The Apostle Paul was facing one of the greatest crises of the early church. In just a short time, the Christians in the Galatian region had gone from being enthusiastic followers of the apostolic gospel as preached by Paul, to skeptical, questioning, balking church members who were on the brink of being persuaded to follow another gospel. It was a time for Paul to come down on them with both feet. He was no fatalist who blandly walked through life with a "whatever-will-be-will-be" attitude. A false gospel lurked in the shadows of the Galatian churches. So Paul rose to defend the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.
At the heart of the crisis were two key issues: the apostleship of Paul and the gospel of grace. If the false teachers, which we call "Judaizers" in this case, could convince the Galatians that Paul lacked apostolic authority, then they could deliver their false gospel under the guise of their "Jerusalem authority." The gospel which Paul preached was the only gospel the Galatians knew until the Judaizers came into the region. They were zealous to add circumcision and ceremonial aspects of the law to the gospel. But to do this would have been an abandonment of grace for law. It would have been a shift from a God-centered gospel to a man-centered gospel.
So before Paul expounds upon the content of the gospel of grace, he first seeks to re-establish his authority as an apostle in the eyes of the Galatians. He understood that if his authority was undermined, then the content of his gospel preaching would quickly fall. In the context of this passage, Paul explains that his understanding of the gospel did not come second-handed. He did not travel to Jerusalem to discover the gospel or receive visits by apostolic delegates.
Galatians 1:11-12 (NASB) For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
The Christian gospel comes from God, not from man. This is a hugely important point, because we live in a pluralistic society that teaches us over and over again that all religions are basically the same, that we are all going to the same place, and that no religious system can be thought superior to any other system. This, of course, is nonsense, even on the face of it, but many people accept it as the gospel truth. Paul's words in verses 11-12 point us in the right direction. The gospel is not the result of polling data or the work of a committee. It came as a revelation from Jesus Christ.
Now Paul supports the fact that he received his gospel from God himself by sharing who he used to be:
Galatians 1:13-14 (NASB) For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it; 14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
Paul is simply saying, "How do you explain the radical change, if I did not have an encounter with God Himself?" Paul becoming a follower of Jesus Christ was so extremely remote that he appeals to his conversion as evidence of the fact that his gospel is "not according to man."
Galatians 1:15 (NASB) But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother's womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased
What is Paul's point here? His point is that God was responsible for his physical birth. God separated him from the womb of his mother. Then, Paul also says of God that He "called me through His grace." This refers to the event which occurred on the road to Damascus. It refers to the time when Paul was brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus as the Christ. It refers to his spiritual birth.
Why does Paul say this? I think he is saying that he has as much to do with his spiritual birth as he did with his physical birth - nothing! His salvation was a result of the sovereign irresistible call of God.
This is where we left off last week. Let's pick up our study today with verse:
Galatians 1:16 (NASB) to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,
The word "reveal" here is from the Greek word apokalupto, which means: "to take off the cover, i.e. to disclose or reveal." No one can, through his own wisdom, see or understand God. God must reveal Himself to man. We see this same word used by Christ in:
Matthew 16:16-17 (NASB) And Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
Peter's confession was due to the revelation of God. And Paul's understanding of Jesus Christ was also due to the revelation of Christ.
"To reveal His Son in me." This was both an outward and an inward revelation in Paul's case. Paul saw the risen Christ on the Damascus Road. But even more important was the inner illumination of his heart; God breaking down the religious prejudices and opening his spirit to see exactly who Christ was, the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
"That I might preach Him among the Gentiles" - Does God have a sense of humor? He selects a man from eternity past for the job of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. And that man grows up hating Gentiles, and believing that the only reason God made Gentiles was so they would fuel the fires of hell.
He says, "I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood." Why did he say that? To prove that his gospel is "not according to man." This is the chief point of the entire first two chapters. This is important for two basic reasons.
First, it is germane to Paul's argument in Galatians 1-2 that his readers see that he was preaching to the nations the message that all of the other apostles recognized as the gospel message without his ever having received it from any man. How did he come to be preaching such Truth without having been instructed by men? If, as he claims and history argues to be true, he actually did receive it by revelation of Jesus Christ, the movement of the Galatians away from it leaves them in very bad condition. In other words, where did those who taught them that they must perform certain works in order to be justified and then progress to maturity get their gospel? The fact is, they got it from men. He did not get his from men, but from the very mouth of the Son of God. So, to whom should they listen? To the ones who were taught of men or, to that one who was taught of God and received the right hand of fellowship from all the other apostles who also received their gospel from the Lord?
