The early church was no different. Paul faced challenges to his authority based on the credentials that Christians valued in his day. He wrote, "But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) - well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me" (Gal. 2:6). The opening clause is an anacoluthon (broken grammatical construction), and the thought is picked up again at the end of the verse (Meyer, Galatians, 64). The middle section is best set off by dashes (see UBS, 3rd edition and Nestle-Aland, 26th edition). The main idea is: those who were of high reputation contributed nothing to Paul.
Unfortunately, the repeated expression "those who were of high reputation" (τῶν δοκούντων/οἱ δοκοῦντες) is translated in the past tense when these are both present participles. Paul is not saying that they were reputable in the past. His concern is that the people treated them as superior authorities in the present tense (Lightfoot, Galatians, 107). "Those who are of high reputation" in the minds of the Galatians - at the time Paul was writing the letter to them not sometime in the past - added nothing to his message. Paul is using the term in a dismissive sense to refer to the way the Christians were diminishing him while elevating the apostles. Paul does not depreciate Peter, James, and John, personally. Paul respects these apostles too, but argues that the Christians should not treat their status and authority as superior to his. Some were idolizing them to diminish Paul's authority, and such a hierarchy of reputation is not right (Bruce, Galatians, 117).
The apostles who "seemed to be something" (τῶν δοκούντων εἰναί τι) added nothing to Paul's preaching. The pronoun "to me" (ἐμοὶ) is in the emphatic position (Meyer, Galatians, 68). Paul stresses his authority here. The verb "contributed" can mean to offer something or to confer with someone. However, it is best understood as presenting information in addition to what Paul said - adding to his gospel. The criticism of the legalizers was that the apostles had to teach Paul. Paul is arguing that they taught him nothing in addition to what he had already learned (Burton, Galatians, 89-90). His gospel message did not depend on their teaching. His authority to preach stood alongside their authority to preach. "To me, the apostles, who seem to you to be something, added nothing!"
Paul lays out the foundation for his argument between the dashes. "Whatever they were in the past" (ὁποιοί ποτε ἦσαν) makes no difference to Paul in the present. The general relative pronoun "whatever" (ὁποιοί) emphasizes the quality of the person - "what kind of people they were" (Blass/Debrunner, Grammar, 159). The particle ποτε means "formerly" or "once." There is an intentional contrast between the two "be" verbs. What they seem to be in the present (εἰναί) has nothing to do with what they were in the past (ἦσαν). The second verb is in the imperfect tense, indicating what they used to be on an ongoing basis.
Paul appears to be thinking about the fact that Peter, James, and John had all walked with Jesus during his earthly ministry. Paul, of course, had not. Some treated the other apostles as superior to Paul because of their past connections with Jesus. They were all founding members of the church. Paul came along later (Bruce, Galatians, 117-118). Consequently, the Christians put them on pedestals because of their outward credentials, but whatever they were in the past does not guarantee them superiority in the present because we all are new creations in Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16-17). They should be respected but not idolized.
The theological basis for Paul's assertion is that "God shows no partiality." Literally, the text reads, "the face of man God does not receive." The expression "to receive the face" (πρόσωπον λαμβάνει) translates a common Old Testament expression "to lift the face." To show favor to someone, a king would lift the face bowed before him (Bruce, Galatians, 118). The word for face (πρόσωπον) means the outward countenance of a person. The word could also be used of a mask worn by actors on the stage. They played a part in a play (TDNT, 6:769). Paul is saying that God does not favor the outward credentials or the mask of authority that someone has over someone else. What we are outwardly does not determine how God treats us or the validity of our message. We wear our connections like masks of authority to persuade others to listen to our message. The masks of success, credentials, positions, or connections should not determine the value of the message!
Martin Luther said that judging things from outward masks and trusting in people based on their positions was "popery." He wrote: "the prince, the magistrate, the preacher, the schoolmaster, the scholar ... are persons, and outward veils, which God will have us acknowledge, love, and reverence, as His creatures, which must needs be had in this life, but He will not have us so to reverence them and put our trust in them, so as to forget Him" (Luther, Galatians, 51).