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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
Galatians 1

 

 

Verses 1-5

SECTION 1. — APOSTOLIC GREETING TO THE GALATIAN CHRISTIANS

CH. 1:1-5.

Paul, an apostle, not from men nor through man but through Jesus Christ and God, the Father, who raised Him from the dead, and all the brethren with me, to the Churches of Galatia; grace 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 the present evil age, according to the will of God, our Father, to whom be the glory for the ages of the ages. Amen.

Galatians 1:1. Apostle: see under Galatians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 15:7; Romans 1:1.

Not from men: as though some body of men delegating to him authority were the starting point of Paul’s apostolic journeys. Cp. John 1:24. [So 1 Peter 1:12; Acts 11:11; John 1:6.]

Men, not man: for it was inconceivable that Paul was sent by any one man.

Through (see Romans 1:5) man: i.e. through the agency or instrumentality of a man; as Elisha (1 Kings 19:16) was called to be a prophet by the agency of Elijah. Yet Elisha was sent from God, and was endowed with His authority. But so completely independent of everyone on earth was Paul’s apostleship that it was not even conveyed to him by human lips. This complete and emphatic and repeated denial, we shall find (cp. Galatians 1:11 f) to be Paul’s chief thought throughout DIV. I. So fully does it occupy his mind while writing, that it finds utterance in the first line of the Epistle.

But through Jesus Christ: Romans 1:5; 1 Corinthians 8:6 : the channel of all good from God to us. These words are expounded in the narrative of Acts 26:17 f.

That Jesus Christ is placed in emphatic contrast to man and is linked under one preposition with God, reveals His absolute and infinite superiority, in Paul’s thought, to the entire human race, and His nearness to God. See my Romans, Diss. i. 7. The word man in 1 Timothy 2:5; Acts 17:31, presents no difficulty: for in Galatians 1:1 the same word is negatived simply as not being a full description of Him through whom Paul received the apostleship.

God, the Father: Ephesians 6:23; Philippians 2:11; Colossians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4. The title Father is added, not to distinguish God the Father from God the Son, as in theological phrase, but to declare that God is also Father. The following words suggest that Paul thinks of Him chiefly as Father of Christ. But the close relation between Christ and His followers as sharers of His sonship suggests at once that God is also their Father.

Through… God, the Father: through the agency, i.e. the immediate activity, not only of Christ but of God. The Father was Himself the medium (as well as the source) and the instrument or agent (as well as the First Cause) of Paul’s mission. For (Romans 11:36) All things are both from Him and through Him. In other words, God rose as it were from His throne and by His personal action invested Paul with the apostleship; the greatest conceivable proof of its importance. It is needless to add that God is also the source of Paul’s commission: for we cannot conceive Him acting as agent for another. Hence we have no from God corresponding to not from men. These last words were needful to rebut (so Galatians 1:11 f) a reproach of Paul’s enemies. Cp. an heir through God, in Galatians 4:7.

That Paul’s apostleship was through the agency of Christ, is self-evident: but that it was through… God, the Father, requires further explanation. This is given in the following words, who raised Him from the dead. These words, thrust prominently forward in the first verse of the Epistle, reveal the importance in Paul’s thought of this great fact and its essential connection with the mission of the apostles. By the Risen Saviour, Paul was sent. Had He not risen, there had been no voice on the way to Damascus; and no apostolic mission. And, had not the apostles been sent to preach, the resurrection of Christ would have been without result. Therefore, when raising Christ by His own immediate power and without any human agent, with a view to the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world, God was Himself personally taking part in the mission of the apostles. Paul thus begins his letter of rebuke by bringing his readers into the presence of the infinite power of God manifested on earth, thus raising at once the question at issue above man and all that man can do. Cp. Romans 1:4.

From the dead: or, literally and more forcefully, from among dead-ones, among whom Christ lay in death.

Galatians 1:2. All the brethren with me: Paul’s companions, probably, in travel and Gospel work. So Philippians 4:21, where they are contrasted with all the saints. For, Paul would hardly speak of the whole Church from whose midst he wrote as being with him: rather, he was with them. But, of the band of fellow travellers, he was indisputably the centre. They were probably in part those mentioned in Acts 20:4. See Diss. i. This mention of these fellow-workers implies that they recognised unanimously Paul’s apostolic commission as from God and independent of human authority. And this recognition by them, known as they doubtless were and respected in Galatia, could not but influence the readers of this Epistle. Not that Paul’s authority rested upon its recognition even by these good men. His reference to them merely suggests that they who reject it thereby separate themselves from this band of noble workers.

The Churches of Galatia: close coincidence with 1 Corinthians 16:1; Acts 16:6; Acts 18:23, where no city is mentioned. This suggests that Christianity had not spread from one centre, as it did from Corinth and Ephesus, (contrast 2 Corinthians 1:1,) over the whole province. The reason is hidden under the obscurity which veils the origin of these Churches. These words also suggest that the Christian communities in Galatia were not united into one organic whole. And this accords with the fact that, except Acts 9:31, the Church throughout Judea and Samaria, we never find the Churches of a province spoken of as one Church.

