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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 1

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1

(1) An apostle.—This title is evidently to be taken here in its strictest sense, as St. Paul is insisting upon his equality in every respect with the Twelve. The word was also capable of a less exclusive use, in which the Apostle would seem to be distinguished from the Twelve (1 Corinthians 15:5; 1 Corinthians 15:7). In this sense Barnabas and James the Lord’s brother, possibly also Andronicus and Junias in Romans 16:7, were called “Apostles.”

Not of men, neither by man.—Two distinct prepositions are used:—“not of” (i.e., from) “men,” in the sense of the ultimate source from which authority is derived; “neither by” (or, through) “man,” with reference to the channel or agency by which it is conveyed. Thus we speak of the Queen as the “fount” of honour, though honour may be conferred by the ministry acting in her name. The kind of honour which St. Paul held (his Apostleship) was such as could be derived only from God; nor was any human instrumentality made use of in conferring it upon him. His appointment to the Apostolate is connected by St. Paul directly with the supernatural appearance which met him upon the way to Damascus. The part played by Ananias was too subordinate to introduce a human element into it; and the subsequent “separation” of Paul and Barnabas for the mission to the Gentiles, though the act of the Church at Antioch, was dictated by the Holy Ghost, and was rather the assignment of a special sphere than the conferring of a new office and new powers.

By Jesus Christ.—The preposition here, as in the last clause, is that which is usually taken to express the idea of mediate agency. It represents the channel down which the stream flows, not the fountain-head from which it springs. Hence it is applied appropriately to Christ as the Logos, or Word, through whom God the Father communicates with men as the divine agent in the work of creation, redemption, revelation. (See John 1:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 1:2, et al.) It is also applied to men as the instruments for carrying out the divine purposes. The intervention of Jesus Christ took place in the vision through which, from a persecutor, St. Paul became a “chosen vessel” for the propagation of the gospel.

And God the Fatheri.e., and by (or, through) God the Father; the same preposition governing the whole clause. We should naturally have expected the other preposition (“of,” or “from”), which signifies source, and not this, which signifies instrumentality; and it would have been more usual with the Apostle to say, “from God,” and “by, or through, Christ.” But God is at once the remote and the mediate, or efficient, cause of all that is done in carrying out His own designs. “Of him, and through him, and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36).

The Father.—This is to be taken in the sense in which our Lord Himself spoke of God as “My Father,” with reference to the peculiar and unique character of His own sonship—the Father, i.e., of Christ, not of all Christians, and still less, as the phrase is sometimes used, of all men. This appears from the context. The title is evidently given for the sake of contradistinction; and it is noticeable that at this very early date the same phrase is chosen as that which bore so prominent a place in the later creeds and the theology of which they were the expression.

Who raised him from the dead.—Comp. Romans 1:4 : “Declared to be the Son of God with power . . . by the resurrection from the dead.” The resurrection is the act which the Apostle regards as completing the divine exaltation of Christ. It is this exaltation, therefore, which seems to be in his mind. He had derived his own authority directly from God and Christ as sharers of the same divine majesty. It was not the man Jesus by whom it had been conferred upon him, but the risen and ascended Saviour, who, by the fact of his resurrection, was “declared to be the Son of God with power.” So that the commission of the Apostle was, in all respects, divine and not human.

Verses 1-5


(1-5) It is no self-constituted teacher by whom the Galatians are addressed, but an Apostle who, like the chosen Twelve, had received his commission, not from any human source or through any human agency, but directly from God and Christ. As such, he and his companions that are with him give Christian greeting to the Galatian churches, invoking upon them the highest of spiritual blessings from God, the common Father of all believers, and that Redeemer whose saving work they denied and, by their relapse into the ways of the world around them, practically frustrated.
St. Paul had a two-fold object in writing to the Galatians. They had disparaged his authority, and they had fallen back from the true spiritual view of Christianity—in which all was due to the divine grace and love manifested in the death of Christ—to a system of Jewish ceremonialism. And at the very outset of his Epistle, in the salutation itself, the Apostle meets them on both these points. On the one hand, he asserts the divine basis of the authority which he himself claimed; and on the other, he takes occasion to state emphatically the redeeming work of Christ, and its object to free mankind from those evil surroundings into the grasp of which the Galatians seemed again to be falling.

