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Galatians 1

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This chapter contains Paul’s salutation (Galatians 1:1-5), the dramatic introduction of his reason for writing the epistle, which was the developing apostasy of the Galatians (Gal. 6-10), a bold defense of his apostleship (Galatians 1:11-17), and the additional evidence of his independence and authority as an apostle (Galatians 1:18-24).

Verse 1

Paul an apostle (not from men, neither through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead).

Paul, an apostle… The great apostle to the Gentiles did not always stress his apostleship in the same manner as here; but he did so in letters to churches where he was unknown or where his authority was being questioned, as in the first verse of each of his letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians and Colossians. "In cases where the churches were thoroughly devoted to him, he dropped it altogether, as in the salutations in Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians.(F1) Of course, false teachers who were stealing the Galatians away from the truth were challenging Paul’s apostleship, making it most appropriate that he should have so vigorously stressed it here. "An apostle is a minister plenipotentiary."(F2)

Regarding the identity of those who were denying Paul’s apostolic authority among the Galatians, it is clear enough that they were Judaizers, "who were saying that Paul was not an original apostle, and that he derived his teaching from the Twelve."(F3)

Not from men, neither through man… This does not deny that human agency was involved in Paul’s conversion, for he was baptized by Ananias (Acts 22:12 ff). Sanday observed that:

The part of Ananias was too subordinate to introduce a human element into it; and the subsequent "separation" of Paul and Barnabas for their mission to the Gentiles, through the act of the church at Antioch, was dictated by the Holy Spirit, and did not confer a new office or new powers.(F4)

Furthermore, "The commission itself had first of all been uttered by Christ, not by Ananias."(F5)

It should be noted that Paul was not here making a distinction between himself and the other true apostles in Jerusalem. "For they did not owe their commission to man any more than he did."(F6) The truth affirmed here was two-fold: (a) Paul’s apostleship was on a full equality with that of the Twelve, and (b) it was genuine, as contrasted with that of the false teachers who were operating among the Galatians. Macknight believed that there is also in view here a denial that Paul had been appointed to the apostleship by the Twelve, as had been the case with Matthias. "He seems to have Peter and James in his eye, whom alone he saw at his first coming to Jerusalem after his conversion, and denies that he was appointed an apostle by them."(F7)

Who raised him from the dead… McGarvey was surely correct in pointing out that by this reference to the resurrection of Christ, "Paul paved the way(F8) for the principal theme of the epistle, which is justification through the faith of Jesus Christ, rather than by the Law of Moses.

One very hurtful interpretation of this verse is the following:

Paul’s commission came neither from a human source nor through man, but directly from and through God… Paul’s gospel rested on his personal relationship with God through Christ, and he was working it out in his own creative way.(F9)

Such a view would make Paul, not Christ, the author of Christianity, a proposition that Paul vehemently denied. Paul "received" a body of truth from the Lord Jesus Christ; and the gospel he preached is not anything that Paul "worked out" for himself. Not going beyond the things which were written (1 Corinthians 4:6) was a caution which Paul faithfully honored. Paul did not "evolve" his gospel, despite the insinuations to that effect. His gospel was revealed to him from on high. Furthermore, it was in no manner whatever any different from the gospel already being preached by the Twelve, except in the single particular of extending it to Gentiles. See under Galatians 1:23, below.

Verses 2-3

And all the brethren that are with me, unto the churches of Galatia, Grace to you and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

All the brethren… does not imply that Paul had discussed the situation in Galatia with his associates and that they concurred in his admonitions; on the contrary, as Wesley put it, "This phrase must be regarded as belonging exclusively to the greeting, and not to the exhortations which follow it.(F10) It is pointless to speculate on the identity of these "brethren." We simply do not know.

Churches of Galatia… It is remarkable that Paul did not address them as churches "of God" or "of Christ," possibly "because they did not deserve such honorable appellations because of their great defection."(F11) However, Paul’s omission of this usual designation does not deny it in their case but merely avoids emphasis of it. For the identity of these congregations, see the introduction. The view being followed in these studies is that they were the churches of southern Galatia, i.e., the ones founded on Paul’s first missionary tour.

