(1) Then after fourteen years again I went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking along also Titus. (2) I went up according to revelation; and presented to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles (I did this privately with those who appeared to be important), lest somehow I was running or had run in vain.
Paul’s Reason for Going to Jerusalem: What it Is and What it Isn’t
In chapter two of Galatians, Paul continues his autobiographical sketch about how he came to Christ and about what the relationship is between his gospel and those in authority in Jerusalem. Paul’s assertion is that from the beginning his gospel has been something he received directly from revelation of Jesus, not from man’s teaching, not even teaching from the original apostles and Church leaders. In the first 17 or so years of his life as a Christian, Paul says that he only visited Jerusalem once to stay with Peter and have some limited interaction with James. Then, after he had been spreading the gospel among the Gentiles for quite some time he finally went to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus.
His reason for going was not to win approval from the Church leaders or to learn from them. Rather, he says, he was apparently instructed in the Spirit to go and tell them his gospel. This is why he says “I went up because of a revelation.” The Greek literally says, “I went up according to revelation.” Over and over Paul is emphasizing this point: the gospel he delivered to the Galatians is directly from God. It is in no way derivative of anyone else’s understanding of the good news of Jesus, even of those who were Jesus’ original followers.
It does appear that part of the reason he went to Jerusalem was to validate his gospel with those who had been the original followers of Jesus, but his emphasis that he went up “by revelation” tells us two things. First, he was not responding to a summons from the leaders at Jerusalem. He did not go in order to prove to them that his gospel was legitimate and to keep them from revoking his apostolic authority. Paul would not have conceded that they had any right or power to revoke his apostolic authority. Second, he was not going to them because he was fearful that he might be spreading a false gospel. At least, I don’t think that was his concern. Paul was 100% convinced that his gospel was true and accurate, particularly after 14 years of working in the power of the Holy Spirit. He does say, “lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain”, but I don’t think this really communicates any kind of uncertainty on Paul’s part. Again, it is very significant that he says, “I went up by revelation.” Here’s the way I reconstruct this: Paul felt compelled in the Spirit to present his gospel to the Church to put everybody at ease. He himself didn’t feel that this was necessary, but he sensed the external will of the Holy Spirit pushing him to do this, so he obeyed.
A lot of translations get this wrong, I feel. Admittedly, this is a very subtle point, so getting it wrong is understandable, but let me point out a couple of examples of what I feel to be bad translation. I approve of all these translations, by the way, but I want to demonstrate what it looks like to read a translation and be critical of it. The God’s Word translation reads, “I did this in a private meeting with those recognized as important people to see whether all my efforts have been wasted.” This communicates that Paul was uncertain of his gospel and wanted to find those recognized as important to verify his gospel for him. But this defeats the entire purpose of chapters 1 and 2 of Galatians as a defense of the exclusively divine origin of Paul’s gospel and of Paul’s having no interest whatsoever in pleasing people. So, in my opinion, the God’s Word translation gets it dramatically wrong here. Similarly, the New Living Translation says, “While I was there I met privately with those considered to be leaders of the church and shared with them the message I had been preaching to the Gentiles. I wanted to make sure that we were in agreement, for fear that all my efforts had been wasted and I was running the race for nothing.” Even the New American Standard, a translation so woodenly word for word that it is at times unreadable, reads “but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.” The words “for fear” are a pretty serious over translation of the Greek phrase “me pos” which the KJV nails, “lest by any means”. Other good translations would be “lest by any chance”, “just in case”, or “lest perhaps”. The point is, Paul is not saying that he himself had any doubt about his gospel, but in the Spirit he felt it was necessary to fulfill all righteousness and to run his message by whoever were recognized as leaders in Jerusalem just so everyone knew that they were on the same page.