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?

21 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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  6. The fact that Paul’s gospel was directly revealed to him by God, in my opinion, could cause some difficulties for him in his ministry. I would assume that the Twelve would have a hard time believing that God revealed this new gospel to someone who persecuted Christians like Saul did rather than one of them. Especially early in his ministry, I would imagine that Paul faced much hesitancy, disbelief, and frustrations due to his claim that Jesus revealed the gospel message to someone like him. The Law was something so fundamental to the Jewish religion, that Paul’s concept of a Law-free gospel seems almost hypocritical. Paul gets quite a bit of resistance due to this idea that Jesus revealed to him, and we can see that in many passages throughout Acts and Galatians. After being an avid persecutor, Paul became persecuted himself for the message that God commanded him to share (Acts 9:23; 16:22-23; 19:23). He was beaten, imprisoned, and challenged for his messages about Jesus’ resurrection and his gospel for the Gentiles. The biggest controversy in Galatians revolved around circumcision and whether Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised (Longeneckker 89). His teachings about character and love over following the law was unheard of during the time and caused Paul many hardships, but those teachings today are fundamental to what we believe and the gospel that I hold to today.

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  7. It certainly would make sense if the Twelve would have taken Paul’s radical gospel poorly. After all, it did not fit very well with a traditional understanding of the Old Testament at the time. Additionally, they might have wondered why Jesus never taught them about this exclusion of the Law for the Gentiles while He was on earth. Regardless however, Galatians 2:7-10 seems to indicate that at least James, Peter, and John supported Paul’s message. I wonder if Paul’s revelation might have been more readily accepted by them because it could have seemed like a continuation of Peter’s revelation in Acts 10. Regardless of this apparent acceptance, however, it is rather evident that not everyone accepted Paul’s gospel. For example, in Galatians 2:11-14 it seems that some Jews would rather keep the rules for Gentiles a little more traditional. It is interesting to note that these Jews were “from James.” Perhaps this means that James was a little more hesitant of Paul’s teaching than was previously let on, or perhaps these Jews did not completely agree with James in spite of there association. Regardless, Paul’s teaching was undoubtably radical and whereas some believers accepted it others were not convinced. After all, the Galatians straying from Paul’s gospel is one of the primary reasons why Paul wrote the letter in the first place.

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    • I can see how the Twelve would have had a feeling of jealousy or blow to their pride of being the closest to Jesus and the first to learn directly from Him. So now hearing that Paul is claiming to have had a revelation given to him by Jesus, it probably came as a shock. Not only is Paul receiving this gospel a shock, but also how radical his message was. I like how you brought up the fact that it seems like James, Peter and John supported Paul’s Message. After being accepted by them, it seems in verse 9-10 that they planned to work together in going to the Gentiles and circumcised, while keeping a primary focus on the poor. I think that we can relate this to our own lives. We might not be the “best” person for the job according to our eyes, but that doesn’t mean we are not going to be chosen by God. And as Paul was having troubles early on with the agitators, we might have troubles and challenges at first as well, but we will not be alone. I find it interesting that Cephas, one of the ones who accepted what Paul was saying, turned to hypocrisy. Paul was quick to call him out on this so that Cephas would leave this way of living and return to his old ways. I also apply this to my own life and I know that I am not as bold as Paul by calling someone out, not only to himself but also in front of other people. I think this shows how focused Paul was on wanting to carry out the message Jesus wanted him to preach. Paul knew that he was going to be stepping on toes and making people upset with him, but if that meant that people would be living right with God, then he was willing to do whatever it took.

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  8. Paul’s claim here is huge! In Galatians 1:11-12 Paul says that he preaches The Gospel of Christ, and he did not walk with Jesus, which is a bold claim. There was probably a lot of resistance toward Paul for making such a confident statement, especially from Paul who in his past had persecuted many Christians. Paul says in Galatians 1:1 he intensely persecuted the church and tried to destroy it. Paul seems to have the authority though and the disciples thought Paul to be credible. “Paul’s gospel matches up with the disciples who were with Jesus” (TTP, 98). It seems to be that Paul was telling the truth by the the disciples backing him up and the impact Paul continues to have Galatians and throughout the rest of his epistles.

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  9. After reading this passage of Galatians, I instantly thought of the passage in John 1 where John is making it very clear that he is not the light but is just speaking about what Jesus had done. Paul is doing something very similar when he is making it clear that he did not receive this gospel from another man but from Jesus Christ. I can see how it would have been challenging for Paul to preach this as people were probably not as thrilled to listen to a message from him rather than someone else. Jewish Christians began to preach against what Paul was saying wanting anyone who was going to follow Jesus to also keep the laws of the Old Testament such as circumcision and sacrificing. Paul says in Galatians 1:9 “If anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him!”. Paul did not want those he was preaching too to fall into the ways of the law, as he continues to preach the importance of Christ, and how the law does not have value to Jesus Christ. Not only does Paul tell them that it has no value to Him, but also that they would have been “alienated from Christ” (Galatians 5:4). Not that Paul has warned those he is preaching too, he also sends out a warning to those who are trying to confuse them. Paul says that those people will have to pay a penalty. I am curious to what this penalty would be, would it be to the extreme of eternity in Hell, or would it be a earthly punishment?

