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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Galatians 1

 

 


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Verse 1

Galatians 1:1. contains the text of the first two chapters: namely, the divine mission and independent apostolic authority of Paul, which the Judaizers denied, but which is clearly proved by the following narrative and the testimony of the older Apostles themselves. Galatians 1:4 implies the theme of the second part, chaps. 3 and 4, namely, a defense of the doctrine of free grace in Christ.

An Apostle, lit., messenger; here in the highest sense: one of the special messengers of Christ and witnesses of his resurrection who were (1) directly called by him, (2) inspired by the Holy Spirit, and hence infallible in their religious teaching, and (3) commissioned to all nations; hence the founders and authoritative teachers of the whole church in all ages. See note on Romans 1:1. The Judaizers confined the apostolic dignity to the Twelve, to whom Paul did not belong. He represented the independent apostolate of the Gentiles.

Not from men, nor through man. Paul’s apostleship is entirely independent of human agency, direct or indirect. The preposition ‘from’ denotes the origin or fountain, the preposition ‘through’ the instrumentality or channel. The singular ‘through man’ (any man whatever) makes the exclusion of human agency stronger, and forms a contrast to the following through Jesus Christ, who is more than a man. ‘Through’ includes here for brevity’s sake both the nearer instrumental and the more remote originating source of authority. Paul was called at his conversion on the way to Damascus, when the risen and ascended Saviour appeared to him personally (Acts 9:15). The Apostles are both ‘from Christ’ and ‘through Christ;’ their disciples (and all regular teachers of the church) are ‘from’ Christ, but ‘through man;’ the false teachers are ‘from men’ and ‘through man,’ or self-constituted intruders with-out any authority from Christ. Paul’s call was just as direct as that of the Twelve; but the Judaizers, in their tendency to overrate external forms and secondary causes, laid great stress upon the personal intercourse with Christ in the days of his flesh, and hence they were disposed either to declare Paul a pseudo-apostle, or at least to subordinate him to the Twelve, especially to Peter and James.

And God the Father. The immediate and frequent coordination of Christ with God the Father, especially here in contrast with the preceding men and man, proves that the Apostle regarded the Saviour as a Divine being. God is the Father, not indiscriminately of all men (though He is the creator, preserver, and judge of all), but of Christ, His only begotten and eternal Son, and of all believers who by regeneration become the children of God (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15; John 1:13). God is ‘our’ Father, because He is the Father (not simply of ‘Jesus Christ,’ which would place Christ on a par with us, but) of ‘our Lord Jesus Christ’ (comp. Romans 15:6; 2 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 3:14; 1 Peter 1:3).

Who raised him from the dead. It was the risen Saviour who called Paul to the apostleship, who founded the Church and gave some Apostles, some prophets, and some evangelists (comp. Ephesians 4:11).


Verses 1-5

The very address reveals the occasion of the Epistle, the commotion and fervor of Paul, and the weightiness of his subject: (1) by the emphasis laid on his independent apostolic office and dignity, which had been called in question by the Judaizing errorists; (2) by the reference to the atoning death of Christ, which the Galatians practically undervalued in their legalistic tendency; and (3) by the doxology (Galatians 1:5), which indicates his fervent zeal for the glory of God in opposition to every over valuation of human works.


Verse 2

Galatians 1:2. And all the brethren who are with me. The companions and co-laborers of Paul, such as Silas, Timothy, Luke, Sosthenes, some of whom are expressly mentioned in the address of other Epistles (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:1). The word ‘all’ seems to imply a considerable number. The reason why he mentions others is his strong sense of brotherly communion, rather than the desire to give additional force to his exhortations.

Unto the churches of Galatia. In Ancyra, Pessinus, Tavium, and other towns of the province. ‘Churches’ are here (as often) local congregations, which belong to the church universal. In the New Testament the word ‘church’ has only two senses: (1) the whole church; (2) a particular congregation. We use it in two additional senses: (3) a confession or denomination (the Roman, the Anglican, the Lutheran, Church, etc.); (4) a church building. The Epistle was encyclical, or intended for several congregations, like the Epistle to the Hebrews and that to the Ephesians. Hence the absence of individual greetings at the close. The mere mention of the name without those honorable epithets (as ‘saints in Christ,’ ‘faithful brethren’) which he bestows upon other congregations, betrays his dissatisfaction with the apostate Galatians. He has no words of praise for them; they must be chastised like disobedient and ungrateful children.


Verse 3

Galatians 1:3. Grace to you and peace. The apostolic salutation combines the Greek charis (‘grace’) and the Hebrew shalom (‘peace’), and infuses into both a deep Christian meaning. ‘Grace’ comprehends the fulness of the gospel blessing, ‘peace’ the fulness of our personal enjoyment of it and happiness resulting from it.

