Galatians 1:1-10


Perhaps verses 1-10 contain more material than can be preached in one twenty-minute sermon. This pericope can be divided into two texts. The first section is verses 1-5 "The seeds of the letter are sown." This is a summary of the whole epistle, they are a salutation, but more than that. The second section is verses 6-10 which contain Paul's reasons for writing the Galatian congregations. They had begun to follow the Judaizers who were preaching a message which differed from the Gospel which Paul preached. Paul comes down very hard on these false teachers and preachers.

Perhaps the preacher will want to limit himself either to verses 1-5 or verses 6-10. In any case he ought to read Luther's exegesis of these verses written in 1535. This commentary ought always be consulted when one teaches or preaches from Galatians.

Galatians 1:1 Paul, an apostle -- sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead --

It is clear from this Epistle that the Galatian converts had been told by false teachers that Paul was an inferior apostle, not on a par with Peter, James, and John. Paul attacks that false idea immediately.

Commentators differ among themselves as to why Paul says "sent not from men nor by man," first using the plural "men" and then the singular "man." What these differences have in common is that Paul is most emphatically denying that his apostleship is derived from and originates with mere man. It came to him only through Jesus Christ and God the Father. Jesus revealed Himself and the Word to Paul on the road to Damascus. Not even Peter or the other Apostles taught Paul about Jesus Christ.

"But" means "but quite to the contrary." "And" puts Jesus and God the Father on the same level. Paul received his apostleship equally from Jesus and the Father. And the first part of the verse makes it very clear that Jesus Christ is more than mere man. Therefore there are two proofs of the divinity of Jesus in this verse.

Note that the resurrection from the dead is placed prominently forward in this epistle. Sooner of later every faithful preacher of the Word is attacked as an inferior preacher. At such time his conviction about his call is very important. He is not an apostle. But because of his call and his use of the apostolic Word he can speak just as did Paul. Let no one downgrade your call into the ministry. If they do so they do so to their own detriment.

Luther: This doctrine has as its purpose that every minister of the Word of God should be sure of his calling. In the sight of both God and man he should boldly glory that he preaches the Gospel as one who has been called and sent. God calls in two ways, either by means or without means. Today He calls all of us into the ministry of the Word by a mediated call, that is, one that come through means, namely, through man. But the apostles were called immediately by Christ Himself, as the prophets in the Old Testament had been called by God Himself. The people need to be assured of our calling. At the very outset Paul explodes with the entire issue he intends to se forth in this epistle. He refers to the resurrection of Christ, who rose again for our justification, Romans 4:35. Christ, whom God the Father raised from the dead, is the Victor over our enemies, and He is our righteousness.

Luther rightly saw the article of justification in this first verse. With reference to verse 1 he says: "Paul's purpose in this epistle is to discuss and to defend the righteousness that comes by faith, and to refute the Law and the righteousness that comes by works.

Galatians 1:2 and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia:

These brothers are not identified. Were they co-workers or members of Galatian congregations who had come to report the Galatian situation to Paul? We know not. They could hardly have been joint writers. There must have been quite a group. But, in any case, the point is clear. Other Christians agree with Paul as to his office, his greetings, and his admonitions. Unanimity, not number, is indicated. The Holy Spirit, an apostle, and the "brothers" concur.

"To the churches of Galatia." The argument as to whether south Galatian or north Galatian congregations is meant is not a matter of doctrine. Most authorities today hold that south Galatian congregations are meant and this is the most plausible view.

Galatians 1:3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

Note there is not verb in this verse. In fact there is no verb in the indicative mood in verses 1-5.

Bruce: "Grace and peace" is characteristically Pauline; both have their full Christian force. Grace is God's unconditioned good will towards mankind, which is decisively expressed in the saving work of Christ, compare verses 6 and 2:21; peace is the state of life -- peace with God, Romans 5:1, and peace with one another, Ephesians 2:14-18 -- enjoyed by those who have effectively experienced the divine grace, compare 5:22; 6:16.
Luther: These two words, "grace" and "peace," contain a summary of all Christianity. Grace contains the forgiveness of sins, a joyful peace, and a quiet conscience. But peace is impossible unless sin has first been forgiven, for the Law accuses and terrifies the conscience on account of sin. Your bones and mine will know no rest until we hear the Word of grace and cling to it firmly and faithfully. He wishes them a heavenly peace. So Christ says: :"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you," John 14:27.

In his exposition of this verse at the beginning Luther remarks: "For if we lose the doctrine of justification, we lost simply everything.

