The chapter falls into two sections. Of these, viewed in their leading purport, the first ( Acts 15:1-10 ) exhibits the recognition formally accorded to St. Paul's gospel and work by the highest authorities of the Church of the circumcision; the second ( Acts 15:11-21 ) displays in a very stalking light the independence and co-ordinateness of his position when standing face to face with the very chiefest of the apostles. But while these seem to be their leading objects, we find the apostle weaving in, after his manner, trenchant references to other matters relevant to the main purpose of the Epistle, and even enlarging upon them.
And that because of false brethren unawares brought in ( διὰ δὲ τοὺς παρεισάκτους ψευδαδέλφους ); and that because of the false brethren without warrant brought in. The conjunction δὲ often is not adversative, but only introduces a fresh thought of a qualifying or explanatory character (comp. ἀνέβην δὲ and κατ ἰδίαμ δὲ of Galatians 2:2 ). The rendering of our English Version represents the connection with the preceding sentence quite correctly. The designation, "false brethren," after the analogy of "false apostles," "false prophets" ( ψευδαπόστολοι , ψευδοπροφῆται , 2 Corinthians 11:13 ; 2 Peter 2:1 ), were those who were not really brethren in Christ, but had superinduced the profession of such over a state of mind radically incompatible with it; not children of God through faith in Christ Jesus," but only simulating faith in Christ; outwardly "baptized into Christ," but not inwardly, and therefore not really. The loud demand which those false brethren were making, that all Gentile converts should be circumcised, was distinctly rested by them upon the principle that otherwise those converts were not qualified for sonship in God's family or for admission to Church fellowship with, at any rate, the believing circumcision. This demand of theirs, made upon this pernicious principle, it was that had raised the present controversy, and had brought Paul and his fellow-deputies to Jerusalem. If, under such circumstances, Titus, with St. Paul's concurrence, had consented to be circumcised, then, whatever the motive of his consenting, it would have seemed to those false brethren, and not to them only, but indeed to the Church at large, that all had agreed in recognizing the soundness of that principle of theirs that circumcision was indispensable for perfect Divine acceptance. This consideration, we may believe, Titus and St. Paul now urged upon those who, not themselves alleging that principle, nor even allowing it to be true, yet, on other grounds, were recommending and pressing for Titus's circumcision. And the argument prevailed with them. They withdrew that pressure of theirs, and consented to leave Titus to stand there before the Church and the world, a claimant of full admission to all Christian fellowship while still in uncircumcision. It was those false brethren themselves, then, that made it impossible at the present juncture that those who held fast to the truth of the gospel should accept counsels of compromise or conciliation. In matters of indifference ( ἀδιάφορα ) there is a time for conciliation—this no one could ever be more ready to see and act upon than St. Paul; but there is also a time for the unbending assertion of truth, and the clamours of the false brethren made the present to be one of the latter kind. In that particular juncture of Church development, the doctrine itself of the absolute justification of men through faith in Christ was at stake. If Titus was not qualified for Christian fellowship by simply his faith in Christ, then neither was he qualified for acceptance with God by simply his faith. Without warrant brought in. In the compound verbal παρεισάκτους , the preposition παρὰ , appears to point, not so much to the manner in which they had been brought in, as e.g. stealthily , craftily , as to the circumstance that they had no business to be brought in at all; they were an alien brood. The Greek glosselogists, Hesychius, Photius, and Suidas, render it ἀλλότριος , i.e. alien. In 2 Peter 1:1 , παρεισάξουσιν αἱρέσεις ἀπωλείας , reference is made to the alien character of the teaching spoken of. The apostle's feeling is that men who do not accept the truth that through faith in Christ we are justified, and through faith only, have no proper place in the Church of Christ (comp. Galatians 5:4 , Galatians 5:5 ). If the question be asked—Who brought them in? the parable of the tares suggests the answer—The