Series on Galatians, I The Apostolic Authority, F The Acceptance, Text: 1:18-24, Title: An Exciting Report

Introduction

The Apostle wants to make it clear that he did not go up to Jerusalem for three years because he did not need to go in order to receive a mandate to preach the gospel, nor in order to discover the contents of the gospel. He has already received his commission and also the gospel, namely, from the Lord himself. So he writes in verse 18, Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. According to Acts 9:20-25 Paul was already effectively preaching the gospel in the synagogues of Damascus. In fact, his preaching stirred up the Jews, so that they took counsel to kill the preacher. Somehow they persuaded the Ethnarch of Damascus to assist them in their plot to kill Paul. Paul’s enemies guarded the city’s gates, thinking that they would get the apostle in their trap, but his disciples lowered him through the window of one of their homes on the city wall in a large basket and he escaped. We see clearly that Paul had become established and advanced in the ministry independent of anyone except Jesus, and he is still anxious to reinforce that point with his readers in Galatia because his unquestioned right to be called an Apostle is at stake. So he gives them a rehearsal, a reassurance,  and a report.

I A Rehearsal

The rehearsal is covered in verses 18 and 19, Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. This is a more specific account of the activity of Paul supporting his claim that his knowledge and authority came exclusively from Christ. Obviously Paul is making it clear that his visit after 3 years of preparation and ministry in Arabia and Damascus he did not go up to gain anyone’s approval. Peter was an acknowledged leader in the apostolic community. Paul says he went to get acquainted which means he did not go to be approved. He also saw James. This James was not an apostle but he was the leader of the Jerusalem church. He is best identified as an elder who was the brother of Jesus and not as either of the men named James who were original apostles: James the son of Alphaeus and James, the brother of John, He wrote the epistle of James and does not claim apostleship in the salutation. In the New Testament the designation can be used in  an official sense  describing one of the original twelve, or on rare occasions of others who were important early leaders of the church. As the leader of the church in Jerusalem, James position was important. Luke mentions in Acts 1:14 that Jesus brothers were gathered with the Apostles immediately after Pentecost, These gave themselves all with one accord to continual prayer, with women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. Also in I Corinthians 15:6 and 7 when speaking of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Paul notes that he appeared to James separately from the apostles, Then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the most remain until now, but some also have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles. In Acts 15 James speaks at the important meeting of the Apostles and elders. Paul was  not seeking approval from the apostolic college or from the acknowledged head of the church in Jerusalem. Thus he rehearses that his apostleship is independent from men.

II The Reassurance

In verse 20 the Apostle solemnly affirms, with an appeal to God’s own presence and omniscience, that what he says is true, I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. There is a lot of confusion among Christians concerning oath taking. The Old Testament supports the idea of taking sacred vows and oaths. The practice of the Church of Christ today supports it as well. People take oaths when they are ordained, oaths of office, they take oaths or vows when they are married, and they swear to tell the truth in ecclesiastical trials. But Jesus speaks against oath taking in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:33-37, Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.' But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. Christ was trying to correct an abuse which was the practice of swearing in common conversation, and especially swearing by created things. To do this, he said that they were mistaken in their views of the sacredness of such oaths. They were very closely connected with God; and to trifle with them was a species of trifling with God. So long as they kept from swearing by the name Yahweh, and so long as they observed the oaths publicly taken, they seemed to consider all others as allowable, and allowedly broken. This was wrong. Paul takes oaths on a number of occasions in  his letters. They are always deadly serious and are intended to convey the grave and weighty nature of the statement. Because the apostle is telling the truth he can seriously and genuinely invoke God’s judgment on  himself if he is lying. That’s how important it is that Paul reassure them of the genuineness of his apostleship. To do any less would be to bring his whole corpus of teaching under question and render it doubtful and controversial.

III The Report

In verses 21-24 Paul mentions the report of his activities, Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they praised God because of me. Paul of course is continuing his own report and argument here and he adds two more occasions of avoiding potential sources of endorsement and validation. The first is his absence from the area in Syria and Cilicia after his brief meetings with Peter and James: he was among the Gentiles. The second is the fact that the churches of Judea did not know him. These churches all had leaders and undoubtedly some of them were original apostles. Thus he was not visiting them to gain their recommendation. However the report that matters and with which we should concern ourselves is the report that circulated among the Christian churches that, “the man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” It is evident that the reporters, men and women of simple faith in Christ, approved of the gospel as preached by Paul! They recognized it as being the very same good news which they had accepted from the lips of Christ and his disciples. It was that gospel which at one time Paul had been trying to destroy and which he was now preaching! What a crushing argument against the Judaizers, who were slandering the Apostle for proclaiming the wrong kind of gospel, one that would not reach quite far enough to save people. The result of this was that the people praised God because of Paul. The Apostle exults in this development. He does not say they were suspicious, as others had been according to Acts 9:26, And having arrived at Jerusalem he essayed to join himself to the disciples, and all were afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. And he does not say that they were indifferent or unforgiving, or even merely happy. Rather they declared the glorious character of God’s marvelous attributes: power, sovereignty, wisdom, grace, and mercy, shown in saving a wretch, a relentless persecutor, and transforming him into a flame-tongued herald of the gospel! Paul must have been overwhelmed with joy as he wrote, “they praised God because of me.” Literally in the Greek “they were glorifying God in me.” Thus the final argument for Paul’s independent apostleship is that the practical results of his preaching ratified that he was indeed called by Christ and ordained to his office. This was the report and you can believe what you read in this book.