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  10. I think that the purpose of Paul’s gospel in Galatians 1:11-12 was to show the people that he did not just learn the things he taught the Galatians from another apostle, rather, he received his knowledge from the Lord himself. (Paul is referring to his Damascus Road experience) Paul’s experience is much different from anyone else, he has a direct understanding of what God wants and he specifically shared this with the Galatians. But now these Galatians are being swayed by agitators who seek to distort and change Paul’s original gospel. This angers Paul, so he wants to remind the people that the gospel he taught them was not from a mere human but from God himself. Almost to say, how could you believe the gospel of men (the agitators), and not the gospel that is straight from Jesus Christ? This reminder serves to show the Galatians the truth and reinforce to them what Paul has taught them, and to trust Paul and his teachings. Paul wants to restore the peoples faith in what he taught them, and he does that by reminding them who he received his revelation from in the first place.

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  11. Personally, If I were one of the apostles and I had heard about Paul and how he was preaching the gospel after being zealous in killing people of the Way, I would be very excited, knowing that God could do such a thing, but also cautious as it might just be gossip and a tactic he is using to bring even more believers together before he kills them. Once I actually met Paul for the first time and heard him say these things, I would be even more convinced that his transformation is real because of the truth that he speaks but shocked that he speaks so arrogantly about how the Lord revealed himself to him. Deep down I think I would be jealous of Gods specific calling of Paul. I think the same may have been true for the jews and the apostles, however it would take time to gain their full trust.

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  12. Going from Saul, a persecutor of Christians, to Paul, a missionary and the very thing he was trying to destroy was an amazing and drastic change of character. That alone would cause some suspicion of Paul’s motives, especially among the twelve in Jerusalem. Now as Paul is preaching he claims to have had a revelation from Christ to preach to the Gentiles. This must have sounded pretty unbelievable at the time. Paul also disagreed with many Jewish-Christians relating to Gentiles following the Law. He said that since Gentile’s are not bound by the Law they have no need to follow it or to be circumcised, which was a big controversy at this time. In Galatians 3 Paul repeats that “God would justify the Gentiles through faith” (v. 7). Longenecker also mentions Paul’s struggle with saying the Gentiles are free from the Law but they are slaves to Christ (pg. 91). So he tells the Galatians to love each other with a “self-giving love” (Longenecker, pg. 95). Even though what Paul preached was good, it was hard for the other Apostles to grasp because he was basically dismissing the Jewish lifestyle, which when you’re living one way for so long it’s hard to just stop living that way. This I believe was the biggest struggle, Paul’s preaching of Gentiles not needing to be circumcised and not having to follow the Law. This was hard to understand at first for the first Apostles but after about 14 years (Gal. 2:1) The apostles assisted Paul in spreading God’s word to Gentiles who needed it most.

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  13. Initially, I believe that the twelve disciples would have very skeptical of Paul because he did not learn directly from Jesus as the twelve had, and because he didn’t really have much of desire to meet with the other twelve disciples and discuss a plan moving forward. However, it seems as though in Galatians 2:8-9 that there had been some discussion among the disciples including Paul, and it had been decided that Paul was to go to the Gentiles with Barnabas and the other twelve were to preach to the Jews. Additionally, as discussed in class, Paul was proclaiming a message that was very different from anything people had been speaking of prior – not following the law (Galatians 3), which would have raised tension among those spreading the gospel, exemplified in Galatians 2: 11-14 when Paul opposes Peter. Even more shocking is the public manner that Paul disagreed with Peter. In this situation, Peter did not eat with those who were deemed “unclean” under the old Law. Because Paul was in the mindset of the new covenant, he saw that Peter’s hesitation to sit with those uncircumcised could lead to more confusion and disputes among believers, believing that it was of the highest importance to clarify this point. I would imagine that the believers of that time may have been a little shocked by Paul’s opposition of Peter, considering the close relationship of Peter and Jesus during his time on earth. In addition to this primary example, Paul also spoke out about the requirement of circumcision, and how those who were not circumcised would not have to do so for salvation or conversion (Longenecker & Still, 2014, pg. 98).

