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the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Galatians 1

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Verse 1

Paul’s Introductory Greeting (Galatians 1:1-10 ).

‘Paul, an Apostle, not from men neither through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father who raised him from the dead.

Paul as usual begins with his credentials. He is an Apostle (apostolos - ‘one sent out’). And he stresses that this was not by man’s appointing, nor had he received his authority from men. Rather He was appointed by Jesus Christ, the risen Lord Himself, and by God the Father, the One Who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Indeed He has the authority of one who has seen the risen Christ and has been called by Him.

The normal basis of Apostleship was to have been an eyewitness to the life and ministry of Jesus, and especially an eyewitness of the resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). We do not know whether Paul had witnessed much of Jesus’ life and teaching, but we do know that he was a witness to having seen the risen Lord (Acts 9:1-9), as He regularly emphasised (Acts 22:4-21; Acts 26:9-18). However, his own claim to Apostleship lay in the special calling he had received from God, a calling which, he emphasised, was later ratified by the Twelve Apostles.

Thus he claims that he does not write to them speaking on his own authority. Rather, as his conversion experience reveals, he has been chosen by God and sent by God, Who alone is the source of his authority and his understanding, so that he speaks in His Name. He will argue this more strongly shortly. This, however, is in complete contrast with the legalists who have come among them, whom he is seeking to refute. For their appointment, if such they have, is of men. They bring only a human message, not a God revealed one.

Verse 2

‘And all the brothers who are with me, to the churches of Galatia.’

‘All the brothers who are with me.’ Paul joins in with his greeting his fellow-workers, and probably the whole church in the place where he was. He was always aware that he was not just an individual who had been especially blessed by God, but was a part of a whole, and that unity among them was vital (1 Corinthians 3:8). They worked together as one. They were ‘brothers’. And he wanted the Galatians to know that these men and women were one with him in his message. Paul’s was not a lone voice. He was supported by the churches in general.

‘To the churches of Galatia.’ He is writing to a number of churches within a province. This was probably the Roman province of South Galatia, but the question is only of historic interest. Notice the terse greeting. Nothing is added to soften the description. We may contrast this with 1 Corinthians 1:2 and Ephesians 1:1 where he speaks of those who have been ‘sanctified in Christ’ or are ‘faithful in Christ Jesus’. But here he has at present nothing to add, such is his concern about them. The word ekklesia (church, those called out) could be used of groups of Christians in different areas. It could also in other places refer to all Christians seen as one ‘gathering’, the ‘congregation’ of God’s people (Galatians 1:13). It indicated that they were the true people of God, as Israel had been of old. For they are the new Israel, the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).

Alternately, while sometimes Paul does speak very strongly in this letter, it may be that this initial terseness simply results from his not having yet gained experience in sending Apostolic letters, for Galatians is his first known Apostolic letter.

Verse 3

‘Grace to you, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’

‘Grace to you.’ Nothing can be more desirable than to have God looking on us and acting towards us in love and favour, and this is what is signified by ‘grace’ (GRACE - God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense). It speaks of the undeserved saving activity of God in all who believe. Thus Paul wants the Galatians to know that what he desires for them is simply that they enjoy the experience of the grace of God, which does not need to be earned but is freely given.

‘And peace.’ Peace results from grace, but the kind of peace mentioned here is also God’s gift, flowing from Him to us. Once we know that we are right with God, and experience His graciousness towards us, we have peace with God (Romans 5:1), and the result will be that we will be flooded with His peace (Galatians 5:22) and enjoy such peace, prosperity and success of spirit that our hearts can only overflow. For the truth is that however much things may seem to smile on us, if God is not pleased with us, we cannot fully know peace. The very foundation then of peace in our hearts is the favour of God, by which we enjoy true and genuine prosperity of spirit through the work of His Spirit, and find the peace of God which passes all understanding guarding our thoughts and hearts (Philippians 4:7). And it is this that Paul was wishing for, and praying for, for the Galatians.

