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Galatians 1:13-14 by Robert Dean
Series:Galatians (1998)
Duration:1 hr 4 mins 44 secs

Paul's Life Before Conversion; Gal. 1:13-14

Paul says in verses 11 that this gospel is not according to man. This has to do with something that is not agreeable with and not in line with the standards of human thinking or human viewpoint. By way of application, three important observations:

a)  The gospel is a unique message proclaimed a unique way. Do not denigrate the gospel or insult God by reducing the gospel to merchandise being sold in the street. Unfortunately that is what is happening today in most churches and across the air waves of the radio and television. They are adopting methods for proclaiming the gospel and methods for evangelism that have more to do with Madison Avenue and less to do with dependence upon the power of God and the Holy Spirit. Do not reduce the Scriptures to common commerce. We are not out there to sell it. The techniques of evangelism are not the techniques of salesmanship.

b)  Evangelism is not to be conducted according to the principles of sociology. We have lost three battles in the last century: the battle s over evolution, psychology (which claims to be authoritative for all matters related to the soul. But the Bible claims exclusive authority in that area), and sociology (let's go out and take surveys; let's understand principles of how a society and a culture operates and then use those principles in order to develop our methods for planting churches, witnessing and evangelism).

c)  Evangelism is not manipulation. E.g. Charles Finney who introduced a whole host of procedures and methods (altar calls, etc.) for evangelism designed to get people to make external professions of faith. God has given every human being volition. They can be positive and accept the gospel or they can be negative and reject the gospel. We can pray that God will make the gospel clear to someone, that He would put enough pressure on a person's life to put them in a position where they would be more receptive to the gospel, but God is not going to reach down inside that person and switch him over to positive and make them believe the gospel. God is going to respect their individual freedom and volition.      

Galatians 1:12 NASB "For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but {I received it} through a revelation of Jesus Christ." This is the proposition that he is going to defend and that he is going to give evidence for: that he got the gospel directly from God, directly from the Lord Jesus Christ and not from the source of men. Then Paul is going to provide evidence for his claim in 1:13-2:21. In 1:13, 14 is the evidence from his life prior to his conversion. 

Galatians 1:13 NASB "For you have heard of my former manner of life…" This is an aorist active indicative of the Greek word akouo [a)kouw] which means to hear, to listen. It was reported to them and this would have taken place during Paul's first missionary journey when he was presenting the gospel to them. During that time he told them how he came to know Jesus Christ as his saviour.

It is important for us to understand the whole concept in Scripture of testimony. Today we have diluted the concept to some kind of personal subjective experience. When we sit down to witness to somebody we talk about "sharing our faith" or "what Jesus did for me." That is not the issue. In the Gospel of John, John wrote that Jesus Christ performed all these signs "that you may know that Jesus is the Christ, and by believing you might have life through His name." Over and over again John relies on objective signs, things that Jesus did which demonstrated His deity; he relies on things that Jesus said, because that is objective, and he is going to rely upon seven different objective witnesses to who Jesus is and what He claims to be. So all testimony is related to something that is objective and not subjective. That doesn't mean there aren't subjective aspects; there are. But what it means is that the basis for our authority in the gospel is not the subjective but the objective; that which is clearly discernable by one and all.       

"… in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it." Paul was one of the greatest crusaders ever in the Bible. Obviously in his sin nature Paul had a weakness towards crusader arrogance. What Paul thought was the right thing, even though it was wrong, he gave himself to one hundred per cent, even to the point where his goal was to try to kill as many Christians as possible in order to wipe Christianity off the face of the earth.

Paul's life prior to his conversion

1)  Paul was born in the town of Tarsus, located in the south-eastern corner of Asia Minor.

2)  When we talk about Paul's childhood and his background we know that he called himself a Hebrew of the Hebrews. This is an interesting phrase found in Philippians chapter three. We also know that Paul was a Roman citizen. He was born a Roman citizen which was an incredibly prestigious position. There weren't that many people in Tarsus who were Roman citizens, so that tells us that his family was of the social elite even though they were Jews. But they maintained their connections with Jerusalem.