devil. Who came in privily ( οἵτινες παρεισῆλθον ); a set of men who without warrant came in. The preposition παρὰ in the verb has the same force as it has in παρεισάκτους . So also in παριεσέδυσαν ( Jude 1:4 ). To spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus ( κατασκοπῆσαι τὴν ἐλευθερίαν ἡμῶν ἣν ἔχομεν ἐν χριστῷ ἰησοῦ ); to spy out that liberty of ours which , etc. These men had come into the Church prepared to detect and to regard with the keenest dislike anything, either in doctrine or in Church action, which would infringe upon their own legalism, and to wage war upon it. For this notion of hostile intent is strongly suggested by the verb "to spy out" (cf. 2 Kings 10:3 ; 1 Chronicles 19:3 ; and κατασκοπεῦσαι in Joshua 2:2 ). The infinitive (of purpose), viewed in reference to the men themselves, can be understood only of their disposed-ness to make this use of their membership; for they can hardly be supposed to have entered into the Church for that definite object; but the apostle views them as emissaries of the great enemy; Satan's design thus to wage war with our gospel liberty is by a bold figure ascribed in this infinitive to his instruments. 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, but containing also more. That they might bring us into bondage ( ἵνα ἡμᾶς καταδουλῶσουσιν [Receptus, καταδουλώσωνται ], The reading of six of the uncial manuscripts is καταδουλώσουσιν ; of three, σωσιν ; of one, - σωνται . The variation in the mood of the verb is immaterial; for the construction of ἵνα (of purpose) with an indicative, though strange to the eye of the student of classical Greek, is not foreign to the writers of the New Testament; but the variation in the voice affects the sense. καταδουλώσωνται would mean "bring into bondage to themselves," which most probably is not the writer's meaning; he apparently means:rather, "deprive us of our liberty by enslaving us to the Law" (cf. ch. 4:25; 5:1). The simple verb δουλόω , occurs repeatedly; the compound καταδουλόω here and in 2 Corinthians 11:20 , intensifies the sense: degrade us into slavery.
The battle of Christian liberty fought over the case of Titus.
The apostle proceeds to show that, on his subsequent journey to Jerusalem, he maintained his independence, and was recognized by the other apostles as possessing equal authority with themselves.
I. HIS NEXT INTERVIEW WITH THE APOSTLES . "Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also."
1 . The period of this visit. It was fourteen years from the date of his conversion—not from the date of his former visit to Jerusalem—for he seems always to view his conversion as the true starting-point of his career. The word "again "does not determine whether he here refers to the second or third visit. It was evidently his third visit; for the second was with alms, when he probably saw no apostle, for the gift of the Gentile Churches was sent to "the elders," not the apostles, "by the hands of Barnabas and Saul" ( Acts 11:30 ). There was no need to mention all his visits to Jerusalem, only those which gave him opportunities of intercourse with the apostles. This visit, then, was that of Acts 15:1-41 ., the period of the council of Jerusalem.
2 . His companions on this visit—Barnabas and Titus. There was something significant in this companionship. Barnabas, a pure Jew, was the companion of the apostle in preaching freedom from the Law. He was one of the most beautiful characters in New Testament times, especially distinguished by the generosity of his disposition. Titus was a Gentile Christian, not even circumcised, and may have been sent to the council as the representative of Gentile Christians. The apostle took him there as an illustration of Christian liberty, for the council would be obliged to decide whether Titus was to be circumcised or not. Thus the apostle manifested the consistency of his doctrine and his practice. This is the first mention of Titus in Scripture; for the Galatian Epistle preceded the Second to the Corinthians, in which his name occurs in terms of high commendation.
3 . The interval between his visits to Jerusalem was filled with constant labours as an apostle. He was engaged during all this period in independent labours, and therefore before the apostles could have had an opportunity of recognizing his work. During this time the apostles never thought of calling in question his free gospel. The Acts of the Apostles supply the history of his labours during this time ( Acts 11:26 ; Acts 13:1-52 .; Acts 14:28 ).
