Tuesday, May 30th, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible Barnes' Notes
These files are public domain.
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Galatians 1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ bnb/ galatians-1.html. 1870.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Galatians 1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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The main design of Paul in this chapter, is to show that he had received his call to the apostleship, not from man, but from God. It had been alleged (see the introduction to Galatians) that the apostles at Jerusalem possessed the most elevated rank, and the highest authority in the Christian church; that they were to be regarded as the fountains and the judges of the truth; that Paul was inferior to them as an apostle; and that they who inculcated the necessity of circumcision, and the observance of the rites of Moses, were sustained by the authority and the examples of the apostles at Jerusalem.
To meet this statement was the design of this first chapter. Paul’s grand object was to show that he was not appointed by human beings; that he had not been commissioned by human beings; that he had not derived his instructions from human beings; that he had not even consulted with them; but that he had been commissioned and taught expressly by Jesus Christ, and that when the apostles at Jerusalem had become acquainted with him, and with his views and plans of labor, long after he had begun to preach, they had fully concurred with him. This argument comprises the following parts:
I. The solemn declaration, that he was not commissioned by human beings, and that he was not, in any sense, an apostle of man, together with the general salutation to the churches in Galatia; Galatians 1:1-5.
II. The expression of his astonishment that the Galatians had so soon forsaken his instruction, and embraced another gospel; and a solemn declaration that whoever preached another gospel was to he held accursed; Galatians 1:6-10. Twice he anathematizes those who attempt to declare any other way of justification than that which consisted in faith in Christ, and says that it was no gospel at all. It was to he held as a great and fixed principle, that there was but one way of salvation; and no matter who attempted to preach any other, he was to be held accursed.
III. To show, therefore, that he was not appointed by human beings, and that he had not received his instructions from human beings, but that he had preached the truth directly revealed to him by God, and that which was, therefore, immutable and eternal, he goes into a statement of the manner in which he was called into the ministry, and made acquainted with the gospel; Galatians 1:11-24.
(a) He affirms, that he was not taught it by man, but by the express revelation of Jesus Christ; Galatians 1:11-12.
(b) He refers to his former well-known life, and his zeal in the Jewish religion; showing how much he had been formerly opposed to the gospel; Galatians 1:13-14.
(c) He says that he had been separated, by the divine purpose, from his mother’s womb, to be a preacher of the gospel, and that when he was called to the ministry, he had no conference with any human being, as to what he was to preach; he did not go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were older apostles, but he retired far from them into Arabia, and thence, again returned to Damascus; Galatians 1:15-17.
(d) After three years, he says, he did indeed go to Jerusalem; but he remained there only fifteen days, and saw none of the apostles but Peter and James; Galatians 1:18-19. His views of the gospel were formed before that; and that he did not submit implicitly to Peter, and learn of him, he shows in Galatians 2:0, where he says, he “withstood him to the face.”
(e) After that, he says, he departed into the regions of Cilicia, in Asia Minor, and had no opportunity of conference with the churches which were in Judea. Yet they heard that he who had been formerly a persecutor, had become a preacher, and they glorified God for it; Galatians 1:20-24. Of course, he had had no opportunity of deriving his views of religion from them; he had been in no sense dependent on them; but so far as they were acquainted with his views, they concurred in them. The sum of the argument, therefore, in this chapter is, that when Paul went into Cilicia and the adjacent regions, he had never seen but two of the apostles, and that for only a short time; he had never seen the apostles together; and he had never received any instructions from them. His views of the gospel, which he had imparted to the Galatians, he had derived directly from God.
Paul an apostle - See the note at Romans 1:1. This is the usual form in which he commences his epistles; and it was of special importance to commence the Epistle in this manner, because it was one design to vindicate his apostleship, or to show that he had received his commission directly from the Lord Jesus.
Not of men - “Not from ἀπ ̓ ap' men.” That is, he was not “from” any body of people, or commissioned by people. The word apostle means “sent,” and Paul means to say, that he was not “sent” to execute any purpose of human beings, or commissioned by them. His was a higher calling; a calling of God, and he had been sent directly by him. Of course, he means to exclude here all classes of people as having had anything to do in sending him forth; and, especially, he means to affirm, that he had not been sent out by the body of apostles at Jerusalem. This, it will be remembered (see the introduction to Galatians) was one of the charges of those who had perverted the Galatians from the faith which Paul had preached to them.
Neither by man - “Neither by or through δι ̓ di' the instrumentality of any man.” Here he designs to exclude all people from having had any agency in his appointment to the apostolic office. He was neither sent out from any body of people to execute their purposes; nor did he receive his commission, authority, or ordination through the medium of any man. A minister of the gospel now receives his call from God, but he is ordained or set apart to his office by man. Matthias, the apostle chosen in the place of Judas Acts 1:26, received his call from God, but it was by the vote of the body of the apostles. Timothy was also called of God, but he was appointed to his office by the laying on the hands of the presbytery; 1 Timothy 4:14. But Paul here says, that he received no such commission as that from the apostles. They were not the means or the medium of ordaining him to his work. He had, indeed, together with Barnabas, been set apart at Antioch, by the brethren there Acts 13:1-3, for a “special mission” in Asia Minor; but this was not an appointment to the apostleship. He had been restored to sight after the miraculous blindness produced by seeing the Lord Jesus on the way to Damascus, by the laying on of the hands of Ananias, and had received important instruction from him Acts 9:17, but his commission as an apostle had been received directly from the Lord Jesus, without any intervening medium, or any form of human authority, Acts 9:15; Acts 22:17-21; 1 Corinthians 9:1.
But by Jesus Christ - That is, directly by Christ. He had been called by him, and commissioned by him, and sent by him, to engage in the work of the gospel.
And God the Father - These words were omitted by Marcion, because, says Jerome he held that Christ raised himself from the dead. But there is no authority for omitting them. The sense is, that he had the highest possible authority for the office of an apostle; he had been called to it by God himself, who had raised up the Redeemer. It is remarkable here, that Paul associates Jesus Christ and God the Father, as having called and commissioned him. We may ask here, of one who should deny the divinity of Christ, how Paul could mention him as being equal with God in the work of commissioning him? We may ask further, how could he say that he had not received his call to this office from a man, if Jesus Christ were a mere man? That he was called by Christ, he expressly says, and strenuously maintains as a point of great importance. And yet, the very point and drift of his argument is, to show that he was not called by man. How could this be if Christ were a mere man?
Who raised him from the dead - See the notes at Acts 2:24, Acts 2:32. It is not quite clear why Paul introduces this circumstance here. It may have been:
And all the brethren which are with me - It was usual for Paul to associate with him the ministers of the gospel, or other Christians who were with him, in expressing friendly salutations to the churches to which he wrote, or as uniting with him, and concurring in the sentiments which he expressed. Though Paul claimed to be inspired, yet it would do much to conciliate favor for what he advanced, if others also concurred with what he said, and especially if they were known to the churches to which the epistles were written. Sometimes the names of others were associated with his in the Epistle; see the 1 Corinthians 1:1 note; Philippians 1:1 note; Colossians 1:1 note; 1 Thessalonians 1:1 note. Since we do not know where this epistle was written, of course we are ignorant who the “brethren” were, who are here referred to. They may have been ministers with Paul, or they may have been the private members of the churches. Commentators have been much divided in opinion on the subject; but all is conjecture. It is obviously impossible to determine.
