August 31, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Tom Lowe

II. Personal: Defense of Paul’s Apostleship (1:11–2:21)

II.B Independent of Jerusalem Apostles (1:13-2.21)

Chapter II.B.1 Demonstrated by Paul’s Conversion and Early Years as a Christian (1:13-17)

Galatians 1.13-17 (KJV)

13For 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: 

14And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. 

15But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, 

16To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: 

17Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.


13For 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: 

For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, 

It is clear from this that Paul was well known even before his conversion; but it was not for any good thing he had done. Quite the opposite; he states here it was due to—My conduct, my manner of life, my behavior—“All those who heard him [Paul] were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?" (Acts 9.21) Paul probably had told them about the events of his early years. The reason why he mentions it here may be to show them that he had not obtained his knowledge of the Christian religion from any instruction he received in his early years, or any acquaintance which he had formed with the apostles. At first, Paul had been fanatically opposed to the Lord Jesus, and he may have been the most active persecutor of Christians of his time; but that phase of his life ended when he was converted by God's wonderful grace.

Paul [formerly called Saul] was a Pharisee, and the Pharisees were the strictest sect of the Jewish religion, and the most opposed to Christ and his Gospel. As a Pharisee, he was well-schooled “in the Jews' religion”—in the belief and practice of Judaism; that is, as it was understood at the time when he was educated. It was not merely in the religion of Moses, but it was in that religion as it was understood and practiced by the Jews in his time; it was a time when opposition to Christianity amounted to a very significant part of it. The Jews opposed Christianity for many reasons, but primarily because they saw it as a threat, due to so many of the Jewish people coming to believe in Christ. In verses 13-17 Paul shows that he had been more distinguished than most persons of his time, and that he was known to be zealous for the Jewish faith, for which he persecuted Christians, and that meeting Jesus changed his life.

how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, 

“How that beyond measure” expresses the extent to which his persecution of Christians reached—that it was of the highest possible degree; beyond all limits or bounds; exceedingly severe. This is a phrase which Paul uses frequently to signify anything that is excessive, or that cannot be expressed by ordinary language. The following verses give more proof of the terrible persecution that came at the hands of Saul:

“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 8.3).

“I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison” (Acts 22.4).

“As the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished” (Acts 22.5).

"The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem.” (Acts 26.4).

and wasted it: 

This phrase, “And wasted it,” as it is used here means to waste or destroy: for example, when a city or country is ravaged by an army, [today, it may be called ethnic cleansing]. His purpose was to root out and completely destroy the Christian religion.

Paul hated the disciples of Christ; therefore, when the Jewish religious leaders gave him the authority to arrest Christians, he went far and wide, committing them to prison, breathing out threatenings and slaughter, and destroying them: that is why he adds “and wasted it;” or destroyed it; as much as he had the power to do so, he attempted to do it. Although he was not able to realize this goal entirely; he made chaos out of it by scattering its members and causing them to flee to strange cities to avoid capture; he had them put to death, he testified against them in order to have them punished and put to death: all this shows the extent of the hatred he had for the followers of Christ, and the Christian doctrine. 

14And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. 

And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, 

“And profited in the Jews' religion” means he was going forward [advancing] in Judaism; that is, was going on further and further in Judaism [In the views and practices of Judaism.]. The particular kind of Judaism which he practiced was that belonging to the sect of the Pharisees.  Paul called himself a "Pharisee and son of a Pharisee,"—“But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, "Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!" (Acts 23.6). He also said he was a high-caste "Hebrew sprung of Hebrews"—“Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee” (Philippians 3:5). Saul had thrown himself into the study and observance of the Mosaic Law, not only of all the rites and ceremonies prescribed in the written Law, but also of the doctrines, rites, and ceremonies which rabbinical teaching and tradition had added to it; exceeding all others in the strict observance of all portions of the Jewish religion.  The apostle does not mean that he became more accomplished in the love and practice of the pure law of God than any of his countrymen, but that he was more profoundly skilled in the traditions of the fathers than most of his fellow students [or his contemporaries] were.

Paul’s teacher was a much respected Jewish scholar by the name of Gamaliel; a Rabbi of great note among the Jews; and Paul himself a youth having outstanding natural abilities, so that his proficiency in Jewish learning was very great.

“Above many my equals” refers to age. It means that he surpassed those who were the same age as himself. Possibly there may be a reference here to those of the same age who were also taught by Gamaliel.

being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. 