From God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ. The Father is the direct giver, the Son the mediator, of saving grace and inward peace; but both are here (as in Galatians 1:1) so immediately associated that we have a right to infer from this the divinity of our Lord. No mere man could, without blasphemy, be put into such juxtaposition with the infinite Jehovah as a giver of grace and peace.

Galatians 1:3 forms a sentence for itself, distinct from the address or inscription in Galatians 1:1-2 (comp. note on Romans 1:7). Some ancient authorities read ‘from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’


Verse 4

Galatians 1:4. Paul here touches on the doctrinal, as in Galatians 1:1 he touched on the personal, point of controversy with the false teachers. He holds up at once before the Galatians, who were returning to the bondage of the law, the picture of the dying Saviour, who, by the one sacrifice on the cross, fully and forever accomplished our redemption, so that we need not resort to any human means of salvation or go back to a preparatory dispensation.

Who gave himself, nothing less than His own person, into death, as a ransom and expiatory sacrifice (Romans 4:25; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:14; Matthew 20:28).

For our sins, to atone for them, and thereby to abolish the guilt and to reconcile us to God (Romans 3:25; Galatians 3:13). All sins are included, great and small, past and present, known and unknown.

That he might deliver us. Lit, tear away, from a power, the expression used by the Lord of Paul’s own deliverance (Acts 26:17). ‘It strikes the key-note of the Epistle. The gospel is a rescue, an emancipation from a state of bondage’ (Lightfoot).

From (or out of) this present evil world (æon, age), from the state and order of this transitory world, where sin and death reign, from the world which lies in wickedness (1 John 5:19), in opposition to the supernatural order of the heavenly kingdom, which begins even here on earth (for he who believeth in Christ ‘hath eternal life’), but which will not be fully revealed till the glorious appearance of Christ (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 2:2; 1 Timothy 6:17; Hebrews 6:5). The words contain an allusion to the Jewish distinction between ‘this world’ and ‘the world to come,’ or the period before and the period after the appearance of the Messiah. But the distinction is modified in the New Testament: the present world of temptation and trial extends to the second and glorious coming of Christ; and the future world, though beginning here in faith, does not fully appear to sight till the consummation. The primary distinction of time (present and future) is lost in the moral distinction (good and evil); and hence ‘evil’ is placed in the Greek emphatically at the end. The verse implies a longing after the glorious liberty of the children of God. The Apostles lived on the border line of two aeons, looking sadly on one and hopefully on the other. So all true Christians are pilgrims and strangers in this world of sin and sorrow, and have their citizenship in heaven.

According to the will of God, from whom the whole plan and process of redemption proceeds, so that all the glory belongs to Him, and not to man. The sacrifice of the Son was not forced, or even commanded, by the Father, but strictly voluntary, as is implied in the preceding words: ‘Who gave himself for our sins’ (comp. John 10:18). It was the act of His free love in full harmony with the eternal design of the Father, who ‘is not desiring that any should perish, but that all should come unto repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9).

And our Father, who is at the same time our loving, merciful Father, and who out of infinite love gave His Son for our salvation.

Our,’ however, may also be connected with both nouns: ‘our God and Father.’


Verse 5

Galatians 1:5. To whom (is) the glory, without diminution or division. The article denotes that it is the glory which essentially belongs to God, and to God alone. To boundless mercy belongs boundless praise and gratitude. It is an affirmation (is) rather than a wish (be); comp. Matthew 6:13; 1 Peter 4:11. The doxology in this place implies an indirect reproof of the Galatians for dividing the glory of our salvation between God and man. Similar doxologies, flowing from an overwhelming sense of gratitude, are frequent with Paul, in connection with the mention of the Christian salvation (Romans 11:36; Romans 16:26; Ephesians 3:21; Philippians 4:20; 2 Timothy 4:18).

For ever and over, lit, ‘unto the ages of ages’ (æons of æons, sæcula sæulorum),—a Hebraizing term for very long, or (as here) endless duration. In opposition to the present transitory world (Galatians 1:4; comp. Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 2:7).


Verse 6

Galatians 1:6. I marvel. A sharp rebuke in a mild word, which challenges explanation, and intimates that better things were expected from the Galatians.

So quickly, namely, either after your conversion, which is alluded to in ‘who called you,’ or after my second and last visit to you, or after the arrival of the false teachers. The first is the most probable. In any case the word points to an early date of the Epistle. (See Introd., § 5.) Even the best preaching cannot prevent apostasy. Grotius cites in illustration of the Galatian character what Cæsar says of the Gauls (the ancestors of the French): ‘They are quick and resolute, and fond of change and novelties.’

Turning away; changing over; here and often in a bad sense, turning renegades, deserters. The Greek (middle voice) implies first that the apostasy was voluntary on their part, and hence their own guilt; secondly, that it was not yet completed, but still in progress, and hence might be arrested. (The passive rendering of the Latin Vulgate and English Version would transfer the guilt to the false teachers, and soften the censure of the Galatians.)