Verse 2

(2) All the brethren which are with mei.e., all his travelling companions. We are unable to say exactly who these were, the more so as we do not know with any certainty the place from which St. Paul was writing. He may have had in his company most of those who are mentioned in Acts 20:4 as accompanying him back into Asia: Sopater, son of Pyrrhus (according to an amended reading); Aristarchus and Secundus, of Thessalonica; Gaius, of Derbe; Tychicus and Trophimus, of Asia; in any case, probably Timothy, and perhaps Titus.

It was usual with St. Paul to join with his own name that of one or other of his companions in the address of his Epistles. Thus, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians he associates with himself Sosthenes; in the Second Epistle to Corinth, and in those to the Philippians and Colossians, Timothy and Silvanus. In writing to the Galatians, St. Paul includes all his companions in his greeting, hardly with the view of fortifying himself with their authority, for he is ready enough to take the whole defence of his own cause upon himself, but, perhaps, not altogether without the idea that he is possessed of their sympathy.

The churches of Galatia.—See the Introduction to this Epistle.

This opening salutation is intentionally abrupt and bare. Usually it was the Apostle’s custom to begin with words of commendation. He praises all that he can find to praise even in a Church that had offended so seriously as the Corinthians. (See 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 1:4-7.) But the errors of the Galatians, he feels, go more to the root of things. The Corinthians had failed in the practical application of Christian principles; the Galatians (so far as they listened to their Judaising teachers) could hardly be said to have Christian principles at all. The Apostle is angry with them with a righteous indignation, and his anger is seen in the naked severity of this address.

Verse 3

(3) Grace . . . and peace.—See Note on Romans 1:7.

God the Father.—We may see by this verse how the title “Father,” originally used in the present formula to distinguish between the Divine Persons, came gradually to contract a wider signification. God is, through Christ, the Father of all who by their relation to Christ are admitted into the position of “sons” (Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:5-7). Hence, where no special limitation is imposed by the context, this secondary sense may be taken as included.

And from our Lord Jesus Christ.—Strictly, it would be more in accordance with the theology of St. Paul to say that grace and peace were given from the Father, by, or through, the Son. Here the one preposition from is used to cover both cases, just as by had been used in Galatians 1:1. It is equally correct to use the word “from” with reference to a mediate and to the ultimate stage in the act of procession. Water may be drawn not only from the fountain-head, but also from the running stream.

Verse 4

(4) Who gave himself.—Surrendered Himself, of His own free act and will, to those who sought His death. The phrase has a parallel in Titus 2:14, and appears in its full and complete form in the Gospel saying (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45): “The Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many “; and in 1 Timothy 2:6 : “Who gave Himself a ransom” (the word is here a compound, which brings out more strongly the sense of vicariousness) “for all.”

For our sins.—In the Greek there are three prepositions, which can only be translated by the single word “for” in English. The first has for its primary sense “concerning,” or “relating to”; it merely marks a connection or relation between two facts. The second has rather the sense “in behalf of,” “in the interests of.” The third means strictly “in place of.” The first, as might be expected, is naturally used in respect of things; the second and third of persons. The death of Christ was a sacrifice for sins, i.e., the sins of mankind stood in a distinct relation to it, which was really that of cause. The sins of mankind it was which set the whole scheme of redemption in motion, and to take away those sins was its main object. The death of Christ was a sacrifice for sinners. It was a sacrifice wrought in their behalf, for their benefit. It was also a sacrifice wrought in their stead. Christ suffered in order that they might not suffer. He gave His life “a ransom for (i.e., in place of) many.” The first of these meanings is represented in Greek by the preposition peri, the second by huper, the third by anti. The distinction, however, is not quite strictly kept up. We not unfrequently find the death of Christ described as a sacrifice for (on behalf of) sins. This would correspond rather to our phrase “for the sake of.” The object was to do away with sins. They were, as it were, the final cause of the atonement.

It is somewhat doubtful which of the first two prepositions is to be read here. By far the majority of MSS. have peri, but the famous Codex Vaticanus, and one of the corrections of the Sinaitic MS., have huper. The two prepositions are not unfrequently confused in the MSS., and the probability in this case is that the numerical majority is right. It will then be simply stated in the text that the sins of men and the sacrifice of Christ have a relation to each other. If there had been no sin there would have been no redemption.

