Bible Notes Online - Galatians 1 - ESV
Commentary

This early letter was written by Paul after his first apostolic journey. He writes to oppose the teaching that obedience to the law was essential for salvation.

v1-5: Opening greetings. This pattern is followed through Paul's other letters to churches.

v1: Paul's divine call; he is an apostle through Jesus Christ and God the Father. This gives him authority to speak against those "who trouble you" (v7; 3.1; 4.17; 5.7), who are true enemies of the gospel.

v2: Paul writes to an area of several churches, not a city of one church.

v3: Paul prays for the churches. Whatever errors they had fallen into, he has a constant desire to se them experience God's blessing to the full.

v4: Christ gave Himself, as in 2.20; a reference to His love and grace, and His initiative in saving us; this contrasts with a legalistic view that seeks to earn something from God.

Christ died to deliver us from this present evil age; this includes sins, heresy, false religion, etc. By implication, our citizenship is in heaven (John 17.15; Phil 3.20), and we are witnesses here on earth.

All this is according to God's will; this provides a basis for our salvation and our service (v15-16; Acts 26.17-18; John 1.13).

Through stating these basic truths, Paul is already beginning to counter the false gospel that had been proclaimed in Galatia.

v5: Through this gospel, glory rebounds to God.

v6-12: Paul introduces the theme of his letter. There was a different gospel, bringing a challenge to Christian liberty (see 2 Cor 11.4). The test is simply the content of the message.

v6: They were turning away, from the truth, to a different gospel. Paul did not say, 'You have turned away'. He had identified false doctrine gaining influence, and sought to counter it. The true gospel is in the grace of Christ, see 2 Tim 1.9; this grace brings us into real liberty. A false gospel brings bondage, to sin, to legalism, or to both. The false gospel here is legalism, and Paul uses his strongest language to describe those who brought this message. By deserting from the truth, to embrace merely religious works, was to fall from grace (see 5.4).

v7: The different gospel is really no gospel at all, it is not 'Good News', it cannot save, it denies the grace of God in Christ, see 2 Tim 1.9. This grace brings us into true liberty; false doctrine brings us into bondage.

Such false teaching is not theoretical; real people were involved, who brought real confusion into the Galatian churches.

The different gospel brings confusion and trouble, and disturbance; it is unsettling, and disturbs our peace and assurance. The true gospel is perverted (Gk: METASTREPHO), making something opposite (see Acts 2.20; James 4.9); they change the gospel of Christ into something which is not the gospel.

v8-9: Those who proclaim another gospel are accursed. This is not surprising, given the effects of their 'ministry'. This judgment is repeated, "so now I say again". It is no light thing to change the message of Jesus Christ.

v10: Some apparently preferred the message of the new teachers. The test is not whether we please men, 2 Cor 11.19-20. Paul is a servant of Christ, called to please Him.

v11-12: The source of the message, "not something that man made up"; the gospel does not have a human origin, it came through revelation of Jesus Christ. Therefore, no preacher or evangelist has the right to change it, in order to please men, or in response to human preferences, opinions, or culture.

Those who do proclaim the gospel must be faithful, whether in personal conversation, or preaching to many. To depart from the message is to depart from the God who gave it.

Possible outline of the letter:

1.13-2.21: Liberty in personal experience and ministry

3.1-4.31: Liberty is a theological truth

5.1-6.10: Liberty is a life to be lived

v13-14: Paul refers to his Judaistic zeal, as in Phil 3.5-6. This was well-known to many. This was his "former way of life"; Paul had changed, because Jesus Christ had changed him. In particular, Paul says, he persecuted the church of God intensely. This went along with his advancing in Judaism.

The influence of false teachers in Galatia was to turn Christians back to the old legalistic way of life. It was as wrong for Paul as for the Galatians to revert to the way of the law.

v15: God chooses His servants; He had set Paul apart from the womb, but it was years before that calling was brought into effect. Similar words are used of Samson, Samuel, Jeremiah, John Baptist. The call of God follows the relationship which we enjoy with God, and our grasp of His character and nature.

v16: What we are called to: first that His Son be revealed in us; second that we might proclaim Him. Paul was called specifically to preach Christ among the Gentiles, Acts 9.15; 22.21; 26.17, 20, 23.

v17-24: After three years, Paul went to Jerusalem. Although Paul was not well-known, there was clear evidence of conversion, a new life and a new message. It was clear that God had changed him, although some were confounded, rather than convinced, Acts 9.20-22.