6.2 Galatians -- Preparation for Ministry
For Paul, conversion was apparently not a single "mountaintop" experience. He spent a lot of time being re-educated in solitude: three years in Arabia and Damascus (Gal 1:17). This was a period in which his entire training, his worldview and theology, got overturned. The foundation of his life was uprooted -- adherence to Law -- and replaced by the centrality of Jesus Christ. This forced the construction of an entirely new self- and world-concept. Everything was altered. There was no continuity with past certainties. During this time he had no contact with any of the established Christian authorities -- i.e., the disciples (Gal 1:16-17).
This in itself is an amazing development. Why would God go to such elaborate training of eleven men to be the core of His program, but then circumvent them when working out the conversion of His chief evangelist? This is critically important! -- there was no influence of the disciples upon the development of Paul's Gospel! After three years of solitude, he spent two weeks in Jerusalem, but met only Peter and James (Gal 1:18-9). He then left the area for the Gentile regions, where he spent 14 years, returning to Jerusalem only in response to a revelation (Gal 2:1-2). Truly, we are dealing with an independent spirit, a unique witness to Jesus Christ, and a singular understanding of the endtime plan of God. No wonder that his understanding clashed at several points with that of the body of the disciples in Jerusalem.
By contrast, the disciples still lived within the physical and theological limits of traditional Judaism. Despite intermittent persecutions, the key disciples, whom Paul sarcastically said were "reputed to be pillars," still managed to live in Jerusalem. Furthermore, their congregations were largely Jews or Judaicized Greeks. We know from Acts 6:7 that even priests belonged to the church. These people did not suddenly stop living as Jews. More likely, they merely added belief in Jesus as the Messiah to their existing religious repertoire. Christianity functioned more as a Jewish sect than as a rival religion. And in fact, this was Peter's intent: his focus was on convincing the Jews that Jesus fulfilled the Scripture's description of the Messiah. He wanted to win over the traditionalists on the basis of the fulfilment of the Mosaic Covenant, not to start a new community composed equally of Jews and Gentiles. This meant that the Jerusalem church had to walk on eggshells so far as their tolerance of Gentiles went. While admitting that Jesus was the Messiah of all mankind, and that God did indeed pour out His Spirit on the Gentiles (Acts 11:18), nevertheless they must have been at pains not to provoke the Jewish authorities by violating the most sacred practices of the Law -- circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and dietary rules.
Peter, like Paul, had his own visitations and revelations from God. In the Book of Acts commentary, we discussed the vision of the unclean animals at Joppa (Acts 10:9-16). But he did not draw the same conclusions that Paul did. The visions were not sufficient for Peter to challenge the fundamental assumptions of the Old Covenant or the role of Law in the new community.