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The nickname (cognomen) "Paul" is from the Latin Paulus, which means little. The earliest physical description of Paul we have comes from a second-century apocryphal writing. It described Paul as "a man of small stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked, full of friendliness; for now he appeared like a man, and now he had the face of an angel." [Note: E. Hennecke and W. Schneemelcher, eds., New Testament Apocraypha, 2:354.] The apostle’s Hebrew name was Saul. As the apostle to the Gentiles he consistently used his Gentile name, Paul, in his epistles.
In his reference to himself Paul emphasized his apostolic office. The Greek word translated "apostle" (apostolos) means one who is sent. The New Testament uses this word in two ways. In its more restricted sense, the word means someone who had received a special commission from the risen Christ (i.e., Paul and the Twelve apostles). In its more general sense it refers to those sent with a message from God (as in Acts 14:4; Acts 14:14; 2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 2:25). It even describes Jesus (Hebrews 3:1). In Galatians Paul always used "apostle" in the technical sense to describe the Twelve and himself.
Paul contended that his apostleship did not originate from men, nor did it come to him through men (e.g., Peter, James, Ananias, or whomever, as, for example, does the Roman Catholic papacy). Rather Jesus Christ, whom he described as equal with God the Father, bestowed it on him. The resurrection of Jesus Christ demonstrated the power of God. The Apostle Paul may have referred to the Resurrection to emphasize the importance of his apostolic office, which he defended in this epistle.
In view of what Paul said in this chapter and the next, it seems clear that his enemies in Galatia were claiming that he had received his apostolic commission from other men. Specifically, they suggested that it came from the other apostles or the leaders of the church at Antioch (cf. Acts 13:1) rather than directly from Jesus Christ. This would have made it an inferior apostleship.
A. Salutation 1:1-5
Paul began this epistle with a word of greeting for his readers to introduce himself as the writer and to emphasize the divine source of his apostolic commission.
I. INTRODUCTION 1:1-10
The Apostle Paul began this epistle in an uncharacteristic way for him. After a customary salutation, he rebuked the Galatian Christians. Usually he began his epistles by commending his readers.
We cannot identify all the Christian brothers who were with Paul when he wrote this epistle, but Barnabas and the Christians in the church in Syrian Antioch were probably part of this group.
The churches of Galatia were probably the churches in the southern Roman province of Galatia (Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, et al.) rather than those in northern ethnic Galatia. [Note: See the introduction to these notes above.] This is the only one of Paul’s inspired letters that he addressed neither to Christians in one specific town nor to an individual.
". . . the Church as the total community is not a mere aggregate of individual congregations; rather the local church is the universal Church in its local manifestation." [Note: Fung, p. 38.]
The greeting Paul wrote in most of his epistles was a combination of the commonly used Greek (charis, grace) and the Jewish (shalom, peace) salutations. The former in the Christian context refers to God’s undeserved favor that is the portion of His children. Galatians opens, closes (cf. Galatians 6:18), and is full of grace (Galatians 1:6; Galatians 1:15; Galatians 2:9; Galatians 2:21; Galatians 3:18; Galatians 5:4). The actual Greek word is chairein, which means, "rejoice," but this standard Greek greeting meant the equivalent of "hello."
"When Paul prays for grace on his friends, it is as if he said, ’May the beauty of the wonder of the undeserved love of God be on you, so that it will make your life lovely too.’" [Note: William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, p. 8.]
The second word of greeting, peace, defines not just the absence of hostility but the totality of God’s blessings. This word had become a standard Jewish greeting. Believers enjoy peace with God and with other people because God has taken the initiative in extending His grace to us in Christ (cf. Numbers 6:24-26). Peace always follows grace in Paul’s salutations because that is their logical and temporal order. The three-fold title "Lord Jesus Christ" indicates His exalted rank, His saving significance, and His divine commission respectively. [Note: Fung, p. 39.]
Jesus Christ gave Himself for our sins in two respects. He gave Himself all through His earthly ministry as the Suffering Servant of God (cf. Isaiah 53), and He gave Himself as the final sin offering on the cross. Both aspects of His self-sacrifice could be in view here. Paul probably wanted to emphasize the totality of Christ’s self-sacrifice.
