Not, Neither, But
When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he was writing to people who were struggling with false teachings. As one of his methods in writing the letter he used an approach of giving specifics. He identified a number of things by giving two or three examples of the incorrect and then contrasted them with what was correct. “Not this, neither that, but something else.” In most of his letters Paul frequently uses a single negative (no or not) with an adversative (but)—“not this but that,” but in Romans, 1 Corinthians and Galatians we find the not, neither, but form more frequently. Surprisingly he does this more in Galatians than he does in the longer letters of Romans and 1 Corinthians. This is of special interest in Galatians because he applies it to strategic statements about himself and the critical issue of circumcision.
“Paul, an apostle
not from men,
neither through a man,
but through Jesus Christ and God the Father” (Gal. 1:1 CV).
Paul knew what it meant to be an apostle from men. Paul originally believed Jesus Christ was a false prophet and he hated His followers. They were being disobedient to the chief priest; were selling their properties; were living in common; were upsetting the economy; and were generally calling teachings of Judaism into question. Paul persecuted them. Paul went to the chief priest and received authority from him to bind believers in Christ and bring them back to Jerusalem to be judged by the Sanhedrin. Paul began his intimate career with Christianity as an apostle of the priesthood—an apostle originating from men.
Paul’s apostleship from Christ was not bestowed upon him through the mediation of men. Judas had betrayed Christ and then committed suicide. The eleven decided that a replacement for Judas should be chosen. So they selected two men from a much larger group who both were qualified. They prayed for God’s superintendence and cast lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. So Matthias was an apostle of Christ also, but he became such through human mediation.
But Paul’s apostleship originated directly through Jesus Christ, and it was according to the purpose of God’s will, to have a body which would be the beginning of the new humanity under the headship of Jesus Christ. This called for the eliminating of divisions in the flesh and the beginning of a new kind of life in the Spirit. And the apostleship of its herald was not ordained by mortal men.
“For I am making known to you, brethren, as to the evangel which is being brought by me,
that it is not in accord with man,
for neither did I accept it from a man,
nor was I taught it,
but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12 CV)
This time Paul adds a third negative as he describes the source of his evangel: Not this, neither that, nor something else, but something completely new! Paul’s evangel was not according to something human. Man comes up with many ideas and teachings. Man develops philosophies, theories, standards and laws, but Paul’s evangel is not based on anything of human origin.
Like Paul’s apostleship, he did not receive his evangel from a man. This does not mean that Jesus Christ is not a man. But Christ is a glorified Man and the Image of God. Paul uses this phrase to distinguish Christ from even the wisest of mortal men.
Another point to make here is the contrast Paul makes with the giving of the law. God called Moses up Mt. Sinai to receive the law, and then Moses went down and gave the law to the multitude. The law was accepted by Israel through a human mediator.
Paul had been taught at the Pharisee’s best seminary in Jerusalem. He was taught by Gamaliel, a renowned teacher of his day (Acts 22:3). He had learned a great deal there about the law and customs of Judaism. He was a member of the conservative wing of his day. Paul knew what it meant to be taught by a great teacher. But Paul did not go to school to learn the evangel he was teaching. He was not taught it by any normal means.
Paul’s evangel came through a revelation given to him by Jesus Christ. His mind was opened to receive truth that was beyond human invention. His evangel is based on the death of Christ for the sake of sinners. It is based on resurrection from the dead. It is based on the fact that believers can become sons of God by believing in Christ. This was revelation—not anything even resembling human invention. That a man can be just before God—an unattainable dream—graciously given as a gift to believers!
“Now, when it delights God…to unveil His Son in me that I may be evangelizing Him among the nations,
I did not immediately submit it to flesh and blood,
neither came I up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me,
but I came away into Arabia, and I return again to Damascus” (Gal. 1:15-17 CV).
The “not” follows Paul’s pattern above with his apostleship and evangel. He didn’t go to men, he didn’t take instruction from men, and he didn’t submit himself to a human authority. Paul stayed true to the revelation he was given, and took time to think out and digest the news and commission given to him.
The “neither” also follows his previous pattern. He didn’t go to men, even those he knew were apostles appointed by Christ Himself. He includes the place, Jerusalem, here as the designated place for God’s name to be established, but he avoids it for at least three years, showing that it was not the location from which his commission issued.
But, instead he went into Arabia (1:17), an area in which he locates Mt. Sinai (4:25) when speaking of Hagar and the covenant of law and slavery. These locations may be mentioned for the purpose of showing that his commission is concerned with places outside of Israel.
So these first three sets of “not, neither, but” deal with Paul’s apostleship, his evangel and his commission. His emphasis has been that all these elements have a divine origin. He did not originate any of these things himself, but they all came from God through Christ.
Is Paul’s Evangel the Same as that of the Twelve?
In the first two chapters there are two statements that need to be understood without thinking that they contradict each other. The first is: “He who once was persecuting us, now is evangelizing the faith which once he ravaged” (1:23). The second is: “I have been entrusted with the evangel of the Uncircumcision, according as Peter of the Circumcision” (2:7). Is there a separate evangel, or, gospel for the uncircumcised—non-covenant—people of the world from the evangel preached by the twelve to the circumcised—covenant relationship—people of Israel? Or, when the Jews rejoiced that Paul was now proclaiming “the faith which once he ravaged,” does that mean his evangel was exactly the same as what the twelve preached?
