The Biblical epistle to the Galatians is the ninth book of the New Testament and is comprised of a letter written by Paul the Apostle to a regional group of churches that were active in the mid-first century. That region was known as “Galatia” and it encompassed an area that is roughly synonymous with the modern-day country of Turkey.
This makes the Biblical book of Galatians unique in the fact that it is the only one of Paul’s New Testament epistles that was specifically addressed to more than one church. One commentary provides us with a quick historical summary of this region…
“Galatia is the name that was given originally to the territory in North Central Asia Minor, where the invading Gauls settled in the third century before Christ. Gradually the Gallic population was absorbed into other peoples living there, and after a number of political changes, the territory became the property of Rome in 25 B.C. The Romans incorporated this northern section into a larger division of the land which they made a province and called it Galatia.” (1)
Some of the churches that Paul worked to establish in Galatia included the churches of Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, all of which are mentioned in the New Testament book of Acts (see Acts 14:1-7). But sometime after his departure from that area, Paul learned that all was not well with the congregations of Galatia.
You see, Paul was followed by group of others who sought to promote another type of “gospel.” Their teaching stated that anyone who wished to accept Christ as savior was first obligated to follow the Old Testament law. In order to make that case, these false teachers had to engage in a campaign to discredit Paul and his message that salvation was available by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone.
This meant Paul had to address two issues in his letter to the Galatian churches. First, he had to establish his role as a legitimate apostle of Christ. Next, he had to counter the idea that salvation was attainable though faith in Christ along with something else. In this instance, that “something else” involved adherence to the Old Testament Law. Today, that teaching might be expressed through this or any number of other works that someone must allegedly perform in order to receive salvation.
Thus, the epistle to the Galatians holds value for every generation. We’ll take a closer look at those first-century false teachers and the heretical doctrine they sought to promote next.
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2369). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
One of the first heresies (or false teachings) confronted by the early church involved the doctrines held by a group known today as the Judaizers. The Judaizers were early Jewish converts to Christianity who taught that non-Jewish people were obligated to observe the Old Testament Law in order to receive salvation through Christ. The New Testament book of Acts records one such instance of this teaching…
“And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:31).
So we might summarize this argument in the following manner: “Jesus saves us but only after we have accepted the Old Testament Law. Therefore, we must first accept the requirements of the Old Covenant before accepting Christ.” However, that teaching stood in direct opposition to the message of salvation given to us in the following New Testament Scriptures…
“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).
“…The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6 NLT).
“For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort” (Philippians 3:3 NLT).
So it was not as if these false teachers had rejected Jesus entirely- the problem involved their attempt to add a prerequisite to His sacrificial work on the cross. Unfortunately, there are some who promote a similar path to salvation today. Its not so much that they attempt to add something to Jesus’ sacrifice; the problem is found in their attempt to add anything at all. (1)
One source offers some background information that provides context for what we will go on to read in this epistle to the Galatians…
“The identity of the ‘Judaizers’ is also important. Their method included discrediting Paul. The first two chapters of Galatians especially deal with criticisms leveled against him personally. His critics appear to have been Jews who claimed to be Christians, and who wanted Christians to submit to the authority of the Mosaic Law and its institutions. They probably came from Jerusalem, and evidently had a wide influence (cf. Acts 15). One man seems to have been their spokesman (3:1; 5:7, 10), though there were several Judaizers in Galatia, as the many references to “them” and “they,” scattered throughout the epistle, suggest.” (2)
(1) See Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, Introduction To Galatians Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07A_introduction.html
(2) Constable, Thomas. DD. Notes on Galatians 2017 Edition Copyright © 2017 Thomas L. Constable. https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/galatians/galatians.htm
“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 who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:” (Galatians 1:1-2).
While the opening verses of this epistle may not seem out of the ordinary, the New Testament book of Galatians deviates from Paul the Apostle’s other Biblical letters in one important respect. To illustrate that difference, let’s consider a few of the introductory remarks found in some of Paul’s other New Testament epistles…
“To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Romans 1:6-7).
“,..after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, (I) do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:15-16).
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-5).
“To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you” (Colossians 1:2-3).
Even the church at Corinth (a congregation with many, many issues) received a similar kind of salutation. But in contrast to those upbeat expressions of thanksgiving, the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia do not contain any expressions of praise, appreciation, or commendation, This glaring omission is conspicuous by its absence and provides us with an important clue that will serve to indicate the direction of this message.
