The distorted gospel in Galatia compelled Gentiles to be circumcised (6:12). Paul, in defense of the gospel which he received, recounts an incident when he visited Jerusalem which, at the time, still was the headquarters of the Christian church:
He went to Jerusalem to submit to the leaders the gospel which he preached “among the Gentiles” (2:2). They had nothing to add to his message (2:6). Paul mentioned this to show that he did not receive his message from men.
They gave Paul “the right hand of fellowship” (2:9), which means that they accepted his message.
Paul took an uncircumcised Gentile Christian (Titus) with him on his visit. While Jewish Christians in Galatia sought to bring Gentile Christians into the “bondage” (2:4) of circumcision and the Law of Moses, Titus served as an example of the “liberty which we have in Christ Jesus” (2:4). The church leaders accepted Titus and did not ask for him to be circumcised (2:3).
TITUS IN JERUSALEM
2:1 Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2:2 It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.
2:3 But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 2:4 But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. 2:5 But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.
2:6 But from those who were of high reputation (what they were, makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)–well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. 2:7 But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised 2:8 (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), 2:9 and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 2:10 They only asked us to remember the poor–the very thing I also was eager to do.
THOSE WHO WERE OF HIGH REPUTATION
At the time, the headquarters of the Christian church was still in Jerusalem. Paul went there to submit to “those who were of reputation” in the church in those days the gospel which he preached “among the Gentiles”. In 2:9 he mentions “James and Cephas (Peter) and John” as “reputed to be pillars” (2:9). James was Christ’s brother (1:19), and an important person in the young church at the time.
Paul went to Jerusalem to seek the approval from the church headquarters for the message he preached, but eventually, God made his message to stand and substantially dominate the New Testament. The writings of James, Peter and John, while still inspired, are much smaller and were ‘relegated’ to the back of the New Testament.
The “false brethren” (2:4) were Christians. They are the same or similar to the Christians in Galatia that “are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (1:7).
BONDAGE AND LIBERTY
The false brethren were trying to bring their fellow Christians “into bondage” (2:4).
Paul and Barnabas took Titus—an uncircumcised Gentile Christian—along with them on their visit to the church leaders in Jerusalem, probably as an example of the work they are doing among the Gentiles. The church leaders, namely James, Peter and John (2:9), accepted Titus and did not ask for him to be circumcised (2:3). The mention of Titus, that was not compelled to be circumcised, in the same context as “bondage” and “liberty,” implies that the bondage had to do with circumcision.
The fact that this incident in Jerusalem is so pertinently mentioned in the letter to the Galatians implies that the distorted gospel in Galatia also compelled Gentiles to be circumcised and that Paul mentions this incident to justify the “liberty which we have in Christ Jesus” (2:4), namely that Gentiles, like Titus, did not have to be circumcised (2:3; compare to Acts 15:19-20). This will be confirmed later in the letter, where we will read that some people were trying to compel the Galatians to be circumcised (6:12).
In defense of his gospel, Paul argues:
Firstly, that he was “not sent from men” (1:1) and that “those who were of high reputation” (2:6) “contributed nothing” to his message (2:6).
Secondly, that God “entrusted (him) with the gospel to the uncircumcised (the Gentiles)”, which by implication gives him the right to dictate what Gentile Christians must do and not do.
Thirdly, that the church leaders in Jerusalem accepted his calling and message as from God (2:9).
In 1:16 and in 2:2, Paul refers to his calling to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, but in 2:7 he says his calling was to preach to the “uncircumcised.” Gentiles were always allowed to join Judaism through circumcision. Then they would become part of the “circumcised” (2:7). The “uncircumcised” therefore refers to the uncircumcised Gentiles.