Monday, April 25, 2011

Galatians Part 4: Paul defends his apostleship - (a) (1:10-2:14)

The apostle Paul, writing a letter.
III. Paul defends his apostleship—1:10-2:14 
A. God’s approval is supreme—1:10

1:10—For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men?—In Paul’s own defence he sets forth the idea that if he was a man-pleaser, he certainly would not have pronounced a curse on those who preach false gospels! Rather, in seeking the favour of God, for the sake of the gospel, he would pronounce such a curse on those who falsify the gospel. Paul is standing with Christ and not with man.

If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ—Paul makes a statement that many of us should take to heart. If we adapt our gospel to please man, to accommodate sinners, to take the edge of the gospel so that it does not offend the wayward, then we have failed miserably as servants of Christ. In fact, when we have softened the gospel for the sake of man, then we are not servants of Christ. The gospel by nature offends people (Rom 9:33), since it shows them their utter helplessness in their own despicable sinful nature. It tells them that God’s wrath burns against them (Jn 3:36; Rom 1:18; 2:5; 9:22; Col 3:6) because of their sin and this flies against the thoughts of man of his own goodness.

The word “bond-servant” comes from doulos (δουλος), “slave…esp. of the relationship of men to God [whereby man is] owned by him body and soul.”1 We are not mere servants of Christ but slaves to Him. A slave always seeks to please his Master and not anyone else.

Paul is making the point that since he was called directly by Christ to be His apostle and also since he is preaching the real gospel, there is no need for him to seek the approval of men, but rather that of God. 

B. Paul’s authority from God—1:11-2:14
1. Called by Christ—1:11-12

1:11—For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man—Since Paul is not trying to please men he continues to show the Galatians that the gospel he is preaching is not from a human source. Just two verses ago Paul spoke a curse on anyone who taught a different gospel and now he is about to demonstrate that the gospel he is preaching is not from man. By implication he is showing that the gospel of the Judaizers is from man. 

1:12—For I neither received it from man—To further demonstrate that the gospel he preached was not from a human source, Paul emphasised that he did not receive his gospel from man. In verse 11 Paul simply stated that his gospel did not have a human source. Now he continues with this development to show that he did not receive this gospel from another human person. The word for “received” is paralambano (παραλαμβανω) which means to “take over, receive.”2 In this sense Paul is saying that he did not take this gospel from another man and is not preaching another man’s gospel. 

nor was I taught it—The Galatians were taught by Paul. In this way, they received the gospel from him. In the same way, many other believers were taught what the gospel was. To show that his gospel was not from a human source Paul reveals that he was not taught the gospel by any human agent. The other apostles were not taught by humans and in the same way he was not taught by humans either. 

but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ—In the previous verse Paul showed how his gospel was not of human origin. It is now his intention to point out how he did receive his gospel. “He now asserts the positive side of his thesis, saying that the Gospel came to him by 'revelation' (GK 637), an unexpected unfolding of what had been a secret—a distinctive experience paralleled only by that of those who were apostles before him. The Gospel that was revealed to Paul is unique, precisely because its source was not Paul but God Himself.”3 

2. Life in Judaism—1:13-14

1:13—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—Because Paul was such a vicious persecutor of the church, he could say with confidence that “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle.” (1 Cor 15:9 ESV) As a Pharisee, Paul would consider it his duty in “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” (Ac 9:1 ESV) 

1:14—I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions—Paul had a fiery zeal for what he believed in. This existed before his conversion as much as it did after. For Paul it was either all or nothing! “advancing” comes from the Greek word prokopto (προκοπτω) which means to “go forward, make progress.”4 For someone to advance in anything, it is always imperative to ensure that the superiors are pleased. Undoubtedly this was the case. Paul’s advance was of such a nature that his Pharisaic leaders were all too ready to give him letters to bind and bring Christians before them. 

