Galatians 1:10-24: Paul's History

Galatians 1:10‑21  •  22 min. read  •  grade level: 7
“For am I now conciliating [literally, persuading] men or God? or am I seeking to please men? If I were yet pleasing men, then I were not Christ’s bondslave.” ch. 1:10.
We get a new subject with this verse. The false teachers had said: Paul is not a true man. He tries to win favor with the men he talks to. He says himself, “Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews” (1 Cor. 9:2020And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; (1 Corinthians 9:20)). So, they said, you can see that Paul also preaches the law when he thinks it will help him. You remember, they said, he circumcised Timothy when he wished to conciliate and please the Jews. (See Acts 16:33Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek. (Acts 16:3).)
In v.10 we have Paul’s answer to such words: “For am I now conciliating men, or God? or am I now seeking to please men?” The word translated “conciliate” really is “persuade.” These false teachers had said, Paul is trying to persuade men to follow him by being all things to all men. (See 1 Cor. 9:2222To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (1 Corinthians 9:22).) Paul answers, You may judge for yourselves. What am I doing now? Am I seeking to please you in this letter? Am I now seeking to please men or God? They knew very well that Paul was not trying to please them, or to please any man. It is well for us to remember that if we seek to please men, then we are not Christ’s slaves. (Gal. 1:1010For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10).) The slave of Christ must have his eye fixed on his Master and seek only to please Him. This is a word we all need to remember.
From ch. 1:11 to about ch. 2:17 we have a history of Paul’s life before his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), but he tells only a few important facts that prove to all men that he could not have received his good news, or his apostleship, from the apostles at Jerusalem. Many important matters are left out, for Paul is now only seeking to prove both his apostleship and his message to be not of men, but from God. This history should have helped the churches of Galatia to understand Paul’s special position as an apostle, to trust him and thus to trust the good news he had preached to them.
“For I make known to you, brothers, the good news which was announced by me [‘the evangel, the one evangelized by me’ is more literal, if we could say it], that it is not according to man, for neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught (it), but by means of revelation [or, unveiling] of Jesus Christ.” ch. 1:11, 12.
The word “I make known to you,” (Eph. 6:2121But that ye also may know my affairs, and how I do, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known to you all things: (Ephesians 6:21)) or “I assure you,” or “I wish you to know,” (1 Cor. 11:33But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3)) introduces a subject on which the Apostle wishes to lay special emphasis. The words which follow are of the greatest importance to us today.
We have already seen that the two great subjects of the epistle are the authority of Paul as an apostle, and the truth of the good news which he had preached to them.
In v.1 he tells them he was an apostle, not from men or by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father. Now Paul tells them that, in just the same way, the gospel which he had announced to them was not according to man, nor did he receive it from man nor was he taught it. This good news was not prepared in the minds of clever men. It was not reasoned out from the Old Testament. Neither Peter nor any of the other apostles had told it to Paul. Paul had not gone to a college or Bible school to learn it. No, the good news Paul had announced to the Galatians came directly to him by revelation (or, by an unveiling) of Jesus Christ Himself. The Lord had revealed it to him. Paul’s enemies were right when they said he had received neither his apostleship nor his teaching from the other apostles, but they did not know that he had received both from an infinitely higher source than any man, infinitely higher than the twelve apostles, even from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. (See 1 Cor. 11:23, 15:3; Eph. 3:33How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, (Ephesians 3:3).)
“For you heard of my manner of life formerly in Judaism, that surpassingly I kept persecuting the assembly of God, and I kept making havoc of it, and in Judaism I kept blazing a path ahead of and beyond many of my own age in my nation, being more exceedingly zealous of my ancestral traditions.” ch. 1:13,14.
Judaism means the Jewish rites, customs and ceremonies.