‘From God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Note how the two are linked together. What a combined source of power and grace and peace we have here. On the one hand we have ‘the Father’, and on the other ‘the Lord’. This continual linking of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ with God the Father in perfect equality clearly demonstrates Paul’s view of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2 and often, and contrast Colossians 1:2). Compare when he says we have one God, the Father, --- and one Lord, Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 8:6). This is especially significant in view of the fact that the description ‘Lord’ (kurios) was the very word used by the Greek translators to render the name of God, YHWH. And Jesus is declared to be both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). The Jew could say, ‘we have one Lord and one God, the Lord our God, the Lord is One’. Paul agrees. ‘Yes’, he says, ‘we have one God the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, and they are one in fullness and in being.

Paul further confirms this in Philippians 2:9 when he declares that as ‘Lord’ Jesus has been given ‘the Name that is above every Name’. And there was, in fact, only one Name above every name and that is the Name of YHWH. Thus when used of Jesus the title ‘Lord’ equates with ‘God. That is why he can later speak of ‘our God and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13; compare 2 Peter 1:1).

Verses 4-5

‘Who gave himself for our sins, that he may deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.’

He then declares that in full accordance with the Father’s will, Christ has freely given Himself up and paid a price for us (compare 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18-19), offering Himself up for our sins so as to set us free from all the controls and influences, and all the condemnation, of this present ‘evil age’. This is something too that he will develop later in his letter. We are therefore to see ourselves as dead with Christ (Galatians 2:20), dead to the flesh and to the Law (Galatians 2:19), dead to condemnation (Romans 8:1) and as raised with Him to walk with God and serve Him (Galatians 2:20), no longer looking to what will benefit us, and what we can get out of the world, but looking to how we can please God and be free from the world’s influences (Galatians 2:20).

‘Who gave Himself for our sins.’ Jesus Christ, he tells them, freely gave Himself. He chose to lay down His life (John 10:18). What happened was no accident or unexpected circumstance. It happened within the divine purpose. It was the divine gift. He came as the sacrificial Lamb, chosen from the foundation of the world (Isaiah 53:10; John 1:29; Revelation 13:8), in order that He might offer Himself for us. He was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), and made a sin offering (Isaiah 53:10; Hebrews 10:12-14)

‘That He may deliver us from this present evil world.’ And through that sacrifice of Himself offered once for all (Hebrews 10:10) He had brought deliverance so that men could be forgiven, could be declared acceptable to God, could be ‘counted as righteous’, and could be freed from sin and its demands. Of old God had delivered His people from bondage in Egypt. Now, through Christ’s sacrifice of Himself, He is delivering men from the evil that corrupts and condemns the world.

This is what the letter is in fact all about. It answers the question, How do we come to enjoy that deliverance? Is it by faith? Or is it by slavishly seeking to fulfil God’s Law, and entering the Jewish version of the covenant, and seeking to fulfil all its detailed requirements, a hard and unthankful, and indeed impossible task?

The ‘present evil age’ is in contrast with the ‘ages of the ages’ (translated ‘for ever and ever’) in which God will receive glory. In contrast with God’s everlastingness man has only a brief span in this world. And yet he uses it to evil ends, through selfishness, and thoughtlessness and lack of consideration (we have not done those things that we ought to have done), and through violence, lust, greed and self-seeking (we have done those things which we ought not to have done). It refers to man living for himself with his eyes and his thoughts concentrated on the present world and its ways, with all that that involves of selfishness, sin and wickedness, and with little real concern for God and His ways, and no thought for the eternal future.

Thus by this introduction Paul brings home his main concern. It is to centralise their thoughts on the crucified and risen One and what He has accomplished, in contrast with what they are in themselves. For to him the death and resurrection of Christ is the one central message, which alone can free those who trust in Him from all bondage, both of sin and of the Law.