Unto the churches - How many churches there were in Galatia is unknown. There were several cities in Galatia, as Ancyria, Tavia, Pessinus, etc. It is not improbable that a church had been established in each of the cities, and, since they were not far distant from each other, and the people had the same general character and habits, it is not improbable that they had fallen into the same errors. Hence, the Epistle is directed to them in common.
Grace be unto you ... - This is the usual apostolic salutation, imploring for them the blessing of God. See it fully explained in the notes at Romans 1:7.
Who gave himself for our sins - The reason why Paul so soon introduces this important doctrine, and makes it here so prominent, probably is, that this was the cardinal doctrine of the Christian religion, the great truth which was ever to be kept before the mind, and because this truth had been in fact lost sight of by them. They had embraced doctrines which tended to obscure it, or to make it void. They had been led into error by the Judaizing teachers, who held that it was necessary to be circumcised, and to conform to the whole Jewish ritual. Yet the tendency of all this was to obscure the doctrines of the gospel, and particularly the great truth that people can be justified only by faith in the blood of Jesus; Galatians 5:4; compare Galatians 1:6-7. Paul, therefore, wished to make this prominent - the very “starting point” in their religion; a truth never to be forgotten, that Christ gave himself for their sins, that he might deliver them from all the bad influences of this world, and from all the false systems of religion engendered in this world. The expression “who gave” (τοῦ δόντος tou dontos is one that often occurs in relation to the work of the Redeemer, where it is represented as a “gift,” either on the part of God, or on the part of Christ himself; see note on John 3:16; compare John 4:10; Rom 4:25; 2 Corinthians 9:15; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:25; Titus 2:14. This passage proves:
(1) That it was wholly voluntary on the part of the Lord Jesus. No one compelled him to come; no one could compel him. It is not too much to say, that God could not, and would not compel any innocent and holy being to undertake the great work of the atonement, and endure the bitter sorrows which were necessary to redeem man. God will compel the guilty to suffer, but he never will compel the innocent to endure sorrows, even on behalf of others. The whole work of redemption must be voluntary, or it could not be performed.
(2) It evinced great benevolence on the part of the Redeemer. He did not come to take upon himself unknown and unsurveyed woes. He did not go to work in the dark. He knew what was to be done. He knew just what sorrows were to be endured - how long, how keen, how awful. And yet, knowing this, he came resolved and prepared to endure all those woes, and to drink the bitter cup to the dregs.
(3) If there had not been this benevolence in his bosom, man must have perished forever. He could not have saved himself; and he had no power or right to compel another to suffer on his behalf; and even God would not lay this mighty burden on any other, unless he was entirely willing to endure it. How much then do we owe to the Lord Jesus; and how entirely should we devote our lives to him who loved us, and gave himself for us. The word “himself,” is rendered by the Syriac, “his life” (nafsh); and this is in fact the sense of the Greek, that he gave his “life” for our sins, or that he died in our stead. He gave his “life” up to toil, tears, privation, sorrow, and death, that he might redeem us. The phrase, “for our sins” (ὑπὲρ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν huper tōn hamartiōn hēmōn), means the same as on account of; meaning, that the cause or reason why he gave himself to death, was our sins; that is, he died because we are sinners, and because we could be saved only by his giving himself up to death. Many mss. instead of (ὑπὲρ huper), here read (περὶ peri), but the sense is not materially varied. The Syriac translates it, “who gave himself instead of,” by a word denoting that there was a “substitution” of the Redeemer in our place. The sense is, that the Lord Jesus became a vicarious offering, and died in the stead of sinners. It is not possible to express this idea more distinctly and unambiguously than Paul has done, in this passage. Sin was the procuring cause of his death; to make expiation for sin was the design of his coming; and sin is pardoned and removed only by his substituted suffering.
That he might deliver us - The word used here (ἐξέληται exelētai) properly means, to pluck out, to tear out; to take out from a number, to select; then to rescue or deliver. This is the sense here. He came and gave himself that he might “rescue or deliver” us from this present evil world. It does not mean to take away by death, or to remove to another world, but that he might effect a separation between us and what the apostle calls here, “this present evil world.” The grand purpose was, to rescue sinners from the dominion of this world, and to separate them unto God.
This present evil world - See John 17:15-16. Locke supposes, that by this phrase is intended the Jewish institutions, or the Mosaical age, in contradistinction from the age of the Messiah. Bloomfield supposes, that it means “the present state of being, this life, filled as it is with calamity, sin, and sorrow; or, rather, the sin itself, and the misery consequent upon it.” Rosenmuller understands by it, “the men of this age, Jews, who reject the Messiah; and pagans, who are devoted to idolatry and crime.” The word rendered “world” (αἰὼν aiōn), means properly “age,” an indefinitely long period of time; then eternity, forever. It then comes to mean the world, either present or future; and then the present world, as it is, with its cares, temptations, and desires; the idea of evil, physical and moral, being everywhere implied - Robinson, Lexicon; Matthew 13:22; Luke 16:8; Luke 20:34; Romans 12:2. Here it means the world as it is, without religion, a world of bad passions, false opinions, corrupt desires; a world full of ambition, and of the love of pleasure, and of gold; a world where God is not loved or obeyed; a world where people are regardless of right, and truth, and duty; where they live for themselves, and not for God; in short, that great community, which in the Scriptures is called the world, in contradistinction from the kingdom of God. That world, that evil world, is fall of sin; and the object of the Redeemer was to “deliver” us from that; that is, to effect a separation between his followers and that. It follows, therefore, that his followers constitute a unique community, not governed by the prevailing maxims, or influenced by the special feelings of the people of this world. And it follows, also, that if there is not in fact such a separation, then the purpose of the Redeemer’s death, in regard to us, has not been effected, and we are still a part of that great and ungodly community, the world.
According to the will of God ... - Not by the will of man, or by his wisdom, but in accordance with the will of God. It was His purpose that the Lord Jesus should thus give himself; and his doing it was in accordance with His will, and was pleasing in His sight. The whole plan originated in the divine purpose, and has been executed in accordance with the divine will. If in accordance with His will, it is good, and is worthy of universal acceptation.
To whom be glory ... - Let Him have all the praise and honor of the plan and its execution. It is not uncommon for Paul to introduce an ascription of praise in the midst of an argument: see the note at Romans 1:25. It results from the strong desire which he had, that all the glory should be given to God, and showed that he believed that all blessings had their origin in God, and that God should be always acknowledged.
