Galatians – Part 1 and 2

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The WELS Mission for the Visually Impaired presents The Peoples Bible – Galatians by Armin J. Panning, published by Northwestern Publishing House, Copyright 1997

PART ONE

Greeting

Galatians Chapter 1, verses 1-5
Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers with me,
To the churches in Galatia:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Commentary

Paul opens his letter according to the normal pattern of his day. There is no complete sentence here; the verses are phrases arranged in a set pattern, or formula, consisting of three parts. The ancient author or sender of a letter first would identify himself, together with those who wished to be acknowledged to the readers. Here these are “Paul . . . and all the brothers with me.” Then the author would indicate who his intended readers were. This letter was being sent “to the churches in Galatia.”

The third part of the formula consisted of greetings or well-wishes, expressed here in the words “grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The word for “grace” was the standard Greek word of greeting, and the word for “peace” (shalom) was, and is still, the standard Hebrew greeting. Coming from Paul’s pen, however, these words carry an infinitely deeper meaning than that of a common greeting.

Let us take a closer look at each of these three parts of the letter’s opening. For convenience we will begin with the second part, the recipients of the letter.

Note that Paul uses the plural when he addresses this letter “to the churches in Galatia.” As indicated already in the introduction, the assumption we are following is that this is the Roman province of Galatia, located in central Asia Minor, that is, modern Turkey. Paul would have come through this territory on his first missionary journey, about the year A.D. 50. On the outbound portion of that journey, he preached in the cities of Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.

He began his preaching efforts in the synagogues, where his gospel message won a number of converts among his Jewish listeners. When the majority of synagogue members turned against him and expelled him from their houses of worship, however, Paul turned to the Gentiles, many of whom gladly heard the message and came to faith in Christ.

On the return portion of his first missionary journey, Paul retraced his steps through these four Galatian cities, setting up a rudimentary organization for the congregations and appointing elders, who were to give enough leadership to keep the preaching and evangelism work going (Acts 14:21-23). Thus the congregations seem to have been made up largely of Gentiles, but with a significant number of Jews, well-versed in the Old Testament Scriptures, serving as elders and spiritual leaders. To these churches the letter to the Galatians was addressed.

The author of the letter is “Paul, an apostle.” He needs to say very little about himself because he was well known to them. He was their spiritual father. He had worked among them on his first missionary journey (A.D. 50). About two years later he again came through their territory on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6). This journey took him beyond Asia Minor into Europe—to the countries of Macedonia and Greece. There in Greece, far separated Galatians 1:1-5 from his beloved Galatians, word came to Paul about troubles in the Galatian congregations.

As will become clear later in the letter, Paul’s person was being attacked in Galatia in an attempt to discredit his message. With his credentials and his authority in question, Paul makes a very significant claim for himself at the outset of his letter. He calls himself “Paul, an apostle.” An apostle is an ambassador, a representative, someone who has been “sent out” to speak for another. That is the point Paul makes in the opening line of his letter.

He was sent, but “not from men nor by man.” To be sure, Paul had been commissioned for foreign mission work by the leaders of the church in Antioch of Syria (Acts 13:1-3). But in the final analysis, it was not they who had sent him; nor, for that matter, was he sent by any human authority. Rather, he had been sent “by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”

Without going into any detail at this point, Paul reminds the Galatians that he had been personally confronted by Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. He had been selected by Christ and sent out to preach the gospel. This was not a personal or arbitrary choice by Christ alone. It bore the endorsement also of God the Father, who had once and for all indicated his full support of the Son by raising him from the dead. This apostle, chosen by God the Father and God the Son, is the author of the letter to the Galatians. He deserves to be heard—and not only by the Galatians of the first century but by us as well.

He is accompanied by “all the brothers” with him. Who these brothers were poses something of a problem. They do not seem to have been Paul’s coworkers, because Paul usually mentioned these by name. For example, the opening verses of 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 Galatians 1:1-5 and 2 Thessalonians mention such coworkers as Sosthenes, Silas, and Timothy. Nor do the “brothers” seem to have been the believers of the congregation in which Paul was working at the time of writing. These he usually referred to as saints, literally, holy ones (Philippians Chapter 4, verses 21 and 22).

The “brothers” apparently were known to the Galatians, for they needed no introduction. Our assumption is that they may have been a delegation sent to Paul by the Galatians to inform Paul of troubles in their congregation and to request help from him. The letter to the Galatians would then be Paul’s response to their request.

We have already alluded to the mixed Jewish and gentile constituency of the Galatian congregations. Paul’s standard Greek greeting, “grace,” and its Jewish counterpart, “peace,” reflect that mixture. But his words are much more than a standard formula for extending a greeting. For a gospel preacher like Paul, grace and peace go together as cause and effect.

Grace is that unfathomable quality in God that moves him in Christ to give great and precious gifts to us undeserving sinners. Peace is the effect of grace in our lives.

Paul has both of these qualities in view when in his greeting he speaks of the grace and peace that come“from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins [there’s the grace] to rescue us from the present evil age [there’s the peace that comes from sins forgiven].”

Those two elements, grace and peace, lie at the very heart of the gospel. And ironically, it was those two elements that were the object of attack in the Galatian congregations. Small wonder that Paul’s agitation showed itself immediately in the introductory paragraph that follows.

