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An Exploration of Galatians: Paul Meets Peter and James
Galatians 1:18-24; Acts 9:26-30 - The true Gospel comes from God and Paul spent many years in obscurity before being called.
“Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” And they were glorifying God because of me.”
Galatians 1:18-24 NASB1995
Paul continues his narrative at the end of chapter 1 of Galatians talking about how, three years after his conversion and journey to Arabia and return to Damascus, he finally travels to Jerusalem to become “acquainted” with Peter (Cephas). He is proving his point that he did not learn the Gospel from the other apostles because he has been a Christian for three years before this casual and short (15-day) encounter occurs. He also only met with one other apostle, James, the half-brother of Jesus. Here is how Enduring Word describes this encounter:
Then after three years: Paul proved here that he did not learn the gospel from the apostles, because he had been a Christian for three years before he even met the apostles Peter and James.
It was unusual for him to wait so long. “A new convert, especially one who had been foremost in persecuting the believers, would surely touch base with the leaders of the movement he was now espousing, if only to make sure that he now had a correct understanding of what the Christian movement was teaching. But Paul did not do this.” (Henry Morris)
Nor was Paul commanded to appear before the apostles in some kind of examination. This is indicated when Paul wrote, “to see Peter.” The word translated to see speaks of someone coming as a tourist. “‘A word used,’ says Chrysostom, ‘by those who go to see great and famous cities.’” (Neil Lightfoot) The idea is that Paul was not commanded to come to Jerusalem to give an account to Peter or the other disciples, but he came of his own accord and visited as a tourist.
The NASB95 version uses the words “to become acquainted with” instead of ”to see” for Paul’s visit with Peter. This phrase comes from the Greek phrase ἱστορέω or historeo, with these meanings; this phrase is the only occurrence in the NT:
to enquire into, examine, investigate
to find out, learn, by enquiry
to gain knowledge of by visiting
of some distinguished person, to become personally acquainted with, know face to face
Paul doesn’t mention in Galatians that his departure from Jerusalem was due to death threats from Hellenistic Jews, as noted in Acts 9:26-30:
“When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.”
Acts 9:26-30 NASB1995
Paul disappears from the action for a while in Acts after he goes into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. In fact, this timeline was found in Precept Austin that shows how many years pass between the first and second visits to Jerusalem and between the history that Paul gives at the end of Galatians 1 and what he then describes in Galatians 2:
Paul was not known by sight by the churches of Judea during this time, but they kept hearing about how the former persecutor of the church is now preaching the faith that he tried to destroy and they glorified God because of him. He assures the churches at Galatia that these are facts before God. Paul was essentially an anonymous Christian for many years, venturing into dangerous places and returning to his home town a converted man (that conversation with his parents, if they were still alive, was probably quite interesting). The photo below is a passageway somewhere in a village in Syria in the present day that has survived the civil war and shows the antiquity of the buildings that may date back all the way to the days of the early church.
I like what Enduring Word says about this time in Paul’s life and his truth about receiving the Gospel from God:
Paul’s status as unknown is certainly different from our own habit of puffing up any prominent convert as soon as they come to Jesus. Paul was happy and well served to spend many years in obscurity before God raised him up.
In this whole section, Paul showed that there was enough contact between him and the other apostles to show that they were in perfect agreement, but not so much that it showed that Paul got his gospel from them instead of God.
Paul’s whole point in the second part of this chapter is important. His gospel was true, and his experience was valid, because it really came from God. It is fair for every Christian to ask if their gospel has come from God, or if they have made it up themselves. The questions are important because only what comes from God can really save us and make a lasting difference in our lives.
My next devotional examines Galatians 2:1-2, which picks up the narrative of Paul’s life after conversion 14 years later when he travels to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Help me to be patient like Paul and be content to grow my faith and wisdom in devout obscurity, focusing only on You. Guide me into Your Word and keep me true to Scripture. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.