Deliver us.—The deliverance present to the mind of the Apostle appears to be rather (in technical language) that of sanctification than that of justification. The object of redemption is regarded for the moment as being to deliver men from sin, and not so much to deliver them from guilt, the consequence of sin. The Atonement has really both objects, but it is the first that the Apostle has in view in this passage.

This present evil world.—The reading of the three oldest and best MSS. tends rather to emphasise the word “evil”—“this present world, with all its evils.” A question is raised as to the word translated “present,” which might probably mean “impending;” but the Authorised version is probably right. “This present world” is strictly this present age. The Jews divided the history of the world into two great periods—the times antecedent to the coming of the Messiah, and the period of the Messianic reign. The end of the first and the beginning of the second were to be especially attended with troubles; and it was just in this transition period—the close of the older dispensation of things—in which the Apostles regarded themselves as living. The iniquities of the Pagan society around them would naturally give them an intense longing for release; but the release which they seek is moral and spiritual. They do not so much pray that they may be “taken out of the world” as that they may be “kept from the evil.” This the Christian scheme, duly accepted and followed, would do. The Atonement free men from guilt, but its efficacy does not cease there; it sets going a train of motives which hold back the Christian from sin, and constrain him to use his best endeavours after a holy life. The Galatians had lost sight of the power of the Atonement to do this, and had fallen back upon the notion of a legal righteousness, through the vain attempt to keep the commandments of the Law.

According to the will.—The scheme of redemption was willed by God, and therefore all that was done, either on the part of man or of his Redeemer, was a carrying out of His will.

Of God and our Father.—Or, as it might be, of our God and Father. It was the fatherly love of God for His creature, man, that set the work of redemption in motion; hence, in reference to the work of redemption, He is spoken of as “our Father”—i.e., the Father of mankind.

Verse 5

(5) Glory.—Perhaps, properly, the gloryi.e., the divine glory: that pre-eminent glory with which no other can compare.

If this is the case, then it would be better to supply “is” than “be.” His own peculiar glory does belong to God, and therefore the Christian ascribes it to Him as that which is already His; he does not pray for it as something unfulfilled, as, e.g., he prays for the coming of God’s kingdom.

In the insertion of this brief doxology the mind of the Apostle obeys an involuntary impulse of reverential awe. For a similar ascription in the same parenthetic form, comp. Romans 9:5.

For ever and ever.—Literally, for ages of ages, a Hebraising expression for infinite time. Commonly, time was divided only into two great world-periods; but the second is, as it were, multiplied indefinitely—“for all possible ages.”

Verse 6

(6) Removed.—The Greek word is one regularly used for a “deserter,” “turn-coat,” or “apostate,” either in war, politics, or religion. The tense is strictly present: “You are now, at this moment, in the act of falling away.”

Him that called you.—The call of the Christian is attributed by St. Paul to God the Father; so even in Romans 1:6. The Christian, having been called by God, belongs to Christ. The part taken by Christ in the calling of the Christian is rather a mediate agency, such as is expressed in the next phrase.

Into the grace of Christ.—Rather, by the grace of Christ. The grace (i.e., the free love) of Christ becomes the instrument of the divine calling, inasmuch as it is through the preaching of that free love and free gift that the unbeliever is at first attracted and won over to the faith. The “grace of Christ” is His voluntary self-surrender to humiliation and death, from no other prompting than His own love for sinful men.

Verses 6-7

(6, 7) Unto another gospel: which is not another.—It is to be regretted that the English language hardly admits the fine shade of distinction which exists here in the Greek. The Greek has two words for “another:” one (the first of those which is here used) implying a difference in kind, the other implying mere numerical addition.

Another gospel do I call it? That would seem to concede its right to be called a gospel at all. It might be supposed to be some alternative theory, existing side by side with that which you originally heard; but this cannot be. This “other gospel” is not a second gospel; for there cannot be two gospels. The inference, therefore, to be drawn is that it is not a gospel in any sense of the word. This, then, may be dismissed. It is no true gospel, but only mischievous and factious meddling on the part of certain false teachers.