“Being more exceedingly zealous” implies a "zeal for it;" in other words, passionate attachment and devotion to the traditions of my fathers, and a resentment of, and persecution against, all who are regarded as being willing to attack what we love. Now his close attachment to, and eager zeal for, these traditions, created within him the desire to use more violent methods for persecuting the saints: and now, from this account he gives of himself it is clear that during this period of his life he could never have received the Gospel from men, because he hated Christians and they feared him. 

 The "fathers," in this place, are the forefathers of the nation, and it is equivalent to the "elders," in the current phraseology of the Jews; therefore, "the tradition of the elders"—“Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread” (Matthew 15:2).

All of this is fully supported by all those that know the character of Paul, that he was a man that always undertook a task with extraordinary zeal.

15But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, 

But when it pleased God,  

“But when it pleased God,” begins his account of his conversion, and call to the ministry; all of which he attributes entirely to the sovereign good pleasure, and free grace of God, in order to prevent the notion of his having known the gospel prior to that hour. The main thought of verses 15-17, and continuing to the end of the chapter, is that, after he had received from God himself the knowledge of the gospel, he had had no motivation to turn to any mortal man or apostle, for the purpose of further instruction in it.

who separated me from my mother's womb, 

"From my mother's womb" means "from the time before I was born [Note: Luke 1.15 has the same sense.],” not "ever since my birth," which is how it is used in Judges 16:17; Matthew 19:12; Acts 3:2; Acts 14:8. These words are designed to indicate the purely arbitrary character of this predestination. Predestination is also the theme of Romans 9:11, "The children being not yet born, neither having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand." When viewed in this light, the clause appears to be an expression of adoring humility on the part of the apostle, combined, however, with the strongest possible declaration of the Divine origin of his mission. A similar statement of God's arbitrary selection of a particular human being for a particular function is found in Isaiah 49:1—"The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name;” and Isaiah 49.5—"That formed me from the womb to be his servant;" and again in Jeremiah 1:5—"Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." It is difficult not to believe that this conviction of the apostle concerning himself as an object of God's predestinating purpose, is what is meant in the verse before us.

“Who separated me from my mother's womb” is none other than Him whom I acknowledge as the God of nature and the God of grace; who preserved me by his providence when I was a helpless infant, and saved me by his grace when I was an adult and persecutor of His Church. The language that follows implies that, like Moses, John the Baptist (Lu 1:15-17), Isaiah (Isa 49:1), and Jeremiah (Jer 1:5), Paul was destined to his work as a preacher and an apostle from birth. The meaning is, that God, as part of His secrete plans, had set him apart to be an apostle. It does not mean that he had actually called him in his infancy to the work, because this was not the case, but that he created him to be an important instrument in His hands for spreading the true religion. Jeremiah was set apart in the same way, and John the Baptist was designated to announce the coming of the Messiah while still in his mother’s womb; both of them performed the work they were called to do with great success. It follows from this:

1) That God often, if not always, has purposes for people from before their birth. He designs them for some important field of labor, and endows them at their creation with talents adapted to accomplish those purposes.

2) It does not follow that because a young man has gone far astray; and has even become a blasphemer and a persecutor, that God has not predestined him for some important and holy work in his service. How many people have been called, like Paul, and Newton, and Bunyan, and Augustine, (and me) from a life of sin to the service of God?

3) God is often training up people in a remarkable manner for future usefulness. His eye is upon them, and He watches over them, until the time comes for their conversion. His providence was concerned in the education and training of Paul. It was by God’s will with reference to his future work that he had so many opportunities for education, and was so well acquainted with the "traditions" of that religion which he was yet to demonstrate to be unfounded and false. He gave him the opportunity to cultivate his mind, and prepare to grapple with the Jew in arguments, and show him how unfounded his hopes were. God's eye is always upon them and they are often allowed to wander far off, as Paul did; until the time comes for their conversion, and then, in accordance with the purpose which set them apart from the world, God converts them, and consecrates all their talents and acquired knowledge to His service. 

