Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What Makes It Real?

Suppose you ran into a missionary who has, for the first time, visited your church. You engage him in conversation and he tells you about how he got his start as a missionary. He says that after he became a Christian, he just went into the mission field. He had no church to support him so he supported himself by making a variety of things. He tells you that he preached the gospel and started churches in hundreds of small villages all over the world for seventeen years. After regaling you with his adventures, you think he must have some real insights into Scripture, so so you ask him to expound on his favorite verse. He tells you he's never read the Bible.

A Christian who's been a missionary and founding churches for seventeen years and has never read the Bible?

It's happened before. Check out Galatians 1 & 2:
For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither recieved it from man, not was I taught it, but I recieved it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
But when God ... was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immesdiately consult with flesh and blood, 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. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas and stayed wiuth him fifteen days.
Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles...
[S]eeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised ... and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

(Galatians 1:11,12,15-18; 2:1,2,7-9)

Paul was adamant about one major point: The gospel message he preached was not taught to him by anyone. He did not learn it from the disciples in Jerusalem. In fact, he took seventeen years before he actually submitted what he was preaching for review to the disciples in Jerusalem. And what was their reaction? They gave him the "right hand of fellowship". They not only affirmed that what Paul preached was the same gospel they preached, but they gave him all of their support.

Paul was absolutely certain of the truth of his gospel. Evidence of that is found in Galatians 1:8:
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!

The testimony in Galatians stands as objective proof for many reasons. First, Paul's behavior backed up his convictions. He was convinced God gave him his gospel, therefore he didn't need to consult with other Christians about it - and he didn't. Nor could he have learned it from the other apostles' writings since many of Paul's own letters predate the four gospels by several years. Second, Paul set the message above himself. He cursed himself if he preached anything other than what he'd originally taught. If he were trying to start his own following or religion, he'd certainly have left his options open to changing his message. Third, if Paul had simply been making the message up, why did he ever submit it to the apostles in Jerusalem? And why would they fully endorse him unless what he preached was exactly what they preached? In addition to that, how can Paul have such a vast amount of unique material that no other apostle preached and yet remain true to the central message? Unless, of course, Paul and the other apostles were all getting their information from the same source...

My conclusion is simply this: Paul was absolutely convinced he'd met the risen Christ. He was absolutely convinced that the gospel message he had was the truth and he was absolutely convinced that it was not to be changed - by him or anyone else. People may not accept Paul's convictions as their own, but they cannot say that Paul didn't really believe what he said he believed.

There's many things that make my faith real to me, but it's the testimony of the Bible's authors - the extraordinary uniform testimony - that stands as reasonable objective proof for the faith.

- Graffy

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