From him, not Paul, but God the Father, from whom the gospel call always proceeds (comp. Galatians 1:15; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 7:15; 1 Corinthians 7:17; Romans 8:30; Romans 9:11; Romans 9:24; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:14; 2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Peter 1:15; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 Peter 5:10).

In (not into, as the English Version has it, following the Vulgate) the grace of Christ. The grace, i.e., the whole work, of Christ as a manifestation of His redeeming love is both the element in which and the medium by or through which the Father draws to the Son (John 6:44) and effects the call (comp. Acts 15:11; Romans 5:15).

Unto a different gospel, different in kind, another sort of gospel, which is undeserving of the name, since there is but one gospel, namely, that to which you were called by God. Hence Paul immediately adds a correction of this paradoxical expression, which he uses simply in accommodation to the language of the Judaizing pseudo-evangelists (comp. 2 Corinthians 11:4).


Verses 6-10

The Apostasy of the Galatians; Anathema on the False Teachers.

In all other Epistles Paul begins in a spirit of Christian courtesy and love, thanksgiving and encouragement, thereby winning the affections and securing the respectful attention of his readers. But here he begins with an indignant expression of his painful surprise at the speedy apostasy of his spiritual children, and enters his solemn protest against every perversion of the gospel of Christ, whom alone he served in his ministry. Yet his deep emotion is more that of sorrow than of anger, and implies his profound interest in the Galatians (comp. Galatians 4:19). He chastises them in order to win them back to their former position. It was his love that made him severe.


Verse 7

Galatians 1:7. Which (pseudo-gospel of the heretical teachers) is not another, i.e., no gospel at all, but a perversion and corruption of the one unchangeable gospel. The gospel of Paul teaches that man is justified by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ; the pseudo-gospel of the Judaizers teaches that man is justified by grace and works through faith in Christ and the circumcision of Moses. The former makes good works the effect, the latter the cause, of justification; and this is thus in fact a relapse into the Jewish standpoint under a Christian name.

Save that there are some troubling you. Only in this sense is it another gospel that it is a perversion of the true gospel of Christ by those well-known troublers of your conscience.


Verse 8

Galatians 1:8. But even though we ourselves (I and my colleagues, Galatians 1:2), or an angel from heaven, should preach [unto you] any gospel other than that (beyond that) which we preached unto you, let him be anathema. It is impossible to express more strongly and solemnly the conviction of the unerring truth of the gospel as preached by Paul, the zeal for its purity, and the aversion to every heresy. Only an inspired Apostle could thus speak. The condemnation of the opponents is indirect, but the more certain by the argument a fortiori. The severity of Paul against false brethren was equalled by his forbearance with weak brethren (comp. Galatians 6:1; Romans 14:1; Romans 15:1), All personal assumption and arrogance is here excluded, the more so as he conditionally includes himself and his colleagues in the anathema. His only motive was zeal for the purity of the gospel of his divine Lord and Master.

An angel from heaven, proverbial expression for a being possessed of the highest authority next to the divine. Beside that; lit., beyond what, which is both beside (præterea) and against (contra). The gospel admits of no rival, either in the form of foreign additions or in the form of changes. Paul condemns not indeed mere differences in form, such as existed even among the Apostles themselves, and will always exist, but every material alteration of the gospel, either by perversion, or omission, or such additions as contradict the spirit of apostolic teaching. The Judaizers did not expressly deny the doctrine of justification by faith, but they indirectly undermined it by adding the assertion of the coordinate necessity of circumcision; just as the Pharisees professed to hold fast to the Word of God in the Old Testament, and yet made it of none effect by their human traditions (comp. Mark 7:13). The passage admits of easy application to the unscriptural traditions of the Greek and Roman churches.

Let him be anathema, anathematized, i.e., devoted (in a bad sense), given over to the judgment of God. It is a solemn judgment of condemnation as in the name of God (comp. 1 Corinthians 16:22 : ‘If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema;’ also Galatians 3:13; Galatians 5:10; Romans 9:3; 1 Corinthians 12:3). Subsequently, among the fathers the idea of ecclesiastical excommunication (accompanied sometimes with an execration) was attached to this term; but this is not the Biblical sense, and in our passage it is forbidden by the mention of an angel who cannot be excommunicated from the church.


Verse 9

Galatians 1:9. Before refers not to Galatians 1:8, which is too near, but to the last visit of Paul to Galatia.

Preach εὐαγγελίζεται implies the actual fact, not the mere possibility, as the hypothetical should preach (εὐαγγελίζηται, Galatians 1:8), and thus attacks more directly the Galatian pseudo-apostles.


