The Gospel in Galatians
 by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira 

2 – The Origin of Paul’s Gospel

Galatians 1:11-24:

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is 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 preach 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 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.

Not too long after Paul had established the churches in Galatia, false teachers — who were known as Judaizers — infiltrated these churches and directed a powerful attack on Paul’s apostolic authority and his gospel of salvation by grace alone.  Galatians is Paul’s response to this two-pronged attack.

In our last study, we looked at the first ten verses of chapter one where Paul introduces to us the Galatian problem.  In the first five verses, he introduces himself as an apostle not chosen by some committee or by some men; he is not a self-appointed apostle, but he was chosen to be one by the authority of Jesus Christ and God, the Father.  In other words, he is not an apostle like Matthias, who was chosen by the other disciples to replace Judas, but Paul was called by God the Father and Jesus Christ Himself to be an apostle.

Then, in verses 6-10, Paul directed his concerns to the Galatian Christians and their problem.  He is astonished that they were so soon turning their backs to the true gospel, which they had received with great joy, and were accepting a perverted gospel that was robbing them of their joy and peace in Christ.  He further warned them that anyone, any man or an angel, who modifies, or perverts the true gospel, who sidetracks anyone from the true gospel, will come under the irrevocable curse of God.

As mentioned in our last study, the problem of Galatia is not ancient history.  Today, many Christians of all denominations face this very same problem.  That is why it is important that we come to grips with the message that Paul wrote to the Galatians.  As we turn to the concluding verses of chapter one, verses 11-24, we discover that Paul turns his attention to the second attack of the Judaizers, the origin of his gospel.

Paul tells us that, just as his apostolic authority came directly from God, likewise his gospel of grace alone came directly by revelation, given to him by Jesus Christ Himself.

In Galatians 1:11,12, we have an introduction to our study:

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is 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.

According to verses 6 and 10, there is only one gospel:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!  As we have already said, so now I say again:  If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!  Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?  Or am I trying to please people?  If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

This is the measuring stick by which all human teaching is tested.  Paul is saying that this one gospel, which he and the other apostles proclaimed, was not something that was invented by man.  It is not a human philosophy or a human idea.  But it came to him directly by the revelation of Jesus Christ.  This is what Paul is saying about the origin of his gospel.  In these verses, Paul is clearly pointing out that the gospel is no mere human invention, nor did he learn it from any human source but directly from Christ Jesus Himself, just as the other eleven did during the three-year earthly ministry of Jesus Christ.

Then, in verses 13 to 24 of chapter one, Paul gives a detailed account of how this is true.  Let us read it first and then analyze it:

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 preach 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 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.

Oh, what a tremendous testimony coming from the pen of the apostle Paul.

First, Paul reminds his readers, the Galatian Christians, in verse 13, of his preconverted history.  We will find this in detail in Acts 8:1-3 and also chapter 9, verses 1 and 2:

Acts 8:1-3:
And Saul approved of their killing him.  On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.  But Saul began to destroy the church.  Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

Acts 9:1-2:
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.  He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

In Philippians 3:6, Paul also tells us what he was like as a Pharisee:

...as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But Paul reminds the Galatian Christians of his preconverted history, that he, as a Pharisee, as a Jew, as a worker for Judaism, had much success and that there was no human reason for him to give up Judaism.  In other words, from the human point of view, there was absolutely no reason why he should give up Judaism where he was having tremendous success, more than his contemporaries.

But his turning around from Judaism to Christianity was initiated by God Himself.  This is in verse 15:

But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased....

God is the initiator by His grace, and this is not true only with Paul’s history but with the history of every believer.  God is the One who takes the initiative.  God is the One who comes to us with the wonderful good news of the gospel.  We, by nature, are running away from God because we are sinners.  We are afraid of God but God comes to us through the gospel and says, “Stop running away from Me.  I have not come to destroy you.  I have come to bring you good news.”

God called Paul by grace.  Grace means undeserving merit.  In 1 Corinthians 15:9, Paul refers to himself as the least of the apostles:

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

In fact, he adds, “I don’t deserve to be an apostle because I persecuted the Christian church.”  But God, through His grace, called Paul because, even though Paul persecuted the Christian church, God knew that his heart was right.  He thought that in persecuting the Christian church, he was serving God.  He brings this out clearly in Philippians 3:4-6:

...Though I myself have reasons for such confidence.  If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

And because God knew that Paul was sincere and honest in his heart, God took the initiative and met him on the Damascus road and revealed to him His beloved Son.  “God appointed me as an apostle, as a missionary to you Gentiles.”  This is what Paul is saying in verse 16:

...To reveal his Son in me so that I might preach 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.

