Galatians 1:11-24 From Persecutor to Preacher: The Origin of Paul’s Gospel

 

Galatians 1:11–24 (ESV) — For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

 

INTRODUCTION

Are you a red-letter Christian? You may have a red-letter Bible, or you may have seen one. I wasn’t sure if I had a red-letter Bible, but apparently I’ve not been paying close attention because several of my Bibles are red-letter editions.

So what’s with the red letters? The red letters indicate the words of Jesus. If you have a red-letter Bible, you can easily find the parts where Jesus is talking.

There have perhaps always been people who put more emphasis on the words of Jesus. Some people prefer the words of Jesus to the rest of the Bible. In fact, for some people, if it’s not in red, it’s not as important. It might not even be inspired. Years ago in a liberal seminary, one of my professors dismissed my quotation of Paul by saying, “That was Paul’s opinion.”

In 2007, a group of liberal “Christians” launched the Red-Letter Christian movement. They want to emphasize the words of Jesus, but are not too interested in the Apostle Paul. They may even talk about the gospel according to Jesus and the gospel according to Paul, as if they are two different gospels. 

By the way, having a red letter Bible does not mean that you are a Red-Letter Christian. Otherwise I would be guilty more than once.

We have seen that the opening verses of Galatians that there is only one gospel. All other gospels are distortions, perversions of the one true gospel of the grace of God.

Different Religions?

Note that Paul is not talking about different religions that are not even similar. Of course, the religions of this world are false worldviews and systems of belief. They cannot be compared with the gospel for they are different in every way.

It has often been said that all religions are basically the same, but superficially different. However, that is not the case. World religions may be superficially the same for they often call for people to live in peace with each other, though Islam, the so-called religion of peace, seeks to attain peace by forcing everyone to submit to Islam. The religions of the world are in reality superficially similar but fundamentally different in essence. They have different views of 

  • Who or what God is
  • The nature of man
  • The nature of man’s problem
  • The solution to man’s problem
  • Life after death
  • The meaning of life and of death

The claims of Jesus and the apostles stand in direct opposition to all other religions. The message of Christianity is exclusive:

Acts 4:12 (ESV) — And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

There is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ.

Distorted Gospels

When Paul speaks of “a different gospel,” he is not referring to the religions of the world which are in no way similar to the gospels. Paul is warning us about messages that sound like the gospel but add or subtract from it in various ways. 

  • They use the same biblical terms such as God, Jesus, Son of God, Holy Spirit, and salvation, but they don’t mean what the authors of the Bible meant.
  • The doctrine of the Trinity is diminished by false gospels.
  • The deity of Jesus Christ is denied.
  • The work of Christ is diminished.
  • They take the focus off of Christ and put it on the Sabbath, or the law, or on prosperity, or on success.

The cults take away from God and make much of man. The Judaizers used Christian terms. They believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but insisted that Gentiles add to Christ’s work in order to be saved.

Acts 15:1 (ESV) — But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Acts 15:5 (ESV) — But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

In his opening verses, Paul argues that there is only one gospel, the gospel that he preaches, and that all human opinion must be judged and tested by that gospel, his gospel.

The Origin of Paul’s Gospel

The Apostle Paul states that his gospel is normative. It is the standard. It is the measure of the truth. Any message that denies or diminishes or changes the gospel that he preached is a distorted message.

He could not be clearer in his denunciation of other gospels:

Galatians 1:8–9 (ESV) — But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

So the question comes: Where did he get this gospel? Where did it come from? What is its origin?

