1. Paul Defends His Apostleship And His Gospel (1:11–2:21)

Having staked out his position, Paul devotes  the first third of the letter to a vigorous  defence of his apostleship and his gospel.  Positively, he asserts that they had been received from Jesus Christ (1:11–12). Negatively, he denies that they  had been received from any mortal man, including  Peter and the other apostles in Jerusalem (1:13–24).  Indeed, his gospel had been accepted in Jerusalem  (2:1–10) and vindicated in Antioch (2:11–16). If  his gospel were true, then it followed that the central truth he had taught them was also true – that  righteousness was the gift of a gracious God to those who believe in the dead but living Christ (2:17–21).

A.His gospel received from Jesus Christ (1:11–12)

11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was  preached of me is not after man. 12 For I neither received  it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation  of Jesus Christ.

1:11–12. Perhaps the Judaists had alleged that  Paul’s gospel was derivative, obtained from the apostles,  then mixed with his own peculiar ideas to craft  something quite eccentric. “I would have you know,  brethren,” he averred, “that the gospel which was  preached by me is not according to man” (nasb); by  interpretation, “not of human origin” (net, nrsv).  He had not received it from men. He had not been  any man’s disciple, learning the gospel by a course of  instruction over time. He had received it directly from Jesus Christ as a divine revelation.

In fact, the Greek reads more literally, “through  a revelation of Jesus Christ” (nasb, esv, rsv, nrsv).  It may be that the Lord was with Paul in person, as  on some other occasions in his life (Acts 18:9–10;  22:17–21; 23:11; 2 Tim 4:16–17 cf. Acts 27:23–24; 2  Cor 12:8–9), and taught him personally (cf. v16, “not  with flesh and blood”).

B.His gospel not derived from man (1:13–24)

Having established positively that his gospel was received  from Jesus Christ, Paul now defends his apostleship  negatively with a detailed history, demonstrating  that the gospel he preached could have come from no  other source than heaven itself.

After reminding them of his persecuting zeal  (1:13–14) – demonstrating that his gospel owed nothing  to his Judaic roots – Paul assures them that he went  into Arabia immediately after his conversion (1:15–17),  returned to Damascus, visited Jerusalem for fifteen days  only (1:18–19), seeing only one of the apostles in the  process, and was then shipped off to Syria and Cilicia  (1:21–24), where he spent years until Barnabas invited  him to Antioch.

Paul’s record is utterly truthful and complete. There  is no room anywhere in this detailed history for an  extended period of learning at the feet of the apostles.  His gospel came from heaven, and from heaven only.

i.A history of persecuting zeal (1:13–14)

13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in  the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted  the church of God, and wasted it: 14 And profited in  the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions  of my fathers.

1:13. Certainly Paul’s gospel owed nothing to  his origins, upbringing or education. The Galatians  knew something of his story. “Ye have heard of my  conversation,” that is, his “manner of life” (nasb) or “way  of life” (niv, net) “in time past in the Jews’ religion.”  The statement is loaded. Paul wants to make it clear  that he regards first-century Judaism as an outgrowth  from a true Old Testament faith, and not identical  with it. It is not the faith of the fathers, Moses, and  the prophets. Rather, it is the current set of traditions,  beliefs and practices that comprised “the Jews’ religion.”  They had drifted far from their moorings.

Had this religion inspired faith and righteousness  in Saul? No! Rather, he had persecuted the ecclesia of  God “beyond measure”, “intensely” (niv), “violently”  (esv, rsv, nrsv), or “savagely” (net), “and wasted it.”  He had been infuriated by the sect of the Nazarenes,  and what he then believed to be their false, godless and  dangerous heresy. In his determination to stamp them  out he had done far more damage to “the ecclesia of  God” than he could reckon.

