25 January 2014

Galatians 1:11-24

“The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” (v. 23)


Today is both the last day of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity and the day on which many Christians thank God for the call (or conversion) of the apostle Paul. The reading from Galatians is one of the accounts of that call. Others can be found in chapters 9, 22, and 26 of the Acts of the Apostles and it is well worth reading all of them and noting the different ways the story is told.

The reason Paul tells the Galatians of his call is that he needs to establish his credentials with them. He needs to do this because he is shocked and disappointed at what they are doing. This is made very clear by the lack of any expression of thanksgiving for the Galatians after the opening greeting in 1:1-5. Instead, the apostle immediately protests: "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to another gospel …" (Galatians 1:6). Later in the letter he calls them, "You foolish Galatians!" (Galatians 3:1). It is not until Galatians 5:2 that Paul spells out the issue at stake but, in brief, it is this: when gentile (non Jewish) men become Christians, do they need to be circumcised and accept all that that means.

How, then, does Paul establish his credentials? He begins the letter by saying that he is an apostle "sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead" (Galatians 1:1). The account of his call develops that claim, beginning: "I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (verses 11-12). He also makes it clear that he was very zealous for the traditions of his ancestors (verse 14).

Paul's account of his call is brief and leaves out a lot of information you might like to know; what, for example, was he doing and what happened to him during the three years he mentions in verse 18? But the conclusion, however, is clear: "The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy".

To Ponder

  • What do you look for when someone is trying to establish their credentials with you or a group to which you belong?
  • What is the story of your journey of faith?
  • If you read the other accounts of the call of Paul, what do you make of the differences between them? Is it appropriate to tell a story in different ways to different groups of people? If so, why? If not, why not?