About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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  Paul Called by God (ch. 1:11 Ė 24 )

Paul, in this portion of chapter one is trying to make a strong point that his ministry and his revelation is very much independent from man, especially from the apostles in Jerusalem. He says in verse 11, "I want you to know". These are words of emphases. What does Paul want these people to know? "The gospel I preach is not from man". No man either spoke or taught him this gospel. He received it "by revelation from Jesus Christ". In verse 17 he makes this point again by saying, "I did not consult any man. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I wasÖ"

Much of the New Testament was written or influenced by the apostle Paul.  I have always said that if Paul got it wrong, then we as Christians have one big problem, because more than any other New Testament personality, and that includes Jesus, Paul has defined the foundation for Christianity.  I believe as Moses was to the Jews in the Old Testament, so Paul is to Christians in the New Testament times.  Both men formed the fundamental teachings for God's people.  Both men were in direct contact with God.  Both men had their ministry and teaching given them directly from God.  So if Paul's many visions didn't come from the Lord, then we are in serious trouble as Christians.     

Note in verse 11 the word "brothers".  This is important because Paul still considers these men his brothers in Christ even though they were in the process of leaving the gospel.  In Paul's mind, the Galatians, other then the Judaizers, had not left the gospel, or, the brotherhood of the redeemed.  There is a line that is crossed where one leaves the circle of brotherhood, or, leaves the gospel of salvation, thus loses salvation.    

In verse 11 and 12 Paul reasserts that no man taught him this gospel, and when he says "no man", I believe he is speaking of the apostles who came before him, like Peter, James, and John.  The context seems to suggest this.  It was Jesus Himself who first taught Paul this good news. 

Verse 12 specifically states that Paul received this gospel through a revelation from Jesus Christ, and we know from 2 Corinthians 12:1, that he had many of these revelations.  Jesus literally and personally met with Paul and spoke many things to him, some of which were not permissible for a man to speak. (2 Corinthians 12:4)  Paul certainly saw things we haven't seen, and I feel he is the only one who has seen such things.  If someone today claims to have seen such visions as Paul had, I certainly doubt their experience was from God.   

In verse 13 Paul reminds the Galatians of his former life in Judaism when he "violently persecuted the church". Note the adjective "violently" in older versions of the NIV, and the word "intensely" in the newer versions.  I like the word "violently" better than the word "intensely" because I feel it better reflects the Greek and what Paul actually did.  We do not have much specific information in the Bible to give us any specifics on how violent he was. We see him giving approval of Stephenís murder in Acts 8:1.  Also, in Acts 22:17 and following Paul says that he imprisoned and flogged Christians.  The word "flog" suggests violence.  Beyond this, Scripture is fairly silent. Maybe Paul did not want to glorify his past sinful life, so that is why we donít read about his violence. We simply know that he "violently persecuted the church", of which flogging is one example.    

The Greek word translated as "violently" in its simplest form means "to throw beyond".   The idea is that whatever is being described with the use of this adjective is meant to portray an action that is way beyond normal.  This Greek word is often used as the power of God working in the believer, as can be seen in 2 Corinthians 4:7 and elsewhere.  The same Greek word is used in 2 Corinthians 1:8 when Paul speaks of his hardships in life go beyond that one could stand in his human strength.  So,  the persecution that came from the hands of Paul were way beyond normal, way beyond what his superiors would have expected.  Simply put, Paul went overboard when it came to persecuting the church.  That's why I say he could be seen as a "Judaistic extremist", as we would say here in 2011.       

I can't say for sure, but Paul might well have even killed Christians.  I can't say this for sure because the Bible doesn't say he did.  That being said, Acts 9:23 and elsewhere tells us that the Jews "conspired to kill Paul".  If the Jews tried to kill Paul, of which he was once apart of these same Jews, it is then logical to suggest that Paul tried to kill Christians as well.     

