THEME OF THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS
If in the Epistle to the Romans the gospel is defined, then in the Epistle to the Galatians the gospel is defended. This defence needed to be made because there were three attacks upon the gospel from the Jews:
Unbelieving Jews who denied Christ’s claims, and taught that men should try to earn God’s favour by the works of law, and ignore Christ.
Jews who taught that before a Gentile could be saved by Christ, he needed to be circumcised, Acts 15:1.
Believing Jews who taught that after a person was saved, then he must keep the law to maintain that position, Acts 15:5. They said that believers needed to keep the law of Moses as a religious duty, because no doubt they feared that if there was no restraint imposed on them, they would become licentious. The antidote to licence, however, is not legality, but Christian liberty. Grace is a stronger force than law, as is seen from Romans 6:14- “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace”.
The Christian life is to be lived according to the “law of Christ”, Galatians 6:2, following His example. The power to do this is the Spirit of God, who acts in the believer on the principle that he has life in Christ Jesus, Romans 8:2.
SURVEY OF THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS
Chapters one and two- Historical account of Paul’s life under law and grace. The experience of grace.
Paul resists the charge of discord with other apostles.
Chapters three to five- Doctrinal, giving seven ways in which grace is superior to law.
The exposition of grace.
Paul resists the charge of despising the law.
Chapter six-Practical, the outworking of grace in the life.
The expression of grace.
Paul resists the charge of destroying morality.
The following Scriptures tell us the true nature and purpose of the law of Moses:-
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin, Romans 3:20.
Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression, Romans 4:15.
Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound, Romans 5:20.
For sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law, but under grace, Romans 6:14.
For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death, Romans 7:5.
Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law, Romans 7:7.
When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died, Romans 7:9.
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, Romans 8:3.
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse, Galatians 3:10.
But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident: for the just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith, Galatians 3:11.
Knowing this, that the law is not made (laid down) for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient…1 Timothy 1:9.
This is not to say that the law is evil, as the following verses show:-
Is the law sin? God forbid, Romans 7:7.
Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good, Romans 7:12
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man, Romans 7:22.
The ministration of death…was glorious, 2 Corinthians 3:7.
But we know that the law is good, 1 Timothy 1:8.
The following are some of the ways of putting believers under law:-
By dividing God’s people into clergy and laity. This is a going back to Old Testament systems under the Law, which the apostle describes as the elements of the world, and as such are not suited to the citizens of heaven. Every true Christian is a priest unto God, 1 Peter 2:5,9; Revelation 1:6.
By practising ceremonies such as christening and confirmation, which bypass the gospel.
By thinking that full salvation has to be earned, and is not the portion of every believer. God has accepted (graced) every believer in the Person of His Beloved Son, and has given every spiritual blessing in Him, Ephesians 1:3,6. “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles” Galatians 3:14.
By believing that the gift of the Spirit depends on spiritual progress and devotion. As Galatians 3:2 indicates, every believer has the gift of the Spirit.
By denying that it is possible to be sure of salvation. “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand”, John 10:28.
By the idea that abiding in Christ is dependent on works, not faith. The believer has believed “in”, or literally “into”, Jesus Christ, Galatians 2:16.
By suggesting that only those who are spiritual will participate in the translation of the saints at Christ’s coming. All believers wait for the hope of righteousness by faith, Galatians 5:5. “Whether we wake (watch) or sleep (do not watch), we should live together with Him”. 1 Thessalonians 5:10.
Law and grace cannot co-exist, as the following Scriptures show:-
For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John, (the Baptist), Matthew 11:13.
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, John 1:17.
For ye are not under the law, but under grace, Romans 6:14.
Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, Romans 10:4.
And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace, Romans 11:6.
STRUCTURE OF CHAPTER ONE
In verses 1 to 5, Paul outlines the gospel he preached. In verses 6 to 9, he pronolunces a curse on those who bring “another” gospel. In verse 10 we learn of Paul’s motivation before conversion and after. In verses 11 to 24 his movements before conversion and after.
THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE, THE CHRISTIAN SCRIPTURES, AS FOUND IN THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS CHAPTER ONE
1:1 Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)
1:2 And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:
1:3 Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ,
1:4 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:
1:5 To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
1:6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
1:7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
1:8 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.
1:9 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.
1:10 For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.
1:11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
1:12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1:13 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:
1:14 And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.
1:15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace,
1:16 To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
1:17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
1:18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.
1:19 But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.
1:20 Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.
1:21 Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia;
1:22 And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ:
1:23 But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.
1:24 And they glorified God in me.
(a) 1:1-5 PAUL AS AN APOSTLE PREACHING THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST
1:1 Paul, an apostle- there is a need to assert this, for the law-teachers who opposed Paul would emphasise the fact that the Law was of God; the apostle must show that he has authority from God too. (Not of men- Paul does not use the preposition most often associated with source, “ek”, but rather “apo”. Perhaps he is referring to the “apo” that the word “apostle” begins with. He has been sent (stello) away from (apo) Jesus Christ- that fact is foundational to his position as apostle. Neither by man- if the first statement declares that he has not been sent directly by men, then this says that he has not been sent indirectly by God either. God did not use the other apostles to appoint him, as was the case with Matthias, Acts 1:15-26. But by Jesus Christ- He is the one by whom Paul has become an apostle. It was a risen Christ who said to Paul, “Depart far hence to the Gentiles, unto whom I now send thee”, Acts 22:21. This lifts Christianity far above the level of a law given on earth. Jerusalem which is above is our mother, not Jerusalem on earth, 4:26. Note that Paul’s apostleship is not of man, but it is of Jesus Christ, who is a man. Yet He is more than man, for He has equal authority with God the Father to send an apostle. And God the Father- in Old Testament times this aspect of character of God was not to the fore. It is the special feature of Christianity, since the latter is based on the person and work of the Son of God Himself. Who raised Him from the dead)- the grandest possible mark of approval. The law was the ministration of death and condemnation. Paul may not have been with Christ on earth, but he had the great privilege of seeing Him in heaven, and this is one of the marks of a true apostle, 1 Corinthians 9:1. Those who had been with the Lord when He was here on earth, added nothing to him, 2:6. Those who claim to be apostles today cannot be genuine, since they have neither been with the Lord on earth, nor seen Him in heaven
The resurrection of Christ:-
Shows He dealt with sins effectively, Romans 4:25- He was raised because of the justification His death secured.
Shows He is approved of God, despite being forsaken on the cross.
Is the means by which His people are brought to new life in a new sphere, Romans 6:4.
Is the assurance to all men that He will judge the world, Acts 17:31.
Is the guarantee of the resurrection of believers, 1 Corinthians 15:20.
1:2 And all the brethren which are with me- he was not alone in his beliefs, for grace has surrounded him with believers who share life in the family of God with him. His attackers had tried to isolate him, but had not succeeded. See Acts 20:4 for those who accompanied the apostle at times. Perhaps the reference to other brethren with him is because he was transporting the gifts of the believers from Asia and Greece to Jerusalem, which was evidence he did not despise good works. See 2:10. When the law was given, Levi “knew not every man his brother”, and they slew 3000 of their brethren. Grace unites fellow-believers. Unto the churches of Galatia- note the absence of any description of them, such as “faithful in Christ Jesus” Ephesians 1:1; “the saints”, Philippians 1:1; “the saints and faithful brethren in Christ”, Colossians 1:1. He is worried about them, 4:20, and so cannot be free in his greetings to them. So it is just the companies that are addressed generally, not personally. Peter wrote to Galatia, amongst other places, 1 Peter 1:1, exhorting them not to paganize, whereas Paul is writing to them so that they do not Judaize. Note that the churches are separate entities, but can be written to together, for they would be in fellowship with one another, having Christ as their common Lord, 1 Corinthians 1:3.
1:3 Grace be to you, and peace- the characteristic salutations of Gentile and Jew respectively. Despite his restrained greeting, he still has their best interests at heart. Grace has been called the “Fount of all mercies”, and peace, “The crown of all blessings”. From God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ- again the equality between the Father and the Son is maintained, this time in connection with the bestowal of spiritual blessings on the saints. Only as they respond to the teaching of this epistle will they come into the good of grace, (as opposed to law), and peace, (as opposed to being unsure of salvation, which would be the result of putting themselves under law).
