Galatians 1: 11 – 24 Paul called by God – Part 2
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached was not of human origin. 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 of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might teach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas 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 to you is no lie.
Then 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.
* * *
In my previous post, I found disagreement between Luke’s account of Paul’s conversion in Acts and Paul’s own account of how he received the gospel of Jesus, recorded in his letter to the Galatians. The biggest discrepancy was that according to Acts, Paul started to teach in Damascus immediately after his conversion, whereas Galatians says that he went to Arabia.
Having now done more reading, I’ve been led to details that go some way towards reconciling the two accounts.
In the period when Paul was living, Arabia extended over a larger area than it does today, and included the desert kingdom of Nabatea. Nabatea was very close to Damascus, and was ruled by King Aretas.
“In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.” (2 Corinthians 11: 32 – 33)
Arabia was close enough to Damascus geographically and politically to make it more plausible that Luke in Acts is conflating Paul’s time in Arabia with the time in Damascus before Paul’s visit to Jerusalem.
However, we still need to explain the later reference in Acts:
“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and all Judea and then to the Gentiles I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26: 19 – 20)
This confirms that Paul preached in Jerusalem early in his ministry, and again says nothing about Arabia; rather, it says that Paul preached first in Damascus, then in Jerusalem, and then to the Gentiles. Perhaps Paul spent the whole period in Arabia working out the implications of his revelation.
Paul was telling the Galatians that he received the gospel directly from Jesus as a means of confirming his authority. The teaching that he had left with them has been corrupted and Paul is urgently concerned to set this right. However, there is another reason why the direct revelation of the gospel may be important.
Paul was called as an apostle without direct physical contact with Jesus during his human life. Despite not having received training by the apostles who had witnessed the earthly ministry of Jesus, they endorsed his ministry. That means that the Holy Spirit must have given Paul the insights that he needed.
And that is important for us. Ever since those early days, God has spoken through his Holy Spirit, and the Paul’s experience gives confidence that such promptings of the Spirit are legitimate. Paul is a witness that the Holy Spirit will lead us into the truth about Jesus.
Thank you for your Holy Spirit. Please help me to listen more attentively and to obey more readily.
In Jesus’ name, Amen