The purpose of the Lord’s self-sacrifice was that He might deliver us out of the control of this present evil age, the world system that dominates the inter-advent era. In contrast, the age to come (cf. Ephesians 1:21) is the era in which righteousness dwells when Jesus Christ and later God the Father will rule directly (i.e., the messianic kingdom and the new heavens and earth).
We are in the world, but we are free to live apart from the evil that dominates it thanks to Christ’s work for us. Not only so, the Lord will remove us from it by death or translation. Again, both aspects of our deliverance were probably in Paul’s mind as he wrote these words. Christ’s death transferred the believer from Satan’s power to God’s power, from one sphere to the other (cf. Colossians 1:13).
"In this one verse Paul has described several aspects of the redemption wrought by Christ: its cause (’for our sins,’ that is, because of them), its means (Christ ’sacrificed himself’), its purpose and effect (’for our sins,’ that is, for their expiation; ’to rescue us’), and its origin (’the will of our God and Father’). Thereby Paul has in fact touched on the chief argument of the letter, and succinctly announced in anticipatory fashion the main contents of its doctrinal section, inasmuch as the point of the controversy between Paul and His Galatian opponents lies precisely in the significance of Christ and his redemptive work and more specifically in the bearing of this work on the law." [Note: Ibid., p. 42. Cf. Herman Ridderbos, The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia, p. 43; and E. de W. Burton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, p. 14.]
"Another feature of this salutation is the extended description of the writer. . . . It conveys at once the impression of authority, which underlies the subsequent argument throughout the epistle." [Note: Guthrie, Galatians, p. 56.]
In every other one of his canonical epistles Paul commended his readers before launching into the main subject of his letter regardless of his general purpose in writing. Here he recorded no such praise. Its absence stressed the seriousness of his readers’ error and the urgency of his appeal.
The best evidence points to Paul’s writing Galatians before the Jerusalem Council, held in A.D. 49, and after he and Barnabas evangelized Asia Minor on their first missionary journey (Acts 13-14). I am assuming the South Galatia destination of the epistle. Consequently it had been only a few months since his readers had accepted the gospel that he had preached to them and had turned from it. The Greek word thaumazo ("I am amazed") was a conventional expression in Greek letters that signaled astonishment, rebuke, disapproval, and disappointment. [Note: Ibid., p. 11.] The Greek word tacheos ("quickly") also has the sense of easily (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Timothy 5:22). The one who had called the Galatians was God (cf. Galatians 1:15; Galatians 5:8).
"Gospel," of course, means good news. However, the "gospel" that fascinated his readers was not good news. The Greek word heteros, meaning "another of a different kind," appears in Galatians 1:6 while allos, meaning "another of the same kind" occurs in Galatians 1:7. Sometimes these words are interchangeable (e.g., 2 Corinthians 11:4), but here and elsewhere they indicate significant differences. This new gospel was bad news. Teachers of false doctrine who were stirring up unrest had followed Paul. The root of the word translated "disturbing" (Galatians 1:7) is one that describes the opposite of what the word translated "peace" (Galatians 1:3) means. These teachers were distorting the good news of Christ.
"The modern church has become less clear about the nature of the gospel, but it would do well to ponder the importance that Paul here attaches to distinctions between the true and false gospel." [Note: Guthrie, Galatians, p. 62.]
Paul consistently referred to the Galatian troublemakers in the third person but addressed his readers in the second person. This strongly suggests that the false teachers originated outside the church rather than from within it. We must deduce who they were from what Paul wrote about them in this epistle (cf. Galatians 1:6-9; Galatians 2:4-5; Galatians 3:1; Galatians 4:17; Galatians 5:10; Galatians 5:12; Galatians 6:12-13). Probably they were Jews who were putting pressure on Gentiles to believe and to live as religious Jews. This is the traditional view as contrasted with the two-opponent view (i.e., Judaizers and libertinistic "pneumatics") and the Gnostic/syncretistic Jewish Christians view (i.e., one group of opponents within Judaism with both Judaistic and libertinistic traits). [Note: For further study of these views, see Walter B. Russell III, "Who Were Paul’s Opponents in Galatia?" Bibliotheca Sacra 147:587 (July-September 1990):329-50.]