I marvel - I wonder. It is remarked by Luther (his commentary at the place) that Paul uses as mild a word as possible here. He does not employ the language of severe reproof, but he expresses his astonishment that the thing should have occurred. He was deeply affected and amazed, that such a thing could have happened. They had cordially embraced the gospel; they had manifested the tenderest attachment for him; they had given themselves to God, and yet in a very short time they had been led wholly astray, and had embraced opinions which tended wholly to pervert and destroy the gospel. They had shown an instability and inconstancy of character, which was to him perfectly surprising.
That ye are so soon - This proves that the Epistle was written not long after the gospel was first preached to them. According to the general supposition, it could not have been more than from two to five years. Had it been a long and gradual decline; had they been destitute for years of the privileges of the gospel; or had they had time to forget him who had first preached to them, it would not have been a matter of surprise. But when it occurred in a few months; when their once ardent love for Paul, and their confidence in him had so soon vanished, or their affections become alienated, and when they had so soon embraced opinions tending to, set the whole gospel aside, it could not but excite Paul’s wonder. Learn hence, that men, professedly pious, and apparently ardently attached to the gospel, may become soon perverted in their views, and alienated from those who had called them into the gospel, and whom they professed tenderly to love. The ardor of the affections becomes cool, and some artful, and zealous, and plausible teachers of error seduce the mind, corrupt the heart, and alienate the affections. Where there is the ardor of the first love to God, there is also an effort soon made by the adversary, to turn away the heart from him; and young converts are commonly soon attacked in some plausible manner, and by art and arguments adapted to turn away their minds from the truth, and to alienate the affections from God.
So soon removed - Luther remarks that this is also a mild and gentle term. It implies that foreign influence had been used to turn away their minds from the truth. The word used here (μετατίθεσθε metatithesthe) means, “to transpose; to put in another place;” and then, “to go over from one party to another.” Their affections had become transferred to other doctrines than those which they had at first embraced, and they had moved off from the only true foundation, to one which would give them no support.
From him that called you - There has been great difference of opinion in regard to the sense of this passage. Some have supposed, that it refers to God; others to Christ; others to Paul himself. Either supposition makes good sense, and conveys an idea not contrary to the Scriptures in other places. Doddridge, Chandler, Clarke, Macknight, Locke, and some others refer it to Paul; Rosenmuller, Koppe, and others, suppose it refers to God; and others refer it to the Redeemer. The Syriac renders it thus: “I marvel that ye are so soon turned away from that Messiah (Christ) who has called you.” etc. It is not possible, perhaps, to determine the true sense. It does not seem to me to refer to Paul, as the main object of the Epistle is, not to show that they had removed from “him,” but from the “gospel” - a far more grievous offence; and it seems to me that it is to he referred to God. The reasons are:
Into the grace of Christ - Locke renders this, “into the covenant of grace which is by Christ.” Doddridge understands it of the method of salvation which is by or through the grace of Christ. There is no doubt that it refers to the plan of salvation which is by Christ, or in Christ; and the main idea is, that the scheme of salvation which they had embraced under his instruction, was one which contemplated salvation only by the grace or favor of Christ; and that from that they had been removed to another scheme, essentially different, where the grace of Christ was made useless and void. It is Paul’s object to show that the true plan makes Christ the great and prominent object; and that the plan which they had embraced was in this respect wholly different.
Unto another gospel - A gospel which destroys the grace of Christ; which proclaims salvation on other terms than simple dependence on the merits of the Lord Jesus; and which has introduced the Jewish rites and ceremonies as essential, in order to obtain salvation. The apostle calls that scheme the “gospel,” because it pretended to be; it was preached by those who claimed to be preachers of the gospel; who alleged that they had come direct from the apostles at Jerusalem, and who pretended to declare the method of salvation. It claimed to be the gospel, and yet it was essentially unlike the plan which he had preached as constituting the gospel. That which he preached, inculcated the entire dependence of the sinner on the merits and grace of Christ; that system had introduced dependence on the observance of the rites of the Mosaic system, as necessary to salvation.
Which is not another - There is also a great variety of views in regard to the meaning of this expression. Tyndale translates it: “which is nothing else but there be some that trouble you.” Locke, “which is not owing to anything else but only this, that ye are troubled with a certain sort of people who would overturn the gospel of Christ.” But Rosenmuller, Koppe, Bloomfield, and others, give a different view; and according to them the sense is, “which, however, is not another gospel, nor indeed the gospel at all, or true,” etc. According to this, the design was to state, that what they taught had none of the elements or characteristics of the gospel. It was a different system, and one which taught an entirely different method of justification before God. It seems to me that this is the true sense of the passage, and that Paul means to teach them that the system, though it was called the gospel, was essentially different from that which he had taught, and which consisted in simple reliance on Christ for salvation. The system which they taught, was in fact the Mosaic system; the Jewish mode, depending on the rites and ceremonies of religion; and which, therefore, did not deserve to be called the gospel. It would lead them again with burdensome rites, and with cumbrous institutions, from which it was the great purpose of the gospel to relieve them.
But there be some that trouble you - Though this is most manifestly another system, and not the gospel at all, yet there are some persons who are capable of giving trouble and of unsettling your minds, by making it plausible. They pretend that they have come direct front the apostles at Jerusalem; that they have received their instructions from them, and that they preach the true gospel as they teach it. They pretend that Paul was called into the office of an apostle after them; that he had never seen the Lord Jesus; that he had derived his information only from others; and thus they are able to present a plausible argument, and to unsettle the minds of the Galatians.
And would pervert - That is, the tendency of their doctrine is wholly to turn away (μεταστρέψαι metastrepsai), to destroy, or render useless the gospel of Christ. It would lead to the denial of the necessity of dependence on the merits of the Lord Jesus for salvation, and would substitute dependence on rites and ceremonies. This does not of necessity mean that such was the design of their teaching, for they might have been in the main honest; but that such was the tendency and result of their teaching. It would lead people to rely on the Mosaic rites for salvation.
But though we - That is, we the apostles. Probably, he refers particularly to himself, as the plural is often used by Paul when speaking of himself. He alludes here, possibly, to a charge which was brought against him by the false teachers in Galatia, that he had changed his views since he came among them, and now preached differently from what he did then; see the introduction. They endeavored probably to fortify their own opinions in regard to the obligations of the Mosaic law, by affirming, that though Paul when he was among them had maintained that the observance of the Law was not necessary to salvation, yet that he had changed his views, and now held the same doctrine on the subject which they did. What they relied on in support of this opinion is unknown. It is certain, however, that Paul did, on some occasions (see the note at Acts 21:21-26), comply with the Jewish rites, and it is not improbable that they were acquainted with that fact, and interpreted it as proving that he had changed his sentiments on the subject.
