Bible Commentaries
Galatians 1

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4062. A.D. 58.

In this chapter,

(1,) After a general and proper salutation, the apostle expresses his surprise and concern that the Galatian believers should so soon have suffered themselves to be led aside from the simplicity of that gospel which he had first planted among them, Galatians 1:1-10 .

(2,) He shows them that the doctrine which he had preached among them was not received from men, but by the revelation of the Lord Jesus; and, as a proof of the divine authority of his mission, gives some account of his behaviour before and after his conversion, and mentions some facts that had succeeded thereupon, Galatians 1:11-24 .

Verses 1-3

Galatians 1:1-3. Paul, an apostle Here it was necessary for Paul to assert his authority, otherwise he is very modest in the use of this title. He seldom mentions it when he joins others with himself in the salutations, as in the epistles to the Philippians and Thessalonians; or when he writes about secular affairs, as in that to Philemon: nor yet in writing to the Hebrews. Not of men Not commissioned from them. It seems the false teachers had insinuated, if not openly asserted, that he was merely an apostle of men; made an apostle by the church at Antioch, or at best by the apostles in Jerusalem. This false insinuation, which struck at the root of his authority and usefulness, in the exercise of his office, St. Paul saw it necessary to contradict, in the very beginning of his epistle. Perhaps he also glances at Matthias, who was an apostle sent from a general meeting at Jerusalem, as mentioned Acts 1:22. Neither by man As an instrument. He here seems to have had Peter and James in his eye, whom alone he saw at his first coming to Jerusalem, after his conversion, and denies that he was appointed an apostle by them. But by Jesus Christ “Paul was first made an apostle by Christ, when Christ appeared to him in the way to Damascus, Acts 9:15. And three years after that his apostolic commission was renewed, Acts 22:21. So that he was sent forth neither by the church at Jerusalem, nor by that at Antioch. The Holy Ghost indeed ordered the prophets at Antioch ( Act 13:2 ) to separate Paul and Barnabas; but it was to the work whereunto he had called them formerly. This separation was simply a recommending them to the grace of God by prayer; and in fact it is so termed, Acts 14:26.” Macknight. And God the Father, who raised him from the dead And after his resurrection sent him from heaven to make me an apostle. And all the brethren who are with me And agree with me in what I now write, and by joining with me in this letter, attest the truth of the facts which I relate; unto the churches of Galatia Or the several societies or congregations of professing Christians which have been collected in that province. Grace be to you, &c. See on Romans 1:7.

Verses 4-5

Galatians 1:4-5. Who gave himself for our sins See on 1 Corinthians 15:3; that he might deliver us from this present evil world From the ignorance and folly, sinfulness and guilt, corruption and misery, wherein it is involved, and from its vain and foolish customs and pleasures, that friendship and society with worldly men, and that inordinate desire after, and attachment to worldly things, which is enmity against God, Romans 8:7; James 4:4; according to the will of God Without any merit of ours. St. Paul begins most of his epistles with thanksgiving, but writing to the Galatians, who had generally departed from the truth, he alters his style, and first sets down his main proposition, that we are saved by the merits of Christ alone: neither does he term them, as he does others, either saints, elect, or churches of God. To whom be glory For this his gracious will.

Verses 6-9

Galatians 1:6-9. I marvel that ye are so soon After my leaving you; removed from him that called you into the grace Or rather, by, or through the grace; of Christ His gracious gospel, and his gracious power. God is generally said to call men into the grace of Christ, but the phraseology seems here to point out Paul, and not God, as the person spoken of. For as he wrote this chapter to prove himself an apostle, his success in calling the Galatians to the Christian faith was fitly mentioned as one of the proofs of his apostleship, as it implied that he was assisted in that work by God. Unto another gospel Or pretended revelation from God, concerning the way of attaining justification and salvation, a way entirely inconsistent with the very fundamental principles of that doctrine which you were first taught. As these Galatians were descendants of the Gauls, as has been observed in the preface, it is the less to be wondered at that they were so unstable; the inhabitants of France, as M. Saurin observes, having been always reproached with taking impressions easily, and as easily suffering them to be effaced. Which is not indeed properly another gospel For what ye have now received is no gospel at all. It is not glad, but heavy tidings, as setting your acceptance with God upon terms impossible to be performed. But there are some Who, on pretence that their doctrine of justification by the law of Moses is authorized by God; trouble you With doubts concerning my doctrine, and disturb the peace of the church; and would If they were able; pervert and overthrow the gospel of Christ This the Judaizing teachers effectually did by teaching that justification could not be obtained purely by faith in Christ, but that circumcision and the observation of the Jewish ceremonies were necessary thereto; and the better to effect their purpose, they suggested that the other apostles, yea, and Paul himself, insisted on the observance of the law. But though we I and all the apostles; or an angel from heaven If it were possible; should preach any other gospel unto you Any other method of obtaining justification and salvation; than that which we have formerly preached unto you And confirmed by such evident and uncontrolled miracles; let him, be accursed Greek, anathema: let him be cut off from God, and Christ, and his people, and devoted to a perpetual and most dreadful curse. The apostle speaks thus, because he was absolutely certain of his own inspiration, and that the gospel which he had preached was the only true and genuine gospel of Christ. Of the word anathema, see on Rom 9:3 ; 1 Corinthians 16:22. As we I and the brethren who are with me; said before Many times in effect, if not in the same terms; or he refers to the declaration made in the preceding verse, and speaks upon mature deliberation, after pausing, it seems, between the two verses; so say I now again I solemnly repeat it, as my deliberate judgment; if any man Or, any one (for the word man is not in the original) whatever, whether man or angel; preach any other gospel than that ye have received Already from our lips, and which ye have been taught by us from Christ himself; let him be accursed Set apart for destruction, which, if he repent not, and do not receive and maintain the truth as it is in Jesus, will undoubtedly be his portion.

