THE SOURCE OF THE GOSPEL
Most Christian leaders can look back and point to those who were instrumental in teaching them and in molding and shaping their lives. It may have been the work of a single teacher or pastor, but more often it has been the ministry of a number of men, each who contributed something toward the growth of that growing Christian.
The Bible is full of examples of this process. Moses trained up his servant Joshua to be a leader of men. Elijah taught Elisha, both through word and through example. John the Baptist had his disciples, one of whom was Andrew, the brother of Peter. The ministry of Jesus with the Twelve is a classic example of the process of discipleship.
Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos under their wing and taught him. Paul gave specific instructions to Timothy on how to train up teachers who would be able to teach others.
But the case of Paul is unique. Who discipled him? Who explained to him all of the truths of the gospel? It is true that Ananias was sent to Paul after he had been blinded on the road to Damascus. But we read through that passage in vain to find any mention of Ananias or anyone else who taught Paul the gospel which he now preached. Who taught Paul his gospel? The answer is given here in the epistle to the Galatians. The One who gave Paul his gospel is the same One who gave Paul his apostleship. It came through Jesus Christ and God the Father. Paul set this forth at the very beginning of this epistle.
Paul, an apostle (not sent from men, nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead). (Galatians 1:1).
Paul had not been appointed as an apostle through the vote of any council or group in Jerusalem. No man or group of men had made Paul an apostle. Jesus Christ had commissioned Paul. And it was Jesus Christ who had given Paul the message that he now preached.
This is important. Paul was not just defending his good name or his honor. It was the message that he preached that had come under attack. And so, he sets out to prove that he had the authority from Jesus Christ to preach this message. Just as his apostleship was from Jesus Christ, so also the message that he preaches is also from Jesus Christ.
Paul has been accused of changing the message that was preached by the apostles at Jerusalem. However, Paul will show that the message that he preached was not given to him by anyone in Jerusalem. His message is from God.
The Source of Paul's Gospel
Not according to man
I received it...
Paul's Former Manner of Life in Judaism
BUT WHEN HE...
WAS PLEASED to reveal His Son in me...
I did not...
I went away to Arabia and returned once more to Damascus
Paul's Visit to Jerusalem
Paul in Syria and Cilicia
This section and the chapter that follows form the closest thing that we can find to an autobiography of the life of Paul. And yet, the theme is not the life of Paul but his relationship to the gospel and the authority that was given to him to preach it. This is made very clear in the first two verses.
THE SOURCE OF PAUL'S GOSPEL
For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.
For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12).
These two verses introduce the theme which will run to the end of Galatians 2. Everything else that is said in these first two chapters will be designed to prove the truth presented here. It is that the gospel that Paul preached was not given to him by man or even through a group of men, but came to him directly from Jesus Christ.
Paul's message did not have man as its source. Man was not involved in the planning of the gospel. Man was not involved in the presenting of the gospel to Paul. In fact, the gospel was not even the kind of message that man would have given if he had so desired.
Man likes the kind of message that shows him in a good light. People flock to the "self-improvement" type of message. But the gospel isn't like this. The gospel says that you are helpless to really improve yourself. The gospel says that the very best that you can do to make yourself better isn't good enough. The gospel says that your self-effort will send you to hell. This gospel isn't man's gospel. This gospel is not according to man.
Paul did not get the gospel second or third hand. It was not hearsay. He didn't take a course entitled "Gospel 101" at the Jerusalem Baptist Bible College. He didn't even get his gospel from the other apostles at the church in Jerusalem.
This is in direct contrast to the Jewish false teachers. These men had not gotten their teachings from Jesus Christ. They hadn't gotten their teachings from the apostles in Jerusalem or even from the Scriptures.
They had gotten their teachings out of the oral traditions of the Jews. Everything that they taught came from what some other man had taught. The Jewish theology was a theology based on the traditions and the speculations and the sayings of men. They took their teachings from the Mishnah, the Talmud, and the Midrashim (and they still do). These books were nothing more than commentaries and oral laws and traditions of men.
