31 Jan 2019
A Commentary by John Stott
Galatians 2. Conclusion.
Some people who read these pages will no doubt be tempted to be impatient. It seems to them no more than a complicated rigmarole. A visit of Paul to Jerusalem in the first century AD, the question of whether Titus was circumcised or not, a consultation between Paul and the Jerusalem apostles – it all appears very remote and quite unrelated to twentieth-century problems. But this is not so. At least two principles of the utmost importance emerge from this paragraph.
a). The truth of the gospel is one and unchanging.
We saw when we were considering Galatians 1:6-10, that there is only one gospel. We can now elaborate and say that the whole New Testament presents this one gospel consistently. It is fashionable in some quarters to talk about the ‘Pauline’ gospel and the ‘Petrine’ gospel and the ‘Johannine’ gospel, as if they were quite different from one another. Some people refer to ‘Paulinism’ as if it were a distinctive brand of Christianity, even a different religion altogether. And sometimes people set Paul and James over against each other as if they contradicted each other.
But all this is mistaken. The apostles of Jesus Christ do not contradict one another in the New Testament. Certainly, there are differences of *style* between them, because their inspiration did not obliterate their individual personality. There are also differences of *emphasis*, because they were called to different spheres and preached or wrote to different audiences. Consequently, they stressed different aspects of the gospel. For example, Paul was writing against legalists and James against antinomians. But they complement one another. There is only one gospel, the apostolic faith, a recognizable body of doctrine taught by the apostles of Jesus Christ and preserved for us in the New Testament. Paul is at pains in this passage to show that he was in full agreement with the Jerusalem apostles and they with him. He makes the same point in 1 Corinthians 15:11: ‘whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.’ There is only one New Testament gospel, only one Christianity; there are not several different legitimate alternatives.
It is still so today. If there is only one gospel in the New Testament, there is only one gospel for the church. The gospel has not changed with the changing centuries. Whether it is preached to young or old, to east or west, to Jews or Gentiles, to cultured or uncultured, to scientists or non-scientists, although its presentation may vary, its substance is the same. Paul and Peter had a different commission, but they had a common message.
b). The truth of the gospel must be maintained.
This is the second principle which is illustrated in Galatians 2. Paul was determined to resist these Judaizers. He was even prepared, as we shall see in the next paragraph (verses 11-14), to oppose Peter to his face when his conduct contradicted the gospel. Paul was very gentle with ‘weak’ brethren, whose conscience was over-scrupulous. He was ready to make policy concessions as when he later circumcised Timothy. But on a matter of principle, when the truth of the gospel was at stake, he stood firm and would not budge.
This combination of softness and strength is well expressed by Martin Luther: ‘Let this be then the conclusion of all together, that we will suffer our goods to be taken away, our name, our life, and all that we have; but the gospel, our faith, Jesus Christ, we will never suffer to be wrested from us. And cursed be that humility which here abaseth and submitteth itself. Nay rather, let every Christian man here be proud and spare not, except he will deny Christ.
‘Wherefore, God assisting me, my forehead shall be more hard than all men’s foreheads. Here I take upon me this title, according to the proverb: *cedo nulli*, I give place to none. Yea, I am glad even with all my heart, in this point to seem rebellious and obstinate. And here I confess that I am and ever will be stout and stern, and will not one inch give place to any creature. Charity giveth place, for it “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Cor.13:7), but faith giveth no place…
‘Now, as concerning faith we ought to be invincible, and more hard, if it might be, than the adamant stone; but as touching charity, we ought to be soft, and more flexible than the reed or leaf that is shaken with the wind, and ready to yield to everything.’
Tomorrow: Galatians 2:11-16. Paul clashes with Peter in Antioch.