The Apostle Paul penned 13 of the letters of the New Testament, 13 out of 27 books. We read his letters to the Romans and to the Corinthians and are amazed at his understanding. Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians — letters that he wrote while under arrest in Rome — they are majestic, wonderful, and profound. The depths of the riches of God’s grace revealed in these letters — where did Paul get this? Are these letters the result of his creativity? Did he have a vivid imagination? Was he simply a brilliant thinker with a creative mind? Did he get these ideas second hand from the apostles in Jerusalem?[1]

The Judaizers had undermined his authority, just as Red-Letter Christians today would dismiss the Apostle Paul. The Judaizers would argue that Paul was not on equal standing with the apostles. He had gotten a condensed version, an abbreviated gospel. He had heard something from the apostles, but he no doubt failed the course in “Basic Gospel Principles” because he left out the most important parts: circumcision and keeping the law of Moses.

Paul states his case beginning in verse 11:

Galatians 1:11 (ESV) — For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.

“I would have you know.” “Listen up, brothers. Let me make this perfectly clear. This is of vital importance. Hear me loud and clear:”

  • the gospel that was preached by me, 
  • the gospel that you heard, 
  • the gospel that you believed, 
  • the gospel by which you received the Spirit

It is not man’s gospel. It is not of human origin. 

Galatians 1:12 (ESV) — For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

  • It is not according to man.
  • It is not a human invention (NEB).
  • No one taught it to me. I did not get this at the feet of Jewish rabbis. I did not learn this from the apostles. This came by revelation of Jesus Christ.
  • This gospel is not Paul’s invention: “I preach it, but I did not invent it. I did not receive it from men as if it were already an accepted tradition handed down from a previous generation. I did not learn it from human teachers.”[2]
  • Then where did it come from?
  • “I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

In verse 1, Paul spoke of the divine origin of his apostolic commission. 

Galatians 1:1 (ESV) — Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—

Here in verse 12, Paul asserts the divine origin of his apostolic gospel.

  • This gospel is not his invention.
  • It is not a tradition that was passed on to him.
  • It is a revelation.
  • However, what Paul was arguing in Galatians was not that his gospel was different from that of the other apostles but rather that he had received it independently of them.[3]

What did Paul receive by revelation?

There can be no doubt that Paul knew quite a lot about the Christian faith before his conversion. He knew some of the facts about Jesus’ life. He knew that Jesus had been crucified. He knew what the believers were saying about him. But he had not understood the gospel.[4]

Consider Peter. Peter knew a great deal about Jesus. Peter was a disciple. He knew about his ministry, his teaching, and his miracles. But Peter did not know who Jesus was until God revealed it to him:[5]

Matthew 16:16–17 (ESV) — Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

The Apostle Paul speaks of how God revealed his eternal plan to the apostles and prophets:

Ephesians 3:5 (ESV) — which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.

Five points of Paul’s gospel:[6]

  1. God raised Jesus from the dead and vindicated Jesus’ claim to be one with the Father.
  2. Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God and maintained a close connection with the Church, the Body of Christ on earth.
  3. The risen Christ will come again and fulfill the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.
  4. “God has opened the door of salvation for Gentiles as well as Jews.”
  5. Gentiles and Jews are justified by faith in Christ alone, apart from works.

Was this gospel unique to Paul? No, for it was simply the full elaboration of the one and only gospel Jesus himself proclaimed.[7]s had spoken of the inclusion of the Gentiles in John 10:

John 10:16 (ESV) — And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Again in Matthew,

Matthew 24:14 (ESV) — And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 28:18–20 (ESV) — And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Peter had already anticipated the inclusion of the Gentiles in his mission to Cornelius in Acts 10. Peter and the other apostles had been called directly by Jesus Christ. Paul also received his call and commission directly from Jesus Christ:

1 Corinthians 15:8 (ESV) — Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Proofs from History

Paul’s argument in verses 11 and 12 is that the gospel that he preached was from Jesus Christ himself. 

How can you prove that Paul? How can you prove that you received by revelation the gospel that you preach?

Paul will give three proofs from history.

 

1. Paul’s Life Before His Conversion

Paul underlines two aspects of his life before conversion:

(1) His persecution of the church of God. 

