Paul’s Apostleship Defended Galatians 1:10–24
Judaizers had infiltrated the churches of Galatia and were sowing seeds of dissension. They had tried to discredit Paul’s apostleship by claiming he was a man pleaser—teaching circumcision when with the Jews (1 Cor. 9:20) but setting aside the practice in order to make it easier for Gentiles to receive the gospel. They also accused him of not being an apostle, stating that he lacked the credentials listed in Acts 1:21–22. These were serious charges, which, if not dealt with, would severely erode Paul’s authority in the churches of Galatia.
Paul defended his divine call and authority as an apostle by relating to the Galatians his personal testimony before and after his conversion.
Asking two rhetorical questions, Paul condemned such accusations: “For do I now seek the favor of men, or of God? Or do I seek to please men?” (v. 10). Obviously Paul sought to please God! One trying to placate others by compromising the gospel would not curse those who preached another gospel, as Paul did (cp. vv. 6–9). Nor would one suffer privations and persecutions for the gospel, as Paul did (2 Cor. 11:23–28; Gal. 6:17), if he were a compromiser.
Paul made it very clear that if he tried to “please men,” he should not be “the servant of Christ” (v. 10)—that is, the bond slave of Christ. Paul so ordered his life so that he would be “accepted of him [lit., well-pleasing to Christ]” (2 Cor. 5:9). Actually, it was Paul’s accusers who were the pleasers, making a show the flesh by having others circumcised so that they would not “suffer persecution for the cross of Christ” (6:12).
The apostle directed his message to the “brethren” (v. 11) who were being led into heresy by the Judaizers. With forceful words, the apostle said, “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not after man” (v. 11). This was clear, convincing language, leaving no doubt what he meant. Paul set the record straight. He was not proclaiming a man-made religious system originated by himself or others. He did not receive it from man (v. 12); that is, it was not transmitted to him by either direct or indirect communication from any witness or apostle. True, Paul heard the preaching of Stephen before his conversion (Acts 7), but the gospel he preached was not acquired in that way. “Neither was I taught it” (v. 12), said Paul. Although he had contact with Ananias and Barnabas after his conversion, he did not receive instruction or interpretation concerning the Word of God from them. Paul received his gospel by direct “revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 12). The word revelation means to unveil that which had previously been concealed by God. Hence the apostle claimed that his revelation came through direct divine disclosure from God.
When did the revelation come? While Paul was on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1–16) and during his seclusion in Arabia. Thus, his message and the authority to proclaim it in no way depended upon any human source, but were totally from Jesus Christ.
Paul’s Manner of Life
Paul provided irrefutable historical facts to prove that neither his conversion nor his commission as an apostle could have come through a human channel. First, he reminded the Judaizers of his past religion: “Ye have heard of my manner of life in time past in the Jews’ religion [Jewish faith]” (v. 13). In Philippians, Paul set forth his pedigree as a Jew: ritually, “Circumcised the eighth day” in relationship, “of the stock of Israel” in respectability, “of the tribe of Benjamin” his race, “an Hebrew of the Hebrews” religiously, “as touching the law, a Pharisee” in reputation, “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church” in righteousness, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Phil. 3:5–6).* There was nothing in Paul’s Jewish background to draw him to the salvation in Christ that he now proclaimed and defended, proving that he had no knowledge or instruction in the gospel before his conversion.
Second, Paul persecuted the righteous: “beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it” (v. 13). The word persecute means drive away, harass, trouble, put to flight. Paul was extremely hostile toward Christians and did everything in his power to destroy them. The words persecuted and wasted are in the imperfect tense and picture the apostle continually trying to exterminate the Church before his conversion. He consented to Stephen’s death (Acts 8:1), committed men and women to prison (Acts 8:3), breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples (Acts 9:1), and had authority from the high priest to apprehend Christians wherever he found them (Acts 9:1–2; cp. 22:4–5; 26:9–11). Paul was more zealous than any other Jew to destroy the Church. Because of this hatred, he saw himself as the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) and unworthy to be called an apostle (1 Cor. 15:9).
Third, Paul had a passion for religion: “And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers” (v. 14). The word profit speaks of a pioneer advancing by cutting his way through brushwood. Paul blazed the way in his commitment to the Mosaic and Oral Law. The “traditions of my fathers,” as Paul put it, were the Oral Law, which he, as a Pharisee, would have kept. Jesus strongly condemned the keeping of the Oral Law by the Pharisees (Mt. 15:1–16; Mk. 7:6–13).
Paul had zealously studied the Law at the feet of the great rabbinical teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), advancing further and faster in the Jewish religion than any of his peers, destined to become a great rabbinic scholar in his own right. Adding to his personal commitment to Judaism a zeal to please God and aggressive destruction of the Church, Paul would never have left Judaism to become a Christian through the witness or instruction of any man. Only a personal confrontation such as Paul had with the risen Christ would have led to his salvation (Acts 9:3–9). No human agent could have changed him from a violent persecutor into a vital preacher of Christ.*
Paul’s change from a persecutor to a preacher came through the grace of God. The apostle verified this by presenting a detailed testimony of his salvation.
First, he was chosen by God: “it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb” (v. 15). The word separated means marked off, not with reference to the apostle’s physical birth but for specific spiritual service. He had been chosen before his birth—as had Jacob (Rom. 9:11–13), Isaiah (Isa. 49:1), Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5), Samson (Jud. 16:17), and John the Baptist (Lk. 1:15)—to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Rom. 11:13).
