At the beginning of the letter to the Galatians, Paul must clarify his relationship with the Jerusalem church. If Paul is under the authority of Jerusalem, then it is at least possible that the “men from James” could claim that Paul has not been authorized to preach a gospel to the Gentiles which frees them from the Law.
At issue here is not the Gospel that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and that he was raised on the third day, according to the scriptures (1 Cor 15:3-5). Paul clearly states this tradition was passed along to him as the primary core of the gospel. It is also clear the preaching of Christ Crucified can be found in the apostolic preaching from the beginning. What Paul is going to argue in the first two chapters of Galatians is that although his Gospel is Christ Crucified, when the death and resurrection of Christ is applied to the Gentiles, they are not “under the Law.” For Paul, Gentiles are not converts to Judaism by rather adopted children of God and therefore not required to keep the Law. As Ben Witherington puts it,
Paul is referring to his Law-free Gospel for the Gentiles which focuses on and is based on faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross which provides one with right standing before God. This distinctive Gospel message about Christ Paul admits is not the sort of thing human beings could have come up with on their own. It had to be revealed by God for it to be known at all. (Galatians, 92)
According to Galatians 1:11-12, Paul’s Gospel was revealed to him by Jesus Christ. At this point in the letter Paul begins to use the first person. He is not writing on behalf of a ministry team (as in 1 Thessalonians or 1 Corinthians), he is presenting his own testimony of how he encountered the grace of God.
First, Paul’s claim is that he was not evangelized by other apostles. We know from Acts that Paul was in fact a bitter opponent of the gospel in Acts. As I read Acts, Paul was came into contact with the gospel in the Synagogue of the Freedmen, where Stephen was preaching. His reaction to Stephen’s preaching was violent and led to his mission to Damascus to round up Christ-followers.
Second, Paul did not learn his gospel from the other apostles. After his encounter with Jesus, Paul did not have a period of discipleship in order to learn the basics of the gospel. He will state that he did not encounter the Apostles until well after he was given a revelation from Jesus. He does not claim to be “one of the Twelve” or even under the authority of the Twelve. He is an independent apostle commissioned directly by God.
Third, the noun apokalypsis (ἀποκάλυψις) is the key to understanding Paul’s point in Galatiansi 1:11-12. The noun 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 is not saying he has discovered his gospel from careful exegesis of the Hebrew Bible or through crafty application of rabbinic rules of interpretation. He claims in Galatians 1:11-12 that God pulled back the curtains and revealed to him something which has not been known before, what he will call a mystery in Ephesians 3:1-6.
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.
How do you think this claim would have been heard by the Twelve in Jerusalem and the community of Jewish Christian believers who had been following Jesus since his time in Galilee? What kind of resistance to Paul’s claim do we see in either in Galatians or in Acts?