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). In Galatians 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 being to validate the gospel that he had preached to the Galatians and to answer criticisms made of it (and of him) by the Judaizers.
In my last article I considered the thesis statement with which Paul opens Galatians 1:11-2:14, “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). In it 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 this article I will explain how the autobiographical material in Galatians 1:13-2:14 supports that thesis statement.
Galatians 1:13-2:14 contains four parts, each of which I referred to recently in an article in my series of articles on the life of Paul.
Paul’s Conversion (1:13-17)
In Paul’s Conversion and Call I summarized and commented on Paul’s initial encounter with Jesus Christ when he was on his way to Damascus to arrest Jewish Christians there and its immediate aftermath as Luke describes them in Acts 9:1-25, 22:3-16, and 26:9-18. Here Paul emphasizes that God brought about and called him in that encounter and that he didn’t consult with anyone at the time.
15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).
Paul’s First Jerusalem Visit and Other Travels (1:18-24)
In Paul’s Missing Years I summarized what Luke tells us in Acts 9:19-30 and 11:25-26 and Paul tells us here (and in 1:17) about the fourteen years between Paul’s conversion and his commission. It included time in Damascus, Arabia, Jerusalem, and the area in which he had grown up. Here Paul focuses on his limited contact with the apostles in Jerusalem and the churches in Judea in those years.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother…. 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.
Paul’s Second Jerusalem Visit (2:1-10)
In Paul Commissioned I summarized what Luke tells us in Acts 11:27-30 and 12:25-13:3 and Paul tells us here about Paul and Barnabas’ meeting with the apostles in Jerusalem when they brought relief from Antioch to the church there. The Judaizers may have claimed that the meeting showed that Paul was subject to the Jerusalem church, but Paul shows that the church leaders recognized his ministry to the Gentiles.
2 I … set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain…. 6 … those … who seemed influential added nothing to me. 9 And when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
The Incident at Antioch (2:11-14)
In The Incident at Antioch I summarized and commented on Paul’s account here of his confrontation at Antioch with Peter over his withdrawing from eating with Gentile believers when representatives of James visited Antioch. The Judaizers may have claimed that the confrontation showed that Paul was out of line with the Jerusalem church, but Paul argues that he was right in confronting Peter.
Apparently the Judaizers didn’t oppose Paul’s basic message of “Jesus Christ … crucified” (Galatians 3:1). What they opposed was the implication that he drew from it that Gentile believers were accepted by God apart from the law. Having answered their criticisms of his gospel (and of him) in 1:11-24, Paul presents in 2:15-21 the theme of Galatians–justification by faith.