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Bible Commentaries

Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Galatians 1

Verses 1-10

On mixing grace and works

Galatians 1:1-48.1.10

Paul had planted several churches in Galatia and was now a prisoner at Rome. Some false teachers had seduced some of these Galatians from the gospel of free grace preached by Paul, persuading them that observance of the Levitical ceremonies was necessary to salvation and that justification before God was partly through faith in Christ and partly from their own works. They also said that Paul was not really an apostle like the other apostles who had been with Christ during his earthly ministry and, therefore, Paul's doctrine was not to be accepted. Paul wrote to convince the Galatians of their error, to turn them back to Christ alone and to press upon them the duties of a holy life.

Galatians 1:1 . Paul claims to be an apostle, the highest office in the church. He did not receive this office from a group of men, or from any one man, but from the Lord Jesus Christ and from God the Father (Acts 26:13-44.26.18). His office was confirmed by signs and miracles. Christ appeared to him, Christ was seen by him and he received his gospel from Christ (Galatians 1:11-48.1.12).

Galatians 1:2 . This letter and greeting are not only from Paul but from all of the brethren who were with Paul and who assisted him in the ministry. The letter is to all of the churches of Galatia. The churches were not national but congregational; each local assembly was autonomous, functioning independently without control by the others.

Galatians 1:3 . Paul wishes for them the gracious favour and goodwill of God, whereby he is pleased with his elect in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-49.1.7), and peace with God - peace of conscience, peace with one another and even peace with their enemies. God is the fountain of peace and grace, and Christ is the means to convey grace and peace to us.

Galatians 1:4 . Having mentioned the Lord Jesus in Galatians 1:3, Paul goes on to describe our Redeemer by his one great act as the great High Priest over the house of God, by which he redeemed, justified, sanctified and delivered us from guilt, wrath and condemnation from this present evil world. He gave himself, soul and body, for our sins on the cross of Calvary (Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 10:12-58.10.14).

Galatians 1:5 . Here is the duty and occupation of the saved - to ascribe all glory and praise to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The glory of Christ and our gratitude to him are the theme of our lives and shall be the long-lasting and never-ending song of the redeemed throughout eternity (Revelation 5:13).

Galatians 1:6-48.1.7 . Paul enters into the subject matter of this epistle, which is to reprove and rebuke any man who leaves the gospel of God's free grace and attempts to mix works with grace (Romans 11:5-45.11.6). It is surprising and astonishing that any person who has heard the good news of salvation by the grace of God through the merits of Christ would leave that gospel and look to a perverted gospel of grace plus works. But that is what these Galatians were doing. These teachers had persuaded the people to leave Paul's message and receive theirs, which added circumcision, ceremonies, holy days and human works to the works of Christ. This is not a gospel (good news) at all, but a perverted system of self-righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 1:19-51.1.22; Colossians 2:8-51.2.15).

Galatians 1:8-48.1.9 . The apostle then expressed the seriousness of their error. 'If any person preaches any other way of salvation except the full, sufficient, complete and eternal redemption that Jesus Christ by himself accomplished on behalf of his elect (which requires nothing of the creature but faith), even if it be an angel from heaven, let that person be accursed.' Paul also says, 'If we bring any other gospel, let us be accursed.' He repeats the warning for emphasis.

Galatians 1:10 . 'Are we trying to win the favour of man or of God? Do we seek to be men-pleasers? If we are seeking the favour and approval of men, we are not the bond-servants of Jesus Christ. Our aim is to be true to the word of God, and in doing so we will be true to our hearers.' This gospel of the free grace of God is glorifying to God and honoring to all of his excellent attributes - his love and mercy, his infinite wisdom, his righteous justice and his immutable holiness. This gospel of the free grace of God in Christ is the only hope that sinful, corrupt men have; for if righteousness comes by any obedience to the law at all, not only did Christ die in vain, but no son of Adam has any hope of being saved.