Paul (then called Saul) had kept the clothes of the men who stoned Stephen, and he had given his voice against Stephen to put him to death. If you read Acts 8:1-31And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. (Acts 8:1‑3) and 9:1, 2, you will understand what a bitter enemy Saul was to Christ and His good news. But you must remember that Saul also probably saw Stephen’s face, like “the face of an angel” (Acts 6:1515And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel. (Acts 6:15)). He must have watched him “fall asleep” under those cruel stones and have heard that dying prayer, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:6060And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:60)). It may be that it was impossible for Saul to forget all this, and his conscience kept speaking loudly to him. This may have been the “pricks” of which we read in Acts 26:1414And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. (Acts 26:14), but this we do not know for certain; the Scriptures do not tell us.
But we do know that before his conversion Saul persecuted the good news with all his strength, just as after his conversion he preached it with all his strength. Paul could not do anything half-heartedly. He always put all his strength into everything he did. So he went beyond the other Jews of his own age in persecuting the assembly of God.
Then the Lord Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, a city in the north of Syria, far away from Jerusalem. The Lord caused Saul to turn completely around. (That is what “conversion” means.) This man who had been trying to destroy the good news now began to tell it forth everywhere. But he did not go first to any man to learn this good news. If the Lord Jesus had met Saul near Jerusalem, men might have said, “The apostles in Jerusalem taught Saul the good news which he preaches.” But there were no apostles at Damascus, and the Lord purposely chose to meet Saul near Damascus, not near Jerusalem. Paul tells us that he did not go up to Jerusalem until after “three years.” Gal. 1:1818Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. (Galatians 1:18).
All was of God’s grace. It pleased God to set Paul apart from his mother’s womb, to call him by His grace, and to reveal His Son in Paul, that “I may announce Him as good news among the nations.” Gal. 1:15, 1615But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, 16To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: (Galatians 1:15‑16). In Rom. 11 Paul tells us that he was “set apart unto God’s good news.”
“You have heard” these things, Paul says. He loved to tell the story of that meeting on the road to Damascus. Three times in the book of Acts we find that story (Acts 9:22, 1-21:5-21 and 26:12-18) and so he writes, “You have heard....” We may be sure that Paul himself had told the story he loved so well to the Galatians, and he must have told it as only Paul could tell it. It was all grace. Paul had done nothing to earn such a meeting as that on the Damascus road. Paul had only tried to persecute and kill Christ’s people. Paul had been persecuting the Christ. And this is the man the Christ chooses to set him apart to the good news. What grace! Why did He choose Saul of Tarsus? The only reason Saul can give is God’s grace, and that “God was pleased to reveal His Son in me.” And God chose him in order that he might “announce HIM as good news among the nations.” v.16. Is it any wonder that Paul could not, and would not, give up grace? The law could only have condemned Saul to death, but grace makes him a chosen instrument.
“But when the One having set me apart (even) from my mother’s womb, and having called (me) through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me in order that I should announce Him (as) good news among the nations, immediately I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to the ones (who were) apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and again returned to Damascus.” ch. 1:15-17.
CHRIST Himself is the good news. Philip preached Christ in Samaria (Acts 8:55Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. (Acts 8:5)), and there was great joy in that city. (v.8.) He preached Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:3535Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. (Acts 8:35)) and he went on his way rejoicing. (v.39.) May God help us to remember that our business is to “announce Him as good news.” Rom. 1:33Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; (Romans 1:3) tells us that the good news is “concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:33Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; (Romans 1:3)). It is not a doctrine we preach. It is Christ Himself. He is the good news. He is the living, loving Savior.
You remember the story of Saul’s conversion, but let us repeat it, for like Paul himself, I love to hear it over and over, and to tell it out once more. He had gone to the high priest in Jerusalem and had obtained from him letters to the synagogues in Damascus (far north of Jerusalem) that he might arrest any Christians he found and bring them bound unto Jerusalem. He had helped kill Stephen, he had persecuted to death the Christians in Jerusalem, and now he was searching for them in distant cities to persecute them there.
