Introductory Greeting and Doxology. Gal. 1, 1-5.

V.1. Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead,) v.2. and all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia: v.3. Grace be to you and peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ, v.4. who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: v.5. to whom be glory forever and ever! Amen. Paul opens his letter in the style of writing which was in use at that time, with his own name and the designation of his office. But there is a peculiar emphasis to the word “apostle” in this case, since the agitators had challenged his right to this title, which did not merely signify “one sent,” but had assumed the dignity of an official designation, pointing to the divine authority of the bearers, specifically to the call of Paul to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ by an immediate command of the Lord. This emphatic vindication is brought out also in the next words: Not from men, nor through a man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead. The opponents had probably said that his only call had been that extended by the congregation at Antioch, Acts 13, 2. 3, and that he had originally received Baptism and the gift of the Spirit through the agency of a mere man, Ananias of Damascus, Acts 9, 17. Therefore Paul insists that his authority was not from men, just as the Scripture-account has it that he was sent forth by the Holy Ghost, Acts 13, 4, that Christ Himself had sent him to the Gentiles, Acts 22, 21. Neither was his call a mediate or secondary call only, even though he did not receive the Spirit at the time of the miraculous outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the Day of Pentecost. His call is through Jesus Christ and therefore also through God the Father; it is a divine call, its validity cannot be questioned. That Jesus, whose name Paul here mentions first, is fully equal in essence with the Father is brought out also by the addition of the words: Who raised Him from the dead. By that act the Father had acknowledged and confessed the Son before the whole world as the true God and eternal life, as coequal with Him in deity, in power and authority. Paul mentions this fact here, partly because the resurrection of Christ made his own call possible, partly because he thereby became a witness of the resurrection of Jesus. His words are a ringing, preliminary declaration of his apostolic authority.

Without mentioning any names, Paul sends greetings also from the group of brethren in whose midst he was at that time residing and working. In the emphasis upon the matters which he felt compelled to broach, the apostle was not alone, but he knew that the other Christians of Corinth or Ephesus were of the same opinion, which implied that the Galatians, if they gave ear to the false teachers, would sever themselves from the fellowship of their brethren, not to speak of the offense which they would be giving to a whole Christian community, no matter how small. His letter is addressed, not to a single congregation, but to the churches of Galatia, to the several congregations which had been founded as a result of Paul’s labors, his intention being that the epistle should be read before them all and thus have a cumulative effect.

As in his later epistles, the apostolic blessing is briefly summarized in the wish for grace and peace: Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! Through Christ the believers have grace, complete forgiveness of sins; in Christ they have peace with God. Through Christ God has become their dear Father, and the exalted Christ is their Lord. “Therefore Paul, in this greeting, has laid down a short summary of his doctrine, namely, that no one can be justified but by the grace of God, in no way through works, and that the restlessness of conscience cannot be quieted but through the peace of God, thus not through the works of any virtue or satisfaction.” 4)

The great price which Jesus paid in order to bring us grace and peace is shown in the next words: Who gave Himself for our sins. Here the emphasis is upon the wonderful sacrifice which Jesus made in our behalf, as a gift of grace to those that did not merit even an infinitesimal fraction of such merciful kindness. He made use of no half-way measures; He did not rest satisfied with some unusual display of mere goodness; His gift was nothing less than His own person, a gift which could be fully accomplished only in and through His death; it was a sacrifice and sin-offering that has no equal in the history of the world. “Christ Himself was both Offerer and Offered, both High Priest and Sacrifice, in one person.” And the effect of this perfect substitution and expiation was that He might tear us away from the present world, evil as it is. The result of the redemption of Christ in the case of the believers is both to tear them away from the evil influence, from the moral corruption of the world, and also to safeguard them from the final destruction of everlasting damnation which the world is bringing upon itself by its present attitude toward Christ and His salvation. The Christians are in the world, but not of the world. They deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, Titus 2, 12. And all this Christ does and effects in us according to the will of God and our Father. The fact that we are being kept in such a miraculous manner is not due to our own merits or efforts, but to the merciful will of God, which was manifested in Christ and His work of redemption, which wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, 1 Tim. 2, 4. And therefore Paul wants all the praise, all the honor, to go to the gracious God, in all eternity, a declaration which he crowns with his confident “Amen.” Cp. Phil. 4, 20; 2 Tim. 4, 18.