At all events, it would make their allegation plausible that Paul was now in favor of the observance of the Jewish rites, and that if he had ever taught differently, he must now have changed his opinion. Paul therefore begins the discussion by denying this in the most solemn manner. He affirms that the gospel which he had at first preached to them was the true gospel. It contained the great doctrines of salvation. It was to be regarded by them as a fixed and settled point, that there was no other way of salvation but by the merits of the Saviour. No matter who taught anything else; no matter though it be alleged that he bad changed his mind; no matter even though he should preach another gospel; and no matter though an angel from heaven should declare any other mode of salvation, it was to be held as a fixed and settled position, that the true gospel had been preached to them at first. We are not to suppose that Paul admitted that he had changed his mind, or that the inferences of the false teachers there were well-founded, but we are to understand this as affirming in the most solemn manner that the true gospel, and the only method of salvation, had been preached among them at first.
Or an angel from heaven - This is a very strong rhetorical mode of expression. It is not to be supposed that an angel from heaven would preach any other than the true gospel. But Paul wishes to put the strongest possible case, and to affirm in the strongest manner possible, that the true gospel had been preached to them. The great system of salvation had been taught; and no other was to be admitted, no matter who preached it; no matter what the character or rank of the preacher: and no matter with what imposing claims he came. It follows from this, that the mere rank, character, talent, eloquence, or piety of a preacher does not of necessity give his doctrine a claim to our belief, or prove that his gospel is true. Great talents may be prostituted; and great sanctity of manner, and even holiness of character, may be in error; and no matter what may be the rank, and talents, and eloquence, and piety of the preacher, if he does not accord with the gospel which was first preached, he is to be held accursed.
Preach any other gospel ... - See the note at Galatians 1:6. Any gospel that differs from that which was first preached to you, any system of doctrines which goes to deny the necessity of simple dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.
Let him be accursed - Greek ἀνάθεμα anathēma (anathema). On the meaning of this word, see the notes at 1Co 12:3; 1 Corinthians 16:22, note. It is not improperly here rendered “accursed,” or devoted to destruction.” The object of Paul is to express the greatest possible abhorrence of any other doctrine than that which he had himself preached. So great was his detestation of it, that, says Luther, “he casteth out very flames of fire, and his zeal is so fervent, that he beginneth almost to curse the angels.” It follows from this:
(1) That any other doctrine than what is proclaimed in the Bible on the subject of justification is to be rejected and treated with abhorrence, no matter what the rank, talent, or eloquence of him who defends it.
(2) That we are not to patronise or countenance such preachers. No matter what their zeal or their apparent sincerity, or their apparent sanctity, or their apparent success, or their real boldness in rebuking vice, we are to withdraw from them.
“Cease, my son,” said Solomon, “to hear the instruction that causes to err from the words of knowledge; Proverbs 19:27. Especially are we to withdraw wholly from that instruction which goes to deny the great doctrines of salvation; that pure gospel which the Lord Jesus and the apostle taught. If Paul would regard even an angel as doomed to destruction, and as held accursed, should he preach any other doctrine, assuredly we should not be found to lend our countenance to it, nor should we patronise it by attending on such a ministry. Who would desire to attend on the ministry of even an angel if he was to be held accursed? How much less the ministry of a man preaching the same doctrine! It does not follow from this, however, that we are to treat others with severity of language or with the language of cursing. They must answer to God. “We” are to withdraw from their teaching; we are to regard the doctrines with abhorrence; and we are not to lend our countenance to them. To their own master they stand or fall; but what must be the doom of a teacher whom an inspired man has said should be regarded as “accursed!” It may be added, how responsible is the ministerial office! How fearful the account which the ministers of religion must render! How much prayer, and study, and effort are needed that they may be able to understand the true gospel, and that they may not be led into error, or lead others into error.
As we said before - That is, in the previous verse. It is equivalent to saying, “as I have just said;” see 2 Corinthians 7:3. It cannot be supposed that he had said this when he was with them, as it cannot be believed that he then anticipated that his doctrines would be perverted, and that another gospel would be preached to them. The sentiment of Galatians 1:8 is here repeated on account of its importance. It is common in the Scriptures, as indeed it is everywhere else, to repeat a declaration in order to deepen the impression of its importance and its truth. Paul would not be misunderstood on this point. He would leave no doubt as to his meaning. He would not have it supposed that he had uttered the sentiment in Galatians 1:8 hastily; and he therefore repeats it with emphasis.
Than that ye have received - In the previous verse, it is, “that which we have preached.” By this change in the phraseology he designs, probably, to remind them that they had once solemnly professed to embrace that system. It had not only been “preached” to them, it had been “embraced” by them. The teachers of the new system, therefore, were really in opposition to the once avowed sentiments of the Galatians; to what they knew to be true. They were not only to be held accursed, therefore, because Paul so declared, but because they preached what the Galatians themselves knew to be false, or what was contrary to that which they had themselves professed to be true.
For do I now persuade men, or God? - The word “now” (ἄρτι arti) is used here, evidently, to express a contrast between his present and his former purpose of life. Before his conversion to Christianity, he impliedly admits, that it was his object to conciliate the favor of people; that he derived his authority from them Acts 9:1-2; that he endeavored to act so as to please them and gain their good esteem. But “now” he says, this was not his object. He had a higher aim. It was to please God, and to conciliate His favor. The object of this verse is obscure; but it seems to me to be connected with what follows, and to be designed to introduce that by showing that he had not now received his commission from human beings, but had received it from God. perhaps there may be an allusion to an implied allegation in regard to him. It may have been alleged (see the notes at the previous verses) that even he had changed his mind, and was now himself an observer of the laws of Moses. To this, perhaps, he replies, by this question, that such conduct would not have been inconsistent in his view, when it was his main purpose to please people, and when he derived his commission from them; but that now he had a higher aim.
His purpose was to please God; and he was not aiming in any way to gratify people. The word which is rendered “persuade” here (πείθω peithō), has been very variously interpreted. Tyndale renders it: “seek now the favor of men or of God?” Doddridge: “Do I now solicit the favor of men or of God?” This also is the interpretation of Grotius, Hammond, Elsner, Koppe, Rosenmuller, Bloomfield, etc. and is undoubtedly the true explanation. The word properly means to “persuade,” or to “convince”; Acts 18:4; Act 28:23; 2 Corinthians 5:11. But it also means, to bring over to kind feelings, to conciliate, to pacify, to quiet. Septuagint, 1 Samuel 24:8; 1 Samuel 2:0 Macc. 4:25; Act 12:20; 1 John 3:19. By the question here, Paul means to say, that his great object was now to “please God.” He desired God’s favor rather than the favor of man. He acted with reference to His will. He derived his authority from God, and not from the Sanhedrin or any earthly council. And the purpose of all this is to say, that he had not received his commission to preach from man, but had received it directly from God.
Or do I seek to please men? - It is not my aim or purpose to please people, and to conciliate their favor; compare 1 Thessalonians 2:4.
