COMMENTARY ON GALATIANS
LESSON NUMBER 1
Gal 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;) 2And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia.” Galatians 1:1-2
INTRODUCTION TO GALATIANS
Galatia is the central portion of Asia Minor, an area now identified as Turkey. It is an area where Paul spent considerable time. Cities in that region were also visited early in Paul’s ministry: Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch during which time he was “confirming the souls of the disciples,” ordaining elders “in every church” (Acts 14:21-23). Timothy was from this region, and joined Paul in his travels throughout he area (Acts 16:1-3). Prior to being called to Macedonia, Paul and company spent considerable time in this area, going “throughout the region . . . of Galatia” (Acts 16:6). During this time, “the churches were established in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5). Later he traveled throughout this region “strengthening all the disciples” (Acts 18:23). In this letter, Paul reminds them that they had heard the Gospel during a time when he was suffering from an unnamed illness. “but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time” NASB (Gal 4:13). Their beginning in Christ was commendable, being described as “having begun in the Spirit” (Gal 3:3). They had also made considerable progress, and are described as running “well” (Gal 5:7). Yet, with such a noble beginning, and having made good progress, certain teachers “bewitched” them, turning them away from the true Gospel to one that was spurious (Gal 1:6; 3:1; 5:7). These “churches” stood in danger of falling from grace (Gal 5:4), and , running in vain (Gal 2:2), voiding the effect of Christ’s death for themselves (Gal 2:21), and nullifying the prodigious labors of Paul in their behalf (Gal 4:11). All of this took place within a relatively short time span – just a few years. These conditions account for the strong tone of this epistle. They also confirm that once a person is in Christ, he is not set on some kind of automatic pilot that voids the need for extensive involvement, a strong faith, and the maintenance of godly liberty. If these things could happen to a body of people who were tutored and confirmed in the faith by the faithful ministry of Paul the apostle, what may be said of the liabilities of professing Christians of our day, who have very little knowledge or understanding of what Paul taught.
In this epistle, Paul will establish the nature of the “great salvation” of God, what is involved in being justified by faith, and the nature of liberty in Christ. The role of the Law will be expounded, together with a brief exposition of the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. During the great reformation movements of the world, when the truth was uncovered and expounded with great power, much stress was placed upon this epistle. It deals with principles that transcend time, and great profit can be realized from ingesting its message.
PAUL AN APOSTLE
Gal 1:1a “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man . . .)”
In this text, a certain understanding of Divine commission is required. The word “apostle” speaks of a category of men that is unique. Such men have been placed “first” in the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:28). Their doctrine is the primary teaching in which the salvation of God is both clarified and expounded (Acts 2:42). They are not men of high rank by worldly standards, but stand in sharp contrast to the worldly order (1 Cor 4:9). The “household of God” is built upon the foundation put in place “by the apostles and prophets” (Eph 2:20). The “prophets” foretold the manner of the Savior and His salvation, and the apostles expounded their reality and nature. What was hidden from previous generations was made known to the “apostles and prophets,” so that their message becomes the key to spiritual understanding. The body of Christ is to pay special heed to the words and commandments of the apostles (2 Pet 3:2; Jude 1:17). The Lord has pledged Himself to avenge the apostles and prophets by bringing down those who deliver contradicting and competing words (Rev 18:20). The glorified church is depicted as a city that has “The glory of God,”whose twelve foundations bear the names of “The twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 21:14).
PAUL AN APOSTLE. Other versions read, “an emissary,” CJB “a legate,” MRD “the missionary,” LIVING and “[special messenger appointed and commissioned and sent out].” AMPLIFIED In referring to himself as “as apostle,” Paul has immediately drawn attention to what he taught, for an apostle was known primarily for what he said. The miracles wrought by apostles were not an end of themselves, but confirmed the word that they declared. The mighty works that they wrought are described as “God working with them, and confirming THE WORD with signs following” (Mk 16;20). There is a special category of miracles referred to as “the signs of an apostle” (2 Cor 12:12) – that is, they were “signs” that confirmed that what they were preaching was the truth of God, and was to be consistently and unhesitatingly heeded by men.