Of deep significance are the tit]es of God and Christ in the third verse. Paul spoke of "the Father" when he had in mind the unique relationship between God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone in the New Testament referred to God as "my" Father, but who also taught his followers to pray "our" Father. Paul often used "our Father" in his epistles (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Philp. 1:3; Philemon 1:3).

"Jesus" is the transliteration of the Hebrew name Joshua, meaning Jehovah is salvation, or Jehovah is Saviour; and "Christ" is the Greek rendition of the Hebrew word Messiah, meaning anointed.(F12)

"Lord" is the translation of a Greek term [@Kurios], and it had at first a number of secondary meanings; but the Christians, from the very first, applied the term to Christ in the sense of absolute Deity. Thus, Thomas said of Christ, "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28); Peter on Pentecost preached of Jesus that God had made him "Lord" (Acts 2:36); and again, in the home of Cornelius, said, "He is Lord of all" (Acts 10:36). Paul’s use of "Lord" in the exalted sense in this epistle a bare twenty years after the resurrection of Christ shows that from the very first and reaching far back into the Lord’s personal ministry, the exalted meaning prevailed. Jesus, from the very first, used the title of himself in the sense of the All-Powerful One. Thus, "Many shall say to me in that day (that is, the judgment day), Lord, Lord, etc." (Matthew 7:22). For more extensive commentary on this title, see the introduction to my Commentary on Luke.

Verse 4

Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father.

Who gave himself… The essential Christian doctrine of Christ’s vicarious sacrifice of himself to save people from sin is here emphasized in order to contrast the true source of salvation in Christ with the false premise of the Judaizers which made redemption to depend upon observing forms and ceremonies of the Law of Moses. In the last clause of this verse, Paul noted that Christ’s giving himself was according to the will of God. For seven centers of initiative in the crucifixion of Christ see my Commentary on Romans 3:25-26. The word "ransom" is used of this sacrifice of Christ in Matt. 28:28, Mark 10:45, and in 1 Timothy 2:6. As Sanday observed, "It was a sacrifice for sinners, wrought in their behalf for their benefit, a sacrifice wrought in their stead. He suffered in order that they might not suffer."(F13) Paul’s stressing this here was for the purpose of "convincing the Galatians that the pardon of sin was not to be obtained by the Levitical atonements, nor by any service prescribed in the Law."(F14)

Deliver… suggests rescue from a state of utter helplessness. However, the deliverance made possible in Christ is not universally applicable to sinners apart from their response to the gospel. As Howard put it, "Such a rescue is not the universal and automatic consequence of the cross, but is a provided possibility."(F15)

This present evil world… The world is evil in the sense of its populations being largely dominated by the influence of Satan. As an apostle said, "The whole world lieth in the evil one" (1 John 5:19). This has always been true, but there was a special sense in which the world of Paul’s day was "evil." The pagan culture of the ancient Roman empire represented the culmination of long centuries of mankind’s turning away from God and walking in darkness.

Verse 5

To whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The paramount function of all created things is to glorify God. It is true of the material universe. "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalms 19:1). It is true of the angels; for when they appeared at the birth of Christ, their song was "Glory to God in the highest" (Luke 2:14). It is even true of all the lower forms of life.

And every creature which is in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing and honor and glory and power be to him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever (Revelation 5:13).


Where myriad waterfowl with thunderous wings

Ascend to climb dawn’s flaming stair,

The oratorio of all created things

Is heard upon the morning air.

Where velvet footsteps march beneath the shade

Of mammoth trees and move along

The resinous forest’s colonnade,

God hears the thrilling Glory Song.

Where countless life-forms teem the ocean floor,

Is sung God’s glory in the sea,

A mighty chorus shore to shore

To justify their right to be.

Where Pleiades and Morning Star adorn

The arch of heaven, even there,

From Creation’s birthday morn,

God’s glory sings, and EVERYWHERE!

