Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What Does the Right Hand of Fellowship Mean?

Moreover, those who were the acknowledged leaders — what they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by outward appearances — these leaders added nothing to me. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the Good News for the Uncircumcised, just as Kefa had been for the Circumcised; since the One working in Kefa to make him an emissary to the Circumcised had worked in me to make me an emissary to the Gentiles. So, having perceived what grace had been given to me, Ya‘akov, Kefa and Yochanan, the acknowledged pillars of the community, extended to me and Bar-Nabba the right hand of fellowship; so that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the Circumcised. 10 Their only request was that we should remember the poor — which very thing I have spared no pains to do. - Galatians 2:6-10 (CJB)


Paul continues to explain to the Galatians the truth of the gospel he is preaching. He is meeting with those considered to be the acknowledged leaders in the church. In the NIV they are referred to as "those who seemed to be important", which makes Paul seem like he has no idea who they were, or he was very petty. This is why I like the Complete Jewish Bible and why I research the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words. In any case, Paul continues on to say "these leaders added nothing to me", or in other words, he is saying that these leaders did not make Paul change his message or add to it. This is confirmed when next Paul says that they acknowledged he had been called by God to go to the Gentiles with the Good News, as Peter was called to go to the Jews.

When all three leaders - James, Peter and John heard Paul's message, they extended the right hand of fellowship to him. As is the case in many cultures, the right is favoured over the left. It is clear from several biblical verses that the "right hand" was often a symbol for strength. The "right hand of God" was that which overcame Israel's enemies (Ex. 15:6, 12; Isa. 62:8; Ps. 17:7; 44:4, etc.) and which was worthy of the Psalmists' praises (Ps. 98:1; 118:15, 16, etc.). In Greek, the word dexios is translated "right, or right hand" and is a metaphor for a place of honour or authority. So in both the Greek and Hebrew we see that the right hand is favoured.

In Hebrew, the word for fellowship is chabar and it means to be united or joined together. The word "fellowship" in Greek is koin┼Źnia and while it does mean fellowship, it also means communion, association and joint partnership. So, when we put this all together this is what we see when Paul is extended the right hand of fellowship by Peter, James and John. They are effectively saying to him, "We give you the authority, the honour, to partner or unite with us in the Gospel."

Therefore, when we extend the "right hand of fellowship" to someone at church we are really honouring them, by agreeing to partner with them in spreading the Gospel. The true meaning of the "right hand of fellowship" however, has somehow been lost over the years. In most churches today, it simply means that you are now a member of the church.

In reality, it means so much more.

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