had simply thrown the cloak of professed Christian discipleship over the old legalism of the Pharisees and fiercely held on to it. But if we suppose this, we cannot imagine that the writer would have said that Titus was not compelled to be circumcised "by those false brethren," if these had been the very persons alluded to as having tried to compel him. It is more probable that the persons alluded to were certain influential members of the Jewish Church, which included a strong body, perhaps, of the elders of that Church, and having possibly the agreement of even James and of Cephas. James and the elders, on a later occasion (Acts 21:18-26), urged Paul himself to perform certain Mosaic observances, with the idea of placating the believers of Jerusalem. It is, therefore, quite possible, at this early stage in the development of the evangelical doctrine, that Titus was being dealt with in a somewhat similar manner. But whoever they were that were doing it, it is clear that they were working towards the same result as the most eager of the Mosaic legalists, only they were using a different approach. Titus was especially assaulted, apparently because St. Paul had brought him with him to serve as a case in point upon which to base the general question. 

was compelled to be circumcised:

Apparently Paul and his fellow apostles at Jerusalem were in agreement about the necessity of circumcision, and other rituals of the Law of Moses, to salvation, so that Titus, whom he brought along with him, though he was a Gentile and an uncircumcised person, was not compelled to be circumcised. The elders did not urge it, or insist upon it as something necessary; they looked upon it with indifference, and left it up to him whether to be circumcised or not; they were of the opinion, as was Peter and James, that such a yoke ought not to be put upon the necks of the disciples, and that those who turned to God from among the Gentiles, should not be troubled with these things. Thus they virtually sanctioned Paul's ministry among the Gentiles and admitted his autonomy as an apostle: the point he wanted to make to the Galatians. On the other hand, he did circumcise Timothy (Ac 16:3) who was a proselyte of the gate (see A GATE PROSELITE below), and son of a Jewess (Ac 16:1). Christianity did not interfere with Jewish practices that were regarded merely as social ordinances, though no longer having their religious significance, in the case of Jews and proselytes, while the Jewish state and temple still stood; after the overthrow of the latter, those usages naturally ceased. If they had insisted on applying Jewish practices to Gentile converts, they would have essentially made them elements of Christianity. But to have rudely excluded them at the beginning of the church, in the case of Jews, would have been inconsistent with that charity which (in insignificant and indifferent matters) is made all things to all men, that by all means it may win some (1 Co 9:22). Paul brought Titus with him as a living example of the power of the Gospel upon the uncircumcised heathen.

A GATE PROSELYTE is a "resident alien" who lives in the Land of Israel and follows some of the customs. They are not required to be circumcised nor to comply with the whole of the Torah. They are bound only to conform to the seven precepts of Noah, the Noahide Laws: do not worship idols, do not blaspheme God's name, do not murder, do not commit immoral sexual acts, do not steal, do not tear the limb from a living animal, and do not fail to establish courts of justice to be assured of a place in the world to come.

4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: 

And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, 

It is impossible to know for sure who these “false brethren” were, and it is equally difficult to know whether he refers to those who were at Jerusalem or to those who were at Antioch. It is probable, though, that he refers to Judaizing Christians, or persons who claimed to be Christians and to have been converted from Judaism. Whether they were liars or hypocrites, or whether they were so imperfectly acquainted with Christianity, and consequently stubborn, opinionated, and unreasonable, though in some respects really good men, it is not easy to determine. It is clear, however, that they opposed the apostle Paul; that they regarded him as teaching dangerous doctrines; that they perverted and misstated his views; and that they claimed to know more than he did about the nature of the true religion. Paul met such adversaries everywhere he went—“In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren” (2 Corinthians 11:26); and it took all his tact and skill to meet their reasonable arguments.

It is evident here that Paul is giving a reason for something which he had done, and that reason was to counteract the influence of the "false brethren.” But what is the thing for which he assigns a reason? It is commonly supposed to have been on account of the fact that he did not agree to the circumcision of Titus, and that he means to say that he resisted that in order to counteract their influence and to defeat their plans. He was helped greatly in this by a private meeting with the leading men among the apostles? (Galatians 2:2). His reasoning was evidently accepted, and with their help he was able to counteract the influence of the false brethren, who sought to impose the Jewish rites on Gentile converts.

These “false brethren” were “unawares brought in.” The word rendered "unawares" is derived from a verb meaning “to lead in by the side of others, to introduce along with others; and then to lead or bring in by stealth, to smuggle in.” It probably refers to men who had been craftily introduced into the ministry, who pretended to be pious, but who were actually either not pious at all, or who were seriously ignorant of the true nature of the Christian religion; and who were inclined to impose on others the observance of the special rites of the Mosaic system. It is not clear from this what they were brought into. It may have been that they had been introduced into the ministry in this manner; or it may be that they were introduced into the "assembly" where the apostles were gathered to deliberate on the subject. Another possibility is that Paul refers to his experiences in Jerusalem, and that these “false brethren” had been “brought in” from Antioch or some other place where Paul had been preaching, or that they were persons whom his challengers had introduced to demand that Titus should be circumcised, under the likely pretense that the laws of Moses required it, but really in order that there might be corroboration of their view that this rite was to be imposed upon the Gentile converts. If Paul was compelled to agree with them; if they could win on this one point, it would be all they needed, and would settle the question, and prove that the Mosaic laws were to be imposed upon the Gentile converts. This was the reason why Paul so strenuously opposed it. If the question should be asked—who brought them in?—the parable of the tares suggests the answer—the devil—“Therefore it is no great thing if his (the devil) ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:15). The devil is always working behind the scenes doing all he can to ruin Christ’s church and Christ’s people. These men had been “brought into” the Church after having been prepared by Satan to detect and to regard with the strongest dislike anything, either in doctrine or in Church action, which would infringe upon their own legalism, and to wage war upon it. This notion of hostile intent is strongly suggested by the verb rendered "to spy out." The apostle views them as emissaries of the great enemy; Satan's aim is to use his agents to wage war against Christians, enslaving them to the law, and depriving them of their gospel liberty. This liberty means the whole spirit of freedom which faith in Christ imparts to the Christian, including, for one thing, his emancipation from the yoke of ceremonialism.

