1:13-14 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:
And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.
In this passage, Paul highlights the contrast between who he now is in Christ and who he once was. This is further proof of God’s power and the origin of the message that was preached to him by Christ.
Paul’s (then Saul’s) persecution of Christ was a notorious action as Paul states, “ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jew’s religion.” His zealousness was well known and therefore his testimony was that much more astounding to those who had believed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This congregation that he is writing to would be Greek because of its historical context (Acts 13-14) but one can also tell because of the terminology utilized. My speculation is, I do not believe Paul would explain to a congregation, even one that is only partly Jewish, that his past persuasion was “the Jews’ religion.”
This terminology suggests a contrast between the Gentile pagan religion and of Judaism. Nonetheless, the term “the Jew’s religion” is still not disparaging, but denotes reverence. Further evidence of this truth could be when Paul illustrates his passion in Romans 9:3, “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
Continuing on verse 14, Paul continues to express his role in the Jewish religion. He details deeper investment into his role as a teacher of law than his contemporaries ([Paul’s] equals in my own nation).
1:15-17 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace,
To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus
When reading Scripture, it is imperative to notice prepositions and conjunctive adverbs. These include, “but,” “however,” “therefore,” and “but now.” These terms are common, particularly in Pauline Scripture.
They often denote a change in time or a moment when God acted upon humanity. Here, we see the phrase, “but when it pleased God,” we see Paul depicting not only his justification, or salvation, but also his sanctification. Paul is set aside for God’s purpose, given apostleship, and instructed to be the minister to the Gentiles so that they too may have justification and sanctification (Romans 15:16).
This action Paul attributes to God’s grace. Grace is a comprehensive word which in Greek is charis. Charis denotes unmerited favor, but with the Almighty God, grace is also the vessel by which He accomplishes his good purpose; which in this case, through Paul, who becomes a messenger of the grace of God in the dispensation of the grace of God.
Saying this, Paul was entirely unique in how he ascertained this message of grace. Paul states that this message was not given by conference with any other person or an apostle. This message regarding the grace of God, was given directly by Jesus Christ and not by any human (Galatians 1:12).
It is also worth noticing the locations mentioned within verse 17 by the apostle Paul. He highlights a distinct difference between the actions of other apostles and himself. He states that he had not “went up” to Jerusalem as the other apostles had. He uses the term, “went I up,” as it was commonplace in that time to say “go up” to Jerusalem because it was a city on a hill. He did not follow the pattern of other disciples and go up, he went out into Arabia. This once again proves an early distinctness in his ministry.
Where precisely Paul went in Arabia is not known, but it can be inferred that there in Arabia, is where Paul meditated and was taught by Jesus Christ himself. This was a period of strengthening for Paul and preparation for a difficult remainder of life.
1:18-19 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.
But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.
Following his three year hiatus, Paul returns to Jerusalem and here he stays with Peter for a short duration of time, meanwhile seeing Jesus’s half-brother James as well. Although mutual co-laborers for Christ, there remained a contrast between the ministry of Peter (to the Jew) and Paul (to the Gentile). Paul depicts their decided roles in Galatians 2:8-9 [This will be discussed in greater depth in the following chapter].
1:20 Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.
[See Galatians 1:6-12]
1:21-24 Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia;
And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ:
But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.
And they glorified God in me.
Acts 9:30-31 likely corresponds well with the Galatians 1:13-24. It is an incredible testimony to the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of Paul. They had never seen Paul, although his reputation preceded him. For the churches of Judaea, instead of becoming overcome with fear or suspiciousness, they glorified God for his incredible work in the life of the apostle Paul and they were edified and multiplied (Acts 9:31).