For if I yet pleased men - If I made it my aim to please people: if this was the regulating principle of my conduct. The word “yet” here (ἔτι eti) has reference to his former purpose. It implies that this had once been his aim. But he says if he had pursued that purpose to please people; if this had continued to be the aim of his life, he would not “now have been a servant of Christ. He had been constrained to abandon that purpose in order that he might be a servant of Christ; and the sentiment is, that in order that a man may become a Christian, it is necessary for him to abandon the purpose of pleasing people as the rule of his life. It may be implied also that if in fact a man makes it his aim to please people, or if this is the purpose for which he lives and acts, and if he shapes his conduct with reference to that, he cannot be a Christian or a servant of Christ. A Christian must act from higher motives than those, and he who aims supremely at the favor of his fellowmen has full evidence that he is not a Christian. A friend of Christ must do his duty, and must regulate his conduct by the will of God, whether people are pleased with it or not.
And it may be further implied that the life and deportment of a sincere Christian will not please people. It is not what they love. A holy, humble, spiritual life they do not love. It is true, indeed, that their consciences tell them that such a life is right; that they are often constrained to speak well of the life of Christians, and to commend it; it is true that they are constrained to respect a person who is a sincere Christian, and that they often put confidence in such a person; and it is true also that they often speak with respect of them when they are dead; but the life of an humble, devoted, and zealous Christian they do not love. It is contrary to their views of life. And especially if a Christian so lives and acts as to reprove them either by his words or by his life; or if a Christian makes his religion so prominent as to interfere with their pursuits or pleasures, they do not love it. It follows from this:
(1) That a Christian is not to expect to please people. He must not be disappointed, therefore, if he does not. His Master did not please the world; and it is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master.
(2) A professing Christian, and especially a minister, should be alarmed when the world flatters and caresses him. He should fear either:
It is a great point gained for the frivolous world, when it can, by its caresses and attentions, get a Christian to forsake a prayer-meeting for a party, or surrender his deep spirituality to engage in some political project. “Woe unto you,” said the Redeemer, “when all men speak well of you,” Luke 6:26.
(3) One of the main differences between Christians and the world is, that others aim to please people; the Christian aims to please only God. And this is a great difference.
(4) It follows that if people would become Christians, they must cease to make it their object to please people. They must be willing to be met with contempt and a frown; they must be willing to be persecuted and despised; they must he willing to lay aside all hope of the praise and the flattery of people, and be content with an honest effort to please God.
(5) True Christians must differ from the world. Their aims, feelings, purposes must be unlike the world. They are to be a special people; and they should be willing to be esteemed such. It does not follow, however, that a true Christian should not desire the good esteem of the world, or that he should be indifferent to an honorable reputation 1 Timothy 3:7; nor does it follow logically that a consistent Christian will not often command the respect of the world. In times of trial, the world will put confidence in Christians; when any work of benevolence is to be done, the world will instinctively look to Christians; and, notwithstanding, sinners will not love religion, yet they will secretly feel assured that some of the brightest ornaments of society are Christians, and that they have a claim to the confidence and esteem of their fellow-men.
The servant of Christ - A Christian.
But I certify you - I make known to you; or, I declare to you; see 1 Corinthians 15:1. Doubtless this had been known to them before, but he now assures them of it, and goes into an extended illustration to show them that he had not received his authority from man to preach the gospel To state and prove this is the main design of this chapter.
Is not after man - The Greek text: “Not according to man”; see Galatians 1:1. That is, he was not appointed by man, nor did he have any human instructor to make known to him what the gospel was. He had neither received it from man, nor had it been debased or adulterated by any human admixtures. He had received it directly from the Lord Jesus.
For I neither received it of man - This is very probably said in reply to his opponents, who had maintained that Paul had derived his knowledge of the gospel from other people, since he had not been personally known to the Lord Jesus, or been of the number of those whom Jesus called to be his apostles. In reply to this, he says, that he did not receive his gospel in any way from man.
Neither was I taught it - That is, by man. He was not taught it by any written account of it, or by the instruction of man in any way. The only plausible objection to this statement which could be urged would be the fact that Paul had an interview with Ananias Acts 9:17 before his baptism, and that he would probably receive instructions from him. But to this it may be replied:
But by the revelation of Jesus Christ - On his way to Damascus, and subsequently in the temple, Acts 22:17-21. Doubtless, he received communications at various times from the Lord Jesus with regard to the nature of the gospel and his duty. The sense here is, that he was not indebted to people for his knowledge of the gospel, but had derived it entirely from the Saviour.
For ye have heard of my conversation - My conduct, my mode of life, my deportment; see the note at 2 Corinthians 1:12. Probably Paul had himself made them acquainted with the events of his early years. The reason why he refers to this is, to show them that he had not derived his knowledge of the Christian religion from any instruction which he had received in his early years, or any acquaintance which he had formed with the apostles. At first, Paul had been decidedly opposed to the Lord Jesus, and had been converted only by God’s wonderful grace.
In the Jews’ religion - In the belief and practice of Judaism; that is, as it was understood in the time when he was educated. It was not merely in the religion of Moses, but it was in that religion as understood and practiced by the Jews in his time, when opposition to Christianity constituted a very material part of it. In that religion Paul proceeds to show that he had been more distinguished than most persons of his time.
How that beyond measure - In the highest possible degree; beyond all limits or bounds; exceedingly. The phrase which Paul uses here (καθ ̓ ὑπερβολὴν kath' huperbolēn), by hyperbole, is one which he frequently employs to denote anything that is excessive, or that cannot be expressed by ordinary language; see the Greek text in Romans 7:13; 1Co 12:31; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 2Co 4:7, 2 Corinthians 4:17.
I persecuted the church - See Acts 8:3; Acts 9:1 ff.
And wasted it - Destroyed it. The word which is used here, means properly to waste or destroy, as when a city or country is ravaged by an army or by wild beasts. His purpose was utterly to root out and destroy the Christian religion.
And profited - Made advances and attainments. Paul made advances not only in the knowledge of the Jewish religion, but he also surpassed others in his zeal in defending its interests. He had had better advantages than most of his countrymen; and by his great zeal and characteristic ardor he had been able to make higher attainments than most others had done.
Above many my equals - Margin, Equal in years. This is the true sense of the original. It means that he surpassed those of the same age with himself. Possibly there may be a reference here to those of the same age who attended with him on the instructions of Gamaliel.
Being more exceedingly zealous - More studious of; more ardently attached to them; more anxious to distinguish himself in attainments in the religion in which he was brought up. All this is fully sustained by all that we know of the character of Paul, as at all times a man of singular and eminent zeal in all that he undertook.
