Jul 31, 2010
Beginning in Galatians 1:15, Paul gives a brief account of his conversion, his trip to Arabia, and then his return to consult with Peter.
(15) But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother's womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased (16) to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, (17) nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia and returned once more to Damascus. (18) Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. (19) But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother.
Paul asserts that his revelation of the equality of all believers was not something that he learned from Peter or from any other "flesh and blood." He received it by studying the law with the help of the Holy Spirit, and only later did he receive confirmation of it through Peter, from whom he learned of his vision of the sheet of unclean animals.
Keep in mind that when Paul was converted, there was not yet a New Testament written that he might study. The only Scriptures he had were those of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. As a Pharisee, he had been taught the traditional view of the Law that allowed Jews to oppress any non-believer and even to despise a non-Jewish convert.
Yet the Law itself demands that all foreigners residing in the land must be treated equally and with love--understanding, of course, that they must abide by the laws of the land. Lev. 19:33, 34 says,
(33) When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. (34) The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
Numbers 15:15 and 16 commands us:
(15) As for the assembly [kahal, "church"], there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the Lord. (16) There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.
The building of a dividing wall in the temple was specifically designed to treat aliens differently "before the Lord." This was a violation of biblical law and a prime example of how the traditions of men destroyed the law. Even today, the Jews apply their so-called "Noahide laws" for gentiles, while reserving the law itself for themselves--as if non-Jews, having "satanic souls," are incapable of understanding the mind of God.
Deut. 10:18, 19 continues,
(18) He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. (19) So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
Some argue that "aliens" refer to Israelites who had colonized other lands but who were returning to the old land. But the meaning of a term is ultimately confirmed by its usage in Scripture. Israelites were told to love the aliens because "you were aliens in the land of Egypt." We know that the Israelites were not Egyptians who had returned to their original home in Egypt. They really were aliens in the sense of being foreigners and non-Egyptians.
In fact, the law appeals to the fact that Israel ought to know better than to oppress aliens in their land, because they knew what it was like to be aliens oppressed by the Egyptians. It may even be argued that God brought Israel into Egypt to teach them how NOT to treat aliens.
I have no doubt that these are the laws that Paul contemplated in the cave of Elijah at Mount Sinai in Arabia. This was the primary revelation of the new gospel that had been given to him. It was an entirely new perspective of the divine law that wrenched him from the traditional mindset instilled in him by his religious teachers.
In Gal. 1:20-24, Paul tells us that most of the Judean Christians did not know Paul by sight, because he was not introduced to them. He spoke only with Peter (Cephas) and James for 15 days, and then departed to "the regions of Syria and Cilicia" (1:21). Ten years later Barnabas found him in Tarsus and asked him to come to Antioch to help with Bible teaching. Paul gives the chronological statement in Gal. 2:1,
(1) Then after an interval of fourteen years [from his conversion] I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.
Paul was converted late in the year 33 A.D., a few months after the day of Pentecost. Because Paul represents a type of Tabernacles, I believe he was converted around the time of Tabernacles in 33. He then left Damascus and fled to Arabia. From there he returned to Damascus.
From Damascus he went to Jerusalem. By this time three years had gone by, Paul says. He spent 15 days with Peter and James and then went to Tarsus for ten years. Barnabas then recruited him and brought him to Antioch 13 years after his conversion. He taught in Antioch for "an entire year" (Acts 11:26). Then Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem with financial assistance on account of a famine (Acts 11:29).
When they returned, the Holy Spirit commissioned Paul and Barnabas to be sent on their first missionary journey. This, Paul says in Gal. 2:1, was fourteen years from his conversion (that is, in the 14th year). It was the winter of 46-47 A.D., precisely 490 years after Nehemiah's commission to go to Jerusalem in the 20th year of Artaxerxes, the Persian king (Neh. 5:14).
We see from this that there were two main beginning points of Daniel's 70 weeks. The first, of course, was Ezra's commission in the 7th year of Artaxerxes (458 B.C.), which ended 490 years later in 33 A.D. The second was Nehemiah's commission in the 20th year of Artaxerxes (445-444 B.C.), which ended 490 years later in the winter of 46-47 A.D.
The first culminated with Jesus' crucifixion; the second with Paul's commissioning. We can say, then, that Jesus finished the work of Ezra in making the sacrifice in Jerusalem (Ezra 7:17), while Paul finished the work of Nehemiah in repairing the breach in the walls of Jerusalem. Whereas the dividing wall had caused a breach between men, Paul's gospel repaired the breach by rebuilding the true walls of Jerusalem--the New Jerusalem. The wall was not designed to divide believers (citizens), but to divide the world between believers and non-believers. Hence, we read in Rev. 21:24-27,
(24) And the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it. (25) And in the daytime (for there shall be no night there) its gates shall never be closed; (26) and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; (27) and nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.
The Greek word translated "nations" in these verses is ethnos. It is the same word that is usually translated "gentiles." It is better translated "nations." The point is that the wall of the New Jerusalem is "a wall of fire" (Zech. 2:5), which is the "fiery law" (Deut. 33:2). It keeps out those who practice "abomination and lying," which are violations of the law. But the ethnos who have faith in Jesus and are obedient to Him are given free access to the City, with no dividing wall to keep them at a distance from Jesus.
This is the third part of a series titled "Galatians." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones