September 1, 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.2 Demonstrated by Paul’s First Post-Conversion Visit to Jerusalem (1:18-24)

Galatians 1.18-24 (KJV)

18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. 

19But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother. 

20Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. 

21Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; 

22And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: 

23But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. 

24And they glorified God in me.


18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. 

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, 

The apostle's objective is the same as it was in the previous chapter (vv. 13-17), to show that he did not get his doctrine from men. He does it here by pointing out how long an interval elapsed after he first met Jesus on the Damascus Road until he got to meet Peter. By this his readers may feel how fiercely confident he was, from the very first, of the sufficiency and certain truth of those views of the "gospel" which had been divinely communicated to him. 

This journey to Jerusalem occurred in A.D. 40, and was prompted by his persecution at the hands of the Jews at Damascus: “In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands” (2Co 11:32).


The way time was computed in the New Testament “three years” could have been three whole years or two years. That is based on how the resurrection of Jesus was stated. He is said to have arose on the third day, which was Sunday, but he was crucified and entombed on Friday; the interval being two days—Friday to Saturday (one day); Saturday to Sunday (one day). The interval was two days, though they counted three—Friday-Saturday-Sunday. I hope this is clear.

The apostle writes "went up" because he had a Jew's instinctive feeling of Jerusalem being the capital and center of his nation and its religion. Several of the apostles were residing at Jerusalem during this time, James and Peter being the most prominent, therefore we may assume that Jerusalem was also considered the center of the Christian religion. In all probability, the apostle means that he “went up to Jerusalem” to acquaint himself with Cephas, but that is supposition, since he says only that he went to “see Cephas.” In that sense it may denote a friendly visit; or we may be justified interpreting it to mean "to make his acquaintance and mold a friendship with him." But in the present instance his reason for going to see Cephas was not to receive the Gospel from him, or to be ordained a preacher of it by him, since he had already done the work of the ministry for three years, but it appears his reason was this: Paul was constantly hearing in all quarters a variety of statements regarding Cephas; he was the leader of the apostles, Cephas' doctrine, Cephas' manner of conduct both personal and ministerial—statements with which Paul may have disagreed. He knew the great importance of Cephas' position in the Church, not only with reference to the Jewish section of it with which that apostle was the most profoundly associated, but also with reference to Gentile believers, since he was the first of all the apostles divinely commissioned to open the door to the Gentiles. He wanted to “see Cephas,” then, for the wise purpose of shaping the progress of his ministry as an apostle; it was a deep desire of his to have a better understanding of Cephas' personality, and of Cephas' principles of conduct in dealing both with Jews and Gentiles, than he could possibly gain from mere hearsay. He therefore resolved, under Divine guidance, to go to Jerusalem, to acquaint himself by personal observation and communication of the true character of this highly gifted and influential leader of Jewish Christians. Furthermore, it is impossible not to believe that Saul would welcome with joy the opportunity which this visit would afford him of obtaining, from the lips of one who was a leading eye-witness of many details pertaining to Christ's sojourn upon earth. And what a story Cephas had to tell him! With what astonishment would Saul drink in the marvels of that Divine life and death, which it had been his privilege so closely to observe! 

and abode with him fifteen days. 

The church at Jerusalem did not immediately admit Paul to their fellowship, because they were afraid of him and thought he was not a disciple, until Barnabas took him to the Apostles Peter and James, and related his conversion and his boldness in preaching the Gospel at Damascus. This is the same visit to Jerusalem as that mentioned in Ac 9:26: “And 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.” 

The phrase, “abode with him," is probably meant to indicate a sojourn at Peter's house. If that is not what it means he probably would have written, "I tarried in Jerusalem"? The fact that he lodged with Cephas is significant in several ways. It testified most openly and emphatically to a wondrous transformation in the mutual respect (and perhaps affection) with which the two men regarded one another. It was just a short time ago, two or three years more or less, that Saul was viewed by Peter with revulsion and dread, since he was the bitter and influential persecutor of that flock of Christ which the Lord had committed especially to his oversight and care. Even personally Peter "must have feared him, perhaps even have hidden himself from him, when he forced his way into Christian homes.” Only recently had the scattered members of the Church ceased to fear fresh onslaughts of the persecution which Saul had so eagerly directed at them, and begun once more to openly assemble at Jerusalem. But now they had seen, on the one side Cephas, forgivingly, affectionately welcoming Saul to his house; and on the other, the late scornful and hostile Pharisee submitting to be beholden to Cephas for hospitality and for public recognition of him as a brother in Christ! 