Second, he was called “by his [God’s] grace” (v. 15). The efficacious call to salvation came by means of God’s grace through faith and was a pure gift from God, not the result of any work done by Paul; thus, he could not boast in his salvation (Eph. 2:8–9).
Third, this resulted in conversion, for God “reveal[ed] his Son in me” (v. 16), said Paul. He was born again when the Lord appeared to him on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:3–6). The words in me should be taken subjectively, having reference to the new life of Christ revealed in him in order that he might become an apostle to the Gentiles.
Fourth, after Paul’s conversion he was commissioned to “preach him [Christ] among the Gentiles” (v. 16). Paul was commissioned to take the gospel “unto all men” (Acts 22:15; 26:16–19; cp. 9:15).
Fifth, he did not consult “with flesh and blood [any man]” (v. 16) after his salvation. Although he spent a few days with Ananias, he did not seek advice, understanding, or clarification concerning the revelation he had received from Christ.*
Sixth, he had no contact with the Jerusalem church to seek their advice after his Damascus Road experience: “Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them who were apostles before me” (v. 17). Paul had no contact with any Christians before his conversion (v. 12) or after it, seeking instruction only in the things of Christ.
Seventh, after his salvation he departed from Damascus for another country: “but [on the contrary] I went into Arabia” (v. 17). Paul did not indicate how soon after his salvation he left for Arabia, where he went in that country, how long he stayed, or why he went. Perhaps he left soon after his conversion in order to receive the needed teachings from Christ, have fellowship with Him, and take time to prepare for his ministry. After a period of time, he “returned again unto Damascus” (v. 17). Possibly Paul preached the gospel in Damascus after his conversion (Acts 9:20–21), went to Arabia, then returned to preach again in the city from which he had fled for his life from those Jews who sought to kill him (Acts 9:23–25). Whatever the case, Paul emphasized that he spent three years in Arabia and Damascus after his salvation, but he never once went to any of the apostles at Jerusalem during this time. One thing is sure—if Paul had wanted to consult with other believers, he would not have waited three years to do so.
Eighth, three years after his salvation, Paul sought only companionship with the Jerusalem church: “I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days” (v. 18). The apostle was not in Jerusalem for instruction from Peter but only to become acquainted with him. His stay was only 15 days, hardly enough time for any in-depth instruction. Once again, persecution cut short Paul’s stay in Jerusalem (Acts 9:29). The Lord appeared to Paul while he was praying in the Temple and ordered him to flee the city for his life (Acts 22:17–18).
Paul made it a point to mention that he saw no other apostle “except James, the Lord’s brother” (v. 19), a leader of the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17). It was Barnabas (son of consolation) who befriended Paul and brought him to Peter and James, giving testimony of the apostle’s bold preaching in Damascus (Acts 9:27).
Ninth, Paul concluded his testimony with an oath to God: “Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not” (v. 20). Paul swore an oath to God so that the brethren in Galatia would see the truth of his statements and to confirm that the accusations made by the Judaizers were false.
Persecution forced Paul out of Jerusalem after only 15 days in the city. From there he ventured into “the regions of Syria and Cilicia” (v. 21) in order to minister. He mentioned this area to verify that he was under his own authority, not that of the Jerusalem apostles, for they would never have sent him into such an area to minister.
From there Paul carried on a long ministry until the time he went up to the church council at Jerusalem. It was to Paul’s hometown of Tarsus in Cilicia that Barnabas went to fetch Paul for the work in Antioch, the capital of Syria (Acts 11:25–26). From Antioch, Paul was commissioned for his first missionary journey, along with his faithful friend Barnabas (Acts 13:1–3).
Paul was “unknown [lit., remained unknown] by face unto the churches of Judea” (v. 22). He had spent only a few days in Jerusalem, which did not give him time or opportunity to become acquainted with the churches and brethren throughout the region. This is another proof that Paul was not taught by men under the discipleship of any of the Jerusalem church leaders.
After his initial visit to see Peter and James, Paul made only two visits to Jerusalem within the next 14 years, one to bring relief money from Antioch (Acts 11:29–30) and the other to attend the church council (Acts 15).
All that the Judean churches knew about Paul was that “He who persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed” (v. 23). The preaching of “the faith” does not refer to “the body of truth preached by Paul, but to the faith in Christ which he exhorted his listeners to exercise.”* Before his conversion, the apostle had tried to destroy (overthrow continually) the Christians who had put their faith in Christ.
Paul ended his testimony by saying, “And they glorified God in me” (v. 24). Notice, Paul did not say that they rejoiced over his salvation or gloried in him as a Jewish trophy of grace, but they “glorified God” in him! Paul never accepted the glory of what God had done in his life for himself. How different the reaction of the Judaizers, who continually gloried in the flesh.
We must remember the words of Jesus, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). Friend, are others glorifying God because of what Christ has done in your life? Will your testimony stand against the fire of ridicule, false accusations, and persecution?
Paul had silenced the Judaizers’ absurd accusations concerning his credentials as an apostle. His testimony was sterling. His call, conversion, and commission had been received without question by the apostles and the church in Jerusalem. Therefore, he warned the Galatian church to stop its ears to the voices of dissension that were discrediting him and take serious heed to his words of admonition, lest they succumb to the legalistic heresy of the Judaizers.
Christians today must be discerning and guard against contemporary Judaizers who skillfully twist the gospel by adding to or taking away from its truth. We should all heed Paul’s words to the Colossian church in this day of compromise and apostasy:
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ (Col. 2:8).