The Apostle Paul Did Not Confer With "Flesh & Blood"
Galatians 1 & 2
Note from the editors: One of the editors of Expository Files, Warren Berkley, is recovering from surgery. Consequently two articles in this issue are reprints from previous issues. Warren's article, "The Apostle Paul Did Not Confer With 'Flesh & Blood'" appeared in the November, 1996 issue. The other, a part of our special topic series, is a reprint of Ney Rieber's fine article which appeared in the July issue of 1996 entitled "The Bible and Political Correctness." Warren's co-editor (that would be me - J.Q.) wishes him well and trusts he'll soon "be back in the saddle again."
When Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia, in the first chapter of that epistle there are three related claims having to do with his work as an apostle. He said ...
I am "an apostle (not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)...," (1:1).
He said, "...the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came by revelation of Jesus Christ," (1:11,12).
"I did not immediately confer with flesh
and blood," (1:16).
Based on what is implied in this context, supplemented by other related passages in Acts and Second Corinthians, there isn't any doubt that Paul was under attack. His distracters were apparently suggesting or charging that Paul's message was human in origin; that he consulted with various men of influence and was simply repeating a human doctrine. Some may have said - his "gospel" wasn't the same as the message of the apostles in Jerusalem. In these three claims Paul responds to those charges. But the claims are upheld by evidence:
1. Paul's former life - before conversion - was dedicated to the destruction of the message he was now preaching. He advanced in Judaism ... persecuted the church of God beyond measure ... tried to destroy it," and was "exceedingly zealous" in this hostility (see Gal. 1:13-14). "How then can Paul prove to the Galatians the essentially supernatural [direct revelation: v.12, -web] nature of the gospel he preached to them, and still preaches? He does it by direct appeal to his own known experience ...," beginning with his pre-conversion reputation.
(Alan Cole, THE EPISTLE OF PAUL TO THE GALATIANS, Tyndale NT Commentaries, p.#47).
2. His conversion was an act of God that he responded to. God called him by His grace, and Paul responded. He said, "I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision," (Acts 26:19). When Paul witnessed the resurrected Lord and heard the gospel, he arose and was baptized (see Acts 9:10-19; Gal. 1:15 ). This is a straightforward account of why Paul was who he was!
3. Paul was called by God to be saved in Christ, and then to "reveal His Son" to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:16). After obeying the gospel, he "spend some days with the disciples who were at Damascus. And immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God," (Acts 9:19,20). He was made an apostle by the will of God and sent by God to the Gentiles. In another place he said: "To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ," (Eph. 3:8).
4. Paul did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor make a trip to Jerusalem to visit the apostles. Instead, he went to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus (Gal. 1:16,17). The expression of significance and interests here is: "confer with flesh and blood." That simply means, he didn't check with men about what to preach! As the expression is translated in the NIV, he did not "consult any man."
5. To emphasize that he did not "immediately" confer with flesh and blood, he adds: "Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter and remained with him fifteen days," (v.18). He saw James on this trip but no other apostle. Regarding these things the apostle wrote: "Before God, I do not lie," (v.20).
6. After this trip, he went to "the regions of Syria and Cilicia," and he was "unknown by face to the churches of Judea." They had heard about him, but had not personally met him. "...they were hearing only, 'He who formerly persecuted us, now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy'." Remember, Paul is establishing - by this report of events subject to verification- that he did not confer with flesh and blood.
7. Still later, he made a trip to Jerusalem "with Barnabas, and also took Titus with" him. This trip to Jerusalem was "by revelation" and when he arrived, he told the brethren that he was preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Privately, he had a meeting with some of the leading men (Gal. 2:1,2). The point is, this was not some "general church synod" to tell Paul what to preach. He had been preaching for some time before this visit.
8. Though there was pressure to have Titus circumcised (as a condition of salvation and test of fellowship), Paul said: We did not compel him to submit to this, and we "did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you," (Gal. 2:4-5). Once Paul obeyed the gospel and started preaching the gospel, he refused to allow any human influence to pressure him into changing his message, or adapting his teaching to the audience or region. "Paul tells his readers what happened at that epoch-making consultation. His Gentile companion Titus was not compelled to be circumcised (verses 3 - 5), and his Gentile gospel was not contradicted or even modified in any way (verses 6 - 10). On the contrary, Titus was accepted, and Paul's gospel was accepted also. Thus a great and resounding victory was won for the truth of the gospel. The rift in the apostolic ranks was a myth; there was no substance to it." (Stott).
