Questioning Paul’s Authority

18 Dec
Galatians - Pauls Gospel

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We see from Paul’s opening line in Galatians 1:1 that his authority as an Apostle sent by God was being questioned. From the very beginning Paul seems to emphasize that his authority came not from men but from God. Therefore, the men from James must have sought to undermine Paul’s position as a legitimate Apostle of Christ, before they could have hoped that the Galatians would listen to their doctrine, which removed its adherents from the grace found in Christ (Galatians 1:6). Apparently these men began by saying Paul was a man-pleaser. That is, he sought to please the gentiles of Galatia by not requiring them to be circumcised (Galatians 1:10), which these men taught was necessary for salvation (Acts 15:1).

Once Paul’s authority was called into question, these men could put themselves into that position of supreme authority. They could then begin to contradict Paul’s words as doubt was sowed in the hearts and minds of the Galatian believers. Much later in his life, Paul would tell the Jews at Jerusalem (Acts 22:1-3), that he was a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia who as a young boy was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, the well respected rabbi of the 1st century AD. The agitators who had come to the Galatian churches were saying that Paul learned the Gospel at the feet of the Apostles—the Twelve, who had learned it at the feet of Jesus. This is what Paul is responding to in this part of his letter. The argument was: just as the Apostles couldn’t deviate from what Jesus had taught them, neither could Paul deviate from what the Twelve taught him. The agitators taught that Paul was obligated to preach the very same message the Apostles in Jerusalem preached to Jews. Therefore, just as the Jews in Jerusalem were obligated to obey the Law of Moses, so were the gentiles wherever they lived.

Consequently, this is the first question that Paul had to address. From where or from whom did he receive his authority and his Gospel? He claimed it wasn’t a philosophy he learned from men, nor was he taught it, nor was he commissioned by the Twelve to preach it (Galatians 1:11-12). Rather, he received it from God by revelation. Paul confessed that years earlier he had persecuted believers and sought to destroy the Church of Christ, and, in doing so, he showed he was more zealous for Jewish traditions than many other young Jewish men, and he excelled above them in his faith (Galatians 1:13-14). Nevertheless, Jesus appeared to Paul in glorious form while he (Paul) was traveling to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9; Acts 22:6-11; 26:12-21).

Paul knew Jesus was crucified and believed he had been cursed of God (Deuteronomy 21:23). Nevertheless, it was Jesus who appeared to him near Damascus. Therefore, although Jesus was crucified by men, God declared him innocent by resurrecting him from the dead. This was Paul’s Gospel according to what he told Agrippa in Acts 26:16, 19. He was empowered, according to Acts 26:18 to open the eyes of both Jew and gentile (cp. Acts 26:17) and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to the power of God. That is, Paul was to remove them from the power of the world and bring them into the Kingdom (or power) of God. In other words, Jesus is Lord or Messiah. This, and only this, was Paul’s Gospel. Anything added to this was unnecessary and unauthorized by God.

Why would Paul need to consult with the Apostles in order to understand that Jesus was resurrected or that he was the Messiah? The fact that Jesus appeared to Paul in a glorified state was enough to understand the core of the Apostles’ message at Jerusalem. This was Paul’s main argument against his accusers that he was commissioned by the Apostles to preach the Gospel of Christ. While the record of what Jesus said and did were useful in other ways, Paul simply didn’t need the records of Jesus’ ministry in order to preach his message that Jesus was alive and the Messiah.


Posted by on December 18, 2015 in Galatians


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4 responses to “Questioning Paul’s Authority

  1. romansroadmap

    December 18, 2015 at 22:40

    The whole account, contained in the book if Acts, explains well how this unfolded. The legalists who came from Judea, where James happened to be ministering, were not authorised. They were contradicted and rebuked by the Church council and by the Apostles themselves.

    James sent no one to dispute with Paul. As Acts 15 attests, the council agreed that Gentiles did not have to abide under circumcision, James was a key decision maker here.

    Acts is the best historic evidence. We also have corroboration of Paul’s apostolic authority within Peter.

    • Eddie

      December 19, 2015 at 08:48

      Greetings and thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. We agree on several matters you discuss, but I believe some things are misunderstood, which I hope to clear up here.

      I agree that James didn’t authorize the Judaizers to defame Paul or cause trouble in the Galatian churches. However, I also believe they were sent by him for another reason. Paul claims in Galatians 2:12 that James did send them. Why they were sent is the question at hand, because Luke records in Acts 15:24 that James claimed those who troubled the churches did come out from the Jerusalem church, but they were not authorized to stir up any trouble. That seems to be the gist of what James admits.

      What I believe about the matter is that these men were very powerful Jews at Jerusalem. They seemed to have been members of the Jewish believing community there, but they were false brethren. I also believe that what occurred in the Galatian churches occurred at the same time in Antioch and Cilicia as well. In other words, it was an organized effort by the false brethren to attack the work of Paul. Groups of these men traveled throughout the gentile churches telling them that the famine predicted by Agabus in Acts 11:28 was upon the church at Jerusalem and the church’s reserves were dangerously low. The gifts the gentile churches were saving for this purpose needed to be released to relieve the poor affected in Judea. This is what I believe James sent these men to convey, but they overstepped their authority.

      Earlier, I had written a few blogs about this matter when I was going through the book of Acts. They may or may not be of interest to you, but here are two of them: The ‘Men from James’ and When did Paul Confront Peter in Antioch?.

      Lord bless you in your efforts to honor him.

    • romansroadmap

      December 19, 2015 at 10:52

      Thanks for you gracious reply. Greetings to you too!

      I understand what you’re saying better now. I find your points really fascinating.

      You pointed out Galatians 2:12, which says, “For before that certain came from James…”. Do you think it is significant that it says “came from” rather than were “sent by”? The latter seems to imply authorisation. It’s an interesting explanation that they might have been there to request the love gift be released and overstepped their authority.

      In light of my new understanding (due to your clarification for me) I think I’ll re-read and enjoy (free of worrying about a point you were not at all making).

      I look forward to reading those two articles about the Acts events. Thank you again for your reply. I shall enjoy your blog, as I am about to subscribe. May God bless you as you serve him obediently.

    • Eddie

      December 19, 2015 at 11:51

      “Do you think it is significant that it says “came from” rather than were “sent by”? The latter seems to imply authorisation.”

      I don’t believe it can be known for certain, but I am inclined to believe they were “sent” by James. The reason I believe this is, that Paul claims he went up to Jerusalem for the second time “by revelation” (Galatians 2:2). What revelation is Paul speaking of at this point? Is he claiming God revealed to him that he should go to the Jerusalem church and explain to them how he preached to the gentiles, or did he speak of the Gospel which he preached among the gentiles when he went up to Jerusalem for another reason? We are told by Luke in Acts 11:27-30 that God spoke through a prophet, Agabus, and the believers at Antioch determined to send their gift to the poor at Jerusalem by Barnabas and Paul when the time came to do so. If this is what Paul meant by going up to Jerusalem “by revelation”, then it seems some people were necessarily sent by the Jerusalem church to alert the churches in the Diaspora of the condition of the poor in Judea.

      Of course, my explanation doesn’t “have to be” the answer, but it does fit what the Scriptures say, and it fills in some of the blanks left by references such as men from James and went up by revelation and why Peter and Barnabas separated themselves from the gentile believers to accommodate the Jews coming “from” James. Perhaps there is a better explanation that takes everything into consideration, but I know of none.

      Lord bless you, and thank you for your kind and gracious reply.


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