Paul’s Reason for Writing the epistle. Gal. 1, 6-10,

V.6. I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel; v.7. which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the Gospel of Christ. V.8. But though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. V.9. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. V.10. For do I now persuade men or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I yet please men, I should not be the servant of Christ. Paul’s agitation is evident from the first, in every word which he writes. He had been startled by the intelligence which he received, he was intensely indignant at the attitude taken by the Galatians. Instead of offering general remarks, he immediately launches forth in a vehement discussion of the situation as it presented itself according to trustworthy accounts; for the perversion of the truth as practiced by the agitators struck at the very core of Christianity; in pretending to aim at the apostle, the enemies were really placing his office under suspicion and directly hurting the cause of the Gospel.

Like a mighty torrent the force of his resentment bursts forth: I am astonished, I marvel, that so quickly you are changing over from Him that called you in the grace of Christ to another gospel. The news which Paul had received had filled him with surprised astonishment, it had almost taken his breath away, since it indicated such a quick change of mind on the part of the Galatians. For although his opponents had not yet scored a definite success, the idea which they broached had found entrance, it had gained adherents with remarkable rapidity, a fact which in itself was a disgrace to the people that had shown such an encouraging interest in the true Gospel; they were being won over, and in this they were willingly lending their ear to the false teachers. Their apostasy (for it was that to which their fickleness was drawing them) to another gospel, to a message which purported to be a message of salvation, a different, a spurious gospel, was not so much from Paul, who had issued to them the Gospel-call, as from Christ and God; for the call proceeded in the grace of Christ, from the divine love. Note: That the call to grace goes forth is due to the free mercy and love of Christ, and it is issued through the Word, by the mouth of the messengers of Christ.

That it was a false lead to which the attention of the Galatians had been drawn in their fickleness is asserted by Paul with the greatest vehemence: Whereas there is no other; or: Which other sort of gospel can make no claim of genuineness, except there are some that are unsettling you and wanting to corrupt the Gospel of Christ. That was the apostle’s charge against the agitators, that they were attempting to pass off their false message as the only true and genuine Gospel, and that they were thus marketing a lie. The result of this deception was a twofold one: They were disturbing and troubling the minds and consciences of the Galatians, causing them to be doubtful as to the doctrine which they had been taught; and they were incidentally doing their best to distort and pervert the real Gospel of Christ, the glorious message of salvation through His name. If they had succeeded in their design, it would have meant the end of pure evangelical preaching in the congregations affected. Note: This verse must be kept in mind at all times against the perverters of the message of sin and grace, no matter in what guise they come, just as it was used by the reformers in rejecting the claims of the Romish Church. 5)

In a ringing challenge the words of Paul sound forth: But now also, though we or an angel from heaven preach a gospel to you contrary to the Gospel which we preached to you, let God’s curse be on him! The word anathema, rendered “accursed” in the Authorized Version, was applied especially to all offerings devoted under a solemn oath to death or destruction, Lev. 27, 28; Josh. 7, 1; Acts 13, 14. It was not that Paul was arrogating to himself the right to excommunicate any individuals without the consent and resolution of the congregation, but that he was affirming general principles, which, on the part of God, hold true for all times. Speaking of himself and his coworkers, and therefore of all true ministers of the Gospel, he states that no doctrine has the right to exist in the Church which differs from, and contradicts, the Gospel as it has been proclaimed by him in all his work. It is not a matter of dispute between various teachers, all of whom may claim purity of truth for themselves, but the contrast is that between truth and falsehood. And there it holds good: Not Paul himself, not any of his assistants, not any minister of the Gospel, not even an angel from heaven can alter the truth in Christ. If any one should, in spite of this principle, presume to substitute a spurious Gospel, any false doctrine, for the truth of redemption, then such a one should be subject to God’s curse, the end of which is eternal death. Note: This principle must be upheld by all Christians over against the claims of false teachers; any deviation from the sound doctrine as found in the Bible, any substitution of man-made philosophies and expositions, places the authors of such attempts under the curse of God. “The Word of God shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel.” 6) “Therefore we shall confidently say with Paul: May all doctrine from heaven or from the earth or no matter whence it may have been brought, perish and be accursed, which teaches to rely upon other works, other righteousness, other merits than those which belong to Christ.” 7)