Although it may not seem obvious at first, Paul set an important tone here at the beginning of this letter. In essence, Paul told the churches at Galatia, “No mere human being appointed me to this position as an apostle. I have been called by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead. The other apostles didn’t nominate me to this work nor did anyone select me. I was appointed by Jesus Himself.” In doing so, these opening verses (and those that follow), help lay the foundation for what is to come.
“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 brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:1-2 ESV).
Unlike the heretical teachers who followed him into the region of Galatia, Paul the Apostle taught that salvation could only be found by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone. Judging from the opening verse of this epistle, it appears that Paul’s opponents questioned his right to speak as an apostle in an attempt to neutralize that message,
Much like a politician who seeks to portray a challenger as someone who is unqualified, the fact that Paul was not called as one of Jesus’ original twelve apostles may have led these false teachers to question his authority. To better understand this approach, we can look to a source who provides us with some additional information on the use of the term “apostle”…
“The word apostle is the translation of apostolos, a Greek word made up of apo ‘from’ and stello ‘to send,’ thus referring to the act of sending someone on a commission to represent the sender. It was used of a messenger or an envoy who was provided with credentials. Our word ambassador would be a good translation. The word apostle as Paul uses it here does not merely refer to one who has a message to announce, but to an appointed representative with an official status who is provided with the credentials of his office.” (1)
So just as an emissary or spokesperson is authorized to represent someone else, Acts 9:1-15 tells us that Jesus personally selected and commissioned Paul to represent Him. Thus, Paul held a position of equality with the rest of Jesus’ Apostles and possessed the right to speak and teach on His behalf. To further emphasize that point, Paul referenced “Jesus Christ and God the Father” as the sources of his authority in the opening sentence of his letter. Those who wished to question that authority were free to take the matter up with the Ones who selected him.
The power to appoint Paul to his apostolic position was displayed through Jesus’ resurrection as we read in the passage quoted above. This has led one source to dryly observe, “The resurrection was proof of God’s complete satisfaction with the work of Christ for our salvation. Apparently, the Galatians were not wholly satisfied with the Savior’s work, because they were trying to improve on it by adding their own efforts at law-keeping.” (2)
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (1:1) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(2) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers p.1901
“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 this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Galatians 1:3-5).
Although Paul the Apostle will dispense with many of the customary pleasantries that typically appear in his New Testament letters, he did make certain to extend a familiar blessing in this letter to the Galatians: “Grace and peace to you…” These elements form an important part of our relationship with God through Christ.
First, “grace” is the term we use to describe the undeserved favor that God extends to us in Christ. It refers to the unearned and unmerited kindness we receive from God through Jesus’ sacrificial death on our behalf. As mentioned previously, the word “peace” describes a state of contentment and/or well being. This would include the absence of external hostilities or internal conflicts like worry, anxiety and/or insecurity. A person who is free from these contentions is someone who is “at peace.”
One theologian expands on these concepts with the following observations…
“Each of Paul’s letters begins with a reference to these two blessings from God. ‘Grace’ translates the Gk. charis, which means ‘an undeserved act of kindness.’ Paul uses this word more often than any other NT writer and gives it immense theological significance. It refers to all that God has given us in Christ, nothing of which we have earned or can repay. ‘Peace’ refers to the relationship that Christ’s death and resurrection (1:4) have established with God for those who believe the gospel. For Paul’s own comments on the meaning of these two terms, see Rom. 5:1, 2” (1)
These elements become especially important when we consider the “present evil age” in which we live. Even the most unspiritual person surely recognizes that evil exists within our age- and there are a multitude of media outlets and citizen journalists with mobile phones who stand ready to document that reality on a daily basis.
When we think about the instability of the world around us and consider the potential for destruction that exists at the touch of a button, it’s easy to become distressed. Nevertheless, God extends grace and peace to us through Christ. As Paul said to the Philippian church, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2074). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7)
While some may associate the word “gospel” with a particular style of music, others may be less familiar with this word as it is used in the passage quoted above. You see, the word “gospel” means “good news” when used in this context. It refers to the salvation that is available through faith in Christ. In light of the death sentence that faces every sinful human being, this message of salvation is fittingly identified as “good news.”
