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Galatians 1 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

Paul's First Visit with Peter in Jerusalem

After establishing that he was totally independent from the apostles in his conversion experience, Paul now provides a sworn testimony regarding his first encounter with the apostles. His purpose in this account is to demonstrate that his gospel to the Gentiles came not from church tradition but from God, and that he was faithful to this gospel.

Paul is careful to number his years and even count his days: three years after his conversion he spent only fifteen days with Peter. The contrast he draws between the comparatively long time apart from any contact with the apostles and the brief time with Peter highlights his independence. His message must have already been formulated by the end of those three years between his conversion and his first encounter with Peter. And such a short visit with Peter did not alter his course. The purpose of his visit was not to be taught by Peter or to come under Peter's authority, but to get acquainted with Peter (v. 18). Of course they would not have wasted time on small talk. No doubt their conversation during those two weeks centered on Christ and the ministry of the church. Paul would have been deeply interested in Peter's accounts of Jesus' life and ministry. And his concern for the unity of the church would have compelled him to build a good relationship with Peter. But these understandable interests and concerns do not provide a basis for portraying Paul as a disciple or subordinate of Peter. It is just such a portrayal that Paul's account is designed to refute.

In Paul's record of appointments for that two-week visit, he insists that James, the Lord's brother, was the only other apostle he saw (v. 19). From Paul's references to James in chapter 2 (vv. 9, 12) we know that James had a prominent role in the Jerusalem church. According to Acts, James became the most influential leader in that church. It is not surprising, therefore, that Paul would have had some contact with him. What transpired during that visit Paul does not tell us. But we can be sure from his argument so far that Paul did not report to James as if James were the president of his mission to the Gentiles. While Paul was working for harmony in the church, he was working under a direct commission from God.

Paul confirms the complete reliability of his account so far with a legal oath (1:20). Under Roman law, an oath was used outside of court to indicate that one would be willing to resolve an issue in the courts. But why did Paul think it was necessary to take an oath to defend the veracity of his report? It seems reasonable to suppose that Paul took this oath because he was contradicting a false report of his part in the mission of the church, a report claiming that he had received his gospel and his authority to preach the gospel from the apostles in Jerusalem. Such a report may have been circulated in the churches in Galatia by those who were persuading the Gentile believers to live like Jews since that was the way of believers in the mother church in Jerusalem. If Paul was merely a messenger for that church, then an appeal to the example of that church was more authoritative than Paul's message. Of course these are simply speculations. But if Paul is right that "some false brothers had infiltrated" the church and opposed him (2:4), it is probably also true that false reports had been circulated about him.

It is common, even expected, that public leaders in the church must respond to false reports about their ministry. The best answer to false reports is the truth--absolutely no lies. Not only is personal integrity at stake. The truth of the gospel is also at stake. And it can be defended only by unvarnished truthfulness.

Paul wraps up the record of his first visit to Jerusalem with a further denial of any personal involvement with the church of Jerusalem. Since he went to Syria and Cilicia after his first visit (1:21), he was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ (v. 22). And since Paul was not within the orbit of the Jerusalem church, he was not under the supervision of the Jerusalem apostles.

What Paul did during his time in Syria and Cilicia between his first encounter with the apostles in Jerusalem (vv. 18-19) and his participation in the Jerusalem conference (2:1-10) is clearly stated in his quotation of the report circulated about him in the Judean churches: The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy (1:23). Preaching is actually a translation of "evangelizing." Paul was fully engaged in the work of evangelism. And the content of his message was the faith, a shorthand summary for the gospel of Christ.

The power of the gospel had transformed Paul from a persecutor of believers to a preacher of the faith. The light of the gospel that he had tried to snuff out had penetrated and illuminated his heart and was now shining brightly through his life and preaching. That was the report heard about Paul in the churches of Judea. What a contrast to the false, negative reports about Paul that were being circulated in the churches of Galatia.

In contrast to the Galatian churches, which were turning away from the gospel preached by Paul, the churches in Judea had praised God because Paul was preaching the gospel (v. 24). Although Paul had obviously not learned his gospel from the Judean churches, as he sufficiently demonstrates in the course of his argument, those churches recognized that the gospel Paul preached was the faith, the gospel they believed. When they measured Paul the preacher by the message he preached (just as Paul says every preacher should be measured--vv. 8-9) and found that he was faithful to the true gospel, they gave thanks to God.

The enthusiastic response of the Judean churches to Paul's gospel is certainly a rebuke to the present attitude of the Galatian churches. If only they would learn from the example of the Judean churches and evaluate preachers on the basis of their faithfulness to the true gospel, they would no longer be mesmerized by the troublemakers who had caused such confusion by their perversion of the gospel.

Paul really turns the tables on those troublemakers. They had apparently appealed to the practice of the Jerusalem church and the Judean churches to persuade the Galatian churches to adopt the Jewish way of life. But now Paul appeals to the example of the same churches. They had praised God when they heard the report that Paul now preached the gospel, the same gospel that had changed his life and theirs. Their example still stands as a challenge to churches today. Praising God when we hear that his faithful servants are preaching the gospel will keep our focus on the right thing: God's gracious work through the power of the gospel.

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Conversion and Call

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