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Lesson 1: Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles *

Introduction: We begin a new study of one of the most important books of the New Testament! While the books of the Bible are all important, Galatians is critical to a correct understanding of our salvation. However, before we dig into the actual text of the book of Galatians, let's first look at the background of the man who wrote it. Understanding this context, helps us to better understand Galatians!

  1. Advancing the Kingdom?

    1. Read Acts 7:57-60. This is our first introduction to Saul. He seems to be something like a coatroom clerk. Is that what we should conclude? (No. The witnesses who are stoning Stephen apparently know Saul, he is one of their group because they leave their clothes with him as they get about the sweaty task of killing Stephen.)

    2. Read Acts 6:8-10. How good is this group when it comes to arguing with Stephen? (They cannot stand up to him.)

    3. Read Acts 6:11-14. If you cannot stand up to Stephen's logic and skill in arguing, then you just lie to have him killed. What kind of people do something like that?

      1. Recall that it appears that Saul knows these witnesses. Are they all members of the same "Synagogue of the Freedman?" (There is debate about what kind of group this is, but this suggests to me that Saul is one of them. At least some in the group think that a certain religious philosophy is more important than honesty.)

      2. Look again at Acts 6:14. Keep in mind that the charge against Stephen is that he is part of a group who wants to "change the customs Moses handed down to us."

    4. Read Acts 8:3 and Acts 9:1-2. Has Saul moved up in the movement to destroy Christians? (He is no longer just watching coats, he is a leader for he is directing the persecution in Damascus.)

    5. Read Acts 9:3-5. If you only knew what we have read so far about Saul, you would conclude that he had a dark side? What does this event show us? (God is interested in Saul. Even though we can see a dark side to Saul, Jesus' appeal here is religious. Jesus identifies Himself with those being persecuted. Jesus believes that Saul's problem is a theological error, not a character defect.)

      1. What would be going through your mind if you were Saul?

    6. Read Acts 9:6-9. Why not eat? (Saul is going through great distress. Not only has he lost his sight, but learns he is harming, not helping, God.)

    7. Read Acts 9:10-11. What do you think Saul is praying about? (Does this eliminate your concern about Saul's bad side? In a time of real distress, he turns to God.)

    8. Read Acts 9:12-14. What concern does Ananias have about restoring Saul's sight? (Ananias is certain that Saul is a bad guy. Saul is an enemy of the gospel. Ananias is concerned that God doesn't know this important fact. We now know that at least part of Saul's prayers have to do with restoring his sight.)

  2. The New Mission

    1. Read Acts 9:15. What is God's mission for Saul? (It is a very big mission.)

    2. Read Acts 9:16. How do you think Saul will react to his mission and this statement that he will have to suffer? (There is a sense of justice in this. Saul has been causing suffering among God's people. I have little doubt that Saul wants to advance God's Kingdom, but he has been doing it the wrong way. God gets Saul's mission on the right track.)

    3. Read Acts 9:17-19. What is critical to Saul's new mission? (He needs to "be filled with the Holy Spirit.")

      1. Why do you think that Jesus blinded Saul? Why not have his donkey talk to him? Why not a vision? (Consider the symbolism in this. Originally, Saul does not see the light. Instead, he is persecuting the light - trying to put it out. In this singular event, Saul now sees the truth. Scales fall from his eyes both literally and spiritually.)

      2. Why was Saul baptized? (Read Saul's later account of this in Acts 22:13-16. He wants his sins washed away. Saul is convinced that he has been on the wrong path, and he is convinced about Jesus.)

        1. What prophesy does Ananias make about Saul and Jesus? (He will see Jesus ("the Righteous One") and be taught by Him.)

      3. Why does Saul eat now? (The confusion, the trauma, the guilt, the conflict are now resolved. His able to eat.)

    4. Read Acts 22:17-20. Is Saul arguing with Jesus? (Saul believes that his background as a persecutor will cause those who formerly agreed with him to convert to Christianity. Jesus tells Paul that he is wrong about this.)

    5. Read Acts 22:21. What is Saul's immediate mission? (To leave Jerusalem and preach to the Gentiles.)

      1. Has this happened to you? You think you are best qualified for a certain kind of work for God, and God sends you on something completely different?

    6. Read Acts 11:19-21. How has the killing of Stephen advanced the gospel? (It caused the early Christians to flee Jerusalem and spread the message.)

    7. Read Acts 11:22-24. Who do the Christian leaders send to Antioch to advance the gospel among the Greeks? (Barnabas.)

    8. Read Acts 11:25-26. Was God using Saul even when he was helping to kill Stephen? (Read Romans 8:28. God did not want Stephen killed, but God makes something good out of this terrible event by using it to advance the gospel. Now we learn that this tragedy sets the foundation for Saul's work to convert Greeks to the gospel.)

  3. The Defining Controversy

    1. Read Acts 15:1. According to these men, on what is salvation dependent? (Circumcision.)

      1. Read Genesis 17:9-11. Is it fair to call this a "custom taught by Moses?" (The men from Judea could have put this much more forcefully - circumcision is a God instituted sign of a person's covenant with God.)

    2. Read Acts 15:2-3. Why would Saul (now called Paul) take the side of those who opposed circumcision? Why would the Antioch Christians send Paul to make the case against circumcision? (Paul has been working with the Greeks to convert them. Can you see how circumstances help you to better understand a problem - and be sympathetic to it? Saul goes from being someone who thinks changing the "customs Moses handed down" ( Acts 6:14) deserves the death penalty, to someone who wants to change those customs based on concern about converting Gentiles.)

    3. Read Romans 4:11. What does Paul call circumcision here? ("A seal of righteousness.")

      1. Does this mean that the people calling for circumcision had it exactly right? (If you look at the context in Romans 4:9-12, Paul argues that Abraham was given righteousness by faith both before and after he was circumcised. It was a sign of an existing right relationship with God.)

    4. Read Colossians 2:11-12. What is the new "circumcision" according to Paul? (Baptism!)

      1. Since circumcision was to take place eight days after birth ( Genesis 17:12), what does this suggest about infant baptism? (I used to think that infant baptism followed by a "confirmation" when the child was old enough to understand, was completely un-Biblical. This comparison between circumcision and baptism helps me to understand the practice.)

    5. Read Acts 15:4-5 and Acts 15:12. Then read the decision of James in Acts 15:19-21. What persuasive argument does Paul make for not requiring circumcision? (The power of God was displayed in their work to convert the Gentiles.)

      1. Think about this logically. We believe the Holy Spirit works on the hearts of those who are converted. But, we also think new converts should change after they are converted. On what does James rest his decision? (Re-read Acts 15:19. James says that it is appropriate to tear down the barriers that prevent people from turning to God.)

        1. Where would you draw the line on this idea? Should any line exist at all?

    6. Friend, consider the life of Saul. He was a zealot who was willing to hurt people to keep Judaism pure. God turned his life around, and made him (now Paul) an advocate for tearing down those things that he previously thought made a person religiously pure. What about you? Are you more like Saul or more like Paul?

  4. Next week: Paul's Authority and Gospel.
* Copr. 2017, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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