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.

Paul Road to DamascusIn 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?

12 thoughts on “Paul’s Calling as Apocalyptic

  1. The first thought that comes to me as I read through this blog post is that an individual does not know how to act in response to a situation unless they have been fully equipped. For example, the past few days Hurricane Dorian has been hovering over the Bahamas, making its way up the East Coast. Those who live in the Bahamas and the East Coast, may or may not have experienced such a horrific hurricane before. If no one has warned them and they have not experienced it for themselves, they won’t know what to expect. Mankind can easily try their best to express the impact that it’ll have physically and emotionally. Does mankind have the power to allow another to understand the impact of a hurricane? In this blog post it is stated that Paul did not learn his gospel from the other apostles (para. 4). After Paul received a revelation from Jesus, is when he encountered the apostles. It can be understood that Jesus allowed Paul to become the man he became. Paul was equipped by Jesus, who is not of man, to proclaim the gospel to Cyprus, Antioch, Iconium and Lystra (Acts 13-15).
    Paul realized after he was made new by Jesus, that his old ways of persecuting other believers was not Christ like. He realized this after the Lord guided him in altering his perspective. Paul’s heart was softened, and Jesus gave him a new perspective. In Galatians 1:11-17 it clearly explains Paul admitting his wrong before he fully new Christ and what He was capable of. Paul brings to light where the gospel came from. In Longenecker and Still they quote from Galatians as stated by Paul, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin” (pg. 20). This gives us an understanding that Paul did not come up with the gospel on his own and mankind did not inform him. Just as Hurricane Dorian was experienced by thousands of individuals, who may or may have not experienced a hurricane before. As I can imagine, no one was able to inform them of the impact it would have. Sharing the gospel is unlike a hurricane, but they both allow for the unexpected to take place.

  2. I personally do not understand why this revelation to Paul is disturbing to certain readers. The way God called Paul into ministry is an awesome story and gives hope to so many people who feel as though they have completely messed up their lives. Anyways, as I read this post, what comes to my mind is the part of the story after Paul’s conversion. God calls Ananias, who from context seems to be a follower of the Way, and obedient to the Lord, having gifts of healing. God tells Ananias that Paul will be praying, and that he is to go lay hands on Paul to regain his vision. My thinking is that if prayer is one of the main ways in which we communicate with God, and we are also told that Paul has had a vision of Ananias, then maybe this is when God revealed the gospel to Paul. When Saul met the Lord on the road to Damascus this was an encounter that he had with the Lord as he asks Saul “Why are you persecuting me?” The Lord challenges him, and then gives him direction on what to do next. This could also be compared to Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush, where God challenges him, and gives him direction. Verse 9 tells us that Paul did not eat or drink and could not see for three days. During this time, or later as he was praying could have been when the revelation that Paul talks about in Galatians 1 actually happens. This also makes me wonder if Paul’s conversion did not happen until the scales fell off of his eyes, as in vs. 17 Ananias says he has come to him that he may regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit, which leads me to believe that this is when he was saved, and then after it states he went to be baptized.

    I do not think that Paul’s relationship with other Christ followers would have been very different because of this specific claim. Everything that God reveals about himself, he has already revealed in his Word. From what other Christ followers should have known about Jesus, they should not be surprised that God could do such a thing. The only stumbling block some people may have had is forgiving Paul for his past and being able to rejoice about who God had called him to do.

  3. Not that God needed it, but what was really neat about Paul was his vast knowledge(memorized even) of scripture. He “knew” so much already, but he didn’t understand(common problem with many Christians even today). God’s revelation(s) not only help Paul know new things, it also put his knowledge of the scriptures into the propper perspective. I recently saw a quote talking about how revelation from God, if it agrees with scripture, is not needed. Well Paul would be proof of that being wrong. Paul often quoted scripture from memory having learned it in his studies as a Pharisee. He knew scripture! But he didn’t understand it as God did. He NEEDED God to reveal His meaning(s) in those words. I believe we ALL NEED that. Church, bible studies, even bible college can equip knowledge, just like Gamaliel did for Paul, but that is just knowledge not understanding. It takes God, through the Spirit, to reveal God’s understanding to us. Paul is a wonderful example of so many Christians today. We often grow up in church and learn “at the feet” of pastors and teachers. But truth and understanding only come from personal experiences with God.