To the question, "Why does Paul link Jesus Christ with the Father?" Luther replies:

True Christian theology, as I often warn you, does not present God to us in His majesty, as Moses and the other teachings do, but Christ born of the Virgin as our Mediator and High Priest. Therefore when we are embattled against the Law, sin, and death in the presence of God, nothing is more dangerous than to stray into heaven with idle speculations, there to investigate God in His incomprehensible power, wisdom, and majesty, to ask how He created the world and how He governs it.

Luther points out that the pope, the Turks and Jews, and all the sectarians pay no attention to the rule that God can be approached only through Jesus Christ.

Luther: This is why Paul makes such a frequent practice of linking Jesus Christ with God the Father, to teach us what is the true Christian religion. It does not begin at the top, as all other religions do; it begins at the bottom. It bids us climb Jacob's ladder; God Himself leans on it, and its feet touch the earth, right by Jacob's head, Genesis 28:12.

He makes another remark that is worth quoting.

The true deity of Christ is proved by this conclusion: Paul attributes to Him the ability to grant the very same things the Father does -- grace, peace of conscience, the forgiveness of sins, life, and victory over sin, death, the devil, and hell. This would be illegitimate, in fact sacrilegious, if Christ were not true God.

Well said. As in verse 1 the "and" equates Father and Son as to their essence. We cannot call God "Our Father" unless we approach Him through Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

The use of the verbs here make it abundantly clear that Jesus gave Himself willingly. No one forced Him to die.

"For our sins" means for the forgiveness of our sins, to atone for our sins. Look at 1 Timothy 2:6. Forgiveness of sins is God's greatest gift to us. Look at Hebrews 10:14-18; Psalm 103:3; Psalm 51:1; Romans 6:23; John 20:22-23.

"Our" indicates that we are responsible for our sins. This pronoun does not limit the atonement to believers but is evidently meant to assure them of forgiveness.

Luther: If our sins can be removed by our own satisfactions, why did the Son of God have to be given for them? But sins He was given for them, it follows that we cannot remove them by works of our own. Sin is a very cruel and powerful tyrant over all men throughout the world, a tyrant who cannot be overthrown and expelled by the power of any creatures, whether angels of men, but only by the infinite and sovereign power of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was given for it.

On the pronoun "our" Luther remarks:

Learn this definition carefully. Especially practice this pronoun "our" in such a way that this syllable, once believed, may swallow up and absorb all our sins, that is, that you may be certain that Christ has taken away not only the sins of some men but your sins and those of the whole world.

Phillips translates: "Who according to the Father's Plan gave Himself for our sins and thereby rescued us from the present evil world order. This is the only place in which Paul uses a form of "rescue." It is a very strong word, and the verb here denotes an accomplished fact. "Us" indicates believers but is not limited to them. It does not limit but comforts. The deliverance of all men from sin and its power is an accomplished fact just as much as is the fact that Christ gave Himself.

"Age" denotes not only time, but also the character of the age. Two characteristics are noted. It is temporary for Paul calls it "present." Secondly, it is "evil," which denotes an active evil. Look at Ephesians 2:1-3; Acts 2:40; Ephesians 5:16; 1 John 5:19.

Luther: Therefore Paul is correct in calling it the evil world; for when it is at its best, then it is at its worst. The world is at its best in men who are religious, wise, and learned; yet in them it is actually evil twice over. I shall not even speak of the crude vices with which the world is filled, such as adultery, prostitution, covetousness, stealing, murder, slander, and other filth. These are minor compared with the other vices. This white devil, who transforms himself into an angel of light, 2 Corinthians 11:14 -- he is the real devil. The world, with all its wisdom, righteousness, and power, is the devil's kingdom, out of which only God is able to deliver us by His only Son.

In our time we see the active wickedness of the world so plainly: wickedness in high places, broken homes, abortion, arrogance, rebellion. The list is well nigh endless. But, when Christ gave Himself for my sins, He delivered me from this present age which is characterized by wickedness. This is Gospel and needs to be stressed.

Bruce: The deliverance of which Paul speaks is not of the material world but from the evil which dominates it.

Christians flounder and are confused because of this wickedness and because of their own sinfulness. They come to church to be assured that long ago Jesus delivered them from this present wicked age.

The last part of the verse goes back at least to the beginning of verse 4, if not to verse 3. Grace, peace, the forgiveness of my sins, my deliverance from this wicked age, all of this is willed by God. And what kind of God do I have? In this text wherever "God" is mentioned, verses 1, 3, 4, He is also called "Father." In verse 1 He is called the Father of Jesus. In verses 3 and 4 He is called "our" Father. That can be said only because Jesus is our Mediator. Only the believer in Jesus can truly say: "Our Father who art in heaven."

The word "our" is genitive of relation. My heavenly Father is closer to me than my earthly father. Read Hebrews 12:4-11 on this relationship.

