Sunday, February 03, 2008

Galatians 2:2 and Paul's Fear

In describing his second post-conversion trip to Jerusalem (Gal 2:1-10=Acts 11:27-30), Paul indicates that he submitted the gospel he preached before those regarded as pillars in the Jerusalem church (Gal 2:2-10). He did so in private, "for fear that I might be running or had run in vain" (Gal 2:2).

But the exact content of Paul's fear is not spelled out. In the larger context it seems extremely unlikely that Paul was concerned that the content of his gospel message was incorrect. But what exactly then did Paul fear would happen if his presentation of his gospel to the Jerusalem pillars went poorly?

I've got my own answer that I am willing to give in the comments, but I want to hear from you first...

7 comments:

twog said...

MATT!

The Superbowl is about to begin! Stop tempting me to study the Word of God whilst football is on! Get your priorities straight!

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Matt—

I believe that Paul legitimately feared that, if Jerusalem did not agree with the gospel he was preaching, his mission would be seriously hindered by that conflict. If he preached one gospel, and Jerusalem then went and preached another, different gospel as if to "correct" him, that would certainly both undo much of the work he had already done, and also hinder the success of his further evangelistic efforts.

Certainly he was not seeking confirmation of the truth of the gospel he preached from the council at Jerusalem—he had, after all, received it by direct revelation from God and knew very well that it was correct. He was testing them; not vice versa.

What is your view?

Regards,
Bnonn

danny2 said...

matt,

i think i speak for many others when i say i am anxious to hear your thoughts, but too wimpy to offer my own conjecture...with limited time to study the particular text.

A. B. Caneday said...

I puzzled over the translation "for fear that I might be running or had run in vain" (Gal 2:2). The words "for fear" caught my eye, because I did not remember that the word "fear" was in the passage. So, I took a look at my GNT. The NIV, the NASB and perhaps a few other translations introduce the expression "for fear" for the following words μή πως εἰς κενὸν τρέχω ἢ ἔδραμον. Better is the translation "lest somehow I am running or ran in vain."

So, the clause does not actually introduce an undefined fear. Instead, it actually identifies Paul's fear, if we can legitimately use the term. It expresses the purpose for Paul's laying out before the leaders in Jerusalem the gospel he is preaching. Paul's concern is that he does not want to be preaching in vain. It is not as though Paul was shaken in his confidence with regard to the revelation that he had received from Christ concerning the gospel. On the other hand, Paul is not foolish. He understands that, even though he does not need the approval of the Jerusalem church in that Christ is greater than the Jerusalem church, he also dare not function as a lone ranger. Thus, he avoids giving anyone the notion that his preaching the gospel is dependent upon the Jerusalem church but at the same time he avoids giving anyone the notion that his gospel is opposed by the Jerusalem church.

Matt Harmon said...

How rude of me to pose a question and run! :)

A.B. Caneday is correct when he notes that there is no explicit language of fear in the Greek. And the larger context of Paul's relationship to the Jerusalem church is important. Paul is walking a fine line between showing his independence from them while at the same time affirming the reality of their shared understanding of the gospel.

Both A.B. and Dominic are correct in noting that Paul is not concerned that he has somehow misunderstood the content of the gospel. In my view the "fear" is that if a rift between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians is allowed to form, the result would be the eventual splintering of the church into two separate entities. Central to Paul's theology was his conviction that Jew and Gentile together form one body in Christ (cp. Eph 2:11-22; 3:1-9). Such a rift would undermine God's purpose in the church.

The second part of my answer is that Paul is echoing the fear of the Servant of YHWH from Isa 49:4. W/out going into extended detail (its in my diss.). Paul has already drawn on Isa 49:1,3 in 1:15-16, 24. Paul was concerned that just as his ministry to the Gentiles fulfilled (in some sense) the mission of the SErvant in Isa 49, so to his fear of running in vain echoed Isa 49:4.

I don't intend this to be the final word so please feel free to push back. Thanks for the thoughtful engagement with the text.

thebluefish said...

He says the same sort of thing in Galatians 4:11 doesn't he, but in view of the Galatians turning from the gospel...

Jason Dulle said...

Why would Paul fear a rift? Is it because he did not think the apostles were persuaded the Gospel was for anyone other than Jews? Was Paul not aware of the conversion of the Samaritans, and of Cornelius (and I'm sure other Gentiles by that time)?

Jason