Paulís goal as stated in verse 14 was to destroy the church. Both words, "persecuted" and "destroyed," are very strong words in the original text. The verb tense used by Paul is an ongoing action. That is to say, he continuously tried to persecute and destroy the church.  Many people these days who have a pretty bad past and who become Christians share their testimony.  Many of these people spend more time on their "bad past" than they do on Jesus, but not so with Paul.  He only wanted to speak about Jesus.  He did not want the personal attention that he would have gotten by speaking of all the bad things he had done.  Part of the reason why some Christians like speaking about their bad past is because of pride.  It draws attention to them.  Yet on the other hand, those who listen to such people like hearing of such bad things.  It's our human nature to dwell on sin and not Jesus.  

Paul was one very driven
 man, both before his conversion and after his conversion.  This was probably part of Paul's makeup from birth, something the Lord sure used.  His pre-conversion goal was to "destroy the church" through violent means.  Again, I think you might even call Paul a "Judaistic extremist", using today's vernacular.  His post conversion goal was to build that same church he attempted to destroy.

You might note the word "Judaism" as Paul uses it in this context.  He is separating himself from the Jewish religion that he once gave his life to.  What we should understand is that Paul is not separating himself from the teaching of the Old Testament or from the God of Israel.  He is separating himself from what Judaism had become, a religion of humanistic works, that resembled nothing like Judaism was to be.  Paul saw Christianity and the gospel of Christ not even as an extension of Old Testament Judaism, but its fulfillment.      

Also in verse 14 Paul says that "he was extremely zealous of the tradition of my ancestors". Paulís use of adjectives such as "extremely" is not by accident. He is making his point very emphatically. Because he violently persecuted the church, he was saying that he was not influenced by any man in the church to become a Christian.

In verse 14 we see that Paul advanced in Judaism faster than others of his age.  He was working his way up the ladder of success as a Pharisee very fast.  This shows us the mentality of the day.  Like today, men viewed ministry, not really as ministry, but as a career where one could advance up the ladder to success.  This is not godly ministry.  Godly ministry is actually working your way down the ladder to be a servant.

Note the word "tradition" in verse 14.  It was the tradition of Judaism that really bothered Paul, and the Judaizers were attempting to bring that tradition into the Christian lives of the Galatians.  The Judaizers were attempting to do two things.  One was to bring non-Biblical tradition into Christianity, and two, bring Biblical Judaism into Christianity as well, which in Paul's words had been redefined.

In verse 15 he says, "But when God, who set me apart from birth, and called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles..." It was God Himself who called Paul to salvation, and not only to salvation, but also to be the apostle to the Gentile nations. He did not receive salvation as a result of Peterís, or anyone elseís preaching. God Himself preached to Paul. As a matter of fact God had decided to call Paul long before He actually did. Paul claims that he was chosen by God from his motherís womb.  I believe this is more proof that suggests that Paul is the New Testament Moses.  God calling Paul from his mother's womb actually ranks Paul up with men like John the Baptist, who when his mother heard of the soon coming Messiah, he jumped in his mother's womb.  Also, both Jeremiah and Isaiah felt they were called by God from conception as well. 

Some Christians note that God called Paul prior to his birth and so they claim the same, but this is a poor attempt at interpreting this verse.  Paul is not saying that all people are called to service prior to their birth.  He is saying that he was called prior to his birth, and, he was saying this in defense of his apostleship.  He was using this pre-birth call of God to support the idea that he and his ministry was legitimate.  I would be careful and not claim the same calling as Paul claimed here.    

In verse 16 Paul states that he "was called by God's grace".  As noted earlier, there are two aspects of God's grace found in the Bible.  One is His unmerited favour and the other is the divine ability to do God's will.  Both can be seen in this verse.  God's love, compassion, and unmerited favour caused Him to call Paul to Jesus and to reveal Jesus to others.  This was one very important mission.  It was also one very special mission that only he performed in human history.  Paul was therefore special, but being special could not enable Paul to do God's will.  He needed divine help, the divine ability, to do what needed to be done.  Thus both aspects of grace are seen in this verse.     

Note the words "reveal His Son in me" in verse 16.    This is really the goal of Jesus for the life of every believer.  God wants Jesus to be revealed in us.  In other words, God wants us to reflect Jesus in every aspect of our lives.  This is something we need to take very seriously.  We are not to promote ourselves, but Jesus.  People should see more of Jesus in us than they do of us, but that is not normally the case.   With many Christian ministries today, they promote themselves more than they promote Jesus. 