Verse 10

Galatians 1:10. accounts for, and thus softens, the apparently excessive severity of the preceding condemnation. The service of the gospel is absolutely irreconcilable with the selfish service of men. We should indeed serve our fellow-men (comp. Romans 15:1-3), but for God’s sake, and for the promotion of his glory.

Persuading, trying to conciliate or to gain favor by persuasion.

Still, i.e., after my call to the apostleship, and all that has happened to me. This does not necessarily imply that in his former state he was a time-server and pleaser of men, who sought the favor of the Jews when he persecuted the Christians. He was never dishonest or dishonorable. A certain manly independence and fearless regard to duty seems to have characterized him even before his conversion.

I should not be a servant of Christ (lit., bondman, slave), as described with such power and beauty, 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 11:23 ff. The Galatian heretics, under the assumed character of servants of Christ, sought not the glory of Christ and the salvation of souls, but only the favor of men and their own profit. The Greek fathers miss the meaning when they explain: I would not have left Judaism and become a Christian.


Verse 11

Galatians 1:11. Now I make known to you. This verb introduces a deliberate and emphatic statement of opinion (as in 1 Corinthians 15:1; 2 Corinthians 8:1). After the warm burst of feeling he proceeds to calm reasoning. Paul still acknowledges the readers as brethren, hoping to win them back from their error.

According to man. The gospel in its origin and contents as received and taught by Paul is not human, but divine; yet intended for man, and satisfying the deepest wants of man’s nature.


Verses 11-24

Apostolical Call and Authority of Paul.

Paul now enters upon his apology. He defends first his independent apostolical dignity (Galatians 1:11 to Galatians 2:11). and proves that he was called directly by Christ, that he received his gospel through revelation before he became even acquainted with the older Apostles, and that he was recognized by them in his independent apostleship at the conference of Jerusalem. The several points he makes are these: (1.) I did not learn the gospel from men in my youth; on the contrary, I was a violent persecutor (Galatians 1:13-14); (2.) I learned it directly from Christ when He revealed Himself to me and called me at my conversion (Galatians 1:15); (3.) I was not instructed by men after my conversion, for I retired forthwith into the desert of Arabia where there were no Christians (Galatians 1:17); (4.) nor by the Apostles in Jerusalem, for I only saw Peter and James, and them but for a few days (Galatians 1:18); (5.) at a later visit to Jerusalem I met the Apostles on equal terms and was fully acknowledged by them (Galatians 2:1-10); (6.) I even openly rebuked Peter, at Antioch, for his inconsistency (Galatians 2:11-14).

These allusions to important facts in his former life are of great value for a biography of Paul, and tend partly to confirm, partly to supplement the account of the Acts concerning his conversion, his relation to the other Apostles, and the council of Jerusalem. The differences are such as must be expected from two independent writers and can be easily reconciled.


Verse 12

Galatians 1:12. For neither did I myself receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but (it came to me) through revelation of Jesus Christ ‘I myself’ any more than the older Apostles. The opponents denied the equality of Paul with the original Twelve on that score; hence the ‘neither.’ ‘Receive’ signifies the passive, ‘taught’ the active or cooperative mode of appropriation. The former refers more to historical, the latter to doctrinal knowledge. Paul was man-taught as a rabbinical scholar, but God-taught as a Christian Apostle.—‘Through revelation of (from) Jesus Christ,’ especially on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:3 ff.). This was the fundamental and central illumination of Paul, corresponding to the pentecostal inspiration of the Twelve, out it was followed by special revelations at different periods of his life (comp. Galatians 2:2; Acts 22:17; Acts 23:11; 1 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Corinthians 12:1 ff.). He speaks of the abundance of his revelations. We may therefore assume a steady growth of the Apostles in divine knowledge. St. Peter, also, after Pentecost, received the vision at Joppa (Acts 10), which enlightened him concerning the exact relation of the gospel to the Gentiles, and thus marked a progress in his inspired knowledge and in the history of missions. Revelation is distinguished from ordinary illumination and instruction by its divine origin, its elevation above (not against) reason, and its sudden communication and intuitive perception. Paul does not mean here the outward historical information concerning the life of Christ which he could derive in part, at least, from reliable eye-witnesses, but chiefly the internal exhibition of Christ to his spiritual sense in his true character as the Messiah and the only and all-sufficient Saviour of the world, and the unfolding of the true import of his atoning death and resurrection; in other words, the spiritual communication of the gospel system of saving truth as taught by him in his sermons and Epistles.


Verse 13

Galatians 1:13. For ye heard (when I was with you) of my former manner of life (or, conduct) in Judaism, i.e., the Jewish religion as opposed to Christianity, the religion of the Jewish hierarchy and the Pharisaic school, not the genuine religion of the Old Testament. Paul appeals to the well-known fact of his past career as a persecutor, which formed a part of his teaching, and conclusively proved that no mere human teaching could have converted him. All his antecedents were of such a character that nothing but a divine intervention could produce so great a change.

