Demonstrated by Paul’s Conversion, Part 3 of 3 (series: Lessons on Galatians)
by John Lowe
The “heathen” is the Gentiles; that portion of the world that was not Jewish, or that was ignorant of the true religion. Paul was to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, and the dispersed Jews among the Gentiles. Peter was sent predominantly to the Jews in the land of Judea; Paul to those in the different Greek provinces. “That I might preach Him” implies a ministry that is still continuing. This was the main commission entrusted to him—“But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (Ga 2:7-9). By the “uncircumcision” is meant the Gentiles (heathen) and the “circumcision" refers the Jews. The “gospel for the uncircumcised” and “gospel for the circumcised” are not two different gospels, because there is only one Gospel. Paul did not preach one Gospel unto the uncircumcised Gentiles, and Peter another to the circumcised Jews; but the same Gospel was preached by both. The Apostle Paul was ordained a minister of the Gentiles, and he chiefly preached among them, though not exclusively to them. Peter was principally employed among the Jews, though he preached to the Gentiles when given the opportunity: however, the subject of both their ministries was the Gospel, which is said to be "committed" to them, as a trust deposited in their hands, not by man, but by God.
immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
There are several ways in which this verse has been explained:
1) Immediately is connected with “I went to Arabia,” in Galatians 1.17—“Immediately, I went to Arabia.”
2) "Immediately I consented."
3) That he decided immediately. He did not take time to deliberate whether he should or should not become a Christian.
He made up his mind at once and on the spot. He did not consult with anyone; he did not ask advice from anyone; he did not wait to be instructed by anyone. He was convinced by the vision in an overpowering manner that Jesus was the Messiah, and he yielded at once. The main idea is that there was no delay, no consultation, no deferring it to someone else, so that he might see and consult with his friends, or with other Christians. The thing he continues to dwell on is to show that he did not receive his beliefs of the gospel from man. This is the opinion I support, as you can probably tell.
“Immediately” denotes how soon the apostle was made ready to preach the Gospel; especially since he did not first attend Bible School, Seminary, or serve for a while under an experienced minister. His education took place in the Arabian Desert and he was taught by Professor Jesus. “Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Ac 9:20).
“I conferred not” implies he did not take the case to any man; I did not confer with anyone.
“Flesh and blood” signifies “any human being.” “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.’” (Matthew 16:17). This does not mean that Paul did not consider how his decision might affect his own comfort and happiness; that he was not concerned about the sufferings which he might have to endure; that he was willing to suffer, and was not concerned with making provision for his own comfort; but that he did not lay the case before any man, or any body of men for instruction or advice. He acted promptly and decisively. He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision—“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19)—but resolved at once to obey. Many suppose that this passage means that Paul was not tempted to listen to the counsel of the evil passions and suggestions of his own heart, or to the feelings which would have prompted him to lead a life of ambition, or a life under the influence of corrupt desires. But however true this was in fact, no such thing is intended here. It simply means that he did not take the counsel of any human being. He resolved at once to follow the command of the Savior, and he obeyed Him at once, because he was satisfied that his call was of God; therefore, he had no reason to consult man.
17Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me;
“Neither went I up to Jerusalem,” that is, I did not go immediately after I was converted, not until three years afterward. According to the account he gives in Acts 9.17, 18, he did not go see the apostles in Jerusalem because Jesus had another assignment for him—“Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance and saw Him saying to me, 'Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.'” He was obedient to God’s will for him and went about preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles; he did not see or converse with any of the apostles, which is what he says here.
“To them which were apostles before me” is the twelve, who were called, ordained, and sent forth as apostles before he was; “for last of all Christ appeared to him, and was seen by him as one born out of due time”: his meaning is, not that he was a successor of the apostle's, but that they were appointed to the office of apostle before him; and the reason he mentions it is to show that he did not receive the Gospel from men, not from the apostles themselves. He did not go to Jerusalem to see any of them; nor did he need to be taught anything by them, since he had been taught all he needed to know by Christ himself; besides, his work was not to be at Jerusalem among the Jews, but among the Gentiles, and there is where he went.
This phrase implies that Paul, at that time, regarded himself to be an apostle. They were, he admits, apostles before he was; but he felt he was one too and that he had the same authority they did, and so he did not go to them to receive instruction, or to derive his commission from them. Several of the apostles remained in Jerusalem for a considerable time after the ascension of the Lord Jesus, and it was regarded as the principal place of authority for the Christian faith.
but I went into Arabia,
It is impossible to determine precisely where Paul went in "Arabia," because in those days it was a geographical term with wide significance. Damascus itself belonged to Arabia: Justin Martyr wrote: "that Damascus was of the Arabian country, and is, even though now it has been assigned to what is called the Syrophoenician country, none even of you are able to deny." The apostle's words may, therefore, describe a withdrawal into some region, either inhabited or uninhabited, not far from Damascus. On the other hand, in Galatians 4:25, the apostle refers to "Arabia" in connection with Mount Sinai; so that Arabia Petraea may possibly have been the land he visited. But all this is conjecture: there is no solid ground whatever for our believing that he went far from Damascus or stayed nearby. But we cannot help recalling that it is said of the Lord Jesus, after his baptism, "the Spirit drove him forth into the wilderness." With this in mind, we may in all reverence believe He may have gone there to prepare himself for his high ministry as the Christ. And this suggests, that at this particular juncture Saul's movements were directed by heavenly guidance. This opinion seems to be supported by our Lord's words to him, "Rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do" (Acts 9:6).
We do not know how long he stayed in “Arabia,” what he did while there, and what success he had among the Arabs since it is not reported anywhere; but no doubt he preached the Gospel to them, and since his ministry was blessed by God everywhere he went, it may be very reasonable to think he was successful in Arabia too. And when he was finished there the Holy Spirit led him to return to Damascus.
Moses and Elijah were two that also spent some period of time in the wilderness, perhaps for reflection, communion with God, and preparation, before answering God’s call.
and returned again unto Damascus.
During the time he spent in Arabia he increased in spiritual strength and knowledge, and upon his return to Damascus he went about proving that Jesus of Nazareth was the true Messiah, which confused the Jews there and elicited their resentment and indignation, so that they took counsel and lay in wait to kill him; but the disciples let him down through a window, by the wall of the city in a basket, and so he fled from there.