Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Galatians/Chapter 1
The meaning of Galatians one is an introduction to the book of Galatians. Paul is stating that he has been told by God to write to the people of Galatia on His account. Paul wants the people to do what is right in the eyes of God. Another meaning of this passage is to show the Galatians the love and grace that God is offering to them even though they are turning to another gospel that is not of God.
This letter is written in reference to the Galatians turning to a different gospel that is complete opposite of the gospel that God has sent. He is writing this so that they can see the error of their ways and the errors of turning to this gospel. He is warning the people that there are people that are against Christians and that those people are trying to destroy Christianity. He is trying to encourage them to look back to God and the original gospels.
Paul is writing it to lift up his brothers and sisters and to help them to see what God wants them to see. He is not writing this to show them that he is better than them; he is writing it to show them that God wants what is best for his people and is using Paul as a tool to do so. Paul somewhat gives his credentials possibly as a way for the people of Galatia to see that he is an ordinary man who is seeking to do God’s will. He wants them to see that he is God’s servant which is why he is writing to them in the first place.
Unlike many other books in the Bible Paul has stated directly that he is the author so this leaves little speculation. Though it is important to note that Paul almost always employed somebody to do the actual writing for him. As well he does note in the beginning that there are other co-senders, that being “the brethren that are with me” (Martyn 20).
Paul the Apostle was the last of the 12 and was added after the death of Jesus. He was a previously a Pharisee who persecuted Christians was converted on the road to Damascus and was revealed by God the gospel of Jesus Christ. From there on he spent his life preaching to Gentiles traveling all over to found new churches in different cities including the founding of the church in Galatia.
This letter is addressed to the churches in Galatia located in Asia Minor. Galatia was a diverse region / province with strong Hellenistic and Romanized population. The means in which Paul talks to the Church gives us a few incites into the relationship they have as well as to what particular part of the population might have been in the church. First, it is widely believed that Paul is the founder of the Galatia church and some time after he left they were influenced by another outside source. This is the reason for much of chapter 1 as well as some of the issues that Paul addresses. Next the writing style that Paul uses is fairly refined and he uses strong logic and rhetoric that would be understood by moderately educated people. This tells us Paul was most likely writing to people within larger towns who were more educated and familiar with political systems (Betz 2).
History:Paul and Galatia
Galatia/place and people:
The Galatian people were a tribe with Celtic origin that migrated from Europe in the third century BCE (NIB). And settled in what is now Ankara, in 25 BCE Augustus created the Provincia Galatia which is what expanded the Galatian’s territory. Nobody is certain where the Galatians churches were that Paul wrote to. They could have been in the areas of ethnic Galatians (north Galatia) or in the Roman provincial Galatia (south Galatia) (NIB). The Roman province at that time was a large area of central Asia Minor, present day Turkey, the Galatia land stretched to the cities of Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, these cities have been mentioned in the books of Acts stating that Paul and Barnabas had done missionary work there. Yet, Paul does not mention any towns or cities in the letter, making it difficult to find where the churches of Galatia were. Likewise we do not know how many churches there were (NIB). People are trying to find the connection between Luke’s narratives in Acts to Paul's letters. If they were directed to South Galatia and their churches that were founded during his “first missionary journey” then it would go with Acts 13-14, or if it was for North Galatia they would have been founded during his “second missionary journey” would go with Acts 16:6. Knowing where the letters were intended does not change the translation or its meaning; however, it brings the uncertainty of dating the letters.
