The Treatment of Titus: Part 3 of 5 (series: Lessons on Galatians)
by John Lowe
3. Paul was sure that if a few of the chief men were made to understand it, their influence would make convincing the other believers much easier. Therefore, he sought an early opportunity to lay the case before them in private, and to acquire their agreement; and this approach contributed to the favorable settlement of the whole affair; see Acts 15. There was certainly a good deal of disagreement and heated discussion when the question was submitted to "the apostles and elders" Acts 15:7, because many of the sects of the Pharisees in that assembly maintained that it was necessary to teach the Gentiles that the Law of Moses was to be kept—“But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed , saying , That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). Of course, no one can tell what the issue would have been or how the discussion among the excitable minds of the converts from Judaism would have been settled had not Paul taken the precaution, as he here says, to have submitted the case in private to those who were “of reputation;" and if Peter and James had not been satisfied with Paul’s explanation and had not submitted the good appraisals they did, as recorded in Acts 15:7-21, which ended the whole controversy.
lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.
“Lest by any means I should run, or had run in vain” is like saying, “For fear that the effects of my labors and journeys would be lost.” Paul feared that if he did not place the case before them privately, they would not understand it. Others might misrepresent him, or their prejudices might become aroused, and when the case came before the assembled apostles and elders, a decision might be adopted which would go against him—that he had been entirely wrong in his views, or which would lead those whom he had taught, to believe that he was indeed wrong, such a decision would greatly hinder and embarrass him in his future ministry and service for Christ. In order to prevent this, and secure an unbiased and justified decision, and one which would not hinder his future usefulness, he had sought this private meeting, and this is how he gained his objective.
“Lest I should be running” is in the present tense, which points to the time of this writing and afterward. The verb "run," (or “rush on,") is a favorite word of the apostle, which well characterizes the zealous, fast-moving manner of his activity. "In vain;" means an empty result, or no good. He insinuates that there had been a danger that the fruits of his work among the Gentiles, might get wrecked for some reason. This is confirmed by 1 Thessalonians 3:5—“For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.” But we should not for one moment imagine he had any fear he had been at all mistaken in the doctrine which he taught. His work would have been in danger of being spoiled if the Gentile Churches he planted by himself had been disowned by the mother Church, or if they had split into factious parties by the intervention of persons coming "from James," telling them that they were not in a state of salvation. To guard against this danger, he was led by Christ himself to seek a formal recognition of his doctrine by the apostles and the elders of the Jerusalem Church, and through them by that Church itself. Since the rank-and-file of the Jewish believers at Jerusalem were still attached in some points to the Mosaic System, and also regarded St. Paul himself with great suspicion, he might very easily have failed to gain the recognition he required, if he had brought the matter directly and immediately before the general body. If their spiritual leaders had not first come around to his way of thinking in, it was too probable that some fanatical supporter of the Mosaic Law would have gained the ear of the multitude, opposed Paul and his teaching, and forced him to leave without accomplishing anything; and it might have been very difficult to regain their respect and attention.
3 But neither Titus, who was
with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:
But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek,
As I read this verse, it reminded me of my children’s “show-and-tell” time when they were in grade school—here the object on display is Titus. Paul is saying, "Though I explicitly stated to the leading men in the Church of Jerusalem what I taught respecting the relation of Gentile converts to circumcision and the Mosaic Law, yet in the end they, by their support, enabled us to withstand the pressure which was for a while applied for getting Titus circumcised. “Neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.” Paul intimates that this was a crucial case. Titus was a pure Gentile; not like Timothy who had one parent of Jewish extraction and therefore capable of being identified with the Jewish people, but both of Titus’ parents were Gentile-born. The clause, '"who was with me," was not added in order to identify Titus, but to indicate the close association he had with an uncircumcised Gentile which the apostle openly displayed at Jerusalem. He took him with him, we may suppose, when he appeared before the Church at its public assemblies; when he appeared before the select meeting of the apostles and elders; when he joined the brethren in the Lord's Supper—these were occasions of brotherly communion, in which the presence of a "dog," "an uncircumcised Greek," would be tenfold obnoxious. We cannot help but marvel at St. Paul's great courage in doing something so very shocking. Paul made sure everyone was aware of the close fellowship he shared with Titus which was sure to offend the vast majority of his Christian brethren, but it might also expose him to serious personal risks among the highly excitable and impulsive populace of the city. At Jerusalem, his "soul was among lions." Titus's companionship with St. Paul was openly displayed before the eyes of all the Jews, both believers and unbelievers, and Gentile as well, yet not even in his case was circumcision persistently insisted upon. There is, however, the strong opinion that an attempt was made to get Titus to submit to the rite, but failed. We must observe that St. Paul does not write,"I was not compelled to circumcise Titus," but "Titus was not compelled to be circumcised." This appears to make a substantial difference. By putting it as he has done, the apostle suggests that it was to Titus himself that the pressure was applied. Titus was harassed, we may suppose, with theological arguments, with appeals to his brotherly sympathies, with appeals to his prudent care for public peace, with threats of social and religious excommunication, and with stern, indignant objections. But he was sustained throughout the whole ordeal, by at least St. Paul, if not also by his fellow-deputies, and he never failed to stand firm in his liberty. The question, however, arises—who were they that for a while endeavored to force circumcision upon Titus? The converts from the sect of the Pharisees, mentioned by St. Luke (Acts 15:5), occur to our minds. Another group that comes to mind are the "false brethren"—men who had simply thrown the cloak of professed Christian discipleship over the old legalism of the Pharisees and fiercely held on to it. But if we suppose this, we cannot imagine that the writer would have said that Titus was not compelled to be circumcised "by those false brethren," if these had been the very persons alluded to as having tried to compel him. It is more probable that the persons alluded to were certain influential members of the Jewish Church, which included a strong body, perhaps, of the elders of that Church, and having possibly the agreement of even James and of Cephas. James and the elders, on a later occasion (Acts 21:18-26), urged Paul himself to perform certain Mosaic observances, with the idea of placating the believers of Jerusalem. It is, therefore, quite possible, at this early stage in the development of the evangelical doctrine, that Titus was being dealt with in a somewhat similar manner. But whoever they were that were doing it, it is clear that they were working towards the same result as the most eager of the Mosaic legalists, only they were using a different approach. Titus was especially assaulted, apparently because St. Paul had brought him with him to serve as a case in point upon which to base the general question.