How Paul defended his Gospel in Galatians

This is part of the series blogging through Galatians. You might want to start with part 1.

Apostle Paul (painting by El Greco 1612)

Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians around 49 AD, likely from the city of Antioch. He is dealing with the proclamation of “another gospel”. This theological challenge to the gospel that Paul is teaching has reached not only Galatia, but the majority of the regions where Christianity has spread.

This “other gospel” asserts that one must adhere to the Mosaic Law, including circumcision, in order to be saved.

  • Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. (Acts 15:1 – Antioch)
  • It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses. (Acts 15:4 – Jerusalem)
  • It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, … (Galatians 6:12 – churches in Galatia)

Paul knows that there is not “another gospel” and wastes no time in making this point in the letter, skipping the customary prayer and encouragement that are typically part of his opening comments. Paul then spends the initial 1/3 of the letter laying out a logical argument for why the Galatians should not set aside the gospel that Paul preached on the first missionary journey (1MJ) for a false gospel that can not save.

Paul summarizes the problem for the church at Galatia:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are following a different gospel – not that there really is another gospel – Paul (Gal 1:6-7a NET)

Notice that the Galatians are not just deserting the doctrines or “truth claims” of one gospel and replacing them with the doctrines or “truth claims” of a different gospel. They are actually leaving behind a Person. God is being abandoned. The God who called them in grace, raised Jesus from the dead (1:2),  and offered to rescue them from their sins (1:4) is being replaced with the misplaced idea that forgiveness and salvation can come through the “works of the law” (2:16).

Having identified the problem, Paul lays out the conclusion that he will defend: The gospel I preach was given to me directly by God not man.

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters,that the gospel I preached is not of human origin.For I did not receive it or learn it from any human source; instead I received it by a revelation of Jesus Christ. – Paul (Gal 1:11-12, NET)

This is important because Paul wants the Galatians to understand that He is a servant of Christ who offers them only what God has promised. It is not really “Paul’s gospel” as if he invented it, nor is he just trying to get their attention and acceptance (1:10; 4:17). If that was Paul’s goal he would have accepted the adulation and worship that was originally given to him and Barnabas when the Galatians mistook them for Hermes and Zeus (Acts 14:8-18).

Paul’s defense will be based on two major claims.

  1. My gospel was received independent of the Apostles (1:12-24)
  2. The gospel I defend is the same Gospel as the Apostles (2:1-14)

My gospel was received independent of the Apostles

In order to prove the first premise, Paul will highlight his early life as a Pharisee and his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. Paul demonstrates how he was “on top of his game” prior to coming to Christ. He had studied in Jerusalem under the best teachers and had the reputation among his peers as being a gifted Pharisee. As a Pharisee, Paul would have been well-respected and had a place of honor among the Jewish people. If Paul’s goal was being famous and pleasing to people, as his opponents likely claimed (Gal 1:10), then he would not have changed a thing about the trajectory his life was on.

But Paul’s gospel set aside the same Law that had earned him praise and a good reputation among people and resulted in his being persecuted. Something the Galatians would have known firsthand since they saw Paul left for dead after being stoned by a rioting crowd during the 1MJ (Acts 14:19-20). He expects the reader to see the dramatic changes in Paul’s life and understand that only a gospel received directly from Jesus could have caused it (Acts 9:1-18; 22:12-21; 26:12-18).

To bolster his case Paul lets us know that, during the first 14 years that passed after his conversion, he spent a total of 15 days with the Apostles. And even these 15 days had occurred 3 years after Jesus appeared to him. Paul emphasizes not only the limited time spent with the Apostles but also shows how each group worked in different regions. The Apostles were in Jerusalem while he labored in Syria, Cilicia, and Arabia. Because of this limited contact the Apostles had very little information about who he was. Paul was simply “that guy” who persecuted the church and was now its advocate. It is clear from the testimony Paul gives that he had limited contact with the Apostles and could not have received his gospel from them.

The gospel I defend is the same Gospel as the Apostles

The problem with Paul’s argument was that the opponents could accept Paul’s claim that he did not have much contact with the apostles and then use that to bolster their claim that Paul was a maverick with a gospel that was indeed different than the one preached by the Apostles. Therefore it is Paul’s gospel that would be wrong since everyone knows that the Apostles are the “pillars of the church”.

Recognizing that the opponents might take this approach, Paul switches from focusing on his independence and moves to show that the Apostles agree with him. Paul is relying on the fact that the readers accept the unstated premise that the Apostles received the gospel they proclaim from God because they walked with Jesus throughout His life, saw Him after He rose from the dead, and preached the gospel in the power of the Spirit. Paul then testifies that the Apostles added nothing to the gospel he proclaims. Instead they endorsed his mission to the Gentiles and rejected the attempts of the “false brothers” who wanted his friend Titus to be circumcised.

Based on this information Paul hopes that the readers will see that the opponents are the ones with a different gospel. And since the gospels given independently, first to the Apostles and then Paul, were verified as teaching the same things then it follows that they must have the same source. How else could they match? The only logical conclusion is the one Paul made – that their source is God, who gave one, unchanging gospel by which men must be saved. There is no other.

What do you think of Paul’s argument?

[Continue reading through the series: part 5]

3 thoughts on “How Paul defended his Gospel in Galatians

  1. Pingback: Did Paul doubt his gospel? | Dead Heroes Don't Save

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