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Bible Commentaries

Hamilton Smith's Writings

Galatians 1

Verses 1-24

Galatians 1

It becomes clear, as we read the Epistle to the Galatians, that wrong doctrine, of a serious nature, had arisen in the Assemblies of Galatia. It was being taught that those who believe must be circumcised and observe all the precepts of the law of Moses, otherwise they could not be saved. They did not directly deny the truth of the Person of Christ, nor the facts of His death and resurrection, nor the necessity of faith in Christ;. but they asserted that faith in Christ and His work was; not sufficient for salvation. This false teaching, by insisting on adding our works to the work of Christ, in order to be saved, set aside the sufficiency of the work of Christ and justification by faith. This false teaching had been introduced into the assemblies of Galatia by judaising teachers who had obtained a footing among the saints. Their attack was upon the truth, but the method adopted was not to face the truth, but to attack the teacher of the truth. They sought to persuade the saints that the Apostle Paul had not been sent by Peter and the other apostles, and therefore had no divine authority for his apostleship. If then he came without divine authority they could no longer accept the gospel that he preached as being the truth. Thus, instead of facing the truth that was in question, they fell back on personal abuse of the Apostle ( Gal_4:17 ). Alas! how often in the conflicts that have arisen amongst the professing people of God, since that day, have similar tactics been adopted.

Briefly, then, the two great evils into which the assemblies at Galatia had fallen were the insistence of law-keeping in order to be saved, and the adoption of apostolic succession, or the principle of clerisy, in order to be a servant of the Lord. To meet these two evils the Apostle definitely refuses apostolic succession by establishing his apostleship as derived immediately from Christ Himself, and assorts the impossibility of combining the law and the gospel as a moans of salvation. In the introductory verses the apostle gives a brief summary of the two great themes of his Epistle. In verses 1 and 2 he sums up the truth of his apostleship; in verses 3 to 5 he sums up the truth of his teaching.

(Vv. 1, 2.) At once the apostle assorts that his apostleship was not "from man" as a source, nor "by man" as a means. In Paul's apostleship it is evident there was no succession from others and no ordination by others. The statement that Paul's apostleship was "neither by man" strikes at the whole principle of clerisy. Those in the clerical system may freely admit that their authority is not from man, but they would not, and could not, say that it was neither by man. Paul received his authority, and his direction, not from Peter or the Twelve, but from the risen Christ.

The apostle adds importance to his epistle by uniting with him "all the brethren" which were with him. He thus shows that the Galatian assemblies were not only giving up the truths taught by himself, but were forsaking the common faith of the brethren. This surely has a warning for us, and should make us pause before asserting that which is contrary to the truth held by "all the brethren."

(Vv. 3-5.) Having asserted the truth of his apostleship, the apostle, in the following verses, gives a brief but beautiful summary of the truths that he taught. First, he proclaimed the greatness and efficacy of the work of Christ - the One who gave Himself for our sins. To turn back to the law and its ceremonies, as if to add thereby to the efficacy of the work of Christ, was to cast a slur upon Christ. It was practically saying that though He "gave Himself" this inestimable gift was not enough. Secondly, the work of Christ not only settles the question of the believer's sins but delivers from this present evil world. Those who would put us back under law desire to make a fair show in the flesh and thus link us up with the world. Thirdly, the truth taught by the apostle was according to the will of God and our Father, and, above all, redounds to the glory of God for ever and ever. To put believers back under law was simply to indulge the will of man, and exalt men by seeking to make "a fair show in the flesh" ( Gal_6:12 ), and thus "glory" in the flesh (6: 12, 13). Thus, at the outset of his epistle, the apostle presents the efficacy of the Person and work of Christ in meeting our needs, separating us from the world, and effecting the will of God for the eternal glory of God. Alas! Christendom has largely fallen into the Galatian heresy! While making a profession of Christianity, it practically sets aside the work of Christ by the works of men, leaves men in the world with the vain endeavour of making it a bettor and a brighter world, and seeks to carry out the will of man for the glory of man.

Following upon the introductory verses, the Apostle, in the first two chapters, presents certain historical facts in relation to himself, which prove the Divine authority of his apostleship apart altogether from man. Then in chapters 3 to 6 he re-asserts his teaching and its effect, in contrast to the law, and the result for those who put themselves under law.

(Vv. 6, 7.) The apostle commences by expressing his amazement at the inconsistency of the Galatians. Time was when they had received him "as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus" ( Gal_4:14 ). Now their attitude had entirely changed, and they were calling in question his authority. But, what was yet more serious, in rejecting him they were also rejecting the gospel that he preached - the only true gospel, for Paul will not admit that there is another gospel than the one that he preached.