He did not spend all his time in conversation with Peter; during this visit he was constantly coming in and going out of Jerusalem, where he preached boldly in the name of Christ, and debated with the Grecians. And it was during this visit that he had a vision: “And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance; And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me” (Ac 22:17, 18).  The Lord Jesus ordered him to leave Jerusalem, not because his life was in danger, but because Christ had work for him to do elsewhere, which required he leave immediately; and besides, if he had stayed there he would accomplish nothing and the time he spent there would have been useless and unprofitable.

19But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother. 

But other of the apostles saw I none, 

The words "save James" may indicate a certain degree of hesitancy on the apostle's part concerning the appropriateness of the exception which he makes. The reason for this will become clear if we take into account that "James the Lord's brother" was not really one of the apostles; but nevertheless, through the position which he held in the Church of Jerusalem, he was held in high regard and was thought to be nearly equal with the revered twelve. And so, Paul felt compelled, in connection with his present statement, to mention James, when affirming so solemnly that Cephas was the only apostle that he saw during his visit. The GOD'S WORD® Translation may be more understandable: “I didn't see any other apostle. I only saw James, the Lord's brother.” The reason for this statement is probably to show, that just as he did not receive the Gospel from Peter, neither did he get it from any of the other apostles, whom he did not see, much less converse with. 

There is no way to tell for certain what the situation was in Jerusalem that made Peter the only one of the twelve he saw. In Acts 8.1 we read: “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.” This indicates that during the persecution which followed the martyrdom of Stephen, the apostles still remained at Jerusalem while many in the Church there were scattered throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria. The state of severe persecution occurred for the two or three years prior to Paul’s coming to Jerusalem. The state of things was undoubtedly quite different now; the Church had come together again; but the apostles may have been absent in the country, engaged in their apostolic duties, as Peter would soon be according to Acts 9:31, 32: “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied. And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.” The assumption that this was the cause appears more credible than the view which supposes them to have continued to distrust Paul, even after the two great leaders, Cephas and James, had been won over to candidly and publicly recognize the new convert. As for James being in Jerusalem, when the apostles were gone, the assumption is that he remained in charge of the mother church, as its bishop. 

save James the Lord's brother. 

This “James” is not James the son of Zebedee, the brother of John, whom Herod slew with the sword; but James the son of Alphaeus, who made the speech in the synod at Jerusalem (Acts 15:13), was the writer of the epistle which bears his name, and was the brother of Joses, Simon, and Judas, who are called the brethren of Christ (Matthew 13:55), and because they were the kinsmen of Christ according to the flesh, it was common practice for the Jews to call such relatives brethren. James was the Lord’s brother, but not in our strict sense, but in the sense of a "cousin," or "kinsman": “Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me” (Mt 28:10).  In John 7:3, 5 we read that “His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judaea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest…For neither did his brethren believe in him”—the "brethren" who did not believe in Him may mean His close relatives, not including the two of His brethren, that is, relatives (James and Jude) who were among the Twelve apostles. In Acts 1:14, "His brethren" refers to Simon and Joses, and others (Mt 13:55) of His kinsmen, who were not apostles—“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1.14).   It is not likely there would be two pairs of brothers named alike, of such eminence as James and Jude; the likelihood is that the apostles James and Jude are also the writers of the Epistles, and the brethren of Jesus. James and Joses were sons of Alpheus and Mary, sister of the Virgin Mary.

20Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. 

Now the things which I write unto you, 

The particular things the apostle has in mind are those which are stated in verses 15-19 and to the end of the chapter; things which the Galatians would hardly have become aware of if the apostle had not brought them to their attention. They were already aware of those things mentioned in verses 13 and 14 since others had informed them prior to Paul writing this letter: “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” (Gal. 1.13).   

There are those who contend that “a report had been spread among the Galatians, by the false teachers, that after his conversion he had spent years at Jerusalem, receiving instruction in the faith from the apostles, therefore, the facts which he has stated here would have seemed to his readers a shocking contradiction to the information they had received from others, so that now they needed a strong confirmation from the apostle. These false teachers hoped to disqualify him and bring him into contempt as an apostle. As he writes this letter "it is a matter of life and death to the apostle to prove his independence of the twelve." And his independence of them is strongly supported by the fact that, for several years of his Christian life, during which he was preaching the same gospel as he now preached, he had not even seen any of them except Peter and James the Lord's brother, and that was during a short visit to Jerusalem some three years after his conversion. 

behold, before God, I lie not. 

