(11) I am letting you know, brothers, that the gospel proclaimed by me is not of human origin. (12) Nor did I receive it from man, but through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (13) For you heard about my conduct when I was in Judaism, that I persecuted the church of God to an extreme degree and I was trying to destroy it, (14) how I advanced in Judaism beyond all my contemporaries, being extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. (15) When the one separating me from my mother’s womb and calling me by his grace was pleased (16) to reveal his son in me so that I might proclaim his good news among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, (17) nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and then again returned to Damascus.
(18) Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit with Peter, and I remained with him 15 days. (19) I did not see any other of the apostles, except James the brother of the Lord. (20) These things I write to you, behold before God I am not lying. (21) Then I came to the regions of Syria and Cilicia. (22) I was unknown by face to the churches of the Jews who were in Christ, (23) they were only hearing, “The one who once persecuted us now proclaims the gospel he once tried to destroy,” (24) and they glorified God on account of me.
Paul’s Defense, Part 2: My Gospel Comes From God, Not Men
In the first half of Galatians 1, Paul made his point that he isn’t a people-pleaser and that his gospel was not intended to please people by being blunt and by calling down a curse on his Judaizing opponents. He continues his counter-attack against his accusers (those saying he crafted his gospel message to be appealing to the masses so as to gain him notoriety) by narrating his early life in Christ and showing that his gospel message was not crafted by him or given to him by any human, Christian or otherwise. Rather, it is completely divine in origin.
Paul first talks about his history in Judaism as a persecutor of the Church. This, he says, is what he learned from humans, and he was completely committed to it. So committed in fact, that it would have taken a miracle to change him. That, he says, is precisely what happened. Jesus appeared to him, an event we know from elsewhere in the New Testament took place on the road to Damascus. But Paul goes further: not only was he converted to following Jesus by a miraculous vision, but even after that he was not taught the gospel by any human, but he went away to Arabia. Presumably, it was there that his own personal understanding of the significance of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension began to form. At least that’s what seems to me to be implied here. He did not go to meet any of the original Christian believers until years after he began following Christ. And even then he only met with Peter and James for about two weeks. Paul did not go to any lengths whatsoever to ingratiate himself with human authorities of any kind. Paul’s gospel and his apostolic commission were not derived from the original Church leaders, but only recognized and endorsed.
The Theological Importance of the Gospel’s Divine Origin
The God-givenness of the gospel is extremely important for Paul, not only in defending himself against his accusers but in arguing for the gospel’s completeness and sufficiency. The bare gospel that Paul preaches is from God and therefore needs no further refinement or augmentation by humans. This is God’s good news first and foremost. As we saw in Romans, the sovereignty of God is an absolutely non-negotiable fact for Paul. God rules and all things that happen for our salvation derive from him. He calls us. He elects us. He forgives our sins. Nothing we do earns anything from him or can possibly manipulate him. At no point do we ever have a contract that we can hold over God’s head and say, “Look here, now you have no choice but to save me.” We are saved entirely by God’s grace.
The divine origin of our gospel differentiates it from all other competing proclamations. There is a kind of ridiculousness built into our gospel by God for the purpose of rendering all wisdom of human origin futile and powerless.
Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31:
(18) For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (19) For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
(20) Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (21) For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. (22) For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, (23) but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, (24) but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (25) For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
(26) For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. (27) But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; (28) God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, (29) so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (30) And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, (31) so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (ESV)
– the Gospel is designed by God to be difficult to swallow –
The thing that those who are willing to sacrifice the death and resurrection of Jesus for the sake of respectability – the people-pleasers – get wrong is that the Gospel is actually designed by God to be difficult to swallow. It is a stumbling block to the Jews, meaning it eliminates their source of boasting, and folly to the Gentiles, meaning it depends upon something everyone knows from experience to be impossible – a physical resurrection from the dead. The gospel is designed so that only the person who is willing to set aside their source of pride can enter the kingdom of God. The person who takes pride in his wealth has realize that that wealth is futile. The person who takes pride in his personal righteousness has to humble himself and admit that he isn’t actually all that righteous. The person who takes pride in his reason has to admit that reason only gets you so far. At some point you are left with nothing but assumptions and faith.
It is interesting to note that philosophers, after centuries of working on the assumption that you could construct a world view and base of knowledge entirely from reason and elementary principles, has largely come around to the point of view that rational certainty is little more than an illusion. Biblical theology has been saying this for millennia. This doesn’t mean reason and the gospel are incompatible, but that unaided by the Holy Spirit (God’s prevenient grace) our reason cannot bring us to embrace the gospel. God intentionally leaves gaps in the very fabric of human experience that can only be crossed by a leap of faith. Once this leap is made, reason works hand in hand with faith to undergird our faith.