In contrast to Paul, through whom the gospel of the grace of God had been made known to them, there were those who troubled the Galatian believers by preaching, not the gospel of Christ, but a perversion of the gospel. These false teachers did not directly deny the facts of the gospel, but they perverted them. A perversion is often more dangerous than a flat denial, for in a perversion there is sufficient truth to deceive the unwary, and sufficient error to make the truth of no effect.

Thus the apostle touches upon the two forms of departure from the truth into which the Galatian assemblies were falling. First, they were giving up the divine authority of the word of God and asserting human authority; secondly, they were giving up the pure gospel as the way of salvation and falling back on law and human tradition. Alas! are these not the two evils that have so largely corrupted the Christian profession of today?

(Vv. 8, 9.) Before proceeding further, the Apostle, with intensely solemn and ardent words, pronounces a curse upon any who preach as glad tidings anything contrary to that which they had received through his preaching. If the Apostle himself, or even an angel, preach any other gospel, let him be accursed. These are words which completely exclude all development or further light, of which men speak, that would set aside the alone sufficiency of the work of Christ to secure the salvation of everyone that believes.

(V. 10.) In speaking in these solemn and plain terms, Paul makes manifest that he is no mere man pleaser, ready to abandon the truth and compromise with error, in order to stand well with the crowd. No man was more gentle, lowly and gracious than the Apostle, but no one was bolder, more vehement and plain of speech if the truth was in question. Were it otherwise, he would have ceased to be "the servant of Christ." Well for every servant to follow his example, even as he also followed Christ ( 1Co_11:1 ). In the presence of insults the Lord was silent ( Mar_15:3-5 ). When it was a question of bearing witness to the truth He spoke out plainly ( Joh_18:33-38 ).

(Vv. 11, 12.) Having given these introductory warnings, the Apostle proceeds to give a detailed statement of his Divine authority for the gospel that he preached. He makes three distinct claims for the gospel.

First, the glad tidings that he preached were "not according to man." Men dream of a gospel which would exalt man by offering him blessing as the result of his own efforts. God's glad tidings, while indeed they bring eternal blessing to man, do so in a way that brings eternal glory to God.

Secondly, the glad tidings preached by Paul did not come "from man" as a source.

Thirdly, the Apostle was not taught the gospel by man; he received it "by the revelation of Jesus Christ."

(Vv. 13, 14.) In proof of these statements, the Apostle, in the verses that follow, goes over his history, which indeed they had already heard. In doing so, he recounts only those incidents which show how God dealt with him, and communicated the gospel to him, entirely apart from the intervention of man.

First, he reminds the Galatian believers that, in his unconverted days, he had Persecuted the Church of God and wasted it. With all the intense prejudice of a bigoted Jew he had gone beyond the measure of others in his hatred of the Church. When others were learning the truth through the preaching of the gospel and being brought into the Church, he was persecuting it. His zeal for the Jew's religion and the traditions of the fathers effectually blinded him to the preaching of the Apostles. It is evident, then, that in his unconverted days he was unreached by the preaching of others.

(Vv. 15-17.) Then, when the moment came that he was called by grace he did not confer with flesh and blood. He did not go to Jerusalem, the seat of traditional authority, nor did he confer with those who were Apostles before him. It was God that called him; God revealed His Son in him; and God gave him his commission to preach the glad tidings among the Gentiles. God had direct dealings and communications with the Apostle apart from men, from Jerusalem and the other Apostles.

(Vv. 18, 19.) Having spent three years in Arabia and Damascus, the Apostle pays a visit of fifteen days to Peter at Jerusalem. The only other Apostle he saw was James, the brother of our Lord. This visit, then, was not an official one to receive instructions, or ordination, but rather a personal one to make the acquaintance of Peter.

(Vv. 20-24.) The Apostle adds solemn importance to his words by reminding us that he speaks "before God," and adds, "I lie not." Good for us all, if at all times we speak as consciously in the presence of God, and can truly say, "Behold, before God, I lie not." After his visit to Jerusalem he went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. So far from receiving any communications, or authority, from the assemblies of Judea, he was unknown to them even by face. This only they knew, that the one-time persecutor was now a preacher of the faith which once he had sought to destroy. Hearing what he was doing they did not interfere with the Apostle or give him instructions and advice, nor did they complain that he was preaching apart from the authority of the twelve; but they glorified God for all that He was doing in and through the Apostle. Thus the very man that these false teachers were seeking to belittle was one in whom the Assemblies in Judea, the centre of the legal system, found occasion to glorify God.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Galatians 1". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/galatians-1.html. 1832.