Then, also, the fact that Paul did not confer with other men, when God was pleased to reveal Christ in him, is important from Paul's own personal position. All of his life he had been taught that the way to approach God was through obedience to law from God. From his earliest years, the elders of Israel had been his teachers as to the necessity of earning justification from God by way of good works and pious attention to the whole law. It was this teaching (buttressed by manifold quotations from the sacred Scriptures) that he had swallowed hook, line, and sinker. It was this teaching that was responsible for his being on his way to Damascus in the first place. It was Paul's acceptance of the doctrine of justification through obedience that made him the persecutor of the Truth. So, when he was unceremoniously stopped dead in his tracks by the Lord of Glory and told that he was 180 degrees out of kilter, it shook him to the foundations of his education. Thus, he could no longer trust what men said. He had to know the truth from the lips of God.
Galatians 1:17 (NASB) nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.
After Paul's encounter with Christ, instead of consulting the apostles in Jerusalem, he went immediately to Arabia. This trip to and from Arabia is not mentioned in Acts 9, where Paul's conversion is recorded. After he had become saved, Luke tells us:
Acts 9:18-19 (NASB) And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he arose and was baptized; 19 and he took food and was strengthened. Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus,
Based on what we read in Galatians 1:17, the trip to Arabia was evidently made after Paul had received food, but before he spent several days with the disciples at Damascus.
For the better part of three years, Paul went away to the desert. We have no details concerning this trip. What do you suppose that Paul did for three years in the desert? We can only guess. But I have a strong suspicion that Paul spent that time in solitude going over the Old Testament Scriptures.
Paul was a Pharisee. He was an expert in the law. Paul probably understood Judaism better than all of these false teachers put together. Somebody did the calculations of Paul's education, and said he basically had the equivalent of two Ph.D.'s by the time he was 21 years of age. He was absolutely brilliant. He understood what the Scriptures said, but he didn't understand what they meant. Let me show you why I believe Paul spent these three years studying the Old Testament Scripture.
Turn with me to Luke 24. Here we meet two disciples on there way to Emmaus. It had been three days since the crucifiction of Christ and these disciples were very discouraged:
Luke 24:14-16 (NASB) And they were conversing with each other about all these things which had taken place. 15 And it came about that while they were conversing and discussing, Jesus Himself approached, and began traveling with them. 16 But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.
Jesus was dead and buried as far as they understood. Notice, carefully, what Jesus says to them:
Luke 24:25-27 (NASB) And He said to them, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 "Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?" 27 And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
What was it that they were slow to believe? The prophets! Jesus pointed them to what the Old Testament Scriptures said about Him.
Jesus must have given the Emmaus travelers the greatest Old Testament exposition in history. It was then that all of the types, shadows, and symbols of the Old Testament revelation began to come together.
Here was proof that Jesus had fulfilled that which had been prophesied over the centuries; that these Old Testament anticipations of His passion and triumph of life over death, proved that He was indeed the Messiah.
Luke 24:32 (NASB) And they said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?"
Luke 24:44-47 (NASB) Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Jesus taught these two disciples all about Himself from the Old Testament. I believe this is what Paul did for three years after his conversion, he studied the Old Testament Scriptures. Saul was a Pharisee, he knew the Old Testament, so why didn't he understand it? Notice verse 45 above, "Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures." Saul could not understand the Scriptures until the Lord opened his mind:
2 Corinthians 3:13-16 (NASB) and are not as Moses, who used to put a veil over his face that the sons of Israel might not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
This "veiled" nature of the Old Covenant was misinterpreted by the Jews to the point that they missed their Messiah. Because the nature of God's Kingdom and the ministry of the Messiah was not what the Jews were expecting, most denied that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies that they were looking for.
Paul's eyes had now been opened by Christ, and he was able for the first time to understand the meaning Old Testament. What was previously a mystery, and veiled in types and shadows, was now revealed by the Holy Spirit.
And now that Christ had been revealed to Paul, the veil had been taken away, and now when he read the Old Testament Scriptures, he could see Christ in them.
Genesis 3:15 (NASB) And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel."
"Her seed" is an expression used nowhere else in Scripture. Only one time in the history of the world did a woman ever have a seed, which normally is ascribed to the man.
Isaiah 7:14 (NASB) "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.
Paul now saw that this virgin born seed was Immanuel - God with us - Jesus Christ.
Genesis 22:7-8 (NASB) And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" 8 And Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.
Now Paul understood this text and the resurrection of Christ the Lamb of God.
Exodus 12:3-7 (NASB) "Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, 'On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers' households, a lamb for each household. 4 'Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb. 5 'Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 'And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. 7 'Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.
