Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Was the Apostle Paul Unsure of His Message?

A Quick Look at Galatians 2:2

“to make sure I was not running – or had not run – in vain”

Did the apostle Paul go to Jerusalem
to make sure the Gospel he preached was correct? 

It was said that Paul met with the disciples in Jerusalem to confirm for himself that he was preaching the message of Messiah Jesus correctly.  But I do not think Paul  attended the council for a “meeting of the minds,” as someone related to me, to ensure for himself that he was preaching the right message.  The apostle's purpose for going to Jerusalem was to set things straight (Gal 1:8-9). 

“It is unlikely that Paul sought information [or confirmation regarding what he believed] about the essential message of the gospel.  If he had, his entire argument about being independent from the Jerusalem apostles would have been called into question.” (Full Life Bible Commentary to the NT, p.976).

“…Paul did not go to Jerusalem because he doubted the validity of his calling and message…his motives seems to have been more pragmatic then theological.  If the Jerusalem apostles failed to see what God was doing through Paul, his efforts would have been greatly complicated” (ibid, p.978; emphasis his).

Paul saw the danger of “having to conclude that his own work had been carried out in vain, bearing no fruit…For a negative stance [against Paul] on the part of the Jerusalem [church] would leave Antioch with only two paths: to abandon its circumcision-free mission to the Gentiles, or maintain that mission at the price of a rift with the Jerusalem that would have produced two churches” (ibid).  

In any case, for Paul personally, everything in the epistle indicates that he would not under any circumstances abandon his call by God to preach the Gospel of salvation in Christ, a salvation on the basis, not of works of the law but the work of God through the Cross of Christ.”  The danger that Paul saw was not that he had erred in his message but “in the possibility that the Jerusalem leaders would fail to perceive something that was to Paul an absolute certainty: God’s powerful work in his own preaching to the Gentiles.”

Furthermore, it “would have destroyed his assumption that the one ‘truth of the gospel’ is in fact bringing into being one church of God made up of former Jews and former Gentiles.”  This possible rift between Antioch and Jerusalem was what Paul meant when he said, “lest…I was running or had run in vain” (Anchor Bible Commentary, Galatians, p.192-193; emphasis his).

To interpret the phrase of Paul’s fearing to have run is vain as a fear of making a mistake about the gospel “is inconceivable in view of Paul’s previous insistence upon the divine source and truthfulness of his teaching…Paul recognized that the decision reached could have terrible consequences for the church’s missionary outreach – if the doctrine of grace was not boldly and clearly upheld” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol.10, p.439).

The importance of recognizing the emphasis laid
in the context of Gal 1 on divine revelation and as it relates to Gal 2:2.

“I want you to know…that the gospel I preached is not of human origin [tn: “is not according to man”].  For I did not receive it or learn it from any human source [or means; tn: “I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it]; instead I received it by a revelation of Jesus Christ” (cf. Acts 9:6,16, NET.  See NET translation notes).

1.  If Paul received his gospel by studying, even the Hebrew Scriptures, then: (a) His argument is no weightier than his opponents;  (b)  The issue becomes nothing more than the question of who interprets the text correctly, and (c)  It destroys belief in the revelatory nature of the epistle itself.

2.  To downplay Paul’s receipt of revelation, which he takes pains to emphasize, renders his experience of Christ’s appearance to him irrelevant, therefore, it would serve no purpose for him to make such a claim and he would have no basis to speak as a religious authority on matters respecting salvation in Christ.  Paul’s authority not only loses its force but it makes no sense and, therefore, the epistle loses all claims to divine inspiration.

3.  Without Paul’s emphasis on the revelatory nature of his message, his rebuke of Peter would be not only inappropriate but also arrogant: who is Paul to rebuke one who saw and heard, walked and talked with Jesus?

4.  To de-emphasizes Paul’s receipt of revelation dismisses altogether the reality, validity, and significance of receiving revelation today (Num 11:29; Isa 6:1f; Jer 31:33-34; John 16:13; 1 John 2:27).

Paul's Concern

That Paul’s concern at having “run in vain” was not with respect to his message – whether he got it right or not – but to the negative consequences to which the Church would be exposed if the Jerusalem council did not agree with his message but rather sided with the Judaizers, namely a schism between Jew and Gentile believers.

The way Paul received the gospel, as well as the gospel message itself, lay at the very heart of how we define the Church and establish its purpose.  For if the Church is not the consequence of divine revelation but rather simply the result of studying or a method of studying Scripture, then it holds no divine authority and is endued with no divine life (including experiences of a revelatory nature); it is made to be no different than any other man-made and man-centered theology and institution.

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