For the sake of emphasis, Paul repeats this solemn statement: As we have lately forewarned you, so I say also again: If any one preaches a gospel to you which contradicts that which you have received, let God’s curse be upon him. Paul seems not only to have uttered general warnings against any doctrine at variance with the pure Gospel which he was preaching, but also to have pointed out specifically, also through Silas and Timothy, that any religion of works would remove the very foundation of the Gospel. These warnings may have been given particularly on the third journey, when the news of the activity of Judaizing teachers was spread. And he explains the severity of his expressions, of his double anathema, by asking indignantly: For is it men that I am now striving to please, to conciliate, or God? Or am I zealous about finding the favor of men? If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. If his object were to persuade men, to gain them for his own person, to seek their approval for selfish reasons, then his boasting about being an unselfish servant of Christ, for the purpose of advancing the glory of Christ only, would be hypocrisy and deception. But he insists that his sole aim and object in preaching the Gospel is the furtherance of God’s glory through the declaration of the entire counsel of salvation; this he does in his capacity as servant of Christ, whether it pleases men or not, for all men by nature are opposed to the truth and do not desire the vicarious atonement of Jesus. If he were speaking to please men, he would thereby admit that he had personal interests at stake, and his message would be bound to be influenced by that fact. But since he has in mind the glory of the Lord, he speaks after the manner and by the Spirit of God, in disinterested single-mindedness. It is the disposition which must animate and actuate every true servant of Christ at all times.

Paul Protests His Apostolic Commission. Gal. 1, 11-24.

He has his Gospel by direct revelation of Jesus Christ: V.11. But I certify you, brethren, that the Gospel which was preached of me is not after man. V.12. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. V.13. For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the Church of God and wasted it, v.14. and profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. V.15. but when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace, v.16. to reveal His Son in me that I might preach Him among the heathen, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood, v.17. neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me, but I went into Arabia and returned again to Damascus. The apostle here takes up the first point of his argument, meeting the objection as though his preaching had no claim to apostolic authority and power, that he was not an apostle like the Twelve, who received their commission directly from Christ, who had been trained in doctrine and preaching by the Lord Himself. With all the force of truthful assertion he states: But I declare to you, brethren, concerning the Gospel as preached by me, that it is not according to man. Although he is writing in indignant protest against a false opinion, which is dangerous to the Gospel itself, his kind address shows that his vehement denunciation is directed against the doctrine which was perverting the Galatians rather than against their persons. He reminds them of the fact which was surely known to them before, but which must be brought out now with peculiar emphasis, that the Gospel-message as proclaimed by him had nothing in common with man-made doctrines, neither according to its origin nor according to its character. He had not received it from any man, nor, on the other hand, had he been taught it. He deliberately places his own person forward: No more than any of the Twelve had he been given instruction in the Christian doctrines by any man; he was of equal rank with the other apostles. It had not been necessary for him to take a course in catechetical instruction, as, for instance, Theophilus, Luke 1, 4, or the Galatian Christians, but he had received full knowledge and understanding through a revelation of Jesus Christ, in a supernatural manner. Whether he refers to the vision on the way to Damascus or to subsequent extraordinary manifestations, does not appear from the text; perhaps he intends to convey both, the fundamental and central illumination being that at the time of his conversion, which was followed by special revelations at different periods of his life.

To substantiate his assertion that his only teacher in the Christian doctrine was Christ, Paul now refers to some facts connected with his life at the time of his conversion. Luther gives the connection of thought as follows: “That you may know very exactly that I neither from my progenitors nor from the apostles nor from any man received my instruction, but from God alone, in order that you may be certain and not permit yourselves to be turned away to human things under any pretense, whether it be my name or the names of the apostles, behold, I tell you my history anew and insert it here.” 8) They had heard about, they were fully acquainted with, his manner of living, with his behavior while still in Judaism, while his heart was yet filled with Jewish partisanship. They had received the information that this bitter party spirit had been surpassingly strong in his case, prompting him to take the lead in persecuting the congregation of God and in destroying it. With absolute frankness Paul confesses his incessant activity against the Church of Christ, his firm determination to bring about its total annihilation. Cp. Acts 7-9. He even made progress, he advanced in his bitter zealotism beyond many men of his own race and nation; he outstripped them in his ardor for his ancestral traditions. As the son of a Pharisee, Acts 23, 6, he thought it was his duty to uphold the hereditary traditions of his family at all costs. Such was the disposition of his mind, such was the situation: “My early education is a proof that I did not receive the Gospel from man. I was brought up in a rigid school of ritualism, directly opposed to the liberty of the Gospel. I was from age and temper a staunch adherent of the principles of that school. Acting upon them, I relentlessly persecuted the Christian brotherhood. No human agency, therefore, could have brought about the change. It required a direct interposition from God.” (Lightfoot.)