Concerning the word "reveal" in this verse; it's from the Greek word "apocalyto", meaning, "To unveil".  Paul, and us too, are meant to draw back the drapes that prevent those in the world seeing Jesus.   

In verse 15 we note that Paul believed God set him apart at birth.  Then, in verse 16 we note that God revealed Himself in Paul.  This revealing began in Acts 9 on the road to Damascus .  You might ask, "Since God had planned Paul's work for him at birth, why didn't He bring Paul to salvation at an earlier age"?  We can only speculate the reason why, but what is clear to me is this.  God's plan was for Paul to meet Jesus on that road and at that exact time in his life.  You might remember that Jesus said that no one comes to Him except the Father draws him.  Paul could not have given his life to Jesus any earlier than what he did.  He, or we, can't come to Jesus for salvation just any time we want.  We must be drawn to Jesus by God through His Holy Spirit.  God has a time for each one of us to be presented to Jesus.  It is at this point that we can step into salvation or reject it.  This may sound Calvinistic, and maybe it is, at least to a degree.  That being said, I believe it's Biblical.  Evangelicals tend to thing that we can get saved any time we want.  I don't believe that to be so, and I believe what Paul says here in verses 15 and 16 shows that to be true.  There was a set time for Jesus to be revealed to Paul and there is a set time for Jesus to be revealed to everyone else.         

We see the main thrust to Paul's ministry in verse 16.  It was to preach the gospel of Jesus to the Gentile world, which he did, and, which caused many problems for him and the early Jewish orientated church.  Paul was not the first to preach to Jews.  Peter was, which is seen in Acts 10.  Unlike Peter, Paul's main focus was to the Gentiles.  That being said, Paul set forth the Biblical principle that states, "to the Jew first and then to the Gentile".  Paul always went to the Jews first when he entered a city but eventually would preach to the Gentiles. 

Paul's preaching to the Gentiles concerned the Jewish Christians greatly.  They simply could not get their heads around Gentiles being part of the church and finding salvation by faith in the grace of God. This issue finally got resolved in Acts 15 when those opposed to Paul's preaching to the Gentiles came around to see it was God's will, but sad to say, is now becoming an issue once again in certain parts of the church.  

In verse 17 Paul says that after his conversion he went out into the desert of Arabia , where he learned from Jesus Himself this gospel that he was preaching. The Arabian Desert is now what we would call southern Jordan and southern Israel , between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, although in Paul's day, Arabia was also to the east of the Jordan River .  So Paul might not have had to go far south to that part of the Arabian Desert .  Paul had exceedingly great visions from God. Is it possible that while in Arabia he was caught up into the third heaven and saw great and unspeakable things? (2 Corinthians 12)  This seems to be the case.  It seems likely that Paul had these tremendous visions that he spoke about in 2 Corinthians in the desert, soon after he was saved.  Beyond these particular visions, if you read the book of Acts, you will see that Paul had many visions.  Many call Paul a mystic, and in one sense of the word he might have been, yet on the other hand, Paul was one very intellectual and well educated man, that in my opinion balance his many visions. I take note of this because there are some among us who claim many visions like Paul, but do not have the same balance in their intellect and knowledge of the Bible. I tend to question these people's visions and so-called ministries.  Visions must agree with the Bible. 

Note how Paul uses the word " Jerusalem " in verse 17.  He specifically says that he did not go to the capital city, so to speak, of Christianity where the leaders were.  I don't think Paul is being disrespectful here of the apostles who had gone before him who lived in Jerusalem . I believe it was God Himself who sent Paul into the desert so Paul could see these visions I have spoken about. 

In verses 18 and 19 Paul says that he never went up to Jerusalem for three whole years, after this time in the desert.  Then when he did go to Jerusalem he stayed with Peter for fifteen days.  Paul is very exact here.  He is proving that it was God alone who taught him the gospel that he was to preach.  His exactness when it comes to the timing of these events should tell something about Paul, and that is, he does not exaggerate things.  While in Jerusalem at this time, the only other person that Paul saw was James, the Lord's brother. That is, physical brother, who many say was the leader of the Jerusalem disciples.  It's hard to imagine that it took Paul three years to finally meet the brothers in Jerusalem , yet in these three years Paul was learning much from the Lord.  

