Galatians 1:11-24


This is a lengthy text and perhaps the preacher will want to preach on less verses than are here suggested. In any case, the point ought to be made very clear that Paul's Gospel came directly by revelation of Jesus. There are those today who prefer to preach on the Gospels rather than on the Epistles of Paul because they consider the Gospels more authentic Word of God than the Pauline Epistles. No, Paul's Gospel came by direct revelation of Jesus Christ and therefore is as valid as they very Words of Jesus in the Gospels.

Galatians 1:11 I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.

"I declare to you." Paul is being emphatic. For the first time in this Epistle Paul addresses his readers as "brothers." He still considers them Christians. (By the way, Paul does not add "sisters." The word in Greek covers both men and women.)

Paul's Gospel is not of human origin.

Luther: When Paul says that his Gospel is "not man's," he does not mean that his Gospel is not human; for that is self-evident, and the false apostles, too, bragged that their doctrine was not human but divine.

The Gospel is very human, a message for humans brought by the greatest of humans, Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

Paul neither received his Gospel nor was he taught it be a man. We supply the words "I received it and was taught, etc." We know from Acts 9 that Jesus Christ appeared to Paul and spoke to him.

Luther: Paul received his Gospel when he was on the way to Damascus, where Christ appeared to him and spoke with him. Later He spoke with him again in the temple at Jerusalem, Acts 22:17-21. But Paul received his Gospel on the road, as Luke tells the story in Acts 9.

We do not agree with Bruce who says:

Facts about the life and teaching of Jesus, about his death, burial, and resurrection appearances, were imparted to him after his conversion by those who had prior knowledge of them.

The Scriptures nowhere indicate such thoughts. In fact verse 18 speaks against such a view. In his exegesis of this verse Luther makes an observation which is precious for all true Lutheran preachers:

Luther: The question of justification is an elusive thing -- nor in itself, for in itself it is firm and sure, but so far as we are concerned. I myself have had considerable experience of this, for I know how I sometimes struggle in the hours of darkness. I know how often I suddenly lose sight of the rays of the Gospel and of grace, which have been obscured for me by thick, dark clouds. In other words, I know how slippery the footing is even for those who are mature and seem to be firmly established in matters of faith. We have an understanding of this, because we are able to teach it; and this is a sure sign that we have it, for no one is able to teach others what he himself does not know.

Galatians 1:13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

The revelation of Jesus Christ was a turning point in Paul's life. In verses 13 and 14 he describes himself and his teaching before the revelation. In verses 15-17 Paul makes it abundantly clear that his revelation was of God, not of man.

"You have heard" indicates that the Galatians knew of Paul's character and conduct prior to his conversion. "In Judaism" indicates the time when Paul was under the influence of the works-righteousness nature of Judaism. "Intensely" denotes the fury with which Paul persecuted. "Tried" denotes attempted action in past time. Paul did not destroy the church. He tried to but did not succeed. Again he says "while I was under the influence of Judaism." Paul was second to none when it came knowledge of and zeal for what he calls Judaism here. He explains in the latter part of verse 14.

"The traditions" cannot mean the Old Testament because it taught the way of salvation. Paul is here plainly talking about religion that taught salvation by merit and works. Read Philippians 3:5-11. His former religion was based on the righteousness of the Law. His conversion brought him the righteousness of Christ. He was a devotee of the righteousness of the Law. In this text the traditions are antithetical to the revelation of Jesus Christ. Look at 1 Corinthians 15:10.

Paul was first among equals both under Judaism and after he was converted when it came to zeal, conviction, and industry.

Galatians 1:15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased

Note the monergism in verse 15. Paul's conversion, separation, revelation, and call proceeded only from the kind goodness and grace of God. "Before I was born." God separated Paul by calling him. This is the effective call of the Gospel. All synergism is excluded. If it happened before Paul was born, how could Paul ever have made a decision?