He was coming near to Damascus. It was about noon and the sun shone brightly above him on the road. Suddenly a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone round about him. He fell on the earth and heard a voice speaking to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who art Thou, Lord?” (Acts 26:1515And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. (Acts 26:15)). And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:55And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. (Acts 9:5)). (This means that Paul was like a stubborn ox. His master wished him to go one way and pricked him with his goad, a stick with a sharp point at the end of it, to make him obey. But the ox kicked the goad, and the point went into his leg and hurt him still more. Each time he kicked, the goad hurt more.) Saul trembled when he heard these words, and was astonished and said, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” And the Lord said, “Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:66And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. (Acts 9:6)). The men with Saul heard a voice but did not see anyone; but Saul had seen heaven opened and had seen the Lord Jesus Himself in the glory. (1 Cor. 9:11Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? (1 Corinthians 9:1).) Saul never forgot that sight. Three times in the book of Acts we read that story. (Acts 9:1, 22:5, 26:12.) The sight of the Lord Jesus in glory changed everything for Saul. He rose from the earth and went into the city, but the glory of that light had blinded him, and men had to lead him by the hand.
For three days he neither ate nor drank. At last he prayed. You may understand a little of what this change meant to Saul. How terrible to find he had been persecuting the Christ, the Messiah of Israel, the true King of the Jews! How terrible to find out that his whole life, everything he believed, and everything he had been doing, was all completely wrong. I do not wonder that he could not eat or drink for three days. Then the Lord sent his servant Ananias. “Behold he prayeth,” (Acts 9:1111And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, (Acts 9:11)) the Lord said. Ananias came and put his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul!” I think those words were like healing medicine to his sick heart. “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared to you in the way as you came, hath sent me, that you may receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” Acts 9:1717And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. (Acts 9:17). Immediately he received his sight and was baptized. Little wonder he loved the name, “Brother,” so well!
Now Saul is a Christian. But how strange and new everything was to him! Immediately he went to the synagogues. He did not go to take the letters that were in his pocket. I think he burned those letters. But he went and boldly preached Christ, that He is the Son of God. Everybody was amazed and God’s power was with him so that he confounded the Jews in Damascus, proving that Jesus truly is the Christ, the Messiah. They tried to kill him, as they had killed the Christ. But he escaped from their hands.
He went away from the crowds of men into the deserts of Arabia. We know very little about his journey into Arabia only what he tells us in this letter to the Galatians. (vs. 17.) He tells us that, after his conversion, immediately he did not go to any other person to consult or to seek advice. “Neither did I go up to Jerusalem unto the ones who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.” Arabia is a very large country. Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the law, is in Arabia. Elijah had gone away into the wilderness of Arabia to escape from Jezebel and to be alone with God. (1 Kings 19:88And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God. (1 Kings 19:8).) And I am sure Saul of Tarsus also went to Arabia to be alone with God. I can well understand that Saul felt he must have quiet, and time to be alone and to hear God speak to him. This is a lesson you and I need. Every true servant of God must have time to be alone with God. Moses learned this lesson during forty years alone with God in Arabia. David learned the same lesson, though only a boy, alone with God on the hills of Bethlehem. Even our Lord Jesus rose up a great while before day and went away to a solitary place to pray alone to God (Mark 1:3535And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. (Mark 1:35)), and how often do we find Him alone with God in prayer, sometimes all night. (Luke 6:1212And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. (Luke 6:12).) Have you ever noticed that in the gospel of Luke, the gospel that gives us the picture of the Lord Jesus as the dependent Man, we find Him seven times in prayer? (See Luke 3:21, 5:16, 6:12, 9:18, 9:29, 11:1 and 22:41.)
We know nothing of this visit to Arabia, but we can well understand it. It is just what we would have expected. I do not doubt that he took with him his Bible, the Old Testament (for there was no New Testament then), and that there, alone with God, the Holy Spirit made this book shine with a new light and glory as He showed him JESUS on every page. Who taught Paul the hidden meaning of Sarah and Hagar, of which we will read in ch. 4 of our epistle? Who made Deuteronomy shine with the light of the glory of Christ? I do not doubt the Holy Spirit taught him many such things during this time in Arabia.
Christian reader, if we are to serve God acceptably, we also must have our time in Arabia. We also must get time alone with God. You say, It is impossible for me. I am poor and have to work hard for a living; I cannot go to Arabia. No, you cannot go to Arabia, but you can get alone with God. You may say, My house is small and crowded, I cannot get alone with God. I am sure any of us can get alone with God if we truly and earnestly desire to do so. With most of us, we have only to follow our Master when He rose up a great while before day, and we will be alone with God. May you and I learn the depth of meaning there is in those few words, “I went away into Arabia.”