1:4 Who gave Himself for our sins- far from demanding that man give to God, the gospel explains that God is a gracious, giving God, and Christ gave Himself. The Old Testament sacrifices the Law demanded have been fulfilled in His sacrifice. For our sins- His giving of Himself was in death, that He might deal effectively with the question of sins. This supposes His perfection, and our imperfection. That He might deliver us from this present evil world- the gospel links us with eternity, whereas the law was to do with the elements of the world, Galatians 4:3, and the rudiments of the world, Colossians 2:20. According to the will of God and our Father- Paul is at pains to show that the death of Christ, being in harmony with the will of God, is not at all inferior to the will of God in the law. Moreover, grace introduces us to God as our Father, as the law could not do, as later chapters will show.
1:5 To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen- through Christ the glory of God will be magnified for ever, whereas the glory of the law was temporary, 2 Corinthians 3:7-11.
Note the principles of the gospel that are brought out by the apostle in his introduction:-
The Person of Jesus Christ, implying His manhood and Messiahship.
God the Father, who is revealed in His Son, as the gospel explains.
Christ’s giving of Himself for our sins, implying His sinlessness, and our sinfulness.
His resurrection from the dead.
His sending of apostles in harmony with the will of the Father.
The permanent, eternal glory that has come to God through the person and work of Christ.
(b) 1:6-9 PAUL PRONOUNCING A CURSE ON THOSE WHO BRING ANOTHER GOSPEL
1:6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ- it was not that he would not have marvelled if they had removed more slowly. He marvels at two things, that they are removed, and that they are removed so soon. It is a cause of wonder to the apostle why anyone should want to remove from the grace of Christ. Note that to embrace law in any form, however mild, is to remove from grace, see 5:4. Unto another gospel- the word for another is “heteros”, a different gospel, diametrically opposed to the one Paul preached. Law and grace are opposites, as Romans 11:6 indicates.
1:7 Which is not another- another here is the word “allos”, an alternative. Paul will not allow that a different gospel consisting of a mixture of grace and law is a viable alternative to the grace of Christ. But there be some that trouble you- any diversion from the true gospel is bound to trouble the believers. Assurance will disappear if law is embraced in any form. And would pervert the gospel of Christ- “would” means desire. So obsessed are the law-men on their mission, that they long to twist the gospel, distorting it beyond recognition. They are so zealous for the law of their fathers, that they feel it to be their solemn duty to resist the gospel. Paul was like this once, as he will soon tell us.
1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed- so sure is Paul that what he and his fellow brethren had preached to the Galatians was unalterable, that he is prepared to be accursed himself if he changes his message. This shows he is not criticising the law-men out of personal spite, for he is prepared to accept the same penalty as they if he preaches contrary to the gospel he preached before. An angel from heaven- angels are messengers, and were in attendance when the law was given, but even if one of those that had been at Sinai at the giving of the law came and said that God was reverting to the law in some way in order to bless men, they were not to listen. He does not say an angel from God, because Satan is able to transform himself into an angel of light, 2 Corinthians 11:14, so if they listen to an angel they might be listening to Satan. Accursed is the word “anathema”, set apart for God to deal with. Paul pronounced a woe upon himself if he did not preach the gospel, 1 Corinthians 9:16, and a woe upon those who preached another gospel.
1:9 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- Having dismissed himself, his brethren, and angels, if they come preaching contrary to the accepted standard of the gospel, he speaks now of all men, with the law-teachers particularly in mind. If an apostle or an angel are to be accursed, how much more a mere self-appointed messenger. In verse 8 it was the gospel preached, whereas here it is the gospel the Galatians had received, reminding them that they had been committed to the true gospel at one time.