4 . His journey was taken " by revelation. " According to St. Lu, he was sent by the Church at Antioch ( Acts 15:2 ), and therefore was not summoned by the apostles to give an account of his gospel. But the revelation may have suggested the very action of the Church at Antioch, or it may, on the other hand, have confirmed it. The apostle was in any case assured of Divine guidance at a most critical epoch in Christian history.
II. HIS BOLD YET PRUDENT EXPOSITION OF HIS GOSPEL . "And I went up by revelation, and laid before them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them of reputation, lest by any means I might be running, or have run, in vain."
1 . His public exposition.
2 . His private exposition.
III. THE APOSTLE 'S VICTORY . "Titus was not compelled to be circumcised," Greek though he was.
1 . The language implies that efforts had been made to this end , not by the apostles, however, but by "the false brethren." But these efforts were defeated by the council. Had the council been of the opinion of the false brethren, Titus would have been compelled to be circumcised.
2 . Mark the firmness of the apostle. "Not even Titus"—though he was brought into close contact with the Jews, and might therefore have taken a more conciliatory course toward them, especially in the great centre of Judaist influence—"was forced to be circumcised." If the apostle yielded at Jerusalem, he must yield everywhere else. Yet he allowed Timothy to be circumcised at Lystra, but that was a case of deference to the scruples of weak brethren. For the sake of gaining souls he will renounce liberty. But he will not allow the truth of the gospel to be sacrificed by men who say that circumcision is necessary to salvation.
3 . Mark the ground of the apostle's firmness. "And this, because of false brethren insidiously brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ, that they might bring us into bondage." That is, he resisted the circumcision of Titus, because the false brethren would have taken advantage of the concession to bring the Gentiles into bondage to legal ceremonies.
4 . The result of the apostle's firmness. "To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour." If he had done it once, Christian liberty would have been sacrificed. The characteristic truth of the gospel—justification by faith without the deeds of the Law—was now safe. It was to "remain steadfast" with the Gentiles. Thus truth and freedom were henceforth to go together.
The apostolic conference.
Fourteen years elapsed between the first and second visits of Paul as apostle to Jerusalem. During this interval of severe work he had experienced the opposition of the Judaizers. He deemed it advisable, therefore, and was also impelled by the Spirit, to go up to have a conference with the apostles about the whole policy to be pursued in the Gentile mission. In the verses before us he relates what took place in connection with the conference. And here we learn—
I. HOW AGREEABLE TO THE MIND OF THE SPIRIT THE CONFERENCE OF BRETHREN IS . ( Galatians 2:2 .) For Paul went up with Barnabas and Titus "by revelation." The Spirit impelled him to confer with the apostles at Jerusalem, and to strengthen his own judgment by securing theirs. And in the conference he seems to have laid before them the gospel of free grace which for fourteen years he had been preaching among the Gentiles. His statement was an exposition of his message, how he had taught the Gentiles that they were to be justified by faith and not by ceremony. Moreover, he was careful to enter into conference only with those who were of reputation, whose judgment would command respect, and to insist on the conference being private and confidential. Now, there can be no question about the great value of such confidential interchanges of thought by brethren. Even when there is not much light shed upon the path of duty, as seems to have been the case here, there is yet the confirmation of the Lord's servants in the propriety of their course.
