We’ll continue our study of Galatians again this week, beginning with chapter 1, verse 11.
Paul begins this passage in verse 11 with “I would have you know,” which is from a strong Greek verb (gnorizo) that means to make known with certainty or to certify. He uses brethren to address all Christians at the churches in Galatia. When he states that “the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man,” he shows that, unlike every other religion in the world in which righteousness comes from human effort and works, in Christianity God’s good news in the Bible is that grace is free.
In verse 12, Paul is taking a stab at the Judaizers, who received their religious instruction from rabbinic tradition and memorization of what others said, rather than studying the scripture directly. He states that he did not receive his knowledge from men and was not taught wisdom by other men. Hearsay is usually heresy. Study the Word for YOURSELF, don’t rely on what you’ve ‘heard’ This is probably a reference to the charge that the Judaizers were making, that Paul had received his teachings from people in Jerusalem and not God. Paul asserts that he received knowledge through revelation from Jesus Christ. He uses apokalupsis, the same word as the name of the book of Revelation, as a revelation. It indicates an uncovering when God removed the lid and unveiled something, though it was previously secret.
This revelation or uncovering was not just FROM JESUS, but it was OF Jesus. (Acts 9). Paul knew some things before his experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus, since he was an Old Testament scholar, but it was at this time that the information he had studied became living to Him and made spiritual sense (1 Corinthians 2). It is the same with us: when we are saved, we have ‘spiritual eyes,’ which can not discern spiritual truth.
Now, in the next 12 verses, he substantiates the claim that he did in fact have direct revelation from God— anyone could SAY it, now he shows it. Here he gives his autobiographical credentials, and really, what Christians call a “testimony.” Paul tells his testimony in the same way that many Christians now tell. He tells about himself before Christ (verses 13-14), when he encountered Christ (verses 15-16), and after he encountered Jesus (verses 17-24). Paul was transparent about his life.
Paul first tells of his life before Jesus or pre-conversion. The key word in verse 13 is “MY FORMER manner of life when I was in JUDAISM.” Paul was the model Jewish believer (as we see in Philippians 3:5-6) and was so zealous about defending the Jewish faith that he used to persecute the church of God beyond measure. ‘Used to persecute’ in the original language (GK imperfect tense) means a persistent and continued intention to harm. Paul states that he tried to destroy the Christian movement. That’s a big statement. ‘Destroy’ is a military term used to speak of soldiers ravaging a city– and doing so without stopping, a continual action.
Paul had “advanced in Judaism beyond many of his countrymen being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” This translates to Judaizers that: You have NOTHING on me. Your level of expectation and commitment to Jewish tradition is nothing. You’re a wannabe. I was the real deal. I honor my ancestral traditions– they’re my roots, but I was wrong. Those traditions were an exercise in “missing the point.”
Furthermore… watch this: a person like Paul at this time in his life was in no mood to change his mind about how he lived– he was hard core. But he radically changed when he met Christ. Paul’s point? No sinner is outside God’s reach. God takes even murderers— as they are, and can give them spiritual zeal to surpass even lifelong Christians, if there is such a thing.
Secondly, Paul describes his conversion and calling or ordination from God. He states that (verses 15-16). “God had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb.” God is sovereign, even though Paul was going 180° degrees in the wrong direction, God had a plan for Paul all along— just as He has one for you and me. Paul was set apart from his mother’s womb. Paul wasn’t called because he had demonstrated some great quality– he hadn’t even been born! That shows God doesn’t choose us and work in us because of our potential, but because it pleases Him to do so. 2 Peter 3:8 says God wants ALL to come to repentance in this way.
Paul came to God (was called) by His grace or unlimited favor, because it pleased God to reveal His Son through Paul’s life and God wanted Paul to preach to the Gentiles— the very ones these Jews Paul was addressing wanted to keep out of the faith or UNDER the faith.
Paul then concludes this section with a description of his life after his conversion (verses 17-24) He tells that “I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood.” Paul, remember, is giving his credentials and the basis for what he is saying in this letter and his overall message. He is telling them that he didn’t talk to anyone else about what to teach, or about what God wanted. He didn’t want anyone’s opinion or clarification to the revelation he had received. God had spoken to him; what clarification did he need?!!
Paul opens his letter to the Galatians with a discussion of the pervasiveness and perseverance of the Gospel and the sovereignty of God (1:6-10) and then discusses His own God-given credentials. He hasn’t gained wisdom and knowledge from men, but from God. He is not called due to his abilities, but because of God’s choice alone.
Next week, we’ll move on to chapter two, in which Paul begins the real ‘meat’ of his message and his ultimate purpose in writing to the Galatians.