(c) 1:10 PAUL’S MOTIVATION BEFORE AND AFTER CONVERSION
1:10 For do I now persuade men, or God- Before his conversion, (hence the “now” of contrast), he had sought to persuade Christians to return to the Law, and by so doing, hoped to persuade God of his zeal. Now he did not seek to persuade them like that, and was conscious of the approval of God without promoting Judaism. Or do I seek to please men?- By condemning those who preached a false gospel, the apostle was in danger of angering his opponents, yet this gave him no cause for concern, for he sought the favour of God, not men. For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ- He had once sought to please his fellow religionists by persecuting Christians, but now things were different, (hence the “yet”). And the fact that they were different showed the change the gospel had brought into his life and outlook. This verse forms the bridge between verses 1-9 which have to do with the message of the gospel, and verses 11-24 which relate to the messenger of the gospel.
(c) 1:11-24 PAUL’S MOVEMENTS BEFORE AND AFTER HIS CONVERSION
In verse 10 Paul is persuading, in verse 13 he is persecuting, in verse 14 he is progressing in Judaism, in verses 15 and 16 he is being prepared by God, and in verses 23, 24, he is preaching.
1:11 But I certify you, brethren- he allows that they are brethren in the family of God, just as those he associates with in verse 2, but they need to be informed of the true state of affairs regarding the gospel, lest the false brethren lead them astray. That the gospel which was preached of me- that is, the gospel which was preached to the Galatians by the apostle. He is taking them back to their initial experience when they were persuaded of the truth of the gospel. Compare 5:8, “This persuasion cometh not of Him that calleth you”. Is not after man- it is not that which the mind of man could devise. The gospel is just as much of God as the Law is. This is why Paul did not need to confer with “flesh and blood” after he was saved, verse 16.
1:12 For I neither received it of man- his parents could not tell him it, even though they were Hebrews, and had brought him up to be a Hebrew, in every sense of the word, Philippians 3:5. His ancestors could only tell him of Judaism, the religion of the fathers. Neither was I taught it- He did not learn the gospel from the Rabbis in the synagogue school, nor from Gamaliel as he sat at his feet, Acts 22:3. All this highlights the fact that the gospel is not a modified form of Judaism, although Christendom acts as if it is. But by revelation of Jesus Christ- “The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know His will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of His mouth. For thou shalt be His witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard”, Acts 22:14,15. “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and the things in the which I will appear unto thee”, Acts 26:16. “That which I also received”, 1 Corinthians 15:3; “I have received of the Lord that which I also delivered unto you, 1 Corinthians 11:23; “This we say unto you by the word of the Lord”, 1 Thessalonians 4:15; “By revelation He made known unto me the mystery”, Ephesians 3:3. None of the false brethren, seeking to teach Judaism, could claim these revelations.
1:13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jew’s religion- Note it is not something he had felt he needed to tell them himself, for it was time past, and he had turned his back on it, Philippians 3:13. He had counted what he had been brought up in as dung, so called it the Jew’s religion, not his own. How that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it- Note the expressions in this passage which convey the energy with which he involved himself in what he felt to be right- “Beyond measure”, “Profited…above”, “More exceedingly zealous”. All this serves to highlight the change that came about when he was called by the gospel. He has not believed in Christ because he was not familiar enough with the religion of his fathers, nor because he was half-hearted about that religion.
1:14 And profited in the Jew’s religion above many my equals in mine own nation- As a Jew, Israel was his own nation, but now he calls Judaism the Jew’s religion, for he has separated from it. As a student, Saul of Tarsus was progressing beyond most of his fellow-pupils in the school of Gamaliel. Being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers- This is the reason for his strong advance in Judaism, for he was marked by great zeal, alas without knowledge, like the rest of his nation, Romans 10:2. He did not believe the gospel because he was confused and undecided about Judaism.
1:15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb- so the removal of Paul from under the law was part of God’s good pleasure, just as much as it had been His good pleasure to put Israel under the law. The God who separated him from the traditions of his fathers, was the God who separated him from his mother’s womb. So all the time he was learning Judaism, God was preparing him for evangelism. God allowed him to espouse Judaism, so that he might better expose it. Just as Abraham had been called before he was circumcised, so Paul was separated by God even before he had been circumcised. And called me by His grace- the means used to call Paul was the grace of God as expressed in Christ at Calvary. He was not called by the use of the truth of the law. Note reference to mother, and fathers, or ancestors.
