Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 2nd, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 1

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

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Verse 1

Paul, an apostle (not from men, neither through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead)

Verse 2

and all the brethren that are with me, unto the churches of Galatia [These two verses form not only the text of this first section, but also the keynote of the entire epistle. Without a moment’s introduction, Paul passes at once to that which caused him to write, viz.: the challenge of his apostleship. If it was urged against him that he was but the faithless messenger of the other apostles, he replies by asserting, in the clearest, most forceful way, the nature of his apostleship. Both as to source and agency it was divine. The call to it came from God and not from men, and the call came through the agency of Jesus Christ, and not through the agency of any man. The election of Matthias throws light upon these words (Acts 1:23-26), for if he was not called of the apostles, he was at least called through their agency. Paul’s call, on the contrary, was from the lips of Jesus himself, and had in it no human mixture whatever. Why Paul speaks of the resurrection of Jesus is not clear. It has been thought that Paul could claim a call from God the Father, because the Father, by the resurrection of the Son, gave official countenance to the acts of the Son. Again it is thought that Paul has in mind the fact that Jesus rose from the dead for our justification (Romans 4:25), and since justification by faith in Christ is the main theme of the epistle, he mentions the resurrection to pave the way for the introduction of that theme. But it seems more likely, from the context, that he has in mind the fact that his own call came after the resurrection of Jesus, and so the resurrection of Jesus was an essential element in the proof of his apostleship. Paul mentions the brethren who were with him. For a probable list of them see Acts 20:4; Acts 21:16 . Paul does not mention them by name, as he does in the epistles to the Thessalonians and Corinthians, because the letter is of a more personal nature than any of these others. But he does mention them to let the Galatians know that others sympathized with him in all that he wrote. The address implies that there were many churches in Galatia, yet to none of them does he attach any honorable title, for none of them does he offer the usual expression of thanksgiving, and to none of them does he speak the customary words of commendation and praise. This ominous silence on the part of the apostle constitutes a most telling rebuke]

Verse 3

Grace to you and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ [see 1 Corinthians 1:3 and note]

Verse 4

who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father

Verse 5

to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen. [The mention of the Lord Jesus Christ in the benediction, coupled with the thought which was uppermost in his mind, namely, that the Galatians were forsaking salvation through Jesus in the hope that they might obtain it through the law of Moses, leads Paul in these very opening sentences to fully set forth the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the deliverance through him, and the will of God, who ordered that atonement and deliverance should come in this way. Gratitude to Christ, who, owning his life, might have retained it, but freely gave it for us, and desire for deliverance from this present evil world, and respect for the sovereign will of God our Father, are three strong motives prompting us to be steadfast in the profession of our Christian faith. To each of these motives Paul appeals. It is the apostle’s habit, whenever he has occasion to make mention of the mercy of God, to break forth in expressions of thanksgiving (2 Corinthians 9:15; Ephesians 3:20), and he follows his custom here.]

Verse 6

I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel [The word translated "marvel" conveys the idea of admiration rather than of wonder. Their fickleness was sufficiently striking to be brilliant. Since, if Paul wrote this letter from Corinth on his third missionary tour, it was three years since he had been with them, commentators have been tempted to choose some other date comporting better with "quickly," for three years is rather a long period. But Paul refers to moral speed. The Galatians were changing their position hastily and without due consideration. In doing this they were withdrawing from the God who called them (for "him" refers to God, and not to Paul-- Galatians 1:15; Galatians 5:8; Romans 8:30; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:24; 2 Timothy 1:9) and from the grace, or liberty, peace, etc., of the kingdom into which they had been called, for what? for a new gospel which was not worthy of the name. There can be but one gospel; that there might be two, between which men might choose, is something which the apostle denies in the next verse]

Verse 7

which is not another gospel: only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. [This verse defines the meaning of that which precedes, so as to correct the false impression that there might be two gospels, similar in sonic respects and equally effective. The folly of such a thought is ironically set forth at 2 Corinthians 11:4 . There is, says the apostle, emphatically but one gospel, but there are some who would revolutionize you (the word "trouble" has this force) by perverting the gospel, making it an unholy, ineffectual compound of living truth and obsolete Jewish forms. His failure to name the leaders in this movement shows his contempt for them. They were parties unknown and deserving to remain unknown. One can not help wishing that modern churches would waken to the truth here spoken by the apostle. There is and must ever be but one gospel. There is not a separate gospel suited to the prejudices or so-called "tastes" of each sect or denomination. There is but one gospel, and hence all church divisions result from perversions of that gospel, and all such secessions or revolutionary divisions are but the beguiling of Satan, drawing disciples from "the simplicity and purity that is toward Christ"-- 2 Corinthians 11:3 ]

Verse 8

But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema.

