The word of the day is “revelation.” In our reading of Galatians 1:11-19, Paul insists that the gospel that he preaches did not come from any human source. He writes, “I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (vs. 12).
Paul declares that “His” Gospel was not “according to man” (vs. 11 OSB). The Greek term for “according” means “to come down in place or time” (Strong’s #2596, 128). Thus, the gospel did not come from any human being, nor was he taught it. Accordingly, The Oxford Annotated Bible translates that “it is not of human origin” (vs. 11 OAB).
Revealed in the Damascus Experience
Paul goes to great lengths to say the message of the gospel was something that he “received through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (vs. 12). Its source was the life-changing Damascus experience in which the Risen Christ appeared to Paul in a brilliant, heavenly light (Compare Acts 9:3-9). In Paul’s view, it was God who acted in this experience. According to the apostle, God “was pleased to reveal His Son to me (vs. 16). The Almighty God manifested His Son to Paul to call him to proclaim Christ to the Gentiles. Along with that call, Paul maintains that God revealed the content of the message that he was to preach.
After this incident, Paul stresses that he did not consult with any human being, but he left immediately for Arabia (vs. 17). After three years, he went to Jerusalem. Yet Paul only visited with Peter for fifteen days. Besides James, the Lord’s brother, he met with no other apostle (vs. 19). The apostle argues that the only conclusion that could be reached was that Paul did not get his message from Peter, James, or anyone else. It had to come by revelation, a term in Greek that refers to the unveiling of what is previously unknown and unknowable (Strong’s #602, 36). That disclosure comes directly to the mind and is not mediated by any person or created means.
St. John Chrysostom adds that Paul’s transformation from a persecutor of Christians to a promoter of Christ was so sudden and dramatic that the teaching must have come from God. Otherwise, it would have taken years of thought and study to arrive at a contrary position so strong was Paul’s conviction against the believers.
The Gospel at Stake
We understand why Paul is so adamant about His Gospel’s source if we consider what was at stake. The issue was the authority of Paul’s teaching. If His message had a human origin, then it was subject to discussion and debate. If it was only a matter of human opinion, then Paul’s opponents were on equal standing to dispute him. But since Paul’s message came from revelation, then it had divine authorization. And it admitted no argument.
Then too, if Peter, James, or another apostle had passed along the gospel to him, then Paul was subject to them. If they were his teachers, they were the authorities, and he did not have a firm basis for his disagreements with them. The divine source of Paul’s teaching was crucial because the Gentile mission was controversial (Galatians 2:4), and even Peter was inconsistent in his acceptance of Gentile believers. Consequently, it was not only the Gospel message that was at stake but the mission to the Gentiles itself.
This is an age of ideology. People divide themselves according to their allegiance to sets of dogmas and doctrines that dominate their thinking and their relationships. Many define themselves by the categories of left or right, red or blue, conservative or liberal, etc. In such an age, these social, political, and cultural theories set people against each other.
But the gospel is not an ideology. It is not a set of truths or tenets that come from the human mind. As we see in today’s reading, the gospel is the revelation of God’s mercy, the disclosure of His mighty acts to redeem us. It is not the teaching of some principles for living well. It is the story of our salvation, the narrative how the Son of God came to earth to redeem us from sin and death, to give us eternal life and to restore the image of God in us.
Let the Gospel of the Birth of Christ Transform Our Lives
Therefore the gospel is not an instruction manual for how to please God. It is the Word of God that works in our hearts to transform our lives. With this in mind, let us pray that the gospel of the birth of Christ would do its sacred work of changing us so that by the Light of His grace, we might “walk as children of the light” (Ephesians 5:9).
Christ is born! Glorify Him!