Unfortunately, these verses tell us that the Galatian churches were in the midst of substituting this good news for something else. The problem stemmed from the fact that the Galatian Christians were “…deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ” (ESV). This led Paul the Apostle to express his astonishment (ESV), shock (CEV), or amazement (CEB) at their response.
This example illustrates a critical issue for anyone who seeks to exchange the true gospel for a substitute. The problem for the person who turns to a “different gospel” is that he or she ultimately trades a Person for a thing.
For instance, the gospel is not about finding salvation through a religious organization. It is not about how closely we adhere to a spiritual idea or belief system. The gospel is not about a set of rules we must follow in order to find acceptance. The genuine gospel message of salvation through faith in Christ alone is at the center of Christianity- and Christianity is about Christ.
Whenever we attempt to exchange faith in Christ for a religious idea, a spiritual belief system, or a set of “do’s and don’ts” we inevitably repeat the same mistake made by the churches of Galatia- a “gospel” that is actually a perversion, no matter how good it may sound. As Jesus once observed…
“Not all who sound religious are really godly people. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but still won’t get to heaven. For the decisive question is whether they obey my Father in heaven. At the Judgment many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we told others about you and used your name to cast out demons and to do many other great miracles.’ But I will reply, ‘You have never been mine. Go away, for your deeds are evil’” (Matthew 7:21-23 TLB).
“I am amazed that you are turning away so soon from God who, in his love and mercy, invited you to share the eternal life he gives through Christ; you are already following a different ‘way to heaven,’ which really doesn’t go to heaven at all. For there is no other way than the one we showed you; you are being fooled by those who twist and change the truth concerning Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7 TLB).
The New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are commonly referred to as “The Gospels.” Within those books we find the good news of Jesus’ life and ministry and four detailed accounts of the sacrifice He made on our behalf. But even though there are four gospels within the pages of the Bible, there are many more “gospels” that exist outside it. The difference is that none of those extra-biblical gospels are truly good news no matter what they promise to deliver.
You see, there are a multitude of counterfeit “gospels” that are spiritual and non-spiritual in nature. For instance, some religious-sounding gospels promote the belief that we can find acceptance with God if our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds. Others teach that we must adopt certain spiritual disciplines that will enable us to find genuine peace and harmony in this life and beyond.
There are other “gospels” that profess to offer a secular path to genuine fulfillment and contentment. Those “roads to happiness” may include the accumulation of financial wealth and material possessions, career advancement, and/or business success. Although financial wealth, career advancement, business success, and material possessions are often good and desirable things in themselves, there is a difference between honoring God for such blessings and building our lives around the quest to secure them.
Then there are those who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of athletic honors, recreational drug use, sexual relationships, academic achievements, social popularity, or any number of other interests that purport to offer happiness and fulfillment. Yet even if were to attain everything these extra-biblical “gospels” supposedly offer, we will never find lasting contentment in them for we must leave them all behind when we pass from this life.
True, genuine, and lasting fulfillment can only be found in a relationship with humanity’s Creator- and the road to establishing that relationship is found exclusively in Christ (see 1 Timothy 2:5). Anything else is a distorted gospel no matter how well it may come packaged.
“I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to Himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7 NLT).
Paul the Apostle was greatly alarmed to find the Galatian congregations had “turned from God” (CEV) to “…to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all” (NIV). But what did it mean for the Galatian Christians to “turn away” in such a manner?
For instance, we might easily imagine someone who turns away from a gruesome image, a painful situation, or a person who hasn’t told the truth. But those examples do not adequately describe the way the Galatians responded in this situation. You see, the original language of this passage tells us that the Galatians were committing an act of desertion, much like a soldier who abandons his or her post.
One commentary explains by saying, “In classical Greek, this word removed (Gr metatithemi) was used of a turncoat. The Galatians were deserting Christ and turning renegade. The present tense indicates: (1) that the transfer had begun; (2) that it was in progress; and (3) that it was not yet complete.” (1) Another source adds, “The word is used of one altering his opinion or becoming of another mind. The word was also used of desertion or revolt, frequently of a change in religion, philosophy, or morals.” (2)
The Galatians should have rejected these false teachers much like we might reject a dubious salesperson with a cheap imitation of a quality product. Unfortunately, they chose to accept those who promoted a different way to salvation. Their example reminds us that it is important to examine those who seek to instruct us from the pulpit, over the internet, or through broadcast technologies to confirm their teachings align with sound Biblical doctrine.
