Verse thirteen. Paul’s argument in this verse is that his early education is a proof that he did not receive the gospel from man. He was brought up in a rigid school of ritualism directly opposed to the liberty of the gospel. He was a staunch adherent of the principles of that school, and as such, relentlessly persecuted the Christian Church. No human agency could therefore have brought about the change. It required the direct interposition of God.
Ye have heard of my conversation. Paul had told the Galatians of his career as a persecutor. It was Paul’s habit to include in his preaching the history of his past life as a persecutor (Acts 22 and 26). The word conversation is obsolete English for manner of life, which latter is the meaning of the Greek word Paul used, anastrophe.
The Jews’ religion. The word religion is not in the Greek text. The Greek word is Ioudaismos which refers to the Jewish faith and worship. The term was perhaps coined by the Gentile world as was the name Christianos, the name given followers of the Christ (Acts 11:26). The word occurs in II Maccabees where it refers to the Jewish religion as opposed to the Hellenism that the Syrian kings were imposing upon the Jews. As with the case of the name Christianos (IPeter 4:14; Acts 26:28), the word Ioudaismos conveyed some shadow of the contempt with which the pagan world regarded both Judaism and Christianity. But adopted by the Jews, it would lose the idea of contempt and even become a title of honor, as is the case with the name Christian. Now, the Judaism with which Paul was acquainted and in which his life had been immersed, was apostate. He knew nothing before his conversion, of the supernatural Judaism in which the Levitical sacrifices were the outward expression of an inward faith in a coming substitutionary atonement for sin. Judaism in Paul’s time was a mere ethical cult basing salvation on good works, and observing the sacrifices as a mere form.
But when he was rethinking the Old Testament economy in the light of the revelations received in Arabia, the supernatural significance of it all opened up to him. But in this verse he is speaking of the apostate Judaism of his early life.
How that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God and wasted it. The words persecuted and wasted are in the imperfect tense which speaks of continuous action. It describe the course of action continuously pursued by Saul right to the time of his conversion. The word wasted is very strong. It referred not merely to an attempt to devastate or ravage, but to ruin and destroy. It applied not only to cities and lands, but also to people. The word was used by the Christians in Damascus, of Saul after his conversion, and it probably became fixed in Paul’s mind. The reason why Paul here mentions his attempt to destroy the Christian Church is that he might show that such bitter hostility proved that he was not among those whose association with Christians had led them to receive the gospel.
Paul’s use of the term Church of God is significant. It show that Paul at the time of the writing of Galatians, had not only formed the conception of churches as local assemblies, but had already gathered these local churches in his thought into one entity, the universal Church. It also shows that he saw at this time that the nation Israel had been temporarily set aside and the Christian Church brought in, to be the channel through which God was to work for the time being.
Translation. For you heard of my manner of life aforetime in Judaism, that beyond measure I kept on continuously persecuting the Church of God and continuously bringing destruction upon it.
Verse fourteen. And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation. The word profit is from prokopto, which means “to blaze a way” through a forest, “to cut a pioneer path.” Paul means that he outstripped his Jewish contemporaries in distinctively Jewish culture, zeal, and activity. He pioneered in his studies, cutting new paths ahead of his fellow-students. He was a brilliant pupil of Gamaliel. 13 The word equals in the Greek text means, not equals in position but in age. In the words mine own nation, we have incidental proof that Paul was writing especially to Gentiles.
Being more exceedingly zealous of the tradition of my fathers. The word traditions is from paradosis which means literally “to give from the presence of,” thus “to give personally.” It signifies an act of transmission or that which is transmitted. In the New Testament it is used in the latter sense, without indicating the method of transmission or implying any lapse of time such as is usually associated with the English word tradition. The use of the word fathers makes it clear that Paul is not referring here to the Mosaic law, but to the instruction received from previous generations. This point is very important.
Had Paul lived in his unsaved state in the thought world of the Mosaic economy instead of having his thinking dominated by the Pharisaic traditions, his act of receiving Christ as Saviour would have had some reasonable background, for the Mosaic institutions pointed to a need for Christ and also to the Christ who was needed, the moral law serving the first purpose, the Levitical sacrifices, the second. But Paul is at pains to show his Galatian converts that his salvation and his appointment to the apostleship broke completely with all his background and all his traditions.