Verses 6-10

(6-10) The Apostle is surprised at their rapid defection. The doctrine to which they had at first given in their adhesion was a doctrine of salvation by grace: they now imagined that they were only hearing a different version of the same truths. A different version? How was that possible? There could not be any second gospel, nor was there really anything of the kind. It was not a new gospel, but only a factious perversion of the old. Those who do this—no matter who they be—are accursed. That, at least, is plain speaking, and no one can accuse it of time-serving.

The Apostle had ended his address to the Galatians abruptly, and now he plunges abruptly, and without more preface, into the midst of his charges against them. He cannot understand their sudden apostasy.

Verse 7

(7) But there be some.—The force of the Greek, conjunction is, rather, except that, as the word “only” is used idiomatically in English. So far from being a second gospel, it is really no gospel, “only there are some . . . ,” i.e., the only sense in which there can be any mention of a second gospel is that there are some who pervert the old gospel. The existence of this party is the only excuse for the name. And it is a mere excuse. They do not deserve any such dignity. They really lay themselves under the curse of God.

That trouble you.—The Judaising party, with its restless factiousness and bigotry, causing schisms and divisions in the Church.

Pervert.—The Greek is even still stronger—reverse, or change to its very opposite. This they did by substituting a doctrine of righteousness by works—self-justification before God by performing the precepts of the Mosaic law—for the doctrine of reconciliation with God through the free forgiveness which He has promised to faith in Christ.

The gospel of Christ.—Where combinations of this kind occur, the question naturally suggests itself: What is the relation of the two words to each other? For instance, in the present case, is it “the gospel taught by Christ,” or the “gospel concerning Christ?” The following rule has been proposed:—In such phrases as the “gospel of salvation,” the “gospel of the kingdom,” the genitive is that of the object—“of” is equivalent to “concerning.” In the phrase “the gospel of God” it represents rather the cause or authorship: “the gospel of which God is the Author.” In the present phrase, “the gospel of Christ,” it may be either one or the other, according to the context. We must not, however, narrow too much the Apostle’s use of language. A somewhat vague and ambiguous term sometimes best expresses the fulness of his meaning. In English we might use the phrase “Christ’s gospel” to include at once “the gospel which proceeds from Christ,” and “the gospel which relates to Christ,” all, in fact, which makes it in any sense belong to Him and bear His name.

Verse 8

(8) Though.—The Greek is, strictly, even though, marking an extreme and improbable supposition.

We.—It seems, perhaps, too much to say, in the face of 2 Thessalonians 2:2 (“by letter as from us”), that St. Paul never used the plural in speaking of himself alone. Still there may, both there and here, be some thought of associating his more immediate companions (“the brethren which are with me,” Galatians 1:2) with himself, the more so as he knew them to be entirely at one with him in doctrine.

Than that.—The Greek has here, not a conjunction, but a preposition, the precise sense of which is ambiguous. It may mean “besides,” “in addition,” or it may mean “contrary to.” The first of these senses has met with the most favour from Protestant, the second from Roman Catholic commentators, as, on the one hand, it seemed to exclude, and on the other to admit, the appeal to tradition. Looking at it strictly in connection with the context, the sense “contrary” seems best, because the gospel taught by the Judaising teachers was “another,” in the sense of being different from that of St. Paul. It was a fundamental opposition of principles, not merely the addition of certain new doctrines to the old.

Accursed.—See 1 Corinthians 16:22. The original Greek word is retained in the translation, Let him be Anathema. The word exists in two forms, with a long e and a short e respectively; and whereas its original meaning was simply that of being “devoted to God,” the form with the long vowel came by gradual usage to be reserved for the good side of this: “devoted, in the sense of consecration; “while the form with the short vowel was in like manner reserved for the bad sense: “devoted to the curse of God.” Attempts have been made to weaken its significance in this passage by restricting it to “ex-communication by the Church;” but this, though a later ecclesiastical use of the word, was not current at such an early date.

In considering the dogmatic application, it is right to bear in mind the nature of the heretical doctrines which it was the Apostle’s object to denounce. They made no profession to be deduced from his own, but were in radical and avowed opposition to them. Still, there is room to believe that if the Apostle could have reviewed his own words at a calmer moment he might have said of himself: “I spake as a man.”

Verse 9

(9) As we said before.—Probably, upon his last (i.e., his second) visit, at the beginning of this, his third, great missionary journey (Acts 18:23). The germs of the apostasy in the Galatian Church would be already visible.