B. Denunciation 1:6-10
In these opening words Paul rebuked his readers for turning away from the gospel that he had preached to them and for turning toward a different "gospel." He accused them of being religious turncoats. He did so to impress them with the great folly of their action. The fiery opening of this epistle presents it "like a lion turned loose in the arena of Christianity." [Note: Longenecker, p. lvii.]
"The general proposition or causa of the letter is to persuade the Galatians to reject the Judaizers’ nongospel and to continue in the true gospel Paul had preached to them." [Note: Walter B. Russell III, "Rhetorical Analysis of the Book of Galatians, Part 2," Bibliotheca Sacra 150:600 (October-December 1993):436. His previous article in this two-part series, "Rhetorical Analysis of the Book of Galatians, Part 1," Bibliotheca Sacra 150:599 (July-September 1993):341-58, describes rhetorical analysis as an interpretive tool. See also Longenecker, pp. cv-cxiv, for rhetorical analyses and outlines.]
Paul leveled his strongest verbal artillery against these teachers. Whoever they were, they apparently claimed the highest authority for their teaching since Paul warned his readers to reject it even if it had come from angelic messengers sent directly from heaven. This is an example of hyperbole: exaggeration for the sake of emphasis. [Note: See Tenney, p. 138, for a chart of the figures of speech in Galatians.] By "accursed" Paul meant under God’s judgment. Islam claims that Mohammed received his revelations from the angel Gabriel.
"In Paul’s eyes, the acknowledgment of Jesus as Messiah logically implied the abrogation of the law . . . If Christ displaced the law as the activating centre of Paul’s own life, he equally displaced the law in the economy of God, in the ordering of salvation-history. Therefore, if the law was still in force as a way of salvation and life, the messianic age had not yet dawned, and Jesus accordingly was not the Messiah." [Note: Bruce, p. 83.]
Paul even repeated his warning for emphasis. The prior warning in Galatians 1:9 probably refers to what Paul had told them when he was with them in person rather than to what he had just said in Galatians 1:8. [Note: Cf. Morris, p. 45.] "We" implies Paul and his fellow missionaries, not just Paul alone.
"The vehemence with which Paul denounces those who teach another gospel (literally, he says, ’Let them be damned’) has bothered some commentators, as well as other readers of the letter. But this shows how little the gospel of God’s grace is understood and appreciated and how little many Christians are concerned for the advance of biblical truth." [Note: Boice, p. 429.]
"Accursed" evidently refers to being under God’s judgment, not just excommunication, since an angel could be the possible object. Paul changed from the subjunctive mood of possibility in Galatians 1:8 to the indicative mood of actuality in Galatians 1:9.
The false teachers evidently charged Paul with preaching to curry the favor of his listeners, perhaps to gain a large number of converts to enhance his own reputation. They could have charged him with preaching "easy believism" since he advocated faith in Christ alone for salvation.
"There have always been preachers who have sought popular acclaim above all else, and there are some still. It is part of fallen human nature that even those charged with the responsibility of proclaiming the gospel can fall into the trap of trying to be popular rather than faithful." [Note: Morris, p. 46.]
Paul’s critics may have accused him of preaching one thing to some people and the opposite to others (cf. Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:11). It is understandable how some people might have concluded this (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:22). However, Paul’s argument in this verse was that a person can only be the slave of one master. Paul was claiming to have behaved among them consistent with his commitment to Christ as his master.
". . . his uncompromising attitude as reflected in the severity of his language in condemning the counterfeit gospel (Galatians 1:8 f.) is proof positive that he is no men-pleaser." [Note: Fung, p. 49.]
