1:15 But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased 1:16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 1:17 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. 1:18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas (NIV – Peter), and stayed with him fifteen days. 1:19 But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. 1:20 (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.) 1:21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 1:22 I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; 1:23 but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” 1:24 And they were glorifying God because of me.
By claiming that God gave him the “apostleship” to take the gospel to the Gentiles (1:16; 2:2, 7-9), Paul continues to defend against the distorted gospel. By claiming to be the apostle to the Gentiles, he claims the right to prescribe what the Gentiles must do and must not do.
The purpose of the historical review above is to defend his message to the Galatians by claiming that he did not get his message from men, but that he “received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:1, 11).
Overview of the issues in Chapter 1 that are particularly relevant to the main issue in the letter to the Galatians:
Paul himself preached the gospel to these churches (1:8). After he left some Christians (1:7) preached a dangerously (1:8-9) distorted gospel (1:6-7). Paul wrote this letter specifically to correct that distortion. Paul defends his calling and his message. He claims that:
He is “an apostle” (1:1), which means to be sent by God.
He has been set apart even from his mother’s womb and called through His grace to preach Him among the Gentiles (1:15-16).
He has not been sent from men, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father (1:1; 11-12).
The gospel which he preached he did not receive from man, but through a revelation of Jesus Christ (1:11-12).
He did not see or consult other people (1:16-19) in the first years after God stopped him on his way to persecute the Christians at Damascus.
Chapter 1 is therefore mostly a defence of his call and message. What is also important, as background to the letter, is that the Judaism of his day has degenerated into a religion of regulations pertaining to external deeds, where internal issues of the heart and mind, namely faith, hope and love, were not considered important. The focus on external deeds promoted a culture of self-righteousness, where people strive to earn justification by their own effort, and helped to develop a culture where people criticise each other.