Galatians 1 - Outline of Galatians (Book Notes menu page)

As indicated in the first two verses, Paul the apostle wrote this epistle to the churches in Galatia. Galatia was a region in central Asia Minor (the modern country of Turkey). Paul's first missionary journey was into the southern portion of this region, where he and Barnabas established churches in Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Derbe and Lystra (Acts ch. 13,14). During his second missionary journey, Paul and Silas revisited these churches, to strengthen them in the faith. At Derbe, Timothy joined their company, as they traveled west through Galatia, and other provinces of Asia Minor, until the Holy Spirit called them to 'come over into Macedonia' (Acts ch. 16). While some scholars believe that Paul established numerous churches in the northern reaches of Galatia, on subsequent journeys, we have no confirming biblical record.

This letter is unusually stern, lacking personal greetings and without any commendations for church ministries. The apostle does not even ask his readers to pray for him and his ministry. Paul was completely focused on correcting a dangerous error which undermined the Gospel. As he wrote to the church in Rome, "The Gospel of Christ... is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Rom 1:16). But the churches in Galatia had come under the influence of Judaizers, who taught that 'faith in Christ alone' was not sufficient for salvation. You must also keep the Mosaic Law, including obedience to its moral instructions and to its religious ritual. Circumcision was regarded as the primary requirement, since it was the external sign of submission to God's Covenant with Israel.

Paul had become aware of this error, shortly after his return from his first missionary journey, to his sending church in Antioch of Syria (see Acts 14:26-28; 15:1,2). Soon after that, the church council, in Jerusalem, ruled definitively that salvation is "through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ..." and is effective for those who "hear the word of the Gospel and believe" (Acts ch.15:6-f, the quoted excerpts are from v.7,11). Although the council had sent letters to the Gentile churches to clarify the essentials of the Gospel of God's Grace, various forms of legalistic error continue to trouble the church, even to the present day.

The time of writing is a matter of debate among scholars. Possible timing:

  1. Shortly before the Council in Jerusalem (Acts ch.15)? - Since Paul makes no mention of the council in Jerusalem, he might have written just before that event. If so, this would be one of his earliest epistles (c. 47 AD). It seems likely that Paul's encounter with Peter in Antioch was following his first missionary journey and just prior to the council (Gal 2:11-15). It was at Antioch that Paul first encountered the Judaizers, following his return from Galatia. Therefore, at that time, the heresy, which this letter addresses, had not yet reached the Galatian churches.
  2. Soon after the Council in Jerusalem (Acts ch.15)? - He could have written soon after the council in Jerusalem. But, if so, the ruling of the council would have been a powerful argument against this error. Yet, he makes no mention of the council's ruling or letter.
  3. Long after the Council in Jerusalem (Acts ch.15)? - He may have written several years later (perhaps during his third missionary journey, c. 55 AD), to address churches in northern Galatia, which had not received the council's letter, because they were established long after that letter was sent out. However, we have no record that Paul planted churches there. On the other hand, he may have written to churches which he had established during his first two journeys, after hearing (in later years) that the strong foundation of their faith was being undermined by false teachers.
If it was important for us to know exactly when this epistle to the Galatians was written, it would have been made clear. However, the letter is of great importance to us, because the error which Paul addresses still infects the church today, to the eternal loss of many who think they are good Christians.

1. Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man,
but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)
2 And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:
3 Grace [be] to you and peace from God the Father,
and [from] our Lord Jesus Christ,
4 Who gave himself for our sins,
that he might deliver us from this present evil world,
according to the will of God and our Father:
5 To whom [be] glory for ever and ever. Amen.
From the outset, Paul sets forth his authority, and the essence of the Gospel of Grace.
Paul's apostolic authority was...
  • "not 'of' {from} men" - ie., men had not appointed him to this role, by their criteria.
    eg., Prior to their filling with the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost, the eleven disciples appointed one of their associates, Matthias, to be an apostle in the place of Judas Iscariot (cf. Acts 1:15-26). The suggestion to appoint someone to this role came from Peter, who supported his idea with scripture. The eleven selected two possibilities and then prayed 'which of these two hast thou chosen.' According to human wisdom, the position needed to be filled and the method was acceptable. However, lacking the Holy Spirit's specific direction, the apostles apparently prematurely appointed a man who was not chosen by the Lord for this role. While there is no further mention of Matthias in scripture, it is evident that Paul was "called to be an apostle by the will of God" (v.1; 1Cor 1:1; 2Cor 1:1; Eph 1:1).
  • "not 'by' {through, by agency of} men" - ie., men had not conveyed authority to him,
    by ordination and the laying on of hands.
  • "but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead." -
    The One, who has all Authority and Power, appointed and enabled Paul to serve as His apostle {messenger, sent one}.
and all the brethren which are with me...-
Yet, there were many believers who stood in agreement with what Paul was writing.
Grace be to you and peace...- Paul opens most of his letters with similar words.
Grace and peace are sourced in God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Only because of His Grace {undeserved favor}, can we stand before Him in peace (Rom 5:1,2).
In v.3,4, Paul gives a powerful summary of the Gospel.
  • Who gave Himself...- The Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son, gave Himself!
    What more could He give? What can we possibly add to the value of His sacrifice?
  • ...for our sins...- We were condemned sinners, worthy of God's wrath.
    Without any acceptable righteousness within ourselves, we had no ability to please Him.
    Rather, having the sentence of death within ourselves, we were about to perish.
    But then, He interposed Himself and became the propitiation {satisfaction} for our sins.
    Rom 3:19-26; 1Pet 2:24; 3:18
  • ...that He might deliver us from this present evil world...
    He is the Deliverer. We are the ones in need of deliverance. Being 'dead' in our trespasses and sins, we could neither help ourselves nor help Him to help us.
       He gave Himself, to deliver us, not only from the fires of hell, but also from {out of} the corruption of the evil age in which we live as fallen beings, to transform us into new creatures, through the new birth, whereby we are given a new holy nature which lives to please God (Eph 2:1-10; Titus 2:14).
  • ...according to the will of God and our Father.
    Our deliverance is not based on the requirements of the Law (which we cannot fulfill), but rather upon the will of God. Only God could devise and provide the way of salvation. There is no other way (Mat 26:39; Rom 3:21-26; Heb 10:4-10).
       It was God's purpose, through Christ, to bring "many sons to glory" (Heb 2:10-18).
  • whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
    How can we not praise Him, as we begin to understand all that He has done for us?
    The salvation of sinners is entirely God's work, from initiation to completion.
    Yet, what He has done must be personally applied by faith.
    "He gave Himself for our sins... to deliver us... according to the will of God... our Father."
    Does 'us' include 'you'? Joh 1:11-13
6. I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him
that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
7 Which is not another;
but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you
than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
9 As we said before, so say I now again,
If any [man] preach any other gospel unto you
than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
I marvel that ye are so soon removed...
Paul was astonished that these professed believers had quickly changed their position regarding the Gospel, when they were presented with false teaching.
     They had initially accepted the Lord's call {ie., invitation} to salvation when they had believed the Gospel of Christ, "who gave Himself... that He might deliver us" (v.3,4). But when they turned from that Gospel, they had removed themselves, not only from a certain doctrinal position, but "from Him that called you into the grace of Christ" unto a false gospel of works. The one way, of acceptance before the Father, rests entirely upon who Christ is and what He alone has done (Joh 14:6).