Of the traditions of my fathers - Or the traditions of the Jews; see the note at Matthew 15:2. A large part of the doctrines of the Pharisees depended on mere tradition; and Paul doubtless made this a special matter of study, and was particularly tenacious in regard to it. It was to be learned, from the very nature of it, only by oral teaching, since there is no evidence that it was then recorded. Subsequently, these traditions were recorded in the Mishna, and are found in the Jewish writings. But in the time of Paul they were to be learned as they were handed down from one to another; and hence, the utmost diligence was requisite to obtain a knowledge of them. Paul does not here say that he was zealous then for the practice of the new religion, nor for the study of the Bible. His object in going to Jerusalem and studying at the feet of Gamaliel was doubtless to obtain a knowledge of the traditions of the sect of the Pharisees. Had he been studying the Bible all that time, he would have kept from the fiery zeal which he evinced in persecuting the church, and would, if he had studied it right, been saved from much trouble of conscience afterward.
But when it pleased God - Paul traced all his hopes of eternal life, and all the good influences which had ever borne upon his mind, to God.
Who separated me ... - That is, who destined me; or who purposed from my very birth that I should be a preacher and an apostle. The meaning is, that God had in his secret purposes set him apart to be an apostle. It does not mean that he had actually called him in his infancy to the work, for this was not so, but that he designed him to be an important instrument in his hands in spreading the true religion. Jeremiah Jeremiah 1:5 was thus set apart, and John the Baptist was thus early designated for the work which they afterward performed. It follows from this:
(1) That God often, if not always, has purposes in regard to people from their very birth. He designs them for some important field of labor, and endows them at their creation with talents adapted to that.
(2) It does not follow that because a young man has gone far astray; and has become even a blasphemer and a persecutor, that God has not destined him to some important and holy work in his service. How many people have been called, like Paul, and Newton, and Bunyan, and Augustine, from a life of sin to the service of God.
(3) God is often training up people in a remarkable manner for future usefulness. His eye is upon them, and He watches over them, until the time comes for their conversion. His providence was concerned in the education and training of Paul. It was by the divine intention with reference to his future work that he had so many opportunities of education, and was so well acquainted with the “traditions” of that religion which he was yet to demonstrate to be unfounded and false. He gave him the opportunity to cultivate his mind, and prepare to grapple with the Jew in argument, and show him how unfounded were his hopes. So it is often now. He gives to a young man an opportunity of a finished education. Perhaps he suffers him to fall into the snares of infidelity, and to become familiar with the arguments of sceptics, that he may thus be better prepared to meet their sophisms and to enter into their feelings. God’s eye is upon them in their wanderings, and they are often allowed to wander far; to range the fields of science; to become distinguished as scholars, as Paul was; until the time comes for their conversion, and then, in accordance with the purpose which set them apart from the world, God converts them, and consecrates all their talents and attainments to His service.
(4) We should never despair of a young man who has wandered far from God. If he has risen high in attainments; if his whole aim is ambition; or if he has become an infidel, still we are not to despair of him. It is still possible that God “separated” that talent to his service from his very birth, and that God still means to call it all to His service. How easy it was to convert Saul of Tarsus when the proper period arrived. So it is of the now unconverted and unconsecrated, but cultivated talent among the young men of our land. Far as they may have wandered from God and virtue, yet much of that talent has been devoted to Him in baptism, and by parental purposes and prayers; and, it may be - as is morally certain from the history of the past - that much of it is consecrated also by the divine purpose and intention for the noble cause of virtue and pure religion. In that now apparently wasted talent; in that learning now apparently devoted to other aims and ends, there is much that may still adorn the cause of virtue and religion; and how fervently we should pray that it may be “called” by the grace of God and actually devoted to His service.
And called me by his grace - On the way to Damascus. It was special grace, because he was then engaged in bitterly opposing Him and His cause.
To reveal his Son in me - This is to be regarded as connected with the first part of Galatians 1:15, “When it pleased God to reveal his Son in me,” that is, on the way to Damascus. The phrase evidently means, to make me acquainted with the Lord Jesus, or to reveal his Son to me; compare the Greek in Matthew 10:32, for a similar expression. The revelation here referred to was the miraculous manifestation which was made to Paul on his way to Damascus; compare 2 Corinthians 4:6. That revelation was in order to convince him that he was the Messiah; to acquaint him with his nature, rank, and claims; and to qualify him to be a preacher to the pagan.
That I might preach him - In order that I might so preach him; or with a view to my being appointed to this work. This was the leading purpose for which Paul was converted, Acts 9:15; Acts 22:21.
The heathen - The Gentiles; the portion of the world that was not Jewish, or that was destitute of the true religion.
Immediately - Koppe supposes that this is to be connected with “I went into Arabia” Galatians 1:17. Rosenmuller supposes it means, “Immediately I consented.” Dr. Wells and Locke suppose that it refers to the fact that he immediately went to Arabia. But this seems to me to be an unnatural construction. The words are too remote from each other to allow of it. The evident sense is, that he was at once decided. He did not take time to deliberate whether he should or should not become a Christian. He made up his mind at once and on the spot. He did not consult with anyone; he did not ask advice of anyone; he did not wait to be instructed by anyone. He was convinced by the vision in an overpowering manner that Jesus was the Messiah, and he yielded at once. The main idea is, that there was no delay, no consultation, no deferring it, that he might see and consult with his friends, or with the friends of Christianity. The object for which he dwells on this is to show that he did not receive his views of the gospel from man.
I conferred not - I did not “lay the case” (προσανεθέμην prosanethemēn) before any man; I did not confer with anyone.
Flesh and blood - Any human being, for so the phrase properly signifies; see the note at Matthew 16:17. This does not mean here, that Paul did not consult his own ease and happiness; that he was regardless of the sufferings which he might be called to endure; that he was willing to suffer, and was not careful to make provision for his own comfort - which was true in itself - but that he did not lay the case before any man, or any body of human beings for instruction or advice. He acted promptly and decisively. He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision Acts 26:19, but resolved at once to obey. Many suppose that this passage means that Paul did not take counsel of the evil passions and suggestions of his own heart, or of the feelings which would have prompted him to lead a life of ambition, or a life under the influence of corrupt desires. But however true this was in fact, no such thing is intended here. It simply means that he did not take counsel of any human being. He resolved at once to follow the command of the Saviour, and at once to obey him. The passage shows:
(1) That when the Lord Jesus calls us to follow him we should promptly and decidedly obey.
(2) We should not delay even to take counsel of earthly friends, or wait for human advice, or consult their wishes, but should at once resolve to follow the Lord Jesus. Most persons, when they are awakened to see their guilt, and their minds are impressed on the subject of religion are prone to defer it; to resolve to think of it at some future time; or to engage in some other business before they become Christians; or, at least, they wish to finish what they have on hand before they yield to God. If Paul had pursued this course, he probably never would have become a Christian. It follows, therefore:
(3) That when the Lord Jesus calls us, we should at once abandon any course of life, however pleasant, or any plan of ambition, however brilliant, or any scheme of gain, however promising, in order that we may follow him. What a brilliant career of ambition that Paul did abandon! and how promptly and decidedly did he do it! He did not pause or hesitate a moment! However brilliant as his prospects were, he at once forsook everything; paused in mid-career in his ambition; and without consulting one human being, he immediately gave his heart to God. Such a course should be pursued by all. Such a promptness and decision will prepare one to become an eminent Christian, and to be eminently useful.