Verse 9

As we have said before, so say I now again, If any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema. [Here the apostle supposes an impossibility, that he may thereby show that it is not possible to make any alterations in the gospel which God would sanction or accept. No man could make such alterations; no, not even an angel. Chrysostom suggests that these gospel perverters claim for their teaching the authority of the older apostles, Peter, James, John, etc., and interprets Paul thus: "Don’t tell me of John, don’t tell me of James. If one of the highest angels were to come, corrupting the truth originally preached, he must be rejected. . . . When the truth is in question, respect of persons is inadmissible." In this connection it is interesting to note that the Galatians had at first received Paul as an angel of light (Galatians 4:14), and they were now probably so receiving these perverters. Also we may observe that the words of angels would be valueless if spoken in an improper spirit (1 Corinthians 13:1), and lastly that the sayings of Jesus differ from the sayings of the law in this very respect, viz.: they are weightier than any words conveyed through the agency of angels (Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 2:1-3). Upon all such perverters Paul pours out the anathema of God, devoting them to destruction. See 1 Corinthians 16:22 . In later centuries the anathema became associated with excommunication, until the two words became convertible terms; but no such confusion of terms existed in Paul’s day, and his words mean more even than severance from the church. Moreover, excommunication would not affect angels, since they are not members of our churches. Paul’s language shows that at his last visit (Acts 18:23) he had warned the Galatians against such Judaizers, and he now makes the warning more effectual by repetition. His reference to his former words suggests surprise that they should have so far forgotten them as to be misled despite them. The strong wording of this entire passage forms a solemn warning against the sin of corrupting the gospel. All offices, appearances and reputations to the contrary, whoso perverts the divine truth is an enemy to Christ, and rests under the curse of God. Compare Matthew 7:22-23 . And who will presume to say how large or important a change must be to constitute a perversion? It is best, as Dean Howson observes, to understand Paul as "precluding any deviation of any kind from the original gospel."]

Verse 10

For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? or am I striving to please men? if I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ. [Paul’s enemies accused him of being a time-serving, man-pleasing factionist, who, to gain for himself a large party of adherents, had allowed the Gentiles undue liberty, even receiving them into the fellowship of the church without subjecting them to the essential rite of circumcision, thus being content to let them rest in a low state of imperfection and perhaps even risk their salvation rather than alienate their affections by telling them unpalatable truths, or making unwelcome requirements. Paul therefore makes his present conduct an answer to all this. Neither in his present utterance or in his life since his conversion had he proved himself such a time-server. On the contrary, however, whenever a crisis arose requiring him to make a choice between pleasing man and God, he had spoken God’s unpleasant truths freely, regardless of their effect on human friendship. Whatever he had done when he was a Pharisee to please priest or people, he was not continuing to do so now. He was no longer a Jew, a Pharisee, or a persecutor of Christians as he would be if he were pleasing men, but he was a servant of Christ; though being so involved being misunderstood, hated, slandered, persecuted and reviled.]

Verse 11

For I make known to you, brethren [Paul’s affection will crop out], as touching the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man.

Verse 12

For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ. [I want you to understand that the gospel which I preach was in no sense my own invention or production, for it was of a nature not after man; i. e., not such as man could design or devise. And the method by which I received it proves that it was not of a human origin, and hence also not of a human character; for I did not receive it from man, nor did I acquire it by the slow and progressive method of teaching, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus revealed himself to Paul on the way to Damascus and he was soon preaching the gospel in that city. Therefore Paul’s revelations must have been received about the time of his conversion, and most probably during his sojourn in Arabia. As to exactly when they were received Paul himself is silent; but as to the manner, he declares that he received them from Jesus, so his gospel was from the same source as that of the other apostles. The rest of the chapter is taken up in proving the statements of these two verses.]

