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Galatians 1: 15, 16
So when the One who had marked me out from my mother’s womb and in his kindness called me by name, chose to reveal his son in me, so that I could announce him amongst the gentiles, I did not rush to consult flesh and blood people.
The Greek aphorizo originally means to “mark off from others” as for example building materials. It tends to be translated “set apart” which is part of the language of predestination in Christian theology, but I want to keep its metaphorical force, so that we can see Paul’s image of God as a tradesman. The verb kalēo can mean to name, and Paul may have been remembering the verse from Isaiah, “I have called you by name; you are mine.” There is another metaphor lurking here, that of God as an adoptive parent, which is important in Paul’s mature thinking. The Greek charis, usually translated grace, points here to a kindness from a superior to an inferior, a favour. This favour turns out to be the revelation or disclosure of God’s son “in Paul.” Is he referring to a vision of the risen Jesus? That would be supported by his witness in 1 Corinthians 15: “last of all…. he appeared to me.” Or is he referring to his experience of being “a son of God”? That would be in line with his witness in Romans 8: “all who are led by the spirit of God are sons of God.” Or is he referring to a mixture if the two- a vision of Jesus which convinced him that he too was a son of God? I incline to this last interpretation.
v17: I did not go up to Jerusalem to meet those who were emissaries before me but went off to Arabia and afterwards returned to Damascus.
As there is no satisfactory definition in the scriptures of the word Apostle which is the usual translation of the Greek apostolos; and as Paul uses it to include all “sent out” with the message of Jesus, I have translated emissaries to avoid any narrow definition. Paul means that he is not an emissary of the Jerusalem church.
There are all sorts of imaginative versions of what Paul was doing in Arabia, that is, in the ancient civilisation of Reqem. Indeed, I have provided one myself in my heretical novel about Paul: “Paul, an unauthorised autobiography” available on Kindle. None of these versions, including mine, has any factual basis. The book of The Acts of the Apostles, which gives a detailed version of key events in Paul’s life and ministry, is largely an invention of the author based on the few facts he possessed. For a true if sketchy picture of Paul, I think it’s better to rely on his authentic letters, amongst which Galatians tells us more than any others.
v 18 -24
Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to acquaint myself with Kephas and remained with him for a fortnight, but did not see any of the other emissaries except Jacob, the Lord’s brother. Look, what I’m writing to you is no lie, God is my witness. Then I went into the regions of Syria and Kilikia, and still my face was not known to the Assemblies of Messiah in Judea, which only had hearsay “that the man who persecuted us is now announcing the belief which once he tried to lay waste.” And they honoured God because of me.
I prefer to use as many of the original bible names as possible. Kephas is the Aramaic name of Simon Peter; Jacob is the Hebrew name usually translated James. Syria and Kilikia are provinces of the Roman Empire where Paul began his ministry to gentiles.