Galatians 1:3. See under Romans 1:7. The words to you between grace and peace detain our attention and mark off each as a distinct object of thought.

Father: as in Galatians 1:1, and perhaps prompted by the phrase there. But here the foregoing words suggest that Paul thinks chiefly of God as Father of His people. The RV. margin has equal documentary evidence, but might easily be an imitation of Paul’s usual salutation. Notice that, as in Galatians 1:1 Christ and God are joined together under one preposition as agent of Paul’s apostleship, so here as the source of grace and peace.

Galatians 1:4 a. An historical fact touching Christ, followed in Galatians 1:4 b by an eternal truth touching God, these underlying and prompting the foregoing good wish.

Gave Himself: 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:14; Ephesians 5:2; Ephesians 5:25; Romans 8:32; Romans 4:25 : i.e. undoubtedly, gave Himself up to die. Cp. Galatians 2:20 with Galatians 2:21; Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 22:19; John 6:51. For Christ’s death stood in special relation to our sins: 1 Corinthians 15:3; Romans 4:25; 1 Peter 3:18. Cp. 1 Maccabees vi. 44, where of Eleazar’s heroic death in battle we read: “and gave himself to save his people and to preserve for himself an eternal name.” The phrase suggests that a man’s life is his greatest conceivable gift, and includes all other possible gifts.

For our sins: literally touching our sins. Another reading with less documentary evidence, and no better internal probability, is on behalf of our sins, as in 1 Corinthians 15:3. The whole clause receives its only and sufficient explanation in the teaching of Romans 3:24-26 (see note) that Christ was set forth in His blood in order to reconcile with the justice of God, and thus make possible, the justification of believers, i.e. the pardon of their sins.

That He might: or may. The Greek does not suggest whether this purpose of Christ’s self-surrender is, or is not, already accomplished.

The age: Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 1:20 : the whole course and current of things around, except so far as these are controlled by Christ, looked upon as existing and moving in time and for a time.

Evil: actually hurtful: same word in Ephesians 5:16; Ephesians 6:13; often used of Satan, Ephesians 6:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 John 2:13 f; 3:12; 5:18f. The present age is injurious in its influence. The word rendered present denotes sometimes, as in 2 Thessalonians 2:2, that which stands before us as now beginning or about to begin. But elsewhere (Romans 8:38; 1 Corinthians 3:22; 1 Corinthians 7:26; Hebrews 9:9) it has the simple sense of present in contrast to something future. And so probably here: for although Paul speaks often (Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 1:20; 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 2:8; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 1:21; 1 Timothy 6:17; 2 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:12) of the age in which he lived, he never suggests that any other age will begin earlier than that (Ephesians 2:7) which will be ushered in by the return of Christ. The present age, is stronger than this age and pictures the mass of things moving around us which ever tends to carry us along in its own direction as if, changing the metaphor, standing in our midst and face to face of us. Christ’s purpose to deliver us implies that the current around is a force carrying us to destruction, and from which we cannot rescue ourselves. Indisputably, the influences of the world around are a current, more tremendous than the rapids of Niagara, carrying to ruin all except those whom Christ saves. And the mention of our sins suggests that surrender to this current is the due punishment of sin. Into this seething whirlpool Christ flung Himself that He might rescue us from it.

Galatians 1:4-5. The purpose of Christ’s historic self-surrender accords with, and therefore realises, the eternal will of God. Cp. Ephesians 1:5; Ephesians 1:11. Thus, as ever, Paul rises from the Son to the Father. Grammatically we might with RV. render our God and Father; or, as in the American Revisers’ margin, God and our Father, or rather in idiomatic English God our Father. Since the word God does not need a defining genitive, in order to convey a complete idea, whereas the idea of Father is essentially relative and therefore needs a complement expressed or understood, the latter renderings seem to me to convey more probably Paul’s exact thought. The whole title declares that He who reigns supreme as God is also our Father. And in the presence of God, in view of His Fatherhood and of His eternal purpose of salvation, Paul cannot refrain from an outburst of praise. So Romans 1:25; 2 Corinthians 11:31. The grandeur revealed in our rescue from the course of things around, by the self-surrender of Christ, belongs, and will be for ever ascribed, to our Father God.

Taking up his pen to write to the Galatians, Paul’s first thought, forced upon him by the reproach of enemies, is that his apostleship, so far from being of human origin, is independent even of human agency; and that it was committed to him by the immediate action of Christ and of God. This is acknowledged by all his companions in evangelical labour. To men constitutionally prone to be carried away by surrounding influences, Paul intimates that these influences are bad, that surrender to them is a result of our sins, and that to rescue us from them Christ gave Himself to die, in accordance with an eternal purpose of God. This proves the deadly nature of these surrounding influences, and the earnestness of Christ and of God to save us from them. The splendour of God revealed in this deliverance will, as Paul desires, shine forth for ever.