At a minimum, a reputable ministry should provide a detailed statement of faith that documents its beliefs concerning God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, humanity, salvation, and the afterlife. A vague (or non-existent) statement of faith should be cause for concern. In this respect, we would do well to follow the good example of those who lived in the first-century city of Berea…
“The people of Berea… were very willing to receive God’s message, and every day they carefully examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:10-11 GW).
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2372). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
(2) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (1:6-7) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7 NIV)
To ensure that the Galatian churches clearly understood his message, the Apostle Paul emphasized an important point: those who brought an alternative means of salvation were doing no such thing. It was not as if their message represented a variation of Paul’s teaching- their alternative did not originate with God at all.
Instead of edifying these regional churches and working to facilitate their spiritual growth, these false teachers were troubling (CSB), confusing (GW), upsetting (GNB), and even pestering (CJB) the Galatian Christians instead. From our 21st century vantage point, its easy to recognize this strategy: by working to trouble and confuse the Galatian believers, these false teachers gained a foothold to promote their alternate gospel. Our challenge is found in recognizing those who employ a similar strategy today.
One commentator underscores this point with the following observation: “Some who trouble you means that someone brought this false gospel to the Galatians. False gospels don’t just happen. People bring them, and the people who bring them may be sincere and have a lot of charisma” (1) Nevertheless, its important to understand that these tactics did not begin with the churches of first-century Galatia.
You see, the origin of this approach extends back to Genesis chapter three and the serpent’s question to Eve in the Garden of Eden: “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden… You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:1, 4-5).
A similar approach was used by those who opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem in the Old Testament era: “Now it happened, when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry, and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion” (Nehemiah 4:7-8).
When faced with those who act in such a manner, it helps to remember that God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). Whenever we see such tactics employed today, we would do well to consider their source.
(1) David Guzik, Galatians 1 – Challenging a Different Gospel © Copyright – Enduring Word https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/galatians-1/
“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9)
If the authentic gospel message is good news, the alternative peddled by those who sought to influence the first-century churches of Galatia was just the opposite. Those teachings represented bad news because they distorted the genuine gospel of Christ.
In fact, those teachings were so dangerous that the warning of Galatians 1:8 is repeated again in Galatians 1:9: “As we said before, so I now say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel different from or contrary to that which you received [from us], let him be accursed (anathema, devoted to destruction, doomed to eternal punishment)!” (AMPC).
This was clearly designed to shock the original audience for this message into the realization that their decision to entertain these false teachers was very wrong. At a point where a first-century author would normally exchange pleasantries with the recipients of a letter, these words must have fallen like hammer blows upon the members of the Galatian congregations.
If we were to rephrase this message in a modern-day form, we might do so in the following manner: “I don’t care if an ‘angel from heaven’ comes down and preaches to you- if the message differs from the gospel you received, forget it!” Another source takes a more analytical approach in commenting on this passage…
“Quite simply, nothing, or no one, had the authority to override the truth of the gospel (including Paul himself or even angels, v. 8). Paul’s concern is to place the issue of authority and the discussion of apostolic origins into a proper perspective. Ultimately it is not the preacher to whom one gives allegiance, but to that which is preached. There is only one gospel. Anything else is perverted and false.” (1)
So these verses remind us of the need to ensure that no one inflicts spiritual injury upon us with a distorted message of salvation. However, the intensity of these verses also provide us with a preview of what is to come. If the language of this passage seems surprising in its bluntness, we may wish to prepare for a shockingly graphic word-picture that will follow later in this epistle.
(1) McClelland, S. E. (1995). Galatians. In Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Vol. 3, p. 1004). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
“For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Rick Nelson was an American singer/musician who had an impressive string of hit records in the late 1950’s – early 1960’s. But as musical tastes began to change over the course of that era, Nelson’s style of music fell out of favor and the hits began to trickle to a stop. The million-selling artist subsequently fell off the music charts and by 1971, he had been invited to perform at an “oldies” concert in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
During that concert, Nelson attempted to introduce some new material to an audience that came to hear him play his old hits. The audience reacted negatively to the unfamiliar music and he responded by leaving the stage. The disillusionment generated by that experience led Nelson to write what would become his last hit single- 1972’s Garden Party.
