Gal 2:1  Then after fourteen years I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas, taking Titus along too.
Gal 2:2  I went there because of a revelation and presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did so only in a private meeting with the influential people, to make sure that I was not running — or had not run — in vain.
Gal 2:3  Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, although he was a Greek.
Gal 2:4  Now this matter arose because of the false brothers with false pretences who slipped in unnoticed to spy on our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, to make us slaves.
Gal 2:5  But we did not surrender to them even for a moment, in order that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.
Gal 2:6  But from those who were influential (whatever they were makes no difference to me; God shows no favouritism between people ) — those influential leaders added nothing to my message.
Gal 2:7  On the contrary, when they saw that I was entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised just as Peter was to the circumcised
Gal 2:8  (for he who empowered Peter for his apostleship to the circumcised also empowered me for my apostleship to the Gentiles)
Gal 2:9  and when James, Cephas, and John, who had a reputation as pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we would go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
Gal 2:10  They requested only that we remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do.
Gal 2:11  But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he had clearly done wrong.
Gal 2:12  Until certain people came from James, he had been eating with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he stopped doing this and separated himself because he was afraid of those who were pro-circumcision.
Gal 2:13  And the rest of the Jews also joined with him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray with them by their hypocrisy.
Gal 2:14  But when I saw that they were not behaving consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “If you, although you are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you try to force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Paul’s words here reveal a couple of sharp contrasts between himself and the principles of covering theology.

  • Paul equated freedom with the truth of the gospel
  • Paul did not follow people just because of their position or reputation
  • Paul corrected a pillar of the church in public

The gospel means freedom

In verses 4 and 5 we see Paul connect the concept of freedom with the gospel.  He believed that any compromise with people who sought to add anything to faith to receive salvation would corrupt the gospel.  We see this theme in other places in Paul’s writing.

In Galatians 5 Paul directly addresses the circumcision teaching.

Gal 5:4  You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace!
Gal 5:5  For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness.
Gal 5:6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight — the only thing that matters is faith working through love.

The only thing that matters is faith working through love.  It isn’t faith working through authority.  Covering theology attempts to add conditions to the gospel.  To get the full benefits of salvation, such as God’s protection, provision and presence one must submit to and obey church authority.  These conditions are far more onerous than some minor surgery.  They impose a legalistic burden but not one so stable as the rules of the Pharisees, but a legalism based on the whims of church leaders!  Surely Paul would have condemned it just has he condemned the teachings of the pro-circumcision party.  There are many aspects to our salvation that Paul highlights in his letters.  In Romans we see justification, in Corinthians we see the work of the Spirit and in Galatians we see freedom.  The gospel without freedom is no longer the gospel.

Paul lambasted the super-apostles who tried to enslave the Corinthians.

2Co 11:4  For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus different from the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the one you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it well enough!
2Co 11:5  For I consider myself not at all inferior to those “super-apostles.”

2Co 11:19  For since you are so wise, you put up with fools gladly.
2Co 11:20  For you put up with it if someone makes slaves of you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone behaves arrogantly toward you, if someone strikes you in the face.
2Co 11:21  (To my disgrace I must say that we were too weak for that!) But whatever anyone else dares to boast about (I am speaking foolishly), I also dare to boast about the same thing.

Sadly some things don’t change.

It was for freedom that Christ has set us free.  This isn’t the Orwellian “slavery is freedom” that is so often parroted in authoritarian churches today.  Slavery to righteousness as opposed to slavery to sin would be considered freedom.  The freedom that Paul speaks of in Galatians 5:1 is real freedom.

Gal 5:1  For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.

The word translated freedom is eleutheria.  Inherent in the meaning of eleutheria is personal choice and self governance.  If this were not the case then Paul wouldn’t have warned the Galatians to not use their freedom to indulge in the desires of the flesh.

Gal 5:13  For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another.

Pauls concept of freedom can be well understood by contrasting it with his definition of slavery.  He equated obedience to the whims of misguided Christians to slavery.  Slavery was involuntary submission to the rule and command of others.  In this situation the command was to adhere to a Jewish rite, but it could have just as easily been any other human tradition.  The freedom Paul speaks of wasn’t the freedom to not worry about your life because God’s delegated authority will make all your decisions for you.

Paul had nothing but contempt for those to tried to suppress people’s freedom in Christ.  I don’t know if you can get more poignant or vulgar than wishing that people would cut their own nuts off!

Gal 5:8  This persuasion does not come from the one who calls you!
Gal 5:9  A little yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise!
Gal 5:10  I am confident in the Lord that you will accept no other view. But the one who is confusing you will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.
Gal 5:11  Now, brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed.
Gal 5:12  I wish those agitators would go so far as to castrate themselves!

Paul did not follow people just because of their position or reputation

Paul’s attitude towards the leadership of the Jerusalem church stands in stark contrast to the nearly unconditional submission demanded in covering theology.

There are several things that come in Galatians 2:6.