Paul liked to describe himself as a "bond-servant" (Greek doulos) in relation to Christ (cf. Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1). This Greek word also describes Moses (Joshua 14:7; Revelation 15:3), David (cf. Psalms 89:3), Elijah (cf. 2 Kings 10:10), and the Old Testament prophets (Revelation 10:7; Revelation 11:18). Moreover it describes Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:7), Christian leaders (2 Timothy 2:24), the apostles (2 Corinthians 4:5), James (James 1:1), Peter (2 Peter 1:1), and Jude (Judges 1:1). Furthermore it describes John (Revelation 1:1), Christians (Acts 4:29; 1 Corinthians 7:22; Galatians 4:7; Ephesians 6:6; 1 Peter 2:16; Revelation 1:1; Revelation 2:20), Tribulation saints (Revelation 7:3), and all believers (Revelation 19:2; Revelation 19:5; Revelation 22:3; Revelation 22:6) in the New Testament.
"Already in these opening verses the two key concepts in the letter have surfaced-gospel and grace." [Note: Timothy George, Galatians, p. 102.]
Whenever Paul wrote, "I would have you know" (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Corinthians 15:1; 2 Corinthians 8:1), he intended to draw special attention to what he proceeded to say. Paul did not receive his gospel from traditional sources (his teachers) nor did he learn it through traditional means (the curriculum of his formal education). It came to him as a special revelation from Jesus Christ, and it was a revelation of who Jesus Christ really is. "According to" (Galatians 1:11; Gr. kata) means "from."
". . . it was the gospel of justification by faith which came to Paul as the result of a direct revelation of Jesus Christ." [Note: Fung, p. 54.]
1. The source of Paul’s gospel 1:11-17
Paul clarified the source of his gospel message in this pericope to convince his readers that the gospel he had preached to them was the true gospel. What the false teachers were presenting was heresy. He began an autobiographical section here (Galatians 1:11 to Galatians 2:14). It fills one-fifth of the entire epistle. In it he went to great pains to prove that both his gospel and his commission to preach it came directly from Jesus Christ on the Damascus road (Galatians 1:15-16). It did not come to him from any intermediary.
II. PERSONAL DEFENSE OF PAUL’S GOSPEL 1:11-2:21
The first of the three major sections of the epistle begins here. We could classify them as history (Galatians 1:11 to Galatians 2:21), theology (chs. 3-4), and ethics (Galatians 5:1 to Galatians 6:10).
". . . Paul was . . . following the logic of the Christian life: Because of who God is and what he has done (history) we must believe what he has said (theology) in order to live as he commands (ethics)." [Note: Ibid., p. 66. Cf. C. K. Barrett, Freedom and Obligation, p. 3.]
A. Independence from other apostles 1:11-24
This is the first of three subsections in Paul’s autobiographical account, the historical portion of the epistle. It relates Paul’s early Christian experience and his first meeting with the church leaders in Jerusalem. The other subsections record his meeting with the Jerusalem leaders over the scope and sphere of his missionary work (Galatians 2:1-10) and his confrontation with Peter in Antioch (Galatians 2:11-21). This all builds up to his pronouncement that justification is by faith alone.
Paul was an unusually promising young man in Judaism before his conversion. He was surpassing his contemporaries.
"This probably does not mean that he became more pious than they, but rather that he was more highly esteemed by those in positions of influence, which would have resulted in his being entrusted with more important assignments, such as the trip to Damascus during which he was converted." [Note: Morris, p. 53.]
The apostle’s actions following that revelation on the Damascus Road supported his claim to having received a divine revelation. The whole direction of his life changed. He had violently rejected the gospel he now preached and had tried to stamp it out, believing it was blasphemous heresy. He had followed his ancestral traditions (his teachers’ interpretations of the Old Testament). Moreover he had been uncommonly zealous to obey them, to teach them, and to see that the Jews carried them out. "Beyond measure" (Gr. hyperbole) means "to an extraordinary degree."
"Paul’s extreme zeal for the law as the reason for his persecution of the Church indicates that he probably belonged to the radical wing of the Pharisaic movement, perhaps the school of Shammai (certainly, Galatians 3:10 and especially Galatians 5:3 are more representative of that school than of the school of Hillel). If so, the likelihood is that ’he was rather hostile to the Gentiles and had little interest in winning them for Judaism.’" [Note: Fung, p. 72. His quotation is from S. Kim, The Origin of Paul’s Gospel, pp. 39-40.]
