Paul now gives a detailed account of his trips to Jerusalem. This was not important in itself, but it had become important because of the false accusations that had been leveled at him.
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. And they glorified God in me (Gal. 1:15-24).
SEPARATED TO GOD
The conversion of Saul was not an afterthought on the part of God. Saul was elect from before the foundation of the world, and he had been set apart for his apostleship from the time he was in his mother’s womb (v. 15). At that moment on the Damascus road, Saul was effectually called by the grace of God. At the same time, Jesus Christ was revealed in Saul, in order that he might become an apostolic preacher to the Gentiles (v. 16).
The false teacher or teachers at Galatia were intimating that Saul was instructed in the rudiments of the Christian faith by the apostles, which would make him (at best) a second-tier apostle. His adversaries could then claim that as a pupil, he was not a very good one. They, in fact, had gotten the lessons right. This is why Paul had to emphasize that he had not conferred with flesh and blood (v. 16). Not only that, but he did not even go to Jerusalem until three year later (vv. 17-18). When he finally got around to going to Jerusalem, he was there for the very short space of fifteen days—hardly time to get a seminary education (v. 18).
THE LORD’S BROTHER
The only other person ranked among the apostles that he saw was James, the brother of the Lord. This is interesting because James was not numbered among the Twelve, and was apparently not a believer in Jesus until after the resurrection (John 7:5; 1 Cor. 15:7; Acts 1:14). He soon assumed a position of authority in the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17). Paul acknowledges him as a pillar (2:9) and one of some repute (2:6), and here in this place seems to number him among the apostles. But his acquaintance with James was first made during that two weeks.
So Paul was in Damascus/Arabia/Damascus for three years (Acts 9:19ff; 2 Cor. 11:32-33). He then came to Jerusalem for just over two weeks, and the visit was cut short by an attempt on his life (Acts 9:29). He then went to Tarsus (in Cilicia) for ten years, when Barnabas brought him down to Antioch (in Syria) for a year. So then, fourteen years after his conversion, he went to Jerusalem for the second time (Gal. 2:1).
GLORY TO GOD
Paul mentions his time in Syria and Cilicia here in passing (v. 21). The churches of Judea that were in Christ did not know him (v. 22)—he had spent virtually no time there. They of course had heard of him, but what they heard was simply that a former persecutor had turned preacher (v. 23). They gave glory to God for this (v. 23), which incidentally was not something that the false teachers in Galatian were prepared to do.
I LIE NOT
Now let us take this back to verse 20. There Paul swears an oath before God. He says that this account of his trips to Jerusalem was absolutely accurate—so help him God. Given this vow, it is nothing short of astounding that there are conservative Bible scholars who identify the Jerusalem visit coming up in Gal. 2 with the Jerusalem council visit of Acts 15. This overlooks the famine relief visit (Acts 11:27-30), and makes Paul’s vow false. Not only that, but it is a vow that is part of inspired Scripture—false. Not only that, but it ignores the inexplicable neglect of any reference to the decisions of the council in Galatians.
We can also see a biblical pattern for responding to false reports. First, Paul was a man of godly character, known to the Galatians. Second, because of this he was attacked. Third, he responds with a vow—firmly attached to information that could be independently confirmed.
All things in Scripture are written for our instruction, for our profit. One of the things that we have learned over the last year or so is how many well-meaning Christians do not understand these principles. There is little doubt they would reject Paul’s argument—if it were not Bible.