The next three colleagues mentioned by Paul—Aristarchus, Mark and Jesus, who is called Justus—are Jewish believers and are said by Paul to be the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God. Actually, the Greek text is more vague about their ethnicity than the NIV. The phrase translated "Jews" is literally "from the circumcised" (ek peritomes) and may in fact refer to a specific group of Jewish Christian missionaries called "the circumcision party" (see Acts 10:45; 11:2; 15:1-5; Gal 2:12), whose membership included these three (Ellis 1978:116-28). Of course, we know that earliest Christianity sent different missions to various constituencies. In Galatians 2:1-10 Paul himself identifies two distinct missions, each with its own version of the gospel (Gal 2:7; compare Acts 15:19-21). What is less clear, especially in light of Paul's negative verdict against "the circumcision party" of Galatians 2:12, is the meaning of his positive reference to three of its members in this letter (although his high regard for Mark is less certain; see below).
In my view, we should not assume that Paul's words in Galatians describe a static sentiment; Galatians is a highly emotional book in any case, full of angry rhetoric that contrasts with the more cooperative language we find in Paul's other letters. While he has been called by Christ to evangelize primarily Gentiles (but also Jews; see Acts 9:15), there are others who are called to evangelize the Jews. The apostle understands this and celebrates them (see Gal. 2:7-10), so long as they do not substitute a more Jewish version of the gospel (Gal 2:11-16) for the one that has been given him by Christ for Gentile conversion (Gal 1:11-17).
Also, Paul may have identified these three Jewish evangelists as "being of the circumcision" in connection with the earlier reference to circumcision in his polemic against false teaching (2:10-12). If this is the case, the phrase bears subtle testimony against the Jewish content of the false teaching at Colosse: there are at least three Jewish-Christian teachers who support Paul and even share his imprisonment. In this sense, the comfort they have provided Paul is the knowledge that there is still support within the Jewish church for the Gentile mission and its gospel.
The parenthetical comment about Mark may be innocent enough: the Colossians are to welcome him, and Paul's instructions perhaps include a special task for him. However, Mark's relationship with Paul was troubled from the beginning (see Acts 15:36-41), and the welcome Paul encourages is conditioned on whether Mark actually arrives in Colosse. Still, I am inclined to take the tone of Paul's instructions as cautiously positive, since the conditional if he comes to you implies that he probably will come.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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