“Behold, before God I lie not” is not only an emphatic assertion, but a formal oath or a solemn appeal to God; it is swearing by the God of truth, calling on Him to be a witness to the truth of the things that he had written. It may seem to be remarkable that Paul would make this solemn appeal to God in this argument, and within the process of relating a simple fact, when his statement could hardly be called in question by anyone. But we may comment:

1. That this oath refers not only to the fact that he was with Peter and James only fifteen days, but to the entire group of facts which he had talked about in this chapter—"The things which I wrote unto you." It included, therefore, the narrative about his conversion, and the direct revelation which he had received from the Lord Jesus.

2. There were no radio or TV broadcasts or newspapers which he could appeal to in this case, therefore he could appeal to God only. It was probably not practical for him to appeal to Peter or James, since neither of them were in Galatia at this time, and a considerable part of the experiences he referred to happened where there were no witnesses. It pertained to the direct revelation of truth from the Lord Jesus; therefore, the only way available to him, was for Paul to appeal directly to God for the truth of what he said.

3. A great deal depended upon the Galatian believers acknowledging the truth of Paul’s argument, even the success of his ministry to those churches, so a solemn appeal to God is justified. With that in view, it was an extraordinary and miraculous revelation of the truth by Jesus Christ himself which he had shared with them. He received information pertaining to the truth of Christianity from no human being. He had consulted no one in regard to its character. That fact was so extraordinary, and it was so remarkable, that the system communicated to him by Christ harmonized so completely with that taught by the other apostles with whom he had had no contact, that it was not out of place to appeal to God in this solemn manner. It was, therefore, no trifling matter about which Paul appealed to God; and it can never be improper to make a solemn appeal to God of the same nature and in the same circumstances.

4. From this he shows that an oath upon proper occasions, where it is necessary, and when it will lead to a good outcome, may be lawfully made. 


21Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; 

During his brief stay in Jerusalem, the apostle debated and argued with the Grecians there, and must have got the best of them because he irritated them so much that they were going to murder him (See Acts 9.29). St. Luke tells us in Acts 9:30 that “The other believers heard about this. They took Saul down to Caesarea. From there they sent him off to Tarsus.” They got him out of the way; they took him down to Caesarea, and then to Tarsus, a city in Cilicia; where he was born. He preached the Gospel of Christ to Tarsus, and throughout the region. The Caesarea mentioned here was Caesarea Stratonis, the seaport of Jerusalem, and not the Caesarea Philippi in the direction of Damascus. Later on, when Barnabas needed Saul's help at Antioch, he looked for him at Tarsus. It is, therefore, probable that in mentioning "Syria" with "Cilicia" containing "regions" (See Romans 15:23; 2 Corinthians 11:10) in which he was actively engaged in ministerial work after this departure from Jerusalem, he is thinking of the northern part of Syria, and "Cilicia" suggests he is thinking of the eastern portion of Cilicia, about Tarsus. It appears, then, that this Epistle is in perfect harmony with the Book of Acts. The apostle's labors during this period that he was making Tarsus his head-quarters, was probably dedicated to the founding of the Churches in Syria, and especially in Cilicia, which are referred to in Acts 15:23, 41—“With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings… He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” This shows that his ministry there was met with success, since we read of believing Gentiles and churches in those parts he visited; and that he, along with others, was sent to them with the letter and decrees of the synod at Jerusalem which confirmed them as Christian Churches.

“The regions of Syria”—Syria was between Jerusalem and Cilicia. Antioch was the capital of Syria, and in that city and the adjacent places he spent considerable time (See Acts 15:23, and Acts 15:41, above.).

“Cilicia”—this was a province of Asia Minor, on the seacoast, and north of Cyprus. The capital of this province was Tarsus, Paul’s hometown: “The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying” (Acts 9:11). Since Paul was from there, and no doubt belonged to the synagogue there, it is probable that he was one of those who was engaged in the dispute with Stephen that ended in his death by stoning: “dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58).

22And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: 

23But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. 

24And they glorified God in me.