The word ’aiownos can be translated either ‘world’ or ‘age’. It regularly stresses a contrast between ‘the world’ in its present existence and the working and purposes of God throughout the ages and in the ages to come. So while Christians are in ‘the world’, they are not of it. They live in this age but they look for, and live in the light of, the age to come.

‘According to the will of our God and Father.’ And he wanted us to recognise that what Jesus Christ did was part of the eternal will of God, as the Father now reaches out to draw to Himself those whom He has given to His Son (John 6:44) in order to deliver them from the evil that is intrinsic in the world, and give them new life, eternal life, and prepare them for their glorious future. This is the will of God for those whom He has chosen out for Himself (compare Ephesians 1:4).

‘To Whom be the glory for ever and ever (to the ages of the ages).’ All glory arising from this deliverance must therefore go to God. It is not of our doing, but of His. And it will be His into unseen ages, in contrast with those who cling to this age (Galatians 1:4).

Verses 6-7

‘I marvel that you are so quickly moving from him who called you in the grace of Christ to a different Gospel, which is not another. Only there are some who trouble you and would pervert the Gospel of Christ.’

He cannot understand why they are allowing themselves to be drawn away from God’s amazing love and purposes. They have been ‘called in the grace (gracious compassion towards them) of Christ.’ In other words, recognising the unmerited favour (grace) being shown to them through what He has done for them on the cross, and hearing in it the call of God, they have responded to Him, receiving forgiveness of sins and being declared righteous before God, thus being ‘engraced’ in Christ (Ephesians 1:6). For this is what the Gospel, the Good News of Christ is all about. But now almost unbelievingly they are turning to something else, something which is not really Good News at all. They are listening to men who are distorting the Gospel and robbing it of its glory, men who insist on following sterile religious observances rather than on loving response to Christ, and whose message will turn their glorious good news into a burden.

It was not necessarily the religious observances themselves that were the burden, although in the uncooperative society that they lived in they could be difficult enough, it was the fact that by making necessary for salvation their proper observance of every detail of the Law, they put men onto a treadmill of despair from which they could find no deliverance, as they fought and struggled and failed, and the consequence was that men became terrified because they recognised that they were coming short in them, and life became an endless and continual battle of struggling to dot the right i and cross the right t, a struggle which could in the end only result in failure.

‘Some who trouble you.’ The word for trouble is strong and means ‘disturbed’ and having ‘conflict of mind’ (compare Matthew 2:3; Matthew 14:26; John 14:1). They had previously been at peace as a result of the truth, but now these men have totally disturbed their way of life.

Verses 6-10

He Expresses His Astonishment At How Quickly They Have Turned Away From God’s Active Grace (Galatians 1:6-10 ).

Paul now expresses his amazement that they have so quickly turned away from this good news of the free, unmerited favour of God to something else which is not really a Gospel at all, the slavish observance of the rituals of the Law of Moses (Galatians 1:6-10).

Verse 8

‘But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you any Gospel other than that which you received, let him be anathema.’

Did they not remember that they had received the Gospel with powerful evidence of the working of the Spirit (Galatians 3:2)? Thus anyone, whether man or supernatural being, who sought to turn them from what they had received to anything else, was worthy only to be ‘cursed’ (anathema), that is, devoted to the judgment of God. The words stress the strong feeling that Paul has about the matter. It is not his own teaching that they are deserting, he warns them, it is the work of the Spirit of God. And it is so important that he repeats his powerful words again.

An ‘anathema’ was something that was declared against the worst of sinners, those who had ‘sinned with a high hand’. And these men were guilty of the greatest sin of all, taking men’s eyes off Christ, God’s beloved Son.

Verse 9

‘As we have said before, so now we say again. If any man preaches to you any Gospel other than that which you have received, let him be anathema.’

