Gal. 2:2, 6, 9 – Why does Paul write that these men were of reputation? Is he being condescending?

Problem: Paul writes about the other apostles in a bizarre way. It almost seems as though he is talking down to them. He writes, “To those who were of reputation…” (Gal. 2:2), “Those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me)…” (Gal. 2:6), and “Who were reputed to be pillars…” (Gal. 2:9) These descriptions almost seem sarcastic. Was Paul trashing the other apostles?

RESPONSE: Paul is not speaking negatively about the other apostles. Instead, he was speaking negatively about the view that the Judaizers had of the apostles. Stott writes,

Why then does he refer to them in this roundabout way? Probably his expressions were influenced by the fact that the Judaizers were exaggerating the status of the Jerusalem apostles at the expense of his own. As Lightfoot puts it, Paul was ‘depreciatory not indeed of the Twelve themselves, but of the extravagant and exclusive claims set up for them by the Judaizers’[1]

However, Paul said that the apostles “contributed nothing” (Gal. 2:6) to his gospel message, and they gave him “the right hand of fellowship” (Gal. 2:9). While Paul got along with the other apostles, he was rejecting the view that he received his personal authority from them. Instead, he received his authority directly from Christ.

[1] Stott, John R. W. The Message of the Galatians: John R.W. Stott. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1986. 44.

“2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. 6 But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: 9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. (Gal 2:2,6,9)

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