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Bible Commentaries

Arno Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
Galatians 1

 

 


Other Authors
Verses 1-24

Analysis and Annotations

I. THE TESTIMONY OF PAUL CONCERNING HIS APOSTOLIC AUTHORITY AND THE GOSPEL

CHAPTER 1

1. The Introduction. (Galatians 1:1-5)

2. The Rebuke. (Galatians 1:6-10)

3. Paul’s Gospel Given by Revelation. (Galatians 1:11-12)

4. How Paul became an Apostle Independent of Jerusalem. (Galatians 1:13-24)

The introductory words of this Epistle are brief and of deep significance. He speaks of himself as an apostle not from men, nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father. His apostleship had been called in question and the gospel he preached branded as lacking authority. This opening statement of how Paul became an apostle is more fully developed in the main part of this chapter (Galatians 1:11-24). He did not receive his apostleship through any man; his authority was neither successional nor derived. The Judaizing teachers who had sown their evil seed among the Galatians, had spoken of Peter as the apostle with authority and probably demanded that he should be recognized as the ecclesiastical head. Inasmuch as Paul had not been constituted an apostle through Peter’s authority, they said that he was no apostle at all. With their wrong doctrines about the law as a means to obtain righteousness, they evidently attempted to foster upon Christian ground an ecclesiastical authority, corresponding to the successional priesthood of the law covenant. What was begun by these false teachers has become the curse of Christianity, for any priestly assumption in the church is the corruption of Christian doctrine.

The Apostle Paul declares therefore that the source of his authority and his ministry was higher than man. He received his commission “through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from among the dead.” On the way to Damascus the risen Christ appeared to him in glory and made him an apostle. God the Father, who had raised His Son from the dead and gave Him glory (1 Peter 1:21) also made Paul an apostle. To be one of the twelve apostles it was necessary to have been an eyewitness of His deeds and a listener to His words (Acts 1:21). Matthias met this requirement and was therefore divinely chosen to fill the place of Judas. Some teach that Paul should have been put in the apostolate as the twelfth. But Paul could not have been one of the twelve apostles for he did not follow the Lord Jesus during the days of His earthly ministry. He did not know Christ after the flesh, but his acquaintance with Him began when he beheld Him in resurrection-glory. All his ministry, the gospel he preached, the glorious truths he taught, had their blessed source in the risen and exalted Christ. He therefore owned no other source, no other authority, but God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

And he mentions in these introductory words “all the brethren which are with me.” This means that the brethren with him endorsed all he was about to write to the Galatians in his great, God-given defense of the gospel. None of them could have any sympathy whatever with the most serious errors, aiming at the very heart of true Christianity, to which the Galatians had been willing listeners.

Another important fact is that the epistle is not addressed “to the church in Galatia “ but “to the churches.” The Spirit of God in the Corinthian Epistles addressed the Corinthians as “the church of God, the sanctified in Christ, called Saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2). In spite of their carnal walk and their spiritual declension the church in Corinth is recognized as being the church of God and its members as Saints. In writing to the Galatians, who were relinquishing the essential truths of the gospel of grace, departing from it and going back to the law as a means of justification, the Spirit of God does not make use of these distinguishing terms. He does not recognize as the church of God those who fall away from grace. From this we may learn that doctrinal evil is even a more serious matter than moral evil. How serious a thing a perverted gospel is we shall soon discover. “Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to Whom be glory forever and ever, Amen.” The great truth in these concluding introductory words the Galatians had forgotten. Righteousness cannot come by the law, to which the Galatians were turning again. Man destitute of all righteousness, helpless to obtain any kind of righteousness, is a lost and condemned sinner. But Christ came and gave Himself for our sins and to deliver us from this present evil age.

The words of introduction are followed by words of rebuke and painful surprise. The Apostle marvelled at their strange behavior, that they were so quickly changing from him who had called them in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel. From his lips they had heard the glad tidings of the grace of Christ when they were serving idols (4: 8). And now suddenly they were abandoning the gospel which had brought them such blessing, peace and power, and had saved them from the degradation of idolatry. They were accepting a different gospel, which was not another. Though another gospel was preached unto them, it was no gospel at all, for there can be no other gospel. There is but one gospel and that is the gospel of God concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, the love-gift of God, who became incarnate in order to die for sinners and be the propitiation for our sins. He finished the great work on the cross, a work which has glorified God and which enables Him to be a just God and a justifier (Romans 3:26) of all them that believe in Jesus. And He who finished this work is at the right hand of God. Therefore God has not another gospel, nor can He tolerate the perversion of His gospel. This is what the false teachers among the Galatians were doing as Paul writes: “but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” They were perverting the gospel by teaching that the finished work of Christ was not sufficient for salvation, but that man must add his works, keep the law, and become circumcised. It was a God-dishonoring denial of the completeness and perfection of the work of Christ. And this perversion of the gospel, and more than that, the setting aside of that gospel altogether, is the almost universal thing in Christendom in our times. We hear much of “salvation by character,” which is Satan’s invention. Ritualism which makes ordinances the necessary means of salvation is another perversion of the gospel of grace; and so is the teaching of Seventh Day Adventism. The phrase one hears so much, “God has done His part and we must do our part,” is another phase of a perverted gospel. Man is a lost sinner, helpless and hopeless in himself; he can do nothing, for he is without strength (Romans 5:6). The doing is all on God’s side; all the sinner can do is to accept what the grace of God in Christ offers to him. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

“But though we, or an angel from heaven should preach unto you any other gospel than that we have preached unto you, let him be accursed (anathema). As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preacheth unto you any other gospel than that ye did receive, let him be accursed.” These are strong and solemn words. Some have suggested that Paul was carried away by his passion, when he heard that his authority had been impeached, and that he wrote unwisely. They forget that it was not Paul who penned these words but the Spirit of God. The anathema upon the perverters of the gospel of Christ is fully justified when we consider what is at stake. The perversion of the gospel touches the unspeakably blessed work of Christ on Calvary’s cross. If in any way righteousness is through the law, by what man does, then Christ died in vain (Galatians 2:21). Behind every perversion of the gospel, be it Ritualism, Christian Science, Seventh-Day Keeping, the new theology and other systems, stands the enemy of the truth of God, who always aims at the Person and Work of Christ. God, and it is a solemn truth, can do nothing else than put His curse upon those who reject, pervert and falsify the gospel of His Son. The ardent words of the apostle are very remarkable. The Holy Spirit has given us God’s own testimony, that if an angel came to teach what the apostle had not taught, he would be anathema. It little mattered who he might be, if he contradicted the testimony of God. Paul well knew that he had received it from God Himself, and he who opposed or falsified it, opposed the authority of God, and the truth which He in His grace made known.

Let Christians take heed to the solemn words of the apostle. We possess them in this Epistle, as well as in others which he wrote. They are the touchstone for all teaching; and we need to study them in order to know if he who speaks, tells us the truth of God. So solemn was this point, so deeply was it felt by the apostle, that he again repeats what he had before said--that whoever should preach any other gospel than that which the Galatians had received from himself, should be anathema.--J. Nelson Darby.

Nor must we forget that a day is coming when the divine anathema pronounced here will be executed. God will surely not tolerate forever the rejection of His Son and the work He accomplished. The vengeance of God is in store for all who do not obey the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8). The doom of an apostate Christendom is pre-written in God’s Word; and the apostasy is the rejection and perversion of the gospel. Let God’s people everywhere witness against the spurious gospel as positively and solemnly as the great servant of Christ did in these words.

In his testimony and service he was not a man-pleaser, “for if I were pleasing men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” He did not seek the applause of men and of the world. If he accommodated himself to men, seeking to please them, he would not be Christ’s servant. Characteristic of the preachers of a perverted gospel is that they are catering to the wishes of men. When sound doctrine is no longer endured, then after their own lusts do they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3). And Jude describes these “men-pleasers” as follows: “Their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage” (Jude 1:16).

The words of rebuke are followed by an historical account of his ministry, how he received the gospel and how he became an apostle independent of Jerusalem. The gospel he preached was not according to man, by which he meant, that he had not received it from any man, nor had somebody taught it to him. He did not get his instructions from those who were apostles before him. He had received it all by the immediate revelation of Jesus Christ. It is then incorrect to speak of a “Pauline theology” and “Pauline gospel” as if his mind had somehow put it all together and constructed a gospel-scheme. No Mind of man could have ever invented or discovered the marvelous truths of the gospel. It is supernatural in its revelation and in its power. He then traces his remarkable experience once more, what a religious, zealous, law-keeping Jew he was. And where did all his zeal, his law-keeping lead him? It made him a persecutor of the church of God. (Legalism is harsh like the law which can only curse man. The great legalistic and ritualistic system, Rome, is the persecutor of the Saints of God. Wherever grace is denied and the legal principle is made prominent harshness and intolerance are the results, if not actual persecution.) On the road to Damascus the God who had separated him called him by his grace, and the Son of God in His glory was revealed to him as well as in him, so that He might preach Him to the Gentiles. And he did not confer with flesh and blood after his conversion, neither did he go to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before him. To go up to Jerusalem would have been for him a natural thing; to go back to the city where he had wrought such havoc as a persecutor and there to confess his guilt and testify of Christ, may have appealed to him as manly. But he did not confer with flesh and blood; he did not follow his own reasonings. And why should he go to Jerusalem to consult with the other apostles? Should he go there to report to them of what had happened, ask their council and gain their sanction? All this was unnecessary for he had received his call and commission from the Lord, and there was no need to go and consult any man about it. His independence of Jerusalem and his dependence on the Lord as His servant is thereby established. Jerusalem did not make him an apostle; the Lord had done this. Instead of going to see the apostles and put himself under them he went under the Lord, into Arabia and returned again to Damascus. After three years he went up to Jerusalem to visit with Peter. What happened during that visit? The apostles did not meet in council to examine Paul about his experience and fitness to preach the gospel. He did not seek the sanction or authority of Jerusalem, but he abode there with Peter for only fifteen days, to become acquainted with him. The other apostles he did not see at all, not even the beloved disciple, save James, the Lord’s brother. All this proves his claim “an apostle not from men, nor through man.” Afterwards he went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, everywhere preaching and teaching his God-given gospel. The many churches of Judea did not know him by face, but heard that the erstwhile persecutor now preached the faith he once destroyed. He tells the Galatians how little he had to do with Peter and the other apostles. The false teachers had brought this against him and had challenged his authority as an apostle on account of not being linked with Peter. He fully avows all this and shows that his apostleship was entirely independent of Jerusalem and the twelve apostles. And here we have the character of true New Testament ministry. It is from the Lord, independent of man and human, ecclesiastical authority. Its message is the message of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Galatians 1:4". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gab/galatians-1.html. 1913-1922.

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Thursday, December 3rd, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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