He repeats what he has said in a slightly different way. The double stress and double curse brings out how much his emotions are stirred. These men who had come preaching to the Galatians, and were wrongly stressing that they had the backing of the Jerusalem church, ‘unlike Paul’ (or so they said), were bringing an emaciated message. Instead of seeking to bring the Galatians into the freedom of Christ they were trying to bring them into bondage to a set of religious and ethical observances. They were enmeshing them in ‘do this, do that, and don’t do the other’, until it was not clear to them what they really had to do. They were binding them with burdens grievous to be borne. And the sad thing was that these things that they were involving themselves in had in fact no power or ability to save them. They were simply man made requirements which gave an outward show of being religious, and substituted for the truth. They imparted a certain satisfaction because men hoped that they were achieving something, but in fact they were achieving nothing, for they left them just as they were before.

The Jerusalem church in fact took far longer to find release from the requirements of Judaism than the rest of the Christian world, for they were mainly Jewish Christians in a Jewish land witnessing to Jews, and they found it hard to let go of what had continually been their custom. And they were accustomed to it. It was part of their way of life. But Paul recognised that to tie Gentiles up in these things was totally inappropriate and was to put them under an unnecessary and cruel burden. Indeed it was anathema.

Verse 10

‘For am I now persuading men or God? Or am I seeking to please men? If I were still pleasing men I would not be the servant of Christ.’

So he asks them. Do they think that by what he says he is trying to persuade God to see things as he sees them? No. Far from it. It was rather God Who had persuaded him, in spite of his own reluctance to see the truth. Nor is he seeking to persuade men, or please them. He leaves that to God. Rather He is declaring what God revealed to him, something which he himself originally fought against for some time. Indeed God had had to turn his beliefs upside down. They should thus be able to tell from this that his aim is not to make men pleased by fitting in with their ideas. Indeed, were he to do so, He would not be being faithful to his Master. For what pleased them was often contrary to the purpose for which He came. Jesus came to replace the old ideas with the new. To turn ‘water’ into ‘wine’. And that is what Paul also is seeking to do. His sole aim is to please Christ, not to satisfy men with mere water.

Verses 11-12

Paul Received His Knowledge and Understanding of God’s Ways from God Himself, Not From Human Mouths (Galatians 1:11-17 ).

‘For I make known to you, brothers, as touching the Gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ.’

Paul stresses the special revelation that he received. It is not something that he has learned from others. It came direct from God. It was revealed to him by Jesus Christ. It was not man made, but God-made. Others have learned what they have learned from men, but he had received what he taught directly from the Prime Source, the risen Christ.

‘Through revelation of Jesus Christ.’ He first received this revelation very vividly on the road to Damascus when the risen Christ appeared to him (Acts 9:0). The appearance of the risen Christ had given new meaning to all that he had previously known and learned about Jesus, and that must have been a considerable amount, even if received in slightly distorted fashion, given the circumstances that he had been an direct opponent of the Gospel and had put many Christians to questioning and torture. But then he had had further vivid experiences with God, experiences which were beyond the norm. See for example 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 which was almost certainly biographical. And through those experiences the truth was made known to him when he was alone with God. We may possibly compare how God spoke with Moses face to face as a man speaks with his friend (Exodus 33:11), although Paul may well have received his revelation through thoughts in his inward mind.

And if they wish to they can confirm this themselves by considering his past.

Verses 11-24

Paul Declares His Credentials and States His Case (Galatians 1:11 - Galatians 2:21 ).

Paul will now make clear to them what his credentials are. If they ask, why should they listen to him, he will now tell them. And he will then make clear exactly what his message is.

Paul States His Credentials (Galatians 1:11 to Galatians 2:10 ).

