“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me” (Galatians 2:1).
Following Paul the Apostle’s departure from the region of Galatia, a group of false teachers known as the Judaizers entered the churches he helped establish there. These men taught that non-Jewish people were obligated to accept the requirements of the Old Testament law before they could accept Christ. Here in Galatians chapter two, Paul will counter that argument by continuing his message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ.
As part of that effort, Paul will demonstrate that his gospel message was fully aligned with the teachings of Jesus’ other apostles yet fully independent from them as well. To do so, Paul will introduce two individuals who will go on to form an important part of this narrative: Barnabas and Titus. These men were personal friends of Paul and much as we might introduce a friend as a reference to a prospective employer, both men will serve as references for Paul, each in his own way.
Barnabas was a Jewish Christian who hailed from the island of Cyprus. His given name was Joseph (or Joses) but the apostles gave him the nickname Barnabas which means “son of encouragement” (see Acts 4:36). According to Acts 9:26-27, Barnabas was the person who first introduced Paul to the leadership of the early church.
Barnabas also worked together with Paul in ministering to the church at Antioch (Acts 11:19-26) and traveled with him during Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-5). Although Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement that eventually led them to part company (see Acts 15:36-39), it appears that these two leaders still remained close.
Unlike Barnabas, Titus’ name does not appear anywhere within the New Testament book of Acts. And even though Titus is mentioned thirteen times in the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, very little is actually known about him. Titus apparently became a Christian through Paul’s ministry and they eventually became so close that Paul referred to him as as “my brother” in 2 Corinthians 2:13 and “a true son” in Titus 1:4. Titus later held a leadership role in overseeing the churches that met on the island of Crete (Titus 1:5).
While Titus and Barnabas were Christians and close personal associates of Paul, there was one key difference between them: Barnabas was Jewish and Titus was not. We’ll see why Paul chose to mention them in this letter to the Galatians (and why that difference was important) as we proceed through this chapter.