How Paul Came by the Gospel
Anticipating Objections (Galatians 1:10-12)
Paul boldly claimed that teaching any other message than the one already taught was to bring a curse on the false teacher (Galatians 1:6-9). That claim would naturally lead to objections: What makes Paul’s teaching so special? How do we know that Paul isn’t the false teacher?
Notice that verses 10-13 each begin with the word “for.” These mark the points in Paul’s arguments. The first point we discussed in the prior lesson. Paul did not preach for popularity (Luke 6:26). His goal was to please God. There was a time that he derived his authority from men (Acts 9:1-2), but that is no longer the case. Now he considers himself a slave to Christ. The Greek word doulos refers to a purchased slave who belongs completely to his master. Paul would not go against his master’s directions. Thus, Paul is stressing that his teaching is faithful to Christ.
Paul’s second point is that the message he preached was not what men would teach. Paul makes a play on the words used here. “Preached” is actually a verb form of the noun “gospel.” Despite the fact that some of them had deserted the true gospel, Paul still calls them brethren.
His third point is that the message he teaches was not given to him by others nor was it taught to him by other men, such as the other apostles. In other words, Paul did not gain the gospel from other men, with or without effort. He learned the gospel directly from Jesus through a revelation. The initial revelation was mentioned in Acts 9:3-19; 22:3-16; and 26:12-18. Paul mentions other revelations, such as in II Corinthians 12:1, so there is no reason to assume he received the teachings from Christ all in one sitting.
Paul’s Conversion (Galatians 1:13-16)
Before Paul became a Christian, he was deeply involved in the Jewish religion. The Galatian brethren were familiar with his story. They probably learned it from Paul during his times in Galatia. Paul calls it “Judaism” because it was no longer the pure teachings of Moses and the prophets. It had become muddied by the traditions of the Jews. Paul’s zeal for his religion led him to persecute the church and attempt to destroy it. You could easily say that he went overboard in his efforts. In Acts 26:11, Paul states that he was furiously enraged against Christians. The Greek word eporthoun was used to describe wild animals that mauled and devoured their prey. Thus, Judaism was not the source of Paul’s current teachings.
At the same time, Paul was advancing in Judaism faster than his contemporaries because of his zeal for the traditional Jewish religion. In other words, Paul understood Judaism better than most of his fellow Jews. This is further described in Philippians 3:4-6. The implication is that the Judaizing teachers causing problems in Galatia are not nearly as familiar with Jewish law and traditions as Paul is.
But unknown to Paul at that time, God had already decided to make use of Paul, even before Paul was born – much like Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), Isaiah (Isaiah 49:1), or John the Baptist (Luke 1:13-17). Even though Paul started off badly, God gave Paul an immense gift. God had Jesus reveal himself to Paul as Paul was traveling to Damascus. He was told that he would be sent to teach to the Gentiles to teach about Jesus. Just imagine what this would have done to a fanatical Jew! He learned that the man he thought dead was alive and was the Lord. He discovered that he had been fighting against God most of his life. And to top everything off, his duty would be to teach the heathen Gentiles – people that, up until this time, he would not associate with. Yet, Paul said he didn’t need to discuss God’s offer with other men. The implication is that he immediately accepted his mission (Acts 26:19). This is why Paul is emphasizing that he could not have gotten the message from men. The shift in his views was too sudden and too radical (Philippians 3:7-9).
No Time to Have Been Taught the Gospel by Men (Galatians 1:17-21)
After Paul’s conversion, he did not go to Jerusalem but instead went to Arabia. Exactly where is not mentioned in the New Testament. Later, he returned to Damascus. It is in Acts 9:22-5 and II Corinthians 11:32-33 that we learn why Paul left Damascus.
Three years after his conversion, he went to Jerusalem in order to met Peter and stayed with him for fifteen days (Acts 9:26-29). The time spent was for a visit. Paul didn’t go there for training. During that time he met James, the Lord’s brother, but did not meet any of the other apostles. Perhaps, by this time, the apostles were already spreading out around the world. Again, this was not enough time to gain a depth of knowledge into Christianity, so it cannot be claimed that Peter taught Paul the gospel. Nor can it be claimed that Paul was somehow certified by Peter or John during this brief visit.
Paul solemnly swears that what he related is the truth because he knows that this isn’t what the false teachers have been saying about his past. The implication of the oath is that the false teachers have been lying about Paul’s background.
From Jerusalem went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia (Acts 9:30). This put him out of contact with leaders in the church. In Acts 15:23,40-41, Paul and Silas return to the same area where they strengthened the existing churches. These churches were likely started when Paul first went into that area.
The Impact Paul Had on the Judean Churches (Galatians 1:22-24)
In those early days, few Christians would have known Paul by sight. Almost no one had met him. The only thing the Judean Christians knew about Paul was the rumor that this fearful persecutor of the church was now preaching the faith. This was a tremendous relief to all and they glorified God for Paul’s conversion.
Most likely the false teachers were from Judea, and Paul is proving they never met him and knew very little about him.
- Does God set everyone apart for special purposes like Paul, Jeremiah, or John the Baptist?
- Did Paul have a choice in preaching the gospel (I Corinthians 9:16-18)?
- Locate the verses in Galatians where Paul uses the word “brethren.” Is there a pattern to when he uses this term of affection?