Galatians 2:1-14 – Paul versus the Jerusalem “Pillars”


Galatians 2:1-14


Paul gives an autobiographical account of his encounters with the leading figures of the early Jesus movement and seeks to distance himself from all of them.


After narrating his conversion from persecutor to apostle (1:13-24), Paul recounts his experiences with the leaders of the early Jesus movement, namely the trio of James the brother of the Lord, Peter, and John. Paul takes pains to differentiate himself from them, first of all, maintaining that he went to see them on account of revelation, not because they summoned him (2:2). He then uses the example of his traveling companion to show that at this early stage, the leaders in Jerusalem did not compel Titus, a Greek, to be circumcised in order to be a follower of Jesus (2:3). This reference to Titus sets up Paul’s later arguments regarding the uselessness of circumcision (5:6). Paul continues to maintain his independence from the Jerusalem leaders, maintaining that he “did not submit to them for even a moment” and that the leaders “contributed nothing” (2:5, 2:6). Further, Paul signals his distrust through references to their social standing. Whenever he refers to them, Paul describes James, Peter, and John as “so-called” leaders (2:2, 2:6, 2:9) and summarizes his argument by dismissing their importance: “what they actually were makes no difference to me” (2:6).

Paul then recounts his encounter with Peter at Antioch, an episode that goes a long way to explaining the intensity of Paul’s animosity toward the Jerusalem pillars. Paul thought that he had established an understanding regarding table fellowship between Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus. Instead, Peter, under pressure from James, refused to eat with the Gentiles. For Paul, this serves to illustrate their unreliability and their abandonment of the Gospel. Throughout his narration, he mocks Peter, calling him “Cephas,” an Aramaic translation of his name (2:11, 2:14). Paul uses this Aramaic name to label him a fraud, someone who used a Greek name (Peter) and claimed to care about the Gentiles, but who abandoned them. The subtext of the argument is clear: the Galatians, who themselves are Gentiles, should not trust anyone who claims the support of the “so-called pillars” in Jerusalem.