One of my favourite stories from the late Dr. R.C. Sproul Sr. is an illustration from his childhood experience that demonstrates the importance of knowing the source or origin of the Scripture. He said: ‘When I was a little boy, there was a fellow in our community who was a couple of years older than me, and he was something of a bully. He made fun of me and called me names, which hurt my feelings. Sometimes I came home crying to my mother and told her what the other boy had said to upset me. My mother had a favorite response to this. As she wiped away my tears, she said, “When people talk like that about you, son, consider the source.”’
The point RC was making in telling the story was to show that the authority and trustworthiness of the Bible lies in the source. We should not believe it if the source is proven to be unreliable, and since God is the source and he is reliable therefore we should read and believe it.
Same is true with Paul’s authority and trustworthiness. We must believe and obey him because his words are not just his but God’s. However, many questioned his apostolic authority just as many today reject the idea of absolute authority. They’re not considering the source.
Now my main aim is to show not only the origin or source of Paul’s authority as an apostle but also the reason why he stated it the way he did, because the deeper issue was not just his claim for authority but that many who claim to be Christians find their allegiance in men rather than in God. They would rather please men instead of pleasing God. These people appeal to men’s approval than God’s approval for their authority.
But before I begin my exposition of Galatians 1:1-5, let’s make sure first how not to read an epistle’s salutation. I want to start this way because most of the time we skipped over it, thinking that all the good stuff can only be found in the body of the letter. Such is not the case when we look closely on the text. Same goes with the opposite extreme where one is reading too much into it that you lose track of why the author wrote the salutation in such a manner. So how not to read a salutation then?
1) Don’t read it while importing unnecessary facts about the author from other books in the Bible. Things like the origin of the author’s name, or how he came to change his name from Saul to Paul(is it even a legitimate question?), or who he was according to the narratives. Unless you’re like; “Paul who?” As in zero knowledge about the author. Then by all means read the book of Acts. But let Paul introduce himself to us. Let him determine what we need to know about him in light of his epistle. Yes it is true that Paul had a thorn in the flesh according to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, but does a knowledge about it helps us understand Paul’s tone and temperament in this letter? I don’t think so. Worst, it can sometimes be very misleading.
2) Don’t read the salutation as if all that you can learn from it is the sender’s name, the letter’s recipients, and how nice this guy was that he almost always greeted them with a wish that grace and peace be to them. Most of Paul’s letters share the same salutation structure or formula, but they also have distinct characteristics that one must take note of.
3) Don’t read it thinking you need to become an archeology, geography or history “expert” in order to understand it. First we are no expert, second much of what we need to know about who the recipients were are in the text already. You don’t need to find out some hidden clues or artifacts, or culture that may or may not be accurate anyways. We’ll know if there’s a cultural gap when we read the text, only then you should inquire from extra biblical sources. Just as Thomas Schreiner said about the identity of the recipients; “Was the letter to the Galatians written to south or north Galatia? Why does it even matter? It should be said at the outset that the destination of the letter does not fundamentally change its interpretation.” It doesn’t affect interpretation but it does affect historical accuracy. But the good thing is you can read Galatians and interpret it without the need of being a biblical historian. Don’t get me wrong, historical accuracy is essential too, but let us be very careful, lest we exaggerate things out of proportion when we deal with extra biblical data.
4) Don’t read the salutation and neglect the wealth of knowledge we can learn from it. Remember to pay attention why an author wrote the way he did. For example don’t miss the fact that Paul brought at the outset the two major themes of the letter. His apostolic authority in verse 1-2 and the gospel that he’s about to proclaim authoritatively in verse 3-5.
The point is not to bring unnecessary stuff into the text that is not going to help us understand the passage well(even if it’s true). Or to put it positively, ask the right questions and seek the right answers from the text as much as possible.
Now let’s move on to exposition. Paul claimed to be an apostle in verse 1 and most of you already know that it simply means someone who is sent. But there are two usage of the word apostle in the Bible.
The first one is more of a loose or a general usage usually translated in our English Bibles as “messenger” sent by a church as a delegate or representative. Like in Philippians 2:25 where Paul refers to Epaphroditus as their messenger. It’s the same greek word αποστολον or “apostolon”.
The second usage is a more narrow or specific usage that refers to a particular office that Christ himself commissioned. An office considered to be the foundation by which we stand as a church, and therefore can never be repeated as in 1 Cor. 3:10, 9:1,14:37, 38; Eph. 2:20; Ephesians 3:3-5
So which of the two Paul meant when he claimed to be an apostle?
not from men nor through human agency
The context gives us the answer. Paul explicitly denies the former in verse 1. He said “an apostle not from men, nor through human agency.” Not only it’s an explicit denial but also an emphatic denial. He placed the negative in the emphatic position. He could’ve said “I’m sent by the will of God and not by the will of men” instead he starts with the denial. More than that, it’s doubly emphatic because of the two negatives.