Even Christians, because of their sinful flesh, are often suspicious that God the Father does not really love them. This passage of Gospel should be stressed to banish such suspicions and doubts. Christians need a lot of encouragement.

Luther: As we have warned you before, there is no hope that any saving knowledge of God can come by speculating about the majesty of God; this can come only by taking hold of Christ, who, by the will of the Father, has given Himself into death for our sins. When you have grasped this, then all wrath stops, and fear and trembling disappear; and God appears as nothing but the merciful One who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, Romans 8:32.

Galatians 1:5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

"Whom" is the Father. The meaning of the word "glory" must always be determined by the context. Here it means "credit." It is like in the well-known sentence: "Soli Deo Gloria." What do we mean by that sentence? "To God alone goes all the credit." This thought is found twelve times in the New Testament. Note Romans 16:27. There you will find the twelve references. In each case God is given the credit. In our verse God is given all the credit for grace, peace, Jesus' willing self-sacrifice whereby He rescued us from this present wicked age. Synergism has no place here. All boasting of man about himself must go. All uncertainty about our salvation vanishes.

And note that this credit, praise, and thanksgiving which is due the Father will remain in all eternity. That makes my salvation sure and certain. What I need more than anything is the assurance of the forgiveness of my sins and that God is my Father forever and ever.

And Paul seals this thought with the word "Amen" which means "verily, it is so."

Bruce: Like the doxologies appended to the first four books of the Old Testament psalter, Psalms 41:13; 72:19; 89:52; 106:48, the New Testament doxologies regularly end with "amen."

If these five verses are preached correctly, joy will fill the hearts of the hearers even though they may not give evidence thereof with audible "Amens."

Galatians 1:6 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 --

Bruce: In most of Paul's letters the introductory salutation is followed by words of thanksgiving to God for some feature of the recipient's life or faith. Galatians is the solitary exception; it plunges at once into words of remonstrance. . . . The most probable account of the omission of any thanksgiving here is that Paul is impelled by a sense of overmastering urgency to come straight to the point. Evidently he had just received the news of his Galatian converts' abandonment of the Gospel of free grace which he had preached to them, and he reacts to that news on the spot.
Luther: Paul does not attack them with harsh and stern words; he speaks paternally, not only bearing their fall with patience but even excusing it somewhat. He also shows maternal affection toward them; he speaks gently to them, and yet in such a way that he scolds them, though with words that are very appropriate to the purpose. Toward their betrayers, by contrast, he is extremely violent and indignant.

Paul is almost saying: "I just can't believe that, etc." He is utterly perplexed at the fickleness of the Galatians. This is a common experience among Christians. Sometimes parents are perplexed by the fickleness of their children, and vice versa. Pastors grieve over the sudden changes in their parishioners.

Luther considered the verb "are so quickly turning" a passive voice: "You are removed." Perhaps Luther was influenced by the Vulgate which reads "transferemini." The Latin has no middle voice, only the passive. Thus Luther wrote:

It is as though he were saying: "You are completely passive; for you have not done any harm, but you have suffered harm."

And that is why Luther says:

We should show that toward those poor disciples who have been led astray we feel as parents feel toward their children, so that they may see our paternal zeal and maternal feelings toward them and may see that we seek their salvation. So weak and miserable is this present life, and so beset are we by the snares of Satan, that one fanatic can often destroy and completely undo in a short time what it took faithful ministers the hard labor of many years day and night to build up. We are learning this by bitter experience today, and yet there is nothing we can do about it.

It is interesting to note that Bruce considers this verb passive. It makes some difference. Luther felt that the Galatians had been completely duped. Those who consider the verb middle voice fell that the Galatian Christians realized what was going on.

Luther quotes 1 Corinthians10:12 here: "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."

Note that in the Greek text the word "Christ" is bracketed, which means that the editors are reluctant to commit themselves as to whether the word is textual or not. In any case it is interesting to note that Luther plainly used the Greek at this point:

Luther: This passage is rather ambiguous. Therefore it is capable of two interpretations. The first is "from that Christ who called you in grace." The second is "from Him, that is, from God, who has called you in the grace of Christ. I prefer the former.

"Who called you" eliminates any and all forms of synergism. To make sure that is understood Paul adds the words "in Christ," a dative of manner or means. Grace eliminates all works or worthiness of man. Man cannot by his own reason or strength call himself into the Kingdom of God.

That Paul is not thinking of conversion apart from the means of grace is clear from the latter part of the verse. The Gospel had been used to call the Galatians into the Kingdom of God. Judaizers were now preaching a different message.