One interesting aspect of Garden Party is a refrain that functions as a worldview for many: “But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well. You see, you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.” (1) While Rick Nelson found it impossible to please everyone, the question of who we should please first is much more relevant. For some, the answer is “myself” or a circle of others. For the Apostle Paul, the answer was God.
Let’s first consider the example of a person who lives to please him or herself. The problem is that this kind of person is not often viewed in a positive manner. Such individuals are usually criticized for a possessing a selfish, narcissistic, or “me first” attitude. On the other hand, a person who seeks to please others first may be viewed with contempt as someone who is fickle, inconsistent, hypocritical, or goes along with the crowd.
If we live to please ourselves or others first, we will surely be disappointed with the result. One commentary asks some important questions on this subject based on the passage of Scripture quoted above…
”Do you spend your life trying to please everybody? Paul had to speak harshly to the Christians in Galatia because they were in serious danger. He did not apologize for his straightforward words, knowing that he could not serve Christ faithfully if he allowed the Galatian Christians to remain on the wrong track. Whose approval are you seeking—others’ or God’s? Pray for the courage to seek God’s approval above anyone else’s.” (2)
(1) Rick Nelson, Garden Party (1972) Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
(2) Life Application Study Bible NKJV Galatians 1:10 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.
“Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ!” (Galatians 1:10 NET).
Much like a person who hears one side of a phone conversation, its difficult to know what prompted Paul the Apostle’s response here in Galatians 1:10. However, it does appear that Paul wanted to assure the churches of Galatia that he was not engaged in any kind of spiritual popularity contest.
For instance, it would have been easy for Paul to dilute the message of salvation through faith in Christ alone to make it easier for others to accept. But Paul was more interested in remaining faithful to Jesus than he was in telling others what they wanted to hear. Unfortunately, it seems this did little to stop the false teachers who followed Paul into Galatia from misrepresenting him.
To support his position, Paul asked a common-sense question followed by an equally common-sense answer: “Am I trying to be popular with people? If I were still trying to do so, I would not be a servant of Christ” (GNT). In the original language of this passage, this reference to “a servant of Christ” identifies someone who is devoted to another person even to the disregard of his or her own interests. (1)
While a servant might ordinarily work to secure his or her freedom if given the opportunity, the slave (HCSB) or bondservant (NKJV) mentioned here refers to a person who willfully chooses to continue in a master/slave relationship. So why would anyone wish to maintain that kind of relationship? Well the Old Testament book of Exodus provides us with some insight into that question…
“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he may serve for no more than six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom…. But the slave may declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I don’t want to go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door or doorpost and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will serve his master for life” (Exodus 21:2, 5-6 NLT).
So much like the slave referenced here in Exodus chapter twenty-one, Paul identified himself as someone who willingly declined the option to secure his freedom in order to serve God, even at the risk of suffering disapproval from others.
(1) G1401 doulos Thayer’s Greek Definitions https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g1401
“But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12).
The first-century false teachers who sought to undermine Paul the Apostle had several options for casting doubt upon his message. For instance, they could undercut Paul’s message of salvation by grace through faith with the claim that he was not a genuine apostle. Or they could say that Paul lacked first-hand information regarding Jesus’ life and ministry. Both claims seemed plausible, but as we’re told in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, “Any story sounds true until someone tells the other side and sets the record straight” (Proverbs 18:17 TLB).
Beginning here in Galatians 1:11 and continuing into chapter two, Paul will set the record straight regarding his apostolic authority and the source of his spiritual information. To do so, he will provide the Galatians with a short biography, an explanation of how he acquired the message of salvation he preached, and conclude with an account of his interaction with some of Jesus’ other apostles.
Paul began by assuring the Galatian churches that “…the Gospel which was proclaimed and made known by me is not man’s gospel [a human invention, according to or patterned after any human standard]” (AMPC). This is important because a human-oriented spiritual message will surely emphasize things like human effort, human experience, human wisdom, and/or human intellect.
However, Paul’s Christ-oriented gospel featured none of those things. Instead, Paul’s message was reflected in the following comment to the first-century church at Ephesus, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). So the presence of these human-oriented characteristics can help us identify counterfeit gospels whenever we encounter them today.
