Thursday: The Origin of Paul’s Gospel
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The Origin of Paul’s Gospel

The troublemakers in Galatia were claiming that Paul’s gospel was really driven by his desire to obtain the approval of others. What might Paul have done differently in his letter if he were merely seeking human approval? Consider Gal. 1:6–9, 11–24



Why did Paul not require Gentile converts to be circumcised? Paul’s opponents claimed it was because Paul wanted conversions at any cost. Maybe they thought that because Paul knew Gentiles would have reservations about circumcision, he didn’t require it. He was a people-pleaser! In response to such allegations, Paul points his opponents to the strong words he had just written in verses 8 and 9.

If all he wanted were approval, he would surely have answered otherwise.

Why does Paul say it is impossible to be a follower of Christ while trying to please people?  



After Paul’s statement in verses 11 and 12 that he received his gospel and authority directly from God, how do his words in verses 13–24 make his point?  



Verses 13–24 provide an autobiographical account of Paul’s situation before his conversion (vss. 13, 14), at his conversion (vss. 15, 16), and afterward (vss. 16–24). Paul claims that the circumstances that surrounded each of these events make it absolutely impossible for anyone to claim that he received his gospel from anyone but God. Paul is not going to sit by and allow anyone to disparage his message by questioning his calling. He knows what happened to him, he knows what he was called to teach, and he is going to do it, no matter the cost.

How certain are you of your calling in Christ? How can you know for sure what God has called you to do? At the same time, even if you are sure of your calling, why must you learn to listen to the counsel of others?

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Thursday: The Origin of Paul’s Gospel — 14 Comments

  1. Paul's opponents claim that Paul was a people -pleaser, hence did not want the gentiles circumcised because he wanted conversions at any cost. Paul knew that the gentiles would have reservations about circumcision, he did not require it.

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    • There’s a much more important principle involved than that “the gentiles would have reservations about circumcision.” The issue was discussed at the Jerusalem council (Acts 15), and church leaders determined that Gentiles did not have to become Jewish converts and be circumcised before they could become Christians.

      Paul clarified the issue regarding circumcision when he declared that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.” (Gal 6:15 NKJV) This is based on the new-covenant promise that God would write His law in the hearts of His people (Jer. 31:33 ). The death of Jesus ratified this new covenant, and He taught us to remember the New Covenant by partaking of the Lord’s Supper, when He said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (I Cor. 11:25 NKJV)

      Paul’s whole letter to the Galatatians is dedicated to the teaching that the New Covenant is a heart matter, not a matter of circumcision or keeping the special celebrations of Judaism. The New Covenant, ratified at the cross, replaced the figurative Torah sanctuary laws.

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      • At the Jerusalem council the issue that was raised was, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Act 15:1 NKJV). Even thought the immediate question was over circumcision the far more basic issue was over how a person is saved. What they were saying was that you are saved based on doing something. That was a doctrine that Paul vigorously argued against which is why he states in several letters that you are justified as a matter of a gift of God that you obtain through faith which had nothing to do with works.

        The issue really has little to do with ethnicity or religious background. To Paul the matter was not about the Gentile becoming a Jew for he states very clearly that the Gentile was to be grafted into the parent stock of Israel (Rom 11). It was entirely a matter concerning the basis on which you are saved irregardless whether you are a Jew or a Gentile.

        We generally don’t have a very good grasp of just how much of a problem this whole thing was to the church back then. To the Jew in the church the problem at the Jerusalem council presented some very real difficulties. How was he to relate to a perpetual covenant that was a sign of his acceptance into the kingdom of God (Gen 17:11-14) much like baptism is today? Yet I believe that they could definitely see that God was bringing the Gentiles into the church on the basis of faith alone without it. Did that mean that circumcision was not longer valid for the Jew just as it was for the Gentile? If so, then what about the perpetuity of the covenant?

        Since the Christian church during the first century was considered a sect of the Jews much like the Pharisees and Sadducees were it would be logical to conclude that to them it meant proselytizing Gentiles into the Jewish faith with the peculiar understanding of Jesus as the Messiah. That meant that they were becoming Jews (grafted in) and subject to all the covenants and commands given to Israel. So the question became how much like the Jew did the Gentile had to become.