"Paul’s main point in Galatians 1:13-14 was to show that there was nothing in his religious background and preconversion life that could have in any way prepared him for a positive response to the gospel. Quite the contrary." [Note: George, p. 113.]
What totally revolutionized Paul was God’s choice to reveal Himself to him (cf. Isaiah 6:1-9; Isaiah 49:1-6; Jeremiah 1:4; Ezekiel 1:4 to Ezekiel 3:11). [Note: See J. Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind, pp. 24-35, for parallels between God’s calling of Paul and His calling of Jeremiah and the Suffering Servant of the Lord.] God had taken the initiative in grace, and Paul had simply responded to that grace. God’s purpose generally was to manifest Christ through him, which is His purpose for every believer. Specifically, God’s purpose was that Paul would become an evangelist to the Gentiles. This calling had been God’s intent from the time of Paul’s birth. Paul’s conversion probably took place in A.D. 34.
"Paul had emphasized that he did not receive his message from men before or at the time of his conversion. Now he affirmed that he was free from human influences afterward as well." [Note: Campbell, p. 592.]
Since his calling had been undoubtedly supernatural and abundantly clear, Paul did not need to consult with anyone natural (i.e., less than supernatural). The term "flesh" (Galatians 1:16) is important in Galatians. It has several meanings: sinful human nature, the physical body, and here the whole of humanity (cf. Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:20; 1 Corinthians 1:29). It is a synecdoche, a figure of speech in which a prominent part stands for the whole or vice versa. [Note: See Robert A. Pyne, "Dependence and Duty: The Spiritual Life in Galatians 5 and Romans 6," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands, p. 145.]
Paul did not need the approval of the other apostles who had also seen and received commissions by the risen Christ either. Paul’s revelation was just as authoritative as any they had received. Instead he went to an undefined area of Arabia. The geographical area of Arabia included the lands east of Palestine, south of Syria, and west of Mesopotamia. Damascus stood on its northwestern edge. Probably Paul retreated into the part of Arabia just south of Damascus. [Note: See C. W. Briggs, "The Apostle Paul in Arabia," Biblical World 41 (1913):255-59.] He did so apparently to restudy the Scriptural revelations of Messiah but mainly to preach the gospel as an apostle (Galatians 1:16). [Note: Fung, pp. 68-69.] Then he returned to Damascus, rather than Jerusalem, still feeling no need to obtain the blessing of the other apostles but preaching the gospel (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:26-27). Paul was not being arrogant or uncooperative by behaving as he did. He simply believed in the divine origin and authority of his commission.
"Our study of Galatians 1:11-17 has shown that Paul’s conversion is to be understood as involving (a) recognition of the risen Jesus as Messiah, Lord, and Son of God, (b) the experience of being justified by faith apart from legal works, (c) the revelation of the basic principles of the gospel, and (d) the call to be an apostle to the Gentiles." [Note: Ibid., p. 70.]
Galatians 1:11-17 constitute one of six New Testament passages that describe Paul’s conversion and calling (cf. Acts 9:1-7; Acts 22:6-10; Acts 26:12-16; 1 Corinthians 9:1-2; 1 Corinthians 15:3-11). [Note: See George Lyttelton, Observations on the Conversion and Apostleship of Saint Paul.]
"Then" (Gr. Epeita, "Next") introduces the next event in Paul’s experience chronologically (cf. Galatians 1:21; Galatians 2:1). He gave a consecutive account of his movements omitting no essential steps. He did so to show that he had functioned as an apostle before contacting other apostles. His critics seem to have been saying that the other apostles had really sent Paul.
