Origin of Paul’s Faith and Teachings—1 Corinthians 11:23

Origin of Paul’s Faith and Teachings—1 Corinthians 11:23

Paul’s teaching was not of human origin at all. Paul delivered to the gentiles the testimony of an apostle. He was a living witness of the resurrection. He bore witness to Christ’s triumph over the grave. Paul received grace from the Lord Jesus having been found guilty of persecuting Christ’s church.

Over the last few months, I’ve been stewing on a verse. It’s come to mind regularly at various times. It’s a verse that I’ve spoken or referenced numerous times as I’ve had the privilege of administering the Lord’s Table. Yet for all the times that I’ve served the Lord’s table, and all the times I’ve received communion, this verse hasn’t laid hold on me. It wasn’t until the Lord saw fit to move me out of my most recent pulpit, that this verse grabbed me.  “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you” 1 Corinthians 11:23a.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…
Ἐγὼ γὰρ παρέλαβον ἀπὸ τοῦ Κυρίου, ὃ καὶ παρέδωκα ὑμῖν…
1 Corinthians 11:23

We typically think of this verse as an introductory note in the larger, more important section about the Lord’s table (v17-34). It is situated in the middle of both a rebuke and a corrective instruction for the Corinthian church regarding the practice of communion. While this sentence may seem like a simple linking idea, there is much to be learned from in considering these inspired Words from the Holy Spirit through Paul.

Rather than being a throwaway sentence or simple linking phrase, this verse is a statement from Paul regarding the origin of his own faith and what he teaches. This is a genesis, a backstory to all that he’s shared with the Corinthians. This is his source of authority, this is his source of faith, this is his source of practice, this is his source of instruction for other believers. His source is not his own mind (although he was perhaps the greatest thinker of his time), his source was not his own research (although perhaps he was the greatest interpreter of his time), his source was not his own spirituality (although no one could doubt that he must have possessed tremendous faith to suffer the horrific pains he endured). To put it succinctly and bluntly – Paul wasn’t the source for Paul’s religion.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…
1 Corinthians 11:23a

This phrase reveals a pattern of ministry and consistent testimony regarding Paul’s faith, preaching, and teaching. In other words, this isn’t an isolated verse or a solitary statement. This is the repeated testimony of Paul. The substance of what Paul believed, taught, preached, and lived as an example came as something he received. His faith, its substance and essence, came as a gift from another. The source of the gift was none other than the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

The New Testament Concept of Paul’s Faith

When Paul writes to the Thessalonians, Corinthians, Philippians, and to Timothy, he writes to them regarding what he himself has received and what he delivered to them (1 Thessalonians 4:1, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 1 Corinthians 15:3, Philippians 4:9, 1 Timothy 1:16,). The most substantive testimony of what Paul taught, preached, and delivered to the churches is found in Galatians 1:11-12:

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Galatians 1:11–12 ESV

When Paul speaks words of encouragement or challenge for the Corinthians and Thessalonians to continue in the faith, he speaks using terms of tradition (1 Corinthians 11:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15). This isn’t a philosophy (of Paul’s own making). Nor is this a new interpretation of something old (such as a Rabbinic comment which was very common in 1st century Judaism). What Paul delivered to the churches planted was precisely what he had received.

Paul’s preaching was put to the test after 14 years (as Paul counts in Galatians 2:1-2). His testimony to the gathered apostles was found to be Christ-honoring and in harmony with the testimony of the Apostles, even as he corrected another apostle (Galatians 2:11-14). How could this be if Christ did not disciple (teach and make him follow) this Paul? Thinking purely logistically, there were no assembled or distributed written gospels at the time of Saul/Paul’s conversion (recounted in Acts 9). All Paul could have heard from others would have been word of mouth. Even if there were documents for Paul to read and study, how could he have so accurately presented the resurrection message before the men who were there without himself being a witness? Yet Saul (so he was still called when Jesus was crucified and raised) was not there on what we call good Friday, or Easter. Yet he throws away all that he knew, his title, position, influence, social connections, all for the sake of the resurrected Jesus who confronted him (Acts 9:3-16). Paul’s preaching, absent the “seminary” training in Jerusalem from the disciples, came from none other than the Lord Jesus. Acts 9:16 is particularly helpful in understanding WHO it was that taught Paul. It was none other than the Lord Jesus:

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.
Acts 9:15-16 ESV, emphasis added

Paul leaves his audiences with no doubt, whether they are gentile rulers (like Felix in Acts 24, or Agrippa and Bernice in Acts 25), or gentile commoners (Like those in Athens in Acts 17), whether they are Jewish leaders (like the Synagogue of Thessalonica in Acts 17), or Jewish disciples of Jesus (like the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15), it was no one else than the resurrected Jesus himself who confronted Saul/Paul and then instructed him in the faith.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…
1 Corinthians 11:23a

How could this be? Jesus was already resurrected and ascended? Surely Paul didn’t walk on the road to Damascus (Luke 24), nor was he with the gathered disciples prior to Pentecost (Acts 1). How did Paul receive teaching from Jesus? Galatians is the book to turn to at this point. Notice what is absent, and what is present in Paul’s testimony.

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