In Galatians 1:1-10 Paul rebuked the Galatians for turning from the one who had called them to another gospel, that of the Judaizers (the Judaizers were Jewish Christians who told Gentile believers that they had to be circumcised and obey the Mosaic law, in addition to believing in Jesus Christ, to be saved). Now, in a lengthy autobiographical section (1:11-2:14), he tells them the story of his conversion and call and of his subsequent relationship with the Jerusalem apostles. His purpose is to validate the gospel that he had preached to the Galatians and to answer criticisms made of it (and of him) by the Judaizers.
I’m going to consider the whole section in just two articles because it’s mainly autobiographical and I plan to focus on doctrine in this series of articles on Galatians. I’ll begin my consideration of the section by commenting in this article on its thesis statement, 1:11-12, and then explain in my next article how the rest of the section supports what Paul asserts in those two verses.
11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)
Despite their having turned from his gospel to another gospel, Paul addresses the Galatians as “brothers.” He views all Christians as brothers because of their common relationship to Christ (Romans 8:29) and often in his letters refers to the readers as “brothers” to stress the fraternal attitude that they should have towards each other.
It’s unlikely that Paul founded the churches of Galatia without telling them how he’d received the gospel. Thus “I would have you know” probably doesn’t mean that he’s sharing new information with the Galatians but rather that he’s reminding them of something that they seem to have forgotten–that he’d received the gospel that he’d preached to them from God and not from any human being.
What was “the gospel that was preached by me”? In Galatians 3:1, Paul sums it up as “Jesus Christ … crucified.” For him the phrase “Jesus Christ … crucified” stands for what he says about the gospel in other places and excludes adding, as the Judaizers did, observance of the law to what Christ had already done. The distinguishing feature of the gospel as preached by Paul is justification by faith.
What follows is a triple negative, suggesting that Paul is responding to some sort of accusation about the character of his message:
– “[The Gospel] is not man’s message.” This is a general denial and is explained by the next two negatives, which refer to both the source of Paul’s gospel and the manner of its communication to him.
– “I did not receive it from any man.” Paul had just referred to the Galatians’ receiving the gospel from him (1:8-9). Now he distinguishes himself from them (and the Judaizers?) by denying that he himself had received the gospel from other human beings. His claim seems to be contradicted by his telling the Corinthians, “I delivered you as of first importance what I also received” (1 Corinthians 15:3). However, in that passage Paul is just referring to the basic facts of Christ’s life–his death, burial, resurrection, and appearances–which he received from others. Here he is referring to the gospel, which for him includes the conviction that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and the principle of justification by faith, neither of which was communicated to him by other humans.
– “[N]or was I taught it.” To his denial of man as the source from which he received the gospel, Paul adds a denial of instruction as the method by which he obtained it. Instruction is the way that most Christians, including the Galatians and us, received the gospel, but it was not the way that Paul received it.
The point is further clarified by the contrasting phrase, “I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ,” which may mean either that Jesus Christ was the content of the revelation (and thus the Father was its source) or that he was the source of the revelation. According to the former interpretation, Paul affirms that Jesus Christ had been revealed to him in such a way that the revelation carried the substance of the gospel. According to the latter interpretation, Paul affirms that Jesus Christ had revealed the gospel to him. By “revelation,” Paul is probably referring primarily to his encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, in which he was converted and called to minister to the Gentiles (Acts 26:13-18). However he may have in mind other revelations by which Jesus Christ was made known to him (2 Corinthians 12:1).
Thus Paul asserts to the Galatians that God was the source of the gospel which he preached, implying that they could rely on it (and on him) and thus should disregard the Judaizers’ criticism of it (and of him) and their claim that the Galatians needed to be circumcised and obey the Mosaic law, in addition to believing in Jesus Christ, to be saved. In my next article I’ll consider the support that Paul gives for that assertion in the rest of the section.