The books written by apostles include Matthew, John. Romans, First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First and Second Thessalonians, First and Second Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, First and Second Peter, First, Second, and Third John, and Revelation. These books contain “the apostles’ doctrine,” or what they taught. Other books (Mark, Luke, Acts, James, and Jude), though inspired, contain no foundational revelations, no expositions of Christ, no construal of the nature and content of the Gospel, and no delineation of the scope of salvation. All such teaching came exclusively through the apostles. When He walked among men, Jesus told His apostles things no other person heard. They alone were ordained “to be with Him,” and they gained advantages that were not enjoyed by any other persons. Jesus did this in anticipation of their foundational role in establishing and maturing the church, which is the body of Christ.
The seriousness of having a church that is unlearned in “the apostles’ doctrine” cannot be overstated. Yet, we are living in a time that is so characterized. Myriad believers are regularly taught things that did not fall from the lips or pen of any apostle. It is no wonder that a vacillating church is common, and the unlearned and ignorant have proliferated throughout the professing church. If the church is built upon the foundation of the “apostles and prophets,” it will be difficult to establish that a body of people who have remained fundamentally ignorant of “the apostles’ doctrine” are really a legitimate church. I do not say this is impossible, but that it will prove most difficult to support.
NOT AN APOSTLE OF MEN. Other versions read, “not from men,” NKJV “not sent from men,” NASB “sent not from men,” NIV “sent neither by human commission,” NRSV “not called to be a missionary by any group,” LIVING and “not from [any body of] men” AMPLIFIED
Paul was not commissioned by a group of men – nor were the other twelve apostles, or any of the prophets. It is true that the church at Antioch sent out Paul and Barnabas at the commandment of the Spirit (Acts 13:1-2). However, the church there gave them no message to deliver. The work itself was the work of the Holy Spirit. No prophet at Antioch – and there were prophets and teachers there (Acts 13:1) – told Paul and Barnabas what to declare.
This text is like an ax laid to the root of Catholicism, who elects their Pope by a synod of cardinals – even though they affirm the doctrine of apostolic succession. Yet, the head of their church has been elected and chosen by men.
NOT AN APOSTLE BY MAN. Other versions read, “nor through man,” NKJV “nor through the agency of man,” NASB “nor by man,” NIV “not from human authorities,” NRSV “or through human mediation,” CJB “or individual,” GWN “by human agency,” NET “any human authority,” NLT and “nor by and through any man.” AMPLIFIED Here the word “man” is in the singular, while the first mentioning is in the plural. The idea is that the source of his call was not humanity, or human in origin. Key people have never been placed among the people of God by consensus or human authority. That is a prerogative the Lord has reserved for Himself.
BY JESUS CHRIST AND GOD THE FATHER
1:1b “ . . . but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”
One of the confirmations of inspiration is the manner in which truth is stated. There is a total absence of theoretic expressions, and a definite tone of finality and authority. An abundance of truth (Jer 33:6) is compressed into Scriptural expressions. Because of this circumstance, truth is opened up to the heart and mind by meditation and cogitation, and through the Spirit. Those who do not “think on these things” will not receive true insight into them. Further, if they are not proclaimed, the likelihood of thinking upon them is greatly reduced. Our text provides us with a sterling example of this reality.
BUT BY JESUS CHRIST. Rather than being commissioned and sent by men, Paul was personally called and commissioned by Jesus. (Acts 9:3-6). Even though He was “born out of due time,” not being subject to Christ’s earthly ministry during which the other apostles were called and appointed (1 Cor 15:8), Jesus made a special appearance to Paul. At that time Jesus told him why he was being called, and what he was to do (Acts 26:15-18). Further, Paul depended upon the personal revelation of Christ to open up the truth to him, and deliver the details of what he was to preach and teach. Therefore, he did not confer “with flesh and blood” (Gal 1:16). Men did not teach him – not even the twelve apostles (Gal 1:12). Paul was the last man taught in this manner. Thus he says, “And last of all He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time” (1 Cor 15:8). Paul’s knowledge of “the mystery,” or things hidden from men, did not come from assembling the revelations given to other men. It came from Jesus Himself (Eph 3:3-4; 6:19).
