Father Callan’s Commentary on Galatians 1:11-20

Gal 1:11. For I give you to understand, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.

I give you to understand (γνωριζω) , introduces a matter of serious moment (cf. 1 Cor 12:3; 1 Cor 15:1; 2 Cor 8:1).

The gospel, i.e., the doctrine preached by Paul to the Galatians.

Not according to man, i.e., not after a human standard, not human in its nature or condition.

Gal 1:12. For neither did I receive it of man, nor did I learn it; but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

St. Paul is here not considering so much the character, whether natural or supernatural, of the revelation he had received; he is insisting mainly on the fact that it came to him by revelation on the part of God (Acts 9:5-9; Acts 26:13-18). A divine doctrine could indeed be handed on by men, as is the case with subsequent preachers of the Gospel; but St. Paul, like the other Apostles, like Moses and the Prophets before them, enjoyed a far higher dignity than that of a simple repeater and transmitter of revelation: he had received his doctrine directly from Jesus Christ.

The doctrine thus received by Paul, according to Cornely, embraced the whole preaching of Christianity, the mysteries of the life, Passion and Resurrection of Christ. Doubtless, however, the general principles of Christ’s teachings were known to him before from the Apostolic preaching; it was these doctrines that he was opposing when converted, the spiritual meaning of which was unfolded to him after his conversion by the Saviour Himself (Lagrange).

Gal 1:13. For you 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.

You have heard, probably from the mouth of St. Paul himself and his companions when he first preached to the Galatians, or perhaps from the story told them by his enemies who would try to show thereby that Paul was inconsistent and self-contradictory in his preaching.

My conversation, i.e., my former life and practice.

The Jews’ religion, i.e., the cause of Judaism, considered as a religion.

The church of God, which St. Paul identifies with the infant Christian community, and which, as taking the place of ancient Israel, he persecuted beyond measure, i.e., more than any other of the Jews.

Gal 1:14. And I made progress in the Jews’ religion above many of my equals in my own nation, being more abundantly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

The Apostle here tells us that, because of his special zeal for the traditions, i.e., the explanatory additions to the written Law handed down from age to age by his Jewish ancestors, he made more progress than many of the young men of his time. In truth he could have said with less of modesty that his progress was more than that of all his contemporaries.

These traditions which Paul, like the other Pharisees, regarded as sacred as the Law itself, were supposed to be a national tradition which had come down hand in hand with the Torah. Now is it at all probable that such a zealous Pharisee as Paul was could by any natural means have suddenly become a fervent Christian and preacher of the Gospel?

Gal 1:15. But when it pleased him, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace,

Whereas before his conversion Paul had been dependent on the Law and the traditions of the ancients, afterwards he received his doctrine independently of any man, directly from God by divine revelation. Before he was born it pleased God to set him apart, to choose and predestine him for a special mission to be carried out at the time appointed by divine decree.

From my mother’s womb means, as the context shows, before his birth (Isa 7:16; Isa 49:1).

Called me, i.e., to Christianity and to the Apostolate at the same time (Acts 9:3-9; Acts 26:12-18) by means of a special and efficacious grace.

Gal 1:16. To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles, immediately I condescended not to flesh and blood.

To reveal his Son to me, i.e., to make known to me the exalted mysteries of the Son of God. According to Lightfoot the revelation was made through St. Paul to others, but the natural meaning of εν εμοι here is that Paul realized interiorly, in his soul, the call of verse 15 (Lagrange, Cornely). That there were at the time also external manifestations of this revelation is clear from the account given of it by St. Paul in Acts 9:15-19, and Acts 26:12-14; but the Apostle is now concerned only with its internal effects on his soul.

Among the Gentiles. St. Paul’s special mission was to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, but this seems not to have been entirely plain to him from the beginning, since he first preached to the Jews. Gradually the great purpose of his call and the full meaning of his vision on the way to Damascus became clear to him (Acts 9:15).