Verse 10

Galatians 1:10. For He here adds the reason why he speaks so confidently; do I now persuade, or satisfy, men Is this what I aim at in preaching or writing? or God? Do I endeavour, in my ministry, to ingratiate myself with men, or to approve myself to God? Or do I seek to please men By a compliance with their prejudices or designs? For if I yet Or still, as before my conversion; pleased men Studied to please them; if this were my motive of action, nay, if I did in fact please the men who know not God, I should not be the servant of Christ I should not deserve the name of a Christian, and much less that of a minister and an apostle. Hear this, all ye who vainly hope to keep in favour both with God and with the world! And let all those ministers especially observe it, who either alter or conceal the doctrines of the gospel, for fear of displeasing their hearers, or to gain popularity.

Verses 11-12

Galatians 1:11-12. But I certify you, brethren He does not, till now, give them even this appellation; that the gospel which was preached by me Among you; is not after man Of mere human authority and invention; is not from man, not by man, nor suited to the taste of man; for I neither received it of man From the authority or interposition of any man; neither was I taught it By any writing or any human method of instruction; but by revelation of Jesus Christ Who communicated to me by inspiration his gospel in all its parts, and sent me forth to publish it to the world. If Paul did not receive the gospel from man, as he here asserts, and as we are therefore sure he did not, the perfect conformity of his doctrine with the doctrine of the other apostles, is a proof that he was taught it by revelation from Jesus Christ, who revealed to him at first his resurrection, ascension, and the calling of the Gentiles, and his own apostleship; and told him then there were other things for which he would appear to him. See on Acts 26:16-18.

Verses 13-14

Galatians 1:13-14. For ye have heard of my conversation in time past As if he said, To convince you that I received the knowledge of the gospel by immediate revelation from Christ, I appeal to my behaviour, both before and after I was made an apostle; in the Jewish religion Εν τω Ιουδαισμω , in Judaism. The expression is well chosen; and, as L’Enfant justly observes, is not intended by the apostle of the religion originally taught by Moses, and contained in his writings and those of the prophets, but, as is evident from the latter part of the next verse, of that which was practised among the Jews at this time, and consisted in a great degree in observing the traditions of the fathers, and the commandments of men. How that beyond measure Καθ ’ υπερβολην , exceedingly, and with the most insatiable rage; I persecuted the church of God Whether considered as individual believers, or as persons united in religious societies and congregations; and wasted it Ravaged it with all the fury of a beast of prey. So the word επορθουν , here used, signifies. And profited Made proficiency in the knowledge and practice of Judaism; above many of my equals Many of the same age with myself; in mine own nation Or who were of the same standing in the study of the law; being more exceedingly zealous of the unwritten traditions of my fathers Over and above the doctrines and precepts written in the law. These were what the evangelists and our Lord called the traditions of men, and their own traditions, (Mark 7:8-9,) to show that they were mere human inventions. “It was the characteristic of a Pharisee to hold these traditions as of equal authority with the precepts of the law. Nay, in many cases, they gave them the preference. Hence our Lord told them, Mark 7:9, Full well ye reject the commandments of God, that ye may keep your own traditions. The apostle mentions his knowledge of the traditions of the fathers, and his zeal for them, as things absolutely necessary to salvation, to convince the Galatians that his preaching justification without the works of the law, could be attributed to nothing but the force of truth communicated to him by revelation.” Macknight.