Verse 13

For ye have heard of my manner of life in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and made havoc of it:

Verse 14

and I advanced in the Jews’ religion beyond many of mine own age among my countrymen, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. [Paul’s first proposition is that though it might be possible that he was taught the gospel by men, or that he might have attempted to originate it, it was certainly highly improbable; for his whole early life showed a strong antipathy and aversion to such teaching, and an intense love for that very form of teaching which was now being used to pervert the gospel. Of these very facts the Galatians themselves were in a manner witnesses; for they had doubtless heard the common report concerning them, and had also learned them from Paul himself at a time when they had no bearing on the question now discussed. Paul made no secret of his past life (1 Corinthians 15:9; 1 Timothy 1:13; Acts 22:4-5; Acts 26:10-11). Thus the story of his miraculous call, with which they were perfectly familiar, was evidently true. By "my fathers" Paul means his spiritual fathers, the Pharisees. He was zealous for the whole Jewish religion, as expounded by the Pharisees, with all its forms, rites, laws, etc., both divine and human.]

Verse 15

But when it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through his grace,

Verse 16

to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles; straightway I conferred not with flesh and blood [anything mortal]

Verse 17

neither went I up to Jerusalem to them that were apostles before me: but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned unto Damascus. [Paul’s conversion, being too well known to the Galatians to require restatement, is simply referred to in the phrases "called me," "returned to Damascus," etc. He appeals to that conversion to show that he was neither man’s apostle nor even an apostle’s apostle, but a true apostle of God. Moreover, even he himself had no part in the call, for he could in no way have fitted or qualified himself to be such, since God had called him to the place from birth, as he had done Moses, John the Baptist, Isaiah (Isaiah 49:1), and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5). His call to be an apostle was, therefore, due to the free grace of God and not because of anything which Paul was as a man, or held as derived from man. Moreover, in purpose the call was purely apostolic, for he was called to receive illumination, that, having received a revelation of Christ, he might be sent forth to enlighten the Gentiles with it. And this illumination was absolutely independent of any person or persons at Jerusalem, for he had received it in another land, and it was made wholly sufficient without any recourse to Jerusalem, as was clear from the fact that he had not turned to that city for more light, but had gone into Arabia, and, returning to Damascus, had entered upon his ministry (Acts 9:19; Acts 9:22; Acts 26:20). The sojourn in Arabia must have been brief. Paul’s predestination to the office of an apostle is an entirely different thing from predestination to salvation, for he nowhere claims the latter-- 1 Corinthians 9:27 ]

Verse 18

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and tarried with him fifteen days.

Verse 19

But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.

Verse 20

Now touching the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.

Verse 21

Then I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

Verse 22

And I was still unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ:

Verse 23

but they only heard say, He that once persecuted us now preacheth the faith of which he once made havoc

Verse 24

and they glorified God in me. [The term "three years" may be taken to mean three full years, or one year and parts of two others. Assuming that Paul was converted in A. D. 37, the visit to Jerusalem took place somewhere between A. D. 38 and 40. Luke describes this same period as "many days" (Acts 9:23). For a curious parallel see 1 Kings 2:38, 39. Persecution drove Paul from Damascus (Acts 9:22-25; 2 Corinthians 11:31-32), and the desire to form the acquaintance of Peter led him to Jerusalem. The James whom he met was, as described, "the Lord’s brother," and was neither James, the son of Zebedee, nor James, the son of Alphæus. In fact, he was not properly an apostle, but was called such probably because of his nearness to Jesus and his great influence. Paul’s reasons for leaving Jerusalem are found at Acts 9:29-30; Acts 22:17-21 . Cilicia was commonly coupled with Syria in popular phrase; for, though part of Asia Minor, it was cut off from that district by the high ridge of Mt. Taurus, and so formed social and commercial affinities with Syria. The gist of Paul’s argument is this: My gospel did not come to me from Jerusalem, for,

1. I was in no haste to go there.

2. I did not go there for the purpose of perfecting my knowledge of the gospel.

3. I was not there long enough to perfect such knowledge.

4. Leaving there, I was conscious of no deficiency of knowledge, but went at once to localities far distant, and was not personally known in the regions contiguous to Jerusalem, as I must have been had I lingered in that city long enough to learn the gospel history.

5. But I was known to them by my repentance, and by works for which they praised God, which facts show that I was recognized by them as proficient in a gospel which I did not learn from them.]

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on Galatians 1". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/galatians-1.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.
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