We do not know how long Saul stayed in Arabia but he tells us, “and I returned again unto Damascus.” ch. 1:17. The king had tried to kill Saul in Damascus, watching the gates day and night. We do not know whether this was before or after his visit to Arabia. But Saul was a brave man and feared nothing. In another place he tells us he was let down over the wall of Damascus in a basket, through a window, and so escaped the king’s hand. (2 Cor. 11:32, 3332In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: 33And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands. (2 Corinthians 11:32‑33).)
“Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and I remained with him fifteen days: but other of the apostles I did not see, except [or, only] James the brother of the Lord.” ch. 1:18, 19.
Three years have passed since the day Saul of Tarsus left Jerusalem with those letters from the high priest. He has not returned in all that time, but he longs to know Peter. Peter is a most lovable man: we all look forward to making the acquaintance of dear, impulsive Peter. Paul goes to visit him, so as to make his acquaintance, and he stays for fifteen days. Do you not wish you could have looked in and listened, as Peter and Paul talked together and became acquainted? It think it was a happy visit, and they learned to love each other, but it ended quite suddenly. When Paul first tried to join himself to the disciples in Jerusalem, they were all afraid of him. This is the man who helped murder Stephen! This is the man who persecuted us so much and put our friends in prison. What does he want at our meetings? They thought he was a spy; but there was one man there, Barnabas, “the son of comfort” (1 Chron. 19:22And David said, I will show kindness unto Hanun the son of Nahash, because his father showed kindness to me. And David sent messengers to comfort him concerning his father. So the servants of David came into the land of the children of Ammon to Hanun, to comfort him. (1 Chronicles 19:2)) (Acts 4:3636And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, (Acts 4:36)), a very kind and good man. He took Saul and brought him to the apostles, to Peter and James (for Saul tells us he saw no others), and Barnabas told the wonderful story, that Saul loved so well, of that meeting on the road near Damascus and how the sight of the Lord of glory had changed all of Saul’s life. And then I think Peter took him home with him, and they learned to know and love each other.
He seems to have been only fifteen days in Jerusalem, but that was time enough for him to preach boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus. Again the Jews tried to kill him, so the brethren brought him down to Caesarea and sent him forth to Tarsus, his own native city.
You will notice most of these things are left out as Paul tells the story to the Galatians. There we find only a few facts nothing to glorify Paul: but only the things that prove how very, very little he received from those who were apostles before him or from any persons at Jerusalem. Paul was answering his enemies, the false teachers, who said he did not receive his teaching or his authority from the apostles at Jerusalem. No, Paul says, I did not, and I will prove to you from my own history that it was impossible for me to have received either my authority or my teaching from men. And now in v.20, as if to make all doubly sure (like our Lord’s words, that He loved so well, “verily, verily”), Paul adds, “But what I am writing to you, lo, before God, I am not lying.” Paul’s enemies had suggested that his conduct had been deceitful, and perhaps they had said that he was not truthful. So Paul makes this solemn statement that should close the mouths of his enemies.
“Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.” ch. 1:21.
In Acts 9 we have seen that because Paul preached boldly in Jerusalem, the Jews “went about to slay him” (Acts 9:2929And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him. (Acts 9:29)). v.29. What an example of diligence Paul is to us there. Apparently he was in Jerusalem only fifteen days, but in that short time he found opportunity to preach boldly and dispute against the Grecians. (Acts 9:2929And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him. (Acts 9:29).) The Lord met him in a vision in the temple and told him to depart, and, as we have seen, the brethren sent him to his native home in Tarsus. But all this, which is so much to his credit, is left out in Galatians. He says only, “Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.” Tarsus was a city in Cilicia, and it was “no mean city.” Acts 21:3939But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people. (Acts 21:39). The province of Cilicia was joined very closely in many ways to Syria, so that often they were almost one. You will see by the map that Cilicia is northeast of Syria. You will remember that Damascus was in Syria; so you will see that Paul was going further and further away from Jerusalem in his labors for the Lord.
