Over the next few days, I’m going to examine a few statements made by Paul that I think are taken out of context in the way the statements are often applied today. This is not really a series, because the posts won’t really build on one another. Each post will cover a different statement.
For example, in this post I’d like to consider another statement made by Paul that I think is often misunderstood and/or misapplied today. The statement is, “I did not receive it [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12 ESV), and the related statement that follows soon afterwards, “I did not immediately consult with anyone” (Galatians 1:16b ESV).
Again, I don’t intend to interpret these statements. Instead, I hope to show how these statements are often exaggerated and misinterpreted. Here are the statements in context:
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. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. (Galatians 1:11-17 ESV)
I’ve heard these statements taken to two different extremes: 1) That Paul never consulted with anyone else and was never taught by anyone else, only Jesus, or 2) that these statements demonstrate a rift between Paul and the other apostles. Unfortunately, both of these extremes lead to the justification of “lone ranger” type Christians who do not feel others have the right to examine or question what they are teaching.
Again, reading further in Paul’s letters or in Acts demonstrate that neither of these extremes is true.
For the first extreme, Paul could not have meant that he never consulted anyone else about the gospel or that he was never taught by anyone else (only Jesus). In the very next passage (in Galatians 2:1-2), we find that Paul DID compare the gospel that he was proclaiming with the gospel proclaimed by others to make sure they were all proclaiming the same gospel. Plus, most of the “one another” statements in Scripture come from Paul. It would be difficult to believe that he would think “teach one another,” “admonish one another,” etc. applies to everyone except him. Also, he told the Romans (in Romans 1:11-12) that he not only expected to serve them through the spiritual gifts that God gave him, he also recognized that he needed the service of their spiritual gifts as well. (And, as he would tell them later, that would include the spiritual gift of teaching.) Finally, we must consider Paul’s decision to consult with the apostles, elders, and others in Jerusalem concerning those who claimed that their teaching about salvation through keeping the law was coming from the Jerusalem church (Acts 15).
For the second extreme, Paul could not have meant that there was a rift between himself and the other apostles, especially Peter. These statements are often combined the Paul’s confrontation of Peter in Galatians 2:11-14 to indicate this schism. But, we also see in this same passage that Paul speaks positively of Peter and others (and in a comparative sense with himself) in Galatians 2:7-10. In other passages we see Paul speaking positively of Peter and the apostles and caring for other believers in Jerusalem.
Paul could not have meant either of these extremes when he said, “I did not receive it [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ,” and “I did not immediately consult with anyone.” Therefore, these statements are not justifications for “lone ranger” type Christians who refuse to allow others to question what they are teaching. Nor are these statements justifications for those who believe that they cannot (or should not) be taught by others. Nor are the statements justification for living with schisms between different groups of believers.