PART TWO

Introduction to the Letter

Galatians Chapter 1, verses 6-10
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Commentary

In his other letters Paul normally places what we might call a laudatory sentence immediately after the greeting. In this usually long, complex sentence, Paul thanks God for the readers’ acceptance of the gospel and their growth in faith. Typical is the sentence that begins at Romans Chapter 1, verse 8. The third or fourth verse in First and Second Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and first and second Thessalonians also begins with laudatory sentences. Therefore, it is striking when such a sentence is not found in Galatians. Rather, in strong language Paul immediately addresses the problem at hand when he writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all.”

Paul was amazed and astonished that all this was happening so quickly. We are assuming that he had just recently been with them in Galatia at the start of his second missionary journey. He had strengthened them with gospel preaching and teaching. It seemed that all was well, and he moved on to the countries of Macedonia and Greece, where he was now working. But barely had he begun work in the Greek city of Corinth when the bad news came via the delegation of “brothers” from Galatia. The Galatian congregations were deserting the One who had called them by Christ’s grace and were turning to a different gospel!

However, Paul has not written off the Galatians. They have not as yet totally and completely rejected the gospel. Paul nonetheless is letting them know they are flirting with something very, very dangerous by listening to a message that plays down grace. He reminds them that it was grace that moved Christ to give himself for their sins and rescue them from the present evil age. They had been rescued, but now they are in danger of reverting to captivity. They had been freed, but now they are toying with the idea of giving up their liberty, yes, of giving up the gospel itself.

What could have led them on so foolhardy a course of action? Paul can draw only one conclusion: “Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”

A striking thing about the letter to the Galatians is how little Paul says about the troublemakers. He never names them. He never tells us how many there are, nor even how great their following is. This indicates that Paul’s chief concern is for the members of the congregation whose faith is in jeopardy. His heart goes out to them. As a result, Paul doesn’t engage in running battle with the false teachers. In fact, he doesn’t address them directly. Rather, he speaks to the congregation about the problem and points out the dangers that beset their faith in Christ.

Paul’s analysis of the problem is: “Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” From hints in the rest of the letter we can conclude to some extent what these troublemakers were up to. Paul regularly warns against accepting the Mosaic Law and submitting to the rite of circumcision. Paul later said the Galatians were beginning to observe “special days and months and seasons and years” (4:10), no doubt a reference to the Jewish Sabbath, the new moon observance, and the annual festivals.

The people causing the confusion seem to have been Judaizers, people who advocated that gentile Christians enter the kingdom of God by accepting Judaism. These Judaizers did not seem to have denied the merit of Christ’s suffering and death. They allowed the necessity of faith in Christ as the promised Savior. Their objection seemed rather to have been directed against the idea of salvation by faith alone because they objected to the thought that salvation can come from God purely as a gift, by grace alone. They contended that in addition to accepting Christ, the believer must also keep the Mosaic Law and Old Testament ceremonies.

That was an utter perversion of the free gospel Paul had preached, and he denounces it in the strongest terms. Breathing out a curse, Paul declares, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” He argues that it is really quite unthinkable that he should back off from the message of free grace in Christ he had consistently preached to the Galatians. And if it was unthinkable that Paul should deny the grace of Christ, it was utterly impossible that an angel would do so. But with a drastic statement, Paul shows the seriousness of the situation by saying that even if he or an angel were preaching such a mixture of merit and grace, they should be eternally condemned. Paul does not take false doctrine lightly—as people in our day are inclined to do.

Paul and the angels would not preach such a “gospel,” in which human performance was added to Christ’s merit, but such preaching was indeed heard in Galatia. Paul doesn’t give any names, but he leaves no doubt that he’s speaking about his Judaizing opponents when he repeats his curse, “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned.” Let him be anathema. Let him be doomed to hell.

Paul used strong language calculated to silence as quickly as possible the base slander apparently being circulated about him. Paul had a laudable trait that his opponents misunderstood and threw up to him as a fault. In seeking to win converts for the gospel, Paul went out of his way not to offend people or put them off. He himself tells us that he became “all things to all men” (First Corinthians Chapter 9, verse 22). Paul’s opponents twisted this around and leveled this charge against him: Paul is just flattering people. He’s a clever politician trying to win favor for himself by telling people what they want to hear.

The specific case in point again seems to have involved the observance of the Mosaic Law. Paul did not require his hearers to keep it because it was merely a foreshadowing of Christ, and Christ’s coming had rendered it obsolete.The Judaizers, however, still insisted on its observance. In their minds it seemed Paul was letting people off easy by waiving the demands of the law. To them Paul was just buying favor and drawing followers to his cause.

Paul uses his strong anathema statement to test his opponents’ logic. In view of his drastic curse on the gospel perverters (verse 9), Paul asks, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?” Such action and speech was not calculated to gain the favor of men. Paul resorted to bold speech only to show his loyalty and faithfulness to the One who was his real concern, that is, the God who had called him and given him a message to proclaim. To curry men’s favor and turn his back on God would be spiritual suicide, for as Paul says, “If I were still trying to please men [as some claim], I would not be a servant of Christ.”

That he is indeed a faithful servant of Christ is the first main point Paul develops in his letter, devoting the remainder of the first and all of the second chapter to that point.

End of Part Two

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