Paul’s Calling as Apocalyptic

Galatians 1:11–12 (ESV) 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.

At the beginning of Galatians, Paul offers his own testimony of how he encountered the grace of God. Although he does not recount the story as we know it from Acts 9, Paul is describing his initial encounter with God as an apocalyptic experience. By this I mean God dramatically broke into history and revealed something to Paul which altered his understanding of God had what God is doing in the world through Jesus.

First, Paul’s claim is that he was not evangelized by other apostles. Although there is a case to be made for Paul having heard the preaching of Jesus before the crucifixion, based on his persecution of the early Christ-followers it is clear he did not believe Jesus was the Messiah before meeting him on the road to Damascus. Although Stanley Porter has recently argued Paul did know Jesus, there is no hint in either Acts or the letters that he heard Jesus teach or was he present at the execution.

In fact, Acts describes Paul as a bitter opponent of the gospel. Paul makes a similar statement in Galatians 1:13. Paul likely began to oppose the preaching of Stephen in the Greek-speaking Synagogue of the Freedmen (Acts 6:1-8:1). As a Hellenistic Jew from the Diaspora Paul have fellowshipped at this synagogue, but as a Pharisee he would have been shocked and offended by Stephen’s claim Jesus was the messiah, God had raised him from the dead, and he was going to return soon to render judgment. (Although we do not have Stephen’s speeches before his final one prior to being stoned, it seems likely he would say the same sorts of things Peter and John did in Acts 2-3.)

Second, Paul did not learn his gospel from the other apostles. After his encounter with Jesus, Paul did not submit to a period of discipleship in order to learn the basics of the Gospel nor did he associate himself with the Apostles in Jerusalem. In Galatians Paul claims not encounter the Apostles until after he was given a revelation from Jesus.

This, the origin of Paul’s gospel to the Gentiles is a revelation from Jesus (Galatians 1:12). The noun ἀποκάλυψις appears in Paul’s letters thirteen times, and as might be expected, the word has the connotation of God’s decisive actions in history to bring salvation into the world. This is in fact the title of the final book of the New Testament, the “Revelation of Jesus Christ.” Paul claims that he received this Law-free gospel for the Gentiles through revelation in Ephesians 3:1-6 as well. What Paul experienced on the Road to Damascus was like the prophetic calling of Isaiah or Ezekiel. In fact, Paul is the “light to the Gentiles,” a possible allusion to the suffering servant Isaiah 49:6 and he quotes Isaiah 6 when he arrives in Rome as fulfilled in his mission.

This revelation stands in contrast to receiving a gospel from other humans. Rather than being informed by others of a “Law-free Gospel” for the Gentiles, God revealed it to him through Jesus. In Galatians 1-2, Paul will offer evidence for the claim that his gospel does not come from humans, but from God.

This fierce claim of independence from the Twelve in Jerusalem and the original followers of Jesus is disturbing to some readers. Although Paul claims to be an outsider from the first followers of Christ, he says his authority comes from the highest level: God called him through a dramatic unveiling of Jesus, the Son of God. What are the ramifications of this claim for reading Paul’s letters? Does his claim of independence affect the way we understand his relationship with the other Christ followers in Jerusalem?

10 thoughts on “Paul’s Calling as Apocalyptic

  1. Phillip, It seems you understand the choice.
    You can “follow Paul” –
    Or
    You can listen to the voice of Jesus speak for Himself in…..

    The message of The 11 (“The narrow gate”)

    “The eleven disciples went to Galilee”
    “Where Jesus had told them to go”
    They heard His voice and obeyed His will
    Despite uncertainty down below

    Jesus spoke to them at length
    He wasn’t really a Tweeter
    Only 3 of them wrote Scripture
    Matthew John and Peter

    “Feed my sheep” said Jesus, for though
    “Heaven and earth will pass away”
    I have the words of eternal life and
    “My words will never pass away”

    “Enter through the narrow gate”
    The voice of Jesus through the eleven
    Believe in Jesus “through their message”
    And “eat from the tree of life” in heaven

    Jesus commissioned the eleven
    With “everything I have commanded you”
    “Teaching THEM to obey” Jesus
    And “THEM” means me and you !