“I did not go to the apostles or to some human agent to find out what this gospel is all about.”  Paul did not question God’s calling.  He did not consult with any man but went straight to Arabia.  The word “Arabia” here does not mean or refer to the Arabia we know today.  In Paul’s day, this Arabia was south of Damascus, so it was not a long distance as it is today. In Paul’s day, it was a neighboring country.

Then, in verse 18, Paul says, “After three years” that is, three years after his conversion:

Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days.

There are many who believe that those three years in Arabia are to make up for the three years that Jesus taught His other apostles in His earthly mission.  Paul is saying here that after three years — that is, three years after his conversion — he went to Jerusalem, where he saw Peter.  He mentions that he saw Peter only for fifteen days.  Why does he mention the number of days?  Because he is making an important point.  He is saying to his readers, that it was impossible in those fifteen days for Peter to give him the full counsel of God that he had proclaimed to the Galatian Christians.  In other words, “I could not have received this message from Peter.”

One other person he saw was James but also only for a short time.  But he saw none of the other apostles.  He is simply proving his point that he did not receive the message of the gospel from any man but from Christ Himself.

What did Paul do in those three years that he was in Arabia?  He restudied the Old Testament in the light of Jesus Christ.  Paul was very familiar with the Old Testament.  He was a Pharisee.  He knew the Old Testament inside out, but he had misunderstood the message of the Bible.  In those three years, Christ did the same for Paul as He did for those two men on their way to Emmaus.  Remember those two men who were walking to Emmaus after the resurrection of Christ, how Jesus met them and how they told him that they thought Jesus was the Messiah but now He was crucified; He was dead.  Jesus said, “You are so slow to learn the truth.”  And beginning with Moses and going through all the Scriptures, He opened their eyes to all the prophecies that pointed to Him as the Messiah.  You will find this in Luke 24:27 onwards.  Luke 24:25-27:

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

So during those three years in Arabia, God opened the true meaning of the Old Testament.  The Old Testament, like the New Testament, points to Jesus Christ as our Savior.

At the end of the three years, Paul’s gospel was fully formulated through the abundance of revelation that God had given him.  So having been armed with this full gospel, after three years, Paul returns to Jerusalem.  He tells us in verses 18, 19, and 20 that he saw the apostles Peter and James for such a short period that it was impossible for them to have given him the message that he was proclaiming:

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 you is no lie.

Now, we return to verse 21:

Then I went to Syria and Cilicia.

After he saw Peter and James, he tells us, “I went to the regions of Syria and Cilicia.”  This is, the area of Tyre and Sidon.  When he arrived, the Jews there would look upon him as a traitor because he who was defending Judaism, he who was persecuting the Christian church, had now become a Christian.  We are told that, after he went to Syria, he “was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ.”  The people, the Christians of Judea, did not know Paul as a Christian.  They only knew him as a persecutor of Christianity.  But they had heard, the news had reached them, that this man who was formerly a persecutor had made a complete turnaround and was now preaching the message of salvation in Christ which he once tried to destroy.  As a result, what did the Christians in Judea do?  “They glorified God in me,” except the Judaizers who opposed him.

Now, having said this, let us make a synopsis of chapter one of Galatians.

  1. Paul makes it very clear in this first chapter that he is not a self-appointed apostle nor was he chosen by a committee or by any dignitary of the early Christian church.  He was chosen to be an apostle.  He was called to be a chosen vessel by Jesus Christ and God the Father.  The reason he is doing this is not to defend his personal rights.  The reason he is defending his apostleship is because the Judaizers, in order to undermine his message of salvation by grace alone, accused him of being a self-appointed apostle.  Paul is defending his apostleship, not because he is fighting for his rights but because he wants to defend the message he brought to Galatia.

  2. Paul is astonished.  He is shocked that the Galatian Christians are so soon sidetracked from the true gospel to a false gospel.  When we come to chapter four, we will discover that the Galatians were so excited by this message of salvation by grace alone that they were even willing to pluck their eyes and give them to Paul because obviously he was having eye problems at that time.  And now, so soon, either a year later or three years later, depending when Paul wrote this epistle — either from Corinth, which would be three years after their conversion, or from Ephesus, which would be only one year — they were so soon turning their backs to this wonderful message of salvation by grace alone.  Do you know why they turned their backs to the gospel?  There are two reasons:

    1. We are by nature legalists.  That means that we are, by nature, inclined to believe, to teach, and to practice salvation by works because sin, at its very foundation, is living independent of God.  This brings us to the second reason.