  4. Paul has a distinction among the apostles in that he received “the good news” directly from God himself, and it was not relayed to him by other human beings. This is significant in that it adds a tremendous amount of weight and support to his position that Jesus is the son of God, that the Gospel is truth, and so on. It is not simply Paul who witnessed his conversion however. As we are told at the beginning of Acts chapter 9, others who were present witnessed this supernatural event as well. Acts 9:7-8: “the men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground , and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus”. The other men with Paul witnessed his blinding, so they as well as others knew Paul could not possibly be telling a story or making up a false claim about his direct encounter with the Lord. One of the ramifications of this is that we should be encouraged to know that when others claim that our faith in Jesus Christ is “foolish” or “of no value”, these types of attacks do not matter. What does matter is that we know in our own hearts and can be assured that we have salvation. 1 John 5:12-13: “He who has the Son has the life. He who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you to believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you have know that you have eternal life”.”

  5. The first thing that came to my mind while I was reading this blog post was just how amazing and transforming life with Jesus is. Saul was a murderer until his encounter with Christ and completely changed his ways. He instantly gained a better understanding of the Gospel and devoted his life to sharing the news he, just the day before, was trying to kill. It is amazing just to see the true transformation of Paul. Above, P. Long asks if Paul’s independence affects how we understand his relationship with other Christ-followers. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus tells his disciples to go out into the world and make more disciples. I believe that they had an understanding of the lonely road ahead of them. All of the apostles had independence in their mission, they each had different ways of ministry, different means, and abilities to preach the gospel. After Paul’s experience with Christ, “Paul contends that he did not enter into consultation with any person, including those living in Jerusalem who were apostles before him” (Longenecker, 34). This aI believe was Paul’s processing time, a way for him to truly understand what had happened and what the Lord was calling him to do But later in Paul’s life he built churches and had many fellow followers assist him in his mission. Many followers have helped him escape death. I believe our understanding of Paul’s independence should be he was independent in his mission but he was not independent in his process, in his work. Paul was an amazing man and accomplished amazing things, all with the Lord by his side, guiding his steps and a church behind him throughout his missionary journeys.

  6. The idea that Paul’s conversion to Christianity came from an apocalyptic experience is monumental and something to note. When reading this post, the first thing that jumped to the forefront of my mind was the experience Paul had with God and how often humans/Christians today are able to experience a similar situation or revelation from the Lord. Hence, it makes me wonder how many Christians today would claim that they received the Gospel or began their faith in Jesus Christ due to a spiritual revelation or apocalyptic experience. As the post above states, Paul was not a recipient of the Gospel through human interaction. Today, I feel as if evangelistic conversations and efforts would be considered the most common way that the Gospel is spread from one person to another. Therefore, it is very intriguing to me that Paul experienced God and the Gospel through a revelation (Galatians 1:12). It is especially intriguing that Paul received the Gospel in this manner because of his previous opposition to the Gospel (Galatians 1:13). It makes one wonder: Would Paul have converted to Christ if he did not experience a revolutionary revelation from Christ Himself? Would he have been willing to convert to Christ from mere evangelistic efforts and movements?

    Another concept that caught my attention is how Paul claims that his Gospel is not human-made but that it comes from God Himself (Galatians 1:11). When I was reading Galatians, I felt as if Paul was “taking a shot” at his doubters/critics who tried to undermine his authority to speak about God. Longenecker and Still (2014) mention that Paul’s Gospel that he preached was free of “any institutional authentication” (p. 98). Ultimately, I think the Road to Damascus experience for Paul verifies and gives authority to his Gospel that he preaches in a time where the Gospel was heavily discussed and possibly authenticated.

  7. Understanding Paul’s background has a significant influence on how we read his letters. The greatest influence in Paul’s life was his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. This event shaped his letters in several ways. First, Paul’s letters cannot be read like Peter’s or John’s. His radical encounter with Jesus was different than any of the other apostles. Second, Paul’s mission affected his letters. He ministered to mostly Gentile Christians while Peter and other apostles ministered to the Jews. Paul’s letters dealt with a different culture and different issues.
    Third, Paul received his message directly from Christ. Thus he did not feel the need to immediately verify it with the other apostles (Gal 1:17). It was not until Paul went to Jerusalem later that the apostles “recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised” (Gal 2:7). At that time his ministry was verified by other apostles who were with Jesus during his earthly ministry (TTP, 98). Fourth, the fact that Paul received his commission from Christ gave him greater authority among the apostles on theological issues. For example, he played a major role in the decision at the Jerusalem Conference that Gentile Christians did not need to be circumcised (Acts 15:2; 28-29). Considering Paul’s past persecution of believers, anything less than a revelation from God would have not been viewed as authoritative.