Luther: God had ordained, even before I was born, that I should rage against His church in this way, and that afterwards He would mercifully call me back from my cruelty and blasphemy, by His sheer grace, into the way of truth and salvation. In brief, when i had not yet been born, I was already an apostle in the sight of God; and when the time had come, I was declared to be an apostle in the sight of the world. . . . All this God had predestined even before I was born, when I could not think, wish, or do anything good but was a shapeless embryo. Therefore this gift came to me by the mere predestination and merciful grace of God even before I was born.
Bruce: Conversion and commission came together.

True. Because of the grace of God in Christ Paul was predestined to be a Christian and a preacher of the Gospel. He was not a mere man-pleaser.

Galatians 1:16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man,

Verse 16 begins with an infinitive of purpose. "His Son" clearly denotes the divinity of Jesus. Paul preached mainly to the Gentiles. His apostleship to the Gentiles was predestined by God Himself.

The latter part of the verse clearly says that Paul inquired of no one as to the truth of the Gospel nor did he require further information.

Luther: Moses does not reveal the Son of God; he discloses the Law, sin, the conscience, death, the wrath and judgement of God, and hell. These things are not the Son of God! Therefore only the Gospel reveals the Son of God. Oh, if only one could distinguish carefully here and not look for the Law in the Gospel but keep it as separate from the Law as heaven is distant from the earth!

Galatians 1:17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.

Verse 17 is a strong argument for the fact that Paul's revelation was from God and was not of human origin. The only difference between the other apostles and Paul was that they were apostles longer. Precisely what is meant by Arabia is not known.

Bruce: A reference, probably, to the Nabataean kingdom, founded in the 2nd century BC with its capital at Petra.

Why did Paul go to Arabia? Both Luther and Bruce are of the opinion that Paul went to Arabia to preach the Son of God among the Gentiles. That may be, but the text does not say that. Evidently the point that Paul is making is that he did not confer with flesh and blood and that three years before he finally went up to Jerusalem he want away to Arabia, far distant from those who knew the Christian religion.

Can the modern Lutheran preacher speak as confidently of his call as did Paul? Yes. Of course, the Lutheran preacher is called mediately, not immediately. But his message is from the very same Word of God which Paul had. The Gospel is still the same. Let no one undercut the validity of the modern, Christian ministry. To bring people to a knowledge of sin, to preach Law in all it severity as if there were not Gospel. To heal people, preach Gospel in all its sweetness as if there were no Law.

One final remark on this verse: to harmonize the account in Acts with that of Galatians, place the journey to Arabia between verse 22 and 23 of Acts 9.

Galatians 1:18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days.

"I went" appears here, in verse 21, and again in 2:1. The use of the term singles out three events in the Apostle's life, all related to the Church of Jerusalem. This first visit must be the visit of Acts 9:26-30.

"To get acquainted" is very important. Luther was correct in his understanding of this verb. "To visit for the purpose of coming to know." The TEV translation must be in error: "To get information from Peter."

Bruce: If the word is used here with its classical force, it means that Paul went up to Jerusalem to interview Cephas, to make inquiry of him. We may be sure in any case that this is what Paul did. But there is substantial evidence in Hellenistic usage for the word in the sense of "making someone's acquaintance," and this may be the sense in which Paul uses it here.
Luther: Thus the whole point lies in the word "see." "I went" he says, "to see Peter, not to learn from him. Therefore Peter is not my master; not is James." And so far as the other apostles are concerned, he denies completely that he saw any of them.

The revelation of Jesus Christ mentioned in verse 12 was a miracle. It must have been total, for Paul tells us that he learned nothing nor was taught anything by human beings. We should do nothing to undercut Paul's argument.

In the latter part of verse 18 the phrase "stayed with" denotes close association. The Gospel made Peter and Paul close friends.

Luther: Paul says in plain words that he came to Jerusalem to see Peter, and that he stayed with him fifteen days. If it had been his purpose to learn the Gospel from Peter, he would have had to stay there several years!