Commentators ask whether "so soon" denotes time since conversion or since these people had last heard Paul. The point is that constructive work can be vitiated quickly by destructive work.

The call is by grace.

Luther: It brings with it every benefit, both spiritual and physical, namely, the forgiveness of sins, peace of heart, and eternal life. It also brings right and sound judgment about everything. It approves and supports civil government, the home, and every way of life that has been ordained and established by God. It eradicates all doctrines of error, sin, death, sedition, confusion, etc. In short, it uncovers all the works of the devil and opens to us the works of God. What madness is the world up to when it so bitterly hates this Word, this Gospel of eternal comfort, grace, salvation, and eternal life, and when it blasphemes and persecutes it with such satanic rage?

Departure from the Gospel leads to madness and confusion. Note that in verse 15 Paul says the same of himself as he says of the Galatians in verse 6.

Luther: In the spiritual area, where Satan emerges not black but white, in the guise of an angel or even of God Himself, there he puts himself forward with very sly pretense and amazing tricks. He peddles his deadly poison as the doctrine of grace, the Word of God, and the Gospel of Christ. This is why Paul calls the doctrine of the false apostles and ministers of Satan a "gospel," saying, "to a different gospel." But he is speaking ironically, as though he were saying: "Now you Galatians have different evangelists and a different gospel. You despise my Gospel now, and it has lost your respect." Therefore let us learn that this is one of the devil's specialities: If he cannot do his damage by persecuting and destroying, he will do it under the guise of correcting and edifying.

Galatians 1:7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

7a explains 6b. There really is no other Gospel. The false teachers were turning the Galatians upside down. But they could not actually pervert the Gospel. A false teacher can confuse people but he cannot actually pervert the Gospel.

Luther: Today the papists and the sectarians hate us violently and condemn us; and we, in turn, detest and condemn their impious and blasphemous doctrine with great hatred. Meanwhile the poor common people are confused. They waver back and froth, wondering and doubting which side to take or whom it is safe to follow. For it is not give to everyone to make Christian judgment about such important issues.

Very true.

Galatians 1:8 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!

Compare verses 8 and 9. In verse 8 we find "even if we should, etc." In verse 9 we find "If anyone does." Verse 8 denotes an improbable if not incredible suggestion, whereas verse 9 denotes a likely situation.

"We" denotes Paul and other apostles, or Paul and his helpers.

"Angel" could be translated "heavenly angel." It is unthinkable that a heavenly angel would preach a Gospel different from what Paul preached. The point is that the preaching of the Gospel dare never differ from what Scripture teaches as Gospel.

Galatians 1:9 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!

"Another" or "other" means "contrary to" or "along side of," in the sense of "parallel to." False teaching always tries to lie next to the true teaching and tries to attract attention to itself as a viable alternative or perhaps even as a preferable alternative.

The expression "anathema sit" (Latin) found so frequently in the Decrees of the Council of Trent is taken from these verses. Is Paul actually pronouncing God's curse on such a person? Yes he is. A person who teaches a false gospel is leading people to damnation rather than to eternal life. God's curse plainly rests on such a person.

The Book of Concord quotes verse 8 six times. We summarize the six references: We must obey when bishops teach rightly. We must disobey when bishops teach wrongly. Only the Word of God establishes articles of faith. Acts 5:29 and Matthew 7:15 contain parallel thoughts.

Luther comments on verse 9:

In this way the ministers of Satan invade, and insinuate themselves into the minds of men by promising that they will bring something better. They admit that those who taught the Gospel before them made a good start, but they say that this is not enough.

Galatians 1:10 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.

A true preacher of the Gospel pleases God by persuading people. He pleases God by passing on to people what God wants him to preach. He persuades people to change their minds from unbelief to faith in Christ.

In this verse Paul asks two rhetorical questions, questions which the listeners can answer themselves. To the first question Paul expected them to answer: "You are persuading people, not God. You are trying to regain fallen Christians, not trying to persuade God of something new." To the second question Paul expected them to answer: "You are not endeavoring to please people." That is clear from the contrary-to-fact conditional sentence at the end of verse 10: "If I were still pleasing men, I would not be a slave of Christ."

Is Paul referring to his unconverted state or to the present situation? Very likely the latter. Before Paul became a Christians he did not try to persuade or please people. He persecuted Christians. Evidently Paul is implying here that the false teachers were maintaining that Paul was out to please people. He was teaching salvation by grace without works in order to please people. Verse 11 implies that the false teachers were accusing Paul of teaching a gospel that is merely of human origin. At the end of verse 10 Paul is saying: "I am not merely trying to please people. I am a slave of Christ." This verse implies that Jesus is true God. To be a slave of Christ is to have no will of one's own.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 8-13. Used with permission.

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