  8. Paul’s coming to know and believe Jesus is one that is unique and significant. Jesus revealed himself to Paul in quite a powerful way. We know that Jesus showed Himself to Paul (Acts 9). After this encounter is when Paul accepted Jesus for who He is. Because of this, it can be said that his encounter was Apocalyptic. Long mentions that yes, Paul heard preaching and evangelizing from other Apostles, but he did not believe from those preaching and teachings. It was not until Jesus himself revealed himself to Paul that he changed his way of life and beliefs. Even after this encounter, Paul did not go back to be taught everything or be discipled. Paul went into the world and started to tell others about who Jesus was. A main verse we see this is “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” (Galatians 1:11-12). This revelation was not done through an apostle’s teaching, but from revelation from Jesus. This encounter also holds some similarity in picture to one that could be experienced by Isaiah or Daniel (Long, 2019). There is no question that Paul’s conversion is an experience that is different from any other Christian and because of this, could hold the reputation of one being Apocalyptic.

  9. This is definitely an interesting read! I like how Paul has settled himself apart from the other disciples and declared he was independent. It does make it more impactful for Paul to get his gospel from God himself rather than through the disciples. Nevertheless, this apocalyptic teaching gives an interpretation and filters through Scripture, tradition, and situation that feeds whenever Paul examines a circumstance in full dimensions (Longenecker and Still, p302). Some consequences for reading Paul’s letters is for some they might call heresy in a perspective that Paul has created his “own” doctrine. Quite ironic as the disciples got their teaching from God as well. It could also be quite unsettling to some as the new teaching goes against some of the Jewish traditions. I think his claim of independence affects his relationship with other Christ followers in Jerusalem at a certain point in a sense that he does not associate much with the other disciples. Otherwise Paul does keep a somewhat close relationship with the Christ followers as he does care for others and continues to teach and rebuke.

  10. Paul makes his calling to follow Christ different from the apostles because he felt directly called from God. What is unique about his calling was he met Jesus after the crucifixion and his cultural background almost determined his reaction to the gospel and how he opposed the preaching of Stephen. What is also unique about Paul is that he didn’t have the training like the other disciples so his approach to evangelizing comes with a different viewpoint since he didn’t spend that time with Jesus like the disciples. Paul claimed to be independent compared to the others and this would change his perspective of the gospel since Jesus’ life wasn’t lived out with him. Unlike the apostles, Paul didn’t get those years of getting to know Jesus like his closest friends did. It is almost as if there was a cultural difference in the approach and with evangelizing like Paul did with traveling around, there were most likely many cultural differences within the approach and communication even within the other Christ followers in Jerusalem. The way the audience reads Paul’s letters can be influenced by the understanding of where Paul was coming from and how his calling was directly from God.

  11. Something that stands out to me about Paul is how extraordinary his story is. Not only did he go from murdering Christians to becoming one himself, but he was transformed by encountering Jesus face to face. When this is kept in mind, it can transform how Christians read Paul’s letters. There is an extra weight to Paul’s letters because of his source being Jesus himself rather than just relaying information from other people. It is understandable why some people may question Paul’s letters considering there is no way to know if his conversion truly did happen, however, if his conversion did not happen then how would he have written letters that were inspired by Jesus? It could be plausible that Paul was mentally unstable, but I believe that if this was the case, he would not have begun preaching to others about how Jesus is the Son of God.

    Another factor that could influence how people read the letters of Paul are their own preconceived notions. For example, if you read Paul’s letters thinking that he was just some crazy guy, then you will most likely discredit what he writes as being crazy talk. However, if you read the letters through the lens that Jesus really did appear to Paul and that is how he received the good news, then you will view Paul’s writings to be influential. At the end of the day, the way you read Paul’s letters will be heavily influenced by both your own preconceived notions and the perspective of trying to understand where Paul was coming from when he wrote his letters.

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