1:16 To reveal His Son in me- not reveal to him, but that, being saved, the Son of God might be made known through Paul, whether in his character, as Christ was formed in him, 4:19, or his preaching, as he presented Christ crucified to the people, 3:1. That I might preach Him among the heathen- it was as one who represented Christ in word and character that Paul went to the Gentiles. There must be no discrepancy between the message preached, and the character of the man who preaches it. See Psalm 51:10-13. There were no evangelists under the law; none went to the Gentiles around with a message of hope, for the law was the ministry of condemnation. When Jonah went to Nineveh he went with a message of doom, and was disappointed when it did not come to pass because the Ninevites repented. Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood- the gospel is not after man as to its content, nor is an evangelist dependant on man for his commission. He does not say, “I conferred not with my fellow-believers”, although that is what is in view, but rather he does not consult any on earth, for even apostles are liable to error, as the next chapter shows. See Matthew 16:17.
1:17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me- such was his confidence that God had spoken fully to him, he felt no need to consult with the other apostles at this point. But I went into Arabia, and returned again into Damascus- he goes to Arabia, the place where the law was given, 4:25. What more fitting place to learn the contrast between law and grace. Is this where “The law came, sin revived, and I died”, Romans 7:9? This would remind us of Elijah going to “the” cave, (perhaps the very cleft of the rock in which Moses was hidden by God as His glory passed by, Exodus 33:21-23), and learning that the things which accompanied the law, (the wind, the earthquake and the fire, see Hebrews 12:18-21), could not express God fully, for God was not in them, 1 Kings 19:8-18. It was the still (peace) small (grace) voice of God that would bring the blessing of the conflict on Mount Carmel to the people, just as the gospel of grace and peace brings us the blessing of Calvary. Interestingly, Elijah returned from this experience on the way to the wilderness of Damascus. Sadly, he seems not to have had a change of heart about things, for he is directed to anoint Elisha as his successor. Like so many since, he does not seem to grasp the superiority of law to grace. By informing us that he returned to Damascus, the apostle is showing the limits of his contacts with the believers, for he already knew those at that place. But he does not return there to appoint a successor.
1:18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days- the three years is after his conversion, not after his return from Arabia. The apostle is very precise as to the number of days, showing that these events are clear in his mind. His stay with Peter would show they were in harmony, (for they were in Peter’s house, in close contact), especially since Paul later had to rebuke him. The change was on the part of Peter, not Paul. The word see is “historeo”, implying they would give one another their personal history and experiences, so each one was fully up-to-date with the other. It is important that Paul and “the first of the apostles”, should be seen to get on well.
1:19 But other of the apostles saw I none, save James, the Lord’s brother- Paul would have a certain fellow-feeling with this man, who had refused to believe when Christ was on earth, and now believed after He was raised from the dead.
1:20 Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not- these personal details are important, establishing as they do the separation of Paul from any form of appointment by men, with all that that implied. The law-teachers might insinuate otherwise, but Paul was of a clear conscience before God.
1:21 Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia- Syria is south of Antioch, whereas Cilicia is his home territory, for he was brought up in Tarsus. Before he goes to the ends of the earth, he must be active at home.
1:22 And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judea which were in Christ- The places where that would be most likely to be influenced by Judaism. As churches they were in Christ, which secures their well-being, and they did not need the law to help them.
1:23 But they had heard only- the only message about Paul was his conversion and preaching; they had not heard other messages which suggested he had gone back to law, or that he sought to undermine the law. They had not seen him, but they had heard about him. “That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith he once destroyed”- Note Paul preached the faith, setting out the doctrines regarding Christ, that men might have a clear view of Him, and then believe. The apostles “Ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ”, Acts 5:42; they taught who He was, then exhorted men to believe on Him.
1:24 And they glorified God in me- the grace of God working in a person’s life will glorify God. As a result of the labours and writings of the apostle, multitudes have been transformed from being selfish sinners, to being those who glorify God in their lives down here. And what is begun on earth, shall be continued eternally in heaven.