Paul’s letter to the Galatians gives us a brief glimpse into Paul’s theological beginnings and deals with an issue regarding justification and its relation to our inheritance as the children of God. There are 6 chapters in total, so let’s go through ‘em! Part 1 will mostly cover the introductory portions of Chapter 1.
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, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ to a different gospel, which is not a gospel. But there are some who trouble you and would pervert the gospel of Christ. Although if we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel to you than the one we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so I say now again: If anyone preaches any other gospel to you than the one you have received, let him be accursed.
The apostle Paul is writing to Christians located in Galatia (a region in what is now Turkey). Interesting to note is Paul’s immediate introduction, where he assures his readers that his apostleship is Godly, as opposed to some man-made alternative. This detail becomes a little more clear as we read further on in the chapter.
Although the purpose of the letter hasn’t been specified exactly yet, what is clear at this point is that the Galatian brothers have begun turning away from the true gospel, thanks to some “troublesome” folk who are presenting something else. Paul warns the Galatians that any gospel contrary to what he had (apparently) previously taught them, even if that gospel were to come from an angel, should be (presumably) disregarded as the teacher of that false gospel will be
accursed (or in other translations, “condemned to hell”). Paul’s repetition of this curse should speak to the gravity of committing such blasphemy against God’s children, and by proxy, the danger of listening to this “alternative gospel”.
Sidenote: Mormonism started in 1823 when Joseph Smith was “directed by an angel” to find some golden plates with supposed history that was later translated into the Book of Mormon. The Koran was started after Muhammad received supposed revelations from the angel Gabriel in 610. Both religions have clear contrasts and contradictions to the Biblical gospel, and exemplify some real life results of not heeding Paul’s warning.
I think an important thing to emphasize here is that although the Galatians were “turning to another gospel”, Paul still regarded them as brothers. This is evidenced by his intro where he describes God as our father (v3), to Christ who gave Himself for our sins, to deliver us (v4), and mentions how they where called in the grace of Christ (v6). In other words, Paul’s God and the deliverance he received from Him are the same as that of the Galatians. This is further confirmed in the next portion:
For am I now seeking the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please men? For if I were still trying to please men, I would not be the servant of Christ.
But I reveal to you, brothers, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, neither was I taught it, except by a revelation of Jesus Christ.
In verse 11 we see Paul confirm his view of the Galatians: as believers (in error). I think it would not be uncommon to have a modern day Christian look at another believer (be it in legitimate error, or simply in minor disagreements) and declare them to be unsaved heathens or challenge their whole faith. Although I do believe there is a point where a believer following a “false gospel” (or who has simply stopped following the true one) will be ”snipped from the vine” I find Paul’s introduction to be a great example of a loving apostle admonishing his fellow brethren in Christ (similar to what you find in Thessalonians). He says this knowing it’s not a fun message to give, but Paul does not seek the approval of men, rather he serves Christ. Paul does not boast in his knowledge of the truth and put down the Galatians, rather he warns them in love, while assuring them of the authority from which he can speak these things. He continues:
For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it, and progressed in Judaism above many of my equals in my own heritage, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who set me apart since I was in my mother’s womb and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the nations, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me. But I went into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
After three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter and stayed with him for fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!
Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia and was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. They had heard only, “He who persecuted us in times past now preaches the faith which he once destroyed.” And they glorified God because of me.
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas and also took Titus with me. I went up in response to a revelation and communicated to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles. But privately I communicated to those who were of reputation, in case I might be running, or had run, in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was not compelled to be circumcised. This happened because false brothers were secretly brought in, who sneaked in to spy out our liberty, which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage. We did not yield to subjection to them, not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
But of these who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality to anyone—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. On the contrary, they saw that I was entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, as the gospel to the circumcised was to Peter. For He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles. When James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, understood the grace that was given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only they requested that we should remember the poor, which I also was eager to do.
Paul narrates his journey, starting with his Pharisee life where he went to the very extremes of what Judaism had to offer. After his conversion though, it appears he kept to himself for 3 years (one would assume growing in the Lord and learning the truth) before he eventually reached out to anyone in the growing church, in this case the disciples, Peter and James. He apparently began preaching the faith in Judea and 14 years later caught back up with the disciples.
There is a sneak peek into the issue Paul at hand (which he seems to deal with in numerous of his epistles, once you’ve read them all through), but we’ll get to that later. The point of this long biographical portion is basically to tell the Galatians that Paul isn’t just any regular dude who has taught them some weak or man-approving message in the past. He is a Christ-led apostle who has effectively received agreement and acceptance among all the original “church fathers”. In the same way Peter, one of the Messiah’s disciples and friends, reaches out the the circumcised (i.e. the Jewish people), so does Paul do with the uncircumcised (i.e. Gentiles or non-Jewish) people. They share the same gospel, from the same God. A commentary on Galatians goes as far as to say:
It is clearly implied, moreover, that the ‘trouble-makers’ tried to gain credence for their teaching among Paul’s converts by disparaging him and casting doubt on his apostolic credentials. In consequence, the Galatians who lent a ready ear to this teach had a sense of estrangement from Paul, not to speak of hostility to him (4:16) — the fruit of an uneasy conscience.
So the sneak peek mentioned previously is that of Titus, and what appears to be some pressure of circumcision by “false brothers”. What is that all about? Well, Paul begins his segue into the matter at hand with Galatia, which we’ll continue in the next post.