A Commentary by John Stott
Galatians 1:11-24. The origins of Paul’s gospel.
We have seen in Galatians 1:6-10 that there is only one Gospel, and that this gospel is the criterion by which all human opinions are to be tested. It is the gospel which Paul presented.
The question now is, what is the *origin* of Paul’s gospel that it should be normative, and that other messages and opinions should be assessed and judged by it? Without doubt it is a very wonderful gospel. We think of the Epistle to the Romans, the Corinthian Epistles and those mighty prison Epistles like Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. We are impressed by their majestic sweep, their profundity, their consistency, as Paul outlines the purpose of God from eternity to eternity. But where did Paul get it all from? Was it the product of his own fertile brain? Did he make it up? Or was it stale second-hand stuff with no original authority? Did he crib it from the other apostles in Jerusalem, which the Judaisers evidently maintained, as they tried to subordinate his authority to theirs?
Paul’s answer to these questions may be found in verses 11 and 12: *For I would have you know, brethren, (a favourite formula of his to introduce an important statement) that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ*. The reason why Paul’s gospel was the yardstick by which other gospels were to be measured is now clear. It is that his gospel was (literally, verse 11) ‘not according to man’; it was ‘no human invention’ (JBP, NEW). ‘I preached it,’ Paul could say, ‘but I did not invent it. Nor did I receive it from a man, as if it were already an accepted tradition handed down from a previous generation. Nor was I taught it, so that I had to learn it from human teachers.’ Instead, ‘it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.’ This probably means that it was revealed by Jesus Christ. Alternatively, the genitive could be objective, in which case Christ is the substance of the revelation, as in verse 16, rather than its author. Whichever way we take it, the general sense is plain. As in verse 1 he asserted the divine origin of his apostolic commission, so now he asserts the divine origin of his apostolic gospel. Neither his mission nor his message was derived from man; both came to him direct from God and Jesus Christ.
Paul’s claim then, is this. His gospel, which was being called in question by the Judaisers and deserted by the Galatians, was neither an invention (as if his own brain had fabricated it), nor a tradition (as if the church had handed it down to him), but a revelation (for God had made it known to him). As John Brown puts it: ‘Jesus Christ took him under his own immediate tuition.’ This is why Paul dared to call the gospel he preached ‘*my* gospel’ (cf. Rom. 16:25). It was not ‘his’ because he had made it up but because it had been uniquely revealed to him. The magnitude of this claim is remarkable. He is affirming that his message is not his message but God’s message, that his gospel is not his gospel but God’s gospel, that his words are not his words but God’s words.
Having made this startling claim to a direct revelation from God without human means, Paul goes on to prove it from history, that is, from the facts of his own autobiography. The situation before his conversion, at his conversion and after his conversion were such that he clearly got his gospel not from any man, but direct from God. We shall look at these three situations in turn.
Tomorrow: Galatians 1:13, 14. 1). What happened before Paul’s conversion.