— James Burton Coffman, 1962

Since the very purpose of man’s existence is to glorify God, it follows that when man circumvents or countermands this purpose, he forfeits his right to live. Man cannot rise in his own strength alone, but must place his hand in the hand of his Creator, and like Enoch of old, learn to walk with God. How profound is the thought that man at last may attain eternal fellowship with the Father. What joys unspeakable are implied in this!

Amen… As Cole observed:

Amen, like Hosanna, Hallelujah, Maranatha and Abba, is one of the "fossilized survivals" of Hebrew and Aramaic language of worship, transmitted through the New Testament Greek-speaking church to the later Latin-speaking church, and ultimately to most languages of earth(F16)

For further comment on "Amen," see my Commentary on Hebrews 13:25.

Verse 6

I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel.

Hendriksen pointed out that it was Paul’s manner to commend before he began to condemn";(F17) but there is nothing like that here. In the very place where commendation was usually written, Paul thundered his indignant astonishment at a fully developed and continuing apostasy of his beloved converts among the Galatians. As Wesley said, "The Greek word here rendered marvel usually expressed surprise at something blameworthy."(F18)

Ye are so quickly removing… The present tense indicates that the defection of the Galatians was well under way and still going on. There are several possible meanings of this clause: (a) It refers to moral speed,(F19) that is, they were more quickly accepting the false teaching than they had accepted the gospel at first; (b) it means, "So soon after Paul’s visit to them";(F20) or (c) it means, "So soon after their conversion." There is no certain way to know exactly what shade of meaning Paul had in mind; and, for this reason, it is precarious to build a theory regarding the date of this epistle on any alleged meaning of this clause.

The reason why Paul speedily moved to attack and destroy the rampant heresy involved a number of facts, the details of which he would set forth in the bulk of the epistle. As Coad said, "The new teaching was retrograde, a return to bondage (Galatians 5:1)."(F21) To surrender to the Judaizers was to negate the glory of the cross of Christ and to make the death of Christ on Calvary of no effect. It should be constantly borne in mind that the error Galatians was designed to correct was that of grafting Judaism into Christianity. There is absolutely nothing in this letter which may legitimately be construed as the stressing of "faith only" as opposed to "faith and obedience" as proclaimed in the Christian gospel from the beginning. Paul was not here giving a revised Christian doctrine, but defending the true doctrine already known and preached, from the encroachments of Judaism. Some of the comment one encounters regarding Galatians misses this very important point.

Verse 7

Which is not another gospel; only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

This verse should be read in close connection with the previous one. Regarding the exact meaning, Ramsay preferred as the simplest and best, "that which the English Revised Version (1885) gives in the margin,"(F22) giving the thought thus: "A different gospel which is nothing else save that there are some that trouble you and would pervert the gospel of Christ." There is no hint in this passage that Paul actually considered Judaism "another gospel" in any genuine sense. See note regarding "Another Gospel" at end of this chapter.

A sample of the erroneous and irresponsible comment foisted upon this passage is the following:

(The false teaching) was surely a teaching according to which men are saved through faith plus law-works, a perversion of the true gospel which proclaims the glad tidings of salvation (by grace) through faith alone.(F23)

Such a view is untrue, misleading, and anti-Scriptural. A New Testament writer flatly declared that people are not justified "by faith alone" (James 2:24); and no scholar has a right to contradict the New Testament. Note the expression "law-works," used to make it appear that Paul belittled the Christian ordinances; but it is not Christian ordinances and commands which Paul was denouncing, but works of the Law of Moses. We have reason to be thankful for brilliant scholars like R. E. Howard who spoke out against the heresy that people attempted to import into this passage, saying:

The logical implication of justification by faith alone is antinomianism, against which Paul vehemently objected… His repeated warning that wrong living excluded men from God’s kingdom should leave no doubt as to his attitude… The new faith provided the only adequate means for ethical conduct, rather than absolving men from that responsibility.(F24)

Any person familiar with the meaning of ordinary words must know that salvation "by faith alone" means salvation without obeying the Christian ordinances, without holiness, without moral conduct, without respect for any Christian duty, without the church and without the new birth or anything else. Such is the meaning of the word "alone" or its equivalent "only." The only religious error ever known which rivals that of so-called salvation "by faith only" is the Christian Science proposition that there is no pain, sickness or death!