A sin of tremendous magnitude has been committed by professing Christians who insist on remaining ignorant of what Paul taught. This is especially true among the Gentiles, to whom he was specifically sent. What was given to Paul cannot be learned from any other source – at least not to the extent of that revelation. His remarkable understanding of things pertaining to the salvation of God was not owing to his intellectual capacity, which I do not doubt was great. Rather, it was strictly owing to his tutelage by the glorified Christ.
AND GOD THE FATHER. It is the Father who was pleased to have “all fulness” dwell in Christ Jesus, His only begotten Son (Col 1:19; 2:9). In a unique way, the Father was “well pleased” with Christ (Matt 3:17; ; 12:18; 17:5). It is a great tragedy that few professing Christians associate Jesus with Divine “fulness.” That is why they remain content with shallow views of Him. However, there is a depth in Christ that is intended for all believers to know.
Jesus made a point of the Father’s association with Himself. He made clear that He spoke only what the Father had told Him (John 14:10; 17:8), and did only what the Father gave Him to do (John 5:19,36). When it comes to what Jesus said and did, He affirmed, “he that received Me receiveth Him that sent Me” (Matt 10:40; Mk 9:37), and “he that despiseth Me despiseth Him that sent Me” (Lk 10:16). This confirms the absurdity of the “Jesus only” doctrine, which avers there is only one Person in the Godhead.
WHO RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD. What Paul states concerning the Father is of unparalleled significance. He does not point to the creation of the world, the flood, the scattering of the people at Babel, or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He rises higher, speaking of things that immediately and more pointedly have to do with His great salvation. Those who theorize about God, indulging in apologetic proofs of His existence, do not refer to the resurrection of Christ from the dead – but Paul does. Paul referred to this fact to the Jews in Antioch (Acts 13:30), and the Gentiles in Athens as well (Acts 17:31). He affirmed men must believe in their hearts that “God hath raised Him from the dead” if they are to be saved (Rom 4:24; 10:9). He also declared that the power that is now focused upon the saints is the power “Which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at his own right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:20). The effectiveness of baptism is owing to faith in “the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead” (Col 2:12). Peter also declared that God raised Christ from the dead (Acts 2:32; 4:10; 10:40). The relevance of this is that death is “the last enemy” (1 Cor 15:26). There is no battle after death – and Jesus has triumphed over it. Every other foe, though very real, is vulnerable because of this circumstance.
The work of the saving is being done by the resurrected Christ. We were reconciled by His death, but are being saved by His life (Rom 5:10). The power that is given to those who are in Christ Jesus is “the power of His resurrection” (Phil 3:10). It is the ever living One who is making intercession for those who are coming to God through Him (Heb 7:25). We are not being saved by an historical Christ, but by a living One! He was “raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25), which is impossible independently of His resurrection. In fact, “if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor 15:17). These days, enough is not being said and expounded concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Other things have upstaged that central proclamation. Yet, both the beginning and culmination of salvation depend on it.
UNTO THE CHURCHES OF GALATIA
1:2 “And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia. . . ”
In this letter we are exposed to the unity of Paul with those traveling with him. We are also introduced to the commonality among several churches, who all received the same message, owing to their similarity. Lest we be naive in our approach to spiritual life, Paul will confirm that serious infection spread throughout a number of churches, for heresy never confines itself to a single body of people. It is imperative that we pick up on these areas, for they will serve to make us more vigilant in the matters of keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and guarding against the encroachment of false teachers with their subverting doctrines. No individual, body of believers, or cluster of churches can afford to be naive in these matters.