It was three years after his conversion, not after his return to Damascus, that Paul finally revisited Jerusalem and met Peter, for the first time, and James (i.e., A.D. 37). [Note: Fung, p. 73; Morris, p. 59.] He went there "to get personally acquainted with" them, not to get information from them or to make inquiry of them. [Note: O. Hofius, "Galatians 1:18: historesai Kephan," Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 75 (1984):73-84. Cf. R. Schnackenburg, "Apostles before and during Paul’s Time," in Apostolic History and the Gospel, p. 290, footnote 1.] These were hardly indications that he had to check his message with them. Furthermore he only stayed 15 days and did not see any of the other apostles. If he had needed to work out a theology consistent with the teaching of the other apostles, extended meetings with all of them would have been necessary.
"These brothers [of the Lord] have been regarded (a) by the Orthodox churches as sons of Joseph by a previous marriage (the ’Epiphanian’ view), (b) in Roman Catholic interpretation as Jesus’ first cousins, the sons of ’Mary wife of Clopas,’ who was the Virgin’s sister (John 19:25; the ’Hieronymian’ view), and (c) by Protestant exegetes as Jesus’ uterine brothers, sons of Joseph and Mary (the ’Helvidian’ view). This last view accords best with the natural implications of Mark 6:3, where the context suggests that the brothers, together with the sisters unspecified by name, were, like Jesus himself, children of Mary." [Note: Fung, p. 75. Cf. Gunther Bornkamm, Paul, p. 28.]
2. The events of Paul’s early ministry 1:18-24
This section continues the point of the previous one. Paul was not dependent on the other apostles for his ministry any more than he was for the message he proclaimed. This explanation would have further convinced his readers of the divine source and authority of his message.
Paul may have added this verse to help the Galatians realize not only that he was telling the truth but that he really had received his gospel by divine revelation. The truth of the gospel, as he preached it, was at stake in the truthfulness of what he said, as was the error of what the false teachers were proclaiming. [Note: Cf. J. P. Sampley, "’Before God, I do not lie’ (Gal. i.20): Paul’s Self-Defence in the Light of Roman Legal Praxis," New Testament Studies 23 (1976-77):481-82.]
Paul did not even spend time in Judea where he might have heard the gospel he preached from other apostles or Christians. Instead he went north into Syria (above Judea, by way of Caesarea [Acts 9:30]) and Cilicia, the province in which his hometown of Tarsus stood. He was there when Barnabas found him later (Acts 11:25). He ministered in Syria and Cilicia for seven years (A.D. 37-43).
"From c. 25 BC Eastern Cilicia (including Tarsus) was united administratively with Syria to form one imperial province (Syria-Cilicia), governed by a legatus pro praetore with his headquarters in Syrian Antioch. This arrangement lasted until AD 72, when Eastern Cilicia was detached from Syria and united with Western Cilicia (Cilicia Tracheia) to form the province of Cilicia.
"At the time when both epistles were written [i.e., Galatians and 1 Thessalonians], the Roman province of Judaea included Galilee as well as Judaea (in the narrower sense) and Samaria (as it had done since the death of Herod Agrippa I in AD 44); ’Judaea’ may then denote here the whole of Palestine [cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:14]." [Note: Bruce, p. 103. Cf. Fung, pp. 80-82.]
However in Acts 9:31, "Judea" clearly refers to a division within Palestine.
Paul had so little contact with the churches in Judea that even after several years of ministry they could not recognize him by sight. They only knew him by reputation and thanked God for what He was doing through Paul, the opposite reaction of Paul’s Judaizing critics. Certainly the Judean Christians would not have been so happy if Paul had preached a gospel different from the one the other apostles had been preaching and they had believed.
"It is striking proof of the large space occupied by ’faith’ in the mind of the infant Church, that it should so soon have passed into a synonym for the Gospel. . . . Here its meaning seems to hover between the Gospel and the Church [Galatians 1:23]." [Note: Lightfoot, p. 86.]
This section (Galatians 1:11-24) helps us appreciate how convincing God’s revelation on the Damascus Road was to Paul. He not only repented concerning the person of Christ, but he also received an absolutely clear revelation both of his calling in life from then on and his message. He began to preach the gospel immediately without any authorization to do so from any other leaders of the church. We too have an equally clear revelation of our calling (Matthew 28:19-20) and our message (2 Corinthians 5:20).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Galatians 1". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
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