25 January 2013

Galatians 1:11-24

"But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles …" (vv. 15-16)


Today Christians celebrate the Conversion of St Paul, the apostle responsible more than any other for the fact that the followers of Jesus became a worldwide Church rather than simply a reform movement within Judaism. We tend to remember the story of his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), but it is clear from this account in his own words, from his letter to the Galatians, that Paul sees his conversion and his mission to the Gentiles (non Jews) as being inseparable from the start.

It's also worth noting the context of this letter. It's written to a Christian community in Galatia where there is a dispute about how far new Gentile converts to Christianity should have to conform to the existing Jewish law. Paul begins by stressing the divine revelation that forms the basis of his calling (verse 11) and then the strength of his own Jewish background and former persecution of the Church (verses 13-14).

But then comes Paul's conversion experience, in which God reveals not only God's Son, but also his own calling to be an apostle to the Gentiles (verses 15-16). Paul goes on to explore the meaning of this call first in Arabia, then Damascus, and then begins a ministry that takes him into Syria and Cilicia, a ministry which has become widely known to those in the wider Church because "the one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy" (v. 23).

However, in giving this account of his conversion and calling, Paul is anxious to keep his distance from the apostles and the church in Jerusalem (verses 18-19). This is partly because he wants to stress the divine origin of his mission to the Gentiles; but also because he knows that the position he is advocating, which is not to insist on conformity to the Jewish law for Gentile converts, is one which will bring him into conflict with Cephas (Peter) and the other apostles in Jerusalem. (Indeed, it is precisely this argument with Peter that he will pick up in the next chapter of this letter.)

To Ponder

  • Paul's conversion led him to a vision of a worldwide church. How comfortable are you in sharing your faith with people of different backgrounds and traditions?
  • It also led him into a discussion about the role of the Jewish law - what place do you think there is for rules and regulations in the Christian faith?
  • Some Christians seek to follow a 'rule of life'. Have you done this - and how helpful did you find it? If not, what might you include in a rule of life that you could follow?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

Stephen Wigley is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Wales Synod. He is married to Jenny, a priest in the Church in Wales, and they have two teenage sons, David and Andrew.