In § 1 we have the great historic fact that Christ rose from the dead on which rests the faith which justifies; and the great doctrine that salvation comes through Christ’s death, which harmonises justification by faith with the justice of God. We have no hint that either the fact or doctrine was questioned by Paul’s opponents. He therefore begins his letter by bringing his readers into the presence of truths which they admit and which are a firm foundation for the argument which follows.


Verses 6-10

SECTION 2 . — THE EARLY APOSTACY OF THE GALATIAN CHRISTIANS. CH. 1:6-10.

I wonder that ye are so quickly removing from Him that called you in the grace of Christ, to another kind of good tidings; which is not another good tidings, except that there are some who are disturbing you and wishing to overturn the good tidings of Christ. But even if we or an angel out of heaven announce good tidings to you other than the good tidings we announced to you, let him be anathema. As we have before said, also now again I say, if any one is announcing to you good tidings other than ye received, let him be anathema. For, now, is it men I am persuading, or God? Or am I seeking to please men? If I were still pleasing men, Christ’s servant I should not be.

In § 2 we have the subject-matter of the Epistle, viz. an early defection in Galatia and efforts there to overturn the Gospel; Galatians 1:6-7 : Paul’s condemnation of the false teaching; Galatians 1:8-9 : his justification of the disregard of human approval which this condemnation involves; Galatians 1:10.

Instead of thanks to God, as in all his other letters to Churches, Paul’s salutation is at once followed by severe blame. His wonder (cp. Mark 6:6; 1 John 3:13) tells how unusual is the conduct blamed; and thus adds severity to this rebuke.

So quickly; denotes either (cp. Luke 14:21) a rapid defection now going on; or defection after ( 1 Corinthians 4:19) a short interval, measured here either from the arrival of the false teachers, or from Paul’s last visit, or from his readers’ conversion. Paul’s exact thought, we cannot determine with certainty. Even the last measurement would give a space of seven years at most. And this is a very short time for steadfastness which is worthless unless it endure till death and for a Church designed long to outlive the longest lived of its members. Consequently, this word affords no sure note of the time when the Epistle was written. See Diss. iii. 3.

Removing: migration from place to place, or change of opinion. So Acts 7:16; Hebrews 11:5 : also 2 Macc. vii. 24, of an apostate Jew; and Sirach vi. 9, of a friend turned to an enemy.

Ye-are-removing: defection now going on while Paul writes, and not yet complete. This agrees with the present tense in Galatians 3:3, are being-made perfect; Galatians 4:9, are-turning; Galatians 1:4, are-being-justified; and throughout the Epistle, e.g. Galatians 4:21; Galatians 5:1-3; Galatians 5:12; Galatians 6:12-13. These present tenses and Paul’s expression of wonder, suggest that he wrote while the sad news was still fresh; and while the apostacy was still going on, hoping thus to stay its progress.

Him that called you: God, as always with Paul: cp. Galatians 5:8; Galatians 1:15; 1 Corinthians 7:17; Romans 8:30. These words remind us that the Gospel is the voice of God calling men to Himself; and imply that to forsake Gospel truth is to forsake God. For the Gospel call is the medium through which God presents Himself to us, and the instrument by which He draws us and binds us to Himself.

In the grace of Christ: Romans 5:15 : cp. Galatians 6:18; 2 Corinthians 8:9; 2 Corinthians 12:9; 2 Corinthians 13:13. The Gospel call comes to us accompanied and surrounded by the undeserved favour which moved Christ to give Himself for our salvation. Apart from this favour, there had been no Gospel. Thus these words bring Galatians 1:4 to bear upon the apostacy of the Galatians.

To another-kind-of Gospel, or a different Gospel: 2 Corinthians 11:4 : point towards which, while forsaking God, they are moving. The call of God was good news of coming deliverance: and nothing less than this could meet the case of men carried helplessly to ruin by the present evil age. Therefore, since his readers are turning from God who spoke to them these good tidings, Paul assumes in irony that they must have heard other good news. And, if so, it must have been of a kind quite different from that which they heard from Paul. He thus compares his own teaching with that which his opponents would put in its place, each being looked upon as good news.

In the words called you, in the grace of Christ, another Gospel, we trace at once the pen of the author of the Epistles to the Romans and Corinthians.

Galatians 1:7. Explanation of the foregoing veiled comparison.

‘Which other kind of good tidings, as I have ventured to call this false teaching, is not really another good tidings, as though there could be two announcements of coming deliverance between which we might choose. It is, therefore, no Gospel at all. My own words are not correct except as pointing to the fact that there are some who disturb you, etc.’

Disturb: to destroy one’s peace: so Galatians 1:10; Acts 15:24; Acts 17:8; John 5:7; John 12:27; John 13:21; John 14:1; John 14:27. Who and how many the disturbers were, we are not told: simply the fact of disturbance is asserted.