4) We should never anguish over a young man who has wandered far from God, even if he has become an infidel. It is still possible that God "separated" that person to his service from his very birth, and that God still means to call him to His service. How easy it was to convert Saul of Tarsus when the proper time arrived. It is just as true today for the unconverted and unconsecrated among the young men of our land. That apparently wasted talent mat still be used by God; and so, let us fervently pray that they may be "called" by the grace of God and actually devote themselves to His service.

and called me by his grace, 

The "setting apart" mentioned in the previous clause was unquestionably a "setting apart" for the apostolic office, and therefore it might seem to follow that “called me” is also the calling to be an apostle. Likewise, we are probably to understand the words in Romans 1:1 to mean "called to be an apostle;" and in Hebrews 5:4 the verb "called" is used for one called to be a priest. But the prevailing sense of "being called," throughout Paul's writings, refers to the bringing of the soul to Christ and into his kingdom. “And called me by his grace” refers to what happened to Paul on the way to Damascus. It was special grace that called Paul, because at that time he was engaged in bitterly opposing Him and His cause.

16To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: 

To reveal his Son in me, 

“To reveal his Son in me” is to be connected with the first part of Galatians 1:15, so that it now reads "When it pleased God to reveal his Son in me," which speaks of the grand event on the way to Damascus. The phrase evidently means, to make me acquainted with the Lord Jesus, or to reveal his Son to me. The grand event which occurred on the way to Damascus was the miraculous appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ to Paul on his way to Damascus; “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).  That revelation was for the purpose of convincing him that Jesus was the Messiah; to make him aware of Christ; His nature, rank, and claims; and to qualify him to be a preacher to the Gentiles.

Paul wanted people to see Christ in him; for God “to reveal his Son in me”—within me, in my inmost soul, by the Holy Spirit—“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Ga 2:20). Christ was not only the author and maintainer of his spiritual life, but the life itself; he was formed in his soul, dwelt in his heart, was united to him, and was one with him. It was the Christ in Paul from which all his vital principles and vital actions sprung, and all the empathy, joy, and peace of his spiritual life flowed. In 2 Corinthians 4.6, he speaks of the light that "shined in our hearts."—“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The revealing of His Son by me (Paul) to the Gentiles was impossible, unless He had first revealed His Son in me; at first on my conversion, but especially at the subsequent revelation from Jesus Christ (Ga 1:12), whereby I learned the Gospel's independence from the Mosaic law.

that I might preach him among the heathen; 

“That I might preach him,” that is, in order that I might afterwards preach him; or with a view to my being appointed to the work of an apostle. This was the chief purpose for which Paul was converted, which is confirmed by scripture:

“But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). The Lord appeared to him, "for this purpose to make him a minister and a witness."  

“Then He said to me, 'Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.'” (Acts 22:21). And so, by a divine mission and commission he became the apostle of the Gentiles, and preached the Gospel among them with great success, converting many thousands of them, and planting many churches in their midst.

The “heathen” is the Gentiles; that portion of the world that was not Jewish, or that was ignorant of the true religion. Paul was to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, and the dispersed Jews among the Gentiles. Peter was sent predominantly to the Jews in the land of Judea; Paul to those in the different Greek provinces. “That I might preach Him” implies a ministry that is still continuing. This was the main commission entrusted to him—“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” (Ga 2:7-9). By the “uncircumcision” is meant the Gentiles (heathen) and the “circumcision" refers the Jews. The “gospel for the uncircumcised” and “gospel for the circumcised” are not two different gospels, because there is only one Gospel. Paul did not preach one Gospel unto the uncircumcised Gentiles, and Peter another to the circumcised Jews; but the same Gospel was preached by both. The Apostle Paul was ordained a minister of the Gentiles, and he chiefly preached among them, though not exclusively to them. Peter was principally employed among the Jews, though he preached to the Gentiles when given the opportunity: however, the subject of both their ministries was the Gospel, which is said to be "committed" to them, as a trust deposited in their hands, not by man, but by God.

immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: 

There are several ways in which this verse has been explained:

1) Immediately is connected with “I went to Arabia,” in Galatians 1.17—“Immediately, I went to Arabia.”

2) "Immediately I consented." 

3) That he decided immediately. He did not take time to deliberate whether he should or should not become a Christian. He made up his mind at once and on the spot. He did not consult with anyone; he did not ask advice from anyone; he did not wait to be instructed by anyone. He was convinced by the vision in an overpowering manner that Jesus was the Messiah, and he yielded at once. The main idea is that there was no delay, no consultation, no deferring it to someone else, so that he might see and consult with his friends, or with other Christians. The thing he continues to dwell on is to show that he did not receive his beliefs of the gospel from man. This is the opinion I support, as you can probably tell.