Neither went I up to Jerusalem - That is, I did not go there at once. I did not go to consult with the apostles there, or to be instructed by them in regard to the nature of the Christian religion. The design of this statement is to show that, in no sense, did he derive his commission from man.
To them which were apostles before me - This implies that Paul then regarded himself to be an apostle. They were, he admits, apostles before he was; but he felt also that he had original authority with them, and he did not go to them to receive instruction, or to derive his commission from them. Several of the apostles remained in Jerusalem for a considerable time after the ascension of the Lord Jesus, and it was regarded as the principal place of authority; see Acts 15:0.
But I went into Arabia - Arabia was south of Damascus, and at no great distance. The line indeed between Arabia Deserta and Syria is not very definitely marked, but it is generally agreed that Arabia extends to a considerable distance into the Great Syrian Desert. To what part of Arabia and for what purpose that Paul went is wholly unknown. Nothing is known of the circumstances of this journey; nor is the time which he spent there known. It is known indeed Galatians 1:18 that he did not go to Jerusalem until three years after his conversion, but how large a part of this time was spent in Damascus, we have no means of ascertaining. It is probable that Paul was engaged during these three years in preaching the gospel in Damascus and the adjacent regions, and in Arabia; compare Acts 9:20, Acts 9:22, Acts 9:27. The account of this journey into Arabia is wholly omitted by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, and this fact, as has been remarked by Paley (Horae Paulinae, chapter v. No. 2), demonstrates that the Acts and this Epistle were not written by the same author, or that the one is independent of the other; because, “if the Acts of the Apostles had been a forged history made up from the Epistle, it is impossible that this journey should have been passed over in silence; if the Epistle had been composed out of what the author had read of Paul’s history in the Acts , it is unaccountable that it should have been inserted.”
As to the reason why Luke omitted to mention the journey into Arabia nothing is known. Various conjectures have been entertained, but they are mere conjectures. It is sufficient to say, that Luke has by no means recorded all that Paul or the other apostles did, nor has he pretended to do it. He has given the leading events in the public labors of Paul; and it is not at all improbable that he has omitted not a few short excursions made by him for the purpose of preaching the gospel. The journey into Arabia, probably, did not furnish any incidents in regard to the success of the gospel there which required particular record by the sacred historian, nor has Paul himself referred to it for any such reason, or intimated that it furnished any incidents, or any facts, that required particularly the notice of the historian. He has mentioned it for a different purpose altogether, to show that he did not receive his commission from the apostles, and that he did not go at once to consult them. He went directly the other way. Since Luke, in the Book of Acts , had no occasion to illustrate this; since he had no occasion to refer to this argument, it did not fall in with the design to mention the fact. Nor is it known why Paul went into Arabia. Bloomfield supposes that it was in order to recover his health after the calamity which he suffered on the way to Damascus. But everything in regard to this is mere conjecture. I should rather think it was more in accordance with the general character of Paul that he made this short excursion for the purpose of preaching the gospel.
And returned again unto Damascus - He did not go to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles after his visit to Arabia, but returned again to the place where he was converted and preached there, showing that he had not derived his commission from the other apostles.
Then after three years - Probably three years after his departure from Jerusalem to Damascus, not after his return to Arabia. So most commentators have understood it.
Went up to Jerusalem - More correctly, as in the margin, returned.
To see Peter - Peter was the oldest and most distinguished of the apostles. In Galatians 2:9, he, with James and John, is called a pillar. But why Paul went particularly to see him is not known. It was probably, however, from the celebrity and distinction which he knew Peter had among the apostles that he wished to become particularly acquainted with him. The word which is here rendered “to see” (ἱστορῆσαι historēsai) is by no means that which is commonly employed to denote that idea. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament; and properly means to ascertain by personal inquiry and examination, and then to narrate, as a historian was accustomed to do, whence our word history. The notion of personally seeing and examining, is one that belongs essentially to the word, and the idea here is that of seeing or visiting Peter in order to a personal acquaintance.
And abode with him fifteen days - Probably, says Bloomfield, including three Lord’s days. Why he departed then is unknown. Beza supposes that it was on account of the plots of the Grecians against him, and their intention to destroy him Acts 9:29; but this is not assigned by Paul himself as a reason. It is probable that the purpose of his visit to Peter would be accomplished in that time, and he would not spend more time than was necessary with him. It is clear that in the short space of two weeks he could not have been very extensively taught by Peter the nature of the Christian religion, and probably the time is mentioned here to show that he had not been under the teaching of the apostles.
Save James the Lord’s brother - That the James here referred to was an apostle is clear. The whole construction of the sentence demands this supposition. In the list of the apostles in Matthew 10:2-3, two of this name are mentioned, James the son of Zebedee and brother of John, and James the son of Alpheus. From the Acts of the Apostles, it is clear that there were two of this name in Jerusalem. Of these, James the brother of John was slain by Herod Acts 12:2, and the other continued to reside in Jerusalem, Acts 15:13; Acts 21:13. This latter James was called James the Less Mark 15:40, to distinguish him from the other James, probably because he was the younger. It is probable that this was the James referred to here, as it is evident from the Acts of the Apostles that he was a prominent man among the apostles in Jerusalem. Commentators have not been agreed as to what is meant by his being the brother of the Lord Jesus. Doddridge understands it as meaning that he was “the near kinsman” or cousin-german to Jesus, for he was, says he, the son of Alpheus and Mary, the sister of the virgin; and if there were only two of this name, this opinion is undoubtedly correct.
In the Apostolical Constitutions (see Rosenmuller) three of this name are mentioned as apostles or eminent men in Jerusalem; and hence, many have supposed that one of them was the son of Mary the mother of the Lord Jesus. It is said Matthew 13:55 that the brothers of Jesus were James and Joses, and Simon, and Judas; and it is remarkable that three of the apostles bear the same names; James the son of Alpheus, Simon Zelotes, and Judas, John 14:22. It is indeed possible, as Bloomfield remarks, that three brothers of our Lord and three of his apostles might bear the same names, and yet be different persons; but such a coincidence would be very remarkable, and not easily explained. But if it were not so, then the James here was the son of Alpheus, and consequently a cousin of the Lord Jesus. The word “brother” may, according to Scriptural usage, be understood as denoting a near kinsman. See Schleusher (Lexicon 2) on the word ἀδελφός adelphos. After all, however, it is not quite certain who is intended. Some have supposed that neither of the apostles of the name of James is intended, but another James who was the son of Mary the mother of Jesus. See Koppe in loc. But it is clear, I think, that one of the apostles is intended. Why James is particularly mentioned here is unknown. Since, however, he was a prominent man in Jerusalem, Paul would naturally seek his acquaintance. It is possible that the other apostles were absent from Jerusalem during the fifteen days when he was there.