Galatians 1:13–14 (ESV) — For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 

Paul often speaks of the churches of a region, such as the churches of Galatia, but here he is referring to the church of God, the called out people of God.

Notice that he states that he persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.

Acts 8:3 (ESV) — But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Acts 8:3 (NIV) — But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

Acts 9:1 (ESV) — But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest

Acts 9:13 (ESV) — But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.

Acts 9:21 (ESV) — And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?”

Acts 22:4–5 (ESV) — I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.

Acts 22:19 (ESV) — And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you.

Acts 26:9–11 (ESV) — “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

1 Corinthians 15:9 (ESV) — For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

Why this fanaticism?

What Paul did encounter was a sect within Judaism that, because of their devotion to Messiah Jesus, was redefining the boundaries of the community of Israel in ways that were profoundly disturbing to such a strict Pharisaic leader as Paul.[8]

What was so offensive to Saul? The message that…[9]

  • Jesus was the Messiah.
  • The Messiah had been publicly condemned and crucified.
  • He had been raised from the dead.
  • He had been exalted to the right hand of God and was to be worshipped, the same blasphemy that had led to his death (John 10:33).
  • The Torah (the Law) was not sufficient. Even those whom the Torah would declare righteous needed to believe in Jesus. Christ, not the Torah, was the basis of salvation.

Saul took steps to defend Judaism from this danger.

 

(2) His Enthusiasm for the Traditions of His Fathers

Galatians 1:14 (ESV) — And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.

Saul was the up and coming young rabbi. He was the man to watch. He had had all the advantages of Roman citizenship, a knowledge of the Gentile world, and living in Jerusalem where he was trained by Gamaliel, the most outstanding Pharisee and teacher of the law.

Acts 22:3 (ESV) — “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.

Acts 26:4–5 (ESV) — “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. 5 They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee.

He was a zealot for Judaism. He had standing and authority and recognition. He had everything he could have wanted and was intent on destroying the faith, stamping out the sect of the Nazarenes. 

How do you explain the change from persecutor to preacher, persecutor of the faith to preacher of the faith? How do you explain that? One word: revelation.

Galatians 1:11–12 (ESV) — For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

 

2. Paul’s Conversion

Notice the contrast between the “I’s” of verses 13-14 and God’s action in the verses 15-16:

  • I persecuted the church of God.
  • I was advancing in Judaism.
  • I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

“BUT”

Galatians 1:15–16 (ESV) — But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;

 

(1) God set him apart before he was born (v. 15).

Jeremiah 1:5 (ESV) — “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Romans 8:29 (ESV) — For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Romans 1:1 (ESV) — Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,

When Paul says in Galatians 2:20 that the Son of God “loved me and gave himself for me,” when did he do that? When did Jesus love him and give himself for Paul? Before or after Paul’s conversion? Before. 

Ephesians 1:4 (ESV) — even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love

 

(2) God called him by his grace (v. 15).

Paul was set apart before he was born, but he was called at a specific point in his life.[10] Paul had been fighting God, fighting Christ, and fighting the church. He did not merit God’s call. He did not deserve it. “God called him by his grace.”

 

(3) God was pleased to reveal his Son to Paul (v. 16a).

Paul knew what Stephen had preached. He had heard the testimony of various believers. He knew some of the facts. Now he knew their meaning.

Galatians 1:16 (ESV) — was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles…

Yes, this gospel was “received through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12). The revelation was private, but it was for public proclamation.[11]

What was Paul to preach? The Law of Moses?

No. “Him.” God “was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him,” the Son.

1 Corinthians 1:22–24 (ESV) — For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 2:2 (ESV) — For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

2 Corinthians 4:5 (ESV) — For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

God revealed his Son so that Paul might preach him, the Son, among the Gentiles.

Last words at Pisidian Antioch:

Acts 13:47 (ESV) — For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”

This is what the Lord had told Ananias who prayed for Saul:

Acts 9:15 (ESV) — But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.