...unto 'another' {GK= heteros, another of a different sort} gospel:
which is not another {GK=allos, another of the same sort}...
...but there be some that trouble {ie., disturb, disquiet} you,
and would pervert {GK=metastrepho, turn around, reverse} the gospel of Christ.
False teachers had brought a counterfeit gospel which was completely different from the Gospel of God's Grace in Christ.
This false gospel could not save anyone from their sins.
It would not give them peace, but rather, 'trouble' before God (see this word in Acts 15:24).
It could hardly be called a 'gospel' since it was not 'good news' in any sense.
It reversed God's provision of salvation (by His Grace, based entirely upon the Person and Work of Christ), and turned it into a program of self-reliance and self-improvement based upon the works and merit of men.
...though we, or an angel... preach any other gospel {lit., any gospel contrary to the gospel} which we preached unto you... let him be accursed...
Whoever proclaims a false gospel is condemned to eternal damnation. [The word 'accursed' is GK= anathema, that which is devoted to destruction without hope of redemption.] As though this condemnation is not strong enough, Paul states it twice, emphatically (v.8,9).
     Those who promote a counterfeit gospel, despise God's Grace and set a death trap for unwary men who follow them. The deception is subtle, for it is presented as 'gospel truth,' which may acknowledge the death and resurrection of Christ, and which claims to accurately interpret the Bible, even as they twist and redefine its words. Such teachers are in league with the father of lies, who seeks to destroy the souls of men. Joh 8:44; 2Cor 11:13-15; Heb 10:28-31; 2Pet 2:1
Paul does not immediately examine the errors of the false gospel which the Galatians had received. The false teachers who had brought this error, had also undermined Paul's credibility. Therefore, Paul devotes nearly a third of his letter to defending his own trustworthiness as a true apostle sent from God, and, therefore, the trustworthiness of the Gospel which God had commissioned him to proclaim.
10. For do I now persuade {ie., win, befriend, seek the favor of} men, or God?
or do I seek to please men?
for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant
{ie., bond-servant} of Christ.
11 But I certify
{ie., make known to} you, brethren,
that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught [it],
but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion,
how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:
14 And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation,
being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.
15 But when it pleased God,
who separated me from my mother's womb, and called [me] by his grace,
16 To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen;
immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me;
but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. I now seek the favor of men, or God?...
Apparently, some of the false teachers had accused Paul of preaching an 'easy believism,' in order to gain a popular following for himself. However, as v.8,9 indicated, Paul was not seeking the favor of men. Being totally committed to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul would never compromise His Lord's message, in order to avoid offending men. (In fact, as he will say later, the easier path would have been to teach legalistic religion, because it is not offensive to prideful men. Gal 5:11)
...the gospel which was preached of me is not after {ie., according to} man... for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it...
The Gospel which Paul proclaimed was not the invention of Paul or any other man.
Paul had come to understand it, neither from human associates nor from formal education.
...but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.-
This revelation began, when Paul was encountered by the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-21). Paul had been completely surprised and astonished by that revelation. "Who art thou, Lord?... I am Jesus whom thou persecutest."
     'Revelation' {GK=apokalupsis, uncovering, unveiling} refers to the disclosure of that which was previously hidden. The book of Revelation speaks of that future time when the veil will be lifted from the face of Israel and the nations, to reveal the Lord Jesus Christ as "the King of kings and Lord of lords" (cp. Rev 1:1-3; Isa 25:7). Today, He is the same as He always has been and ever will be. But the world cannot see Him. Some day they will. Meanwhile, God's written revelation (the entire Bible), reveals the glories of our Lord, to believers who read it.
     On the road to Damascus, Paul's spiritual blindness was lifted, as he began to understand who Jesus is.
...for you have heard of my conversation {ie., manner of life} in time past in the Jew's religion... the traditions of my fathers...
The phrase 'the Jew's religion' (in v.13,14) is one GK word {Ioudaismos, ie., 'Judaism'}.
     Paul had been zealous for his ancestral 'traditions.' Jesus observed that the legalistic 'traditions' of the Jews were frequently applied in a way which was contrary to God's Word (eg., Mat 15:1-6; Mark 7:1-13).
