Ver. 6. "But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person)
Here he not only does not defend the Apostles, but even presses hard upon those holy men, for the benefit of the weak. His meaning is this: although they permit circumcision, they shall render an account to God, for God will not accept their persons, because they are great and in station. But he does not speak so plainly, but with caution. He says not, if they vitiate their doctrine, and swerve from the appointed rule of their preaching, they shall be judged with the utmost rigor, and suffer punishment; but he alludes to them more reverently, in the words, "of those who were reputed to be somewhat, whatsoever they were." He says not, "whatsoever they 'are,'" but "were," showing that they too had thenceforth ceased so to preach, the doctrine having extended itself universally. The phrase, "whatsoever they were," implies, that if they so preached they should render account, for they had to justify themselves before God, not before men. This he said, not as doubtful or ignorant of the rectitude of their procedure, but (as I said before) from a sense of the expediency of so forming his discourse. Then, that he may not seem to take the opposite side and to accuse them, and so create a suspicion of their disagreement, he straightway subjoins this correction: "for those who were reputed to be somewhat, in conference imparted nothing to me." This is his meaning; What you may say, I know not; this I know well, that the Apostles did not oppose me, but our sentiments conspired and accorded. This appears from his expression, "they gave me the right hand of fellowship;" but he does not say this at present, but only that they neither informed or corrected him on any point, nor added to his knowledge.
Ver. 6. (continued) "for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:"
That is to say, when told of my proceedings, they added nothing, they corrected nothing, and though aware that the object of my journey was to communicate with them, that I had come by revelation of the Spirit, and that I had Titus with me who was uncircumcised, they neither circumcised him, nor imparted to me any additional knowledge.
Ver. 7. "But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;
Some hold his meaning to be, not only that the Apostles did not instruct him, but that they were instructed by him. But I would not say this, for what could they, each of whom was himself perfectly instructed, have learnt from him? He does not therefore intend this by the expression, "contrariwise," but that so far were they from blaming, that they praised him: for praise is the contrary of blame. Some would probably here reply: Why did not the Apostles, if they praised your procedure, as the proper consequence abolish circumcision? Now to assert that they did abolish it Paul considered much too bold, and inconsistent with his own admission. On the other hand, to admit that they had sanctioned circumcision, would necessarily expose him to another objection. For it would be said, if the Apostles praised your preaching, yet sanctioned circumcision, they were inconsistent with themselves. What then is the solution? is he to say that they acted thus out of condescension to Judaism? To say this would have shaken the very foundation of the economy. Wherefore he leaves the subject in suspense and uncertainty, by the words, "but of those who were reputed to be somewhat; it maketh no matter to me." Which is in effect to say, I accuse not, nor traduce those holy men; they know what it is they have done; to God must they render their account. What I am desirous to prove is, that they neither reversed nor corrected my procedure, nor added to it as in their opinion defective, but gave it their approbation and assent; and to this Titus and Barnabas bear witness. Then he adds, "When they saw that I had been entrusted with the Gospel of the Uncircumcision even as Peter with the Gospel of the Circumcision,"-- The Circumcision and Uncircumcision; meaning, not the things themselves, but the nations known by these distinctions; wherefore he adds,
Ver. 8. "For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:"
He calls the Gentiles the Uncircumcision and the Jews the Circumcision, and declares his own rank to be equal to that of the Apostles; and, by comparing himself with their Leader not with the others, he shows that the dignity of each was the same. After he had established the proof of their unanimity, he takes courage, and proceeds confidently in his argument, not stopping at the Apostles, but advances to Christ Himself, and to the grace which He had conferred upon him, and calls-the Apostles as his witnesses, saying,
Ver. 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;"
He says not when they "heard," but when they "perceived," that is, were assured by the facts themselves, "they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship." Observe how he gradually proves that his doctrine was ratified both by Christ and by the Apostles. For grace would neither have been implanted, nor been operative in him, had not his preaching been approved by Christ. Where it was for the purpose of comparison with himself, he mentioned Peter alone; here, when be calls them as witnesses, he names the three together, "Cephas, James, John," and with an encomium, "who were reputed to be pillars." Here again the expression "who were reputed" does not impugn the reality of the fact, but adopts the estimate of others, and implies that these great and distinguished men, whose fame was universal, bare witness that his preaching was ratified by Christ, that they were practically informed and convinced by experience concerning it. "Therefore they gave the right hands of fellowship" to me, and not to me only, but also to Barnabas, "that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the Circumcision." Here indeed is exceeding prudence as well as an incontrovertible proof of their concord. For it shows that his and their doctrine was interchangeable, and that both approved the same thing, that they should so preach to the Jews, and he to the Gentiles. Wherefore he adds,
Ver. 9. (continued) "that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision."
Observe that here also he means by "the Circumcision," not the rite, but the Jews; whenever he speaks of the rite, and wishes to contrast it, he adds the word "uncircumcision;" as when he says, "For circumcision indeed profiteth, if thou be a doer of the law; but if thou be a transgressor of the law, thy circumcision is become uncircumcision." (Ro. ii: 25.) And again, "Neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision." But when it is to the Jews and not to the deed that he gives this name, and wishes to signify the nation, he opposes to it not uncircumcision in its literal sense, but the Gentiles. For the Jews are the contradistinction to the Gentiles, the Circumcision to the Uncircumcision. Thus when he says above, "For He that wrought for Peter into the Apostleship of the Circumcision, wrought for me also unto the Gentiles;" and again, "We unto the Gentiles and they unto the Circumcision," he means not the rite itself, but the Jewish nation, thus distinguishing them from the Gentiles.
Ver. 10. "Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do."
This is his meaning: In our preaching we divided the world between us, I took the Gentiles and they the Jews, according to the Divine decree; but to the sustenance of the poor among the Jews I also contributed my share, which, had there been any dissension between us, they would not have accepted. Next, who were these poor persons? Many of the believing Jews in Palestine had been deprived of all their goods, and scattered over the world, as he mentions in the Epistle to the Hebrews, "For ye took joyfully the spoiling of your possessions ;" and in writing to the Thessalonians, (1 Thes. ii: 14.) he extols their fortitude, "Ye became imitators of the Churches of God which are in Judaea, . . . for ye also suffered the same thing of your own countrymen, even as they did of the Jews." And he shows throughout that those Greeks who believed were not under persecution from the rest, such as the believing Jews were suffering from their own kindred, for there is no nation of a temper so cruel. Wherefore he exercises much zeal, as appears in the Epistles to the Romans (Ro. xv: 25--27.) and Corinthians (1 Cor. xvi: 1--3.) that these persons should meet with much attention; and Paul not only collects money for them, but himself conveys it, as he says, "But now I go unto Jerusalem ministering unto the saints," (Ro. xv: 25.) for they were without the necessaries of life. And he here shows that in this instance having resolved to assist them, he had undertaken and would not abandon it.
Having by these means declared the unanimity and harmony between the Apostles and himself, he is obliged to proceed to mention his debate with Peter at Antioch.