Return to Study Guide for Galatians -by Don Kugelberg, Long Beach, California USA
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: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
The writer is more than a little miffed. You can tell from his tone. So different from his other letters to Philippi or Corinth, for example. Paul as he opens this letter is writing very succinctly, he gets immediately to his points.
For his enemies, he brings a scathing denunciation as he defends his credentials. For the Galatians Paul brings a wish for peace but no commendation so common in his other letters. He closes the salutation with the gospel from which the Apostle feels the Galatians have strayed.
John MacArthur called this epistle “a flashing sword yielded by a burning heart” and the opening salutation does not disappoint. I can see Paul in my mind’s eye as he sits down to pen this letter. Filled with indignation yet completely under control, carried along by the Holy Spirit as he lays out fundamental doctrine to a straying church.
It would be hard to over estimate the importance of the words of this letter not only to the Galatians but throughout the ages all the way down to today. Theologians have called this book “the Magna Carta of spiritual liberty”, “the battle cry of the reformation”, and the “the trumpet call to Christian freedom”.
Martin Luther said:
The epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it I am, as it were, in wedlock. Galatians is my Katherine [my wife].
Merrill C. Tenney stressed the importance of this letter to the Galatians:
Christianity might have been just one more Jewish sect and the thought of the Western world might have been entirely pagan had it never been written. Galatians embodies the germinal teaching on Christian freedom which separated Christianity from Judaism and which launched it on a career of missionary conquest. It was the cornerstone of the Protestant Reformation, because its teaching of salvation by grace alone became the dominant theme of the preaching of the reformers.
Paul begins with a blinding defense of who he is.
Paul, an apostle — not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.
F.F. Bruce makes the point that man is by nature a legalist. The message of Galatians challenges the thought that our salvation is based on anything other than grace. Whenever our presuppositions or biases are challenged, we are likely to question the one who shakes our world. Its true today and it was true in Paul’s day.
“Who is this Paul and what do you really know about him? He certainly wasn’t one of the twelve? From where does his authority to speak come? He hasn’t even been commissioned by the Jerusalem church! Why should you listen to him? He was a murderer of the saints. He might have seen the light but his theology is incomplete. Let us give you the whole story!”
Their argument was convincing. Jesus Himself conceded “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory,” (John 7:18) and in His own time on earth faced the same type of questioning.
And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
It is easy to see why Paul dispensed with the normal pleasantries and started his letter with a defense of his credentials. He was not being merely defensive, he was by nature humble concerning his calling, referring to himself as “the least of the Apostles”. That thought is not communicated here. Paul understands that his detractors are tearing at the gospel by devaluing Paul. What was at stake was nothing less than salvation of the Galatians!
Paul was not so much defending himself but rather his authority to present the gospel. In some circles to this day Paul’s message is challenged. Skeptics accuse Paul of inventing Christianity. They claim Jesus was all about love and self-sacrifice and that Paul introduced complicated concepts and turned Christ into Christianity.
My Bible is a red-letter addition. It’s the first I’ve ever owned and will probably be the last. I’ve come to realize that putting Christ’s words in red gives them an importance that is not merited. Don’t get me wrong – I would not take anything from the words of my Savior. Rather I understand that all Scripture was given by inspiration and therefore all are the very words of God.
2 Peter 1:21
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Paul says in retort to the Judaizers, You ask where my authority comes from? My apostolic commission comes directly from God, not from men or by men.
In the ancient world, an apostle was an official messenger who had the authority to speak for his superior. In the New Testament Church the word “Apostle” had an even more specific meaning. To be an apostle meant you met certain requirements.
So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”
Paul did not meet these requirements in the same way the other twelve apostles did. During the time Jesus walked the earth and even after the Lord’s resurrection, Paul describes himself in Philippians 3:5-6 as:
circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless.
He had however personally seen the risen Christ. He met him on the road to Damascus as described in Acts 9.
He was personally instructed by the Lord Himself. Paul describes it as being caught up to the third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12. So great were the revelations Paul describes a thorn given him in verse 7 to keep him humble:
So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.
He was commissioned by the Lord Himself. God instructs a disciple in Damascus to look for a man named Saul and anoint him so he could receive his sight back. Ananias is understandable alarmed. Saul has been murdering Christians. He presided over the stoning of Stephen and has lately arrived in Damascus. Ananias not being aware of Paul’s conversion asks if God really wants him to go to the street called Straight.
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”
Paul therefore, says you want to see my credentials? They stand me in good stead. Man had nothing to do with my conversion, my instruction, or my call. It is all of the Lord. Paul specifically says not through men but through Jesus Christ and God the Father! He looks all the way to the throne of God the Father for His authority.
To understand the magnitude of this claim listen to the words of Jesus and see if you don’t hear Paul echoing them.
…I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.
Paul makes the parallel claim. You ask where my authority comes from – it comes from God the Father; the same God who confirmed His Son’s authority by raising Jesus from the dead.
He will return to this theme in the first couple of Chapters in the book of Galatians. For now he lets it rest and moves on. He also states the brothers are standing with him (having recognized his authority to preach).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Paul leaves his argument for his right to speak and moves to the message he wants to proclaim and his motive for proclaiming it. His message is simple and is always the same.
1 Corinthians 2:2
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Paul wishes them grace – God’s grace – the only means of peace – peace with God. Christ was crucified for that peace. He wasn’t crucified by the will of man – but by the will of our God and Father.
He then moves to the motive for Paul’s teaching – the Glory of God the Father. He finished with “amen”. The end of the story. All this occurs in the first five verses of chapter one.
In awe of Paul’s writings the great New Testament scholar J.B. Lightfoot began his commentary on Galatians by saying:
The two threads which run through this epistle – the defense of the Apostle’s own authority, and the maintenance of the doctrine of grace – are knotted together in the opening salutation
Return to Study Guide for Galatians -by Don Kugelberg, Long Beach, California USA