3. Paul’s salvation—1:15-16

1:15—But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother's womb—It would not be surprising if Paul had the two most important prophets in mind when he wrote verse 15. The parallels are striking. In Is 49:1, 5 Isaiah wrote of himself: “The LORD called Me from the womb; From the body of My mother He named Me… now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him” Jeremiah wrote something very similar in Jer 1:5: “I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Paul used the underlying Greek word for the phrase “set me apart” only twice concerning himself in his own writings. Apart from this occurrence he also used it in Rom 1:1. He used the word aphoridzo (αφοριζω), meaning to “set apart, appoint”5 in the Romans passage with an added purpose for being set apart. Paul writes that he is "called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God."

Paul’s purpose for being set apart is similar to that of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Isaiah was called to bring Israel back to God and Jeremiah as a prophet to the nations. This was indeed Paul’s pattern of preaching the gospel. When visiting a city Paul would first preach the gospel to the Jews and then to the Gentiles; a reminder of his often repeated phrase “to the Jew first and then to the Gentile.” (Rom 1:16; 2:9, 10) Being set apart from his mother’s womb by God once again speaks of God’s predestinating work. It points to God’s sovereignty in the destiny of mankind. This is how Paul starts his account of his own conversion. He starts with the sovereign work of God. 

and called me through His grace—Paul’s conversion was certainly a sovereign act of God. When we read the account of his conversion in Ac 9 we soon realise that God sovereignly stepped in to save Paul. The meaning of “called” in this context as in other contexts of salvation “in the usage of the NT, as well as that of the LXX, [is] of the choice of pers. for salvation.”6 God is the one who calls us. God “saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our own works but according to his own purpose and the grace that was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” (2 Tim 1:9 ISV) We are not saved according to our own works, whether they are works of law or works of choice, but rather by the grace of God. When we look at the ordo salutis (order of salvation) so well defined for us in Rom 8:29-30, we find that our call to salvation is not the first event in our salvation. Paul writes in verse 30 that “those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (ISV) God first predestined us to salvation before He called us to salvation. We must always remember that God’s predestinating work is never based on any arbitrary choice pulled out of a hat, but rather on “the kind intention of His will.” (Eph 1:5) It is “according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph 1:11) that He predestined us to salvation. Because of this predestinating work of God, He called us to salvation.

It is because of the wonderful grace of God that He calls us to salvation. As it has been said before, God did not have to save anyone at all, but because of His great grace he chose to save us. Since God is our Creator, He was free “to make from the same lump [of clay] one vessel for honorable use and another for common use.” (Rom 9:21) Why did He save some and not others? All His reasons for this are not made clear in the Scriptures, but we do know that God saved some “to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” (Rom 9:22) God wanted those that are saved to understand His mercy; that they are not saved because of their greatness as special pieces of clay, but rather that He has shown them mercy. 

was pleased—1:16—to reveal His Son in me—This just reiterates what was said above. God’s choice of us—and of Paul—is based on “the kind intention of His will.” (Eph 1:5)

Wuest asks the question whether God called Paul to reveal Christ to Paul or through Paul to the world.7 He answers as follows:

“The word apokalupto refers to the disclosure of something by the removal of that which hitherto concealed it, and refers especially to a subjective revelation to an individual. A Public disclosure of the Lord Jesus through Paul would necessitate  the fact that He had been previously hidden from public knowledge, which is not the case, since He had already been preached in the world. But He had been previously hidden from Paul, which points to a subjective revelation of the Lord Jesus to Paul within Paul. Furthermore, if it were an objective revelation through Paul, the Greek would require the preposition dia which means through. Again, the entire context has to do, not with how Paul preached the gospel, but how he received it.”8 

so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles—The subjective revelation of Jesus in Paul was so that Paul would preach the gospel to the Gentiles. We should not confuse the revelation of Christ in Paul in this verse with simply being saved. The phrase “reveal His Son in [Paul]” “probably refers to the sudden realization of what God had done in Paul’s life by placing the life of the Lord Jesus Christ within Paul. God did this in order that he might become the apostle to the Gentiles.”9

The revelation that Paul received was probably on a different level to that received by the other apostles since even Peter wrote that Paul received certain wisdom concerning the gospel and that in Paul’s gospel  “are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort.” (2 Pet 3:16)

It is this special revelation that qualified Paul especially to preach Jesus to the Gentiles. Paul, as a Pharisee, would never have thought of preaching the good news to Gentiles. It was because of Paul’s background as a Pharisee that God revealed Christ in Paul in this special way so that he would then become the special apostle to the Gentiles (Rom 11:13; Gal 2:8; 1 Tim 2:7). 