Paul understood his commission and ministry to the Gentiles:

Romans 11:13 (ESV) — Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry

1 Timothy 2:7 (ESV) — For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Acts 22:17-18, 21 (ESV) — “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’

21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”

How do you explain a man 

  • who wants to protect Judaism from losing its identity as Jews embrace Jesus as their Messiah?
  • a man who is zealous for the traditions of his fathers?
  • a man who was intent on destroying the church because he believes that it is destroying Judaism?

How do you explain that this same man suddenly begins preaching the very Christ that he had set out to destroy? How do you explain that? 

Paul explains: God “was pleased to reveal his Son to me” (1:15). This gospel is not his invention; God revealed it to him.

 

3. Paul’s Life After Conversion (1:16b-24)

The Judaizers wanted to undermine Paul’s authority by claiming that he got his gospel from the apostles but that he had compromised it and changed it to make it more acceptable to Gentiles. Paul, they said, had changed the message. He had dropped the requirements of circumcision and keeping the law of Moses. 

Paul presents his alibis: he did not get his gospel from the apostles because he was not with them.

Let’s move quickly through this.

 

(1) First alibi: Arabia.

Galatians 1:16–17 (ESV) — …I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Paul made the decision immediately that he wouldn’t consult with anyone. Why should he? He has just received a revelation from Jesus Christ. He determined not to go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before him. 

What does that mean? It means that just as Christ had called the other apostles before him, now Christ had called Paul to be his apostle. 

So what did Paul do? Putting the various texts together, we learn that he preached Christ and he went to Arabia, not too far from Damascus. For three years he meditated on the Old Testament Scriptures and sat at the feet of Jesus.[12]

 

(2) Second alibi: Jerusalem

Galatians 1:18–19 (ESV) — Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.

Paul has already spent three years praying, thinking, meditating on the Scriptures and understanding how the life and death and resurrection of Christ had been announced beforehand in the prophets. His gospel is fully formed.

He now, after three years, visits Peter for two weeks, all the while (we read elsewhere) preaching the gospel. It was a busy two weeks, and a plot is discovered to kill him (Acts 9:29). 

Much of those two weeks in Jerusalem, we learn from Acts (9:28, 29), was spent in preaching.

To sum up, Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem was only after three years, it lasted only two weeks, and he saw only two apostles. It was, therefore, ludicrous to suggest that he obtained his gospel from the Jerusalem apostles[13].

 

(3) Third alibi: Syria and Cilicia

Paul ministers in Syria and Cilicia, far from Jerusalem and the apostles. It would be 14 years from his conversion before he visits Jerusalem again. Paul did not preach a different gospel from the apostles, but his gospel came not from the apostles, but from the Lord Jesus Christ himself. To reject Paul’s gospel is to reject God himself.

 

CONCLUSION

The verb to preach is used three times in this passage:

Preaching the Gospel

Galatians 1:11 (ESV) — For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.

Preaching the Son

Galatians 1:16 (ESV) — was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;

Preaching the Faith

Galatians 1:23 (ESV) — They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

 

What are we to preach? 

  • Preach the gospel. Paul speaks of preaching the gospel 23 times.
  • Preach Christ.
  • Preaching the faith.

To preach the gospel is to preach Christ. Preaching Christ is to preach the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

Galatians 1:23–24 (ESV) — They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

Galatians 1:5 (ESV) — to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

 


[1] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians: Only One Way, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 29–30.

[2] Ibid., 30.

[3] Timothy George, Galatians, vol. 30, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 109.

[4] Ibid., 110.

[5] Ibid., 111.

[6] Ibid., 111–112.

[7] Ibid., 112.

[8] Ibid., 114.

[9] Ibid., 115.

[10] Ibid., 118.

[11] Stott, Ibid., 33.

[12] Stott, Ibid., 33.

[13] Ibid., 35.

See also “Galatians Series“:

 

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