Not Man’s Gospel (Galatians, Part 8)

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This week we continue exploring the book of Galatians using a question-and-answer format.

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. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.   

Why does Paul insist that the gospel he preaches is “not man’s gospel”?

Because the false teachers were accusing him of preaching a deficient message by not requiring non-Jewish people to be circumcised. Remember that Paul’s opponents were claiming that he watered down the “true” gospel message (i.e., the one they taught) by leaving out the supposedly all-important requirement of circumcision. They were essentially accusing Paul of “making up” a new gospel that made it easier for him to gain converts. But Paul insists that the message he preached—salvation through faith in Christ alone, not through human achievements or obedience to rules and regulations—came straight from God, and wasn’t the product of his or any other man’s imagination.

This might also have been a jab at the false teachers, whose message certainly was man-made and not divine in origin.

What revelation is Paul referring to in v. 12?

Paul is referring to his life-changing meeting with Jesus, described in Acts 9:1-9 (and re-told in Acts 22:6-11 and 26:12-18). So significant was this day in Paul’s life that he referred to it as the day of his birth in 1 Corinthians 15:8.

Why is Jesus’ appearance to Paul so significant for his argument here in Galatians?

As much as Paul hated to toot his own horn and talk about his own accomplishments (see 2 Corinthians 12:1, for instance), he definitely has clout that the false teachers don’t have. After all, the resurrected Jesus appeared to him personally (while he was still an enemy of the church, even) and specifically commissioned him to be his representative. Where do they get off, calling him an imposter?

Also, consider that when he appeared to Paul, Jesus didn’t just commission him to be his apostle—he sent him out to be the apostle to the Gentiles in particular (see Acts 9:15; 22:21; 26:17). This means that Paul, of all people, can be expected to know on what terms the Gentiles could join the people of God. (Hint: it didn’t include circumcision.)

Why does he mention his former life as a persecutor of the church?

It highlights the legitimacy of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to him, since only such an earth-shattering event like that could account for why Paul suddenly ditched his fast-track to religious power and fame.

Is he bragging when he mentions how quickly he was advancing in Judaism?

No. He only mentions it to add to his credibility. If he was just hungry for influence and willing to do whatever it took to get people to follow him (as the false teachers were claiming), why would he have given up the bright future he had as a Pharisee?

Why does he mention his extreme zeal for the Jewish law?

It shows he’s not a guy who devalues the law of Moses. On the contrary, he loved the Law. He zealously obeyed it and taught others to do the same. He, of all people, would have been happy to teach the Gentiles to be circumcised, if that had been God’s means of bringing them into the church. But it isn’t. Paul can’t be accused of despising the tradition of his fathers—he simply has realized that a new era has dawned where circumcision of the flesh has been replaced by circumcision of the heart (see Deut. 30:6; Rom. 2:29).

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