Verse 10

(10) Now.In speaking thus.

Persuade.Conciliate, seek to win favour with, or to make friends of.

For.—This word is omitted by all the best MSS. and editors. It is characteristic of the Apostle, especially in animated passages like the present, to omit the connecting particles which are so common in Greek. He has a simple answer to give to the accusation of time-serving, and he states it roundly: “If my present conduct was really that of a man-pleaser I should be something very different from what I am.”

Yet.Still; at this late period of my career. The Apostle has cut himself adrift from the current of his age too thoroughly and too long for him to be still floating with the tide.

Verse 11

(11, et seq.) The Apostle now enters at length upon his personal defence against his opponents. He does this by means of an historical retrospect of his career, proving by an exhaustive process the thesis with which he starts that the doctrine taught by him comes from a divine source, and possesses the divine sanction. My doctrine is not human, but divine; it could not be otherwise. For (a) I did not learn it in my youth—very much the contrary (Galatians 1:13-14); (b) I did not learn it at my conversion, for I went straight into the desert to wrestle with God in solitude (Galatians 1:15-17); (c) I did not learn it at my first visit to Jerusalem, for then I saw only Peter and James, and them but for a short time (Galatians 1:18-24); (d) I did not learn it at my later visit, for then I dealt with the other Apostles on equal terms, and was fully and freely acknowledged by them as the Apostle of the Gentiles (Galatians 2:1-10); (e) Nay, I openly rebuked Peter for seeming to withdraw the support he had accorded to me (Galatians 2:11-14); (f) the law is dead, and the life which the Christian has he draws solely from Christ (Galatians 2:15-21).

(11) But.—There is a nearly even balance of MSS. authority between this word and For. In any case we should in English naturally omit the conjunction, though a translation must represent it.

Certify.—The word which is thus translated is the same as that which is translated “declare” in 1 Corinthians 15:1; “give you to understand,” in 1 Corinthians 12:3; and “do you to wit,” in 2 Corinthians 8:1. It is used to introduce a statement made with emphasis and solemnity.

After man.—Perhaps the best way to express the force of this phrase would be by the adjective, “Is not human.” Literally it is, is not according to the standard of man—to be judged by human measure, and therefore human in all respects, in its nature and origin.

Verse 12

(12) For I neither received it.—The first “neither” in this verse does not answer to the second, but qualifies the pronoun “I.” The connection in the thought is perhaps something of this kind: “The gospel is not human as it comes to you; neither was it human as it first came to me.”

Taught.—There is an antithesis between this word and “revelation” in the next clause. “I did not receive my doctrine from man by a process of teaching and learning, but from Christ Himself by direct revelation.”

By the revelation.—It is better to omit the article: “by,” or “through the medium of,” revelation. What was this revelation, and when was it given? The context shows that it must have been at some time either at or near the Apostle’s conversion. This would be sufficient to exclude the later revelation of 2 Corinthians 12:1. But can it be the vision on the way to Damascus itself alone? At first sight it would seem as if this was too brief, and its object too special, to include the kind of “sum of Christian doctrine” of which the Apostle is speaking. But this at least contained the two main points—the Messiahship of Jesus, and faith in Jesus, from which all the rest of the Apostle’s teaching flowed naturally and logically. When once it was felt that the death of Christ upon the cross was not that of a criminal, but of the Son of God, the rest all seemed to follow. Putting this together with the sense, which we may well believe had been growing upon him, of the inefficacy of the Law, we can easily see how the idea would arise of a sacrifice superseding the Law, and in the relegation of the Law to this very secondary position the main barrier between Jew and Gentile would be removed. St. Paul himself, by laying stress upon his retreat to the deserts of Arabia, evidently implies that the gospel, as taught by him in its complete form, was the result of gradual development and prolonged reflection; but whether this is to be regarded as implicitly contained in the first revelation, or whether we are to suppose that there were successive revelations, of which there is no record in the Acts, cannot be positively determined.

Of Jesus Christi.e., given by Jesus Christ; of which Jesus Christ is the Author.

Verse 13

(13) Ye have heard.—Rather, ye heard. It was indeed notorious; but the Apostle may be referring to the fact that he himself usually (see Acts 22:3-21; Acts 26:4-20; 1 Corinthians 15:8-10) brought his own career and experiences into his preaching, so that they may have heard it from his own lips.

