Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Galatians 1:11–24 Paul's Jesus by Revelation

KEY TEXT: Gal 1:11-12 I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. 

KEY THOT: Unlike the other 12 apostles who met the Lord in the flesh for three years, Paul did not have any physical acquaintance with Jesus. His initial knowledge of Christ was by direct revelation from the risen Christ when he spent some three years in the Arabian desert: “I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days” (v.15-18). So after three years, he went up to Jerusalem and got to know Peter who filled him in all Jesus’ life and ministry in the flesh. The question is: Was Paul’s gospel received by revelation from Jesus Christ different from the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the four Gospels by the apostles (Matthew & John) and eye-witnesses (Mark and Luke)?

There is an unbiblical attempt to draw a cleavage between Jesus' gospel of the kingdom as found in the four Gospels with Paul's gospel of grace as found his epistles. The argument for separating the two gospels is that Jesus' teaching was “pre-Cross” and therefore a gospel of Law whereas Paul’s revelation was “post-Cross” and therefore a gospel of grace. So, by logical conclusion, Paul’s teaching as contained in his epistles is "fuller" and more relevant to NT Christians than Jesus’ out-dated teaching as recorded in the Gospels. 

There are major flaws in this argument:
  1. Firstly, while it’s true that Paul’s initial revelation was directly from the risen Christ, he did go to Jerusalem to catch up with Peter and spent 15 days with him. It’s quite certain that they spent 15 days comparing his revelation with Peter’s knowledge of Jesus’ teaching in the three years the apostles were with him. It’s unlikely that Paul would contradict Jesus in his teaching.
  2. Secondly, the Gospels do not delineate the dispensation of grace and law on the basis of whether it is pre-Cross or post-Cross. Even though Jesus lived and taught in the “pre-Cross” period (how else could he teach otherwise?), it does not imply what he taught is law. John 1:14 describes Jesus’ life and ministry as a manifestation of divine grace and truth: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus, through his life and ministry, demonstrated to us what a life lived under grace and truth looks like and sounds like. Though he was born under the Law (just as Paul and the rest of apostles did), His life was a living testimony to grace, not law, as witnessed by the many times he did not observe the Law which infuriated the Pharisees and scribes to point of plotting his death. 
  3. As Paul was the apostles to the Gentiles, his focus was not on regulations, rites and rituals derived from the Law that is part of Judaism as these are irrelevant to the Gentile believers. Instead, he preached Christ as God’s answer to human sin. As he explains it in 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law.” So, Paul is like Jesus: when reaching out to Jews under the rabbinic law, he became like one “under the law”, though he himself was free was the law. In other words, when preaching among the Jews, he observed the Sabbath, kept the Passover, and even got Timothy circumcised as he was half-Jew. But to the Gentiles who are not under rabbinic law, Paul became like one “not having the law”—in other words, he ignored the rabbinic regulations, rituals and rites—so that he could win them. But he was careful to emphasize that he was “not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law.
The confusion of many Christians is to mix rabbinic law of regulations, rituals and rites under Judaism with God’s moral law (now re-interpreted under grace as Christ’s law). Paul’s gospel of grace to the Gentiles is not free from law, but under Christ’s law. Christ's law is His teachings as recorded in the Gospels, encapsulated in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The Sermon on the Mount is Christ’s law of grace. Unlike rabbinic law which focuses on external conduct, Christ’s law is focused on inward attitudes and motivations so that anger is murder, lust is adultery and love is for enemies, not just friends.

In case, we think that the risen Christ of Paul is “more gracious and kinder" than the Jesus of the Gospels, we should read Revelations 2 & 3 where the risen and exalted Jesus says to the churches:
  • Rev 2:4-5 “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
  • Rev 2:4-5 “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
  • Rev 3:2-3 “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”
  • Rev 3:15-19 “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.”
The real danger of separating the Jesus of Paul from the Jesus of the Gospels is to undermine Christ's authority, so that it is Paul, rather than Christ that is exalted. Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Christ is unchanging: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” He has always been and will always be the revelation of grace and truth--nothing more and nothing less. Jesus Christ is never a teacher of law--whether pre-Cross or post-Cross.

Father, thank You that the Lord Jesus has remained the same in the days of flesh and also in his exalted state. May we not distort Your image to suit our own taste, committing idolatry in the process. Amen.

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