Thursday, July 02, 2009

Galatians 1:13-17

V13-17 – 13For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15But when God, who set me apart from birth [or from my mother’s womb] and called me by His grace, was pleased 16to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17nor 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.

Paul moves into a defense of his authority by appealing to his conversion. Again, the Judaizers claimed both to have the authority of Jerusalem and that Paul was departing from that authority. He is showing in more detail here that his authority does not come from Jerusalem, but from God Himself. In fact, when he was under Jerusalem authority, Paul zealously advanced and intensely and physically “persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.” This was ironically the same thing that these Judaizers, claiming the authority of Jerusalem, were doing, albeit spiritually, to the church. And it doesn’t hurt to point out here that the authority of Jerusalem still belonged to Pharisaical Jews. This part of Paul’s story likely occurred soon after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension (likely between six months and three years). James, the brother of John, had not yet been martyred, and it’s hard to say if he and Peter and John, though the leaders within the young yet growing Christian Church at Jerusalem, would have taken the Judaizers – split between Christianity and Judaism – side on the issue of legalism. The Judaizers themselves may not have come on the scene yet. The point is that Paul’s authority, while not coming from the Jerusalem Jews, would have still been the same authority as that which belonged to the Jerusalem Christian leaders; the authority for preaching the gospel, either for Paul or Peter, comes from God and His calling (v15-16).

Paul gives his testimony, because, despite being ashamed of his past, which he calls “Judaism” (v13-14) and sharply distinguishes it from Christianity, he saw his past as evidence of God’s grace (Acts 22:4-5; 26:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 3:6; 1 Timothy 1:13-14; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; Romans 9:10-13; Ephesians 1:4-6). He implies that Judaism is not even the faith of the Old Testament (Christianity is!) and that mere religious zeal for tradition is inadequate. Many Jews had zeal, and many professing Christians, like these Judaizers, had zeal. Paul says a similar thing in Romans 10:2; there, zeal based on knowledge of the truth – the gospel – is what counts. These Judaizers were trying to balance a view that claimed truth in Christianity and truth in Judaism; Paul is refuting that thought here, and will do so more boldly through this letter, saying, “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (Galatians 2:21)! In fact, as Vincent Cheung says, “What the Judaizers are preaching and what the Galatians are turning to – that which they covet and strive for – is precisely what Paul had to be rescued from by the grace of God.” Cheung continues:

“By turning to the message of the Judaizers, the Galatians are not finding a solution better than what Paul gave them – there is nothing better – but they are taking on a problem greater than any of them could bear. If adherence to Jewish laws and traditions is the answer, then Paul already had it before his conversion to the Christian faith, but he speaks of it as bondage and damnation. He was charging much more fiercely in the direction that the Galatians are now heading, and he tells them that there is no salvation there. He pointed them toward the right way when he first preached to them.”
In v15, Paul reveals that God set him apart from his mother’s womb and called him by grace at a later time (consider Jeremiah 1:5; Isaiah 49:1,5). In v16, Paul acknowledges that God was pleased to reveal Christ in him (to him) in order that Paul would preach the gospel among the Gentiles (that’s the only way Paul would ever do that). Paul did not consult anyone, meaning that he didn’t place this new career path before a committee for approval or anything like that. Gamaliel had been Paul’s mentor, but Paul didn’t take this to him for approval. Paul didn’t even go to the Christian leaders to tell them about his revelation from Jesus, as v17 declares. Instead Paul went to Arabia (likely Mt. Sinai) and then returned to Damascus. Acts 9:20-22 tell us, “At once, he began to preach that Jesus is the Son of God…proving that Jesus is the Christ.”

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