Tuesday, 1 March 2016
…and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Galatians 2:9
These words follow naturally after the parenthetical insert of verse 8. To show the logical sequence of thought, follow the verses without the parenthesis –
“But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter … and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”
Paul’s words show the elevation of his apostolic ministry to the same level as that of Peter; recognized as such by “James, Cephas, and John.” James is named first as the leader of the church at this time. It was he who rendered the final decision at the Council in Jerusalem in Acts 15. Next “Cephas” is mentioned. This is Peter’s other name. He, along with John, was a special part of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Together, they were considered as leaders in their own right.
James is mentioned first when a particular act of the church is referred to. However, Peter or “Cephas” is mentioned first by Paul when speaking of the missionary function of the church. Concerning these three, Paul notes that they “seemed to be pillars.” Vincent’s Word Studies says that this is better translated as, “who are in repute as pillars.” The term “seemed to be” gives the impression that such really wasn’t the case. However, they were the pillars, and their reputation noted this.
The word “pillars” gives the obvious mental picture of those who support a body or an organization. They would be those who kept the organization strong and properly structured. In other words, Paul’s naming of these three is intended to show that these great representatives were in full approval of his ministry. They “perceived the grace that had been given to” him. Christ had set his seal of approval on Paul and his ministry, and they therefore gave both him “and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship.”
In the Bible, the right hand is the prominent one. It signifies approval, power, and authority. In their eyes, Paul’s apostolic ministry was fully qualified to receive this status. Barnabas is mentioned here because it was he who traveled with Paul and who helped establish the church at Galatia. Therefore, the message these two carried to them was fully sanctioned by the leaders of the church. They were to go “to the Gentiles” while James, Cephas, and John would continue to evangelize “the circumcised.”
Paul has carefully and methodically shown that his ministry was fully approved of by the very leaders of the church. If this is true, then anyone who showed up afterwards with a different message could not claim that Paul’s message was invalid. He is building his case against the false apostles and their false message which had come to infect the church at Galatia. This is important for us to understand because this letter is included in the Bible. It is a portion of the record and witness concerning the ministry of Paul to the Gentile-led church. To dismiss Paul is to stand opposed to the doctrines of Christ Himself.
Life application: Don’t believe the false teachers of today who dismiss the words of Paul as having been “corrupted” by some later body (such as the RCC) who had an agenda to pervert the word of God. This is not an uncommon teaching among Judaizers, but it is without any biblical or historical support at all. Paul’s words have been accurately maintained and stand as the necessary instruction for the church age. To state otherwise is to call into question the competence of the Lord who has given these words to 2000 years of church history.
O Lord God, help us to reject those who call into question the truth of Your word. Too many people want to tear apart this beautiful gift You have given to us. It is so easy to fall into such a trap if we are unwilling to do the hard work and to study to see if the words are true or not. And so help us to set our priorities, and to be willing to study in order to show ourselves approved concerning the truth and reliability of the Holy Bible. Yes, help us in this, O God. Amen.