Why Paul may have written the letter:
Since the author states he is the apostle Paul and no other piece of information from within this document or from early church tradition has questioned that it is a Pauline authorship. In the first chapters of his letter Paul tells them about his call from the road to Damascus to when he was writing the letter to them. (Interpretation) Seeing as Paul addressed the letter to “the Churches” implies that it was written as a circular letter and was meant to be read in different churches in Galatia. This could explain why he does not state any specific cities or towns (NIB). In previous letters the way Paul greats the churches also hint to why he wrote the letter. An example is in 1 Corinthians he greats and emphasizes that they are “sanctified in Christ Jesus” as the letter goes on we learn he is writing them about sanctification and using their spiritual gifts (NIB). Following this pattern in Galatians Paul greats by stating that he is an apostle and sent by God and not men. This could go to mean that Paul was defending his status as an apostle, because of questions or accusations (NIB). It was also common for Paul to give thanks to God for the church to which he is writing after his greetings, he does not do this in his letter to the Galatian churches. He dives in with his disappointment with them. The churches in Galatia have departed from the fundamentals, which are God’s grace because of Jesus. They had “deserted” him. Paul has a good relationship with the churches in Galatia. While he was there they received him warmly and welcomed him with open arms and listened to what he had to say.(interpretation) when he writes to them he reminds them of before when the spirit was actively present in their believing community and when there were miracles that were done. They had lost sight of this because of other missionaries who came in and tried to force the Jewish law onto the gentiles. Paul was surprised that they would so easily be persuaded. “…to submit to circumcision is to turn one’s back on the freedom given in Christ in favor of a rite which no longer has relevance and can only lead back to slavery (interpretation).” The tradition of circumcision can be traced back to Gods covenant with Abraham Genesis 17:10-14 “This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. (Gen 17:10 NASB) the passage goes on to talk about how even his servants and so on are to be circumcised. This was a way for the people of God to be set apart. When Jesus came and died a new covenant was made. As Jesus stated at the last supper when he has the disciples drink the wine he says “and he said to them, ‘this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. (Mark 14:24 NASB)” after this new covenant many came to believe that circumcision was no longer necessary. By the Galatians thinking that they need to be circumcised in order to go to heaven worried Paul about what other things they may have heard and started to follow. Also when Paul writes he is writing with many emotions and intensity. He does not hide his feelings of frustration (Interpreters).
Galatians 1 Paraphrase
1. Paul, an apostle ( sent not by men or by human agents but rather by Jesus the Christ and God the father, who’s power resurrected Christ),
2. and all those who are here with me, to the churches of Galatia:
3. May you experience Grace and peace From God our Father and Jesus Christ
4. who gave his life up for our sins so that we may be saved from the present evil age, according to the desires of our God and Father,
5. to whom all glory belongs forever and ever.
6. I am shocked that you are so willing to desert Him who called you by the grace of Christ for a new gospel,
7. which is really not a gospel. Evidently some people are confusing you and trying to distort the gospel of Christ.
8. However even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a new gospel different than the one we have already told you, may we be cursed!
9. As we have told you before and will say it again: May anyone preaching to you a new gospel contrary to what you have already received be cursed!
10. Whose approval am I fighting for, human's or God's? or am I trying to please people? If I were still attempting to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
11. Brothers and sisters, you should know that the gospel I preach is not of human origin or character.
12. I did not receive it from a mere humman, nor was I taught it by any person. Rather I was given it through a revelation from Jesus Christ.
13. You know how I used to live my live in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God and even attempted to destroy it.
14. I was making great strides in Judaism exceeding many of my contemporaries and practicing the traditions of my fathers with extreme zeal.
15. But God had graciously called me even before I was born. I did not know this until He was pleased
16. to reveal His Son to me. When He did, He called me to preach His gospel to the Gentiles. In response, I did not immediately talk to anybody.
17. I did not go to Jerusalem to talk to those who were apostles before me. Instead, I went to Arabia and later returned to Damascus.
18. Three years later I went to Jerusalem to introduce myself to Cephas, better known as Peter. I stayed with him for just 15 days.
19. I didn’t see any of the other apostles. I did also see James, the Lord’s brother.
20. I promise you, as God is my witness: What I am writing to you is not a lie.
21. Later I traveled to Syria and Cilicia.
22. I was personally unknown to believers in the Christian churches of Judea.
23 They had had only heard this report about me: “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
24. They praised God for what He had done in me.
- Galatians is an Epistle, or letter, written by Paul to the Churches he founded in Galatia.
vv. 1-5: Salutation
- This is the introduction of the letter. Paul identifies himself as the author and identifies himself as an apostle. He greets his intended audience. He gives them an early Christian confession and adds a doxology. This section sets the tone for the entire letter (Longenecker 1-2; Cousar 13). The letter starts with talking about God's saving grace (Cousar 14).