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  14. It is difficult to say how Paul’s unique claim to the gospel would have been received by the other apostles. On one hand, the apostles all had a strong calling and desire to see the truth of Jesus Christ permeate all corners of the earth. However, on the other had, many Jews would and in fact did not appreciate the fact that they were no longer under the law. Perhaps they felt an attack on their character by Paul. Here they were, following the many rules of the law to the letter, and along comes some man claiming he has authority from Christ and that it is by faith alone, not acts, that one is saved. Perhaps others were simply so use to the stringent routine of the law that they felt they simply couldn’t change. It WAS their faith to follow sets of rules. But we know from the scriptures that this does not need to be the case for us. One of the issues Paul faced in Galatia was that of “agitators”, or severe trouble causers infiltrating the Galatian church(s). They were false belivers, manipulating and “injuring” true Galatian belivers with “baskain”, or “the evil eye” (Longnecker, p.89). The agitators annoyed the apostle Paul to such an extent that he suggested they severe their own penises instead of harping andwailing about the subject of circumcision to a useless extent (Longnecker, p.90). Many challenges faced Paul in the book of Acts while he attempted to spread the Gospel. While some believed Paul simply by him telling them of the saving power of Jesus Christ, others would not listen to his words, and it often took a physical display of power for someone to believe. For example, while on the island of paphos, the proconsul, Sergius Paulus had a desire to know about God. But a demonic sorcerer Elymas, opposed Paul, and wanted to turn the heart of Sergius away. Paul, through the power of God, blinded Elymas. It was through this display of power that the heart of proconsul Sergius turned back to God, and it says that he “was amazed and believed” (Acts 13:12). Let us learn from this example, that we don’t always need a sign from God to know something, or need to perform works under a “law” to be right with Him. Instead, let us be right with Him through our faith alone…

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  15. I definitely think there would have been some form of confrontation between the twelve and Paul. Mainly because of his claims of having personally received his Gospel from Jesus but also the distinctions of his teachings. Paul’s teachings toke a different approach that came from the theme of Jesus’s revelation to him which was totally the opposite theme the twelve taught. This significant difference alone is enough to cause the twelve to ordinate opinions on Paul. Not to mention, Paul also excludes himself from everyone else and does not reference anybody’s teachings but the Lords. Paul main source is Jesus’s revelation to him and nobody else’s teaching come in the middle of that relationship. However, in terms of the resistance in Galatia, I think Paul faced many challenges with the Galatians. One being that Paul wrote to the Galatians with a key theme in mind which Longenecker refers to as “crucified with Christ” (Long, 92). The Galatians were not familiar with that theme and were so tide up with honoring the laws of the Torah. Therefore, Paul put a lot of effort into answering all their questions by making references to Abraham and Jesus crucifixion (Galatians 3:2-20). So indeed the Galatians should some resistance because they were very committed to being righteous before God and anything outside His laws was unjustified.

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  16. I believe that it would have been hard for the disciples to understand why Paul received this gospel message directly from Jesus, but I think that they would have believed it pretty quickly. This has actually been a topic that we have been discussing in my Sunday school class the past couple of weeks. We talked about what it would have been like if something like this happened in today’s world. What would happen if someone came around to our churches claiming that they received a different gospel, but that it came directly from God? We probably would kick them out without hesitation. The reason we would do this is because we have the Bible. Anytime we have a question or are uncertain about something, we can look to the Bible to find answers. We know that it is truth, and so if someone came to us claiming that they had a different gospel, we would easily be able to see that they are false. However, during Paul’s day, they didn’t have the Bible. They had the Old Testament, but that was it. I think that this is why Paul often used stories and comparisons to the Old Testament, to try and help them understand that the Gospel he received is true.

    One thing that we talked about at church was how Paul did certain miracles, and how that might have proved that he was telling the truth. Throughout the book of Acts, we can see Jesus’ disciples doing great miracles – Peter healed a lame man (3:7-11), Steven did great wonders and signs (6:8), and Phillip also did great wonders and signs (8:6-13). To those back then, miracles were the “affirmation” that something came from God, just like the Bible is our affirmation today. We see this by not only noticing apostles who did miracles, but also by noticing those who were not from God attempting do these same miracles – such as the sons of Sceva(Acts 19:11-20), who tried to send out evil spirits in the name of “Jesus whom Paul proclaims” (v.13). When they attempted this, the demon leaps out of the man it was in and attacks the sons of Sceva, forcing them to leave “naked and wounded” (v.16). This story lends some credibility on the idea that those who were able to miracles, such as Paul, must have had some sort of authority from God, because only the other apostles were able to truly do miracles. So, while the disciples may have found it hard to understand why Jesus gave Paul this gospel message and his specific commission, I believe that they would have had no difficulty believing it.

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  17. Paul impacted numerous people during his time of ministry. But an issue that needs to be looked at is how his message was perceived in the book of Galatians. Longenecker asserts the following in regards to his ministry, “Paul’s gospel ultimately derives its authority from a revelation of the risen Christ given to him by God (1:10-17)” (Longenecker, p. 98). In other words, Paul was presenting a message that goes beyond the conflict between the Jews and Gentiles. Moreover, I believe that this would have been a controversial message, since each group of people were entrenched in what they believed. However, as seen in our class notes, Paul’s gospel is defined by his independence and being fully commissioned by God (Long, 2019). This is a defining issue that would have split the Church in Galatians, since it is the first time the people would have heard such a message. Moreover, the law obedient Jews would most likely have given Paul a negative reception, and wonder why Paul is not forcing the Gentiles to follow the Law. Ultimately, this is a critical aspect of Paul’s ministry to further expand his vision of what the Church should be.

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