Them that trouble you… Vine stated that the word thus rendered by this verse means "subverting the souls of believers by evil doctrine."(F25) The exact characteristics of the evil teaching going on among the Galatians were gleaned from this epistle by David Lipscomb thus:

It puts in bondage (Galatians 2:4), causes entanglement (Galatians 5:1), could not bring justification (Galatians 2:16), or freedom (Galatians 5:1); it made Christ of no profit (Galatians 5:2), and it made the death of Christ, which is the very essence of the gospel, a superfluous thing of no account (Galatians 2:21); and in addition to providing no blessing whatever, it puts men under a curse (Galatians 3:10); and all who accepted it fell from grace (Galatians 5:4)(F26)

Verse 8

But though we or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel, other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema.

Paul’s indignation here stood upon the very highest ground. "It is not on account of antagonism to himself, but antagonism to the truth. Though he himself should fall away from it, the truth must still be supreme."(F27) In fact, supposing that he himself should defect from the truth, Paul invoked upon his own head the curse of God.

An angel from heaven… McGarvey pointed out that the word of Christ was superior to that of angels who had ministered the old covenant, and "The sayings of Jesus were weightier than the words of angels in this very respect."(F28) This probably accounts for Paul injecting the thought of angels into this passage. Also, as Cole said, "Paul may be using this word to show them the possibility of Satan himself appearing as an angel of light to deceive them."(F29) It will be remembered that when Peter proposed to Christ the elimination of the cross, our Lord said, "Get thee behind me, Satan" (Mark 8:33).

Anathema… Some have sought to soften the meaning of this word, but there can be no doubt that it is the strongest curse that can be uttered, having the meaning of "yielded up to the wrath of God, surrendered to the curse of God."(F30)

The gospel which we preached… It is a gross error to suppose that Paul’s gospel was different from that proclaimed by all the Twelve, although it is true that Paul had a more accurate understanding of its being for Gentiles and not restricted to Jews only. Paul wrote, "According to my gospel" (Romans 2:16); but he meant it was his in the sense of "my God" (Philippians 4:9) and "my Lord" (Philippians 3:8). Of the same gospel, he wrote that it is "our gospel"; (2 Thessalonians 2:14). In Galatians 1:23, Paul’s gospel was exactly the same gospel that was being preached by others while he was yet a persecutor. Thus, "Paul was referring to his gospel in opposition to all counterfeits,"(F31) especially persistent Judaism. Even here, Paul did not say, "the gospel I preach," but "the gospel we preach." Dummelow affirmed that the "we," both here and in the following verse, is epistolary;(F32) but it seems mandatory to read it as Paul’s conscious intention of including the other apostles as also being preachers of the true gospel.

In later historical times, "anathema" came to refer to excommunication by ecclesiastical authority; but "this curse may not be thought of as anything like that; after all, an angel too is hypothetically involved."(F33) No angel was ever subject to ecclesiastical discipline.

Verse 9

As we have said before, so say I now again, If any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema.

In this verse Paul applied the curse concretely to the false teachers operating among the Galatians at that very moment. This verse is not a curse upon some hypothetical violator, but upon the guilty perverters preaching error at that very moment. This progression from the general to the specific dramatically emphasized the fatal danger of surrendering to Judaism.

Verse 10

For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? or am I striving to please men? if I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.

Seeking the favor of men… Paul brought into view in these words the bitter human opposition that accompanied his preaching everywhere he went. "His patient endurance made manifest that he was a genuine minister of Christ.(F34) "Paul here showed the utter inconsistency of service of men (in sense of trying to curry favor).(F35)

If I were still pleasing men… The adverb here "marks the contrast between his position before and since conversion.(F36) Yes, when Paul was a Pharisee, he attempted to serve God and please people at the same time, but no such thing was possible for the Christian apostle.