vv. 6-10 Occasion for Writing/Issues at Stake
- Unlike other letters from Paul this one does not have a message of thanksgiving following the greeting. By doing this Paul is showing that he is upset about what the Galatians are doing. Since he can find nothing to compliment them he jumps straight to the problem. He tells them they they are listening to wrong teaching. He separates this from those who are not listening to false teaching. Then he separates himself from the Galatians by calling himself a servant of God (Longenecker, 13)(Cousar, 13). Serves as a reminder of some versions of the gospel being perverted (Keck, 207). Here Paul confronts the Galatians that think that circumcision was the only way to be a Christian is not the right way to become a Christian. The main issue here is the matter of grace (Cousar, 15-24).
vv. 11-12 Thesis
- There is no clear theme of when themes change in this letter. This section gives way to what is to come in the next verses (Longenecker, 21-22). From this point on in this chapter Paul is giving the Galatians part of his history. This part of the chapter draws more attention for Pauls time line than its theological meaning (Cousar, 24). Paul tells the Galatians of this so that they might see the relationship that he has with other apostles. He does not tell this for memory sake. (Cousar, 26-27)
vv. 13-17 Early Life, Conversion and Commission
- This section introduces the call and works of Paul throughout Judaism (Longenecker, 26-27). Paul wants to clarify that his message comes from God (Keck, 218). This chapter wants to convey that the cross justifies the violence bestowed on people. This is justification not for them killing others but to forgive them from the sins of killing others (Keck, 219). This story according Keck is not about Paul telling his testimony so much as Paul telling of the radical changes that God brought to him (220). This is the most effective part of the Church when it comes to conversion and Paul's life (Cousar, 30)
vv.18-24 First Visit to Jerusalem
- These verses tell of his first visit to Jerusalem as a Christian(Longenecker, 36).
- This passage should lead us to what radical things God is doing with us, not what kind of personal experience we could be gaining from this (Cousar ??).
Verse by Verse
In Roman cultures a person would have had 3 names. Acts mentions his Jewish name, Saul. Nowhere in the New Testament does it mention his other name. By only going by Paul he could speak to both the Gentiles and the Romans. ἀπόστολος is the Greek word for apostle. By using this word Paul is stating that he has a divine calling from God. Here he speaks of God in a more Christocentric way (Longenecker 5).
Paul is suggesting by saying "and all the brothers with me" is saying that he has much support for Paul's letter. His address to the Galatians in this letter is unique because usually Paul writes to a specific church. But in Galatians he is writing to all of the churches in Galatia. Also he intended for this letter to be circulated around to all of the churches (Longenecker, 5-6).
Peace is the characteristic the believer and grace is what is given to the believer from God.(Longenecker 7)
The fact that Christ came and died for our sins is reiterated here. It is about the rescue from sin. This is not just about the history of Christ's death and human salvation but also the lifestyle that characterizes it.(Longenecker 7-9)
This is the only letter that Paul places a doxology at the end of his salutation. (Longenecker 9)
This is the signal of something major that is getting ready to be said in the letter. Paul is surprised at how quickly they are slipping away from the gospel. He was also surprised because the Galatians were turning away from God. (Longenecker 14)
Paul here is referring to έτερς meaning that it is a different kind of gospel all together. He was writing this to those who were speaking against Paul in order to stop them in the process of ruining his name. (Longenecker 15-16)
Paul is putting here that they will face the wrath of God. (Longenecker 18)
This is a reminder of the past that Paul brings forth to his audience. It does not show how far removed the past is from this letter. He then tells those who are preaching a false gospel that they will be "accursed" by God. By saying this he telling them that God will judge them. (Longenecker 17-18)
Paul was being accused of not sharing the same message with the Gentile as he shared with the Jews because he did not want to offend the Gentiles but wanted to gain their favor. (Longenecker 18)
He tells his readers that they are his brothers in Christ. He was reminding them of this because they were starting to forget the importance of their fraternal brotherhood. He is proclaiming Christ crucified to focus on Christ's law-free redemptive work. (Longenecker 22-23)
Here he gives God all the glory for his law-free gospel. He is saying that it was not written by him or by any other man but it was given to him from God. (Longenecker 23)
Paul probably took on spreading the gospel knowing full well that he would be persecuted. (Longenecker 28)
Paul wants to make his credentials clear. He is in good standing with Judaism. (Longenecker 30)
"What Paul is stressing...is that his apostleship stems from God's good pleasure, ordination, and call (Longenecker 30)".
