This section continues Paul’s delicate effort to pay respect to the apostles in Jerusalem while at the same time distancing himself from any perceived submission to Jerusalem (the source of the agitators).
1 Then after fourteen years
This could refer to 14 years from the first trip to Jerusalem mentioned at the end of chapter 1, or it could be 14 years from his conversion. I prefer the former.
I went up again to Jerusalem
The reference to a second trip to Jerusalem may refer to the trip Paul made in Acts 11:27-30 in connection with taking relief from Antioch for the Christians in Judea suffering from famine, or it could refer to the trip in Acts 15 for the conference in Jerusalem. While there is no great issue at stake, I think this visit is the former one, the famine relief visit, for these reasons:
1) If it is not the visit mentioned in Acts 11, then Paul omitted that trip in this letter, despite the fact he is so careful to record each and every contact he has had with Jerusalem.
2) Paul says that this trip in Gal. 2 was by revelation (2:2), and in connection with the poor (2:10), which matches the famine relief visit of Acts 11 but not the Jerusalem conference visit of Acts 15.
3) If this trip in Gal. 2 is the Jerusalem Conference visit, it is odd that Paul doesn’t mention the council’s decision and letter (see Acts 15:22-29).
with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.
Acts 13-14 relates that Barnabas was with Paul on the first journey and would have been well known to the churches of Galatia. Luke does not mention the presence of Titus on that journey, but the mention here is consistent with Paul’s common practice of mentoring younger men in the work (as he did with John Mark and Timothy).
2 I went up because of a revelation
Not because he was summoned by the Jerusalem apostles, as if he had to answer to them, but rather because God told him to go (through the prophet Agabus in Acts 11:28).
and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential)
Those referred to as “influential” would probably have been the three apostles specifically named later in verse 9: Peter, James and John.
One other argument against this visit as the Acts 15 conference is that Paul stresses this was a private visit, while the conference in Acts 15 was quite public.
the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.
At first glance this may seem to suggest that Paul was fearful he might not get approval from the Jerusalem apostles, but that isn’t really the point. The language Paul uses here of setting the gospel before them (in Greek: anatithesthai) suggests Paul valued their feedback, but not to the extent that it would determine the truth of what he was preaching. He was eager to know that they would be in agreement with him about the sufficiency of the gospel without the Law for Gentiles. If they had rejected that message, it would not have made it wrong, but it would have made all of Paul’s efforts in keeping Jews and Gentiles united in Christ on the basis of the gospel ultimately vain.
3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.
Unlike the case of Timothy, in which Paul had him circumcised to be all things to all men (Acts 16:1-3), the case of Titus involved fundamental conviction about the gospel itself. In both cases what was best for the gospel was done (cf. 1 Cor. 9:23).
Paul’s main point here is that the apostles did not require Titus to be circumcised.
4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—
Later in the letter Paul will expand on the theme of slavery to the Law. Here, he says that it was “false brothers” who were responsible for the confusion. Acts 15:5 says that it was “believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees” who were binding circumcision.
5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
To compromise on the issue of circumcision in the case of Titus would have called into question the essence of the gospel message that Paul had been preaching to people like the Galatians. The sufficiency of the gospel of Christ without the Law was at stake.
6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.
You can again see Paul’s desire to pay respect to the Jerusalem apostles without seeming dependent on them in this statement. They “added nothing” to Paul, meaning that he did not have to augment his message in any way, or establish his credentials to them.
7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles),
One reason the Jerusalem apostles accepted Paul is that he and Peter “worked” by the same power, probably an allusion to the miraculous gift of the Spirit manifested in the ministry of each man (see Acts 15:12).
9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars,
The reference to “pillars” may be a play on the OT description of the temple, which had two giant pillars called Jachin and Boaz (1 Kings 7:15-22). Since the church is the temple of God, this would be an apt description of the apostles (cf. Eph. 2:20-22).
perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
Notice, Paul is not saying that the Jerusalem apostles commissioned him to begin his work, Instead, they gave their endorsement to what Paul and Barnabas were already doing.
10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
Paul was eager to help the poor in Judea, not only in the case of the famine relief visit in Acts 11, but also in the collection taken up during his third missionary journey (Rom. 15:25-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8-9).