“But I remained personally unknown to the assemblies of Judea, the ones in Christ, but only they kept hearing, the one formerly persecuting us, now keeps announcing the good news of the faith which formerly he kept ravaging [or, destroying]; and they kept glorifying God in me.” ch. 1:22-24.
We must notice the difference between the “assemblies of Judea” and the assembly of Jerusalem. The assembly of Jerusalem had almost surely learned to know Paul personally, even though he was only fifteen days in that city. But he left so suddenly that the assemblies outside Jerusalem had no chance to get to know him. We find this same difference made in John 7. Compare vv. 20, 25.
The imperfect and present tenses are used in these verses, showing the continuous action. “I remained unknown... they kept on hearing... our persecutor... keeps on announcing the good news of the faith which formerly he kept on destroying.” How vivid the whole scene is! We can see those early Christians talking together: “Brother, have you heard? Saul of Tarsus, who helped kill Stephen, is preaching the good news!” How well we can understand! How well we can enter into the relief and the joy that this report, which kept going around, brought to all the assemblies; and then this report caused another imperfect tense, “They kept on glorifying God in me.” As the good news of the change in Saul of Tarsus kept going around among the assemblies of Judea, they kept glorifying God. Can you not guess what thanks and praise went up to God in their prayer meetings? A very ancient writer has said, “He does not say, They marveled at me; they praised me; they were struck with admiration of me: but he attributes all to grace. They glorified God, he says, in me.”
“In me.” We read these words before in v.16. “God was pleased to reveal His Son in me.” This tells us that God “unveiled” His Son in Paul. “Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:1212For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)). I suppose the meaning of this verse in Galatians is that God was pleased to take away the veil, in part at least, and Saul of Tarsus saw the Son of God “face to face.” That sight, that look, never left Paul as long as he lived. After Saul was baptized and had taken something to eat, do you remember what he did? “Straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:2020And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. (Acts 9:20)). And as God was pleased to thus take away the veil that now hides His Son from view, so the glory of the Son of God changed all of Saul’s life; and in him, to those around, God thus unveiled His Son. Many a man and woman learned to know the Son of God through the sight that Saul of Tarsus had of Him on the Damascus road. Paul was not only the instrument God used to tell out the gospel, but also in his own person he bore the strongest testimony to its power. As men looked at Paul, “in him” the Son of God was revealed to them (compare 2 Cor. 3:1818But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18)), and as the assemblies of Judea heard the reports of his conversion and of his bold preaching, they kept glorifying God “in him.”
“I was journeying in the noontide,
When His light shone o’er my road;
And I saw Him in that glory—
Saw Him—Jesus, Son of God.
All around, in noonday splendor,
Earthly scenes lay fair and bright;
But my eyes no more behold them
For the glory of that light.
Others in the summer sunshine
Wearily may journey on,
I have seen a light from heaven,
Past the brightness of the sun—
Light that knows no cloud, no waning,
Light wherein I see His face,
All His love’s uncounted treasures,
All the riches of His grace.
All the wonders of His glory,
Deeper wonders of His love—
How for me He won, He keepeth
That high place in heaven above;
Not a glimpse—the veil uplifted—
But within the veil to dwell,
Gazing on His face forever,
Hearing words unspeakable.
Marvel not that Christ in glory
All my inmost heart hath won;
Not a star to cheer my darkness,
But a light beyond the sun.
All below lies dark and shadowed,
Nothing there to claim my heart,
Save the lonely track of sorrow
Where of old He walked apart.
I have seen the face of Jesus—
Tell me not of aught beside;
I have heard the voice of Jesus—
All my soul is satisfied.
In the radiance of the glory
First I saw His blessed face,
And forever shall that glory
Be my home, my dwelling place.
Sinners, it was not to angels
All this wondrous love was given,
But to one who scorned, despised Him,
Scorned and hated Christ in heaven.
From the lowest depths of darkness
To His city’s radiant height,
Thus in me He told the measure
Of His love and His delight.”