Gospel of Christ: Romans 15:19; (Galatians 1:9); 1 Corinthians 9:12; 2 Corinthians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 9:13; 2 Corinthians 10:14 : the good news about Christ. For Christ is present to our thought rather as the Great Matter, than as Author or Herald, of the Gospel. Cp. Romans 1:2; 2 Corinthians 4:4.

Overturn the Gospel: the tendency, if not the deliberate aim, of the false teachers; so utterly opposed is their teaching to the good news about Christ. They were already disturbing Paul’s readers; and were wishing to overturn the Gospel. This last, they endeavour to do by putting in its place something quite different from it. The new teaching, in order to contrast it with the teaching it was designed to supersede, Paul calls in Galatians 1:6 another kind of Gospel. And only in this sense does he use this phrase.

The matter of the Epistle is now fairly before us, viz. an early defection in Galatia. And the teaching which caused it, Paul declares to be an attempt to overturn the Gospel. To prove this assertion, will be the chief purpose of his argument.

Galatians 1:8-9. This argument, Paul delays for a moment in order to pronounce, and to repeat, against the false teachers in Galatia the most tremendous condemnation possible. He thus reveals the greatness of the issues at stake in the argument he is about to begin.

Even if we, etc.: an almost inconceivable supposition, giving to the condemnation which follows the widest application possible, and thus greatly increasing its force.

We: Paul and the brethren with him.

Angel out of heaven: graphic picture of the appearance of an angel.

Other than, etc.: limited, by Paul’s reference to men who desired to overturn the Gospel, to teaching contrary to, and therefore subversive of, the Gospel preached by Paul. This fearful condemnation therefore does not bear upon merely defective teaching. Even the man who builds ( 1 Corinthians 3:15) with straw may himself be saved; so long as he does not endeavour to overturn the foundation.

Anathema: see under Romans 9:3. It can denote no less than the actual curse of God. Under this curse Paul declares that the false teachers lie; and approves this. To this terrible condemnation, the repetition in Galatians 1:9 adds great force.

The contrast with I say now implies that as we said before, does not refer to Galatians 1:8, and must therefore refer to words spoken by Paul and his companions either in an earlier letter or on an earlier visit. It is perhaps most easily explained as recalling Paul’s second visit to Galatia, recorded in Acts 18:23. But the prevalence of the error in question, and the important discussion of it at Jerusalem shortly before (Acts 16:6) Paul’s first visit, and the decrees which (Galatians 1:4) on that journey he circulated, make it quite possible that this warning was given by him even when founding the Galatian Churches. That if any one is announcing, etc. states actual fact, we infer confidently from Galatians 1:7. It is thus a contrast to the inconceivable supposition of Galatians 1:8. [Hence the change in the Greek moods.] The changed ending of the conditional clause, that which ye received, brings as evidence against themselves the readers’ own previous acceptance of Paul’s teaching. Cp. 1 Corinthians 15:1. It is thus a forerunner of Galatians 3:1.

That this tremendous condemnation is due to narrow intolerance of opinions different from his own, Paul’s breadth of view disclosed throughout the Epistles to the Romans and Corinthians forbids us to believe. We are therefore compelled to accept it as proof of the greatness of the error and the guilt of the men referred to. And we wait, with bated breath, to know what their teaching was. We expect to find it directly subversive (Galatians 1:7) of the Gospel, thus tending to rob the world of the blessings therein proclaimed and conveyed; and to find that it implied wilful rejection of the teaching of Christ. For, only against error involving moral guilt could this fearful curse be pronounced. Thus Paul’s words of condemnation raise our expectation, on the threshold of the Epistle, to the highest point.

The nature of the error here referred to can be gathered only. by inference from the Epistle itself. It will be discussed fully at the close of our exposition. See note there.

Galatians 1:10. Now: in emphatic prominence, revealing the importance of the present moment, and the mighty issues now at stake.

Persuade: win over to our side as friends; same word in Acts 12:20. Is it at this present time the favour of men or of God I am securing?

To please men: 1 Thessalonians 2:4 : method by which we persuade them. While seeking to please them we are actually engaged in the work of winning them to our side. That Paul actually persuaded (2 Corinthians 5:11) men and sought (Romans 15:2; 1 Corinthians 10:33) to please them, in order to save them, implies that he refers here to the favour of men sought only for our own selfish ends. To seek the favour of men in order to save them, and only so far as this motive leads us, is itself one of the best means of obtaining the favour of God. Between these two modes of pleasing men, the ultimate aim places an infinite difference.

To the question of Galatians 1:10 a, 10b gives both an answer and a reason for it.

Still; suggests that Paul, like all men, had once the favour of men his main purpose. Apart from Christ, in life depends more or less on men around us. Consequently, the favour of some of them must at all costs be obtained. Consciousness of this is bondage to the caprice of those on whom our supposed welfare depends. But Christ’s servants know that their welfare depends only on their Master’s smile. They are therefore independent of men, and have no need to seek man’s favour except so far as by doing so they are serving and pleasing Christ. Consequently, to please men as we did in days gone by, is to abandon the liberty of a servant of Christ. Compare carefully 1 Corinthians 7:23. The conspicuous contrast of men and Christ involves, as in Galatians 1:1, the superhuman dignity of Christ.