That beyond measure I persecuted the church of God and was destroying it, or ‘labored to destroy it’ (the same word as in Acts 9:21). Paul intended to annihilate Christianity, was actually employed in the attempt and carried it out as far as he could (comp. Acts 22:4). ‘I persecuted this way (or, belief) even to death’ (Acts 26:10-11).


Verses 13-17

Excursus on the Conversion of St. Paul.

Here we have from Paul’s own pen a brief account of his conversion, which coincided with his call to the apostleship. It is more fully related three times in the Acts, once by Luke (chap. 9), and twice by Paul himself, before his countrymen at Jerusalem (chap. 22), and before King Agrippa (chap. 26). He alludes to it repeatedly in his Epistles; he saw the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 9:1), who appeared to him on the way to Damascus as really and visibly as he had previously appeared to the older Apostles (1 Corinthians 15:8). We make a few reflections on this great event: —

1. The conversion of Paul was a miracle of divine grace, resting on the greater miracle of the resurrection of Christ. All attempts to explain it from external causes such as thunder and lightning, or out of a previous state of his mind, have failed. The most learned of modem skeptics (Dr. Baur) confessed at the end of his life (1860), that ‘no psychological nor dialectical analysis’ can explain this extraordinary transformation of Paul ‘from the most vehement adversary into the most resolute herald of Christianity,’ and he felt constrained to call it ‘a miracle,’ notwithstanding his philosophical aversion to miracles.

2. It was sudden and radical. Paul compares it to the creative act of God which called the natural light out of the darkness of chaos (2 Corinthians 4:6). He was in a state of active and fanatical hostility to Christ, bent upon the destruction of Christianity, and at once became a most determined and devoted champion of the cross he had hated and despised, and the most successful promoter of the religion he had hoped to exterminate from the face of the earth. The connecting link between the Jewish Saul and the Christian Paul was the honesty of purpose and the energy of will. Resolute and energetic characters are apt to change suddenly and radically, and to embrace the new cause with all the ardor of their soul. Upon proud, heroic natures the Spirit of God comes, not in the still, gentle breeze, but in the earthquake, the fire, and the storm. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Knox may be quoted as illustrations, although they fall far behind the great Apostle of the Gentiles.

3. It was as sincere as any conversion that ever took place. It cannot be explained from any selfish motive of gain or ambition. Paul was neither an impostor nor an enthusiast. He had nothing to win and everything to lose in a worldly point of view. He left a commanding position as a leader of the Jewish nation, to join a poor, weak, despised sect, which at first distrusted him; he sacrificed honor, influence, and power for a life of toil, self-denial, and persecution. He suffered the loss of all things and ‘counted them but dung that he might win Christ’ (Philippians 3:8-9); and in Him he found the richest compensation for all his sacrifices.

4. It was lasting and most effective for all future ages. Paul labored more in word and deed than any other Apostle. He was a true moral conqueror of the world. His life and work after his conversion is, next to the life of his and our Lord and Master, the sublimest spectacle in the history of religion. It was one unbroken act of self-consecration to the glory of Christ and the good of mankind, and sealed at last with a joyful and triumphant martyrdom.

5. It is an unanswerable argument for the truth of Christianity. It is a regenerative, converting, ennobling, and sanctifying agency wherever Paul’s name is known, his history read, and his Epistles studied in the fear and love of God. It has led to many conversions besides that of Lord Lyttleton, who wrote a special book on the subject. No other religion can produce such characters as Paul. A life so pure, so noble, so devoted, so fruitful in good works, is a perpetual benediction to the church and the world.


Verse 14

Galatians 1:14. And made progress (or, advanced) in Judaism beyond many of mine own an in my race (or, nation), being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. Paul far surpassed in zeal for the Jewish religion his contemporary kinsmen or fellow-religionists. He belonged to the extreme party of the Pharisees who called themselves ‘zealots of the law, zealots of God’; comp. Acts 22:3, ‘I was zealous towards God’; Acts 23:6, ‘I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee’ (Philippians 3:5-6).—‘Traditions of my fathers’ are the law of Moses with all the explanations and additions of the Pharisees (afterwards embodied in the Mishna), which concealed rather than unveiled the Word of God and either hindered or destroyed its direct effect (comp. Matthew 15:2; Mark 7:3; Mark 7:13). Perhaps the written law is not included here. ‘Tradition’ (paradosis) embraces everything which is handed down orally or in writing from generation to generation. It occurs twelve times in the New Testament, twice in a good sense of the Christian doctrine itself (1 Corinthians 11:2, rendered ‘ordinances’ in the English version; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:6); in the other passages in an unfavorable sense of the human additions to, and perversions of, the written word of God; hence defined as ‘traditions of the elders’ (Matthew 15:2-3; Matthew 15:6; Mark 7:3; Mark 5:8-9; Mark 5:13), or ‘tradition of men’ (Colossians 2:8). Our Saviour never appeals to tire Jewish traditions except to oppose them; and this is of great moment in the controversy with Romanism, which relies more on ecclesiastical traditions than on the Bible.


