Galatians 2:2–10 (ESV)
I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
Now we get to the point—circumcision. Paul’s goal in this section (and in the whole epistle) is to convince his readers that circumcision isn’t needed. The “gospel contrary to the one you received” mentioned in chapter one is that circumcision is required for salvation. That’s the “different gospel” that Paul is so upset about.
And for good reason. The true gospel is the gospel of grace; requiring circumcision mangles that.
So, Paul makes a clever case against requiring circumcision. He doesn’t use his usual style either. Typically, Paul uses logical argument to make his case, like when he used “doulos” earlier.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. — Galatians 1:10 (ESV)
But this time Paul makes an appeal to authority, and he does it shrewdly. Three times he mentions communicating with senior Christians (those who seemed influential). Then Paul mentions James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars. In other words, they seemed to be the most senior Christians (the leaders of the church). Paul’s use of the word, “seemed,” is an apologetic trick to make people think.
James and Cephas and John most definitely are the leaders of the church. It’s a safe bet that the Galatians know this too. So Paul seals the deal when he goes on to say that these three gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
Paul’s mission to the uncircumcised has been ratified at the highest levels.
The points that Paul makes are great enough by themselves, but how he makes them is a treasure too.
Don’t just study Paul’s epistles for their doctrine. Each one also gives a clinic on apologetics.