“False Brothers Smuggled In”

Galatians 2:3-10

(3) But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was not compelled to be circumcised (4) because of false brothers smuggled in (who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus in order to enslave us), (5) to whom we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. (6) And from those who seemed to be something (what they were at that point matters nothing to me; God does not show partiality)—those who seemed to be important added nothing to me. (7) Rather, seeing that I have been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter to the circumcised (8) (for one working in Peter in his apostolic mission to the circumcised worked also through me to the Gentiles), (9) and perceiving the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, those who seemed to be pillars, gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. (10) They asked only that we remember the poor, which I myself was eager to do.

False Brothers In Jerusalem

In addition to asserting that his gospel message had no human origin, Paul is also concerned in this early part of Galatians to show that he has never at any point or in any way given in to pressures from parties within the Church in order to gain status. While there were some who would have wanted Titus, his Greek companion, to be circumcised, Paul did not permit it. He seems to be implying here that he regards some Christians in Jerusalem who are in positions of power to be false brethren. They “slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus in order to enslave us .” This description is really interesting. These false brothers were “smuggled in”, an adjective that seems, like a passive voice verb, to imply some unspoken subject. In other words, if these false brothers were smuggled in, who smuggled them in? Paul’s answer, I think, though he doesn’t state it explicitly, would be the enemy, the devil. If their origin is demonic, their own personal motivation was to find people to manipulate. They came in to spy out our freedom in Christ, in order to bring us into slavery.

People who seek out positions of power are often manipulators. Manipulators use fear and uncertainty to divide people in order to control a portion of them. It is conventional wisdom about politics that often the only people who seek out positions of power are those who are least worthy of them. It appears to me that Paul is saying that he found the authority structure of the Church in Jerusalem populated, at least in part, with men who had more interest in having authority over other people than in the truth of the gospel. But the gospel in its purity disrupts and demolishes all of our human power structures, all of the ways that we divide ourselves and become subject to manipulative power-seekers. This is why Paul says later in Galatians 3:27, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female.” Race, social status, and gender, things that are still to this day being used by politicians to divide and manipulate us, are of no relevance to us in the Church. So how did these particular false brethren manipulate people in order to rise to positions of power? They added things to the pure gospel, requirements to be fully righteous. These include, in particular, circumcision for Gentile Christians but also possibly dietary restrictions, ritual handwashing, or strict Sabbath observation.

Paul Rejected “You Have To Go Along to Get Along”

One way or another, Paul is indicating that submitting to these men would have been potentially advantageous if Paul were concerned with climbing the corporate ladder, so to speak. But Paul emphasizes: “I am not interested in the esteem of humans. Nothing interests me but the gospel of Jesus Christ in all its purity.” Paul even talks about James, John, and Peter as “those who seemed to be pillars”, rather than “the pillars”, which sounds positively disrespectful, particularly when speaking of these particular men. Most of us probably have thought something like, “When I get to heaven, one of the people I want to meet the most is Peter or John.” Paul is more like, “Meh. Whatever. Whether they seem to be important or not is of no interest to me.”

Paul’s lack of time in Jerusalem also argues that he had no interest in Church politics or rising to positions of power. Location is very important if you want to rise to the top of an industry or an organization. If you want to be a famous movie star, you have to move to Southern California. If you want to be a famous musician, you pretty much have to move to Nashville, TN. If you want to be on Broadway you have to be in New York. This remains the case even with the Internet. If you’re looking to advance, there is no replacement for advantageous physical location. So Paul’s conspicuous absence from Jerusalem leaves us with very little alternative but to concede that he doesn’t care about rising to the top of the Church’s leadership structure and, therefore, he is not operating primarily with the intention of exalting himself in human eyes.

The conclusion of this meeting, according to Paul, is that James, John, and Peter had no correction whatsoever for Paul’s gospel. He had derived from revelation precisely the same gospel they would have taught him had he gone to Jerusalem immediately after he began following Jesus. The point of all of this for Paul and his letter to the Galatians is to prove that the message he originally delivered to the Galatians was the truly divine gospel of Jesus Christ, and that as such it required no further amendment, especially from those who were like the false brethren in Jerusalem whom Paul resisted regarding the circumcision of Titus.

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