He is speaking here of the hereditary traditions of his family. He was the son of a Pharisee. These Pharisaic traditions had been ingrafted on the law and had made that law void (Matt. 15:1–6). Thus, he could not have had a true conception of the Mosaic economy, and when he was converted, he found it necessary to restudy his Old Testament scriptures in the light of the revelations given him in Arabia, and under the instruction of the Holy Spirit. If Paul had intended to refer to the Mosaic law, either by itself or in connection with the Pharisaic traditions, he would have mentioned the law by itself or along with the traditions. He is here speaking of the way in which his brilliant advancement in Judaism had displayed itself. In short, the great apostle before his conversion, was occupied more with human legal enactments and practices as ingrafted upon the Word of God, and as interpreting that Word, than he was with the Word of God itself. The traditions of his fathers included the religious definitions handed down in respect to doctrine, ritual, asceticism, interpretation of Scripture, and conduct of life. Thus, Paul shows that he was not at the time of his conversion and appointment to the office of apostle, under such influences or in such a frame of mind as to make the reception of the gospel by him from human instruction possible. Only a supernatural revelation could have effected it. Therefore, proof is established that neither Paul’s office as apostle nor his message came by way of a human channel, but direct from God.
Translation. And I was constantly blazing a pioneer path, outstripping in Judaism many of my own age in my race, being more exceedingly zealous of my ancestral traditions.
3. Paul could not have learnt the gospel from the Twelve Apostles at Jerusalem, for he kept aloof from them for some time after his conversion (1:15–17) .
Verses fifteen and sixteen. But when it pleased God who separated me from my mother’s womb. The word separated it from aphorizo which means “to mark off from a boundary or line.” The simple verb horizo means “to place a limitation upon, to fix limits around.” The cognate noun horos means “a boundary, a frontier, a limit.” The verb proorizo (Eph. 1:5), “to set limits upon beforehand” is there translated predestinate. The word aphorizo used in our Galatian verse (1:15), is used in Romans 1:1. The impression one gets from the rendering of the a.v. is that it refers to the physical separation of the child from the mother’s womb, which idea was not in the apostle’s mind. The idea is, “who set me apart, devoted me to a special purpose from before my birth, and before I had any impulses or principles of my own.” Passages from the Old Testament sustain this usage (Judges 16:17; Isaiah 44:21, 24, 49:1, 5).
This idea is also seen in those instances where a child’s destiny is clearly fixed by God before birth as was Samson’s (Judges 16:17), and John the Baptist’s (Luke 1:15). The preposition ek translated from, in the phrase “from my mother’s womb,” is used at times to mark a temporal starting point (John 6:66, 9:1; Acts 9:33, 24:10). Paul, therefore, states that he was set apart or devoted by God to the apostleship before he was born. Here again he shows his apostolic independence of men.
To reveal His Son in me. Does Paul mean here that God called him in order that He might reveal the Lord Jesus to Paul, or that He might reveal the Lord Jesus through Paul to the world? The answer is found in the meaning and usage of the word translated reveal, apokalupto. We will use the terms subjective revelation and objective revelation in our discussion. A subjective revelation would be one in which God revealed the Lord Jesus to Paul, and an objective revelation, one in which God would reveal Him through Paul to others.
The word apokalupto refers to the disclosure of something by the removal of that which hitherto concealed it, and refers especially to a subjective revelation to an individual. A public disclosure of the Lord Jesus through Paul would necessitate the fact that He had been previously hidden from public knowledge, which is not the case, since He had already been preached in the world. But He had been previously hidden from Paul, which points to a subjective revelation of the Lord Jesus to Paul within Paul.
Furthermore, if it were an objective revelation through Paul, the Greek would require the preposition dia which means through. Again, the entire context has to do, not with how Paul preached the gospel, but how he received it.
Paul makes a distinction between the call and the revelation The latter cannot then be identified with the previous vision of the Lord Jesus which Paul had on the road to Damascus. That vision was apprehended by the eye. The revelation of which he is speaking here was an inward one, apprehended by the spiritual senses, possibly given Paul during the three days which he spent in communion with his new found Saviour and Lord in Damascus. Thus, Paul, whom God from before his birth had set apart to be a preacher of the gospel to the Gentiles, and whom God had called into salvation and His service, could not have been dependent upon men for his commission or subject to their control. The word translated heathen is from ethnos which referred to foreign nations not worshipping the true God, pagans, Gentiles.
Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood. It was immediately after Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus that he went into Arabia. The word conferred deserves careful study. It is prosanatithemi. It means “to betake one’s self to another for the purpose of consulting him.” In pagan writers it was used of consulting soothsayers and the like. It was as if Paul said, “I did not consult with anyone in order to learn the opinion of others as to this revelation I received, or to obtain instruction from them, or guidance, or advice.” The words “flesh and blood,” refer to mankind in general, with the idea of weakness, frailty, and ignorance. Thus Paul asserts that his commission and message came to him directly from God, and that neither was affected in any way by human intervention.
Translation. But when it was the good pleasure of the One who set me apart before I was born, and called me by His grace, to give me an inward revelation of His Son in order that I might proclaim Him as glad tidings among the Gentiles, immediately I did not put myself in communication with flesh and blood for the purpose of consultation.
Verse seventeen. Neither went I up to Jerusalem. Went up is from anerchomai. It was used especially of visiting Jerusalem which was situated in the highlands of Palestine. Katerchomai was used of the descending journey from the city. The religious position of Jerusalem as the seat of the Temple and the mother-city of the Church, and its geographical position on the central heights of Palestine, were the factors that suggested the expressions “going up” and “going down,” when a journey was made to that city and then back to one’s home.
The word before is from pro which is evidently used in its temporal sense. Paul is referring here to those who were apostles before him in point of time. The order of the words in the Greek text, the before me apostles, shows that Paul recognized the apostleship of the Twelve as essentially the same in character as his apostleship.
But I went into Arabia. Paul does not state his purpose in doing so, but his statement to the effect that after his conversion he did not consult with anybody but went into Arabia, leads one to the clear inference that he wanted to be alone with God. The word Arabia is the transliteration (spelling) of a Hebrew word meaning “an arid, thus a sparsely populated place.” He needed to be alone with God. He needed time and isolation in order to think. The revelation of the Son of God had blasted away the foundations of the Pharisaic thought structure which he had been building up with such consummate skill and zeal, and it had come tumbling down in ruins about his head. This revelation also furnished him with another foundation upon which to build a new theological structure. But the replacement of the ruined structure with a new one could not be the work of a day or a month. There in Arabia, isolated from all human contact, alone with God, the great apostle restudied his Old Testament scriptures, not now with the Pharisaic traditions vitiating his thinking, but, led by the Holy Spirit, with the central fact of the Cross of the Lord Jesus as the controlling factor in his meditations. Out of all this study emerged the Pauline system of doctrine as we have it presented in Romans.
The word Arabia was the term applied by Greek writers froth Herodotus down, to the whole or various portions of the vast peninsula between the Red Sea on the southwest, the Persian Gulf on the southeast, and the Euphrates River on the northeast. There is nothing to indicate exactly where in this vast territory Paul went. It is not necessary to suppose that Paul went far from Damascus, for the Arabian deserts were within easy reach of that city. It is not likely that Paul went to Mt. Sinai, as some suggest, for that would have constituted too effective an argument for the divine origin of his apostleship, to be omitted here.
Furthermore, Sinai was a long way from Damascus, the journey was at all times dangerous for travellers without armed escorts, and in a.d. 37, the most probable year of Paul’s conversion, a war between King Aretas and the Romans was in progress, which fact would have made such a journey very doubtful.
Translation. Neither did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and again returned to Damascus.
4. When he did go up to Jerusalem, he only saw Peter and James, only remained fifteen days, and returned without being recognized by the mass of believers (1:18–24).
Verse eighteen. The words after three years do not merely refer to a lapse of time. They are argumentative.
Paul is showing all through this section, his entire independence of the Jerusalem apostles. Therefore, the three years have reference, not to the time after his return from Arabia, but to the period of time after his conversion. The word see is from historeo which means “to inquire into, to find out, to visit.”
Paul had been suddenly driven out of
Damascus (Acts 9:19–25). He went to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Peter and possibly to
seek another sphere of labor.
Translation. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Kephas, and remained with him fifteen days.