This tells of Pauls encounter with Christ on his way to Damascus. This is where he receives his commission to go to the Gentiles. (Longenecker 32)
Paul recognizes the other apostles and that they have the same basic apostleship. But that his is different because it was divine. (Longenecker 35)
There is some confusion as to what Paul means by after three years. The speculations are: 'in the third year' and 'after three years'. More than likely it was during the third year that he met up with Peter. He wants to unite with Peter because of the stresses he has on his shoulders. (Longenecker 37-38)
Paul calls into question James apostleship. He says that James was probably skeptical of Jesus' ministry at first. (Longenecker 39)
He is clarifying that his message comes directly from God. (Longenceker 39)
It has been suggested that this is a time of evangelism for Paul than a mission. (Longenecker 40)
He is clarifying that this is for all churches in Galatia. (Longenecker 22)
Here Paul is summing up what was being spoken about him by his opposers. (Longenecker 23)
Here Paul is saying that even the people opposing him were praising God because of his earlier missionary activities. (Longenecker 42)
Theological and Modern Implications
Paul starts his letter by introducing himself, much as he does in all the other letters he has written to other churches. The difference, however, is that he makes what seems to be a much stronger claim to his authority than he does in many of the other letters. After this claim he sends them Grace and Peace from the God who gives all things and deserves all glory. This is a strong reminder that regardless of what is going on God is still with us and willing to show us grace and peace that we do not deserve. Rather he Gives us grace not because we deserve it but because he so loves us and wants to rescue us from the present age of darkness that we live in. Paul says in v4 that Jesus gave Himself up to rescue us from “this present age”. This is a slight remark that can easily and unfortunately be missed. By designating a specific age it implies that there is a beginning and that there was or will be an end. This remark as goes along with others in Galatians as well as other letters that Paul wrote suggesting that there is another age to come or a “new creation”(Martyn p. 100). this new creation began with the invasion of Christ that Paul notes in v4 with Christs rescue of the people form the grasp of the present age. God is on the move and using Jesus as his first line in a movement into the present evil age in which Gods forces will continually be on the move until they have finished the Job. We are currently in the age of our delivery. To parallel we are in the time between Egypt and the Promised Land.
Paul dives head first into the issues and reason for this particular letter and though it is a complicated problem he open fires and argues the validity of the gospel that they have been told by him and the other apostles over all other gospels. It appears as though the church has faced many different issues and is having trouble deciding who is going to make some of the rougher decision and from who are they given this power. It seems the problem is in regards to much of the congregation accepting new versions of the gospel begin told to them by other Jewish Christians rather than sticking to the Pauline model that was given to them from there founder. Paul's first claim is a strong one exclaiming his astonishment that they would desert him. The work for desert is a political or military term referring to the shifting of allegiance. Paul is calling them out as deserters to the cause and questioning there loyalty not just to him but to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Though Paul is clearly disappointed in the Galatians but he puts much of the blame onto the preachers of this new gospel for distorting or causing confusion amon:g the Galatians. For causing this confusion Paul twice claims that they should be cursed for there actions, by saying it twice he add emphasize and seriousness to the claims. Paul points out that he is not like many other people just trying to please humanity but rather left his life of pleasing the people to be come a slave of Christ. Verse 11 is Paul's reminding the Galatians that his gospel is not a gospel crafted by humans but rather gospel reveled to him by Christ.