        The problem was so intense that if not handled correctly it potentially could split the church. For this reason James wisely decided for a compromise ruling that would hold the church together, at least for a while. The problem was that Paul knew that the issue of the basis of salvation was not settled; only circumvented. Furthermore, there were factions within the church that also were not happy with the decision because to them the problem of the covenant was not really settled either.

        Eventually Paul had to clarify theologically why a person is saved on the basis of faith alone. That is what both Romans and Galatians is really about. It has nothing to do about what law – neither the old nor the new covenant specify which law. The issue is about our relationship to those laws with respect to salvation.

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        • "Eventually Paul had to clarify theologically why a person is saved on the basis of faith alone. That is what both Romans and Galatians is really about. It has nothing to do about what law – neither the old nor the new covenant specify which law. The issue is about our relationship to those laws with respect to salvation."

          In your above quote...you state that
          "It has nothing to do about what law"...but it is re "our relationship to those laws with respect to salvation."

          Your point is well taken...but surely "faith"- salvation- without "works" - the law - is dead. Or salvation is non-existent without the law. Making both the law and salvation equally important.

          This explains Paul's discussion on both sides of the issue. Paul had as much reason to convince the rest of the disciples, who themselves did not understand the relationship between the laws given to them by the same Messiah who later died for them. And Paul spent his life trying to undo the false understanding they had of the relationship between the law God gave, to point to Christ, and the planned Grace that was to replace the law, it's having done its duty.
          The Gentiles would have been happy with the gospel as preached to them by Paul, had not the Jewish Christians tried to defeat Paul's argument, claiming that the law had not lost any of it's importance; and must be observed by the Gentiles in addition to accepting Jesus as Messiah.

          Courtney

          ps Paul kept the law, though in in his arguments he would appear not to.
          (see Acts 16:3;18:18;24:5)

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        • Courtney, thank you for opening up these questions for discussion. You of course are referring to James who was battling the same problem Paul tried to prevent. Paul well knew that people will always twist things in such ways that will enable them to do whatever they want to do. That is why Paul always made statements to restrain those elements from using what he says incorrectly.

          After a while those wild elements within the church were saying that because they were saved through faith without the works of the law the law then had no meaning and that it released them to do whatever they wished which in that culture sometimes meant doing things like visiting temple prostitutes. James recognized this problem and fought against it the best he could. He knew that any society that casts off the restraints of law never lasts.

          Like culture Law sets up relationships that are negotiated and agreed upon. Because it puts everyone on the same page, it suppresses chaos and confusion. God’s Laws are necessary for these reasons but has no power to save (Gal 2:21; Gal 3:21-22). They were never designed to do that job. What they do is to give us a goal to strive toward and to be a standard of judgment so that we can know where we are with respect to them (Rom 3:20; Rom 7:7).

          In both Galatians and Romans Paul lays out just how we are saved which he summarizes very well in his letter to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph 2:8-9 NKJV). The point is that no law, no matter what it is, is the means to anyone’s salvation.

          In your comment you said, “Paul spent his life trying to undo the false understanding they had of the relationship between the law God gave, to point to Christ, and the planned Grace that was to replace the law, it’s having done its duty.” I could be wrong but I understand this to mean that you feel that the ceremonial law is what Paul was dealing with. If that is what you meant then I must disagree with you.

          The question Paul raised to the Galatians is, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Gal 3:2 NKJV). It doesn’t matter what law, the question is between doing something or by hearing with faith. Then he goes on to say, “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3 NKJV). How did they receive the Spirit of God and how were they to retain the Spirit, by doing or by believing? Remember, the point the Judaizers made at the Jerusalem council was that unless you do some law you cannot be saved. Paul argues that that is not so that the Galatians received the spirit through belief in a crucified and risen savior without anything to do with the law.

          There are other places in the New Testament that deal with the Old Covenant which includes the types and shadows as being no longer in force but the books of Galatians and Romans are not one of them.

          The three texts you reference to are also interesting. First there is Acts 16:3 which simply says that Paul had Timothy circumcised, “because of the Jews who were in that region” (Act 16:3 NKJV). It was a simple act to circumvent unnecessary problems with the Jews that the presence of an uncircumcised gentile would have caused (did you ever go to a Jewish synagogue and have to where that little beanie they give you out of respect). Then there is Acts 18:18 which involves taking a voluntary vow for whatever reason. It was a personal thing between Paul and God just like fasting is or any pledge you might make and was in no way mandatory. Thirdly, Acts 24:5 that describes another false charge leveled against Paul in the same way charges were brought against Christ.