“Immediately” denotes how soon the apostle was made ready to preach the Gospel; especially since he did not first attend Bible School, Seminary, or serve for a while under an experienced minister. His education took place in the Arabian Desert and he was taught by Professor Jesus. “Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Ac 9:20). 

“I conferred not” implies he did not take the case to any man; I did not confer with anyone.

“Flesh and blood” signifies “any human being.” “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.’” (Matthew 16:17). This does not mean that Paul did not consider how his decision might affect his own comfort and happiness; that he was not concerned about the sufferings which he might have to endure; that he was willing to suffer, and was not concerned with making provision for his own comfort; but that he did not lay the case before any man, or any body of men for instruction or advice. He acted promptly and decisively. He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision—“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19)—but resolved at once to obey. Many suppose that this passage means that Paul was not tempted to listen to the counsel of the evil passions and suggestions of his own heart, or to the feelings which would have prompted him to lead a life of ambition, or a life under the influence of corrupt desires. But however true this was in fact, no such thing is intended here. It simply means that he did not take the counsel of any human being. He resolved at once to follow the command of the Savior, and he obeyed Him at once, because he was satisfied that his call was of God; therefore, he had no reason to consult man.

17Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.

Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; 

“Neither went I up to Jerusalem,” that is, I did not go immediately after I was converted, not until three years afterwards. According to the account he gives in Acts 9.17, 18, he did not go see the apostles in Jerusalem because Jesus had another assignment for him—“Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance and saw Him saying to me, 'Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.'”  He was obedient to God’s will for him and went about preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles; he did not see or converse with any of the apostles, which is what he says here. 

“To them which were apostles before me” is the twelve, who were called, ordained, and sent forth as apostles before he was; “for last of all Christ appeared to him, and was seen by him as one born out of due time”: his meaning is, not that he was a successor of the apostle's, but that they were appointed to the office of apostle before him; and the reason he mentions it is to show that he did not receive the Gospel from men, not from the apostles themselves. He did not go to Jerusalem to see any of them; nor did he need to be taught anything by them, since he had been taught all he needed to know by Christ himself; besides, his work was not to be at Jerusalem among the Jews, but among the Gentiles, and there is where he went.

This phrase implies that Paul, at that time, regarded himself to be an apostle. They were, he admits, apostles before he was; but he felt he was one too and that he had the same authority they did, and so he did not go to them to receive instruction, or to derive his commission from them. Several of the apostles remained in Jerusalem for a considerable time after the ascension of the Lord Jesus, and it was regarded as the principal place of authority for the Christian faith.

but I went into Arabia, 

 It is impossible to determine precisely where Paul went in "Arabia," because in those days it was a geographical term with wide significance. Damascus itself belonged to Arabia: Justin Martyr wrote "that Damascus was of the Arabian country, and is, even though now it has been assigned to what is called the Syrophoenician country, none even of you are able to deny." The apostle's words may, therefore, describe a withdrawal into some region, either inhabited or uninhabited, not far from Damascus. On the other hand, in Galatians 4:25, the apostle refers to "Arabia" in connection with Mount Sinai; so that Arabia Petraea may possibly have been the land he visited. But all this is conjecture: there is no solid ground whatever for our believing that he went far from Damascus or stayed nearby. But we cannot help recalling that it is said of the Lord Jesus, after his baptism, "the Spirit drove him forth into the wilderness." With this in mind, we may in all reverence believe He may have gone there to prepare himself for his high ministry as the Christ. And this suggests, that at this particular juncture Saul's movements were directed by heavenly guidance. This opinion seems to be supported by our Lord's words to him, "Rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do" (Acts 9:6). 

We do not know how long he stayed in “Arabia,” what he did while there, and what success he had among the Arabs since it is not reported anywhere; but no doubt he preached the Gospel to them, and since his ministry was blessed by God everywhere he went, it may be very reasonably to think he was successful in Arabia too. And when he was finished there the Holy Spirit led him to return to Damascus.

Moses and Elijah were two that also spent some period of time in the wilderness, perhaps for reflection, communion with God, and preparation, before answering God’s call.

and returned again unto Damascus.

During the time he spent in Arabia he increased in spiritual strength and knowledge, and upon his return to Damascus he went about proving that Jesus of Nazareth was the true Messiah, which confused the Jews there and elicited their resentment and indignation, so that they took counsel and lay in wait to kill him; but the disciples let him down through a window, by the wall of the city in a basket, and so he fled from there. 

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