My conversation . . . in the Jews’ religion.—How I behaved in the days of my Judaism. The phrase “Jews’ religion” (literally, Judaism) is not used with any sense of disparagement.

Wasted it.—The same word is translated “destroyed” in Acts 9:21 : “Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name?”

Verses 13-14

(13, 14) Proof that the doctrine of the Apostle is derived from God and not from man, in that it could not be accounted for by his antecedents and education, all of which told against, rather than for, a Christian belief of any kind.

Verse 14

(14) Profited.—Made progress. The kind of progress would correspond to the width of the term “Judaism,” with which it is connected, and would imply, not merely proficiency in theological knowledge, but also increase in zeal and strictness of ritualistic observance.

My equals.—Strictly, my equals in age. St. Paul is thinking of his contemporaries among the young men who came up, ardent like himself, to study the Law at the feet of Gamaliel or some other eminent Rabbi. He looks back upon them much as some English political or religious leader might look back upon his contemporaries at the university, and might point to his zealous advocacy of a cause that he has long since given over.

Traditions.—The “traditions of the elders” mentioned in Matthew 15:2, Mark 7:3, by which the commandment of God “was made of none effect” (Matthew 15:6); the oral or unwritten law, which had gradually grown up by the side of the Pentateuch, and was afterwards embodied in the Mishnah.

Verse 15

(15) In pursuance of his main argument, the Apostle lays stress upon the fact that his very conversion and mission to the Gentiles had been first predestinated in the divine counsels, and afterwards carried out through divine interposition: it was throughout the work of God, and not of man.

Pleased.—The word specially used of the free will and pleasure of God, determined absolutely by itself, and by no external cause.

God.—The word should be printed in italics. It is wanting in the true text, but is left to be supplied by the reader.

Separated me.—Set me apart, marked me off from the rest of mankind, for this special object (i.e., the Apostleship of the Gentiles). (Comp. Romans 1:1, and Note there.)

From my mother’s womb.—A comparison of other passages where this phrase is used seems to make it clear that the sense is rather “from the moment of my birth” than “from before my birth.” (See Psalms 22:10; Isaiah 49:1; Isaiah 49:5; Matthew 19:12; Acts 3:2; Acts 14:8.) From the moment that he became a living and conscious human being he was marked out in the purpose of God for his future mission.

Called me.—The call is identical with the conversion of the Apostle through the vision which appeared to him on the way to Damascus. As the Apostle was conscious of having done nothing to deserve so great a mark of the divine favour, it is set down entirely to an act of grace.

Verse 16

(16) To reveal his Son in me.—That is, probably, in my mind, or consciousness. Before the Apostle could preach Christ to the Gentiles he needed to have first that intense inward conviction which was wrought in him during that sustained mental struggle which followed upon his conversion. It is possible that “in me” might be equivalent to “through me, as an organ or instrument”; but the sense above given, “in my heart and soul,” seems more likely.

That I might preach him.—The one process was preparatory to the other. Having once obtained a firm inward apprehension of Christ as the Messiah and Saviour, the Apostle then comes forward to preach Him among the heathen. But that firm inward apprehension was not to be attained all at once, and it was in seeking this that “the Spirit drove him” into the wilderness of Arabia. First comes the instantaneous flash of the idea upon his soul (“to reveal his Son in me”); then the prolonged conflict and meditation, in which it gets thoroughly consolidated, and adjusted, and worked into his being (during the retirement into Arabia); lastly, the public appearance as a preacher to the heathen upon the return to Damascus.

Immediately.—This brings out the promptness and decision of the Apostle’s action. The moment that the idea of Jesus as the Saviour was presented to his mind he sought no human aid to help him to work out the conception, but went at once into the desert.

Conferred not.—A substantially correct translation, though not quite exact. The Greek word contains the idea of taking counsel in personal interview, much as we now use the word “apply” in the phrase to “apply to a person.”