Galatians 1:10 is given to support Galatians 1:9. The support thus rendered, our ignorance of details somewhat obscures. But a clue is found in Galatians 6:12, where Paul declares that zeal for the Law was a mask under which the disturbers were endeavouring to escape from persecution. If so, they were mutilating the Gospel in order to conciliate its enemies. Such conduct is doubly incompatible with the service of Christ; and justifies the severe condemnation of Galatians 1:10. By using the first person, and thus expounding the principles of his own action, in words which his readers knew were true, Paul brings his own contrary example to bear on the matter at issue. Cp. 1 Corinthians 8:13; 1 Corinthians 9:26; 1 Corinthians 10:33; 1 Corinthians 11:1. He also reveals by silent contrast the selfish motives of the seducers. His reference to himself is also a suitable stepping-stone to DIV. I.


Verse 11-12

DIVISION I PAUL’S CONTRARY CONDUCT AND PRINCIPLES.

CHAPTERS 1:11-12.

SECTION 3. — PAUL’S GOSPEL IS DIVINE.

CH. 1:11, 12.

For I make known to you, brethren, the good tidings announced as good tidings by me, that it is not according to man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it; but it came through revelation of Jesus Christ.

Make known to you; calls attention to an important matter, as in 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Corinthians 15:1; 2 Corinthians 8:1. It also suggests that the error in Galatia arose from ignorance.

Good-tidings, announce good-tidings: same word already five times in § 2, reminding us emphatically that the preaching of Paul was good news.

That it is not, etc.: special element in the good tidings which Paul wishes to make known.

Not according to man: it is not such teaching as man could produce, does not correspond with man’s powers. This calls attention to the nature and contents of Paul’s Gospel.

Galatians 1:12. Explains how it is that Paul preached a Gospel which does not accord with, i.e. which surpasses, man’s own powers of intellectual discovery. The explanation is that it was received not from man but from Christ. Paul did not receive it from human lips, as something which one man hands over to another.

Nor was I taught it: as something acquired by the intellectual effort of learning.

Revelation (see under Romans 1:17) of Jesus Christ: either as the Author Himself revealing, Matthew 11:27; or the Object-matter, Himself revealed, 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Peter 4:7; 1 Peter 4:13. Here Galatians 1:16 suggests the latter thought: and this is the usual sense of the genitive after revelation. But the contrast with received from man reminds us that Jesus Christ is the source of this revelation. And this is possibly the sense of 2 Corinthians 12:1. Both ideas may have been present in Paul’s mind. The Revelation of Christ in 1 Corinthians 1:7 is His sudden unveiling at the Great Day: here, and in Galatians 1:16, it is His unveiling subjectively in the mind of Paul. Cp. Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:5.

The statements in Galatians 1:11-12 are given in support of something going before. And the repeated word good-tidings, or Gospel, at once recalls the same word in Galatians 1:6-9, thus overleaping the passing reference in Galatians 1:10. Paul assumed in Galatians 1:7 that the good news which he proclaimed and his readers accepted, but which the disturbers wish to overturn, is The Gospel of Christ. To defend this assumption, is the purpose of DIV. I. And this defence Paul has now introduced by a statement, which he will at once proceed to prove, that the matter of his preaching was acquired not by ordinary means but by a lifting up of the veil which hides Christ from mortal view.

The above statement and the long argument following, which shed light on Galatians 1:1, can be explained only by supposing that the false teachers had insinuated that Paul received the Gospel at second hand and preached only in virtue of a commission from the apostles sent personally by Christ, and was therefore inferior to them; and that to their commission he had been unfaithful by preaching a Gospel different from that which he received from them. To this insinuation the facts which occupy the remainder of DIV. I. will be a crushing reply.

This revelation was conveyed to Paul (Ephesians 3:5) by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit (Ephesians 1:17) of wisdom and revelation, received at Damascus by (Acts 9:17) the agency of Ananias. And doubtless the revelation was progressive. Yet we may suppose that he sought and received from others an account of the works and words of Jesus. Indeed he may have known these in part before his conversion; as many know them now and are uninfluenced by them. But, in addition to this external knowledge, Paul was deeply conscious that by the direct agency of God the eyes of his heart had been opened to see a heavenly light and to apprehend the life-giving truths underlying the words and works of Christ.

And this is true, in some measure, of all believers: cp. Ephesians 1:17. Probably the matters in dispute turned not so much on what Christ had said as on the underlying significance of His words. And of this, Paul’s knowledge was derived, not from human witnesses, but from Him who was pleased to reveal His Son in him.


Verse 13-14

SECTION 4. — PAUL’S FORMER LIFE.

CH. 1:13, 14.