The message that Paul preaches came to him directly from Jesus Christ. This is foundational. The words that Paul writes are the words of God.
I remember talking to someone who used to read a red-letter Bible. All of the words of Jesus were typed in red letters while the rest of the pages were in a normal black print. There is nothing wrong with this, but this person had the idea that the words in red letters must be "more true" than the rest of the Bible. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of the Bible is the word of God.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16).
Every single part of the Bible is the Word of God. There are not some parts that are more inspired than other part s. Paul received the gospel in a way that is totally different from the way we receive it. We receive it from man. We are taught it by a Bible teacher or an evangelist. We receive it through what other men have written. But Paul didn't get the gospel that way. He didn't even get it from reading the Bible. He got it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
But that is not all. Jesus not only GAVE him the revelation. Jesus WAS the revelation. It was not just a revelation FROM Christ. It was a revelation OF Christ.
PAUL'S FORMER LIFE IN JUDAISM
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 may ancestral traditions. (Galatians 1:13-14).
Paul's first line of evidence that he did not invent his own gospel but received it from Jesus Christ is his former lifestyle. It is very evident from Paul's past life that he would not have chosen to be a Christian apart from supernatural intervention.
1. Paul's Reputation: For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism (1:13).
Paul had been a Pharisee, holding to the literal interpretations of the Law and the Prophets. He was not merely a Jew. He was the wonder-boy of Orthodox Judaism. His zeal and his knowledge and his natural ability had taken him far and promised to take him even farther. His teacher was the famous Gamaliel. He held the traditions of his fathers with a deep fervor. He considered himself blameless under the Law.
2. An Enemy of the Church: I used to persecute… and tried to destroy it (1:13).
Paul was the product of his religious upbringing. He was fanatical in his beliefs. He viewed Christianity as the ultimate blasphemy and sought to stamp it out. He seems to have been personally responsible for the execution of Stephen. He began going through private homes throughout Jerusalem, arresting Christians and having them imprisoned. It came to the point where he could not find any more Christians in Jerusalem and so he received permission to travel to Damascus to persecute Christians there.
Do you see the point that Paul is making? There was absolutely nothing in his life or background that would cause him to invent or hold to the kind of gospel that Paul now held. Something happened to Paul. And no convincing preacher could have ever changed his mind. It took God s direct intervention to change the mind of Paul. Thus, we can see that Paul never got his message from men. There was nothing in his prior life that would have allowed him to accept such a message.
But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother's womb, and called me through his grace, was pleased16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 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. (Galatians 1:15-17).
Paul did not stop and reflect one day, saying, "I think that I will change the way I believe so that Gentiles can be saved more easily." Paul didn't hear someone preach the gospel and have it make sense to him. In fact, this passage doesn't describe Paul making any kind of decision at all. The decision had already been made for him.
1. A Sovereign Calling: But when He who had set me apart… (1:15-16).
Paul didn't choose God. It was God who chose Paul. Paul didn't realize it at the time, but he had been chosen by God all of his life, from the time he took his first breath to that day on the Damascus Road.
Paul gave an official account of that day in his defense before King Agrippa.
"While thus engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests,
"And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'
"And I said, 'Who art Thou, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
"'But arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you.'" (Acts 26:12-16).
Paul had no say in the matter. It was right there on the Damascus Road that God called him to be an apostle. He who had been commissioned by the chief priests to destroy the church was now commissioned as a minister and a witness for the Head of that church. God chose the greatest enemy of the church and made him into His personal representative.
Don't miss this! God didn't choose Paul because he was faithful or because he was devout or because he deserved to be chosen. God didn't even choose Paul because He foresaw that Paul would believe. God chose the way He did because it pleased Him to do so.