Verses 15-17

Galatians 1:15-17. When it pleased God He ascribes nothing to his own merits, endeavours, or sincerity; who separated me from my mother’s womb Set me apart for an apostle, as he did Jeremiah for a prophet, (Jeremiah 1:5,) and ordered my education with a view to that office. Such an unconditional predestination as this may consist both with God’s justice and mercy. And called me by his grace By his free and almighty love, to be both a Christian and an apostle; to reveal his Son in me By the powerful operation of his Spirit, (2 Corinthians 4:6,) as well as to me by the heavenly vision; that I might preach him among the heathen Which I should have been ill qualified to do, or even to preach him to mine own countrymen, had I not first known him myself; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood Being fully satisfied concerning the divine will, and determined to obey it, I took no counsel with any man, neither with my own reason or inclination, which might have raised numberless objections; but laid aside the consideration of all carnal respects and interests whatsoever. Neither went I up to Jerusalem The residence of the apostles, to be instructed by, and receive commission from them. But I went into Arabia Where there were few Christians, and none of them of any note. This course, we may believe, the apostle took by the direction of Christ, who sent him into that country, to instruct him in the duties of his office, and in the doctrines of the gospel, by immediate revelation. The truth is, now that the Lord Jesus was gone to heaven, this was the only proper method of training an apostle. For if the ministry of men had been used in instructing Saul, he would have been considered as an apostle of men, and on that account might have been reckoned inferior to the other apostles, who were all instructed by Christ himself. In Arabia, therefore, Saul continued more than two years; and during all that time, it is probable, employed himself in studying the Jewish Scriptures more carefully than ever, by the help of the new light which had been bestowed on him; in searching into the true nature of the law of Moses, and in attending to such revelations as Christ was pleased to make to him. And, by these revelations, he acquired a complete knowledge of all Christ’s doctrines, sayings, miracles, sufferings, resurrection, and ascension, and of the design both of the law and of the gospel, and of the confirmation which the gospel derives from the writings of Moses and the prophets. Luke, in his history of the Acts, takes no notice of this journey of the apostle into Arabia; but, from the manner in which it is mentioned here, it seems probable that the apostle went into Arabia almost immediately after he recovered his sight and strength, which had been impaired by the bright light with which Christ was surrounded when he appeared to him, and by the terror into which he was cast by that miraculous appearance; staying, however, at Damascus, as we may infer from Acts 9:19, certain days, after he had recovered his sight, during which he preached Christ in the synagogues. From Arabia he returned again unto Damascus Where he boldly declared the necessity of believing in Christ, in order to salvation, even in the presence of those Jews whom he knew to be strongly prejudiced against that important doctrine, increasing, in the mean time, in strength, as is mentioned Acts 9:22, confounding the Jews, and proving Jesus to be the very Christ.

Verses 18-19

Galatians 1:18-19. Then, after three years Wherein I had given full proof of my apostleship; I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter And converse with him; and abode with him fifteen days During which they doubtless discoursed at large together on the mutual success of their ministry. “This being Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem since his conversion, the brethren there shunned him, suspecting that he feigned himself a disciple with a view to betray them. But Barnabas, who probably had learned the particulars of his conversion from Ananias, took and brought him to the apostles, (Peter and James,) and declared to them how he had seen the Lord in the way, Acts 9:27. It does not appear that on this occasion any thing was said, either by Barnabas or by Saul, concerning Christ’s making Saul an apostle at the time he converted him, or concerning his sending him to preach to the idolatrous Gentiles, as is related by the apostle himself, Acts 26:16-18. These things were not mentioned in Jerusalem till Paul went up to the council, fourteen years after his conversion, Galatians 2:2; Galatians 2:7-9.” But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother Or kinsman, as the word here signifies; for he was the son of Alpheus, by Mary the sister of our Lord’s mother. That Paul made so short a stay at Jerusalem, at this time, was probably owing to Christ’s appearing to him in a trance, while in the temple, and commanding him to depart quickly from Jerusalem, Acts 22:18. The brethren also, it seems, advised him to depart, because the Hellenist Jews were determined to kill him.

Verses 20-24

Galatians 1:20-24. Now the things which I write unto you With respect to all these circumstances of them; I lie not As I affirm before God, who searcheth the heart, and from whom nothing is hid. Afterward Departing from Jerusalem; I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia To exercise my ministry there, and, if possible, to bring those among whom I was born and brought up, to the knowledge of Christ and his gospel. It appears from Acts 9:30, that some of the brethren in Jerusalem, who advised him to depart, kindly accompanied him to Cesarea, a well known sea-port town on the Mediterranean, from whence it seems he intended to go by sea to Tarsus. But, as he here says that he went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, it is probable, that after embarking at Cesarea, contrary winds forced him into some of the ports of Syria; so that, altering his plan, he went through that country preaching the gospel, and from thence proceeded to Cilicia by land. And was personally unknown to the churches in Judea Except to that of Jerusalem. In travelling from Damascus to Jerusalem, after his return from Arabia, it seems by this, that he did not preach or make himself known to any of the Christians in the cities of Judea through which he passed. But they had heard only This wonderful account in general, which would doubtless spread rapidly through all the land; that he which persecuted us in times past To imprisonment and death, was become a convert to the religion of Jesus; so that he now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed That is, the great truths of the gospel, which he once laboured with all his might to extirpate from the minds of men, and from the face of the earth; and they glorified God in me That is, on my account, as they well might, beholding in me so wonderful an instance of the power and grace of God. This the apostle mentions, because it implied that the Christians in Judea believed him to be a sincere convert, and were persuaded that his conversion would be an additional proof of the divine original of the gospel.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Galatians 1". Benson's Commentary. 1857.