For ye have heard my manner of life formerly in Judaism, that beyond measure I was persecuting the Church of God, and was laying it waste: and I was making progress in Judaism beyond many of my own age in my race, being more abundantly zealous for my paternal traditions.

Now begins historical proof, occupying the rest of DIV. I., of the statement in Galatians 1:12. As a dark background for it, throwing into bold relief his subsequent career, Paul describes first his own earlier life. And this description is also the beginning of the proof. For, such terrible hostility could be overcome by nothing less than a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Ye have heard: probably from Paul himself; a coincidence with Acts 22, 26, which reveal Paul’s habit of narrating his conversion.

Manner of life: same word in Ephesians 4:22; 1 Timothy 4:12; 2 Corinthians 1:12; Ephesians 2:3; 1 Timothy 3:15.

Judaism: the Jewish way of living, especially in religion. So 2 Macc. viii. 1, “those who had remained in Judaism,” in contrast to apostates; 2 Macc. ii. 21; xiv. 38.

The Church of God: cp. 1 Corinthians 15:9. To persecute the Church is to make war against God.

Was-laying-waste: Galatians 1:23 : was engaged in its utter destruction. Paul looked upon himself then as actually destroying the Church. The same word is used for destruction of cities; and, in Acts 9:21, of persons.

Galatians 1:14. Making progress: same word in Romans 13:12 : literally knocking forward, laboriously making oneself a way. In everything distinctive of a Jew, especially in fanatical devotion to the Law and to Jewish prerogatives, Paul was day by day going forward. This devotion, many other young men shared: but in his fervour he left them behind.

In my race: 2 Corinthians 11:26; Philippians 3:5. It suggests or implies that those to whom Paul wrote were for the more part not Jews.

Zealous: emulous to maintain and defend: literally a zealot, which is an English form of the Greek word here used. Same word in Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13; Acts 21:20; Acts 22:3; 1 Corinthians 14:12; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 3:13. Of the same word, Cananaean in (RV.) Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18 is a Hebrew form. It became the name of a sect of fanatics madly jealous for what they thought to be the prerogatives of Israel.

Traditions: customs or teaching handed down verbally or in writing from one to another. See under 1 Corinthians 11:2. Cp. Mark 7:3-13; Colossians 2:8. 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:6.

Paternal: see Diss. i. 2. That Paul says my traditions, even when comparing himself with others of his own race, suggests that he refers to something specially his own, probably to the traditional customs and interpretations of Scripture which distinguished the sect of the Pharisees. For Paul was (Philippians 3:5, Acts 26:5) a Pharisee, a son (Acts 23:6) of Pharisees. So Josephus, Antiquities bk. xiii. 10. 6, “The Pharisees handed over by tradition to the people many ordinances received from the fathers”: ch. 16. 2, “ the ordinances which the Pharisees brought in according to the paternal tradition.” A sample is in Mark 7:3-13.

Notice that Paul’s words about his earlier life here and 1 Corinthians 15:9; Philippians 3:6; 1 Timothy 1:13 confirm completely the statement in Acts 8:3; Acts 9:1; Acts 9:13; Acts 22:4; Acts 22:19; Acts 26:10.


Verses 15-17

SECTION 5. — PAUL’S CONVERSION AND JOURNEY TO ARABIA.

CH. 1:15-17.

But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that as good tidings I might announce Him among the Gentiles, immediately I did not set the matter before flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and I returned again to Damascus.

Galatians 1:15-16 a. A new era in Paul’s life, due entirely to the good pleasure of God, an historic realisation of an eternal purpose.

When it pleased God; suggests that the time was chosen by the good will of God, who might have spoken to him earlier or later.

Separated me, etc.: placed me, from the moment of my birth, apart from other men, i.e. in a unique position. This can refer only to the as yet unrevealed purpose of God. Paul cannot forget that the voice on the way to Damascus was a manifestation of a purpose which had followed him from the first moment of his personal existence. Even then God designed him for special work. Cp. Isaiah 49:1; Jeremiah 1:5.

Called me: Romans 8:28 : by the voice of Jesus. This voice was the first link in the historic realisation of God’s purpose. Cp. Romans 8:30.

Through His grace: channel by which the voice came to Paul. God first looked on him with undeserved favour; and then, in order to place him in the unique position for which from birth He had destined him, He spoke to him on the journey. Notice the parallel: it pleased God to reveal His Son in me; and by His grace He called me.

To reveal, etc.: an inward unveiling and vision, in the heart of Paul, of the Son of God, of His Nature and Mission. See under Galatians 1:12. Thus to know Christ is the highest gain and joy, and would itself compensate for the lack of all besides. This revelation followed immediately Paul’s reception of the Holy Spirit: for he at once (Acts 9:20) began to preach. But it would be developed as day by day the Spirit gave him a nearer and clearer view of Christ. Paul then adds the definite purpose of this revelation.