Now that the veil was gone, Paul could see that the Lamb of God was the Lord Jesus Christ. Whose sacrificial death paid our sin debt. With his new eyes, Paul poured over the Scriptures and cried as he saw for the first time that everything in them pointed to Christ.
Paul told Timothy that the Old Testament Scriptures give wisdom, which lead to salvation:
2 Timothy 3:15 (NASB) and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
The Bible, itself, does not save anybody, but the Scriptures are able to bring us to faith in Christ Jesus. He is the one who saves us. The Jesus who saves is the Jesus who is revealed all through the Old Testament.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NASB) All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
"All scripture is inspired by God." Paul says, "All Scripture," referring to the entire Old Testament, "is inspired by God."
I believe that Paul spent these three years studying the Scriptures, because he continually used them to preach Christ to others:
Acts 17:1-3 (NASB) Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ."
Romans 1:1-4 (NASB) Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (NASB) Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
Paul, once blinded, has now had Christ "revealed" to him. And now, as he reads the Old Testament Scripture, he sees Christ all through them. Paul now understood the truth that Jesus had told the Jews:
John 5:39 (NASB) "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me;
Understanding that the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, are the very Word of God, and that in them Christ is revealed, doesn't it make you wonder why we don't spend more time in them?
So Paul tells us, "I conferred not with flesh and blood." Paul learned what he knew about Christ from the Scriptures, not from men's teaching.
In our raw state as young Christians, it may not be injurious to receive truth from pastors and parents, and so on; but if we are to become men in Christ Jesus, and teachers of others, we must quit the childish habit of dependence on others, and search for ourselves. We may now leave the egg, and get rid of the pieces of shell as quickly as may be. It is our duty to search the Scriptures to see whether these things be so; and more, it is our wisdom to cry for grace to appropriate each truth, and let it dwell in our inmost nature. It is time that we should be able to say, "This truth is now as personally my own as if I had never heard it from lip of man. I receive it because it has been written on my own heart by the Lord himself. Its coming to me is not after men. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, April 25th, 1890)
Paul grew largely in solitude. During the critical, early formative years of Paul's life as a Christian, he had few men about him to corrupt the gospel. Paul's salvation and the gospel he was being taught were remarkably free from human contamination.
After Paul's time of study, he returned to Damascus where his Christian experience had begun. He wrote, "I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus." What happened in Damascus is told in Acts:
Acts 9:19b-25 (NASB) ...Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God." 21 And all those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, "Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?" 22 But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ. 23 And when many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. And they were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; 25 but his disciples took him by night, and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.
How was it that he was preaching so convincingly that Jesus was the Son of God? He had been in Arabia receiving the gospel by revelation of Jesus Christ through the Old Testament Scriptures. So, he immediately did not confer with men, but when he got back, he immediately began to preach Christ. His preaching wasn't received too well, and he had to escape over the city wall by being lowered by his friends in a basket as he was being sought by the authorities.
Galatians 1:18 (NASB) Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days.
This is the first time Paul goes to Jerusalem after his conversion. This is the first time the other apostles get a chance to meet this former persecutor of the church. Now, keep in mind that Paul is three years old in the Lord, and yet those in Jerusalem don't believe it.
This trip took courage. Paul's former friends, the Jews, would now be out for his blood, while his former victims, the Christians, might well ostracize him because of skepticism about his new-found faith. In fact, this is exactly what happened:
Acts 9:26-27 (NASB) And when he had come to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.
But while he was in Jerusalem for those two weeks, Paul stayed with Peter. I can imagine Peter's and Paul's conversations were most interesting, with Paul undoubtedly telling Peter of his conversion on the Damascus Road, and Peter telling Paul about the 3 ½ years he spent as a disciple of Jesus Christ, prior to the Lord's crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. But there was apparently no disagreement between them about the nature of the gospel.
Our text says that Paul, "... went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas." The words "become acquainted" are a translation of the Greek word historeo. The massive and exhaustive dictionary of ancient Greek compiled by Liddel and Scott tells us that the word could mean either:"to make inquiry," or "to give an account of what one has learned". Which did Paul have in mind? When we consider that if he says that he went to make inquiry of Peter, he will destroy his entire point to the Galatians, it is highly unlikely that he had that in mind. But, if we take the other meaning "to give account of what one has learned", we preserve Paul's point in his letter.
Galatians 1:19 (NASB) But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother.
I can see Paul asking James about Mary his mother. Was she still alive? Did all of you embrace your brother as the Messiah during His earthly ministry? You didn't? How is that possible?