who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, 

“To spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus”—in the practice of the Christian religion. The liberty referred to was, without a doubt, the liberty from the painful, expensive, and burdensome rites of the Jewish religion—“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Their object in spying out the liberty which Paul and others had, was, undoubtedly, to substantiate that they did not observe the special rites of the Mosaic system; to report it; to insist upon their complying with those customs, and in that way to ensure the imposition of those rites on the Gentile converts. Their first object was to satisfy themselves of the fact that Paul did not insist on the observance of their customs; and then to obtain from the apostles a ruling or order that Titus should be circumcised, and that Paul and the converts made under his ministry should be required to comply with those laws.

that they might bring us into bondage:

“That they might bring us into bondage” refers to being in bondage to the laws of Moses, which would be burdensome and oppressive, or which would infringe on their freedom as the children of God. It is called "a yoke of bondage" in Galatians 5:1. A "yoke" is a symbol:

1. Of slavery or bondage—“Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed” (1 Timothy 6:1).

2. Of affliction—“It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth” (Lamentations 3:27).

3. Of punishment—“The yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand: they are wreathed, and come up upon my neck: he hath made my strength to fall, the Lord hath delivered me into their hands, from whom I am not able to rise up” (Lamentations 1:14). 

4. Of oppressive and burdensome ceremonies—“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). Here the “yolk” is the restraints of Christianity. 

The Laws of Moses would be a “yoke” to the Religion of Christ that would ruin it by making the way of salvation by works instead of by grace. 

5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. 

“To whom,” that is, to the false brethren who were seeking to have Titus compelled to be circumcised; not the apostles, elders, and brethren at Jerusalem, who did not insist upon the observance of the rituals of the Law as being necessary, but were unanimously of the opinion that the Gentiles should be free from them. These false brethren used suggestion, persuasion, and demands along with commotion—“But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, that it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the Law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). They were men of that sect who, like Paul, had become Christians, but unlike him had retained their Jewish bigotry. Perhaps some of them were Paul's old friends. 

“We” is Paul, Barnabas, and Titus. 

“By subjection” is used in other passages in which it means the habit or spirit of subjection, and never an act of submission (2 Corinthians 9:13; 1 Timothy 2:11; 1 Timothy 3:4). In this verse it probably indicates a spirit of subjection to those who were so authoritatively laying upon him their directives; he might give way on some non-crucial point in a spirit of brotherly concession; but he would not bow to any man's overbearing mandate. The sense seems to be, “We would willingly have yielded out of love (if no principle was at stake), but not in the way of subjection, when "the truth of the Gospel" was at stake (namely, the fundamental truth of justification by faith only, without the works of the law. Here, the phrase "by subjection" means, that he did not allow himself to be compelled to yield. Because the issue was so important, Paul was stubborn.

The phrase rendered “for an hour” occurs several places in the New Testament—(John 5:35; 2 Corinthians 7:8; Philemon 1:15); and it is equivalent to the shortest period of time. He did not waver, or yield at all. There seems to be an underlying allusion to those occasions about which the apostle declares, “And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (1 Corinthians 9:20-22); but he would not do this when dealing with false brethren, whose aim was in effect to turn gospel freedom into legal slavery.  He did not yield one little bit. He felt that a great principle was involved; and though on all proper occasions he was willing to yield and to become all things to all men, yet here he did not court them, or defer to them in the least. 

“That the truth of the gospel” can only be the sure unadulterated doctrine, which is embodied in the gospel, and is its very heart and essence. The refusal of Church fellowship to a believer of this gospel unless he was circumcised would have nullified the truth that faith in Christ is the sole and sufficient ground of justification. Paul had defended these same views among the Galatians, and he now sought that the same views might be confirmed by the clear decision of the college of apostles at Jerusalem.

“Might continue with you” is the apostles express desire that “the truth of the gospel might never cease to have its home with them. It is possible that Paul did not at this time have the Galatians in mind, but rather the Gentile Churches in general. It may be supposed that the circumstances of those Gentile Churches which he and Barnabas had recently founded were much in his thoughts at that time; because, it is shown by his numerous references to his specific intercessory prayer that his spirit was continually conversant with "all the Churches"—“Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28); and he was keenly aware of efforts made from the very first by legalizing Christians to pervert their faith.

Paul defied them, and prevailed.  Titus was not circumcised! 


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