Verse 15-16

Galatians 1:15-16. But when it pleased God who set me apart from my mother’s womb, and called me through his grace, to reveal his Son within me, etc. Now he comes to his conversion and accumulates words to show the sole agency of God and the entire absence of all effort and merit of his own in this radical change from fanatical and persecuting Judaism to the apostleship of Christ. Lightfoot well explains the drift of Galatians 1:15-17 : ‘Then came my conversion. It was foreordained before I had any separate existence. It was not, therefore, due to any merits of my own. The revelation of His Son in me, the call to preach to the Gentiles, were acts of His pleasure. Thus converted, I took no counsel of human advisers. I did not betake myself to the elder Apostles as I might naturally have done. I secluded myself in Arabia, and, when I emerged from my retirement, instead of going to Jerusalem, I returned to Damascus.’—‘Pleased,’ according to His free, sovereign will, uninfluenced by any cause from without.—‘Set me apart,’ elected and devoted me to the gospel service; comp. the same word in Romans 1:1; Acts 13:2, and the corresponding Hebrew verb hiphdil, which is used of the separation and dedication of the priests and Levites to the service of God (Numbers 8:14; Numbers 16:9; 1 Chronicles 23:13). The English version ‘separated’ is misleading.—‘From my mother’s womb,’ before I was born, or from the moment of my birth and personal existence. The same is said of Isaiah (Isaiah 49:1, ‘the Lord hath called me from the womb, from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name’), of Jeremiah (Galatians 1:5), and of John the Baptist (Luke 1:15). The decree of election is as eternal as God’s omniscience and love (comp. Ephesians 1:4), but its actualization in time begins with the natural birth, and is completed with the spiritual birth or the effectual call.


Verse 16

Galatians 1:16. To reveal depends on ‘pleased,’ not on ‘called.’

Within me, in my inmost soul and consciousness. The external manifestation of the exalted Redeemer from heaven on the way to Damascus was accompanied by an inner illumination.

That I might preach him among the Gentiles. The conversion of Paul coincided with his call to the apostleship (Acts 26:16-18), but the latter was also newly revealed or confirmed to him in a vision at Jerusalem (Acts 22:17; Acts 22:21). He usually addressed himself first to the Jews, but this was only the natural and divinely appointed bridge to the mission among the Gentiles. The converted Jews and proselytes of the gate who attended the synagogue worship formed the nucleus of his congregations.

Immediately I conferred not with (or, made no communication to, held no counsel with) flesh and blood. ‘Immediately’ (or, ‘forthwith,’ ‘straightway’) properly belongs to ‘I went away’ (Galatians 1:17), the negative clause being interposed; or it may be connected with the whole sentence as expressing a single thought: ‘Forthwith, instead of consulting with flesh and blood, and going up to the older Apostles in Jerusalem, I departed to Arabia.’ When God calls we must obey at once without asking anybody’s advice.—‘Flesh and blood’ is a Hebrew term for man with the accessory idea of weakness or frailty (comp. Matthew 16:17; Ephesians 6:12; Hebrews 2:14). Paul means here not his sinful nature which rebelled against the divine grace, but other weak men; for his object is to prove his entire independence of human instruction and counsel. Ananias did no more than baptize him and lay his hands on him (Acts 9:15-19).

According to Acts 9:20, Paul spent ‘some days’ at Damascus and preached ‘immediately’ after his conversion to the Jews in the synagogue; but this was probably only an open confession of his faith in the Messiahship of Jesus. He did not enter upon the active duties of the apostleship till three years later. After his return from Arabia he preached in Damascus more fully and provoked the opposition of the Jews which compelled him to leave; Acts 9:23 (after ‘many days’); comp. 2 Corinthians 11:32. It is not necessary, therefore, to assume that Luke’s ‘immediately’ is an error of chronology.


Verse 17

Galatians 1:17. Neither went I up to Jerusalem. The usual term, as Jerusalem was not only the religious capital of the Jews,(1) but situated on a high hill so that travellers from the east and the west, the north and the south, have to ascend.

To those who were apostles before me. The Twelve, including perhaps also James (comp. Galatians 1:19), who, although not one of them, was enjoying an almost apostolic authority as a brother of Jesus and as the head of the congregation in Jerusalem. Paul concedes to the other Apostles no other preference but the priority of call. He knew and declared in all humility that by the grace of God he labored more in word and deed than they all (1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 11:5; 2 Corinthians 11:23).