II. IN CONTENTION WITH OTHERS WE SHOULD HAVE CLEARLY BEFORE US THE INTERESTS OF THE GOSPEL . (Verses 3-5.) Titus, who accompanied Paul to Jerusalem, had been Paul's companion in Galatia and in the mission tom's of Asia Minor. He was a Greek, a Gentile therefore, as distinct from a Jew. He had not, like Timothy, any Jewish blood in his veins. When the Judaizers, therefore, urged that Titus should be circumcised, and so become a proselyte to Jewish ceremonials, Paul resisted the demand so determinedly that no circumcision of Titus ever took place. In doing so, Paul had the interests of truth clearly in view. Had he yielded to the clamour, the gospel would have ceased practically to be a power in Galatia. It would not have continued with them. It would have been said, on the contrary, that salvation does not come by faith alone, but by ceremony as well. It was the interests of the gospel which Paul had clearly in view. It would be well if we had always so clear a view of the interests of truth in our contentions with others. It is to be feared we sometimes fight for our consistency and personal interests rather than for the gospel. We should suspect our motives until we see the gospel's interests clearly involved in our struggle.
III. A CONFERENCE MAY ADD NO FRESH LIGHT TO WHAT WE HAVE , BUT SIMPLY CONFIRM US IN OUR COURSE . (Verse 6.) The apostle admits that the brethren at Jerusalem seemed to the Galatians to be most important judges of such matters as were brought before them. £ He himself did not form the same extravagant opinion of their ability, for he felt assured that "God accepteth no man's person," and that he, as an apostle born out of due time, had as much light given to him for his work as those who were in Christ before him. Hence he states plainly that they imparted nothing to him in the conference. They simply confirmed him in the practice of Christian liberty. And this will often be the case in Christian conferences. It is not the fresh light they shed upon doctrine or duty, but mainly the confirmation they afford of lines of duty already taken up. This, however, ought not to be despised, but rather gratefully accepted as according to the will of God.
IV. THE IMPRIMATUR OF THE APOSTLES IS SIGNIFICANT . (Verses 7-9.) It is to be observed that Paul never sought apostolic ordination. He and Barnabas were designated by the brethren at Antioch when about to proceed upon their first missionary journey ( Acts 13:1-3 ). But he had never all these years sought for ordination at the hands of the apostles who were in office before him. At the end of fourteen years he gives in a report, and all that he receives from the apostles is "the right hand of fellowship." In this connection we may quote from the able book of the "American citizen" on 'The Philosophy of the Divine Operation.' He is contending for Paul, not Matthias, being the twelfth apostle. After showing Paul's superior marks of apostleship, he proceeds," Ordination, where there is no Holy Spirit, is not scriptural ordination. The laying on of hands by men who do not possess the Spirit of Christ themselves is not consecration. Hence offices and interests imparted by men or Churches whose spirit is merely formal and secular have no Divine validity. The men appointed under such circumstances may be good and useful, as many of them are. Communications of grace from above may be granted them. But the seal of God is not in the act of ordination. And Paul, called of God, with only the right hand of fellowship given him by the apostles, does the work of God better than Matthias, ordained by non-spiritual administrators."
V. THE REMEMBRANCE OF THE POOR WAS ALWAYS TO CHARACTERIZE THE CHRISTIAN MISSION . (Verse 10.) The apostles, in recognizing Paul's policy and mission among the Gentiles, merely reminded him of the care of the poor, which was to be a first note of the Christian mission. The gospel is preached to the poor; it charges itself with their care. It was with the gospel the obligation recognized by the "poor laws" arose. The care of the poor was not felt by other religious systems as it is by Christianity. And it is questionable if the poor are as well cared for by law as they would be if left to Christian love. £ Now, there can be no doubt of this trait of Christianity being a most important evidence of its Divine origin. The care of the poor would never have become the commonplace it now seems to be had not Christianity charged itself with the enlightenment and the care of the poor ( Matthew 11:5 ). The Christian commune, the noble experiment which succeeded Pentecost, put for a time poverty outside the Church's pale ( Acts 4:34 ). But even when poverty is driven out of the Church, it will still exist in the world, and for the poor Christianity must provide. This is one of its great missions; the apostles, though poor themselves, nobly responded to the call and faced the problem; and so must we all in our spheres if we have aught of the apstolic spirit.—R.M.E.
Period of third visit to Jerusalem.
Three preliminary points are mentioned.
