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Paul and his critics

It doesn’t take any talent to be critical, does it? The world is full of flawed human beings so for those who are of the mindset, it’s always open season. And as one person noted about such people—“They can find fault like there’s a reward for it.” But not all critics fall into this category. Some people are so passionate about certain issues that they not only go after any message that is at odds with their beliefs, they also go after the messenger.

I suppose if you’re on the receiving end, there’s a sense in which it doesn’t matter what motivates your critics—slings and arrows are still slings and arrows. The false teachers who followed Paul in Galatia want to undermine the gospel Paul preaches by undermining him so they go after him with a vengeance. Their criticism comes down to three things:


  • Paul is an inferior apostle.
  • He gets his message from Jerusalem and is under their authority.
  • He had gone off message with the Gentiles because he is a pleaser (1:10).

Paul responds to all of this in 1:11ff. His point is simple and straightforward: the gospel he preaches come directly from Christ Himself (v. 11-12). It was three years after Christ appeared to him before he went to Jerusalem and met any of the apostles. Even then, the only leaders he met were Peter and James (v. 18-19). He omits the famine relief visit of Acts 11:30 (apparently because he didn’t have any significant interaction with the apostles on this occasion), and moves on to the Acts 15 trip fourteen years after his initial visit to Jerusalem.

Several things should be clear from this visit. He certainly can’t be much of a devotee to Jerusalem if he has only reported in twice in 17 years! Even more to the point, his account of the visit makes it clear that the leaders of the Jerusalem church (Peter, James and John – 2:2, 6, 9), “added nothing to my message” (v. 6). Finally, Paul’s inclusion of Titus in the proceedings personalizes the entire issue.

As an uncircumcised disciple, he represents the Gentile mission embraced by Paul (note the “for you” of v. 5). While it seems that some representing the Judaizing faction gained entry to the private Jerusalem meeting and demanded Titus be circumcised (v. 4), he wasn’t “compelled” to do so by the leadership (v. 3). Since compelling Gentiles to be circumcised is the very essence of what is taking place in the Galatian churches and what prompts Paul to write his letter, this is a telling blow to his opponents because it shows that the gospel preached by Peter to the Jewish people is the same one that Paul preaches to the Gentiles (v. 7-9).

Paul meets his critics head on in this section, rebutting them point for point. He establishes his apostleship, and the gospel with which he has been entrusted.   

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