Many moderns do not consider the "facts" of Scripture very important for the Gospel. But, is the "fact" of the resurrection of Jesus important? It is Gospel. Is the "fact" of Jesus' death important? It is Gospel. There is no such thing as theology without facts, without history. Facts and history are part and parcel of revelation.

Lenski: Here the point to be noted is the fact that after fifteen brief days Paul went far away from any contact with the Twelve for so many years. This fact speaks volumes against the Judaistic falsifications. By a simple recounting of the historical facts, Paul sets before the Galatians what they should never have allowed anyone to make them doubt: he had his Gospel directly from God and Christ, by revelation, and not at second hand, the identical Gospel of all the other apostles, of all the churches in Judea.

Galatians 1:19 I saw none of the other apostles -- only James, the Lord's brother.

Here we have three questions:

  1. Which James is meant?

  2. Does "only" mean "except" or "but"?

  3. Does the word "apostles" used in the wider or narrower sense?

In any case Paul's point is: that his apostolicity was totally independent of that of the other Apostles.

In our opinion, James is the blood brother of the Lord Jesus, the one mentioned in John 7:2; Acts 15:13, 1 Corinthians 15:7; and James 1:1. Therefore, the verse means: "Another of the Apostles I did not see, but (I did see) James the brother of the Lord." This interpretation does not militate against Acts 9:26-27, the parallel account. Paul is telling the Galatians that he went to Jerusalem merely to learn to know Peter. They must have had a cordial visit.

Galatians 1:20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

This verse amounts to an oath.

Bruce: The vehement solemnity with which Paul calls God to witness that he is not lying implies that another account of the matter was current and might have reached his Galatian converts -- an account which represented him as having gone to Jerusalem to receive from those who were apostles before him the authority to exercise his own ministry.

We agree.

Luther: Here you see that such a great apostle of Christ was held in such great contempt among his own Galatians, to whom he had preached Christ, that it was necessary for him to swear that he was telling the truth.

By the way, oaths are made for the sake of those sworn to, not for the benefit of the one who takes the oath. And we must remind ourselves that not all oaths are forbidden. Look at Matthew 5:33-36.

Paul is saying: "Look here!" The Judaizers considered Paul an inferior Apostle. Today many take the same view of Paul. That is why they argue for the ordination of women or the recognition of homosexuals. They don't take Paul seriously. We dare not join them or sympathize with their views.

Galatians 1:21 Later I went to Syria and Cilicia.

After 15 days in Jerusalem Paul proceeded to Tarsus. Look at Acts 9:30. Between the time of Paul's flight to Tarsus and his return to Jerusalem we have a period of 8 to 12 years.

Galatians 1:22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.

"In Christ" indicates the true Christian nature of these churches. We take this for granted. It was not that obvious in the early days of the Christian church. In view of Acts 9:28 it is best to take Judea here as excluding Jerusalem. Paul's point is that he received his theology neither from Apostles nor from laity.

Bruce: Paul was actively engaged in preaching the Gospel, without requiring or receiving any authorization to do so from the leaders of the mother-church.

Galatians 1:23 They only heard the report: "The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy."

The point of the little word "only" is that their only point of contact with Paul was what they heard about him.

Does "the faith" mean "the faith (qua creditur)," that which is believed in the heart, or "the doctrine (quae creditur)," that which is preached from the heart. In the latter instance it would mean "the Gospel." In our opinion it is the latter.

What these Christians were hearing about Paul must have been staggering news. It implies that Paul's preaching and theology after his conversion were totally different from that before his conversion.

Galatians 1:24 And they praised God because of me.

"As a result." The Christians in Judea had a high opinion of God because of what Paul was preaching. Paul is implicitly saying to the Galatians: "Why should you have a low opinion of my preaching. Your view is contrary to that of the Judean Christians." By the way, every Lutheran preacher ought have as his objective that his hearers glorify God in his case, that is, that his preaching gives the hearers a high opinion of God.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 14-17. Used with permission.

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