For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 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. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 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; 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.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. – Galatians 1:9-24 ESV
Paul pulled no punches when it came to his feelings about those who were preaching another gospel. These individuals were altering the nature of the gospel by adding conditions or extra requirements to it. And Paul would have none of it. In fact, he said, “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” (Galatians 1:8 ESV). Whatever authority these individuals claimed, Paul rejected. He deemed them anathema or under the judgment of God. This was serious business to Paul.The gospel was God’s message and not man’s. No one had the authority or right to alter the message of the gospel in any way. Adding to it, detracting from it, or preaching a different version of it were all equally dangerous in Paul’s mind. And this wasn’t about getting the approval of men. Paul wasn’t out to please anyone. He wasn’t in this to win friends and influence enemies. He was out to transform lives with the truth of the gospel of God as revealed in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And he had received his commission from Jesus Christ Himself. First and foremost, he was a servant of Christ, not of men. Paul often referred to himself as a slave of Christ. He did exactly what Christ had called him to do and his faithfulness to that calling often left him with more enemies than friends. His commission to carry the gospel to the Gentiles had cost him dearly. At one point, he gave a detailed description of his sufferings to the believers in Corinth:
I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT
Paul wasn’t in this for popularity. He wasn’t out to win the approval of men. And the gospel he preached wasn’t something he learned from the lips of men. He had received it as a direct revelation from Christ. And to emphasize his God-given authority to preach the gospel in its original, unaltered form, he relayed the details of his conversion and commission. “I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12 NLT). The remarkable thing about Paul’s conversion was the radical redirection it gave his life. At one point, his mission in life had been to destroy the followers of Christ, discrediting their “Messiah” and exposing their good news as nothing but a pipe dream. But God had had other plans for Paul. “But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:15-16 NLT).
His encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus had given his life new meaning and purpose. His life goals had been irrevocably altered and his mission had gone from persecution to proclamation. He was transformed from mercenary to missionary. And his reputation spread throughout the church, even reaching the apostles in Jerusalem. Even before they had met Paul, they had heard about him. “All they knew was that people were saying, ‘The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!’ And they praised God because of me” (Galatians 1:23-24 NLT).
What’s Paul’s point? What is he trying to prove? The issue has to do with the message, its messenger and the authority behind both. Those who were preaching a different gospel were claiming to have authority to do so. But Paul trumped their authority, by stating that his message came directly from the risen Christ. His commission was God-given. Long before he had met the apostles, he had been preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. He had been sent by God, not the church in Jerusalem. There was no middle man, no human court of commissioning. What Paul preached had come directly from the lips of Jesus Himself. And no one could claim a higher authority or argue that their message had more validity than Paul’s. The gospel message is not up to interpretation. It needs no alteration or improvement. It requires no human intervention or clever repackaging. It doesn’t need to be softened, added to, rewritten, glitzed up, or glossed over – “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV). It is the gospel of God, not man. And that is what makes it life-altering, sin-forgiving, righteousness-giving and holiness-producing.
4 thoughts on “Not Man’s Gospel.”
I’m curious how you would interpret the phrase (which in the translation you are quoting is theologically loaded with confirmation bias) “my former life in Judaism”. Remember I’m not trying to be antagonistic.
Not exactly sure what you mean by “confirmation bias,” but I assume you mean the tendency to read into the passage what you want it to say. As far as Paul’s meaning behind the phrase, “my former life in Judaism,” I interpret it as his reference to his pre-conversion life as a Jewish non-believer. In no way do I think he is disparaging his Hebrew upbringing. He was proud of his heritage. The Greek word he used is anastrophē and it most likely refers to his previous behavior or conduct as a card-carrying Pharisee and zealous defender of the Hebrew faith. You have mentioned in a previous comment your belief that the Jews were not works-oriented, but believed in salvation by faith. While it is certainly true that certain of the patriarchs were lauded for their faith (Hebrews 11), it seems that by the time of Christ, the mindset was much more works-oriented. Why else would Paul spend so much time addressing the issue of the law and its inability to provide justification? He was not refuting the law or doing away with it. It is holy, just and righteous. But no man was ever going to be made righteous through keeping of the law, no matter how much faith he had in it. In your blog post you directed me to, you wrote, “The common perception in Christian theology is that ‘faith’ is the opposite of ‘works’. By extent, then, ‘grace’ becomes the antithesis of ‘Law’. I would argue that grace is the key to keeping the law. Here is a simple formula that illustrates my view of grace and works.
1. Grace is the fruit of God’s love –
“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8 ESV
2. Faith is the fruit of grace –
“I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” – Ephesians 3:14-19 ESV
3. Works are the fruit of faith –
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” – James 2:18 ESV
4. God’s approval is the fruit of works –
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” – Matthew 25:21 ESV
Not sure if this answers your original question or not. But one thought led to another.
By confirmation bias I was referring to the theological bias of the translators. Many modern translations make the assumption that Paul stopped practicing Judaism after the Damascus Road experience and this assumption is reflected in the less-literal translations of the passage. I wasn’t referring to bias that you may have (we all have bias) but that of the translators.
I think we agree more than disagree. I like where you went with grace/law issue in your response. My chief objection to the modern presentation of the gospel (besides the fact that normative Christian theology has embraced some core doctrines and understanding which are antithetical to the Bible’s writings) is the fundamental error of presenting the gospel and personal salvation in the framework of the Law being opposed to grace. It is clear through the Bible that grace and law are dependent upon each other for existence. As you mention, the Law is good and right and is the written manifestation of the righteousness of God. Grace is favor bestowed, a place of right standing.
The apostles practiced Judaism. It was their faith. I believe what Paul is addressing in the vast majority of his writings is the enforcement of the Council’s rulings in Acts 15, of ecclesiastical unity in the body of faith between Jews and Gentiles who have come to faith in Christ. There were people who had already converted to Judaism that were Gentile god-fearers beforehand. In the early years of the “church” it was believed that you could not be saved unless you were Jewish. Through the study of the prophets, particularly Isaiah, and the study of Torah, Paul recognized that Gentiles becoming part of the commonwealth of Israel without becoming Jewish was part of the process of the Jewish people fulfilling their ultimate destiny. When Paul uses such phrases as “under the Law” and “works of the Law”, and “the circumcision”, he is referring to the status of Jewish identity. Apparently there were many who felt superior to Gentile Christ-believers since they were trusting in their “status” of being part of the people of God through a legal conversion (going “under the Law”). Paul emphasized that only true faith justified a person before God, not “works of the Law” (ei., “Jewish status”) The Judaizers were most likely a combination of Gentile converts to Judaism and others who still did not accept the rulings of Acts 15. This was a tense and confusing time for the faith community, and most of Paul’s persecution which he faced was based upon it. If we don’t keep this cultural reality in view when reading his epistles we will twist his words to say things he didn’t intend, as Peter says that people did even in his day.
Paul expected his Gentile converts to obey God’s commandments as part of the fruit of their conversion. Galatians 5 is all Torah, recontexualized for a Gentile readership.
I feel you are presenting good teaching on your blog, which is why I’m taking the time to engage with you on these issues. It is a waste of time to discuss with many people in the blogging world, since the majority are biblically illiterate.
Praise God almighty who reigns over it all!! He will share His glory with no one!! Praise Him Praise Him Praise Him all you little children!!