1:14. And these actions were not those of an ignorant  fanatic, but a leading representative of Judaism, one who  knew Judaism better than the Judaists themselves. Saul,  who had come 700 kilometres from Tarsus in Cilicia to  study in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel, had progressed  in “the Jews’ religion” – that phrase again! – “beyond  many of my contemporaries” (nasb), including those  born in Jerusalem to its leading families. Saul brought  a brilliant intellect into the classroom, but he attributed  his success to something else: the fact that he was “more  exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers”. The  body of halakhic teaching elaborated over the centuries  since Ezra through the questions of the community, the  challenges of students, and the endless debates of the  rabbis set the benchmark for righteousness, carefully  separating the faithful from ‘the people of the land’ and  “sinners of the Gentiles” by 10,000 fine distinctions.  Saul revered the traditions: his heart burned with zeal  for them: and he would not stand by and see them  undermined by any. When Stephen and others of ‘the  way’ argued that Jesus of Nazareth had superseded the  Law and the Temple, Saul was outraged. He involved  himself in the stoning of Stephen. Stirred to further  effort, he sought to purge Jerusalem of the pernicious  heresy, disrupting memorial meetings, arresting fathers  and mothers, torturing them to the point of blasphemy,  voting for their execution. When he became aware that  they were fleeing from Jerusalem to other cities, carrying  their message with them, he pursued them there, using  his authority as a representative of the chief priests and  his growing prestige as a heresy-hunter to arrest those  Christians he could find and transport them back to  Jerusalem (Acts 26:9–11).

But Saul became frustrated as never before. His  energetic campaign succeeded only in broadcasting the  seed of the gospel far and wide. And, try as he might,  he could not avoid the constant prodding of his own  conscience. His keen mind was compelled to admit  that the way in which the Nazarenes expounded the  Old Testament Scriptures was hard to refute. With all  his passion, he could not resist the wisdom and spirit  with which they spoke. And his sensitive conscience  told him again and again that, in acting as he did,  he was doing evil, even if the ends were, as he then  thought, justifiable.

ii. Called, and immediately into Arabia (1:15–17)

15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my  mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, 16 To reveal  his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen;  immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:  17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were  apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned  again unto Damascus.

1:15. Eventually the moment came as he neared  Damascus, on yet another heresy-hunting mission.  Nearing the city he was stopped in his tracks by a  great light from heaven, and a great voice: “I am Jesus,  whom thou persecutest.” So Jesus was alive, after all!  His mentors had been lying to him all along, covering  up their crime, misrepresenting their opposition to the  Nazarenes, drawing him into a web of sin and guilt.  And here he was, speaking with Saul from the right  hand of power, as he had warned his executioners (Matt  26:64). “God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have  crucified, both Lord and Christ!” (Acts 2:36). Peter  was right. He, Paul, was terribly wrong. How could he  resist one who spoke from heaven? Led by the hand, he  stumbled blindly into Damascus. In the house of Judas  he lay for three days and three nights like a dead man,  without light, without food, until he heard footsteps,  and Ananias, “the grace of God,” communicated the  Lord’s will to him.

As he mulled over the great grace he had received,  with its awe-inspiring commission, he realised that, as  with Jeremiah (Jer 1:5), God had been working in his  life since his birth to prepare him: “It pleased God, who  separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me  by his grace, to reveal his Son in me.”

1:16. The Son of God was sent into the world  to save the world. Yet he testified that he was “not  sent, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel”  (Matt 15:24). How, then, could he be “a light unto the  Gentiles” (Acts 26:23)? The Servant needed a servant,  not only someone to carry the gospel, but someone to  present the face, to reveal the heart of the Son of God  to those who were “afar off”. God, therefore, revealed  His Son in Paul so wonderfully well that Paul could  remind them, only two chapters later, that in his visit  to their towns “Jesus Christ hath been evidently set  forth, crucified among you” (3:1).

But how was Saul to know the Lord? How was he  to receive his teaching? “Immediately I conferred not  with flesh and blood,” Paul wrote. He did not “consult”  or “go to ask advice” (net) from any mortal man as to  how he should fulfil this great charge. Rather, he sought  direction from the Lord. The phrase “flesh and blood”  is used five times in the New Testament (Matt 16:17;  1 Cor 15:50; Gal 1:16; Eph 6:12; Heb 2:14 cf. also  John 1:13), and on each occasion distinguishes mortal  humanity from immortal humanity. Saul did not at  once seek out disciples, to learn all he could about Jesus  from them: not even the apostles in Jerusalem. Rather,  he sought time alone with the Lord, to learn of him.

1:17. Therefore, Paul adds, “right away” (net) or “at  once” (nrsv) “I went into Arabia.” He felt compelled  to get away, to receive further revelation, to study the  Scriptures, to rethink his life, and to come to terms  with his mission.

