Paul unto the Churches of Galatia (Galatians 1:1-5)

In Galatians — the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty, I described Paul’s letter to the Galatians as “an emotionally charged letter to the churches [intended] to refute the teaching of the Judaizers and to reaffirm the gospel that he had preached to them.” The Judaizers were Jewish Christians who told Gentile believers that they had to be circumcised and obey the Mosaic law, in addition to believing in Jesus Christ, to be saved. The ones who did this in Galatia also denied that Paul was an apostle. They were so much on Paul’s mind when he wrote Galatians that he even argues against their claims in the letter’s salutation.

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 to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:1-5, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

Paul uses the same basic format in opening Galatians as in opening his other letters–writer to addressees, greeting–which is the way that Greek-Roman letters of the time typically began. However, its salutation is more substantial than usual, containing expansions on both the writer and the greeting and a doxology. Although I’ll comment on all parts of the salutation in this article, I’ll highlight the expansions because they foreshadow Paul’s arguments in the letter against the Judaizers’ claims.

Paul identifies the sender as “Paul, an apostle–not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.” The phrase following the dash foreshadows Paul’s argument in the body of the letter against the Judaizers’ claim that he had received his commission “from men [or] through men” rather than from Jesus Christ and so he was not an apostle. Although the Judaizers may have claimed that Paul had received his commission from the church at Syrian Antioch (Acts 13:1-3) or through Ananias (Acts 22:14-15) or Barnabas (Acts 11:25-26), more likely, in light of Galatians 1:17-2:10, they pointed to the church at Jerusalem and the apostles there, whose views they claimed to represent. Paul’s response was that he had received his commission from Jesus Christ (and God the Father) and thus was an apostle.

“[W]ho raised him from the dead” is one of only two references to the resurrection in the letters of Paul, the other being in Romans 1:4. Various reasons have been proposed why Paul includes it here. Albert Barnes suggests these: “(1) because his mind was full of it, and he wished on all occasions to make that fact prominent; (2) because this was the distinguishing feature of the Christian religion, that the Lord Jesus had been raised from the dead … and (3) because he wished to show that he had received his commission from that same God who had raised up Jesus” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1962], 918). Whatever Paul’s reason for including the phrase, it suggests the central role the resurrection of Jesus Christ occupies in the gospel preached by Paul. Later he was to write, “[I]f Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

Paul identifies the recipients as “the churches of Galatia.” Scholars disagree on what area “Galatia” refers to. Some think that it refers to ethnic Galatia in north-central Asia Minor, which Paul didn’t visit (if he visited it) until at least his second missionary journey. Others think that it refers to the Roman province of Galatia, a much larger area that included within it Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, which Paul evangelized on his first missionary journey. I favour the latter view and thus am following it in my articles on both the life of Paul and Galatians.

Paul used the typical Greek and Hebrew greetings, “grace” and “peace,” as a greeting in his letters. “Grace” is God’s undeserved favour, His love showing itself in kindness even though we don’t deserve it. “Peace” is being whole or complete, not just being free from war or disorder. Paul’s identifying the source of these blessings as both “God our Father” and “the Lord Jesus Christ” suggests the close relationship that he saw between the Father and Jesus.

“Who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” foreshadows Paul’s argument in the body of the letter against the Judaizers’ claim that Gentile Christians had to be circumcised and obey the Mosaic law In addition to believing in Jesus Christ, to be saved. According to Paul, the divine way of salvation was Jesus’ offering of himself as a sacrifice for the expiation of our sins.

Being delivered “from the present evil age” involves being delivered from the evil way of life that dominates the present world. Although the age to come still lies in the future, believers in Jesus Christ already partake in it. Paul adds “according to the will of our God and Father” (“God” and “Father” name the same person, “God” denoting His greatness and “Father” His love) to emphasize that when Jesus sacrificed himself he was doing what God wanted him to do. The Father and the Son acted in harmony in the death of Jesus just as they did in the calling of Paul (verse 1) and in the bestowing of grace and peace (verse 3).

I opened this article by quoting the description of Galatians that I’d given in Galatians — the Magna Carta of Christian Liberty: “an emotionally charged letter to the churches [intended] to refute the teaching of the Judaizers and to reaffirm the gospel that he had preached to them.” I’ve shown above how the expansions in the salutation foreshadow Paul’s arguments against the Judaizers’ claims that he was not an apostle (verse 1) and that the Gentiles had to circumcised and obey the Mosaic law, in addition to believing in Jesus Christ, to be saved (verse 4).

James Montgomery Boice goes even further, claiming that the salutation states in germinal form the doctrines of “the source of authority in religion, the person and character of God, the divinity of Christ, the resurrection, grace and peace [and] the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus Christ and its outcome in the deliverance of people from sin” (“Galatians” in vol. 10 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 426). Paul’s including so much doctrine, even in germinal form, in the salutation suggests that he thought that what a person believes really matters.

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