Paul now makes clear the grounds on which he considers that he has a right to be listened to. It is because:

a) What he preaches is what he received by revelation from God Himself, even though he had himself previously been a zealous teacher of the Law (Galatians 1:11-17).

b) Three years later he met with Peter only, and also met James the Lord’s brother when he went to Jerusalem for this purpose. He had no contact with the churches of Judea, although the latter rejoiced in his conversion. Thus what he taught was not something that he had learned from the latter (Galatians 1:18-24, compare Acts 9:26-30).

c) Fourteen years later, (this may include the three years) in response to a revelation from God, he went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus to set his teaching privately before ‘those who appeared to be leaders’ i.e. Peter, James, the brother of the Lord, and John (Galatians 2:9). And they had then agreed that circumcision was not necessary for non-Jews, and they could add nothing to what he preached. They had recognised that just as Peter had been given a ministry to the Jews, he and Barnabas had been given a ministry to the non-Jews. They had accepted him in full accord, and the only request that they had made was that he remember the needs of the poor, which was something he himself was already keen on. (Galatians 1:24 - Galatians 2:10 compare probably Acts 11:26-30).

Thus he is stressing that what he taught was from God Himself, while at the same time being confirmed by his discussions with the chief Apostles. This was important. It demonstrated that he was not a maverick, but a teacher of the truth as taught by the twelve Apostles. Yet at the same time it emphasised that he taught it as a message that he had obtained, not from them, but from God. He was himself a source of God’s revelation. So the fact that the Apostles were satisfied that he taught what they taught demonstrated that it was the same Spirit Who had spoken to both them and him.

But what was his purpose in this? it was clearly a) To demonstrate that what he taught was what he had from God and not from others. b) That he did not have continual contact with the church in Jerusalem and Judea, or with the Apostolic group as a whole, and indeed that he had had little contact with them, apart from a few days with Peter, over a fairly long period. c). That in the end what he preached paralleled what the Apostles preached and that they recognised the truth of what he taught and sealed it with the right hand of partnership.

Verses 13-14

‘For you have heard of the way I lived in the past in the Jewish religion, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure, and made havoc of it. And I advanced in the Jews’ religion beyond many of my own age in my race, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.’

For as a dedicated and well trained Pharisee (Philippians 3:6) he had given his approval to the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1) and had been so inflamed against Christians and against their teaching that he had gone to the authorities and had been given authority, and armed support, to enable him to persecute them, entering their houses and hauling them off to prison (Acts 8:3). He had been convinced that their message was blasphemous. Indeed he had been so successful that nothing further had needed to be done there, for the people of ‘the Way’ went into hiding or left Jerusalem, so that he then sought permission to do the same in Damascus as he had in Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2). What then could convince such a man that he was wrong? The answer is that it was because he came face to face with the One Whom he was denying, the One Who was the Truth, risen and alive, and it happened in such a way that he could no longer deny Him.

‘The Jew’s religion.’ This was the very source of the ‘new’ ideas that were being pressed on the Galatians. He points out that he knew all about it, for it was what he had previously stood for and had believed in. It was something on which he was an authority, and for which he had once felt very strongly. But he had turned from it because of his vivid revelation from God. And he now recognised its emptiness.

Verses 15-17

‘But when it pleased him, who separated me, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through his grace, to reveal his Son in me that I might preach him among the Gentiles, immediately I did not confer with flesh and blood, neither did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were Apostles before me, but I went into Arabia. And again I returned to Damascus.’

Paul here stresses that he was a specially chosen instrument, chosen according to God’s own good pleasure. He was an instrument in whom Christ had revealed Himself so that his special knowledge of God did not come from men, not even from the Apostles. It came from God revealing His Son in him.

He had previously been well versed in the Old Testament, and had probably had a fairly wide knowledge of the Christian message from men whom he had arrested and subjected to questioning, (as occurred to Paul himself in Acts 21:0 onwards) but the appearance of the risen Christ to him had transformed his ideas, turning them upside down. It had given new meaning to all that he knew. He had then first proclaimed Christ in Damascus immediately after his conversion (Acts 9:20), but he had soon felt the need to think things through, and to learn from God, and so he had gone into Arabia, presumably into desert places, as Elijah (1 Kings 17:3-7 compare 2 Kings 1:8 for his desert clothing), and John the Baptiser (Luke 1:80; Luke 3:2. Compare Matthew 3:1-4; Mark 1:4-6), and Jesus Himself (Mark 1:12-13) had done before him, so as to receive the word of God (Luke 3:2). This demonstrates that he felt himself within the prophetic line.