Verse nineteen. The construction in the Greek indicates that James was one of the apostles Paul saw. He was not one of the Twelve however, since the brethren of our Lord did not believe on Him at the time of the choosing of the Twelve. The expression “James the Lord’s brother” means that he was the son of Joseph and Mary by natural generation. He is the same James mentioned in Mark 6:3; Galatians 2:9, 12; I Corinthians 15:7; Acts 15:13, 21:18. It is supposed that he was led to believe in the Lord Jesus by reason of the fact that he saw our Lord in His post-resurrection ministry (John 7:5; I Corinthians 9:5, 15:7). He was the Moderator of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13, 21:18).
Translation. But another of the apostles I did not see except James the brother of our Lord.
Verse twenty. The words, “Now the things which I write unto you,” refer primarily and directly to Paul’s statements in verses 18 and 19, to the effect that he went to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Peter, that he saw no others of the apostles except Peter and James, and that he remained in Jerusalem only fifteen days. He considered these facts so important in his demonstration of his apostolic independence that he adds the words, “Behold, before God, I lie not.”
The strength of Paul’s language is explained by the insidious falsehoods of the Judaizers regarding his supposed dependence upon the Twelve. The logical inference is that they had circulated statements to the effect that Paul had spent much time at Jerusalem with the apostles there. He denies this charge most vehemently.
Translation. But the things which I am writing to you, behold, before the face of God, I am not lying.
Verse twenty one. This verse records
a period of preaching, as indicated by verse 23. The word region is from klimata. It denotes
the fingers of coastland sloping down from the mountains to the sea in northwestern Syria and eastern
Cilicia. The name Syria is placed first because Paul’s ministry at Antioch preceded that at Tarsus, and because
Cilicia was subordinate to Syria in the Roman empire, being only a district of the great province of
Syria. Here we have about ten years of Paul’s life passed over in silence, between his flight from Jerusalem to
Tarsus and his return to the former city for the Apostolic Council.
Translation. Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
Verse twenty two. In the construction translated was unknown, the emphasis is upon a continuous state, literally “I remained unknown.” By face could be rendered “with respect to the face,” that is, they did not recognize Paul when they saw him. He speaks of the churches of Judaea as distinct from the church at Jerusalem. He left this city so abruptly that the Judaean churches had no opportunity to become acquainted with him. Had he been a disciple of the Twelve, his work would have been in Judaea, but because he was not, that showed that he was an independent missionary, and that he was not operating under the supervision of the Jerusalem church and the Twelve. The phrase in Christ distinguishes the Christian churches in Judaea from the unconverted Jewish assemblies.
Translation. But I remained personally unknown to the churches of Judaea which are in Christ.
Verse twenty-three. Heard is in the Greek text “they kept constantly hearing,” emphasis being, not upon the fact of the hearing, but upon their hearing it constantly. Only limits the whole statement. This information regarding the apostle was the only exception to their ignorance of Paul. Faith does not refer to the body of truth preached by Paul, but to the faith in Christ which he exhorted his listeners to exercise. It was the principle of the Church’s life that the Pharisee Saul was aiming to destroy. His aim was the extermination of the Church and its faith in the Lord Jesus. This he tried to accomplish by the ravaging of the faith of individual Christians. Destroyed is from portheo, which means “to ravage, to overthrow, to make havoc.” It is in the imperfect tense which speaks of continuous action in past time. It is not the fact of having destroyed the faith, that is in view here, for Paul never did that, but the continuous process of ravaging and making havoc of the Church.
Translation. Indeed, they only kept on hearing, The one who used to persecute us at one time, is now announcing the glad tidings of the faith which at one time he was ravaging.
Verse twenty-four. And they glorified God in me. The verb presents continuous action, literally, they kept on glorifying. In is from en, a preposition which sometimes designates that which constitutes the ground or basis of an action. This meaning comes from that use of the word which denotes the sphere within which the action takes place. Paul means that his example was the cause of the Judaean churches glorifying God. They found in Paul an occasion and a reason for glorifying God. Arthur S. Way translates:
“And so in me they found that for which to glorify God.” Paul shows the cordial attitude of the churches of Judaea towards himself, contrasting that attitude with the hatred which the Judaizers displayed in their antagonism against him.
Translation. And they were continually glorifying God (for that which they found) in me.
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