With flesh and bloodi.e., with man, with especial reference to human frailty and fallibility. Compare, for a like contrast between human and divine revelation, the commendation of St. Peter in Matthew 16:17 : “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”

Verse 17

(17) Went I up.—The usual phrase is to go up to “Jerusalem,” from the fact that Jerusalem stood upon high ground, and was approached from all sides by an ascent. Here, however, the reading is doubtful between “went up” and “went away,” each of which is supported by nearly equally good authority. In so close a balance of the authorities the less common phrase is, perhaps, more likely to have been the original reading, though there is an almost equal probability that it may have slipped in from the second “went” (really the same word, “went away”), a little further on in the verse.

Unto Arabia.—The question, what part of Arabia St. Paul retired into can only be one of speculation. There is nothing in the context to show at all decisively. The boundary of Arabia at this period was not exactly defined. By some writers it was made to include Damascus itself. It is therefore possible that by “Arabia” may have been meant the desert in the neighbourhood of the city. This would be the most obvious supposition. But, on the other hand, there would be a certain appropriateness if we could imagine, as we are certainly permitted to do, that the scene of his sojourn may have been the region of Mount Sinai itself. The place where the Law was first given may have seen its renewal in his mind—not destroyed, but fulfilled in the new law of love. Like Moses, and like Elijah, the great minister of the new dispensation may have here received strength for his work. And if this was the case, we can the more readily understand the typical allusion to Mount Sinai later in the Epistle. Such arguments may have some slight weight, but the real locality must remain uncertain.

As to the time of the Apostle’s withdrawal, and its duration, little can be said beyond the fact that it must have come within the three years that intervened between his conversion and the first visit to Jerusalem. When we compare this account with the narrative of the Acts, it is not clear how they are to be reconciled. St. Paul says, that after his conversion, “immediately (eutheôs) he conferred not with flesh and blood . . . but went unto Arabia.” St. Luke says, after recording the same event, “Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway (eutheos) he preached Christ (or, according to a more correct reading, Jesus) in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:19-20). There does not seem room here to insert the retreat into Arabia. It would indeed come in more naturally among the “many days,” mentioned in a later verse, which were terminated by the plot of the Jews against the life of the Apostle and his final escape from Damascus. There would still, however, be some apparent collision between “conferring not with flesh and blood” and “spending certain days with the disciples” at Damascus. The discrepancy is only such as we might expect to find between two perfectly independent narratives, one of which was compiled from secondary sources, and is, besides, very brief and summary in its form. We are obliged, by the Apostle’s own words, to believe that his withdrawal into Arabia took place “immediately” after his conversion; and as it would not take a very long time to attract the attention or excite the animosity of the Jews at Damascus, it seems natural to suppose that this period of silent seclusion occupied the larger half of the whole period of three years.

The patristic commentators seem to have held, for the most part, to the belief that the object of his visit to Arabia was to preach to the heathen there; but the whole context of the Epistle shows that it was rather for solitary meditation and communion with God.

Damascus.—We gather from 2 Corinthians 11:32 that Damascus was at this time in the possession, or in some manner, at least, under the rule, of Aretas, the Arabian king. How this can have been is an obscure and difficult question. (See Note on that passage.) It may have been seized by him, and held for a time, during his war with Herod Antipas and the Romans at the end of the reign of Tiberius, in A.D. 36-37; or it may possibly have been placed in his hands by Caligula on the disgrace of his rival, Antipas; or “the ethnarch under Aretas the king” may have been an officer subordinate to the Romans, and charged with a sort of consulship over the Arabians in Damascus. The first theory does not seem quite probable in the face of a power so strong as that of Rome; the second is a pure hypothesis, with no support from any contemporary writer; and the third hardly seems to satisfy the conditions of the problem. In any case, the most probable date of these events would be soon after the death of Tiberius in A.D. 37.

Verse 18

(18) After three years.—This date is probably to be reckoned from the great turning-point in the Apostle’s career—his conversion. It need not necessarily mean three full years, just as the three days during which our Lord lay in the grave were not three full days. It may have been only one whole year and parts of two others; but the phrase may equally well cover three whole years. This ambiguity shows the difficulty of constructing any precise system of chronology.

To see.—The word used is a somewhat peculiar one, and is applied specially to sight-seeing—in the first instance of things and places, but secondarily also of persons. It would be used only of something notable. St. Paul’s object was to make the personal acquaintance of St. Peter as the head of the Christian community, not to seek instruction from him.

Peter.—The true reading here is undoubtedly Cephas. There is a natural tendency in the MSS. to substitute the more common name for the less common. St. Paul seems to have used the two names indifferently.