In me: in the mind and spiritual life of Paul; of which every part was permeated and ennobled by this vision of the unveiled face of Christ. It cannot refer, as in 1 Timothy 1:16, to an objective manifestation of Christ to men in (cp. Galatians 1:24) the person of Paul. For this would need to be clearly specified, would confound these words with those following, and would omit an all-important link of the chain, viz. Paul’s own inward vision of Christ. For, none but those in whose inner life Christ is revealed can preach Him aright. The other idea, the word manifest (2 Corinthians 4:10 f) would better express.

Announce Him: for Christ is Himself the matter of the good news.

Among the Gentiles: a definite element in God’s purpose; and a close coincidence with Acts 26:17.

Galatians 1:16-17. Paul’s action immediately after this divine revelation, described, as his wont is, first negatively then positively.

Set the matter before: for advice, as though Paul’s conduct would be influenced thereby. Same word in Galatians 2:6 : similar word in Galatians 1:2.

Flesh and blood: men; whose intelligence is limited and their counsel moulded by the constitution of their material clothing. Cp. Matthew 16:17; Ephesians 6:12. Similarly, 1 Corinthians 15:50; Hebrews 2:14 recall the conditions imposed by man’s bodily life. That Paul does not refer here to taking account of the needs and comfort of the body, is proved by his mention in Galatians 1:17 of the earlier apostles; and by the scope of DIV. I., viz. his independence of human authority.

Nor did I go up, etc.: another negation specifying the former one.

Go up to Jerusalem: Galatians 2:1 f, Acts 11:2; Acts 15:2; Acts 21:12; and Acts 18:22, which refers probably to Jerusalem. It was not only the head of the nation, but was situated on high ground. On receiving the heavenly vision, Paul did not go to present himself to the Mother-Church of Christendom in the metropolis of his nation. Consequently, his success was in no way due to any commission from those who were apostles before him.

By going into Arabia instead of going up to Jerusalem, Paul went away from Christian counsellors. He went, probably, to the kingdom of Aretas, bordering Judaea, with Petra as capital. Cp. Josephus, Antiquities bk. xiv. 14. This journey is most easily harmonised with Acts 9:19 f by supposing that immediately after his conversion Paul preached for a short time (some days., Acts 9:19) in the synagogues at Damascus, and then went to Arabia; that after a short sojourn he returned to Damascus and stayed there a great part of the three years mentioned in Galatians 1:18; and that his departure from Damascus to Jerusalem was prompted, as narrated in Acts 9:23 ff and 2 Corinthians 11:33, by plots of the Jews. That the journey to Arabia is not mentioned in the Book of Acts, suggests that it was short, and thus perhaps unknown to the writer or omitted as unimportant. The purpose of the journey is not stated, and is unknown to us. Chrysostom and other early writers suppose that Paul went to Arabia, a Gentile country, to preach the Gospel there, thus beginning at once his destined work. If so, the temporary rule of Aretas over Damascus (see note under 2 Corinthians 11:32) may have afforded him a favourable opportunity of preaching in the capital of the Arabian kingdom. Or, in harmony with the deepest and noblest instincts of human nature, his sudden and wonderful change may have prompted Paul to seek retirement in order to ponder in the solitude of a foreign country the commission received from Christ. In this case, he may, like Elijah, have travelled as far as Sinai, which was included probably in the kingdom of Aretas: and to this visit may be due the allusion in Galatians 4:25. Between the above suggestions we cannot decide. Possibly, solitary contemplation in a land of strangers may have been combined with some measure of evangelical activity. In either case Paul went away from Christian counsellors: and this is the point he wishes to emphasise.

Again: even from Arabia, which was nearer to Jerusalem than to Damascus, Paul simply retraced his steps to Damascus. These last words imply that his conversion was at Damascus, of which in this Epistle no other mention is made: an undesigned and important coincidence with Acts 9:3.


Verses 18-24

SECTION 6. — PAUL’S VISIT TO, AND EARLY DEPARTURE FROM, JERUSALEM. CH. 1:18-24.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem, to make acquaintance of Cephas; and I remained with him fifteen days. But no other of the Apostles did I see, except James, the brother of the Lord. The things which I write to you, behold before God I do not lie.

Then I came into the regions of Syria and of Cilicia. And I was unknown by face to the Churches of Judaea, the Churches in Christ. But only they were hearing that, He who persecuted us formerly now announces as good news the faith which formerly he was laying waste. And they were glorifying God in me.

Galatians 1:18. Then: Galatians 1:18; Galatians 1:21; Galatians 2:1 : three consecutive steps in the historic narrative.

After three years: possibly only one whole year and parts of two others, as in Matthew 27:63, Mark 8:31. they were measured probably from Paul’s conversion, as is immediately in Galatians 1:16. If the visit to Arabia was short, most of this time would be spent at Damascus. probably after Paul’s return there.

To-make-acquaintance-of Cephas: a purpose very different from a desire to obtain apostolic sanction for his work.

Cephas: see under 1 Corinthians 1:12.

