The Apostle Paul is a spiritual lightning rod. His calling and ministry were so different from the men who Jesus Christ called to be apostles before His death and resurrection that many people think Paul was a fraud.
I hear from those people on a regular basis. Some write just to tell me Paul was a fraud. Others ask questions to try to convince me Paul was a fraud. As I bring this special series to a close, we’re looking at the questions we’ve received during the past year to see if we can get to the truth of this important question.
I’m often asked why I “defend” Paul and not Christ. I wonder if they’ve read other posts on this blog and the GraceLife Blog. It should be obvious that my primary defense is for the existence of the God of the Bible and for the Life and Ministry of His Son, Jesus Christ. I defend anything Jesus did and what He did was call Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles. I also defend what God said and what He inspired men to write as communication of His Word. Paul wrote almost half of the New Testament. Defending God’s call of Paul as apostle to the Gentiles is also defending God’s Word. That’s why I “defend” Paul.
- Paul in Galatians 1 emphasizes his knowledge comes directly from Jesus and not from man. Jesus says in Matthew 14:5 if someone claims to see him in the secret chambers, I should not believe him. Who was telling me the truth?
Let’s look first at your Scripture references:
“Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead) … But I make known to you, 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 it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Galatians 1:1, 11-12
“And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.” Matthew 14:5
You are correct that Paul claimed his knowledge came directly “through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” However, Matthew 14:5 is about King Herod and John the Baptist, so not sure where you came up with your question.
I did find the words “secret” and “chambers” in the 1599 Geneva Bible, though not as a connected phrase. Is this the reference? If so, please ask your question again from the context so I can address what you’re asking.
“And when thou prayest, be not as the hypocrites: for they love to stand and pray in the Synagogues, and in the corners of the streets, because they would be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But when thou prayest, enter into thy chamber: and when thou hast shut thy door, pray unto thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. Also when ye pray, use no vain repetitions as the Heathen: for they think to be heard for their much babbling.” Matthew 6:5-7
If Paul appeared in Jerusalem in Acts 9:26 after his conversion, then why does he tell the Galatians in 1:18 that he waited three years to go? Why does he assure us in v.20 he is not lying?
Let’s look at the context of each of the verses you mentioned in your question.
“Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, ‘Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?’ But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ. Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him. But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket. And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.” Acts 9:20-30
Paul also references this in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33 – “In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me; but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.”
“But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.) Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.” Galatians 1:15-21
Luke does not record Paul’s journey to Arabia in Acts 9, but Paul refers to it in Galatians because it was important to what he was trying to help the Galatians understand. As I’m sure you are aware, Luke’s omission does not mean it didn’t happen just as Paul related in his letter to the Galatians. Luke wrote, “Now after many days were past …” The Greek reads Os de eplerounto hemerai hikanai. The words hemerai hikanai translate literally as “days considerable (many).” The word hikanai means “sufficient, considerable, much.” When referring to a number, it means “abundant, great, much.” When referring to time, it means “a long time.”
Earlier in Acts 9, Luke referred to “three days” and (vs. 9) and “some days” (vs. 19), which is the Greek words hemeras tinas (understood as an indefinite period of time). Given the use of terms like hemeras tinas and hemerai hikanai, Luke left plenty of time for Paul to travel to Arabia and return to Damascus before going to Jerusalem.
As for your question – “Why does he assure us in v.20 he is not lying?” – it’s probably because the Judaizers who were lying to the Galatians about the Gospel were also lying about Paul and his apostleship. Paul was writing to win them back to the Truth they had left by following the lies of those who opposed the Gospel message.
If the “other gospel” Paul speaks of in Galatians 1:6 was not the very one taught by Peter, James and John, then why does Paul attack the character of these three men in Galatians 2 calling them “those who seemed to be pillars.”?
Let’s look at the verses you mentioned in their context.
“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-9
“But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.” Galatians 2:6-10
Paul marveled that the Galatians had turned so soon from “Him” who called you in the grace of Christ? Who is that “Him?” Who calls people to Christ? It’s clear from the Gospels, Acts and the letters of the apostles that the Holy Spirit is the One who calls people to salvation in Christ. The Holy Spirit is the One Who sent Paul on his missionary journeys to open the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 13:1-4; 14:27). The Galatians had turned away from the Spirit of God to a “different gospel.” The word “different” in the Greek is heteron. W.E. Vine writes this about heteron(s) – “heteros expresses a qualitative difference and denotes another of a different sort” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, MacDonald Publishing Company, pg. 62). The word is a correlative pronoun and means “of another kind, another, different, in another form.” Paul warned the Galatians that they had turned from the Spirit of God to a gospel that was different and of another kind from the Gospel the Holy Spirit had brought them.
It’s obvious from what Paul wrote the Galatians about Peter, James, John and the others in Jerusalem that he did not view their Gospel as “of another kind” that Jewish believers should not believe. Paul said clearly that the Gospel for the circumcised had been committed to Peter and the other Jewish apostles even as God had committed the Gospel for the uncircumcised to Paul.
As for Paul’s use of the term “pillars” for “James, Cephas, and John,” it was the positive sense of their leadership positions among the believers in Jerusalem and Judea. It was not an attack on their character. The Greek reads oi dokountes stuloi einai – “the ones seeming pillars to be.” The word stuloi (pillars) was used for a column that supported the weight of a building. It was substantial and vital to the success of the building standing strong and true. Paul viewed James, Peter and John as being those “pillars” of the Jewish congregation in Judea that were substantial and vital to the success of the faith community. To think that Paul used the words in a negative attack on the Jewish apostles is incorrect. There is no negative meaning in the words, phrasing or intent of the author.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”