Roman Catholic commentators argue from this passage, not without reason, that St. Peter must at this time have taken the lead in the Church.

Fifteen days.—Only a small portion of this time can have been actually spent in the company of St. Peter, as we gather from the Acts that much of it must have been occupied by public disputations with the Greek-speaking Jews. (See Acts 9:28-29.)

Verses 18-24

(18-24) Nor did that consultation with the elder Apostles, which had hitherto been impossible, take place when, at last, after the lapse of three years, the Apostle did go up to Jerusalem. He saw indeed Peter and James, but for so short a time that he could have learnt nothing essential from them. To the rest of the churches of Judæa he was known only by report; and they were too rejoiced at his conversion to show any jealousy of him.

Verse 19

(19) Other of the apostles.—From the form of this phrase it would appear that James, the Lord’s brother, was considered to be an Apostle. In what sense he was an Apostle will depend very much upon who he was (see the next Note). If he was a cousin of our Lord, and identical with James the son of Alphæus, then he was one of the original Twelve. If he was not the son of Alphæus, but either the son of Joseph alone or of Joseph and Mary, then the title must be given to him in the wider sense in which it is applied to Paul and Barnabas.

The Lord’s brother.—What relationship is indicated by this? The question has been already dealt with in the Notes on the Gospels. (See Notes on Matthew 12:46; Matthew 13:55; John 7:3; John 7:5.) The present writer has nothing to add, except to express his entire agreement with what has been there said, and his firm conviction that the theory which identifies the “brethren of the Lord” with His cousins, the sons of Clopas, is untenable. A full account of the James who is here mentioned will be found in the Introduction to the Epistle which goes by his name.

Verse 20

(20) A solemn asseveration of the truth of these statements as to the extent of the Apostle’s relation with the elder disciples.

Verse 21

(21) Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.—We gather from the parallel narrative in Acts 9:30; Acts 11:25-26, that the course which the Apostle followed was this:—He was first conveyed secretly by the disciples to the sea-port Cæsarea Stratonis; there he took ship and sailed for Tarsus. Here he was found, somewhat later, by Barnabas, and taken to Antioch, where he remained a year. It would thus appear that the order in which the two names, Syria and Cilicia, occur does not represent the order in which the two provinces were visited. The Apostle, reviewing his past career at a distance of time, and with a certain special object in view, which is not affected by the geographical direction of his movements, speaks in this general way. It hardly seems necessary to suppose an unrecorded visit to Syria on the way to Tarsus, though that, of course, is possible. Still more gratuitous is the supposition that there is any contradiction between the historical narrative and our Epistle, for such generalities of expression are what most persons may constantly detect themselves in using. The accuracy of the pedant neither belongs to St. Paul’s Epistles nor to real life.

Regions.—The Greek word here is the same as that which is translated “parts” in Romans 15:23, where see the Note.

Verse 22

(22) Was unknown by face.—The Greek is a shade stronger: I continued unknown. If in Jerusalem itself the Apostle had not had time to receive instruction from any one, still less was this the case with the other Christian communities of Judæa. To these he was not known even by sight. At the same time, so far were they from manifesting any opposition to his teaching, that their one thought was joy to hear of his conversion.

The churches of Judæa.—Judæa is here distinguished from Jerusalem. The phrase is noticeable as pointing to the spread and early organisation of the Church at a date removed by not more than ten years from our Lord’s ascension.

Which were in Christ.—This is added in order to distinguish the Christian from the Jewish communities. It means, however, something more than merely “Christian.” The various sections of the Christian Church not only professed a common creed, and were called by a common name, but they stood in the same direct and personal relation to Christ as their Head. It was His presence diffused among them which gave them unity.

Verse 23

(23) Had heard.—Rather, were hearing.

The faith.—Not quite, as yet, “the body of Christian doctrine,” which was in process of forming rather than already formed, but the one cardinal doctrine of faith in Christ. (Comp. Romans 1:5, and Note there.)

Verse 24

(24) They glorified God in me.—This verse represents the proper attitude of Christian hero-worship. An eminent Christian is like a “city set on a hill.” But the admiration which he attracts does not rest in him; it is made the occasion for giving praise to God.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Galatians 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/galatians-1.html. 1905.
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