Paul and the Men of Reputation

22 Mar
from Google Images

from Google Images

Who were the men of reputation, and why were they so called (Galatians 2:2; cp. verse-9 where they are called pillars)? Those named were James[1] (the Lord’s brother), Peter and John, but there could have been others, but these three were specifically called ‘pillars’ in the Church community. They were called men of reputation, because they were the leaders of the Jerusalem Church. They were called pillars by Paul because they were the supporters and the guardians of the truth of the Gospel (cp. 1Timothy 3:15).

Much has been said about Paul’s attitude toward the believing authorities at Jerusalem, or the men of reputation (Galatians 2:6). According to some Bible students Paul seems to express himself somewhat arrogantly in reference to these figures, then concludes they “added nothing” to his testimony. Certainly, we can say the Apostles at Jerusalem completely agreed with what Paul was doing, and his Gospel was complete and needed no input from the Jerusalem leadership (Galatians 2:7-9). However, Paul does seem on the surface to be saying that he really didn’t care how the Jerusalem authorities were received in the Church; he was at least as trustworthy as they were before God. How should we understand Paul’s remark?

To begin with, this is not an insult to the leaders at Jerusalem. Far from it; Paul was expressing his own humility. Paul came from a wealthy family in Tarsus and was trained at the feet of Gamaliel, the most famous rabbi of the 1st century CE. Paul’s credentials were impeccable. On the other hand the Apostles were fishermen, tax collectors, zealots and who knows what else, hardly candidates for a modern university. Paul said that he didn’t care what they were—before their becoming Christ’s disciples, for God accepts no man’s person above another man’s—i.e. Paul’s credentials were no more valuable in the preaching of the Gospel than the Apostles’ lack of credentials. It might be considered arrogance, if someone like Gamaliel or one of the high priests became believers and Paul said the same thing. It was the power of God that worked through both Paul and the Jerusalem authorities. This was not a boastful remark.

Paul’s point was that the men of reputation saw that God worked powerfully through Paul in the gentile community, and powerfully through Peter in the Jewish community. They therefore concluded that Paul should go to the gentiles with their blessing (Galatians 2:7-8). Paul, and not one of the Jerusalem Apostles, was ‘selected’ to go to the gentile communities, because it was clear to the authorities at Jerusalem that God had already ‘selected’ Paul for that purpose. Their commission was merely to agree with what God had already done. The only thing the Apostles added was that Paul continue to remember Jerusalem’s poor (Galatians 2:10), which Paul says he had already planned to continue doing.

Effectively, Galatians 2:7-9 demonstrates that the authorities at Jerusalem trusted Paul to do among the gentiles what they were doing in Peter’s work among the Jews. It seems that Peter was the authority behind the disciples reaching out to the Jewish community with the Gospel. According to many authorities, Mark’s Gospel is actually Peter’s narrative. It was in use decades before Mark wrote it out for the gentiles at Rome. It was the main Gospel narrative upon which all others depend—even Luke’s which was most likely used by Paul. So, the Jerusalem Council concluded that it would be Peter and company who would reach out to the Jewish communities throughout the world, and Paul and company would reach out to the gentile communities. Although there would be some inevitable overlap of ministry, the point was Paul’s Gospel message was approved by the Jerusalem authorities.

[1] This James could not be James, the brother of John, the son of Zebedee of the Gospels, because he had been slain several years earlier by Herod Agrippa I of Acts 12.

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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in Epistle to the Galatians, Paul


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