“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:13-14 ESV).
Paul the Apostle was not someone who had a passing interest in the religion of his ancestors. He wasn’t a person who attended religious services on occasion or only during holidays. Paul was not someone who possessed a casual attitude towards the Scriptures or a vague idea of what they taught. Instead, Paul was someone who dominated the field of Jewish religious study in his day- and that made him uniquely qualified to address the Judaizers and their efforts to indoctrinate the Galatian churches with a “gospel” that was clearly false.
When it came to intellectual firepower, Paul possessed a great reservoir of knowledge and experience. For instance, Paul hailed from the city of Tarsus, a place that was known for its emphasis upon philosophy, culture, and education. We also know from the Scriptures that Paul was fluent in multiple languages (see Acts 21:37,40) and even quoted from some of the secular authors of his day.
With regard to religious instruction, Paul was someone who studied under a respected Rabbinical teacher named Gamaliel and “…was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors…” according to Acts 22:3 (NIV). By his own admission, Paul was a “Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5) and as he admitted in the passage quoted above, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:14).
With these things in mind, we can say that Paul could surely hold his own in an intellectual debate with the false teachers who followed him. In fact, its likely that Paul knew more about Judaism than the Judaizers who opposed him. If Paul’s teaching was in error (as his opponents claimed), it certainly wasn’t because he was uniformed on some aspect of Jewish life and teaching.
So in two short verses, Paul established two important points. First, his opposition to Christianity before his conversion meant that his message of salvation by grace through faith could not have originated there. Next, his extensive knowledge of Jewish law and tradition made him more than a match for those who were attempting to discredit him.
But what if Paul had built his message on second-hand information gleaned from other leaders within the first-century church? We’ll consider that possibility next.