(NRSV)  And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)–those leaders contributed nothing to me

And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders

Paul’s steadfast commitment to the gospel which he received by revelation was the heartbeat of his life.  He wasn’t going to give up on it just because someone “influential” told him so.  He was open to being convinced he was wrong but whoever opposed his version of the gospel would have to be very convincing to demonstrate to Paul he was wrong.

It is telling all in itself that Paul used the phrase “those who were influential” rather than any titles in this passage.  It implies that the early government of the church followed the common traditional Jewish approach to leadership.  There was a council of elders and apostles that was largely a group of equals.  There would have been some who earned greater influence through their wisdom or experience but there was no hierarchy like we have.  The original apostles held greater sway because they had all been with Jesus and they had no New Testament to appeal to.

Notice that Paul said that the leaders were “supposed to be acknowledged leaders” or “seemed to be important” (ESV).  He doesn’t even say they were important, just that they seemed to have that quality (Morris, 70).

What they actually were makes no difference to me. God shows no partiality
Literally the greek phrase is “God does not receive the face of a man.”  It was an idiom that meant “God is not a respecter of persons.”  According to Wuest’s word studies God shows no partiality towards anyone based on their position or possessions in this life.

It also implies that even the apostles did not have absolute authority.

It has been generally understood that Paul expresses his real conviction that the apostles, to whom he appealed in the interest of unity, did not have any absolute authority just because they were the older apostles and had been associated with Jesus during his earthly life.  God shows no partiality, Paul’s apostleship was just good as theirs.  The implication of his words would be that the Galatians overestimated the importance of the original apostles. (Bring  70)

Charles Cousar says something similar

He [Paul] is simply telling the Galatians that decisions about apostles should not be made on external considerations (literally, “God does not receive a person’s face”).  They should judge by reality (i.e. conformity of message and life to the gospel), not by appearance (i.e., mere rank).  For himself, the status of the “pillar apostles” was not so decisive that they would have dissuaded Paul from preaching the message of God’s unconditional love for the Gentiles. (Cousar 41)

Consider also Paul’s words to the Corinthians.

2Co 3:1  Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? We don’t need letters of recommendation to you or from you as some other people do, do we?
2Co 3:2  You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone,
2Co 3:3  revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets  but on tablets of human hearts.
2Co 3:4  Now we have such confidence in God through Christ.
2Co 3:5  Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,
2Co 3:6  who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

2Co 5:12  We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to be proud of us, so that you may be able to answer those who take pride in outward appearance and not in what is in the heart.

2Co 5:16  So then from now on we acknowledge no one from an outward human point of view. Even though we have known Christ from such a human point of view, now we do not know him in that way any longer.

Paul didn’t care if anyone formed a group, appointed a leader and said that person was now God’s delegated authority on earth.  Paul was in a pitched battle for the hearts and the minds of the Corinthians with the Super Apostles.  It many ways it was a battle between two groups claiming to have the authority to guide and direct the congregation.  To make his case Paul called on the Corinthians to consider the impact his ministry had on their lives, the testimony of the Spirit and the endurance of his suffering.  He didn’t appeal to position and he didn’t need a commendation from anyone to minister.   He even warns the Corinthians not to acknowledge any one from a human point of view.  Paul instructed this congregation to test all would be leaders and not accept anyone who looks like they are an authority.

Those leaders contributed nothing to me

Some translations (NASB, NRSV, ESV, NKJV, RV) don’t insert the word message at the end of verse 6.  The word message doesn’t exist in the original Greek text, it is added for clarity.  Some scholars, such as Leon Morris believe it should be left out because the apostles added nothing to his message, and his status and his position in the church (Morris 71).

Paul corrected a pillar of the church in public

Gal 2:14  But when I saw that they were not behaving consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “If you, although you are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you try to force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

In this situation we have Peter, one of the most prominent apostles along with James and John was swept up in some hypocrisy.  Peter would have been considered more “influential” than Paul given his direct history with Jesus.  When Paul challenged Peter it was in public, in front of all the people he had been trying not to offend by eating with Gentiles.  Not only was Paul directly challenging a prominent leader in the church, he did in a way that would most certainly have caused some humiliation.  Because exposed Peter in front of the others his deception would have been exposed along with his hypocrisy.

It is clear that Paul wasn’t afraid to question and openly challenge the leadership of the church.  He did because of his dedication to the gospel and the freedom that goes along with it.


Bring, Ragnar. Commenatary on Galatians. Muhlenberg Press: Philadephia, 1961.

Coursar, Charles. Galatians: Interpretation. John Knox Press: Louisville, 1982.

Morris, Leon. Galatians. Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, 1996.

One comment on “Gal 2 : Paul’s attitude towards leaders

  1. Thank you for your detailed insight into the authoriatarian problem in the Charismatic movement. It has given me much insight probubly to make a move out of that atmosphere probubly into the AOG. I was wounded by an authoritarian ministry years ago and I find that the symptoms of that ministry have gone throughout some parts of the American Charismatic movement particularly the Apostolic. Not all modern ascention gift apostles are the same, some are true humble servants seeking to edify the Church these I could submit to but anytime fear tries come in and control I react against it. I have to find a place I can have peace and grow in a healthy relationship with good leaders.

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