Now we can understand the point that Paul is making. He did not get his apostleship or his authority from men. He did not decide one day that he would take up apostlizing. God had set him apart to be an apostle from his mother's womb. From the time that Paul was born, he was destined to be an apostle and he didn't have anything to do with it. God stopped Paul on the Damascus Road and turned his life around.
This should come as no surprise to us. This is the way that God always works. He is the same God who Chose John the Baptist before he was even conceived. He is the same God who named Cyrus as his servant over a hundred years before Cyrus was even born. He is the same God who chose us to be in Him before the foundation of the world. And, just as God called Paul on the Damascus Road, so He has called each of us who have come to Him. Our call may not have been accompanied with shining light or a voice from heaven, but it was no less compelling.
2. An Absence of Human Consultation: I did not immediately consult (1:16).
Most brand new believers are in desperate need of some flesh and blood consultation. A new believer is like a newborn baby. He needs to be carefully and tenderly looked after. He needs to be fed a good diet of the milk of the Word. He needs to be spiritually burped of the gas of legalism and humanism that he is so quick to swallow. And God uses other believers to perform these tasks. But Paul's case was unique.
As a new believer, he was not discipled by others. Instead, he immediately began to preach the gospel. From the moment that his blinded eyes were opened, Paul began to do the work of an apostle.
And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he arose and was baptized:
AND IMMEDIATELY he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God." (Acts 9:18-20).
Notice that Paul immediately began to preach Jesus among the Jews. He did not first take out four years to go to Seminary. He did not even travel down to Jerusalem to confirm his apostleship with the other apostles that were there. When he finally did leave Damascus, it was to journey to the deserts of Arabia before returning once again to Damascus.
Many have thought that perhaps it was during the sojourn in Arabia that Jesus Christ personally taught Paul. However, such an incident is not clearly mentioned here. The truth is that Paul had already been taught the fundamental truth of the cross and the resurrected Christ on the Damascus Road. This was to become the basis for all future teaching.
3. Arabia and Damascus: I went away to Arabia (1:17).
We do not know exactly how long this sojourn in Arabia lasted. We do know that it took place within the first three years of Paul s conversion. The point is that if Paul was in Arabia and then in Damascus, then he wasn't in Jerusalem being taught his message by the apostles. Paul's apostleship was independent of the Jerusalem apostles. His apostleship was only dependent upon Jesus Christ.
Now I want to ask you a question. Why did Paul go to Arabia? Perhaps he wanted to be alone with God and reorganize his thoughts. Remember, the revelation of Jesus Christ had blasted away the very foundations of the Pharisaic theology that he had once championed. Thus, he no doubt needed time alone with God so that he could learn the dynamics of which he would later pass on to us through his epistles. However, I do not think that we can conclude that Paul remained idle during this period. To the contrary, by the end of these three years, the Jews in Damascus were doing all they could to put him to death.
And when many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him,
The Jews would not have been concerned with Paul if he had been an unknown hermit during this period. The truth was that he must have been overturning the city with his teaching for them to take such extreme measures against him. Notice that it was his disciples who helped him to escape the city. The fact that he had disciples shows that he had an active teaching ministry during this period.
PAUL'S VISIT TO JERUSALEM
Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days.
But I did not sea any other of the apostles except James, the Lord s brother.
Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying. (Galatians 1:18-20).
Paul had been a believer and had been preaching the gospel and had been making disciples in Damascus for three years before he ever visited Jerusalem or had any direct contact with any of the apostles. It is only at the end of this period that he journeyed there to meet Peter.
1. A Meeting with Cephas: I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas (1:18).
Notice that the purpose of this visit was to get to know Cephas. I suppose that we ought to mention that Cephas is the Aramaic word for the Greek name Petros (Peter). Both names can be translated "the rock" although we would probably shorten it to "Rocky." This was the nickname that Jesus had given to Simon upon their first encounter (John 1:42).
