1 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. – Galatians 1:1-5 ESV
Paul wrote this letter to followers of Christ living in the southern portion of the Roman province of Galatia. The churches there were likely founded by Paul on his first missionary journey, so he had a vested interest in the spiritual well-being of their congregations. Since these relatively new churches were located in a Greek-speaking Roman province, they would have consisted primarily of Gentile converts to Christianity. This is not to say that there were no Jews in their fellowships, but it seems more likely that Paul is writing to those who had little or no understanding of Judaism Jesus’ role as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.
Based on the content of Paul’s letter, it appears that these Gentile converts to Christianity had come under the influence of Judaizers. These were individuals of Jewish descent who expressed belief in Jesus as the Messiah, but who also demanded strict adherence to all Jewish religious laws and customs. Paul refers to these individuals throughout the letter and not in flattering terms.
But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” – Galatians 2:14 ESV
The word Judaizer comes from the Greek verb Ἰουδαϊκῶς (ioudaikōs) which means “as do the Jews.” The Greek word for Jew is Ἰουδαῖος (ioudaios) and the similarity is obvious. In the verse above, Paul is setting up a contrast between the lifestyles of Gentiles and Jews but his primary point is the not-so-subtle teaching of these Judaizers who were demanding that true faith in Christ required conversion to Judaism and adherence to all its laws and customs.
Since Paul’s last visit to the region, these men had infiltrated the churches in Galatia, claiming to be Christ-followers but teaching a different brand of salvation than the one Paul had proclaimed on his first missionary journey. These Judaizers seem to have popped up wherever Paul planted churches and their presence caused much confusion and consternation to the new converts that Paul left behind. And because of Paul’s constant travels, he was left with no other recourse than to address this issue through the use of letters.
Because of the vital importance of his letter’s content, Paul opens up with a brief defense of his apostleship. There seemed to be no shortage of individuals who were willing to question or even deny the validity of his claim to being an apostle. After all, every other apostle had been a disciple of Jesus. They had been personally chosen by Him and spent three years of their lives following and learning from Him. But Paul was a latecomer who claimed to have been appointed an apostle by the resurrected Lord. Luke records the testimony of Paul as he shared it before King Agrippa:
“I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” – Acts 26:12-18 ESV
Paul’s fantastic “Damascus road experience” was constantly coming under question by those who opposed him. They denied he had the right to speak on behalf of Christ as one of His apostles. It’s likely they raised doubts about the veracity of Paul’s claims and peppered him with questions. They probably demanded verification and evidence that any of Paul’s “testimony” ever took place.
Their rejection of Paul’s claim of apostolic authority led them to deny his credentials and reject his right to preach a gospel that was based on faith alone in Christ alone. As Jews, they saw Paul as a traitor to his Jewish heritage and the religion of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It seems likely that these men also raised suspicions about Paul’s trustworthiness by reminding the believers in Galatia about his former life as a member of the Pharisees and a persecutor of the church.
But Paul vehemently defended his apostleship in virtually every one of his letters, and this one is no exception. He opens up by describing himself as “Paul, an apostle.” The title “apostle” means “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders” (“G652 – apostolos (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org).
It was a common Greek word and was not unique to Christianity. This is why Paul quickly clarified that he was an apostle “not from men nor through men” (Galatians 1:1 ESV). In other words, he had not been sent by men or had not received his message from men. What he shared he received directly from the lips of Jesus Himself. Just a few verses later in this letter, Paul explains, “I did not receive it [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12 ESV).
Luke records that immediately after Paul’s conversion, Jesus appeared to a disciple named Ananias and told him to go to the house where Paul staying and lay hands on him so that he might regain his sight. Jesus told Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15 ESV).
There was no doubt in Paul’s mind that he was a messenger sent from Jesus. This is why he boldly claimed that he was an apostle “through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1 ESV). The Greek preposition Paul used is dia and it can mean “by reason of” or “on account of” (“G1223 – dia (KJV):: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org).
Paul was not a self-proclaimed apostle, but a God-ordained one, by virtue of his commissioning by the resurrected Jesus. His salvation had been made possible by God and the content of his message had come directly from the Son of God. He will spend the rest of this letter defending not only his apostleship but the gospel itself. Paul was less concerned about his reputation or identity than he was with the integrity of the gospel message. He wasn’t out to win friends and influence enemies. Just a few verses later Paul denies any desire to engage in a popularity contest with the Judaizers.
I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. – Galatians 1:10 NLT
The gospel was under attack and Paul was ready to go to war to protect it. And this deep desire to preserve the simple message of the good news compelled Paul to go on the offensive.
But there was another desire that motivated Paul. He wanted the recipients of his letter to enjoy the grace and peace of God. He wanted them to comprehend the magnitude of the remarkable gift they had received. Jesus Christ had given Himself for their sins so that they might be delivered from the present evil age. The world in which these new believers lived was hostile, anti-Christian, and intolerant of their beliefs. Many of them had already suffered persecution for having placed their faith in Christ. Some had been rejected by family members and ostracized from society. Others were under constant pressure to give up their faith or simply compromise it.
We face the same threat today. But we must remember that we have been delivered from this age. Yes, we’re still here and surrounded by increasing levels of animosity and pressure to compromise our convictions, but we are not alone. We have been given the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and the promise of our future eternal state. God has promised us an eternal existence in His presence, free from the effects of sin that brought pain, sorrow, and death to the world.
Yet as we wait for that day, we are to live as children of God. The apostle John reminds us, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3 NLT).
Paul’s call to his readers will be for them to remain steadfast. He wanted them to remain committed to the truth of the gospel and faithful to the call of Christ on their lives. It would not be easy, but it would be well worth the effort in the long run. Regardless of what they might be experiencing, they could rest in the fact that they were right in the middle of God’s will for their lives.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.