Paul states his thesis that he will soon defend: “for I did not receive it (the Gospel) From man, Nor was I taught, But (received it) through revelation of Jesus Christ. Paul's claim is that the gospel he has been given is not at all human in its origin. Unlike the Galatians or many other Churches Paul was not given or shared the gospel by a group or a specific persons teaching. Paul reminds the people of his previous life and his radical conversion to help aid in his point that his conversion was not a mere change in thought but rather a radical change her persona. Furthermore Paul reminds them that he was not just any Jew but rather a great scholar who was wise beyond his years and passing many of the people hi sown age. Paul describes himself as a zealous Pharisee who had a immaculate record of integrity. His conversion was so radical that the best explanation is that he had a legitimate experience with the Christ. It is important that he notes his journey after his encounter on the road to Damascus because he wants to assure all the people that he had not had his gospel affected by or crafted by the other apostles in Jerusalem. It isn't until three years later that he goes and stays with Cephas for a short period of time. Paul in a sense is using this section of the letter to provide a kind of genealogy of the Gospel that he has been preaching. Paul's Call is a interesting topic as it was one of the most important moments in church history and changed the course of the worlds history forever. This gospel pedigree that he shared with the Galatians was not only a way of fighting any rumors that his gospel was doctored or incorrect but a means to place his gospel over that of anybody else.
Though a lot of this chapter is more personal and directed at the Galatians and there specific issues there are still many different things that can be used to reach a modern audience. First is the implications made in v.4 that imply that there is an age of present darkness that all men live in the midst of. Second is that Jesus lead and continues to lead the invasion that is bringing people out of the age of darkness and into the kingdom of heaven. This supports what many emergent or postmodern thinkers call the here-but-not-yet. We live in the time after Jesus first invaded and victory is guaranteed but there are going to be many battles and causualties until the job is finished. Until then it is the job of the Church to do Christ work and continue the revolution that will push the Kingdom further.
Another implication can be found in the next set of verses in which Paul calls out the audience for abandoning there beliefs. The churches in Galatia were not that old and were founded by Paul himself, once he left other groups of preachers or teachers came in and began to share new information or gospels with the Galatians. They abandoned there previous beliefs and Paul's school of thought for the newer one. Because of the two competing Gospels Paul explains why his is not only better but why it is the true Gospel of Christ. His main reason is that his gospel is divine and was revealed to him directly from God. Now though many of us were not told the gospel by a man who was blinded and then visited by Jesus we still have in writing the gospel given to Paul, or at least his beliefs which he shares with the churches. Many people will have had some kind of religious experience in which they are shared the gospel but when things don't meet there expectations they find something else that better fits there needs or desires. It is my personal belief that Paul is calling the Galatians back to the Gospel that was already given to them after they whimsically picked up a few new beliefs. These verses can be used not only to justify Paul's writings but also to address issues certain heresy. On top of that its more practically applicable for use in our individual lives as a reminder that we have the real gospel and that we do not need any additions or doctrines.
Revelation: Greek word for revelation that is used in the passage Galatians 1:12 is ἀποκάλυψις other than the book of Revelation, which is all apocalyptic imagery seeing as it is an apocalyptic book; however, the revelation that Paul refers to is more along the lines of recognizing God in Christ. “The Christ hymn that opens the Gospel of John (Jn 1:1-18) sounds the keynote when it portrays Christ as God’s Word of revelation, in whom people recognized God’s glory (dictionary of bib. Imagery).” The Old Testament refers more to The God who appears. After the fall of man God appears or speaks only to reveal his purpose to his people. There are many times in the Old Testament where God reveals himself, his revelation, through nature. For example there is Moses and the burning bush, God appeared to Job in a whirlwind. He has also revealed himself to people in dreams (dictionary bib). And so on are ways that God gave revelation in the Old Testament.
Cousar, Charles B. Galatians. Atlanta: John Knox, 1982. Print.
George, Timoth. The New American Comentary. Vol. 30. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994. Print. Galatians.
Keck, Leander E., ed. The New Interreter's Bible. Vol. XI. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2000. Print.Pages 183-220
Longenecker, Richard N. "Galatians." Word Biblical Commentary. Volume 41. Dallas, TX: Word Books, Publisher, 1990. Print. Longman, Remper, and David E. Garland. The Expositors Bible Commentary. Revised ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan. Print. Romans~Galatians.
Martyn, J. Louis. Galatians: a New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Print.