Donald Trump attacks his opponents personally. He charged former Florida governor Jeb Bush with being “low energy”. He calls Senator Cruz “lying Ted”. The apostle Paul could identify. Trying to win over the Galatian churches to their doctrine, Jewish Christian teachers attacked Paul. They might have said something like this . . .
“His gospel is just man’s gospel. He’s trying to please the Jerusalem apostles. After all, what he preaches, he learned from them. And they got it wrong. Yes, we’re justified by faith in Jesus Christ. But we also have to be circumcised and devote ourselves to keeping Moses’ law.”
So what difference does that long-ago battle make in my life?
Suppose we discovered that a group of men fabricated the Bible? That somehow they convinced people their book was true? That generations passed with belief growing stronger with each? But now we learn it’s religious fantasy. Would we think any differently about those writers and the “Bible” they produced? I don’t know about you, but if it was proven beyond doubt, I’d realize I’d been building my life on a lie and burn all my Bibles. It makes a life-changing difference, then, whether Paul’s gospel came from men or Jesus himself.
In Galatians 1:10-24 Paul begins a defense with two important points . . .
I Had Limited Contact with Jerusalem Church Leaders.
Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. 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. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.
The bold face font highlights Paul’s limited contact with the Jerusalem church Over the course of three years he spent only 15 days with Peter and James. Hardly enough time to learn the depths of the gospel!
I had a Revelation of Jesus Christ.
The second point of Paul’s defense frankly makes me uneasy. It has echoes of the Muslim claim that Allah revealed himself to Muhammad (http://www.allahsquran.com/quran_divine_book.php) and that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to young Joseph Smith alone in the woods to reveal the true teachings of Mormonism (http://josephsmith.net/article/the-first-vision?lang=eng). Paul’s claim went like this . . .
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11,12). I think Paul was referring to his Damascus road experience (Acts 9). If so, his authority as an apostle preaching Christ’s gospel was rooted in Jesus actually, historically appearing to him after his resurrection.
Furthermore, he claims, “God . . . set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me . . . ” (Galatians 1:15,16a). Paul contends that from birth God had acted to set Paul apart for his purpose. And that, in the Damascus road revelation, God called him by his grace (no merits on Paul’s part).
Already in his greeting, Paul had summed up his defense to the charge that his gospel had a man-source: “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father—who raised him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1).
* * * * *
See what this means? I’m staking my life on Paul’s claim to a revelation from Jesus Christ. Can I trust that what he writes he received from Jesus? I don’t know Paul. I only know what I read that he said and did. Is that enough for me to regard his words as Christ’s?
Yes. Because Paul saw the risen Lord. To be an apostle one had to have been a witness to his resurrection (Acts 1:21,22). Paul claims he did (on the Damascus road). Paul was accepted by the Twelve on that basis (Galatians 2:7-9). And was willing to die to be true to that gospel (2 Timothy 4:-8).
The gospel we believe isn’t a spiritual fairy tale conceived by men. Nor was it given in a private spiritual vision. Nor did its founder die (and stay dead). Muhammad died in the evening of the twelfth of Rabi’ al-Awwal (June 8, 632 A.D.) at the age of sixty-three. He was buried the next day (http://www.cyberistan.org/islamic/death.html). Joseph Smith died June 27, 1844. He was killed while in jail, charged with destroying the facilities of a newspaper which revealed Smith as a polygamist who intended to set himself up as a theocratic king (https://en.wikipedia.org/w/Death_of_Joseph_Smith).
Paul died too. But the One whose gospel he preached lives . . .
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also . . . ” (1 Corinthians 15:1-8a).