“An apostle not from men”
Paul, an apostle not from men nor through a man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead.
Dyadic opposition is introduced in this, the very first sentence of Galatians. Paul is not a human apostle but an apostle of the risen Christ. As commentators have pointed out, the form of the expression is certainly strange and very pointed rhetorically. Accordingly some exegetes have argued that Paul must be directly addressing his opponents' charge here, that is, that they had indeed charged him with being an apostle from men, the Church in Jerusalem, and that, therefore, he should submit to the authority of his principals (Bruce 1990, 72–73; Longenecker 1990, 4). Betz has already dismissed this interpretation, as had Burton long before, as there is no evidence anywhere else that this was the nature of the charge, and to assume that every bit of pointed rhetoric found in Paul is in direct response to the opponents seems methodologically unnecessary and therefore unsupportable (Betz 1979, 39, 65). Further, this reading makes sense of only one of the two parallel phrases (“from men”), and not the other. This interpretation does, however, have the advantage of taking account of the energy of this expression, which the suggestions of Betz and Burton do not. In my reading, Paul here, in the prescript, in his very identification of himself, provides a proleptic summary of his entire theme and argument. Paul is not an apostle from men, that is, not from those who are authorities “in the flesh,” as it were, those who have known or are related physically to Jesus, “a man,” but he is the apostle through the resurrected Christ “in the spirit,” and from God who raised him. This interpretation, which is plausible in itself, not least because it makes sense of both halves of the chiasm, does in fact provide an answer to the otherwise attested charge against Paul, to wit, that his apostleship was inferior because he had never had contact with the historical Jesus (Burton 1988, 5; Betz 1979, 39). Paul's argument is to be taken as a direct counter to such charges as the following from the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies:
You see now how expressions of wrath have to be made through visions and dreams, but discourse with friends takes place from mouth to mouth, openly and not through riddles, visions, and dreams as with an enemy. And if our Jesus appeared to you also and became known in a vision and met you as angry with an enemy, yet he has spoken only through visions and dreams or through external revelations, but can any one be made competent to teach through a vision? And if your opinion is, “That is possible,” why then did our teacher spend a whole year with us who were awake? How can we believe you even if he has appeared to you, and how can he have appeared to you if you desire the opposite of what you have learned? But if you were visited by him for the space of an hour and were instructed by him and thereby have become an apostle, then proclaim his words. (Betz 1979, 333)
Even if, as seems plausible, this text is a later Jewish Christian text written in response to Paul and not the occasion of his response, I think it still indicates well what the nature of the conflict between Paul and his Jerusalem opponents would have been like. There is, after all, other evidence, from within Paul, for such a view. The allegory of the lower and the upper Jerusalem (Galatians 4:21–31) points in this direction. Moreover, in 2 Corinthians 5:16 Paul insists that his community no longer knows (that is, recognizes!) Christ according to the flesh but only recognizes Christ according to the spirit. To my mind, that polemic is similar to what we have in Galatians against those who claim that their authority derives from closeness, even family ties, with Jesus, the Jew born of a woman. Finally, it has been suggested that Romans 1:3–4 (“Concerning His son who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the son of God in power, according to the spirit of Holiness, by the resurrection from the dead”) represents a Pauline gloss on a liturgical formula of the early Church for describing Jesus as the son of David and thus as ethnically Jewish. Paul reverses the value of this formula by insisting that this refers only to Jesus' birth according to the flesh, while according to the Holy Spirit, Jesus is the son of God thus rendering his ethnic and family ties, if not worthless—Romans 9:5—, of decidedly less importance! Paul's genius is to be found in this: That which his Jewish Christian opponents cited as the defect in his authority becomes for him precisely its point of greatest strength. I am not imputing to Paul a mere rhetorical or political ploy but an argument which fits perfectly with the entire structure of his thought. Maintaining the structure of binary oppositions that I have cited above in Chapter 1, the apostleship of Peter and James is of an inferior nature, because it is only from Jesus in the flesh (a man); it is the human teaching of a human teacher, while Paul's revelatory vision is not of the human Jesus but of Christ according to the spirit.