Verse 19 mentions James, and in my thinking, the sentence structure says that he was an apostle.  He obviously was not one of the original twelve.  This James was Jesus' brother and He did not give himself to Jesus until after Jesus died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven.  I often wondered how James must have felt.  He knew Jesus in a human sense, since he was His brother.  But now, knew Jesus as the risen Lord.  What a strange sequence of events for James. 

What I'd like to point out here for those who do not believe there are any apostles outside of the twelve, well, James was one of many.  I do believe that the original twelve apostles are distinct from the other apostles.  You might call the original apostles the "A" (capital A) apostles, while the others were "a" apostles.  

Concerning Paul, I believe he considered himself, and I  believe it is valid, that he was one of the original apostles, who, in his words was "abnormally born out of season', meaning, Jesus called him personally, although at a later date than the others. (1 Corinthians 15:8)          

Verse 20 simply states that Paul would stand before God and repeat what he just said.  He is telling the truth.  He is telling no lie.  It is a bit sad that Paul has to actually make this statement.  He had to tell his brothers in Christ who were leaders among the early disciples that he was not lying. This is how controversial his ministry was in the early church.     

In verses 21 to 24 we see that Paul says that later he went to Syria and Cilicia , of which we know little about. He did not stay in Judea . He was unknown by the Christians in Judea . He went to farther fields to preach, leaving Judea to the twelve apostles. The Christians in Judea only heard of his miraculous conversion and glorified God as a result.  God called Paul to the Gentiles, so why would he stay in Judea ?  He didn't because he felt compelled by God to preach to the Gentiles who knew nothing about the gospel, and little about Judaism. 

Note the word "personally" in verse 22.  Paul is making the point that even though believers might have heard about him in the province of Judea , they had never net him "personally".  Again, Paul is saying all of this to prove that he had little contact with the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem , as well as in the province of Judea .  He heard this gospel directly from Jesus Himself.   Paul was a special apostle.  There has been no one like Him.  I believe the Lord called him to be special.  Any modern day apostle can not really compare himself to Paul.  He can only repeat, and speak what Paul taught. That is the role of a modern day apostle, and I do believe the ministry of an apostle, as well as a prophet, still exists.  The difference between today's apostles and those in the New Testament is that they preach what the New Testament apostles preach.  They do not invent their own gospel.

There are actually some who teach that each modern day apostle teaches his own brand of gospel and those who he has authority over must submit to that gospel.  That's not Biblical.  There is only one gospel, which all the first century apostles preached, despite the use of the phrase "my gospel" that Paul uses a few times in his writings; Paul was not using that phrase as if he owned the gospel, or, as if he had his own brand of the gospel.  He was using that term in a possessive since.  He embraced the gospel of Christ and claims it as his own, like Peter, James, John, and the other apostles. 

Those who teach that modern day apostles have their own gospel that people must submit to, view the gospel in a wider sense than I do.  I see the gospel as those doctrines that comprise what constitutes salvation.  These teachers would say that one's end time thinking, for example, would be part of the gospel.  So, if an apostle over you does not believe in a pre-tribulation rapture, which he would consider part of his gospel, then you would be compelled to believe the same.  I donít believe that any teaching on the rapture of the believers is part of what makes up the central gospel message.  I don't believe that how you think about the rapture qualifies you or disqualifies you from being a true Christian.         

Verse 24 states a fact.  The people, and most likely the people of Judea from the context, praised God for Paul.  The Jews in Judea had recognized that God was using Paul to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.  If this was so, then, the people of Galatia should do the same.  This is really what Paul is getting at in this verse.  So, it seems that the ordinary Christian accepted Paul and his ministry for the most part.  It was just the leaders in Jerusalem that had trouble with Paul's ministry.   

Note the words "the faith" in verse 23.  Most of the time when you see the word "faith' in the Bible, it means to trust.  Faith is an action.  Faith is trusting.  Faith is more of a verb than a noun, although here it is used as a noun.  There are a few places in the Bible where the word "faith" is used as a noun.  "The faith" is the set of doctrines that comprise the Christian gospel.  Ephesians 4:5 is another example of this usage of the word "faith" when Paul says that there is "one faith".

  

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