Day 188: It’s Not Paul’s Gospel

Galatians 1:11-2:10 (AD 48)

Paul told the Galatians that he received the gospel from God and didn’t make it up or hear it on the grapevine (1:11-12). It reminds me of this steaming pile of manure from one of the less-great thinkers of the 20th Century:

“[Jesus] was and must always be be regarded as a popular leader who took up His position against the Jews…and it’s certain that Jesus was not a Jew. The Jews, by the way, regarded Him as the son of a whore—of a whore and a Roman soldier. The decisive falsification of Jesus’s teachings was the work of St. Paul…” (Adolf Hitler, 1941)

The above quote is from ‘Hitler’s Table Talk, 1941-1944’ – 746 pages of rancid effluence from private conversations involving the Austrian First World War Corporal, failed insurrectionist, and not-quite elected politician who ruled Germany from 1933-1945.

Paul warned the Galatians against non-gospel variants of human invention, because Hitler wasn’t the first fool to decide what they thought the gospel should be, and then accuse others of twisting it, because he didn’t like it. In Hitler’s case, he thought the Jews were sub-human and wanted rid of them, but Hitler liked Jesus (or thought he did). So he decided that Jesus could not have been a Jew, and must have been anti-Jewish.

Many people today think – in this regard – a lot like Hitler. They like the idea of Jesus as a miracle-working do-gooder who said nice stuff. Then they decide what nice stuff he should have said and must have thought. Then they declare their invented Jesus – who coincidentally thinks just like them – as being the ‘real’ Jesus.

Paul had to show the Galatians that this was not what he did. He explained why people should trust what some regarded as merely his version of the gospel. After all, hadn’t he made up bits of it? And then hadn’t he gone back to Jerusalem and sat down with other Christians to learn from them what he was supposed to think and say? Wasn’t he just into this Christian thing for the money and the prestige?

On the contrary:

He acquired the Christian message direct from Jesus (v.12).

To become a Christian was terrible for his career so there’s no reason he’d make it up (v.10, 13-14).

He didn’t even visit Jerusalem (where the other apostles were) for about three years after his conversion, so he couldn’t have learnt it from them (v.17-18).

When he did finally visit Jerusalem he only stayed for a couple of weeks and met only one apostle (Peter) plus Jesus’ brother James (v.19).

Fourteen years later he was in Jerusalem again and spoke at length with the apostles and church leaders[1]. That meeting showed that nothing Paul believed about the gospel or Jesus was contradicted by those leaders. They didn’t even enforce circumcision – that most foundational of ‘I’m with God’ rituals – onto Gentile believers.

This may serve as an important challenge for how we think of God, and what we tell people about him. I had a brief conversation with someone the other day about one of God’s commands. “I disagree” they said in response to my assertion. “On what basis?” I replied. Where, I asked them, would they go in Scripture to show that the plain reading of the text was not correct? They responded by saying, “I disagree”. It doesn’t prove I was right (if indeed there was a right/wrong in that situation), but their response was the kind of thing I’m talking about, where we decided what we want or what is right, and then try to work out how the Bible might be squeezed into our understanding, rather than allowing our understanding to be shaped by God and His Word.

Ask God to help you be sure that you worship Him, and not your preferred version of Him.

Ask God to help you speak faithfully about other people. Tell them exactly what he’s like, exactly how he is crucial to their lives.

[1] It’s interesting, bearing in mind our look Acts 15, that on the subsequent visit to Jerusalem that Paul referred to in this passage, the church leaders’ instructions to the Gentile Christians had gone from one moral and three ritual restrictions (in Acts 15), to a single request: “continue to remember the poor” (v.10). There was no longer pressure to obey any of the ritual or civil code (only eat only kosher meat, don’t eat food sacrificed to idols) and they didn’t have to point out the moral code (“abstain…from sexual immorality” Acts 15:20)

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