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    • Eric, I am not sure that Paul actually said that. Other writers have said things that come very close to that because the base of our nature is carnality (1 John 2:15-16; James 4:4; Matt 10:37).

      To me what Paul was saying was that the charge against him that he was doing things solely to win the approval of human authority was not true. To Paul God came first and if that meant going against human requirements then so be it. Ministry concerning human happiness is really not the issue here.

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    • "Why does Paul say it is impossible to be a follower of Christ while trying to please people"..Eric

      Paul made this statement in response to the same principle that made Jesus tell the rich young ruler to keep the commandments. "Pleasing people" is what the keeping of the law came to be. The Israelite leadership made sure that this understanding was cemented into the minds of the people["by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified"said Paul]...and it is for this reason that Jesus also referred to the prayer of the Pharisee[Israelite leadership]and that of the Publican[sinner and breaker of the law].

      In contrast; those who follow Christ see themselves as not without sin; and when they sin they also know that they are as much without sin in the eyes of their Saviour, even if men still see them as condemned sinners.

      Consequently, when you follow Christ you can't also concurrently "please" those who see the law as the standard by which you are morally judged.

      Courtney

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      • "I could be wrong but I understand this to mean that you feel that the ceremonial law is what Paul was dealing with. If that is what you meant then I must disagree with you."Tyler

        By the deeds of the "law"...there is only one "law"..."shall no flesh be justified". Or if one was to keep all the commandments of God, and never sin in any fashion,but as well, he rules out completely the saving work of Jesus,he cannot be saved, or cannot be justified for salvation...and such was the concept of Jewish thinking among those who did not accept Jesus as Saviour...and as well, entertained by those who had accepted Jesus as Saviour.
        On the other hand the ceremonial laws "taught and played out" the actual physical and spiritual processes involved in the plan of salvation for those sinning Israelite humans[ie those who did not offer sacrifices for their sins, died on the day of atonement]..the said ceremony of sacrificial death was also physically and spiritually reproduced in the sacrificial death of Jesus for the salvation of sinning humans.

        "The three texts you reference to are also interesting. First there is Acts 16:3 which simply says that Paul had Timothy circumcised, “because of the Jews who were in that region” (Act 16:3 NKJV). It was a simple act to circumvent unnecessary problems with the Jews that the presence of an uncircumcised gentile would have caused (did you ever go to a Jewish synagogue and have to where that little beanie they give you out of respect)." Tyler

        I beg to differ. This was not a "simple act". Paul referred to Peter as the custodian of the "gospel of the circumcision"[Gal.2:7,8]...and was a direct reference to the practice of circumcision as still being practiced and sanctioned as necessary to be done by all Jews....The Jerusalem council[Acts 21:17-24] makes my point..." thou seest brother,how many thousands of Jews that believe and they are all zealous of the law and they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses"[ie forsake the law]"saying that they ought not to circumcise their children"..... The Jerusalem council not only affirmed the continued strict observance of the laws of ceremonies, but they as well ordered Paul to also perform with "four men" the said laws of ceremonies so that, in their words.."them take ...that they may shave their heads"[as Paul himself did in Acts 18:18] "and all may know that those things whereof they were informed concerning thee are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly and keepest the law"...hardly, I might add a "simple act" re "beanie caps".

        " Then there is Acts 18:18 which involves taking a voluntary vow for whatever reason. It was a personal thing between Paul and God just like fasting is or any pledge you might make and was in no way mandatory" Tyler

        Conjecture, as in the above, is not at all supported scripturally. When was the shaving of heads in Jewish customs akin to fasting!
        Shaving of heads as was done by Paul and the "four men", is the ceremony described in Numbers chapter 6...the ceremony of the vow of the Nazarite. And you might also reference the words of Acts 25:5, and as well, in reference to Paul as "a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes".

        "Thirdly, Acts 24:5 that describes another false charge leveled against Paul in the same way charges were brought against Christ."Tyler

        Paul's being a "ringleader of the sect of the Nazarene" is not any different from calling Christ a Nazarene..."he shall be called a Nazarene"Matt.2:23 ..and Paul indeed celebrated the vow of the Nazarene as ordered by the Jerusalem council, making him indeed a leader and a Nazarene as he was stated to be in Acts 24:5 by his accusers.