Servant of Christ… The word actually means "bondservant" or "slave"; and with Paul it was no pious pretense. He truly served the Lord.

Verses 11-12

For I make known unto you, brethren, as touching the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s affirmation that he possessed a personal revelation from the Lord of glory which had endowed him with full and complete knowledge of the gospel was indeed bold and astonishing. It cannot be wondered that some of his contemporaries were concerned about whether or not he could be trusted in this; but it should always be borne in mind that the great miracles which the apostle Paul performed all over the Roman Empire confirmed and authenticated his message. There has not arisen another like him since New Testament times. None of the so-called "inspired" leaders of current times is worthy to be compared with Paul. As Howard expressed it:

The revelation of the written word is unique. It is terminal and not continuous. Paul’s audacious claims were fully substantiated by the Holy Spirit. Our task is not to add to the written revelation, but to understand it and explain it.(F37)

Of course, Paul would at once offer proof to substantiate so bold a declaration; and, first of all, he appealed to the record which was open and to be read by all people concerning what the gospel had wrought in his own amazing life.

Verses 13-14

For ye have heard of my manner of life in times past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and made havoc of it: and I advanced in the Jews’ religion beyond many of mine own age among my countrymen, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

In these two verses, "Paul was saying that no human persuasion could ever have been able to impart the gospel to such a confirmed and ferocious persecutor.(F38) Only the power of God could have done such a thing. And what was that power? It was noted above that the Spirit of God through the enabling of power to work miracles had confirmed the fact of Paul’s having the revelation from Christ (Galatians 1:12); but it should be carefully noted that the Holy Spirit did not convey the revelation, for that was done personally by Christ. The function of the Holy Spirit, even in the Twelve, was not that of conveying God’s truth to them, but that of helping them remember the truth Christ conveyed; and the same fact is in evidence with reference to the revelation Paul had received from Christ, not from the Holy Spirit. See extensive comment on this exceedingly important truth in my Commentary on John 16:13. The Lord revealed that the Holy Spirit "shall not speak of himself’ (John 16:13), meaning that power to convey gospel truth did not reside in the Third Person of the Godhead. There were limitations upon the Second Person during his incarnation (Matthew 24:36); and, similarly, there were limitations upon the Spirit’s power in human beings.

The proposition that the Holy Spirit operated upon Paul directly, independently of the word which Christ delivered to humanity, is a contradiction of everything in the New Testament. If the Spirit could have done such a thing, it would not have been necessary at all for Christ to come into this world in the first place, nor would it have been necessary for him to appear personally to Saul of Tarsus. Paul received a full knowledge of the gospel in exactly the same manner as the Twelve received it, i.e., from Christ himself, as Paul affirmed in Galatians 1:12; and the function of the Holy Spirit in Paul was to enable Paul to remember all that Jesus said, exactly as in the case of the Twelve (John 14:26). Since the personal appearance of Christ to Saul of Tarsus, and later to John the apostle, in all ages since, the Holy Spirit has never conveyed a single new truth to any person whomsoever; and, as always, the Spirit’s function even in those instances was to enable truth to be remembered and not to convey it. So-called "spirituals" in our own times have nothing except the sacred Scripture; because, if they did have truth to convey to others, the Spirit of God would confirm it with the power to do "signs and wonders and mighty deeds," as he did in the case of Paul and the Twelve. They were guided into "all truth" (John 16:13).