Fifteen days: exact length of a memorable visit, fixed indelibly in the mind of Paul. This short sojourn, sufficient to make acquaintance of Peter, would give no time for training in Gospel truth.

For the bearing of this verse on Acts 9:17; Acts 9:26, see Diss. i. 2.

Galatians 1:19. The brother of the Lord: to distinguish this James from (Acts 12:2) the brother of John, who was not then put to death.

Except James: or but only James. Grammatically the words so rendered do not necessarily imply that James was himself an apostle. See under Galatians 2:16. But here Paul cannot wish to say that besides Peter he saw no one, or no Christian, at Jerusalem except James. Cp. Acts 9:28 ff. And the whole Context, which refers specially to the apostles, shows that to these the exception refers. It implies fairly that James, if not himself actually and usually called an apostle, was yet so closely related to the apostles that the statement that at Jerusalem Paul saw no apostle except Peter needed to be qualified by the statement that he also saw James. And this agrees exactly with the prominent position of James, attested by his mention in Galatians 2:9 before Peter and John. The apostles held ( 1 Corinthians 12:28) the first rank in the Church: and in the first rank stood certainly James. This lessens the apparent discrepancy in Acts 9:27, by permitting us to speak of Peter and James as apostles. The others, possibly, were away from Jerusalem on evangelical work.

Galatians 1:20. This protestation (peculiar in N. T. to Paul: Romans 9:1; 2 Corinthians 11:31; 1 Timothy 2:7) implies some difficulty, fancied or real, in the foregoing statement; and proves its great importance. It is most easily explained by supposing that Paul’s opponents boldly asserted, or insinuated, in order to prove that he had been unfaithful, that he had received a formal commission from the whole apostolic band; and that from this he derived his authority in the Church. To contradict any such assertion, Paul assures us in these solemn words that his purpose in going to Jerusalem was to become acquainted with Peter, and that he saw there no other leader of the Church except James. Thus, by directing attention to a matter of importance, this apparently casual protest helps us to understand Paul’s argument.

Galatians 1:21-24. A third step in Paul’s narrative, following (1) Galatians 1:15-17 and (2) Galatians 1:18-20.

Syria and Cilicia: adjoining provinces, far from Jerusalem: mentioned together in the same order in Acts 15:23; Acts 15:41. Syria is put first as nearer to Jerusalem, and as the more important. See Diss. i. 2. From Tarsus Barnabas brought Paul to Antioch, the Capital of Syria, where he laboured (Acts 11:26) a whole year. Thus agree the statements here and in the Book of Acts. The indefinite term regions of, Syria, etc. suggests various journeys within or around these provinces.

Galatians 1:22. The Churches of Judaea; possibly do not include that at Jerusalem. For the people and life of the surrounding country are so different from those of a metropolis that the latter seems hardly to belong to the former: and it is not likely that Paul would be fifteen days in Jerusalem without meeting some Christians there. Similarly, from Jerusalem apparently (John 2:13) Jesus went (John 3:22) into the Judaean land. Yet in 1 Thessalonians 2:14, similar words certainly include Jerusalem. And it may be objected that if to these Paul was known it was immaterial to say that he had not visited the Churches in the small towns around. On the apparent contradiction with Acts 9:28, see Diss. i. 2. Perhaps these words were added to complete the account of Paul’s relations with the Jewish Christians, and to give opportunity for the statement in Galatians 1:24 of their accord with him.

The Churches in Christ: a comment on these Judaean Christians, testifying their union with Christ and therefore the genuineness of their profession. So 1 Thessalonians 2:14. The plural Churches suggests, as in Galatians 1:2, that they were not united into one organised whole.

Unknown by face; hardly implies that they had never seen his face even as a persecutor, and therefore does not prove that Paul refers only to Churches outside Jerusalem. For, if they had never met him as a Christian, he would be, as to personal intercourse, still unknown to them.

Galatians 1:23-24. The only contact of Paul with the Christians of Judaea was that from time to time news came that their former persecutor was now preaching the Gospel. Of this Gospel, faith was a chief element. (Another chief element was the Cross of Christ: 1 Corinthians 1:18.) Paul announced as-good-tidings that God saves all who believe. Formerly he was at work crushing out this teaching by destroying (same word in Galatians 1:13, Acts 9:21) those who announced it. Cp. Acts 6:7, obeyed the faith; Romans 1:5.

Glorified: see under Romans 1:21; Romans 15:6; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 6:20.

In me: John 17:10. In the changed conduct of Paul there shone forth to the Christians of Judaea the grandeur of God, awakening their admiration. This was his earnest desire: that in my body Christ shall be magnified, Philippians 1:20. Since this admiration was voluntary, they are said to have themselves glorified God. These words attest the agreement of the Judaean Christians with Paul at this early stage of his career, so far as he was known to them; and thus prepare the way for the formal agreement in § 7.

 


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Bibliography Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Galatians 1:4". Joseph Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jbc/galatians-1.html. 1877-90.

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Sunday, January 19th, 2020
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