Paul's reason for this trip is clearly stated. It was not so that he could become acquainted with the gospel. It was so he could become acquainted with Peter.
This does not mean that Paul was indifferent to the intimate knowledge that Peter had of Jesus. I am sure he took advantage of Peter's experiences to learn something of the words and works of Jesus. Peter had been an eye-witness of much of what Jesus said and did.
However, Paul did not depend on Peter for the truth of his message or for the authority of his apostleship. Neither was he taught the whole counsel of God by this visit. He makes this clear by referring to the length of that visit.
2. A Short Sojourn: ...and stayed with him fifteen days (1:18).
This short period of time was not enough for Paul to get a degree in Saint Peter's Bible College. In fact, Paul did not spend this time merely listening to Peter or anyone else. This was an active time of ministry for Paul.
And he was with them moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord.
And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews, but they were attempting to put him to death.
But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. (Acts 9:28-30).
Paul did not spend his time sitting at the feet of Peter. He was out preaching in the streets of Jerusalem. By the end of the second week, he had raised such a commotion that the Jews were trying to kill him.
This is clearly not the actions of a second class apostle who has come to learn the message that he will teach. The conclusion is unavoidable. Paul received his apostleship and his message independent of the apostles and the church at Jerusalem.
PAUL'S MINISTRY IN SYRIA AND CILICIA
Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
And I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ;23 but only, they kept hearing, "He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy."
And they were glorifying God because of me (Galatians 1:21-24).
After this short trip to Jerusalem, Paul was forced to leave the city and travel to the north because of the intense persecution of the Jews. Luke tells us that some of the believers in Jerusalem took him to the seacoast city of Caesarea and put him on a ship for Tarsus, his hometown in Cilicia (Acts 9:30).
1. Syria and Cilicia: I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia (1:21).
Syria was known as the crossroads of the Middle East. Caravans traveling from Asia to Europe or to Egypt found their routes going through Syria. Antioch and Damascus were the two major cities of this region and Paul s ministry in each city was extensive. Cilicia was a coastal region hemmed in on the east, north, and west by high mountains. Its principle city was Tarsus, the original home of Paul. It was to these two regions that Paul now came to minister. How successful was Paul's ministry during this period? We are not given any specifics, but we can take note that the church at Antioch eventually would begin to send financial support to the Jerusalem believers and it would be this church that would finance Paul's first two missionary journeys.
The point that Paul is making is that he could not have been discipled by the apostles (or anyone else) in Jerusalem during this period if he was planting churches and preaching the gospel in Syria and Cilicia.
2. The Unknown Apostle: I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea (1:22).
Paul did not have his picture stamped on a missionary letter and sent down to the churches of Judea. They didn't even know what he looked like. They knew him only by reputation. But what a reputation!
3. A Reputation of Preaching: They kept hearing… " (1:23).
They had first begun to hear of Paul's conversion when Paul made his fifteen day visit to Jerusalem. But many of the believers had thought that it must be some kind of Jewish trick. It is almost as though they couldn't believe that God had the kind of power that would change a man like Paul.
But as time passed and Paul returned to the north, the reports of his activities continued to be rumored throughout Jerusalem and Judea. These rumors were very explicit. They stated that Paul was now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.
Notice what these rumors did not say. They did not say that Paul had changed the gospel. They did not say that Paul had invented a new gospel. The gospel he was preaching was the same that the apostles and elders and deacons of the Jerusalem church had been persecuted for preaching.
Paul concludes this section of his argument. He is an apostle. His authority is independent of anyone in Jerusalem. His authority is from God and his message is from God. He has demonstrated that his gospel could not have come...
(a) BEFORE his conversion because he was against that message.
(b) AFTER his conversion because he met with none of the other apostles.
And, as we shall see in chapter 2, when he finally did have some significant interaction with Peter, it was not a case of Peter giving revelation to Paul, but Paul giving revelation to Peter.