3)  When he was a fairly young child we know that he was sent to Jerusalem by the family and there he was to be eventually trained by Gamaliel who was one of the most prominent Pharisees in the New Testament times in Judea.

4)  When Paul is first introduced to us it is in connection with the martyrdom of Stephen and the persecution that followed in approximately 35 AD. He was probably about 30 years of age and therefore just a few years younger than our Lord. If he was in Jerusalem as a boy at a very young age then that would mean that during our Lord's public ministry he would be very familiar with everything that surrounded that, but he is just not mentioned at all in any of the Gospels. At the stoning of Stephen he was very much in hostility to Christianity.

5)  After Stephen's stoning he becomes the chief persecutor of the church. Acts 8:3; Acts 22:4 "I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, [5] as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished."  In Galatians 1:13 the word for "destroy" means he tried to wipe out the church, tried to eradicate it.

Galatians 1:14 NASB "and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions." Paul was climbing the corporate ladder of Judaism on the bodies of the Christians he slew. Traditions can be good but they can also be bad. The issue is traditions is never the tradition. Tradition is a straightjacket that can destroy you if you don't have your traditions grounded in the absolutes of doctrine. What had happened with the Jews was that they had made their ancestral traditions, what they had added to Scripture, the absolute rather than Scripture itself.

In verses 15-17 we have an evidence from Paul's conversion and his conduct immediately after that. Galatians 1:15 NASB "But when God, who had set me apart {even} from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, was pleased [16] to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, 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, and returned once more to Damascus." In these three verses he is going to establish the point that his conversion was on the basis of an appearance by the Lord Jesus Christ to him on the road to Damascus, it did not come through men. After that he had no contact with the apostles. The point he is making is that the message he is proclaiming is one that came directly from God.

The account of how Paul came to know the Lord in Acts 9

Acts 9:1 NASB "Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, [2 ]and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way [Christians], both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. [3] As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him." There is this bright light flashing around him and he is blinded by its intensity. [4] "and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?'"

Saul is not directly persecuting the Lord Jesus Christ, he is persecuting believers who are the body of Christ. So if anybody does to us they are doing the same to the Lord. Saul gets the point immediately. The self-revelation of Jesus Christ in all of His Shekinah glory means that Saul recognises at that instant that Jesus is all that He claimed to be; He is the saviour of the world. This is indicated by Paul's response because he said [5] "And he said, 'Who are You, Lord?'" Jesus is termed Lord there to signify His deity, and Paul recognises that. "And He {said,} 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, [6] but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do'."

Acts 9:7 NASB "The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one." What happens here is not subjective. It was not just a subjective religious experience on the part of the apostle Paul. The idea is fraudulent because if we are honest with what the Scripture says, while the men who were with him did not understand what Jesus said and could not hear the specific words because it was an appearance only for the apostle Paul, they saw the light and they heard a voice. That means something happened in space-time history that was objective and real. It wasn't something happening only inside the mind of Paul. God does not do anything privately or subjectively that He does not verify and substantiate objectively in the real world of space-time history. Acts 9:8 NASB "Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus."  

In Acts 26 Paul is giving his defence before Herod Agrippa. Acts 26:1 NASB "Agrippa said to Paul, 'You are permitted to speak for yourself.' Then Paul stretched out his hand and {proceeded} to make his defense." The Greek word translated "defense" is apologia [a)pologia], the word from which we get our English word "apology." But the Greek word doesn't mean apology, it is a technical, legal word that means to present your defence. When  you are a believer and you are presenting the gospel you are to always be ready to give an answer –1 Peter 3:15. There we have this same Greek word. It means to give a defence, make a case, to give objective reasons for why you believe what you believe.

Acts 26:2 NASB "In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; [3] especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among {the} Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently. [4] So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my {own} nation and at Jerusalem; [5] since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived {as} a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. [6] And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers." So he goes back to the Old Testament and he is going to relate it to the fulfilment of prophecy from hundreds of years prior to the coming of Christ. [7] "{the promise} to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve {God} night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. [8] Why is it considered incredible among you {people} if God does raise the dead?" He focuses on the resurrection.