Before God, I Do Not Lie! (Galatians, Part 12)
This week we continue exploring the book of Galatians using a question-and-answer format.
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. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 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. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.
Why is Paul still going on and on about his activities and travels following his conversion?
He is still answering the charge (presumably made by the false teachers who had come to Galatia) that his gospel was man-made—that is, that he had altered the message of the gospel in order to make it more palatable to the Gentiles. Paul is explaining that the gospel he preaches came directly from God. In fact, he says in this paragraph, he didn’t even consult with the original apostles (Peter, James, John, and the others) before he started preaching about Jesus. He says it was a full three years before he met any of the original apostles, and even then he only met with two of them for a measly fifteen days. This supports his claim that he received the gospel message directly from Jesus himself.
Why does Paul swear on oath (v. 20) that he is telling the truth?
This rather jarring verse is further evidence that Paul is under attack by false teachers in Galatia who are claiming that he is a liar and that he cannot be trusted. (It is difficult to make sense of this sentence otherwise.)
How does Paul’s taking a oath square with Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:34-37: “I say to you, Do not take an oath at all. . . . Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil”?
Some have read Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:34-37 and concluded that it is wrong to take an oath in court, or to say things like, “I promise you that I am telling the truth.” But Jesus himself often prefaced his statements by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you,” and Paul often says things like, “God is my witness” (see Rom. 1:9; 9:1; 2 Cor. 1:23; 11:10; 1 Tim. 2:7). We even see an angel in Revelation 10:5-6 who raises his right hand to heaven and swears “by him who lives forever and ever.”
It would seem that what Jesus is prohibiting in Matthew 5 is not oath-swearing period, but rather an untrustworthy character that would make oath-swearing necessary. But sometimes we are under attack by enemies who claim we are lying (as in Paul’s case), or we say things that are difficult for people to hear and believe (as was frequently the case with Jesus), and for the sake of others it may help to assure our hearers that we are telling the truth.