‘When it pleased Him.’ His conversion was no accident. It was the direct result of God’s good pleasure. While he had been marking down Christians for imprisonment, God had been marking him down for conversion. Yes, and even before that, for He had been marked down from birth. He was a prepared instrument.

‘Who separated me, even from my mother’s womb.’ There seems little doubt that he has in mind here the words of Jeremiah 1:5, ‘Before I formed you in your mother’s body I knew you, and before you came out of the womb I set you apart you. I ordained you a prophet to the nations’. Thus he sees himself as in the line of prophets. It was also said of the coming Servant who represented the true Israel (Isaiah 49:3), ‘the Lord has called me from the womb, from the bowels of my mother he has made mention of my name’ (Isaiah 49:1). So to be separated from the womb was to be a chosen servant of God. And that was what had happened to him.

‘Called me through His grace.’ He was personally called by God, and he knew that he was without deserving. Indeed he never ceased to wonder at the unmerited favour that God had personally shown to him. It was partly this that made him so aware that God worked through grace and not directly in response to man’s strivings. If any man had striven, he had. But it was only when the grace of God came to him revealing to him Christ the Crucified One that his burdens fell away and he found himself free.

‘To reveal His Son in me.’ The revelation came strongly within his very being that here was God’s very Son. Not just Jesus, or the Christ (Messiah), but God’s own beloved Son. The transforming nature of such an experience was stupendous. All he had heard and scoffed at had begun to fall into place with vivid illumination by the Spirit, and he had seen Jesus as He really was.

‘That I might preach Him among the Gentiles.’ Paul had recognised the special nature of his calling almost immediately (Acts 22:21 see also Acts 13:46), as later did the Apostles (Galatians 2:7-9). It is clear that the Apostles still looked on their responsibility as being mainly to the Jews (Galatians 2:9), although acknowledging that Gentiles could be accepted (Acts 10:44-48). It was Paul who stressed the wider vision, something which the Apostles as a whole came to later.

‘Did not confer with flesh and blood.’ A deliberate reference to the fact that he sought truth from a Higher source. He did not want men’s ideas, but God’s. That was why he did not go to ‘those who were Apostles before me’. He went directly to God.

‘But I went into Arabia.’ Possibly none apart from him knew of this up to this point. Acts is silent on the matter. This possibly comes between Acts 9:25-26, although it may connect with Acts 9:22. Here we learn why it was. It was in order to spend time alone with God so that he might receive His help in rethinking his whole position. We do not know how long this period was. It may well have been for ‘forty days’. Or it may have been longer.

‘And again I returned to Damascus.’ He had then continued his ministry without recourse to human assistance, returning to Damascus and proclaiming Christ.

Verses 18-19

Paul Had Then Met Peter and Much Later Conferred With The Leading Apostles To Ensure That What He Preached Was in Accordance with What They Taught (Galatians 1:18 to Galatians 2:3 ).

‘Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and stayed with him for fifteen days. And I saw no other of the Apostles, but I did see James, the Lord’s brother.’

Paul is still concerned that they recognise that he was not just a humanly taught man, or a man under instruction from anyone but God. Yet he does not want them to see him as independent of Jesus’ chosen Apostles. To him the oneness of the church was all important. It was that that the Lord’s Supper testified to (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). Thus he mentions this visit which followed his period of preaching in Damascus, while stressing that during it he only conversed with Peter, and that over a period of a mere fifteen days, and with James the Lord’s brother.