I. HE DID NOT YIELD ON THE QUESTION OF LIBERTY .
1 . No compulsion was used in the case of Titus. "But not even Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised." This was a good ease for trying the question of liberty. Timothy, who was after this circumcised in accommodation to Jewish feeling, was of hail-Jewish extraction. Titus was of pure Gentile extraction. Was he, then, necessitated to circumcise Titus? No; it was a notorious fact that under the eye of the three, under the eye of the whole Church, he was allowed to go about Jerusalem with an uncircumcised Gentile convert as his recognized companion and assistant. That was not as though he had weakly yielded at the conference. It was, on the contrary, a signal triumph obtained for liberty.
2 . The reason of his taking so firm a stand was that it was made a question of liberty. Character of the false brethren. "And that because of the false brethren privily brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage." They were false, men who had never really agreed to the terms of Christian membership. They had become connected with the society of Christians, not as genuine believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, but on falsely pretending faith. They climbed into the Christian fold by some other way than Christ. There were others in the background who prompted them to make a false profession. They acted as the tools of others for illegitimate purposes. Espionage was one purpose. They stole into the Christian camp, not because they had any delight in being there, but simply as spies. What they wished to spy out was the liberty enjoyed by the Gentile Christians, i.e. liberation from circumcision in the possession of Christ. More particularly, it was the action of the Church in Jerusalem in view of the association of an uncircumcised Gentile convert with Paul. A further purpose was bondage. They spied out the liberty that they might have it as an object for their attack. Their tactics were to make a demand for the circumcision of Titus. Their success would have been the enslavement of Gentile Christians. Stand made by Paul against the false brethren. "To whom we gave place in the way of subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you." It was a bold step, in the first place, to take Titus to Jerusalem. Feeling may have been stronger than he expected to find it. How was he to act? It would, no doubt, have been pleasing to many if he had seen his way to circumcise Titus. Under certain circumstances he might have been free to do it in the way of accommodation. But seeing that the false brethren, by the circumcision of Titus, meant the enslavement for ever of Gentile Christians, he gave place in the way of subjection , no, not for an hour. He acted thus decisively in the interests of all his Gentile constituents. And his successful resistance on this occasion, which some were now seeking to turn against him (as though he had then given in his submission to Peter and the rest), was really a triumph obtained for the Gentile Christians everywhere, for which particularly they, the Galatians, should show gratitude in the way of resisting the assaults of the Judaists on them. Let the truth of the gospel — justification simply by faith—continue with them.
II. HE PRESERVED HIS EQUALITY WITH THE THREE .
1 . They imparted nothing to him. "But from those who were reputed to be somewhat (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me; God accepteth not man's person)—they, I say, who were of repute imparted nothing to me." The construction with which the sentence commences is not carried out to the end. "From them of repute" would naturally be followed up by "I received nothing." But instead of that, after the parenthesis which is in three clauses, it is taken up in the form—"they of repute," which is followed by "imparted nothing to me." The three were reputed to be somewhat , and Paul does not mean to hint that this reputation was not deserved. What he has to do with is that their reputation should be thought to destroy his independence. He esteemed them, and he was glad to know of their being esteemed. In that respect their reputation did matter to him, but it mattered nothing for his independence. It is not upon reputation that God proceeds in his choice or acknowledgment of instruments, And with all their reputation they imparted to him no additional authority or element in teaching, as superiors to an inferior.