    “The command given by our Lord and Savior”
    Is not a Pharisee speaking alone
    It came rather “through your apostles”
    Matthew Peter and John

    If a Pharisee boasts proudly
    Those men added nothing to my message
    He doesn’t speak for Jesus
    His words are nothing more than garbage

    Bibliography
    All “quotes” in “quotation marks” are from the writings of the Apostles Matthew John and Peter in the Bible, mostly the “Red Letter” words of Jesus. [Matthew, John, Revelation, 2 Peter – NIV]

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      • Beloved brother Charles, chosen vessel of God,
        From your beloved brother Matthew,

        I’m glad you like the Apostle Peter’s words about those who are “beloved” in the third chapter of his second letter, 2 Peter 3.
        Peter used the term 5 times in this one chapter – why focus only on the one time with Paul? Why not read the entire chapter 3, and spread the love?

        2 Peter 3:1 agapetoi beloved
        2 Peter 3:8 agapetoi beloved
        2 Peter 3:14 agapetoi beloved
        2 Peter 3:15 agapetos henon adelfos Paulos, beloved of us brother Paul
        2 Peter 3:17 agapetoi beloved

        The Apostle Peter’s reference to apostles in 3:2, and then use of the Greek word agapetoi throughout chapter 3, cut Paul down to size, and show that Paul has no special status or title as an apostle. Paul was simply “beloved,” just like everyone else Peter was writing to. God loves everyone.

        (The NIV Bible translates the words differently, sort of “covering” for Paul to make it seem like Paul is the only “beloved” one, while the readers of Peter’s letter are simply “friends” – but that is faulty translation, as you can see from the above detail of the Greek.)

        As I look at the whole chapter 2 Peter 3, in context, it seems to me:
        Peter was saying that Paul was NOT an apostle, but simply “beloved” like anyone else;
        Paul’s words were NOT the word of God,
        NOT Prophecy,
        NOT equal to the words of Jesus or the Prophets,
        but rather,
        simply some “scripture,” some “wisdom” like Proverbs that might be useful, regarding one specific subject, namely the “end times”. And, they should not be taken too seriously, since they could be easily distorted.

        Can you provide some Biblical backup for a different view?

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      • So are you saying that, because someone is NOT an apostle, they are not speaking of God? Paul spreads the good news of Jesus, as it’s said that Jesus had appeared to him and Paul had his conversion.

        The word “apostle” itself means “one who is sent”. Jesus sends the 12 Apostles out to make fishers of men, and spread the gospel, and we as Christians are called to evangelize in a similar way.

        We are ALL “beloved” because we had a Savior who loved us so much despite our imperfections and sinful nature. It’s not a matter of authority, it’s a matter of ministry.

        For more biblical backup for a different view, read the above post. Or literally anything Phil writes.

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      • Rowan,
        Do you acknowledge the fact from the Bible text that Paul was never appointed an apostle by anyone except himself?
        Are you saying that if one man, (such as Paul) claims he is speaking for God, he MUST be telling the truth, and we should believe him – without comparing his teachings with those of Jesus?

        Jesus was asked twice which Commandment is the greatest or most important one, (Matthew 22 and Mark 12)
        Both times Jesus answered quoting the same two commandments, from the Law of Moses.

        Jesus said that one of these two commandments is the first and greatest most important one. Which one is it? The one in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, or the one in Leviticus 19:18 ?

        “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “ is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ [Mark 12:29-30, Deuteronomy 6:4-5]

        Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” [Matthew 22:37-38, Deuteronomy 6:5]

        Paul had a different opinion – You can see the evidence for yourself – check out Galatians 5:14, and Romans 13:8-10, and compare with Jesus…..

        Poem – What is love?

        Two men came to Jesus
        With different motivations
        They asked Him the same question
        Relevant to all the nations:

        Which is the Most Important?
        The answer was the same.
        Jesus did not manipulate
        He was not there to play a game.

        “Love the Lord your God” said Jesus
        as He quoted from The Law –
        To fulfill and not abolish
        was His purpose, full of awe.

        Jesus did not make all Scripture
        Into one new great commandment
        He summarized The Law and Prophets
        “First and Greatest” and “The Second.”

        The Love of God is higher
        Than the love of any man.
        Receive from God, give back to God-
        Then to others, that’s His plan.

        The Love of God involves much more
        Than simply “love your fellow man.”
        Worship, trust, and pray to God,
        and obey Him – that’s His plan

        To worship and pray to neighbors,
        Whoever they may be,
        Or trust and obey our enemies
        Would be idolatry.

        The love of God is first and greatest,
        And the love of man is second.
        “All we need is love” are words
        of dead Beetles on the pavement.