He then went on to say, “I did not get my message from any other human. The Good News is not something I learned from other people” (ERV). In other words, Paul did not receive hearsay testimony regarding Jesus. Instead, his message came through direct revelation from Jesus Christ Himself. Paul’s interaction with the risen Christ served as the basis of his message to the Galatian churches- and that source served to differentiate his message from those who followed.
“For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:13-14).
It’s been said that news travels fast but bad new travels even faster- and the actions taken by Paul the Apostle prior to his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road were definitely bad news for anyone who was a Christian during that time.
You see, the Biblical book of Acts identifies Paul (then known as Saul) as someone who was so intensely opposed to Christianity that he searched from house to house in an effort to identify Christians and imprison them for their belief that Jesus was the Messiah (see Acts 8:1-3). If that wasn’t enough, the Scriptures tell us that Paul was planning to expand his persecution of Christians before Jesus apprehended him (Acts 9:1-2).
So Paul was not someone who simply objected to Christianity. Instead, Acts 8:3 tells us that “…Saul laid waste the church” (ASV). One source reveals the extent of Paul’s vendetta against the church by observing, “The word wasted is very strong. It referred not merely to an attempt to devastate or ravage, but to ruin and destroy. It applied not only to cities and lands, but also to people…” (1)
Although these events were known to the Christians of Galatia, we’re not certain of how they came to be informed about these aspects of Paul’s pre-conversion life. For instance, Paul’s use of the phrase, “…you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism” rather than, “I told you about my former conduct in Judaism” seems to indicate that the Galatians received that information from others. Perhaps the false teachers who followed Paul into Galatia related these accounts in an attempt to damage his reputation.
While the subject of Paul’s pre-conversion conduct was probably not something he enjoyed talking about, he used those events to make an important point: his animosity towards Christianity before he met Christ kept him from receiving the gospel from other Christians. Thus we can learn an important lesson from this portion of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches. While the subject of our lives before Christ may be a source of shame, embarrassment, pain, or disgust (Romans 6:20-21), God can redeem those experiences and bring something positive from them as we minister to others.
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Galatians 1:13) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:13-14 ESV).
Paul the Apostle was not someone who had a passing interest in the religion of his ancestors. He wasn’t a person who attended religious services on occasion or only during holidays. Paul was not someone who possessed a casual attitude towards the Scriptures or a vague idea of what they taught. Instead, Paul was someone who dominated the field of Jewish religious study in his day- and that made him uniquely qualified to address the Judaizers and their efforts to indoctrinate the Galatian churches with a “gospel” that was clearly false.
When it came to intellectual firepower, Paul possessed a great reservoir of knowledge and experience. For instance, Paul hailed from the city of Tarsus, a place that was known for its emphasis upon philosophy, culture, and education. We also know from the Scriptures that Paul was fluent in multiple languages (see Acts 21:37,40) and even quoted from some of the secular authors of his day.
With regard to religious instruction, Paul was someone who studied under a respected Rabbinical teacher named Gamaliel and “…was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors…” according to Acts 22:3 (NIV). By his own admission, Paul was a “Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5) and as he admitted in the passage quoted above, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:14).
With these things in mind, we can say that Paul could surely hold his own in an intellectual debate with the false teachers who followed him. In fact, its likely that Paul knew more about Judaism than the Judaizers who opposed him. If Paul’s teaching was in error (as his opponents claimed), it certainly wasn’t because he was uniformed on some aspect of Jewish life and teaching.
So in two short verses, Paul established two important points. First, his opposition to Christianity before his conversion meant that his message of salvation by grace through faith could not have originated there. Next, his extensive knowledge of Jewish law and tradition made him more than a match for those who were attempting to discredit him.
But what if Paul had built his message on second-hand information gleaned from other leaders within the first-century church? We’ll consider that possibility next.
“But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus” (Galatians 1:15-17 ESV).
In his effort to counter the works-based salvation message promoted by those who had worked their way into the first-century churches of Galatia, Paul the Apostle offered a biological sketch to justify the source of his message. But unlike most biographies, Paul’s story began before he was born, for the passage quoted above tells us Paul received his commission to proclaim the message of salvation by grace through faith prior to his birth.