Verses 11-24

Paul - the Apostle

Galatians 1:11-48.1.24

The false prophets, who had seduced the churches of Galatia from the gospel of free grace and persuaded them that the observance of the Levitical ceremonies (fulfilled and abolished by Christ) was necessary for salvation and that justification and salvation were partly from faith in Christ and partly from their own works, had also charged that Paul was not a true apostle and that his doctrine was a fake. This is what Paul is dealing with in these verses. We are certainly in trouble if Paul is not an apostle, for he is responsible for about one half of the New Testament which we read and believe.

Galatians 1:11 . These false teachers did not say that the gospel was man-made nor that it came from men (for they themselves pretended to preach the gospel), but they argued that Paul had no authority for what he preached other than human authority and thus was not to be followed. Therefore, Paul says that the gospel of free grace in Christ alone (which he preached) is 'not from man,’ nor is he an ordinary preacher, but an appointed apostle of Christ.

Galatians 1:12 . You and I do receive the gospel from men, and we are taught by men. It is true that the Holy Spirit opens our hearts, enlightens our minds and reveals the gospel to us; but he uses human teachers, preachers and witnesses. This is why we should search the word, try the spirits and take heed what we hear! But an apostle (like Paul) did not receive the gospel this way; he learned it by revelation from Jesus Christ. That is why we can quote the apostle and be sure that we are quoting and following God (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-61.1.21).

Galatians 1:13-48.1.14 . 'I am no stranger to the Levitical law and ceremonies,' he says. The works, deeds and circumcision which the false teachers wished to add to the gospel and required of them were at one time his only hope for salvation and his only message.

1. Paul was born of Jewish parents, had a Jewish education, followed the Jewish law to the letter and lived as a Pharisee (Acts 26:4-44.26.5; Philippians 3:5-50.3.6).

2. He hated Jesus Christ and persecuted the church. Salvation by grace (apart from human merit) was a gospel which he tried to destroy.

3. His ability to defend the law was above and beyond that of many who were his equal in age. He was the champion and leader (both in ability and zeal) of those who defended the traditions and laws of his fathers. In other words, these works and law advocates were not dealing with a novice. Paul exceeded them all in every way as an advocate of salvation by works.

Galatians 1:15 . Here Paul begins to relate his conversion - his call, the revelation of Christ in his heart and the direct revelation of the gospel to him by the Master.

1. God chose Paul to salvation and to the apostleship before he was born, yes, before the foundation of the world, as God has chosen all of his people (Jeremiah 1:5; Ephesians 1:3-49.1.4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13).

2. When it pleased God (in God's own time), he stopped Paul on his road of rebellion, enlightened him and called him to Christ ( Rom 8:29-30 ; 2 Timothy 1:9; John 6:37; John 6:44-43.6.45).

Galatians 1:16 . Christ was revealed to Paul as the Messiah, the atonement, the sin-offering, the fulfillment of every type, prophecy and ceremony, and in the glory of his person and work. But Christ was revealed in Paul, for Christ was formed in him. Christ's Spirit dwelt in him, Christ's grace was implanted in him and now he lived by the faith of the Son of God. Paul needed no ceremony, circumcision, nor works to make him complete; he was complete in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30). After this revelation of Christ in Paul, he did not confer with other men to verify it or complete it.

Galatians 1:17 . 'I did not seek out those who were apostles before I was called to be an apostle, but I went to Arabia; afterwards I came back to Damascus.' What he did there, how long he stayed and what ministry he pursued we are not told anywhere.

Galatians 1:18-48.1.19 . 'After three years I visited the apostle Peter and spent fifteen days with him. I did not talk to any of the other apostles except James.' This is observed to show that Paul did not receive his gospel from men, even from the other apostles of Christ. His sole authority and revelation came from Christ.

Galatians 1:20-48.1.24 . 'What I have written to you is the truth. I did not receive my gospel from the apostles nor from the churches of Judea. I did not visit them and was unknown to them except by reputation. They heard of me, rejoiced and praised God that he was pleased to save me and call me to preach Christ.'

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Bibliographical Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on Galatians 1". Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 2013.