I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood—It is important for Paul to show the Galatians that the gospel he is preaching is not as a result of consultation with other Christians. The reason for this is that if this were the case, then he could not claim to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. He would then be an “ordinary” Christian just like the rest of them. However, since he can demonstrate that the gospel he is preaching came directly from the revelation of Christ in him, he can also lay claim to the fact that he is an apostle of Christ.

“No single event, apart from the Christ-event itself, has proved so determinant for the course of Christian history as the conversion and commissioning of Paul.”10 

4. Paul’s visit to Jerusalem and beyond—1:17-24

1:17—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—Paul makes it clear that after his conversion, he did not go to Jerusalem (at that time headquarters of Christianity with all the apostles situated there) to learn about Jesus Christ.  Instead, Paul went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus. The fact that Paul writes about “those who were apostles before” him shows that he regarded himself as an apostle in the same character as they.

The popular reason for Paul going into Arabia is that Paul went there to learn about Christ in a deeper way. However, this is not so. “[18] And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; [19]and he took food and was strengthened. 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.” (Ac 9:18-20) If Paul started preaching Christ immediately then why would he have gone into Arabia to learn about Christ?

F. F. Bruce, internationally respected New Testament scholar, after a lifetime of Pauline study concluded concerning Gal 1:17 that ”probably his three days of blindness in Damascus had been sufficient for his mind to be reorientated. The implication of his own narrative relates his Arabian visit rather closely to his call to preach Christ among the Gentiles; the point of his reference to it in writing to his Galatian converts is to underline the fact that he began to discharge this call before he went up to Jerusalem to see the apostles there, so that none could say that it was they (or any other authorities on earth) who commissioned him to be the Gentiles’ apostle.”11

When Paul speaks of Arabia we understand him to mean  the Nabataean kingdom only about 80km (50mi) to the east, which would have been easily accessible from where Paul was in Damascus. The Nabataean control stretched from just east of Damascus to the far reaches of the desert in the east. Its capital city was Petra down in the south about 370km (230mi) from Damascus. This Nabataean kingdom was ruled by Aretas IV (9 B.C.-40 A.D.). So, what did Paul do in Arabia? Arabia is mentioned only twice in the New Testament. The other mention is in Gal 4:25. This mention can be ignored since it is used in an Old Testament way in an analogous sense. However, king Aretas is mentioned in 2 Cor 11:32: “In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me.” “But why should the Nabataean ethnarch take this hostile action against Paul, if Paul spent his time in Arabia in quiet contemplation? If, on the other hand, he spent his time there in preaching, he could well have stirred up trouble for himself and attracted the unfriendly attention of the authorities.”12 

1:18—Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days—The “three years later” is seen by many to refer to three years after his conversion. Since Paul is making an argument for his own apostleship of Christ to the Galatians, the point he is certainly making here is that he had no need to consult with the apostles in Jerusalem since he was already an apostle.

After these three years he went to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter. However, he only stayed for fifteen days. The reason he stayed for such a short period was that “And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him.” (Ac 9:29 ESV) The Hellenists were Greek speaking Jews. When the brothers learnt of this plot to kill Paul they extracted him from Jerusalem and sent him of to Caesarea. 

1:19—But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother—James was considered by Paul to be an apostle too. However, James was not one of the original Twelve, since at the time Christ chose the Twelve James was not a believer yet. Grudem writes that the New International Version here of “saw none of the other apostles--only James, the Lord's brother” is not unlikely, yet “the translation ‘except James the Lord’s brother’ seems clearly preferable, because (1) the Greek phrase is EI MH, which ordinarily means ‘except’ (BAGD, p. 22, 8a), and in the great majority of New Testament uses designates something, that is part of the previous group but is ‘excepted’ from it; and (2) in the context of Gal. 1:18, it would not make much sense for Paul to say that when he went to Jerusalem he saw Peter, and no other people except James…”13

Paul also recognised James with Peter and John as pillars of the church in Jerusalem (Gal 2:9). Also, after Paul and Barnabas related the signs and wonders among the Gentiles, it was James who answered and suggested regulations for the situation. He exercised considerable leadership  in the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 which would be appropriate to the office of apostle. Paul also lists James on the list of post-resurrection appearances (1 Cor 15:7-9). Notice that Paul lists him ahead of all the apostles, concluding the apostles with himself “the least of all the apostles.”