I persecuted the church… This went even further than many Pharisees were willing to go. "The ravening wolf of Benjamin"(F39) was "laying waste the church." Paul here declared "ye have heard" of this, indicating the notorious nature of his conduct, and also, perhaps, that "He brought his own career and experience into his preaching (as in this epistle), so that they may have heard it from his own lips."(F40) Paul’s persecution of the church was totally the equivalent of persecuting Christ personally (Acts 22:8). Cole elaborated on this thus:

Opposition to the church is not only opposition to Jesus the Messiah… It is opposition to God, who in the Old Testament had chosen Israel as his "company," and who now has chosen the Christian church, whether Jew or Gentile.(F41)

The Jews’ religion… "The Judaism," as it is in the Greek, includes both the divine original as conveyed through Moses and the prophets and also that incredibly large body of traditions and elaborations of it which had been added by the religious hierarchy of Israel, the latter coming in time to surpass (in their eyes) the importance of the God-given law itself, making it "of no effect" (Mark 7:13; Matthew 15:6). Paul’s here speaking of Judaism as something apart from Christianity shows that within two decades after the resurrection of Christ the term had become synonymous with opposition to Christianity. However, since Jews were the first Christians and have always been welcome to accept Christ, the term "Jews," as used here and extensively in John, has religious rather than racial overtones. The blunder of the Medieval church in blurring this distinction is one of the great tragedies of all time. Some scholars, including Lipscomb, believed that Paul here referred exclusively to the Pharisaical additions to God’s law; but it is an obvious truth that he exceeded his countrymen in knowledge of the divine law itself, as evidenced by his writings.

Church of God… Paul also referred to the community of believers as the church of Christ; and apparently the reason for making it "church of God" in this place was to emphasize that the church was not merely of Christ but also, in view of Christ’s oneness and equality with God (a fact the Judaizers at work among the Galatians would deny), the Christians were "the congregation of God,"(F42) no less than being the church of Christ.

Exceedingly zealous … Acts 9:1 and Acts 22:4 reveal the murderous and fanatical persecution Paul mounted against Christianity, resulting in the death of "both men and women." Paul’s hatred of the church sprang from the vivid accuracy with which he saw the true nature of Judaism, the typical forms and ceremonies of which are simply irreconcilable with Christianity. The very heart of the sacred Law itself was typical and preparatory by nature; and Paul’s favorite words regarding it were: "abrogated, done away, taken away, annulled, etc." It was this aspect of Christianity, truly understood, which so antagonized and enraged Saul of Tarsus. As soon as he accepted Christ, he accepted the very first corollary of the faith, i.e., that as far as worshipping Almighty God is concerned, it is all over and done with for Judaism.

Verses 15-17

But when it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles; straightway I conferred not with flesh and blood; neither went I up to Jerusalem to them that were apostles before me: but I went away into Arabia, and again I returned unto Damascus.

The whole burden of Paul’s defense of his apostleship in this and in Galatians 2 was summarized thus by Hayes:

I was an apostle before I ever saw an apostle; I was recognized as an equal by the apostles the first time they ever met me or heard what gospel I preached … I have preached it with the official sanction of the apostles, and I have preached it in defiance of the apostles (Galatians 2:14). I am an apostle of God, and my gospel is the gospel of God.(F43)

The revelation which Jesus Christ gave personally to Paul was exactly the same as that given to the Twelve. Paul did not claim superiority to them but equality with them, and that implies the equality of the revelation to himself with that of the Twelve. Since the three verses above concern the source of Paul’s revelation, there is a strong inference that Arabia was the place where Christ met him to expound the truth of the gospel. It could also have been there that Paul experienced the visit (whether in the body or out of it being unknown) to the third heaven and to Paradise. It should be carefully noted that the revelation did not "flash into Paul’s mind," as some claim; but it was conveyed personally by Jesus Christ our Lord.

Called me through his grace… It was not the Holy Spirit which called Paul, for Paul himself taught that the Spirit was an endowment only of those already sons of God; and, as always in the New Testament, the call of God means God’s invitation accepted. Paul became a Son of God in the same manner as all Christians, by believing, repenting, confessing Christ and being baptized into him (Acts 22:16).

