Paul Defends His Gospel at Jerusalem
Open Your Bible
Galatians 2:1-10, Isaiah 19:21-25, Acts 15:1-29
We named our cat “Maple” after a Robert Frost poem of the same name, about a girl named Maple who lives her whole life beholden to a name that almost everyone gets wrong. Everyone thinks her name is “Mabel,” because that’s a real name, and it is much more comfortable to call someone a real, normal name than a strange name.
Her teacher’s certainty it must be Mabel
Made Maple first take notice of her name.
She asked her father and he told her, “Maple—
Maple is right.”
“But teacher told the school
There’s no such name.”
A name with no eponymous history made a girl feel strange and unseen, as if because her name wasn’t real or familiar, she wasn’t either, and thus goes the poem and her life story.
When Paul writes the letter to the Galatians, he calls out the false teachers who cried, “you can’t be Christian without being Jewish,” and asked Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians to follow Jewish laws, particularly those regarding circumcision and food. Their ideas were rooted in ethnic and cultural expectations that Paul was unafraid to challenge.
Similar to the teacher in “Maple” who wanted her name to be “Mabel,” the Judaizers assumed that Christians should look and eat like Jews (see Acts 15:5), because that made sense to them. The message of “be like us to be a Christian” is deeply wounding, rooted in racial superiority and cultural authority. It is not unfamiliar to any era in Church history, from the first to the present.
The radical transformation of faith in Christ, Paul claims, equalizes everyone. Sin flattens us, all unworthy. But Christ redeems us, and presents us beautifully clean, whole, and unified before God. Christianity is open and welcoming to all, and in it “there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus,” Paul writes in the next chapter (Galatians 3:28).
Paul talks often of the body of Christ (Romans 12:3–8), and the rubber of ethnic differences meets the road of his ministry in Galatians. And in chapter 2, he specifically explains that the apostles to the Jews (James, Peter, and John) agreed with him that there was no need for Titus or other Gentile Christians to submit to Jewish ritual law.
It feels so personal to wade into this water: the rolling waves of our differences as humans. I feel Galatians reading me as much as I am reading it. What expectations do I have for other believers, and for myself? What do I think Christians should look like, act like? How should they think and feel? What do I add to the truth, or what do I believe that others have added?
In his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther wrote, “The world bears the Gospel a grudge because the Gospel condemns the religious wisdom of the world.” The gospel calls us into deep and equal fellowship with all other believers. Anything less is hypocrisy.
Over and over, Jesus confronted the religious wisdom of the world. Paul shows us how true discipleship and evangelism should be shaped by Christ, not the world. It is as simple, and as profoundly complicated, as “God does not show favoritism” (Galatians 2:6). We can substitute categories from centuries of Church history into the slots of “Jew” and “Gentile,” but the truth does not change. The gospel is just as true for you as it is for me or anyone else. Our salvation is based only on the finished work of Christ—nothing we do or don’t do can change it. We are secure in our Savior. Thanks be to God.