Demonstrated by Paul’s Conversion, Part 1 of 3 (series: Lessons on Galatians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

August 31, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians
Tom Lowe

Chapter II.B.1 Demonstrated by Paul’s Conversion and Early Years as a Christian (1:13-17)

Galatians 1.13-17 (KJV)
13For 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:
14And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.
15But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace,
16To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
17Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.


Commentary

13For 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:

For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion,
It is clear from this that Paul was well known even before his conversion; but it was not for any good thing he had done. Quite the opposite; he states here it was due to—My conduct, my manner of life, my behavior—“All those who heard him Paul were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?" (Acts 9.21) Paul probably had told them about the events of his early years. The reason why he mentions it here may be to show them that he had not obtained his knowledge of the Christian religion from any instruction he received in his early years, or any acquaintance which he had formed with the apostles. At first, Paul had been fanatically opposed to the Lord Jesus, and he may have been the most active persecutor of Christians of his time; but that phase of his life ended when he was converted by God's wonderful grace.

Paul formerly called Saul was a Pharisee, and the Pharisees were the strictest sect of the Jewish religion, and the most opposed to Christ and his Gospel. As a Pharisee, he was well-schooled “in the Jews' religion”—in the belief and practice of Judaism; that is, as it was understood at the time when he was educated. It was not merely in the religion of Moses, but it was in that religion as it was understood and practiced by the Jews in his time; it was a time when opposition to Christianity amounted to a very significant part of it. The Jews opposed Christianity for many reasons, but primarily because they saw it as a threat, due to so many of the Jewish people coming to believe in Christ. In verses 13-17 Paul shows that he had been more distinguished than most persons of his time, and that he was known to be zealous for the Jewish faith, for which he persecuted Christians, and that meeting Jesus changed his life.

how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God,
“How that beyond measure” expresses the extent to which his persecution of Christians reached—that it was of the highest possible degree; beyond all limits or bounds; exceedingly severe. This is a phrase which Paul uses frequently to signify anything that is excessive, or that cannot be expressed by ordinary language. The following verses give more proof of the terrible persecution that came at the hands of Saul:
• “But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison” (Acts 8.3).
• “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison” (Acts 22.4).
• “As the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished” (Acts 22.5).
• "The Jewish people all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem.” (Acts 26.4).

and wasted

it:
This phrase, “And wasted it,” as it is used here means to waste or destroy: for example, when a city or country is ravaged by an army, today, it may be called ethnic cleansing. His purpose was to root out and completely destroy the Christian religion.

Paul hated the disciples of Christ; therefore, when the Jewish religious leaders gave him the authority to arrest Christians, he went far and wide, committing them to prison, breathing out threatenings and slaughter, and destroying them: that is why he adds “and wasted it;” or destroyed it; as much as he had the power to do so, he attempted to do it. Although he was not able to realize this goal entirely; he made chaos out of it by scattering its members and causing them to flee to strange cities to avoid capture; he had them put to death, he testified against them in order to have them punished and put to death: all this shows the extent of the hatred he had for the followers of Christ, and the Christian doctrine.

14And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.

And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation,
“And profited in the Jews' religion” means he was going forward advancing in Judaism; that is, was going on further and further in Judaism In the views and practices of Judaism.. The particular kind of Judaism which he practiced was that belonging to the sect of the Pharisees. Paul called himself a "Pharisee and son of a Pharisee,"—“But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, "Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!" (Acts 23.6). He also said he was a high-caste "Hebrew sprung of Hebrews"—“Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee” (Philippians 3:5). Saul had thrown himself into the study and observance of the Mosaic Law, not only of all the rites and ceremonies prescribed in the written Law, but also of the doctrines, rites, and ceremonies which rabbinical teaching and tradition had added to it; exceeding all others in the strict observance of all portions of the Jewish religion. The apostle does not mean that he became more accomplished in the love and practice of the pure law of God than any of his countrymen, but that he was more profoundly skilled in the traditions of the fathers than most of his fellow students or his contemporaries were.

Paul’s teacher was a much respected Jewish scholar by the name of Gamaliel; a Rabbi of great note among the Jews; and Paul himself a youth having outstanding natural abilities, so that his proficiency in Jewish learning was very great.

“Above many my equals” refers to age. It means that he surpassed those who were the same age as himself. Possibly there may be a reference here to those of the same age who were also taught by Gamaliel.

being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.
“Being more exceedingly zealous” implies a "zeal for it;" in other words, passionate attachment and devotion to the traditions of my fathers, and a resentment of, and persecution against, all who are regarded as being willing to attack what we love. Now his close attachment to, and eager zeal for, these traditions, created within him the desire to use more violent methods for persecuting the saints: and now, from this account he gives of himself it is clear that during this period of his life he could never have received the Gospel from men, because he hated Christians and they feared him.

The "fathers," in this place, are the forefathers of the nation, and it is equivalent to the "elders," in the current phraseology of the Jews; therefore, "the tradition of the elders"—“Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread” (Matthew 15:2).

All of this is fully supported by all those that know the character of Paul, that he was a man that always undertook a task with extraordinary zeal.

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