If Paul did not know Jesus while He lived on this earth, then how can Paul have any authority to teach and preach the Gospel?
Though Paul did not walk with Jesus while he was on this earth, he did receive approval from the followers of Jesus. In Galatians chapters 1-2, Paul explains that he took two different trips to Jerusalem to see the Jerusalem apostles.1
Trip #1: A.D. 36
In his first trip, Paul mentions the most popular apostles by name: Peter and James. In Galatians 1:18-19, Paul says,
"Then three years later [A.D. 36?] I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas [or Peter], and stayed with him fifteen days. 19But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother."
If Paul and Peter spent fifteen days together, they must have discussed some very important matters! I wish that I could have been a fly on the wall to hear Paul and Peter's conversation. What a sight that must have been! As one scholar stated, they probably did not spend all of their time talking about the weather. It is quite likely that given the context of Galatians 1 where Paul is discussing his authority to preach the Gospel that Peter and Paul discussed the content of the Gospel during their time together.
Trip #2: A.D. 47-50
However, Paul also mentions a second trip to Jerusalem in Galatians 2:1-2:
"Then after an interval of fourteen years [47-50 A.D.?] I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain."
In this second visit, Paul mentions that he explicitly brought his Gospel before the Jerusalem apostles (Peter, James, and John). He indicates that he had a fear "that I might be running, or had run, in vain." Some have speculated that Paul wanted to verify the content of his preaching to be sure that he was correct. Therefore, he goes up to Jerusalem a second time to see Peter, James, and then John.
Interestingly, the apostles respond:
"And recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised, (Gal. 2:9)."
In other words, the early apostles agreed with Paul's Gospel that he preached.
The Ultimate Authority
Even though Paul had approval from the eyewitnesses of Jesus' life, nevertheless, Paul claimed that his ultimate authority did not come from humans but directly from Christ's revelation to him:
"For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ, (Gal. 1:11-12)."
Paul himself saw Jesus via revelation on his encounter on the road to Damascus (Acts 9, 22, 26) in which Christ revealed Himself to Paul. He was an eyewitness in the sense of having seen Jesus after His death (1 Cor. 9:1). Therefore, Paul certainly had the authority to teach and preach the Gospel.
- A.D. 33--Paul's Conversion
- A.D. 36--1st Trip to Jerusalem: meets Peter and James
- A.D. 47-50--2nd Trip to Jerusalem: meets Peter, James, and John
- 1. No scholars today debate the fact that Paul actually wrote the epistle to the Galatians. It is dated around 49-52 A.D.