What is Paul’s Gospel in Galatians 1:11-12?

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.

Image result for ladder of divine acentAt 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?

8 thoughts on “What is Paul’s Gospel in Galatians 1:11-12?

  1. Rachel Smith

    “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?” (P.Long, blog: What is Paul’s Gospel in Galatians 1:11-12?) I think Paul’s claim that his gospel was revealed to him by Jesus Christ might have first been a surprise to the Twelve, but I have nothing to back up my guess here. In reading about interactions with Paul, the Twelve, and the Jewish Christian community in Acts; it looks like the Twelve have accepted Paul’s claim and are indeed excited about the Gentile converts (cf. Acts 21:19-20). However, it also seems that some of the Jewish Christian community who were Pharisees decided that the Gentiles needed to be circumcised. By making this decision, they seem to discredit part of Paul’s mission and they think the Gentile converts should act like proselyte Jews by obeying the Law (cf. Acts 15:4-5). The agitators in Galatia were also of the mindset that the Gentile converts needed to be circumcised; Paul is exasperated that the agitators are trying to such an extent to confuse and contradict the church in Galatia. “Paul’s attitude toward the ‘agitators’ is clearly hostel” (TTP, 90).

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  2. I feel like Paul’s claim about a Law-free Gospel to the Gentiles would not have been received well by the twelves disciples, especially at first. I think that the disciples would have wanted more solid evidence to Paul receiving this from Jesus Christ, because they had followed him for much longer. However, being we cannot know this for certain, I must also state that the disciples may have taken to it almost immediately if the Holy Spirit was working in them, or if they felt “at peace” with what Paul was saying.
    I know that there are a few different areas where Paul’s claim is not taken too well. He tries to allow the Gentiles a Law-free Gospel, but I know there are some instances where people do not take to this belief. I know Acts 15 shows this when it is stated that “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).

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    • I agree with Jackie in that it would have probably required more explanation and facts in order for the twelve apostles to agree with Paul. Paul needed to defend his message and authority in the beginning of Galatians. Paul himself was commissioned by the risen Jesus (Acts 9). Paul forces the previous requirements and beliefs from the Torah to change because the people must now live through God and Jesus’ teachings. Paul explained that God gave the people the laws of the Torah long after God’s promise to Abraham; the laws were meant to be a temporary measure (Galatians 3). To me, it would not make sense for the non-Jewish Christians to be required to follow all of the laws of the Torah. Requiring such acts as if Jesus did not fulfill God’s promise and denies the freedom that Jesus gained for us. A person is made right “with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law” (Galatians 2:16).

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  3. Galatians is actually my favorite Pauline letter. I definitely believe that is would get a lot of hesitation from the other apostles, because he writes from a perspective outside of the twelve. I don’t think overall credibility amongst the disciples would have been too much of a problem. We see his conversion and change in Acts, and Peter writes referring to Paul as a ‘beloved’ like the rest of the apostles. There’s a blessing to be said about the work they all did together and the ministries that came out of it, but the idea of a Law-Free Gospel was definite to raise questions.

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  4. When someone in today’s culture stands up and proclaims that they have received revelation from God, and that God has told them that the church is doing something wrong and needs to change, the church tends to name that person as a heretic and call that group a cult. This appears to be essentially what Paul did, so I do not believe that it would have been taken very well by the Twelve or any other Jewish Christian believers, and I cannot say that I blame them considering Paul’s track record. He had overseen the stoning of Steven and was prepared to continue persecuting and hunting the Jewish Christians who were not keeping the law. Now, all of a sudden, Paul is claiming in Galatians 1:11-12 that he has had a new Gospel revealed to him, and not only is this Gospel for all people, including the Gentiles, but the new Gentile believers do not even have to keep the law! From a logical standpoint, none of it makes sense, and I the early Christian leaders were wary at first as well. However, we find that they did eventually trust Paul, as Paul states in Galatians 2:9 that they offered him fellowship after seeing the “grace that was given to me.” Since we are able to view Scripture in light of the whole story, we know that it is true, as Jesus did not simply come to die for the Jews, but for all mankind. I am so thankful that he did, and that as a Gentile I can still be seen as righteous in God’s sight through the blood of Jesus.

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  5. I think that apostles would hesitate with this claim because there is not enough information to back it up. But I also think that circumcision seems to be a big topic when it comes this claim as well. In TTP, Longnecker briefly touches on Paul’s specification on circumcision and mentions Act 15. This leads me to believe that the people were “resistant” to Paul’s claim because the people truly believe circumcision is the “law” if you will.

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