    2. The gospel is salvation by grace alone.  You and I can make no contribution to our salvation, which is very painful to our egocentric nature because, you see, we want some credit towards our salvation and the gospel takes the glory of man and puts it in the dust.  When we accept the gospel, we have to admit that spiritually we are bankrupt and that is painful.  It is very appealing to our egocentric nature, to our pride, that we can contribute towards our salvation.  This is why the Galatians were deceived by the teachings of the Judaizers.

The Judaizers came to Galatia and said to the Galatian Christians, “We hear that you have been converted by the apostle Paul.”  And they responded and said, “Yes, he came with a wonderful message of salvation, this wonderful good news and we are rejoicing in it.”  The Judaizers would respond, “Yes, we thank God that you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Saviour.  But what Paul preached was not a complete message.”  And they would say, “Really?  We thought he gave us the full counsel of God.”  “Oh, no.  What he said is true but it is incomplete.  Surely you don’t expect to go to heaven simply by believing in Jesus Christ.  That’s too good to be true.  Friends, God expects you to do something.  He expects you to be circumcised.  That’s why He gave it to Abraham.  He expects you to do good works and He expects you to keep the law of Moses, otherwise you will never make it to heaven.”  And these poor Galatian Christians were deceived by this perverted gospel.  Paul is astonished that they could so easily be sidetracked from the gospel.

But the tragedy is that we can fall into the same trap.  That is why we should carefully study this epistle to the Galatians.  It is our only way of guarding against this terrible enemy of the gospel.

Then, finally in chapter one, Paul tells us that this gospel that he preached originated from Jesus Christ Himself and not from any man, not even the apostles.  In other words, Paul is saying here, “The day you refuse to accept the gospel that I gave you, you are not refusing my message; you are refusing the message of Jesus Christ Himself.”  So this becomes a serious matter.  Oh, yes, if the message that Paul preached was his idea, if it was some human invention, then there was no danger of turning their backs to this message.  But, if the message that Paul preached was not a message from man, either from him or from the other apostles, but it came directly from Jesus Christ, then it becomes a very serious matter to turn our backs to this message.  The truth of the gospel, friends, is:

  1. Unchanging.  Paul, Peter, and the other apostles all preached the same gospel.  The emphasis, the style, may be different, since Peter preached to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles.  They may have approached the message from a different point of view, but the message, the essence, the substance of the message was identical.

  2. The truth of the gospel must be maintained.  The devil has not taken a vacation.  He is here today to pervert the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and he tries every means — through humanism, through the New Age movement, through infiltrating the Christian church with new truth which is no new truth but a perverted gospel.  We, as Christians, must maintain the purity of the gospel because perverting the gospel is one of Satan’s most powerful ways to pull men and women out of Christ.  Paul told the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 that, just as Satan deceived Eve by his subtlety, he would try and deceive the Corinthians by his crafty ways:

    But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

    And Satan, who is the father of lies, is still alive today and, in the name of an angel, he will come as an angel of light and try to pervert the gospel in your life and in my life.

As we conclude this first chapter of Galatians, it is very clear that Paul is an apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is important that we listen to his message because almost half of the New Testament is Pauline epistles.  It is Paul whom God set aside to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.  When Christ came to this world, He came primarily not to explain the gospel, but to be the gospel.  It is Paul that God set aside to expound the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Paul is the theologian of the New Testament and the message he proclaimed, which is recorded in the New Testament, is a message that came to him from Christ Himself directly by revelation.  In Chapter 12 of 2 Corinthians, verse 7 onwards, Paul tells us that, because of the abundance of revelation that he received, because of the danger of pride infiltrating his heart, God allowed Satan to put a thorn in his flesh to keep him humble.  2 Corinthians 12:7-10:

...Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

As we study this wonderful, important epistle to the Galatians, my prayer is that you will be rooted and grounded in the truth as it is in Christ and that you will allow nothing and no one to sidetrack you from this truth.  This is my prayer, as Jesus said to His disciples, that you shall know this truth and the truth will set you free.  There is only one gospel, there is only one message, that can reconcile a holy God to sinful man and that is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This reconciliation already took place when Jesus died on the cross.  All that is left is for mankind to be reconciled to God. May God preserve you from being sidetracked from this gospel.


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