How God interfered in his Pharisaic designs Paul relates next: But when it pleased Him who had set me aside from the womb of my mother, from the very hour of my birth, and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, in order that I might preach Him in the Gospel among the Gentiles, immediately not did I take counsel with flesh and blood, nor journeyed I up to Jerusalem to those that were apostles before me, but went away to Arabia, and again turned back to Damascus. Here is a song of praise to God’s merciful pleasure, by which, without any human aid and human merit, he had experienced His wonderful grace and been commissioned as an apostle. According to this good pleasure, the Lord had set Paul aside even before his birth for this purpose; He had influenced his entire life, his education, his intellectual development in such a manner as to enable him later to become a chosen instrument, Acts 9, 15. The result was that God called him through His grace, both to faith and to the apostolic ministry, these two events being coincident in his case. The purpose of the call was that Paul should, in and through the Gospel-message, preach Christ, who had been revealed to him in such a remarkable manner, to the Gentiles. It is probable that this miraculous communication, by which Paul learned to know Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world, came to him at the time when he spent three days in blindness, in solitary communion with himself. At this time God reinforced the knowledge which Paul had concerning the history of Jesus with a complete revelation of His person and office, thus giving to this chosen vessel the preparation which enabled him to go forth as a witness for, and a servant of, Christ.

The effect of the call on Paul was remarkable; he gave heed to it at once. He did not take time to discuss the weighty matter with flesh and blood, with any mere man, neither himself nor any other person; his answer was: Here am I, send me. Straightway he preached Christ in the synagogs, Acts 9, 20. Since his call was direct and immediate, it was not necessary for him to make the journey up to Jerusalem, with the idea of getting the sanction of the apostles. Instead, without any further command and commission from Jerusalem, he made a journey to Arabia, in whose deserts he was shut off entirely from all intercourse with the brethren, but, on the other hand, had plenty of opportunity for solitary communion with God. At the close of this sojourn, of which we have no other information, Paul returned to Damascus, where he resumed his activities and was forced to flee from the city on account of the hatred of the Jews, Acts 9, 23-25; 2 Cor. 11, 32. 33.

Paul’s visit to Jerusalem: V.18. Then, after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. V.19. But other of the apostles saw I none save James, the Lord’s brother. V.20. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. V.21. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, v.22. and was unknown by face unto the churches of Judea which were in Christ; v.23. but they had heard only that he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. V.24. And they glorified God in me. Just how long Paul remained in Arabia cannot be ascertained; many commentators believe that his trip was only of short duration, his activity in Damascus occupying the greater part of the time. 9) Three years after his conversion and call to his apostolic office, after his flight from Damascus, he made the journey up to Jerusalem, Acts 9, 26-29. His object in doing so, as he hastens to add, was not to receive his commission to preach at the hands of the apostles, but to visit Peter, to become personally acquainted with him It was Barnabas who at that time introduced Paul to Peter, Acts 9, 27. That he could not have taken a course of instruction in the Christian doctrine at that time is shown by the fact that he remained in Jerusalem only fifteen days. He undoubtedly consulted with Peter, but he spent much of the time also with the other brethren and in disputes with the Jews, Acts 9, 29, as well as in the Temple, where, in a trance, he received the command to set out on his missionary work among the Gentiles, Acts 22, 17-21. Incidentally, Paul states, he saw none of the other apostles at that time, all being absent from Jerusalem in the work of their calling. Only James, the brother of the Lord, had been present besides Peter. And lest any person in the Galatian congregations, under the influence of the false teachers, should question this statement, the apostle adds a solemn oath, asserting and attesting that he was not writing a falsehood. Not only his apostolic dignity, but the truth of the Gospel preached by him was at stake, and he felt it necessary to make such a strong exclamation.

The apostle now summarizes, giving an account of his early missionary labors. Having left Jerusalem, he went to his home city, Tarsus in Cilicia, Acts 9, 30, and afterward was active, with Barnabas, in Antioch, the metropolis of Syria, Acts 11, 26. This again shows that the apostles were not his teachers, but that he himself was at once minister and apostle with full authority. And as a further proof of his not having been a disciple of the apostles he refers to the fact that he was unknown by sight to the congregations of Judea that were in Christ; they did not even know him personally, as they undoubtedly would have, had he spent a longer time in their midst as a pupil of one or several apostles. Note that the congregations and therefore the Christians composing them are described as being in Christ; the Lord is the power by which they came into being, their inspiration, their life. Mark also that the congregations of Judea are here spoken of as many local organizations, not as mere branches of the mother congregation in Jerusalem. The only report about Paul that came to these brethren in Judea stated that the former persecutor was now preaching the faith which he once was destroying, that is, had attempted to exterminate. Whereas he had formerly made every effort to hinder men from believing in Christ, he now bent all his powers to have men come to the faith. And so they glorified and praised God in the apostle, rightly ascribing the change in his attitude entirely to the grace of God working in his heart, even as it does today.

Summary. After a brief introduction and doxology, Paul states his reason for writing the epistle arid then immediately enters upon the historical and apologetical part of his letter by defending his apostolic commission.