        “The entire law is summed up in a single command”
        are not the words of Jesus our Salvation.
        It’s false teaching of Paul the Pharisee
        an “accuser of our brethren.”

        “Love” without God is Satan’s word through Paul
        in his chapter to the Corinthians.
        “I will show you the most excellent way”
        is the road to eternal perdition.

        Where is God in Paul’s chapter on love?
        Nowhere in view of the eye.
        Paul sings about himself like a Mexican Mariachi
        “I, I, I, I.”

        Jesus is The Most Excellent Way
        Not the words of a Pharisee.
        The words of Jesus are very clear.
        Jesus said, “You must follow ME.”

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      • Ah, I am very familiar with your poetry, Matthew. Perhaps your blog should host them? I’m a pretty avid reader of Phil’s, just as you are.

        Paul actually didn’t have a different opinion, he was just reiterating Jesus’s message about loving your neighbor, which he also says is a greater commandment. Actually, if you take the Shema and Jesus’s message to love your neighbor, it literally covers the ten commandments. He was clever like that.

        Paul mostly speaks from the “I” point of view because he’s not Jesus. Like James isn’t. And Peter isn’t. And John isn’t. And Luke isn’t. The way I see it, Paul’s rhetoric is a more interpersonal way of interacting with the civilizations that he wrote to. I don’t think you have to be an apostle to have biblical authority, because most of the people we read from or about were not. Biblical Scholars within the last 2000ish years aren’t. We are all fishers of men, though, and a blaspheme will be a blaspheme.

        It’s ironic that you speak so fervently against a man that’s been dead for 2000 years (I myself tend to be the same way with Alexander the Great or any advocate for Hellenism), who preached a message of love and Jew-Gentile equality. I hope when you read Reading Acts your knowledge will somehow expand as mine does.

        Godspeed.

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      • Rowan,
        You dodged my two clarification questions, and said QUOTE:
        “Paul actually didn’t have a different opinion,…..”

        Your opinion about Paul’s opinion….”what Paul really meant” – in your view – rather than what Jesus clearly said, recorded by His personally appointed Apostles who knew Jesus personally for over 3 years…. You are starting the old familiar song and dance…..

        The Evangelical “Mexican Hat Dance”

        Sin is always specific, not general.
        The “Hat” is, “What were Paul’s sins?”

        The music starts, with a cheery blast of trumpets in a melody that is familiar to most North Americans- the “Mexican Hat Dance.” (The national dance of Mexico, taught in Mexican public schools since 1921, and officially named “El Jarabe Tapatio.”)

        A couple in rather elaborate traditional costumes begins the dance. The man throws his huge sombrero hat on the floor, and the couple dances around it, but never steps on the hat. (The “Hat” is, “what were Paul’s sins?”) Here are the basic steps- (there may be one or two other basic steps, but they are very similar to these.)

        What were Paul’s sins?

        STEP 1) Paul said; “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” [1 Timothy 1:13]
        (Response- Those were Saul’s sins, before Jesus called him. What were Paul’s sins as a Christian? )

        STEP 2) Paul said; “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst.” [1 Timothy 1:15]
        (Response- Sin is alwasy specific. What were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian? )

        STEP 3) Paul said; “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” [Romans 3:23]
        (Response- Again the same question; What were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian? )

        STEP 4) Paul said; “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.” [Philippians 3:12-13]
        (Response- They say third time’s a charm. Same question; What were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian? )

        STEP 5) Paul said; “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do- this I keep on doing.” [Romans 7:15-19]
        (Response- One more time! This is getting boring. Same question; Specifically, what were Paul’s specific sins as a Christian based on specific verses of the Bible? )

        STEP 6) LOOP- REPEAT steps 1 through 5, until your dance partner gives up, the audience gets bored, or the music stops. The rule is- never step on the “Hat,” just keep dancing around it.

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      • Again, I’m familiar with your poems at hat dances. Which, ironically, you seem to be dancing around a hat. I pointed out that there are other people in the Bible who speak on Jesus’s behalf that weren’t apostles, in case you missed that. Jesus trusted a lot of people, and yes, that included his appointed apostles, but he also appeared to Paul when he was persecuting Jews. I see no reason to dance around Paul’s messages because of that.

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      • Matthew….do you remember how you got blocked from this discussion before? You are reposting your songs about and harassing users. Please refrain from this sort of aggressive behavior.

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