But I went away (or, departed) into Arabia. This visit is not mentioned in the Acts (Acts 9:23), probably because it had no public importance, but belonged to the inner and private history of Paul. ‘It is,’ as Lightfoot says, ‘a mysterious pause, a moment of suspense in the Apostle’s history, a breathless calm which ushers in the tumultuous storm of his active missionary life.’ After the great moral revolution which shook his body and soul, he needed repose and time of preparation for his apostleship by prayer, meditation, and the renewed study of the Old Testament, in the light of its fulfilment in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth.(1) This retreat took the place of the three years’ preparation of the older Apostles in the school of Christ. The precise locality is a matter of conjecture and dispute, as ‘Arabia’ has an indefinite meaning. Some seek it not far from Damascus which is surrounded by desert and is called ‘the Eye of the Desert’ Others give the journey a deeper significance by extending it to the Sinaitic Peninsula, which is certainly meant by ‘Arabia’ in Galatians 4:25; and this would more easily explain the typical allusion to Mount Sinai in the fourth chapter. ‘Here, surrounded by the children of the desert, the descendants of Hagar the bondwoman, he read the true meaning and power of the law’ (Lightfoot). Here Paul could commune with the spirit of Moses the lawgiver, and Elijah the prophet, as Christ had communed with them on the Mount of Transfiguration; here he could study face to face ‘the ministration of death and condemnation,’ as he calls the old covenant, on the spot of its birth, and by contrast also ‘the ministration of the spirit and righteousness’ (2 Corinthians 3:7-9). There is no spot on earth where one may receive a stronger and deeper impression of the terrible majesty of God’s law, which threatens death to the transgressor, than on Mount Sinai and the awful panorama of desolation and death which surrounds it. To quote from my own experience: ‘Such a sight of terrific grandeur and awful majesty I never saw before, nor expect to see again in this world. At the same time I felt more than ever before the contrast between the old and new dispensations: the severity and terror of the law, and the sweetness and loveliness of the gospel’ (Schaff, Through Bible Lands, p. 172).

And returned again onto Damascus. The place of his conversion, one of the oldest and most interesting cities in the world, known in the days of Abraham (Genesis 14:15; Genesis 15:2), conquered by David (2 Samuel 8:5-6), and after various fortunes by the Romans, at the time of Paul’s conversion (A. D. 37) under the temporary rule of Aretas, king of Arabia Petraea (2 Corinthians 11:32). It is a paradise of beauty and fertility in the midst of a vast desert. It lies 113 miles northeast of Jerusalem, at the base of the Anti-Lebanon mountains, and is well watered by the Barada (Abana) and El A’way (Pharpar; 2 Kings 5:12). This second visit to Damascus must fall within the ‘many days’ (a period of indefinite length) mentioned Acts 9:23, and was terminated by the attempt of the Jews on his life (Acts 9:24-25; 2 Corinthians 11:32). A window is still shown in the wall of Damascus, as the traditional scene of Paul’s escape.


Verse 18

Galatians 1:18. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to make the acquaintance of (or, to become acquainted with) Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. This first visit of Paul to Jerusalem after his conversion is the same as the one mentioned in Acts 9:25, and took place A. D. 40. The ‘three years’ must be reckoned from his conversion (A. D. 37). It was quite natural that he should wish to make the personal acquaintance (‘to see’ in the English version is not strong enough) of Peter, the leader of the Twelve. The fact implies the high position of Peter, but no superior authority. Paul’s object is to show that he was independent of human instruction and direction, and fully equal to the older Apostles. In ch. Galatians 2:11, he relates that he even publicly reproved Peter at Antioch, which would have been an act of flagrant insubordination, had Peter been his superior in rank and authority. ‘Cephas’ is the reading of the best MSS. throughout this Epistle and the Epistle to the Corinthians, except Galatians 2:7-8, instead of ‘Peter,’ which arose from an explanatory gloss. This Syro-Chaldaic name was given to Simon by Christ (John 1:43), and was adhered to by the Judaizers. It was, perhaps, in silent opposition to them that Peter in his Epistles used the Greek form.—‘Fifteen days,’ or, as we would say ‘a fortnight,’ too short a time to become a disciple of Peter, as much of it was occupied by public disputations with the Hellenists. The reason of his short stay at Jerusalem was the persecution of the Greek Jews (Acts 9:28-29), and the express command of the Lord to go to the Gentiles (Acts 22:17-21).