There was so much to talk about and so little time. But you can bet that that short period of 15 days was spent encouraging each other in their respective ministries, and being built up in their faith, as they were amazed at how Jesus Christ was still active and personally involved in all of their lives despite the fact that they had never met prior to this time. What encouragement!
Notice what Luke tells us about Paul's visit to Jerusalem:
Acts 9:28-30 (NASB) And he was with them moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. 30 But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.
Paul was busy preaching Christ, he did not have a lot of time to spend with Peter and James. Therefore, he could not have gotten his gospel from them simply because of the time; Paul's point to the Judaizers in Galatia, who were trying to make the case that Paul was a lone ranger assuming authority he was not given by the rest of the apostles. He is saying to them, "Just ask the apostles in Jerusalem yourselves." "They will confirm that I have been called by Jesus Christ and given the same gospel they received from Jesus, though none of them taught me such a gospel; Jesus Himself did that."
Galatians 1:20 (NASB) (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.)
The language here in verse 20 of our text is the language of an oath or a vow. In fact, there are many instances where Paul takes a vow or an oath throughout his ministry under certain circumstances. And keep in mind that essentially both oaths and vows are instruments of verifying something to be true as you call on God to witness that transaction or truth.
Galatians 1:21 (NASB) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
Because of opposition in Jerusalem, Paul had gone to Syria and Cilicia. This is the area in which he grew up, in the city of Tarsus, which was located on the Southeastern part of modern day Turkey, just off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
In other words, he went home, probably using Tarsus as a home base to reach out to Cilicia and Syria. We don't know if his parents were still alive, but if they were, along with any other relatives he had in the region, you can bet he shared his faith with them and encouraged them to embrace the Messiah Jesus as Lord and Savior.
These were the silent years. We know almost nothing about what happened in that area. Depending upon how you interpret Gal.2, this time could have been up to 10 years in length. Paul never directly refers to it later. There is no record that he ever felt a burden to go back and minister to those whom he had won to Christ in this area during this time. Clearly he taught and preached and evangelized and worked and served the Lord during that time, but there is no record that anything significant came of it. When Barnabas later gave him a call to come to Antioch, he left immediately.
Galatians 1:22 (NASB) And I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ;
The point here is: If Paul had been an understudy of the apostles in Jerusalem, these are precisely the churches where he would have worked. He says that he continued to be unknown by face to the churches of Judea. This means that his contact with persons who could have helped him to understand the gospel was almost nil.
Galatians 1:23 (NASB) but only, they kept hearing, "He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy."
Notice how these churches include themselves in this report: "the man who formerly persecuted us." Some of them may have personally been touched by the wrath of Saul, and yet this language probably includes the idea that when Saul persecuted the church anywhere in the world, it touched them personally, even as Jesus was touched personally when on that road leading into Damascus Jesus asked Saul, "Why do you persecute Me?"
And so, in one sense, when you persecute the church-at-large, you persecute the risen Christ whose church it is, together with the individuals who make up that church. But the report is clear. Saul was a bad man, an evil man who came against Christ, but who has now done a 180 degree turn, because of what the risen Lord did in his life.
Galatians 1:24 (NASB) And they were glorifying God because of me.
What this signifies is that the churches of Judea were crediting God with Paul's preaching. It means that they recognized that only God could have turned the raging Saul of the Pharisees into the evangelistic Paul. It also, however, means that they recognized that only God could have given Paul his message since none of them had seen him long enough to teach him themselves. That Paul was preaching the faith that he once destroyed was something that only God would have brought to pass.
For these Christians to praise God because of what He had done in Paul's life, should speak volumes to these Judaizers in Galatia who were trying to discredit Paul and his ministry. In fact, just as Paul once persecuted the church and in turn Jesus Himself, these Judaizers, by calling into question Paul's apostleship, are personally calling Jesus Christ into question who chose and commissioned Paul.
And this is exactly the point Paul is trying to make to these people: Don't come against Jesus Christ and His work by coming against me. Don't call Jesus into question by calling my apostleship into question. The Lord will not hold you guiltless if you continue to come against Him with a false gospel, all the while calling me a false apostle.
The thesis that I did not receive the gospel from any human being, but by revelation from Jesus Christ (1:11-12) is demonstrated by the following facts: I was opposed to the church before my conversion (vv. 13-14); in my conversion, God, Himself, revealed his Son in me; and I did not consult with the church after my conversion (vv. 15-24). Paul's argument is designed to show that he is not dependent on or subordinate to any other church leaders for his authority to preach his gospel to the Gentiles. His authority is derived from the gospel that had been revealed to him by God. Therefore, when the Galatians turn away from the gospel preached by Paul, they are turning away from God.
|Continue the Series|