In Galatians 1:19, is Paul saying he saw no apostles except James or only James?
The best way to understand it is that he only saw James, and none of the other apostles while he was in Jerusalem. The context helps us to understand why this is so important to Paul. It seemed that everywhere he went he had to defend himself against Judaizers (Jews who believed Christians must become circumcised and follow Moses’ Law) and “super-apostles” who were more slick speakers than true ministers of God. They were all about show instead of ministry.
Because he had to defend his ministry so often, Paul was trying to explain that the message he received was from God and not people, especially the apostles. He wasn’t their lackey. He was a bona fide apostle commissioned and sent by Christ.
His authority is one of the most important things as an apostle. It allows him to speak for Christ in the situations the church is raised. They had to believe that he was a true apostle or they would not listen to him and they would go rogue.
If we take Galatians 1:10 to be the beginning of this discussion of Paul’s true ministry, he says that he is not in the business of serving and impressing people. He is all about the one Lord Jesus Christ. He only wanted to please Jesus and have Jesus approve of him and his ministry.
The proof he gives is in the following verses, Galatians 1:11-23. Galatians 1:11-12 tells the Galatians that he received the gospel from Jesus himself. He recounts his former life where he persecuted the church. Such a dramatic change in his life shows the truth of what he is saying. Meeting Jesus in person on the road to Damascus changed everything for Paul.
He switched from being in an enemy of the church to one of its greatest leaders. Only Jesus can do that (Galatians 1:13-16). He further explains that immediately after he met Jesus and became a follower, he went into ministry in Arabia (Galatians 1:17-18). He didn’t consult with any other person, even the apostles in Jerusalem. He went about doing whatever the Lord told him to do.
The fact that he had no human contact after his conversion until three years later shows that Jesus gave him his message and he didn’t just repeat what the apostles in Jerusalem had taught him (Galatians 1:18). He was taught by Christ.
In total, Paul only met with Peter and James (Galatians 1:18-19). He stayed with Peter for 15 days and then he met James. He didn’t spend any time with the other apostles in Jerusalem. Peter is the apostle to the Jews and James is the leader and pastor of the Jerusalem church. They were probably the most authoritative apostles in Jerusalem.
The reason he points them out is because even after he met them, three years later, and told them his message and what he does, they approved of his entire ministry. He didn’t need the approval of men, but it also gave proof to the churches because he was an enemy of the church before his conversion (Galatians 1:21-24).
Sometimes we need more reassurance from people we can trust. But we must always trust God first and foremost. This reassurance and report from the apostles not only validated Paul’s ministry that was happening already, but it also gave him an open door to preach and minister to these churches that were afraid of him before his conversion.