Where exactly he went, or for exactly how long, we  cannot say. In Paul’s day “Arabia” referred to Nabataea,  a thriving Arab kingdom that stretched south from  Damascus in Syria to the ancient territories of Edom,  and eastward to important desert oases. It included  Petra, Aretas’ capital, and Greek cities such as Gerasa  and Philadelphia (modern Amman). Aretas, the king  of Nabatea, attempted a year or so later to have him  arrested (2 Cor 11:32–33). After some time away, he  returned to Damascus.

iii. Only fifteen days with Peter (1:18–19)

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see  Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. 19 But other of  the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.

1:18. In Damascus, as the book of Acts tells us,  “Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded  the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this  is very Christ” (9:22). The Jews, amazed and dismayed  by this change of heart, “took counsel to kill him” (v  23). The gates were watched. One night the disciples  let him down over the wall in a basket, as Paul later  recounted, embarrassed at the memory of the faintly  ridiculous spectacle. The heresy-hunter had come to  Damascus at midday with the full authority of the high  priest. Now the hunted heretic fled Damascus in the  middle of the night, detested by the community he had  served. Saul had already decided where he would go.  “After three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter,  and abode with him fifteen days.” In fact, Peter was  the purpose for his visit, as other translations make  clear. Paul went to Jerusalem to “become acquainted  with Peter” (nasb; niv similar). The Gk. istoreō means  ‘to visit, with the purpose of obtaining information’  (L&N 34.52).

The disciples in Jerusalem did not readily receive  Saul, as we know. They did not exclude him because  they were bitter or resentful about the brief but terrible  persecution for which he had been personally  responsible. Rather, they were afraid that his apparent  conversion was a new ploy to infiltrate the ecclesia, and  destroy it once and for all. “When Saul was come to  Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples:  but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that  he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought  him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he  had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken  to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus  in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:26–27). With typical  generosity Peter invited him to stay, and the fifteen days  they spent together was very fruitful. There is evidence  even in the letter to the Galatians that Peter shared  with Saul an early version of the Gospel of Mark: and  their conversation must often have turned to the Lord:  his life, his person, his ethos, his miracles, his teaching.

No doubt they also discussed the Lord’s challenging  words to Saul, and the Gentile mission: for  immediately after this visit Peter left Jerusalem, and  made his way deliberately to the Gentile coast (Acts  9:32ff), sensing that God was about to call him to use  another key, unlock another door, invite those “of another  nation” to participate fully in the salvation which  He had set forth in Jesus Christ.

1:19. Saul participated in their communal life,  but kept a low profile. He remained in Peter’s house.  In fifteen days he saw only one other apostle, “James  the Lord’s brother,” who had recently written to those  disciples “scattered abroad” ( James 1:1) by Saul’s  persecution. Neither did he travel outside the city. He  was “unknown by face unto the ecclesias of Judaea” (v  22). The book of Acts tells us that “he was with them  coming in and going out at Jerusalem” (9:28). This biblical language describes the work of a shepherd  (Num 27:16–17; John 10:3–4, 9) or a warrior (Josh  14:11; 2 King 11:9; 2 Chron 23:8), and is often applied  by extension to leaders in general (Deut. 31:2; 1  King 3:7; 2 Chron 1:10), although Saul was not in a  leadership role at this time. The words suggest that he  used his time in Jerusalem to visit some of the families  he had damaged, to apologise to them, and to minister  to them: to strengthen the diseased, to heal the sick, to  bind up the broken, to regather those driven away, to  seek the lost (Ezek 34:4–6).

On the Sabbath days – and he was in Jerusalem for  three, at most – Saul “spake boldly in the name of the  Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians” (Acts  9:29), perhaps in the synagogue of his countrymen,  “the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the  Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of  them of Cilicia and of Asia” (6:9), where Stephen had  confronted Saul with the irresistible power of the gospel  message three or four years earlier.

But the wilfully blind will never see. His change  of heart antagonised them. They determined to kill  him, as they had killed Stephen (9:29). The disciples  became aware of their plans. At this time also the Lord  appeared to Saul as he was praying in the Temple,  warned him of the plot, and instructed him to leave  Jerusalem (22:17–21). Saul was inclined to argue. He  felt sure that, given his personal story, they must listen  to him. But the Lord knew otherwise. “Depart,” he  commanded him: “for I will send thee far hence unto  the Gentiles.” The disciples slipped Saul out of the city,  escorted him to the port of Caesarea, and put him on  a boat to Tarsus (9:30). Fifteen days after arriving in  Jerusalem, Saul found himself again on the run. This  time, he was sailing for home.