“Finally, the fact that James could write the New Testament epistle which bears his name would also be entirely consistent with his having the authority which belonged to the office of an apostle.”14

James was the Lord’s brother in the sense that he was the natural son of Joseph and Mary. 

1:20—I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie—The Judaizers insisted that Paul depended on the Twelve for his gospel, and as a result would not be an apostle. However, when Paul writes “what I am writing” he refers to his historical account of the events immediately following his conversion which he recounted in vv17-19.

Paul ensures them that he is not telling a lie. We can verify Paul’s account by reading Acts 9. 

1:21—Later I went to Syria and Cilicia—The ESV is more correct when it says: “Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.” The ASV, ISV, KJV, RSV and WEB also have it correctly here. The Greek here is epeita elthon eis ta klimata tes surias kai kilikias. The word klimata (κλιματα) means “region, tract of land.”15

“The name Syria is placed first because Paul’s ministry at Antioch preceded that at Tarsus, and because Cilicia was subordinate to Syria in the Roman empire, being only a district of the great province of Syria. Here we have about ten years of Paul’s life passed over in silence, between his flight from Jerusalem to Tarsus and his return to the former city for the Apostolic Council. These years were spent around Tarsus and Antioch, in Cyprus and Asia Minor.”16 

1:22—I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ—At this point Paul was still unknown to the churches in Judea. That he adds “by sight” would point to the fact that they perhaps have heard of Paul by this time but had not seen him yet. He writes about the Judean church separately from Jerusalem since he had to leave Jerusalem so abruptly that he never had any chance to meet those in the Judean church. 

1:23—but only, they kept hearing, He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy—The news of Paul’s conversion spread rapidly and even though the Judean church had never seen Paul face to face, they heard about him constantly. What they heard was most amazing! The same person that persecuted them previously and tried to destroy Christianity was now preaching what he tried to destroy. 

1:24—And they were glorifying God because of me—Paul’s conversion was a source of great joy for the Judean church. Note that they did not glorify God that Paul no longer persecuted them, which would probably have been our response to a situation like that. Literally this verse says, “And they glorified God in me.” This is also the translation offered by the ASV, KJV and WEB. The reason they glorified God, was for God in Paul. Paul was now converted. The Judeans glorified God for Paul’s salvation, not that he stopped persecuting them. 

End Notes

[1] Arndt, William, F. and Gingrich, F. Wilbur, A GREEK-ENGLISH LEXICON of the NEW TESTAMENT and Other Early Christian Literature, Second Edition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1979, p205-206.
[2] BAGD, p619.
[3] Barker, Kenneth L. & Kohlenberger III, John R., Consulting Editors, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Volume 2: New Testament, Premier Reference Series, An Abridgment of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994, p711.
[4] BAGD, p707.
[5] BAGD, p127.
[6] BAGD, p399.
[7] Wuest, Kenneth S., Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament for the English Reader, Volume One, Galatians in the Greek New Testament, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1973, p50.
[8] Wuest, Galatians, p50.
[9] Barker, p712.
[10] Bruce, F. F., Paul Apostle of the Heart Set Free, Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1977, Reprinted 1999, p75.
[11] Bruce, p81.
[12] Bruce, p81-82.
[13] Grudem, Wayne, SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994, p908.
[14] Grudem, p908.
[15] Friberg, Timothy & Friberg, Barbara & Miller, Neva F., Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2000, p232.
[16] Wuest, Galatians, p54.

For more on this series, simply visit the Galatians label.
The next part in the Galatians series will be available next Monday!

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