Verse 19

Galatians 1:19. But I saw no other of the Apostles but only James. The other Apostles were probably absent on a mission to the scattered churches of the provinces (comp. Acts 9:31). The James here spoken of is not James the elder, the son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother of St. John, who was still living at that time (he was beheaded in 44 as the first martyr among the Apostles, Acts 12:2), but the same who, after the departure of Peter from Palestine (Acts 12:17), presided over the congregation of Jerusalem (Acts 15:13; Acts 22:18), and is frequently called ‘brother of the Lord,’ as here, or simply James (so in the Acts and Galatians 2), or by the fathers ‘Bishop of Jerusalem,’ also ‘James the Just.’ Josephus, the Jewish historian, mentions him under the name of ‘James the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ,’ and reports his martyrdom A. D. 62 (Antiq. xx. 9, 1). According to Hegesippus he died later, about A. D. 69. The exceptive words ‘but only,’ (or, ‘if not,’ ‘save,’ ‘unless it be’) do not necessarily imply that this James was one of the twelve Apostles, and identical with James the younger (who is called ‘James the son of Alphæus’); but it intimates rather, in connection with what precedes, and with his characteristic title here given, that he was, like Barnabas (Acts 14:14; comp. Acts 9:27), an Apostle only in the wider sense, who, owing to his character, position, and relationship to the Lord, enjoyed apostolical authority. The sense then is: ‘the only other man of prominence and authority I saw was James.’ (1)

The brother of the Lord. To distinguish him from the two Apostles of that name. ‘Brother’ is not cousin (for which Paul has the proper Greek term, Colossians 4:10), but either a uterine brother, i.e., a younger son of Joseph and Mary (which is the most natural view; comp. the words ‘till’ and ‘first born’ in Matthew 1:25, and Luke 2:7); or a son of Joseph from a previous marriage, and hence a step-son of Mary and a step-brother of Jesus. Comp. on the brothers of the Lord (James, Joses, Simon, and Judas), Matthew 1:25; Matthew 12:46; Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; John 2:12; John 7:3-10; Acts 1:14. The cousin-theory of the Roman church (dating from Jerome and Augustine at the close of the fourth century) is exegetically untenable, and was suggested chiefly by a doctrinal and ascetic bias in favor of the perpetual virginity of Mary and Joseph, The following reasons are conclusive against it and in favor of a closer relationship: (1.) the natural meaning of the term ‘brother,’ of which there is no exception in the New Testament, and scarcely in the Old; (2.) the fact that these brothers and sisters appear in the Gospels constantly in close connection with the holy family; (3.) they are represented as unbelieving before the resurrection (John 7:5), which excludes them from the Twelve; (4.) they are always distinguished from the Twelve (John 2:17; John 7:3-10; Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 9:5). The old Greek fathers also (Origen, Eusebius, Epiphanius, etc.), clearly distinguish James the brother of the Lord from the two Apostles of that name.


Verse 20

Galatians 1:20. This solemn asseveration refers to the statement Galatians 1:18-19. Judaizing opponents had probably spread the report in Galatia that Paul spent a much longer time in Jerusalem, and was instructed by the Jewish Apostles, especially by Peter, consequently dependent on them.


Verse 21

Galatians 1:21. Comp. Acts 9:30.

Syria, the province of which Antioch was the capital.

Cilicia, the province adjoining Syria. Paul was a native of Tarsus, its capital, and a famous seat of learning. The object of his journey was no doubt to preach the gospel, as appears from Acts 15:23, where churches are mentioned in those regions. In Tarsus, Barnabas met him somewhat later, and took him to Antioch, where they remained a whole year, and then they went together to Jerusalem (A. D. 44) on a benevolent mission (Acts 11:25-30).


Verse 22

Galatians 1:22. And was still unknown by face, by sight, personally.

Judæa is here the district without the capital, as Italy is often distinguished from Rome (Hebrews 13:24). The congregation of Jerusalem must be excepted; for there Paul was known from his visit mentioned in Galatians 1:18, and from his former life when he studied at the feet of Gamaliel and persecuted the Christians. Comp. again Acts 9:26-30.


Verse 23

Galatians 1:23. They were hearing (kept hearing) expresses the idea of duration better than ‘heard.’

The faith is used here in the passive or objective sense=the gospel, the Christian religion (not a formulated statement of dogmas, but rather a living system of divine truth); comp. Galatians 6:10; Acts 6:7; Jude Galatians 1:3. In most cases, however, especially in the Gospels, the Greek word has the active or subjective meaning, ‘trust,’ ‘confidence’ in God or Christ, and is one of the cardinal Christian virtues; hence Christians are called ‘believers.’ If used of God, it means his faithfulness, trustworthiness, immutability of purpose (Romans 3:3).


Verse 24

Galatians 1:24. In me, in my case, or example, not on my account. The Christian hero-worship gives all the glory to God. Chrysostom: ‘He does not say, they marvelled at me, they were struck with admiration of me, but he attributes all to grace. They glorified God, he says, in me.’ This truly Christian conduct of the Jewish converts in Palestine contrasts favorably with the envy and calumny of the Judaizers in Galatia.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Galatians 1:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/galatians-1.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 28th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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