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Lesson 2: Paul's Authority and Gospel *

Introduction: When you want to persuade someone to your point of view, how do you go about it? Do you tell them that you are from the government? Do you tell them that you have a lot of education? Do you tell them that you are smart? Do you tell them that you have special insight into the problem? Do you tell them about your experience? Paul faces this very issue. The Christians in the Galatian church are getting off track in their understanding of the gospel. Paul needs to persuade them to get back on track. Let's plunge into our study of the Bible and see how Paul does it! While we are at it, let's pay close attention to what Paul has to say about salvation.

  1. Letter Authority

    1. Read Galatians 1:1-2. A customary letter writing practice in Paul's time is to begin with the author's name and then write to whom the letter is sent. What do you think about the way Paul describes himself?

    2. Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1. How is Paul's introduction different here?

    3. Read Luke 6:12-16 and Matthew 10:1-2. Recently, I read a resume of a person who holds an advisory position to the government that is identical to one I hold. However, that person stated the position in a way that made it seem very important. At first I thought this is "resume inflation," then I asked myself, "Should I be calling it this on my resume?" What do you think? Should Paul be calling himself an "apostle" when he is not one of the twelve?

    4. Re-read Galatians 1:1. What is Paul's argument to support calling himself an apostle? (He says that he was sent by Jesus and God the Father. In this way he is just like the twelve original disciples.)

      1. Why do you think Paul states his authority at the highest level possible? (He is telling his readers that he has the highest level of authority to write what we will be studying. This is the beginning of his argument about why they should believe him.)

  2. Grace and Peace

    1. Read Galatians 1:3-5. Re-read Galatians 1:1. What does Paul emphasize when he describes Jesus? (In verse 1 he mentions Jesus' death. In verse 4 he mentions the crucifixion ("gave Himself for our sins"). Jesus' perfect life, death on our behalf, and resurrection to heaven is the foundation for our righteousness by faith, the essential element of grace. Paul works this into his introduction. Again, this is part of Paul's argument to the Galatian church.)

    2. Read Galatians 1:6-7. What is the problem in the Galatian church? (They are "turning to a different gospel.")

      1. Do you see now why Paul states his highest level of authority in the beginning of the letter?

    3. Let's skip ahead for a moment to better understand what is involved in the "gospel" debate. Read Galatians 2:15-16. What does Paul mean when he writes about the "gospel?" (Righteousness by faith alone as opposed to righteousness by works.)

    4. Read Galatians 1:8-9. How does Paul describe those who are arguing against the gospel of righteousness by faith? (They are perverting (verse 7)the gospel, and Paul says (twice) that they should be "eternally condemned.")

      1. These are pretty strong words! Should we condemn those who are arguing against grace in such strong terms?

      2. This morning I was thinking about the slogan "safe to save." This reflects a teaching that essentially says in order to go to heaven you have to be "safe" - in the sense that you will not introduce sin into the perfection of heaven. At one point I thought this made sense, and I asked myself if I was "safe to save." Upon further reflection, I realized that this is just a works gospel. To be saved, I have to make myself "safe." When I hear someone repeat that slogan, should I call them a "pervert" who should be "eternally condemned?"

        1. Why do you think Paul used such strong terms?

        2. Read 1 Peter 3:15. Are Paul's strong words consistent with showing "gentleness and respect" to those who disagree? (I keep going back and forth on this. When we discussed Peter's letters, I taught that respect is the goal. However, both Paul and Jesus (Matthew 23:33)used very strong language which I would not consider to be respectful if they were referring to me!)

  3. Paul's Authority

    1. Read Galatians 1:10-12. Paul writes that he is not taking his position on the gospel to be popular, and he is not taking it because some person taught him to do so, or because he made this up on his own. What is Paul's reason for taking his position? (Paul's view comes from a revelation from Jesus. We see again why Paul states that he is an apostle. Claiming a direct revelation from God, of course, is the ultimate authority.)

    2. Read Galatians 1:13-14. Is Paul telling us that we should believe him because he is a high achiever? He is advanced among his peers? (No. It is true that he says he was doing better than others. But, his point is that he had no earthly reason to change his views. He was a success, not a failure, in his old life.)

    3. Read Galatians 1:15-16. Who changed Paul's mind? (God intervened to change his life. This was always God's plan ("who set me apart from birth") for Paul's life.)

    4. Read Galatians 1:16-17. Is this a bit arrogant? Why not get help from the leaders of the church? Why not get help from those who heard Jesus preach?

    5. Read Galatians 1:18. Paul tells us (verse 17) that he went "immediately" into Arabia and Damascus where he (verse 18) spent three years. What do you think Paul was doing during those three years? (Paul does not say it directly, but it appears that Paul spent the time being taught by God, reflecting on his past life, and coming to an understanding of the gospel. Paul's main point is that his message came from God and not humans.)

    6. Read Galatians 1:19-20. Why would Paul want to emphasize that he did not spend time with the apostles, other than Peter? They are the leaders of the church! (Although they are leaders, they are not as good a source of doctrine as Jesus Himself.)

    7. How would your understanding of the gospel be different if you had not read and accepted the books of the New Testament written by Paul?

    8. Read Matthew 25:31-36. Compare Matthew 25:41-43. How would you understand salvation if you had only this discussion to consider?

      1. How does this square with Galatians 2:15-16?

      2. Paul says that he received his understanding of the gospel by revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12). This means that the same Jesus who told the parable of the sheep and the goats, also gave Paul Galatians 2:15-16. If you believe Paul's claim to authority (and I do), then obviously, this apparent conflict requires more study! This, of course, is what we are going to be doing during the rest of this series of lessons.)

    9. Read Galatians 1:21-24. What is Paul's reputation in the Judean churches?(He cannot shake his past. But, Christians praise God because of the change in Paul's life.)

    10. Friend, are you convinced of Paul's authority? Are you convinced that his gospel comes directly from Jesus? If so, then let's carefully study what Paul has to teach us as we move deeper into our study of the letter to the Galatians!

  4. Next week: The Unity of the 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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