Series on Galatians, I The Apostolic Authority, A The Apostle, Text: 1:1,2, Title: Tough Intervention


The salutation or introduction to this letter is abrupt when compared to some of Paul’s other epistles. The Apostle can hardly wait to get to the subject which is troubling him. He is about to engage those who are undermining the gospel of his Lord. This introductory paragraph is one of the strongest affirmations of his apostleship found in any of his letters, due to the situations in the churches where false teachers tried to refute his gospel by attacking him personally. Thus he writes, Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia. In  every walk in life, The comfortable way to live is the easy way. Even Christians like to to stay encircled by like-minded brothers in holy huddles. But that is also the way to avoid the truth. Jesus broke out of that mode and condemned the Pharisees as we read in Matthew 9:36, When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. In this letter Paul follows suit and comes to the aid of the harassed believers who trusted in Christ alone and in God’s marvelous grace for their salvation. It makes Paul righteously indignant that these Judaizers are corrupting the pure faith of those who have trusted in Jesus alone. The more-so because Paul understand very well where they are coming from. He used to be one of them. When he tells the Philippians all the things that he has come to despise about his past in chapter 3, verses 3-5 of his letter to them, he says, For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee. Yet, now, here are these false teachers in the churches of Galatia who are teaching that very circumcision Paul had come to despise as necessary for salvation. That will get your dander up. So yes the introduction is terse and abrupt: it is brief and brusque without being discourteous. It says let’s get on with it, and by the time we get to the sixth verse of chapter 1 Paul is talking about them deserting the gospel and reporting his shock and dismay. So here he tells us only the essentials and those essentials are: the source, the solidarity and the susceptible.

I The Source

Paul writes as an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead. Martin Luther says of this, “Paul here bursts out in the very title to utter what he has in his heart. His intent in this epistle is to treat of the righteousness that comes by faith and to defend the same; again, to beat down the law, and the righteousness that comes by works. This flame in his heart cannot be hid nor suffer him to hold his tongue. Therefore he thought it not enough to say that he was “an apostle sent by Jesus Christ,” but also added, “and by God the Father, who raised him from the dead.” His office as an Apostle was often defended by Paul our of necessity because he was not one of the original 12. However he was especially called by the risen Christ Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul’s statement here not only sets Paul apart as a special apostle, chosen by Jesus Christ himself through the encounter on the Damascus road, but it also sets Christ in a category apart from ordinary man. It was not any man that chose Paul—it was Jesus Christ! Today people are chosen to be Pastors and Missionaries and Teachers by men, but Paul was chosen by God not indirectly through human agency, but directly by God’s intervention like Abraham and Moses and Isaiah and indeed the other 12 Apostles. Some translations make this thought more clear as for example the Jerusalem Bible translates, who does not owe his authority to men or his appointment to any human being, and the New Revised Standard translation is sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities. The title Apostle designated one who was given authority to represent another for it simply means “sent one.” In the early church this title could broadly designate missionary leaders, but in a narrow sense it described those who had been given unique authority by Christ to be the founders of the church. Obviously in Galatians 1 Paul claims the title in the narrow sense. He recognizes that there were those who were Apostles before him as he says later in 1:17, but he does not see himself as subordinate to the original Apostles as he makes clear in 1:18 and following for he says he did not even consult with them. Also as he says in chapter 2, the only reason he eventually met with them was to clarify his ministry to the Gentiles which was told him in Acts 9:15 and 16. After his conversion God sent Ananias, a New Testament prophet to deliver His message, But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” And suffer he did. Now the false teachers, the Judaizers were following the Rabbis, and were clearly sent by men. Out of their little self-righteous huddles they sent messengers to beguile and victimize the believers in the Galatian churches. Jesus’ description of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13-15 suits them well, Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. As God spoke through  the incarnate Son, Jesus in Matthew 23, so now he will speak through Paul because He is an, apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.

II The Solidarity

Paul next speaks of those who are with him. He mentions them, not because he needs their authority, but because there is dissension in the Galatian churches and disagreement and he wants his readers to know that there is no dissension among those who accompany him. Thus he wrote not only from Paul, but also from, all the brothers with me. There are several theories about the identity of the “brothers” with Paul. We do not know for sure whether they were other brothers at the location from which the epistle was written, or if a delegation  had been sent from the churches of Galatia and they were returning with Paul, or if it simply refers to Paul’s traveling companions. Barnabas and Titus are specifically mentioned in the letter in 2:1, but there could have been others not mentioned by name. We know from Acts that Timothy and Silas joined the second journey into the Galatian region. The main lesson would seem to be, that even though it is true that Paul alone—not Paul plus these brothers who are with him—authored this letter, nevertheless, before composing and sending it he thoroughly discussed with all the brothers the matter with which it was to deal. So unanimous was their agreement with Paul’s proposed method of handling this difficult situation that the apostle writes in the name of all. Perhaps Paul wants to emphasize that in contrast to the local distortion of the gospel in Galatia, “all the brothers” elsewhere stand together with Paul in the true gospel. In any case the Apostle is intimating that these others bear witness with him that his doctrine is true and godly. Martin Luther comments, “This he adds, as if to say: ‘Although it is enough that I am sent by divine calling, yet lest I should be alone, I name all the brethren who are not apostles, but fellow-soldiers; they write the epistle as well as I, and bear witness with me that my doctrine is true and godly.’” When the  message to these churches was so pointed, stern, and combative, it was wise to mention the agreement of others.

III The Susceptible

Paul’s introduction is completed by identifying the recipients of his letter, To the churches in Galatia. These are the people who are susceptible to deception. They are in jeopardy, but they are also foolish and misguided people. Paul loves them but he does not flatter them. He cares as a father cares for a wayward and disobedient child. God gave birth to them, but Paul was the midwife. When he wrote to the Roman believers he identified them as “beloved of God,” and the Corinthian believers he called “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” The Ephesians were identified at the outset as “saints and faithful.” Here there is  no commendation, but a terse identification because the atmosphere is tense. Because these churches in the cities of Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, where Paul had ministered on both his first and second missionary journeys, were founded by Paul, as their spiritual father he expresses his right to reprimand them. Thus in spite of the close relationship Paul’s mention of them here is brief and impersonal, and there is an apparent lack of the amenities usually found in Paul’s epistles. He resents their defection from the gospel of grace and is forced to dispense with any commendation or personal remarks. He simply gives a gospel greeting before rebuking them. And so we are prepared for the tirade and denunciations which follow. They include a condemnation of the false teachers, the Judaizers, and a rebuke of the Galatian believers who were foolishly listening to the lies.