The first two chapters of Galatians consist of a review of Paul’s own life story, especially his past as a Jew, his conversion, and the early years of his apostleship. But why does Paul begin with such a personal argument?
- Some have suggested that Paul’s opponents were attacking his apostleship. And while it is true that he did have many personal critics, I am not sure that is the point in Galatians.
- It could also be that Paul is simply defending his understanding of the gospel versus that of the Judaizers, and in order to do so he must begin with the origin of his understanding of the gospel message.
- If anything, Paul’s critics would have argued that he is not a true apostle because he does not preach a true gospel, rather than the reverse. It was his practice that created this controversy (Acts 15:1).
11 For I would have you know, brethren,
Conciliatory note to identify them as “brethren.”
that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.
cf. 1 Cor. 2:4-5; 1 Thess. 2:13
12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps he has in mind the words of Jesus as found in Acts 26:15-18.
13 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism,
Perhaps mentioned in his preaching to them.
“Judaism” cf 4 Macc. 4:24-26
 When, by means of his decrees, he had not been able in any way to put an end to the people's observance of the law, but saw that all his threats and punishments were being disregarded,
 even to the point that women, because they had circumcised their sons, were thrown headlong from heights along with their infants, though they had known beforehand that they would suffer this --
 when, then, his decrees were despised by the people, he himself, through torture, tried to compel everyone in the nation to eat defiling foods and to renounce Judaism.
how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it;
Paul often refers to his former life in his letters (Phil. 3:5-12; 1 Tim. 1:12-17). The point is that Paul knew Judaism from the inside out.
14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
Pharisees were “reputed to be superior to the rest in their strictness” (Josephus, Life 191). Cf. Acts 26:5
“There are thousands, who are zealots for the laws, strictest guardians of the ancestral customs, merciless to those who do anything to subvert them” (Philo, Spec. Leg. 2.253).
Zeal often combined concern for Israel’s purity and distinctiveness with violence.
15 But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace,
Paul’s language echoes Jeremiah’s call (Jer. 1:5), rooting Paul firmly in the OT prophetic tradition.
Maybe a play on the meaning of “Pharisee,” separated one.
was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles,
See Rom. 15:15-16; Eph. 3:6-9.
I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia,
Distances himself from Jerusalem since that is where the agitators have come from.
The reference to Arabia matches the record of 2 Cor. 11:32-33.
and returned once more to Damascus.
Acts 9:19, “some days,” and 9:23 “many days”.
18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem
This visit is alluded to in Acts 9:26-28.
to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days.
Paul doesn’t want to claim too much or deny too little (Dunn 73). He wants to show respect for those who were apostles before him without appearing to simply be commissioned by them, and therefore under their authority.
19 But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.
Mentioned in Mark 6:3. James is not listed in the twelve in the gospels, but met the criteria of witnessing the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7).
20 (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.)
For similar wording see Rom. 9:1; 2 Cor. 11:31
21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
This accords with Acts 9:30
22 I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; 23 but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they were glorifying God because of me.