1 Paul an apostle-- sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—2 and all the members of God's family who are with me, to the churches of Galatia:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9 As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

10 Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. 11 For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; 12 for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

13 You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. 14 I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.

15 But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.  18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days;  19 but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord's brother. 20 In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia,  22 and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; 23 they only heard it said, "The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy." 24 And they glorified God because of me.

COMMENTS

General:

  • Someone said, "In Galatians we see Paul in battle; in Romans we read the notes." (In fact, Romans was written after Galatians, but you get the idea.)
  • In the introduction (verses 1-5), Paul
    • Establishes his authority as an genuine apostle. This will be important because he has some hard things to say!
    • Notice that he is not writing to a single church, but to a group of churches.
    • Does not proceed immediately to the urgent business at hand, but rather reminds the Galatians of their relationship to other brothers in Christ. Paul also reminds them that Christians have been redeemed from the present evil age -- back to which certain false teachers are trying to lure them!
    • If Romans is proactive -- written to prevent a possible Jew-Gentile split -- Galatians is reactive. The Judaizers (those teaching that a Gentile must become a Jew, being circumcised and obeying certain elements of the Law, before becoming a Christian) have wreaked havoc among the Galatian churches.
  • Paul is astounded that the Galatians have turned from grace to legalism (vv.6-9).
    • A corrupted gospel is no gospel at all.
    • Not even angels or apostles have the right to change the message. It follows therefore that
      • No non-apostle can alter the gospel.
      • The message now revealed and proclaims is immutable. See Jude 3.
      • Church tradition has no right to update the gospel message, either.
      • We must be extremely careful that we are following the apostolic message. See also 2 Corinthians 11:2-4.
  • In his defense, Paul makes two vital points:
    • If he were a false apostle, he would not have made following the gospel -- which entails opposition -- as difficult as it is (v.10).
      • He would have watered it down, allowed more worldliness in the church, and minimized God's high standards.
      • He'll make the same argument in 6:12ff. It is the tendency of false teachers, after all, to dress up the message and make it more attractive.
    • He received his message directly from Jesus Christ, not at third hand (v.12). His critics are evidently comparing him unfavorably with the (original) Twelve apostles. They may have been claiming that he was holding back the doctrine of circumcision from them in order to make the message more palatable. As a people-pleaser, he knew that the Torah was essential for people to become mature in Christ, yet he didn't want to risk offending them.
    • This of course was nonsense! The gospel does not include following the Torah (circumcision, Sabbath, keeping kosher, and so forth. Paul received the true gospel message directly from Jesus Christ.
  • Though Paul is hard on the Galatians, 9 times in the letter he refers to them as brothers (1:11, 3:15, 4:12,28,31, 5:11,13, 6:1,18). He is upset, yet his love for them should not be doubted.
  • Paul now shares personally.
    • He explains that he left the legalism of Judaism not because he misunderstood it or had failed to give it a try. On the contrary, he was excelling in that "system," outdoing his contemporaries (vv.13-14).
    • He never even met Peter and the other apostles until three years had passed (v.18), and this meeting in no way modified or added to what he had been teaching since his conversion. (For three versions of his conversion, see Acts 9, 22, and 26).
    • His change from being a radical Pharisee to being an evangelist of the new message was a radical one!
      • This change elicited a good deal of notoriety.
      • Paul now preached the faith he once tried to destroy. He turned from Judaism because he authentically followed the gospel. (And now the false teachers are trying to drag the Galatians back to their old religion!)

Advanced:

  • Galatians, like 1 Peter and Ephesians, is a circular letter. Paul is writing to the churches he had planted in Acts 13:14-14:25. Galatia isn't city (like Rome or Corinth), but an ethnic region.
  • The letter seems to have been written around 48 AD. Since Paul is vigorously opposing the Judaizers, if the Council of Jerusalem (49 AD) had already taken place, it is difficult to explain why Paul made no appeal to its decision not to bind Judaism on Gentile converts.
  • Scholars are in broad agreement that the Judaizers were not operating with the approval of the Jerusalem apostles.
  • The Galatian churches were in the South region of Galatia, in ancient Asia Minor (modern Turkey). They were established during Paul's First Missionary Journey (Acts 13-14). Some, however, believe he is writing at a later time to churches in North Galatia. For a helpful map, click here.
  • There may be a parallel between the apostasy beginning to sweep through Galatia and the history of Israel. See Deut 9:12, 16 -- Moses had just left to go up the mountain, and they'd quickly settled for a compromised version of the truth! Whether or not the Galatians picked up the allusion, it seems to have been in Paul's mind.
  • The anathema of vv.8-9 is not an action of church discipline, despite the "anathemas" of church councils in the Catholic period (starting in the 4th century). 1 Cor 12:3--the confession is not "Jesus be excommunicated'; 1 Cor 16:22--no discipline is envisioned; and in Gal 1 there is no way angels could be disfellowshipped! We ought to be careful not to read the ancient texts in the light of later ecclesiastical developments.
  • Paul is not contradicting the record of Acts in Galatians 1:12.
  • Some skeptical scholars cast doubt on Paul's apostolicity, claiming he never quotes the words of Jesus because they were made up after Paul's death. However, in addition to Acts 20:35 and 1 Corinthians 11:24ff, there are clear echoes of the dominical oracles in Matthew's gospel in Colossians 3:13 (Matthew 6:14-15), Romans 2:1 (Matthew 7:1ff), Colossians 1:19,21,26-29 (Matthew 11:25-26), and 1 Corinthians 1:22 (Matthew 12:38). This is to say nothing of allusions or quotations from the other gospels.
  • Arabia (v.17) may refer to the kingdom of the Nabateans, centered in Petra(modern Jordan). At various points in history Damascus was part of this kingdom, even during the 1st century AD. Damascus had been part of the Roman province of Syria since 64 BC. As it was one of the 10 cities of the Decapolis, the Damascenes enjoyed certain civic rights.
  • The point of the three-year absence (v18) is that Paul had not been unduly influenced by the Jerusalem apostles. His knowledge, like his apostleship, was legitimate, issuing from Christ himself.
  • V.19 seems to suggest that James was an apostle, unless apostolos is being used in its broader sense of "missionary."
  • Reading suggestions:
    • Basic: William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (The Daily Study Bible Series). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976.
    • Basic: John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1992.
    • Advanced: Richard N. Longnecker, Galatians (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 41). Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990. It is to this last source in particular that I owe a huge deal of my material and understanding of the letter.

Thought questions:

  • Am I wishy-washy when it comes to holding to the gospel message without compromise? When individuals and groups have changed the message, does this alarm me -- or do I perhaps look at it positively, as exemplifying "diversity," or refrain from comment in the interest of political correctness? Am I overly fond of the loose interpretation of "judge not"? Do I find the notion of moral absolutes unnerving?
  • Am I easily persuaded by others, or do I stand my ground?
  • Why was Paul so troubled, and so angry, that false teachers were infiltrating the churches he had established?
  • How do I react when people start binding human rules as necessary for salvation? Do I react as strongly as Paul when legalism creeps into the church?

THESE STUDIES ARE FOR PREMIUM MEMBERS ONLY. PLEASE DO NOT COPY OR SHARE.