The evangel of Jesus Christ went first to Jewish people. The Messiah and His deliverance was a promise prophesied to the Jewish nation. At Pentecost, upon hearing Peter’s words, the people asked him what they should do. “Now Peter is averring to them, ‘Repent and be baptized each of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the pardon of your sins, and you shall be obtaining the gratuity of the holy spirit. For to you is the promise and to your children, and to all those afar, whosoever the Lord our God should be calling to Him’” (Acts 2:38-39 CV).
Notice that Peter instructs those who believed that Jesus was the Messiah and was raised from the dead (2:22-24; 32-33; 36) to repent and be baptized in order to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This repentance and baptism was an act of covenant renewal, just as it was in John the Baptist’s preaching, and as the washing of clothes and confession at Sinai initiated the covenant. The apostle Paul was not called till a number of years after the Pentecostal outpouring, and during this interim there were many Jewish people who believed in Christ, but the nation as a whole, with its leaders, did not believe in Christ. Israel’s national probation and offer of the kingdom was coming to an end.
In Ephesians 1:13-14 Paul wrote: “In Whom [Christ] you [Gentile believers] also—on hearing the word of truth, the evangel of your salvation—in Whom on believing also, you are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (which is an earnest of the enjoyment of our [Jewish believers] allotment.” Notice that for the Gentiles God’s Spirit is given without baptism or a specific act of repentance. This gift comes upon belief in Christ. This change accompanies the casting off of Israel as the chosen nation. With their covenant in abeyance, the covenant renewal aspects of the evangel are dropped. Now Jewish people as well as those of all nations may believe and be saved without observance of the Jewish law and ritual. It is a day of grace.
Another point deserving comment is that Paul emphasizes the idea of justification of believers. Under covenant regulations, trespasses of the covenant law could be pardoned or forgiven, but legally there was no room for unrestricted justification. There may be some synonymous use of these words, but differences in meaning still remain. Justification speaks of a relationship different from the Sinai covenant.
In the day when the statement was made that the persecutor Paul was evangelizing the faith he had ravaged, they were considering the primary element needed for the evangel: faith in Jesus Christ, and the fact that their salvation was founded on His faith. A Jewish believer could then continue in Judaism and add faith in Christ to his or her life. For the people of the nations it was the same: believe in Christ. But with the casting off of the Jewish nation, our future expectation was changed from what the Jewish expectation had been. Our citizenship was transferred to heaven. Things are different. But the common element of faith in Christ has always been the same. God brought about these changes, while at the same time keeping the basics simple for the common person—faith in Jesus Christ, and salvation based on His faith.
Continuing with Paul’s Negatives Preceding an Adversative
A1 “We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the nations,
B1 having perceived that a man is not being justified by works of law,
C1 except alone through the faith of Christ Jesus,
D we also believe in Christ Jesus
C2 that we may be justified by the faith of Christ
B2 and not by works of law;
A2 seeing that by works of law shall no flesh at all be justified” (Gal. 2:15, 16 CV).
A1, A2, B1 and B2 all have the negative not (ou), (given as no in A2). For the adversative in C1 we have except alone (ean mE) instead of but (alla), but the change of expression serves the same purpose. “Jews by nature” and “sinners of the nations” in A1 is balanced by “no flesh at all” in A2. B1 and B2 both contain the words “not by works of law.” C1 and C2 both contain the words “the faith of Christ.” The focal point, D, shows belief in Christ Jesus to be the pivotal point for justification.
Paul’s use of negatives continues with another slight variation in 3:28.
“…for you are all sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. For whoever are baptized into Christ, put on Christ,
in Whom there is no Jew nor yet Greek,
there is no slave nor yet free,
there is no male and female,
for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28 CV).
Here we have Paul’s same general approach but with a variation. There is no this nor that, there is no this nor that, there is no this and that, because all are something else. The word for, instead of the adversative but gives cause or reason instead of making the contrast. The word for calls us back to the theme of faith running throughout the letter.
“But what is the scripture saying? Cast out this maid and her son,
for by no means shall the son of the maid be enjoying the allotment with the son of the free woman.
Wherefore, brethren, we are not children of the maid,
but of the free woman” (Gal. 4:30, 31 CV).
Here we have a stronger negative, no means, followed by the not, and in turn followed by the adversative, but. To put this in perspective, Christ is the promised seed. No one can reject Christ and still enjoy the privileges promised to the seed. But believers are not the children of the maid—believers are not the rejecters of Christ.
“For in Christ Jesus
neither circumcision is availing anything,
but faith, operating through love” (Gal. 5:6 CV).
“For in Christ Jesus
nor uncircumcision is anything,
but a new creation” (Gal. 6:16 CV).
When we look at the first three occurrences of these double negatives followed by an adversative, and compare them with the final three, we see Paul’s theme to be continuous throughout. At first the negatives are concerned with man in the flesh. In closing the negatives include all mankind, but described under the terms of covenant and non-covenant people.
Phil Scranton 2019