One source expands upon the importance of the phrase “…God, who set me apart before I was born…” (ISV) in the context of this passage…
“The idea is, ‘who set me apart, devoted me to a special purpose from before my birth, and before I had any impulses or principles of my own.’ Passages from the Old Testament sustain this usage (Judges 16:17; Isaiah 44:21, 24, 49:1, 5). This idea is also seen in those instances where a child’s destiny is clearly fixed by God before birth as was Samson’s (Judges 16:17), and John the Baptist’s (Luke 1:15).
The preposition ek translated from, in the phrase ‘from my mother’s womb,’ is used at times to mark a temporal starting point (John 6:66, 9:1; Acts 9:33, 24:10). Paul, therefore, states that he was set apart or devoted by God to the apostleship before he was born. Here again he shows his apostolic independence of men.” [kw]
Paul followed by saying, “I immediately prepared to do this work without asking for advice or help from anyone” (ERV). In other words, Paul did not attempt to coordinate his message with others, nor did he seek direction from the leaders of the first-century church. Instead, he departed for the desert regions of Arabia, a location that is roughly synonymous with the area around the Sinai Peninsula today.
Although this portion of Paul’s life is not recorded in the New Testament book of Acts, it may have occurred during the intervening period between Acts 9:22-23. (2) So this independent “chain of custody” established an important sequence of events for those reading this letter. First, God made a sovereign decision to assign Paul with the responsibility of representing Him. Paul then received the message of the gospel directly from Jesus (Galatians 1:11-12) just as His other apostles did.
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Galatians 1:15-16) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
(2) Ryrie, Charles Caldwell Ryrie Study Notes [Galatians 3:17] © 1986, 1995 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2004 WORDsearch Corp.
“It pleased him to let me see and know his Son so that I could tell the Good News about him to the non-Jewish people. I immediately prepared to do this work without asking for advice or help from anyone. I did not go to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was. But, without waiting, I went away to Arabia. Later, I went back to the city of Damascus” (Galatians 1:16-17 ERV).
In defending his apostolic calling to the regional churches of Galatia, Paul the Apostle established a principle we can apply in regard to our perception of God’s call upon our lives. However, that principle is one that bears close and prayerful examination as we seek to implement it.
First, we should note that Paul acted upon his conviction regarding God’s direction for his life without seeking the approval, authorization, or consent of others. This is important to remember if we should encounter those who seek to limit or object to our sense of God’s calling upon our lives.
For instance, some may feel we are too young or too old to undertake a particular avenue of ministry. Others might object to a perceived lack of education or experience. Perhaps we might be seen as too ambitious or there may be some other agenda at work. But if we are convinced that God has called us to enter an area of ministry, we must move forward in preparing for that work even if others do not approve.
However, this doesn’t mean we are free to reject constructive criticism or discard the counsel of others. It also doesn’t mean we can ignore the recommendations of God-honoring parents, friends, counselors, educators, or spiritual leaders. In this respect, it’s important to distinguish between those who wish to help us identify the best way to follow our convictions and those who do not support our sense of God’s direction in our lives.
For some, this may mean a time (or a lifetime) of bi-vocational ministry as we fulfill our ministerial responsibilities alongside our roles as employees, students, or full-time parents. But wherever God’s roadmap takes us, we can often benefit by asking the following questions:
- What are the skills that God has given me?
- What talents or abilities do I possess?
- What catches my attention? What do I “see” that others don’t?
- What spiritual burdens do I carry?
- What life experiences can I use in ministering to others?
Remember that Paul the Apostle responded to God’s call upon his life by undertaking the work he was given to do- and we would do well to follow his good example.
“Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and get information from him, and I stayed with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. I assure you that, before God, I am not lying about what I am writing to you!” (Galatians 1:18-20 NET).
Although our text doesn’t tell us what Paul the Apostle was doing in the three-year period prior to his departure for Jerusalem, it seems likely that he spent that time preparing to fulfill God’s directive for his life. But even though Paul’s apostolic calling did not completely mirror the experience of Jesus’ other apostles, the next chapter will tell us that he was fully aligned with those leaders on some important questions. (1)
The record of Paul’s visit to Jerusalem is contained in the Biblical book of Acts…
“And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.
So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus” (Acts 9:26-30).
Galatians 1:18-20 sheds some additional light on this trip by mentioning Paul’s intent to visit Peter (or Cephas). Peter, of course, was a recognized leader within the Christian community and one of the first disciples to be called by Jesus. However, we should note that Paul did not visit Peter in order to secure his approval. Instead, the purpose of his visit was to get acquainted with (AMP) or get to know (CSB) Peter.