Immediately I condescended, etc. This means that, following upon his vision on the way to Damascus, St. Paul at once understood, without the aid of human counsel, what he was to do, so clear and definite were the divine communications he had received. The Apostle is here not insisting so much on the prompt obedience he showed to his call, as upon the divine origin of his Apostolate; hence immediately (ευθεως) directly governs the two negative clauses that follow it, and not I went (απηλθον), as Lightfoot thinks.

Flesh and blood, i.e., any human beings. He is bringing out the contrast between Christ who, through revelation, spoke to him, and mortal, ignorant men whom he did not consult.

Gal 1:17. Neither went I to Jerusalem, to the apostles who were before me: but I went into Arabia, and again I returned to Damascus.

It might have been expected that if the Apostle did not seek counsel from others, he would at least go up to Jerusalem to confer with those who had preceded him in the Apostolate; but so clear and certain were his call and his revelations that he did not do so. Without much delay (Acts 9:19-21) he retired into Arabia, i.e., into the vast country south-east of Palestine, stretching at that time from the Euphrates to the Red Sea, and ruled over by Aretas IV from 9 b.c. to 40 a.d. This retirement into Arabia, where there was surely no one who could instruct him, is another proof that St. Paul did not take counsel with men or receive his Gospel from them.

What did the Apostle do in Arabia? According to Cornely, Lightfoot and others, he gave himself to meditation and prayer; according to the Fathers, he also preached there. This latter opinion would show more than the former the independence of St. Paul’s Gospel, and is in greater conformity with the text and with the Apostle’s temperament (Lagrange). Whether he visited Mt. Sinai or not is disputed.

Gal 1:18. Then, after three years, I went to Jerusalem, to see Peter, and I tarried with him fifteen days.

Then (επειτα), i.e., after having returned to Damascus and preached there for some time.

After three years, i.e., from the time of his conversion, so that three years elapsed before he met any other of the Apostles who could instruct him. These years were spent partly at Damascus, partly in Arabia.

To see (ιστορησαι) signifies more than is indicated by the English phrase; it means to make the acquaintance of an important person, or to visit places of renown for the purpose of paying them homage or respect. Hence this visit of Paul to Peter was out of respect for the head of the primitive Church, as all the Fathers have understood.

Fifteen days, i.e., for only a short visit, not long enough to be instructed in the teachings of the Gospel (cf. Acts 9:26-30). From the phrase, I tarried (επεμεινα), i.e., “I prolonged my stay,” it would seem that Paul remained longer with Peter than he had intended —another proof that he did not go up to Jerusalem to learn his Gospel.

Gal 1:19. But other of the apostles I saw none, saving James the brother of the Lord.

Saving James, ει μη ιακωβον. This phrase causes a difficulty. Some, like Zahn, understand it to imply that St. Paul did not consider James to be an Apostle in the strict sense of the term. Catholic critics of the present day are agreed that the meaning is not, “only James,” but, “save James,” thus holding that St. Paul did acknowledge James as a real Apostle. In speaking of the Apostle’s first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion St. Luke says (Acts 9:27) that “Barnabas brought him to the apostles” who, according to the present verse, must have been Peter and James. It is evident, however, that St. Paul on this visit was chiefly interested in seeing Peter, but this is only because he recognized Peter as the head of the Apostolic group and of the infant Church.

The brother, etc., i.e., the son of Alpheus (Luke 6:15), the cousin of our Lord. His father was Cleophas (Clopas) or Alpheus, and his mother was the sister of the Blessed Virgin (Theodoret).

Gal 1:20. Now the things which I write to you, behold, before God, I lie not.

This verse shows that St. Paul considered it a matter of prime importance to insist that what he had just said about his independence of the twelve was absolutely true. Naturally what he goes on to say is not less true, and further enforces the independence of his Gospel.

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One Response to Father Callan’s Commentary on Galatians 1:11-20

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Vigil Mass of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles | stjoeofoblog

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