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  2. I have no doubt about Paul,s calling was from God Himself. I was reading Acts 9 v 13-16, when the Almighty sent Ananias to go and put a hand on Paul in order for him to gain his sight. Read on
    Many of us have been called to do God, work, but we do not respond or even do a anything regarding spreading the gospel.

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  3. "In Gal.2:1-14, we find the apostle doing all in his power to maintain the unity of the apostolic circle in the amidst of the attempts of some believers to destroy it." The author

    I'll allow for Paul's trying not to undermine the disciples first place in the leadership re the gospel, given their direct connection with Jesus and Paul's initial opposition to the disciples and to the said gospel. But never was their any unity re the understanding of the concept of grace and its relationship with law. This is the debate Paul had, not only with the Jewish, Christian believers, who believed like the disciples; but who, themselves, were only the more militant, in forcing Paul to believe as the majority of Jewish Christianity believed; but as well this debate was also with the disciples.

    Again; I quote James to support my point. …” thou seest brother,how many thousands of Jews that believe and they are all zealous of the law and they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses”[ie forsake the law]“saying that they ought not to circumcise their children”….. The Jerusalem council not only affirmed the continued strict observance of the laws of ceremonies, but they as well ordered Paul to also perform with “four men” the said laws of ceremonies so that, in their words..”them take …that they may shave their heads”[as Paul himself did in Acts 18:18] “and all may know that those things whereof they were informed concerning thee are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly and keepest the law”…

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  4. "....Thus the accusation that his message was different, was not only an attack on Paul, but also an attack on the unity of the apostles, and on the church itself." The author

    Paul's reference to the trip he took; and which he took re revelation; a trip he described to meet with the disciples; may have shed more light on the gospel Paul preached; but still left the disciples, in the words of Peter; in 2 Peter 3:15,16".....that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you ; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, hard to be understood......"

    The above quotation re Peter must be understood in the light of the conclusion of the Jerusalem council for continued observance of the ceremonial law; with limited observance of the ceremonial law by the Gentiles.

    And yet Paul's gospel did not include the keeping of any law in conjunction with the gospel of grace.

    The law's function re Paul was only to point out our need for grace...not the keeping of which earns grace; but rather the breaking of which shows our ongoing need of grace.

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  5. "But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be
    circumcised
    ....because of false brethren unawares brought in..."Gal.2:3,4

    Acts 21:20,21…” thou seest brother,how many thousands of Jews that believe and they are all zealous of the law and they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses”[ie forsake the law]“saying that they ought not to circumcise their children”….

    The above; apparently contradicting versions of "unity" on the custom of circumcision, must be understood in context. In both the first and second Jerusalem councils, Paul compromised re what ceremonial laws should be enforced on the Gentiles; but; with, ofcourse, continued strict observance of all the ceremonial laws on Jewish Christianity.

    It must therefore have been, that the disciples must have also compromised with Paul on the matter re circumcision of Titus; but the disciples hands were forced, when others who disagreed, overuled their compromise. Paul, notwithstanding, refused to comply.

    Paul clearly understood the reasons for circumcision as he clearly understood the reasons for the entire law of ceremonies and the moral law of grace.

    God made a covenant of grace with Abraham, with three points of agreement.
    1/...His special people will be physically circumcised.
    2/...His special people would inherit a specific and particular parcel of land with a specific and particular city.
    3/...His special people will have a special Deliverer-Messiah

    The three above covenant promises were to be interpreted as all the messianic prophecies were; and applied to God's special people who accepted the gospel of salvation. And who in turn would ....
    1/....show their special status by the act of circumcision but now, not the physical act....but the circumcision of the heart.

    2/...have as their eternal hope; that one day, they will be coming down from heaven in the city of Jerusalem again; not the physical one on earth; but the messianic one now in heaven.

    3/...The Deliverer who physically died to provide blessing for all nations of earth will be the King of kings and Lord of lords.

    Paul clearly understood the above; but as history eventually shows, his understanding was eventually overwhelmed with the continued false interpretation of the relationship between the law and the gospel of grace-a false interpretation that exists till today.

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