Paul stayed with Peter for a little over two weeks and might have stayed longer if not for the murderous intentions of the Hellenists, a group of Jewish people who followed the customs of Greek society. Nevertheless, this short time period turned out to be fortuitous, for it supported Paul’s contention that he received his teaching directly from Jesus and not from others. While fifteen days would make for a nice visit with a new acquaintance, it was hardly sufficient to develop the deep theological truths that Paul would go on to record in his various New Testament epistles.
(1) Despite the fact that he will go on to rebuke one of them.
“But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. I assure you that, before God, I am not lying about what I am writing to you! (Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.) Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which This portion of Scripture refers to another important leader within the first-century church: were in Christ” (Galatians 1:19-22).
This portion of Scripture refers to another important leader in the first-century church: “James the Lord’s brother.” While we might be more precise in speaking of James as Jesus’ half-brother (as he had the same mother but a different Father), the Bible identifies him this way in both Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3.
This reference to James as one of “the other apostles” has been subject to some debate over the years. First, this James was not listed among Jesus’ original twelve disciples. Next, it does not appear that James believed in Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah during His earthly ministry. Finally, even though James was a recognized leader within the early church, there is no Biblical mention of his role as an apostle outside this passage.
Here is how one source addresses these issues in the context of this passage…
“James, the presiding elder of the initial church at Jerusalem (Acts 15:13,19; Galatians 2:9), as well as author of one of the New Testament books (James 1:1), is thus confirmed by Paul as one of the human brothers of Jesus. Christ’s brothers at first did not believe on Him (John 7:5), but they later joined their mother in fellowship with the rest of His disciples (Acts 1:14).
Whether the Greek original of this verse requires the understanding that James was also an apostle has been argued by scholars. The fact that the Holy Spirit chose James as one of the authors of the New Testament would indicate that he also had been specially called and prepared as an apostle, even though no particulars have been recorded. He had been among those who had seen Christ after His resurrection (I Corinthians 15:7). The same would then apply to Jude (Jude 1). Both James and Jude are named as among Jesus’ brothers (Matthew 13:55).” (1)
This passage then closes by telling us how Paul the Apostle departed for the regions of Syria and Cilicia following this visit to Jerusalem, an area that was located about 200-700 miles (325-1125 km) away. This effectively moved Paul out of direct contact with Jesus’ other disciples and further served to undercut the allegation that Paul received his teachings from them and not from Jesus.
(1) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes Galatians 1:19 https://www.icr.org/bible/Gal/1/19
“But they were hearing only, ‘He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God in me” (Galatians 1:23-24).
The final sentence of Galatians chapter one is more significant than it may appear: “…they glorified God because of me” (RSV). For instance, there are at least two important insights tucked away within these words for those who wish to uncover them.
First, this passage reminds us that a simple question can often help us identify good, God-honoring spiritual leaders: “Does he or she inspire others to glorify God?” You see, Paul the Apostle brought the message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ to the churches of Galatia. Unlike the false teachers of his day, Paul focused his message upon Jesus and not upon himself or any human effort to find favor with God. Those who subsequently heard about God’s work in Paul’s life and the Christ-oriented message he brought as a result were thus prompted to glorify God.
This small detail has important 21st century implications. While God may use an individual speaker’s personality, life experience, and communication style to reach a particular audience, it helps to remember that God’s Word should serve as the primary focus of his or her message. For example, a spiritual leader may be recognized as a highly skilled communicator yet he or she may do little to inspire others to glorify God.
One way to measure a teacher’s real spiritual impact is to simply count the number of “I’s” or self-references that turn up within his or her message. A message with repeated self-references to the speaker is likely to come from someone who is focused upon something other than God’s Word. Other examples might include messages that are filled with humorous stories that make the speaker seem funny and sophisticated but fail to illustrate genuine Biblical truth or sermons that highlight the speaker’s opinion but little or nothing from the Scriptures.
However, this principle does not only apply to spiritual leaders. This brings us to our second application: we can be people who inspire others to glorify God. While the world may be filled with individuals who do little to inspire us to offer thanks to God, we can be the kind of people who cause others to say, “Thank God for him or her” whenever they think of us.
With this in mind, we should prayerfully seek to be (and become) people who inspire others to offer thanks to God for the impact we make upon their lives.