     In the NT, another word is often translated 'religion' {GK=threskia, sound of worship}, relating to the external appearances of piety, which may be real or pretended (eg., Jam 1:26,27). Paul himself had excelled in promoting and protecting the legalistic 'religion' of the Pharisees (Acts 26:4,5, Php 3:5,6). In his zeal, he had pursued and 'wasted' {destroyed} believers who had been 'called out' from the world and gathered into God's 'church' {GK=ekklesia, 'assembly of called out ones'), until, to his great surprise, the Savior revealed Himself to him and delivered him also, out of the system of fleshly religion to which he had devoted himself.
...but when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by His grace...
Paul had no influence upon his physical birth. Likewise, despite all of his religious activity, he had nothing to do with his salvation. God called him, by His grace {ie., undeserved favor}. Even before Paul was born, God had a purpose for his life (cp. Jer 1:5; Acts 9:15). reveal His Son in me, that I might preach {GK=euaggelizo, proclaim good news of} Him among the gentiles...
The phrase "His Son in me" is the essence of the new birth (Gal 2:20; 4:6; Joh 17:23,25-26), and the only source of true righteousness (cp. Php 3:4-9). Paul's first exposure to the concept of "Christ in you the hope of glory" (Col 1:27) was when the Lord Jesus interrupted his persecution of believers (in whom He dwells by His Spirit), saying, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest."
To Paul, God specifically 'revealed' {GK=apokalupsis, uncovered}...
  1. the Gospel of Christ - as the outworking of His purposes foretold in the OT scriptures.
    v.11,12; Gal 3:23; cp. 1Pet 1:11,12
  2. the Call of Paul (v.15,16) - According to God's purposes, He called him...
    • to salvation 'by His Grace.'
    • to regeneration - 'His Son in me.'
    • to preach Christ to the Gentiles. Acts 9:15
  3. the Church of Christ - God's previously hidden purpose, to establish one body consisting of Jewish and Gentile believers, who are 'in Christ', and in whom Christ lives (Eph 3:3-10; Col 1:24-29).
[These things were not all revealed to Paul, at the same time.]
...immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood...
Having received the revelation concerning the Gospel of Christ (v.11,12), Paul did not discuss it with other people. Rather, he immediately proclaimed that which had been revealed to him (Acts 9:20,21).
...neither went I up to Jerusalem... but I went into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus...
'Arabia' refers to a broad region inhabited by gentiles, outside of Israel. Paul is not identifying a specific location. He went into self-imposed seclusion, in a place where he would not be exposed to other Jews or Christians. During this period, the Lord expanded Paul's understanding, as he spent time in prayer, and in God's Word. This time, alone with the Lord, apparently took place between Acts 9:21 and 22 (or, between Acts 9:25 and 26). Due to threats on his life, he could not stay long in Damascus. When he arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas vouched for him, before the apostles (Acts 9:26-29). Apparently, the next two verses relate to that visit.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter,
and abode with him fifteen days.
19 But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother.
20 Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.
...after three years I went up to Jerusalem...
Paul's period of seclusion apparently lasted a little less than three years. see Peter... other of the apostles saw I none, save {ie., except} James...
Paul's initial visit with these apostles was brief, and limited.
During that visit, Paul was neither instructed, nor corrected, though the apostles must have been well aware of what Paul was preaching (Acts 9:28,29).
...behold, before God, I lie not.
Thus far, Paul, in defending his authority as an apostle, has cited...
  • his total committment to serve Christ (v.10).
  • God's revelation of the Gospel to him (v.11,12).
  • his former zeal in the same tradition as the Judaizers, who were now causing damage to the church (v.13,14).
  • God's Grace in delivering him from this system, and in calling him to proclaim the Gospel of God's Grace to others (v.15-17 also v.1).
  • Paul's understanding of the Gospel, though obtained independently, was in harmony with that of other apostles (v.18,19).
  • his absolute committment to the Truth (v.20; cp. Rom 9:1; 2Cor 11:10-11,31).
21 Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia;
22 And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ:
23 But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past
now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.
24 And they glorified God in me.
Paul's time in Syria and Cicilia is mentioned in Acts 9:30,31; 11:19-26.
During that time, few of the believers in Judea would have recognized Paul's face, although they had heard of his radical conversion. Here, again, Paul is saying that the message, which he proclaimed, had not been derived or developed through any human influence or authority.

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