‘Then after three years.’ Presumably three years after his conversion (although ‘three years’ may signify two part years with a full year in between, thus one and a half to two years. Compare how Jesus rose ‘three days’ after His death, that is ‘on the third day’). This included his Damascene ministry as well as his period in Arabia (Acts 9:19-25).

‘I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas.’ This is probably the visit mentioned in Acts 9:26-30). If so the reference to ‘the Apostles’ there must signify ‘the Apostolate as represented by Peter’ and possibly James the Lord’s brother, although James is not necessarily said to be an Apostle. ‘To visit’ (’istoreo) means strictly ‘to visit with a view to getting to know’ someone. Thus Paul is stressing his intention to become known to Peter while not suggesting that he had anything to learn from him. It was not surprising that Paul wanted to meet the leader of the band who had been specially set apart by Jesus, and to share fellowship with him and learn something of the life of Jesus from a disciple’s point of view. This last is emphasised by the fact that he also mentions ‘James, the Lord’s brother’ (always elsewhere simply called James), who obviously knew Jesus like no one else did. He had been His younger brother, His ‘kid brother’.

‘And I saw no other Apostles but I did see James, the Lord’s brother.’ Presumably the other Apostles were absent from Jerusalem. James, the Lord’s brother saw the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:7), united with the Apostles prior to Pentecost (Acts 1:14), and was prominent in the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17; Acts 15:13), after the death of James the Apostle, the brother of John (Acts 12:2). It is possible that he was seen as replacing James among the twelve, although it is never so stated. But he was certainly a rock in Jerusalem until he was martyred by stoning around 62 AD in an interregnum period for Roman procurators.

Verse 20

‘Now concerning the things about which I am writing to you, behold, before God I am not lying.’

He is so concerned that they believe the truth of what he is saying that he confirms his complete honesty ‘before God’. It was important that they recognised that his teaching came from God. This semi-oath applies to all he is saying and about to say. ‘Before God I am not lying’.

Verses 21-24

‘Then I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ, but they only heard say, ‘He who once persecuted us now preaches the faith of which he once made havoc’. And they glorified God in me.’

He stresses that at no stage had he stayed in Judea and that in fact he had never met the Judean Christians face to face. Judea was usually seen as separate from Jerusalem (e.g. Mark 1:5) which, since the time of David, had looked on itself as a semi-independent city. Judea was probably where many of the Apostles were ministering. As he appears to have been sent to Tarsus for his own protection it would appear that delay in Judea would have been dangerous. He was seen by Jews as a turncoat.

‘The regions of Syria and Cilicia.’ On his way back to Tarsus, in Cilicia (Acts 9:30), he had passed through the region of Syria, the mention of which may suggest some converse with, and ministry to, the churches in that area at that stage. Alternately ‘Syria and Cilicia’, which are regularly mentioned together in that order, may simply have been mentioned jointly as by custom describing the whole area (Acts 15:23; Acts 15:41). Thus it could simply refer to his going back to his home district in ‘Syria and Cilicia’. From a point of view of a full ministry that in Cilicia (Tarsus), in which he spent a considerable period of time, presumably preceded his later ministry in Syria, although in Acts no such ministry is actually mentioned prior to the call by Barnabas (Acts 11:25). But that is not the point here.

‘The churches of Judea which were in Christ.’ ‘In Christ’ is a favourite expression of Paul. (It is also found in 1 Peter 3:16; 1 Peter 5:14). It signifies that Christians have been made one with their living Lord. They have been united with Christ and are in Him. They are united with Him in His death, and in His risen life (Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:4-11).

‘They only heard it said that he who once persecuted us now preaches the faith of which he once made havoc.’ Here was further confirmation that there was no suggestion of dispute about ‘the faith’ preached by Paul and ‘the faith’ of the Judean churches. He now preached the faith he had once attacked, and the speakers had clearly been satisfied with the way he taught it.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Galatians 1". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/galatians-1.html. 2013.
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