No Man’s Gospel
Poor Paul. The man would go and preach the gospel in some city, as he was commissioned to do by God on that road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19), he would found a church consisting of those who had repented, believed, and were baptized under his preaching, he would stay as long as needed instructing them in the faith, and eventually leave to go begin the process all over again in another city—and then someone, usually Jewish Christians who resented Paul’s Mosaic law-free gospel, but also Gentile Christians with weird ideas, would come behind him and tell that church that Paul was not part of that original band of twelve that was called out by, ministered with, and commissioned by Jesus, and therefore could not be counted as a real apostle. Please understand this was not a matter of bragging rights; if Paul were not an apostle then his preaching was suspect, which meant that the gospel he preached was suspect.
So Paul has to rehearse his personal itinerary between being literally assaulted by Christ on that road to Damascus, and subsequently saved by faith under the hands of Ananias, and then through a fourteen year ministry among the Gentiles, the purpose all of which is to show two things: 1) That he did not receive his gospel of salvation by grace through faith from anyone, including the twelve in Jerusalem as he had little contact with them during this period, but received it from God alone; and, 2) That that gospel was in complete harmony with the twelve back in Jerusalem who extended to him “the right hand of fellowship.” Thus, it is the Judaizers who are swerving from the true path of the gospel (see Ronald Fung, NICNT, 51-72).
Now we may assume that Paul did learn matters of our Lord’s earthly life from the original apostles or perhaps even others as is clear from his words in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, as he said in that place, “Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believe.” But when Paul says, “the gospel,” he means salvation by grace through faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, that faith being the gift of the Holy Spirit who convicts and turns the heart to Christ. This is the gospel that cannot be changed, transformed, or modified to accommodate man’s preferences, be those preferences a desire to earn salvation by law-keeping, or be those preferences a desire to cheapen salvation by law-erasing. By this, I do not mean to suggest that the gospel is a “middle-road”; it is not. The gospel is the gospel, “but [men] have sought out many schemes” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). And let him be accursed who deviates there from; and why would you?