ALL THE BRETHREN WHICH ARE WITH ME. Other versions read, “all the members of God’s family who are with me,” NRSV “all the believers who are with me,” GWN “the brothers and sisters here.” NLT The word “brethren,” or “brothers,” is the correct word. It is translated from the Greek word avdelfoi,, which means “having the same parentage,” and being members of the same family. THAYER Two things cause those in Christ to be “brethren.” First, they have a common origin, being “begotten of God” (1 John 5:18), and second, they are related to Jesus, who is “the Firstborn among many brethren” (Rom 8:29). This is not a mere formal appellation, and in no way reflects fleshly camaraderie. It speaks of a very real association that exists between those who have been delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col 1:13). It is the primary association between men, and is to be so regarded. It reflects a status that is created by the working of the entire Godhead: The Father begetting us, the Spirit confirming us as sons, and the Son Himself interceding for us and dwelling within us. In fact, the entire Godhead, in measure, dwells within “the brethren:” The Father (John 14:23; 1 John 4:16), the Son (John 14:23; Eph 3:17), and the Spirit (Rom 8:11; Gal 4:6). It is this circumstance that makes believers “brethren.” We are not “brethren” because we love one another, but rather love one another because we are brethren, and perceive it.
Note that Paul refers to “all the brethren” who are with him. We are certain that this includes Luke (included in the term “us”), Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timotheus, Tychicus, and Trophimus (Acts 20:4-5). Whether there were others besides these eight, is not certain. However, it is worthy of consideration that Paul often surrounded himself with those who had manifested an interest in the Lord and His work. All of these brethren are included in the salutation to the Galatians. They all had a heart for Christ and His people.
THE CHURCHES OF GALATIA. Paul wrote eight letters to at least six individual churches : Rome, Corinth (2), Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica (2). An additional letter was written to “the church of the Laodiceans,” which is not included in the Scriptures (Col 4:16). In each of these letters a single assembly was addressed. Romans and First Corinthians also refers to “the church” in the house of Aquila and Priscilla (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19). Colossians mentions “the church” in the house of Nymphas (Col 4:15), and “the church” in the house of Philemon is mentioned in the letter Paul wrote to him.
However, in the letter to the Galatians, we have a word written to a cluster of churches – much like the book of the Revelation, which was written to “seven churches.” However, in that writing each church is mentioned individually, and a special word is specifically delivered to each one (Rev 1:4,1,20; 2:1-3:22). No such circumstance is reflected in this letter. It is addressed to “the churches” in the rather significant province of Galatia, which was the entire mid-section of Asia Minor. We have no idea how many churches were included, but it must have been significant, for Paul had spent at least two lengthy periods of time in that region (Acts 16:5-6; 18:23).
While the Scriptures indicate that there is a sense in which churches are autonomous, or self-governing, as opposed to a regional authoritarian, we must not carry that matter too far. There is only “one body,” and it is comprised of all of the churches. Sectarianism, has entered in and corrupted this entire picture, so that churches are not perceived as being integral to one another. Of course, this is true only of those who have been “joined” to the Lord (1 Cor 6:17, delivered from this world (Gal 1:4), and set in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6).
Imagine an official and binding letter being sent to “the churches of Joplin,” to say nothing of the “churches in Missouri,” or “the churches in the Midwest.” Yet, that is precisely the circumstance we find in this text. Paul will confirm in this epistle that a general defection from the Lord had taken place in this entire region, with multiple churches being involved. The answer to the dilemma is not tailored for individual churches, but applies to them all. That is because they all had a common origin, partaking of one life, one faith, and one hope – even though they might not have been fully aware of it.
Churches must never be referred to as “our churches,” for that is a misnomer. All legitimate chuches belong to Jesus, who is their Head. They are all obligated to adhere to the truth of “one body,”“one Spirit,” “one hope of your calling,” “one Lord,” “one faith,” “one baptism,”, and “one God and Father of all” (Eph 4:4-6). Those realities make this letter relevant to all churches.