I conferred not with flesh and blood… Tenney noted that this is a figure of speech, called synecdoche, in which some significant and essential part is used to identify the whole.(F44) The meaning is, "I did not confer with any human being." Sanday also detected a special meaning in "conferred," as used here. "The Greek word contains the idea of taking counsel in a personal interview, much as we now use the word apply in the phrase to apply to a person."(F45) Paul did not apply to the Twelve for permission to accept his call from Christ to the apostleship.

Nothing of the length of time Paul spent in Arabia is known except that from the time of his conversion at Damascus and his preaching in that city for an undetermined length of time, until his escape from the plot under Aretas, was three years, including the sojourn in Arabia.

Verse 18

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and tarried with him fifteen days.

This and the following verses were added by Paul as an explanation of what he had just said and to checkmate any denial of it by any one who might have known about the trip in view here. He noted that it was three whole years after he had become a preaching apostle and that even then he saw only Peter and James, the purpose being in no sense whatever to apply to them or to complete his knowledge of the gospel, but just in order to become acquainted. Ramsay says the word "visit" here was "used by those who go to see great and famous cities."(F46) He also quoted Lightfoot and Chrysostom as maintaining the same thing. So Paul went to see two of the most distinguished persons in the early church in the same way one would go to see any celebrity. John Wesley also insisted that the word "implied the desire to see a celebrity."(F47) That so busy and distinguished a person as Peter would have devoted an entire fifteen days to Paul shows that he received and entertained him as an equal, and not merely as some appellant seeking a favor.

Verses 19-20

But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’ s brother. Now touching the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.

Save James … The frequent persecutions might have caused the other apostles to be absent from the city; or they might have been engaged in various preaching missions in Judea. Later, even Peter was forced to flee the city.

The Lord’s brother … This was one of the persons mentioned as brothers and sister of Jesus, i.e., children born to Mary and Joseph subsequent to the birth of Christ (Matthew 13:55). For detailed comment see my Commentary on Matthew 1:24. He became the official leader of the congregation in Jerusalem; nevertheless, his being called an apostle here must be understood (a) either as a complimentary title bestowed upon him by the early church due to his close personal relation to Jesus, or (b) because he was an apostle in the secondary sense, like Barnabas. James was not a plenary apostle like the Twelve and Paul.

Before God, I lie not… Paul considered the information he conveyed here as paramount in importance and appealed to God who knows the hearts of all people, indicating the absolute truth and sincerity of his words.

Verse 21

Then I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

It is hard to be patient with commentators who find some big "difficulty" in equating what is said here with the Lukan account in Acts, where it is related that the brethren, fearing for Paul’s life, "brought him down to Caesarea and sent him forth to Tarsus" (Acts 9:30). There is no difficulty. Tarsus is the chief city of Cilicia; and that was exactly where Luke says Barnabas found Paul and brought him to Antioch, the capital of Syria; and the fact of the order of Paul’s going to those places (in Acts) was Cilicia and Syria, whereas here, it is Syria and Cilicia, is nothing but a quibble. Since it had been at Antioch in Syria where Paul had bestowed the new name on the followers of Christ (Acts 11:26), and as Antioch was the sponsoring congregation who sent him forth on his mission to the Gentiles, it was only natural that Syria should have been mentioned ahead of Cilicia in this place.

Verse 22

And I was still unknown by face unto the churches of Judea which were in Christ.

There is a distinction between Judea and Jerusalem. In all probability, Paul would not have been in that city some two or three Lord’s days without visiting the church there; but, as the Jews were trying to kill him, it could be that he had attended worship as inconspicuously as possible. No matter how one reads it, what Paul said here was true.

In Christ… As often pointed out in this series of commentaries, this is one of the most meaningful phrases in the New Testament. Stamm noted that "It is Paul’s most unique phrase, being used 164 times in Paul’s letters."(F48) John Mackay placed the number at 169.(F49) Most commentators either ignore it altogether or, after noting it, give no adequate evaluation of it. Therefore, the following from Ridderbos is especially welcome:

As a matter of fact, this in Christ represents, in a remarkable and comprehensive way, the whole profound view which Paul unfolds in his letters concerning the significance for believers of the salvation that has appeared in Christ.(F50)

Without exception, all Christians are those, and those only, who have been "baptized into Christ." For extensive discussions of this exceedingly important premise, see my Commentary on Romans 3:22

Verse 23

But they only heard say, He that once persecuted us now preacheth the faith of which he once made havoc.