So who then commissioned Paul?
but by Jesus Christ and God the Father
I want you to take note of the asymmetrical parallelism of the denial and affirmation. In English it’s not quite noticeable but in greek it’s unmistakable. In the denial Paul used two greek prepositions with different objects, απο translated as “from”, and δια translated as “through” or “by”. This is to distinguish an intermediary from the ultimate commissioner. Paul however, used only one preposition in the affirmative; “but sent by Jesus Christ and God the Father”. Notice how the preposition δια or “by” takes Jesus Christ and God the Father as its objects. They are governed by the same preposition. Paul here implies Jesus’s divine authority by identifying Him with the Father to be the one who called him as an apostle without any intermediary. He was commissioned by Christ and God the Father directly.
who raised him
Then Paul ended his introduction of himself with an allusion to Christ’s resurrection by the Father. The only other place in the New Testament where he alluded to the resurrection in his introduction is in Romans 1:4. It is not directly connected to his apostleship though but instead connected with the very message he was sent to proclaim, namely the gospel of God. Just as the gospel about Christ finds its source in God, so thus his calling as an apostle through Christ finds its ultimate agency in God.
from the dead
This of course presupposes that Jesus died. By putting the resurrection at the very forefront, Paul is setting up the stage for a more elaborate explanation in verse 4 as to why the resurrection was needed in the first place.
So to sum this section up, according to Dr. Gordon Fee; “The emphatic contrast with which Paul describes his apostleship is intended to underline its divine origin: he asserts that his apostolic commission, with regard to both its source and its mediation, was from God and Christ, just as a little later on he will categorically declare that his gospel, with regard to both its source and the manner in which it was communicated to him, was a direct revelation from God (1:12, 16)”
and with the brothers with me(verse2)
This doesn’t mean that Paul co-authored this letter with other Christians. It is just to show that he was not a lone ranger who was unrecognized by other Christians. Meaning, those who were with him shared the same concerns. According to Douglas Moo: “It is not unusual for Paul to include others in his letter openings: Sosthenes in 1 Cor. 1:1; Timothy in 2 Cor. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:1; Philem. 1; Silas and Timothy in 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1. But Galatians is again unique in Paul’s inclusion of such a large and undefined group. The personal and even emotional tone of the letter reveals that Paul is the sole author. He undoubtedly includes this wider group to lend strength to his appeal: the views he is teaching in the letter are not his alone but are widely shared.”
I agree with Dr. Moo that this is to lend strength to his appeal, however, we need to understand that Paul’s appeal is more about the orthodoxy of his message and not on human authority. Otherwise it will undermine his claim for apostolic authority. That is, if indeed his message was from God, it will be shared by others as well, and so maintain that his appeal was to God’s authority alone and not to men.
Now from the sender, we move now to the recipients. Again we should let the text tell us what is relevant to know about the recipient. The geographical location is not that relevant at the moment. What is relevant though is the fact that this is not a megachurch like what we have nowadays. Paul wrote to churches. Unlike the church at Philippi where he can address specific people by name and by office(Philippians 1:1; 4:2), here the letter was addressed to different churches. Some have argued that Paul founded these churches as a result of his missionary journeys from Acts 13:14-14:23; 16:1-5. That maybe the case but the more important question to ask is why write a letter at all?
The reason why Paul wrote the letter primarily was to address their departure from the gospel, which I will tackle at length in verses 6-9 when we get there, but for now let’s be content of what we need to know about the churches at Galatia.
So what can we learn from Paul’s customary greetings to these churches? These greetings are not just for niceties. Just as Paul’s introduction about himself was a setup to point to God’s supremacy, so too this section is a setup to show the supremacy of Christ in our salvation by the will of God the Father and for his glorification.
Dr. John MacArthur said in his commentary on Paul’s letter to Galatians; “Two of the most precious words related to that God-given gospel are grace and peace. The first is the source of salvation and the second is the result. Grace is positional, peace is practical, and together they flow from God our Father through His Son and our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We know that is the case because there’s an implied verb of being there “Grace [be] to you and peace [be] from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ”. We must determine how the conjunction “and” functions as it connects the two clauses. I’m arguing that it is an action and result relationship or at least a progression relationship. I based that on how Paul supported verse 3 by explaining who this Jesus was and what did he accomplished in verse 4. We receive grace because Christ gave himself to die for our sins, with a purpose of attaining for us peace with God by rescuing us from this present evil age according to the will of God the Father.
What is the implication of this very slanted salutation then?
Paul is not just an apostle sent by God himself, but more importantly the One who sent him owned him and everyone else. Therefore he can only seek the approval of God and please Him. Paul said in verse 10 that he’s not trying to please men. He answers to God and God alone otherwise he would no longer be a slave of Christ. This salutation argues not for Paul’s authority primarily but God’s absolute authority in his church.
Lastly Paul wrote the way he did in order to highlight the glory of God and not his own glory. Verse 5 is the ultimate purpose of why Christ died. Christ died in order to save us and therefore bought us according to God’s will so that he alone gets all the glory.
Therefore brethren, departing from the gospel is a falling short of the glory God. It is saying that your allegiance is not to God but to ourselves. So cling to the gospel, cling to the cross, boast only in the Lord. Seek God’s approval and not men because he is worthy of our trust, allegiance and obedience.