"One of the ways in which some false teachers of Paul's day tried to undermine his authority was to hint that his gospel was different from Peter's, and indeed from the views of all the other apostles in Jerusalem. 'As a result', they said, 'the church is being saddled with two gospels, Paul's and Peter's, each claiming a divine origin. Which are we going to accept?' 'Surely', they went on, 'we cannot follow Paul if he is in a minority of one, and if Peter and the rest of the apostles disagree with him.' This was evidently one of the specious arguments of the Judaizers. They were trying to disrupt the unity of the apostolic circle. They were openly alleging that the apostles contradicted one another. Their game, we might say, was not 'robbing Peter to pay Paul', but exalting Peter to spite Paul!
To this insinuation Paul now addresses himself. He has shown in chapter 1 that his gospel came from God not man. He now shows in the first part of chapter 2 that his gospel was precisely the same as that of the other apostles; it was not different. To prove that his gospel was independent of the other apostles, he has stressed that he paid only one visit to Jerusalem in fourteen years, and that this lasted only fifteen days. To prove that his gospel was yet identical with theirs, he now stresses that when he paid a proper visit to Jerusalem, his gospel was endorsed and approved by them." (Stott).
9. Even those "who seemed to be something" added nothing to Paul; that is, they exerted no power over his message. In fact, it became obvious to men like Peter, James and John that Paul was preaching the same message to the Gentiles that Peter was preaching to the Jews (Gal. 2:6-10). Peter, James and John "perceived the grace that had been given to" Paul, and so they "gave" him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship." They expressed no desire or influence on Paul to change his message; they only desired that they practice benevolence. To this Paul said: "the very thing which I also was eager to do."
10. Paul even confronted Peter in Antioch, when he was "to be blamed" (Gal. 2:11-21). This shows Paul's independence of conviction and settles any questions about being influenced by others.
So, the first two chapters of Galatians were designed to establish that Paul (1) was an authentic apostle "by Jesus Christ and God the Father," (2) was preaching a message that came to him "by revelation of Jesus Christ," and (3) he did not "confer with flesh and blood." The claims stand, as supported by the evidence given by Paul; he did not consult with men; he believed, preached and practiced the gospel of Christ that came to him by revelation. The gospel which he preached and the apostolic mission he had was derived from God, and the history of the first years of his work demonstrated that; he received the sanction of the other apostles, but got his message from Jesus Christ.
"The bane of Paul's life and ministry was the insidious activity of false teachers. Wherever he went, they dogged his footsteps. No sooner had he planted the gospel in some locality than false teachers began to trouble the church by perverting it. Further, as we have seen, in order to discredit Paul's message, they also challenged his authority. This matter is of importance for us because Paul's detractors have plenty of successors in the Christian church today. They tell us that we do not need to pay too much attention to his writings. They forget or deny that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ, uniquely called, commissioned, authorized and inspired to teach in His name. They ignore Paul's own claim (Galatians 1:11,12) that he derived his gospel not from men but from Jesus Christ." (Stott)
Once I hear, believe and obey the gospel of Christ, I should never allow anyone to pressure me to compromise. Others may help me understand Bible teachings, and urge me toward deeper faithfulness and give me a good example of God-pleasing behavior. But nobody - no group of men; no elder, preacher, magazine, college or friend - NOBODY should be allowed to confer with me in such a manner as to cause me to pervert the gospel of Christ. Further, as a preacher I should be willing to establish that my message came from Jesus Christ (in our case, through the Spirit-inspired writings of the New Testament). I should be ready to give an answer, deal with charges and show that what I believe, teach and practice came from the New Testament of Jesus Christ. "There are times for thoughtful and even prolonged consideration, but where God's will is perfectly clear there is no need to consult men. Our first duty to Christ is a prompt obedience," (Pulpit Commentary).
The Message of Galatians, John Stott, InterVarsity Press series, "The Bible Speaks Today."
The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, Alan Cole, Eerdmans Tyndale Commentary Series.
The Pulpit Commentary, Galatians, p.#50
By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 7.9; September 2000