Behold, before God I lie not - This is an oath, or a solemn appeal to God; see the note at Romans 9:1. The design of this oath here is to prevent all suspicion of falsehood, It may seem to be remarkable that Paul should make this solemn appeal to God in this argument, and in the narrative of a plain fact, when his statement could hardly be called in question by anyone. But we may remark:
(1) That the oath here refers not only to the fact that he was with Peter and James only fifteen days, but to the entire group of facts to which he had referred in this chapter. “The things which I wrote unto you.” It included, therefore, the narrative about his conversion, and the direct revelation which he had from the Lord Jesus.
(2) There were no radios which he could appeal to in this case, and he could, therefore, only appeal to God. It was probably not practicable for him to appeal to Peter or James, since neither of them were in Galatia, and a considerable part of the transactions here referred to occurred where there were no witnesses. It pertained to the direct revelation of truth from the Lord Jesus. The only way, therefore, was for Paul to appeal directly to God for the truth of what he said.
(3) The importance of the truth here affirmed was such as to justify this solemn appeal to God. It was an extraordinary and miraculous revelation of the truth by Jesus Christ himself. He received information of the truth of Christianity from no human being. He had consulted no one in regard to its nature. That fact was so extraordinary, and it was so remarkable that the system thus communicated to him should harmonize so entirely with that taught by the other apostles with whom he had had no contact, that it was not improper to appeal to God in this solemn manner. It was, therefore, no trifling matter in which Paul appealed to God; and a solemn appeal of the same nature and in the same circumstances can never be improper.
Afterward I came ... - In this account be has omitted a circumstance recorded by Luke Acts 9:29, of the controversy which he had with the Grecians (Hellenists). It was not material to the purpose which he has here in view, which is to state that he was not indebted to the apostles for his knowledge of the doctrines of Christianity. He therefore merely states that he left Jerusalem soon after he went there, and traveled to other places.
The regions of Syria - Syria was between Jerusalem and Cilicia. Antioch was the capital of Syria, and in that city and the adjacent places he spent considerable time; compare Acts 15:23, Acts 15:41.
Cilicia - This was a province of Asia Minor, of which Tarsus, the native place of Paul, was the capital; see the note at Acts 6:9.
And was unknown by face ... - Paul had visited Jerusalem only, and he had formed no acquaintance with any of the churches in the other parts of Judea. He regarded himself at the first as called to preach particularly to the Gentiles, and he did not remain even to form an acquaintance with the Christians in Judea.
The churches of Judea - Those which were out of Jerusalem. Even at the early period of the conversion of Paul there were doubtless many churches in various parts of the land,
Which were in Christ - United to Christ; or which were Christian churches. The design of mentioning this is, to show that he had not derived his views of the gospel from any of them. He had neither been instructed by the apostles, nor was he indebted to the Christians in Judea for his knowledge of the Christian religion.
But they had heard only ... - They had not seen me; but the remarkable fact of my conversion had been reported to them. It was a fact that could hardly be concealed; see the note at Acts 26:26.
And they glorified God in me - They praised God on my account. They regarded me as a true convert and a sincere Christian; and they praised God that he had converted such a persecutor, and had made him a preacher of the gospel. The design for which this is mentioned is, to show that though he was personally unknown to them, and had not derived his views of the gospel from them, yet that he had their entire confidence. They regarded him as a convert and an apostle, and they were disposed to praise God for his conversion. This fact would do much to conciliate the favor of the Galatians, by showing them that he had the confidence of the churches in the very land where the gospel was first planted, and which was regarded as the source of ecclesiastical authority. In view of this we may remark:
(1) That it is the duty of Christians kindly and affectionately to receive among their number those who have been converted from a career of persecution or of sin in any form. And it is always done by true Christians. It is easy to forgive a man who has been actively engaged in persecuting the church, or a man who has been profane, intemperate, dishonest, or licentious, if he becomes a true penitent, and confesses and forsakes his sins. No matter what his life has been; no matter how abandoned, sensual, or devilish; if he manifests true sorrow and gives evidence of a change of heart, he is cordially received into any church, and welcomed as a fellow-laborer in the cause which he once destroyed. Here, at least, is one place where forgiveness is cordial and perfect. His former life is not remembered, except to praise God for His grace in recovering a sinner from such a course. The evils that he has done are forgotten, and he is henceforward regarded as entitled to all the privileges and immunities of a member of the household of faith. There is not on earth an infuriated persecutor or blasphemer who would not be cordially welcomed to any Christian church upon the evidence of his repentance; not a person so debased and vile that the most pure, and elevated, and learned, and wealthy Christians would not rejoice to sit down with him at the same communion table upon the evidence of his conversion to God.
(2) We should “glorify” or praise God for all such instances of conversion. We should do it because:
(a) Of the abstraction of the talents of the persecutor from the cause of evil. Paul could have done, and would have done immense service to the enemies of Christianity if he had pursued the career which he had commenced. But when he was converted, all that bad influence ceased. So when an infidel or a profligate man is converted now:
(b) Because now his talents will be consecrated to a better service, they will be employed in the cause of truth and salvation. All the power of the matured and educated talent will now be devoted to the interests of religion; and it is a fact for which we should thank God, that he often takes educated talent, and commanding influence, and an established reputation for ability, learning, and zeal, and devotes it to his own service.
(c) Because there will be a change of destiny; because the enemy of the Redeemer will now be saved. The moment when Saul of Tarsus was converted, was the moment which determined a change in his eternal destiny. Before, he was on the broad way to hell; henceforward, he walked in the path of life and salvation. Thus, we should always rejoice over a sinner returning from the error of his ways; and should praise God that he who was in danger of eternal ruin is now an heir of glory. Christians are not jealous in regard to the numbers who shall enter heaven. They feel that there is “room” for all; that the feast is ample for all; and they rejoice when any can be induced to come with them and partake of the happiness of heaven.
(3) We may still glorify and praise God for the grace manifested in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. What does not the world owe to him! What do we not owe to him! No man did as much in establishing the Christian religion as he did; no one among the apostles was the means of converting and saving so many souls; no one has left so many and so valuable writings for the edification of the church. To him we owe the invaluable epistles - so full of truth, and eloquence, and promises, and consolations - upon which we are commenting; and to him the church owes, under God, some of its most elevated and ennobling views or the nature of Christian doctrine and duty. After the lapse, therefore, of more than 1,800 years, we should not cease to glorify God for the conversion of this wonderful man, and should feel that we have cause of thankfulness that he changed the infuriated persecutor to a holy and devoted apostle.
(4) Let us remember that God has the same power now. There is not a persecutor whom he could not convert with the same ease with which he changed Saul of Tarsus. There is not a vile and sensual man that he could not make pure; not a dishonest man that his grace could not make honest: not a blasphemer that he could not teach to venerate his name; not a lost and abandoned sinner that he cannot receive to himself. Let us then without ceasing cry unto him that his grace may be continually manifested in reclaiming such sinners from the error of their ways, and bringing them to the knowledge of the truth, and to a consecration of their lives to his service.