2 . They recognized him. As having an independent trust. "But contrariwise, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter with the gospel of the circumcision (for he that wrought for Peter unto the apostleship of the circumcision wrought for me also unto the Gentiles)." Of the men of repute, he singles out Peter as the principal representative of the circumcision. He was entrusted with the gospel whose sphere was the circumcision; and he presented it, as may be seen from his address and Epistles, with a certain adaptation to the Jews. The burden of his early preaching was the great crime which the Jews had committed in crucifying their Messiah, and their duty to repent of that crime and to trust in Christ for salvation. When he writes to them as the Dispersion, he is still a Jew, in dwelling on the ancient glories of the race. His mind is imbued with the deliverances wrought for them, the majesty and sanctity of their temple, the sacred functions of the priesthood, the mystery of sacrifice, all receiving their fulfilment in the Christian manifestation. He is also a Jew in looking forward to a glorious future. His gospel points away to" the inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away;" "the salvation ready to be revealed in the last time;" "the appearing of Jesus Christ." But Paul was on a parity with Peter. He was entrusted with the gospel, whose sphere was the uncircumcision, and he presented it with a certain adaptation to the Gentiles. Not shunning Jewish imagery, he combined with it a certain free use of Gentile imagery. And it was specially given him to preach , what Peter indeed had learnt before him, that the Gentiles were to be admitted into the kingdom of God without being required to submit to circumcision. This parity of trust was made evident to the men of repute at Jerusalem. And the way in which it was made evident was this. It was evident that Peter was appointed to the apostleship of the circumcision by the abundant energy with which God supplied him for working among them. It was equally evident that Paul was appointed to the apostleship of the Gentiles by the abundant energy with which God supplied him for working among them. As having such a trust by the display of grace toward him. "And when they perceived the grace that was given unto me." The conclusion was forced home on them that he had an independent trust. When they compared that with their former knowledge of him, they could only ascribe it to grace. Their knowledge was now of him as a remarkable trophy of grace.
3 . They gave him formal recognition. "James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision." The three are now mentioned by name. The last mentioned is John, and it is remarkable that in this, the only mention of him by Paul, he is represented as doing a kindly act. Peter, who is called Cephas (which also means "rock"), has just had a wide sphere connected with him. James is here placed before him on the same ground on which he presided at the public conference, viz. as representative (not necessarily bishop)of the mother Church at Jerusalem. His taking the lead made the formal recognition of Paul the act of the Church: while the association of Peter and John with him gave it a wider significance. These three were had in estimation as pillars (stoops, supports), i.e. men upon whom (humanly speaking) the keeping up of the Church greatly depended. Their formal recognition extended to Barnabas. They recognized in what was not exclusively Eastern fashion (being rather universal), by each giving the right hand of fellowship. That in regard to which they expressed fellowship was the division of work—Gentile and Jewish—which is not to be understood with the greatest strictness. The fellowship they expressed amounted to giving Paul and Barnabas their hearty good wishes in their separate and co-ordinate sphere.
4 . They only recommended. "Only they would that we should remember the poor; which very thing I was also zealous to do." There is a recognized ecclesiastical distinction between an injunction and a recommendation. The three did not, as ecclesiastical superiors, lay their authority upon Paul and Barnabas; they on]y, as brethren, made a request of them. The request chimed in with Paul's own habitual feeling. He speaks only for himself, his zeal extending beyond the time when he could speak for Barnabas, who shortly afterwards parted from him. Thus conclusively does he establish his independence. The matter of the request was remembering the poor. It was a request that came very naturally from the three. They were connected with a poor Church. Intolerance, too, was more rife and keen in Palestine than elsewhere. And it would often be a perplexity to them—taking them to the throne of grace—how the poor under their charge were to be provided for. They therefore took occasion to commend them to these representatives of the Gentile Churches. It was a providential arrangement that the Jewish Christians were to some extent dependent for support on the Gentile Christians. It tended to call forth the charity of the latter and to counteract the narrowness of the former, and thus to promote unity. It is a peculiarly Christian thing to remember the poor. Christ has shown men to be equal irrespective of condition, in that he has died for all, and would have all raised to sonship. Having taught us to care for men's souls, he has taught us, as we could not otherwise so forcibly be taught, to care also for men's bodies. We are to show our affection for Christ in ministering to the wants of his poor. And we will show a tenderness even for the wants of those who are not with us in the same Christian bond.—R.F.