The apostle had a short visit with Peter, after which “he came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia” where he returns to his work. He had no communication at that time with the churches of Christ in Judea, they had not even seen his face; “but, having heard that he who persecuted them in times past now preached the faith which he once destroyed, they glorified God” because of the remarkable change in him. Many expressed thanks to God when they heard the report of this mighty change in him, and it filled them with joy, so it enlivened them to give glory to God on the account of it. “The faith which once he destroyed” is not the faith in Christ by which men are saved, but the doctrine which they are to believe, namely, that Jesus is Christ the Saviour.

"By face," he means "in person," and the implication is that although his person was unknown to those in Judea, he was not unknown to them by reputation. The apostle states (v. 22) that the Churches of Judaea did not have at that time the opportunity to know him personally, that is, (since this is what seems intended), no opportunity of knowing him in his new character as a disciple of Christ. Paul had visited Jerusalem only, and he had formed no acquaintance with any of the churches in the other parts of Judea. He regarded himself, even at the first, as called to preach principally to the Gentiles, and he did not remain in Judea to form an acquaintance with the Christians there.  What they knew of the apostle was only from hearsay; they had never seen him, or heard him preach, or talked with him, they only knew what had been reported to them; that he persecuted Christians in the past; only a few years ago, and though not them personally, but those who were of the same faith, the members of the church at Jerusalem; which he devastated, committing men and women to prison, and causing others to flee to foreign cities.  Though he could not entirely root it up; he destroyed many of the disciples of it, and did all he could to discourage others from embracing and professing it.

The reason for this statement may have been to prevent an anticipated accusation by those false teachers that said, though the apostle had not received the Gospel he preached from any of the apostles at Jerusalem; yet he might have got it from the churches that were in the land of Judea, and from some of the principal men in them; but this was far from the truth, because, as he points out, he was not known to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. There were not many churches established in Judea at this time, though there was a famous church of believers in Christ at Jerusalem, the metropolis of the land, and several smaller assemblies in the various parts of that country. The churches are said to be “in Christ” because they professed to believe in Christ, were called by his name, and called upon his name; and though every individual member of them might not be in Christ, really united to him, and have communion with him; yet since they all had professed faith in Christ the whole Church is said to be “in Christ.” However, the apostle was not personally acquainted with any of the Churches of Judea; he was converted in another place, and had not preached the Gospel to any Christian congregation in that country; he only knew those at Jerusalem.

The period to which the apostle’s comment applies may be assumed to be the whole period between his conversion and the end of his stay in "Syria and Cilicia." This, as we learn from the Acts, terminated with Barnabas's going to Tarsus and getting him to join him in his work at Antioch. After this he did become known to the disciples of Judaea.

“He which persecuted us in times past” is similar to "our former persecutor;” the title by which he was known among Christians, better than his name "Saul." But the Lord Jesus changed his heart, and St. Paul was wonderfully brought to the knowledge and faith of Christ. All who are saved, are called by the grace of God; their conversion is wrought by His power and grace working in them. It will do us little good to have Christ revealed to us, if he is not also revealed in us. He instantly prepared to obey, without hesitating to consider how a decision for Christ might affect his worldly interests, status, comfort, or life itself. And what a wonderful occasion of thanksgiving and joy it is for the churches of Christ, when they hear of the conversion of a man like Paul, whether they have ever seen him or not! They glorify God for his power and mercy in saving such persons, and for all the service to his people and cause that may be expected from them in the future.

“In me” is like saying, "in my case." “And they glorified God in me,” that is, they praised God on my account. They regarded me as a true convert and a sincere Christian; and they praised God that he had converted such a persecutor, and had made him a preacher of the gospel. The reason this is mentioned is to show that though he was personally unknown to them, and had not derived his views of the gospel from them, yet he had their entire confidence. They regarded him as a convert and an apostle, and they were determined to praise God for his conversion. This fact would greatly assist him in gaining the favor of the Galatians, by showing them that he had the confidence of the churches in the very land where the gospel was first planted, and which was regarded as the source of ecclesiastical authority. 

It appears to be of great importance to St. Paul to defend and vindicate his Divine mission. Since he did not have a mission from man, it was even more necessary that he be able to show clearly that he had one from God. Paul was not brought into the Christian ministry by any rite ever used in the Christian Church. Neither bishop nor presbyter, not local preacher ever laid hands on him; and he is anxious to prove this, because his chief honor arose from being sent immediately by God himself: his conversion and the purity of his doctrine showed from whom it came. Many since his time, and in the present day, are far more anxious to show that they are legitimately appointed by Man than by God; and are fond of displaying their human credentials.


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