Nothing in the New Testament more emphatically nails down the fact that Paul did not "bring a brand-new way of salvation." The gospel he preached was exactly the truth he persecuted. The conflict which underlies Paul’s extensive writings on faith vs. law is not a conflict between two ways of understanding the gospel; but it is a conflict between the one faith vs. the Law of Moses as interpreted by the Judaizers who made keeping it necessary and essential unto salvation (Acts 15:1).

If one might be permitted to speculate upon the reason why Almighty God moved to supplement the personnel of the original Twelve by the addition of Paul, the reason must be sought in the fact that in one essential particular the Twelve did not fully comprehend the absolute freedom (a term Paul himself used to describe the break in Romans 7:1 ff) of Christianity from the totality of Judaism. That God Almighty could not allow, no matter what miracles were involved in order to prevent it. Paul was surely one of those miracles. Paul never went beyond Jesus’ revelation to the Twelve, except in the application of the gospel to all people, and to Gentiles in particular, instead of merely to the Jews. The reason Paul was able to do that did not derive from any difference in Christ’s revelation to himself and to the Twelve; for they had all received the same revelation Paul was given. Peter, for example, on Pentecost had plainly declared that the gospel was for "them that are afar off," obviously meaning Gentiles. The thing that enabled Paul more readily and effectively to apply this truth (although all of the apostles eventually succeeded in doing so) was his greater knowledge of the Old Testament, and in addition, many elements in the personality of the man himself.

Dummelow’s comment on this verse is illustrative of the type of thinking that often clutters the minds of scholars on this question. He wrote: "Preacheth the faith proclaims the necessity of trust in Christ as the sole essential to salvation!"(F51) Indeed, indeed! Paul was preaching the same gospel Peter preached, and Peter commanded believers to "repent and be baptized" in order to receive the remission of sins (Acts 2:38); and this verse is an affirmation that Paul preached exactly the same gospel.

Verse 24

And they glorified God in me.

For thoughts regarding the glory of God, see under Galatians 1:5. As Pink said, "To honor that blessed One whose we are and whom we serve, to so conduct myself that fellow saints glorify God in me, that is to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things (Titus 2:10)."(F52) Ridderbos commented on the fact that the churches of Judea glorified God in Paul, despite their having suffered so much at his hands "How different the attitude among the Galatians who had received only good from him."(F53) Such is the mystery of human behavior. Cole accurately pointed out the reason why those in Judea glorified God in Paul.

They recognized his gospel at once as that which they had preached.(F54)


Paul’s times were not unique in producing advocates of "another gospel," which in reality is "no gospel," but falsehood. Some advocate the gospel of salvation by morality, supposing that the only requirement for eternal life is to live respectably before one’s contemporaries. Others advocate the gospel of an infallible church, whereas no church was ever infallible, not even any that were founded, or planted, by the apostles themselves, as detailed in the first chapters of Revelation. Still others preach the gospel of salvation by faith only, notwithstanding the fact that such a so-called gospel is anti-Scriptural, delusive, deceitful and contrary to everything in the New Testament. The great fad of our own times is the gospel of humanism, which deifies man himself, leaves the Son of God completely out of consideration, and equates humanitarian and charitable works with God’s unqualified approval, despite the truth that no present-day humanitarian may lay claim to any better service than that rendered by Cornelius, who was a lost man until he obeyed the gospel.

Contrasting with all such false gospels is the only one true and eternal gospel of Jesus Christ revealed in the New Testament; and if one desires to know what it is and receive its blessings, he must find it here, and having found it: (a) believe the great facts it reveals, (b) obey its commandments, and (c) receive its glorious promises! Amen!

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Galatians 1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/galatians-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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