Galatians is an epistle that defends, defines and demonstrates in life, God’s one gospel in Christ Jesus. The book can be divided into three movements of thought in its six chapters. These movements concern the faith of the true gospel.
Chapters 1 - 2
A QUESTION OF AUTHORITY
Origin: Is the gospel human or divine?
Central question: Whom do we believe?
Chapters 3 - 4
A QUESTION OF SALVATION
Terms: Is the gospel what God does for man or what man does for God; or a bit of both?
Central question: What do we believe?
Chapters 5 - 6
A QUESTION OF LIFESTYLE
Principle of Living: Is the gospel outward rules or inward reality that changes us?
Central question: How do we live?
In this first of several studies we want to begin with the source of the Christian gospel. Is it of God or of man? The answer has tremendous implications on society as well as the Christian faith. Our method of study is to consider the broad highlights of each chapter as they relate to the major thought of the question. A Bible opened at Galatians to read every verse as we go along would be invaluable in this study.
Chapter 1. Is the gospel human or divine? Central question: Whom do we believe?
The Opening Statement, 1. 1-5
1. 1-2. First, the writer’s authority is established. For who is Paul to question anything just because it’s different? Paul states his apostleship (i.e., a delegated messenger sent with an official message) came by the authority of the risen ‘Jesus Christ, and God the Father’, not man. If Paul’s message is the wrong one then so is the One who gave it to Him, Christ. If the Lord Jesus is wrong, what does that say about God ‘who raised him from the dead’? 1. 3-5. Secondly, Jesus Christ’s apostle deals with the nature and issues of God’s gospel. The gospel does not proclaim a message of earthly health, politics, or finance. It does proclaim higher matters such as redemption, ‘who gave himself for our sins’; rescue, ‘that he might deliver us from this present evil world’; and rightful honour, ‘to whom be glory for ever’.
The Problem, vv. 6-10
1. 6. The Galatian Christians were seduced in being ‘removed from him … unto another gospel (a way of becoming right with God)’. This other gospel did not deny Jesus as Lord and Messiah, nor that Christ died and rose again. It simply added requirements that men must observe besides trust in Christ to fully secure their salvation, see Gal. 3. 3; 5. 3; Acts 15. 1-6. 1. 7-10. Only the gospel ‘ye have received’ is valid states Christ’s chosen apostle. Thus all ‘gospels’ (messages claiming to be God’s good news for men) must be measured by the primitive one – the one originally preached by the chosen apostles. We must not judge the message by the messenger though he be angelic, polite, moral, famous, charismatic or powerful but we must judge the messenger by the message – the original gospel. Messengers with another gospel are ‘accursed’.
The Claim, vv. 11-12
1. 11-12. The gospel Paul preached not only came from Jesus Christ – but was directly from Him. There were no human go-betweens from whom he learned it, filtered by their reasoning. He received it by divine revelation; supernaturally communicated by God Himself.
The Proof, v. 13 to 2. 21
The apostle will now demonstrate by his experience that he didn’t receive this gospel from man – even good religious men. He will use a method the some have referred to as using ‘alibis’. An alibi can prove that something isn’t true because one wasn’t there to do it, or when one was there, it was not possible to be doing what is alleged. The apostle now presents seven alibis to prove that, ’the gospel which was preached of me is not after man’. If this is true then the apostle’s gospel is the only message of salvation from God and therefore to be received as unchanging and binding for all nations and times.
Alibi 1. 1. 13-14. Paul’s past religious training and service was different than the gospel he now preached. The ‘Jews’ religion’ rejected Jesus as the Christ and risen Lord. Salvation by grace alone, apart from fulfilling all the requirements of the law, was not their religious tradition or culture. Paul himself, as a zealous Jewish leader, had believed in ‘the traditions of my fathers’ and therefore ‘persecuted the church of God and wasted it’. What he now preached was radically different than his past. Thus he didn’t get this gospel from his religious upbringing nor inherit it from his parents.
Alibi 2. 1. 15-16. When the Lord called Paul, He did it by grace, not based on Paul’s personal merits, for though he was zealous in religious rituals he detested Christians. God personally revealed His Son in Paul. When Paul had the revelation of the Lord Jesus and His saving grace, he says, ‘immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood’. He did not check it out or get it interpreted by man. He had truth from God and knew it. So the gospel he had God had given to him one hundred percent.
Alibi 3. 1. 17. ‘Neither’, Paul adds, ‘went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus’. Jerusalem at this time was the home of the other Christian apostles and the first Christians. There the church had started on the day of Pentecost. Yet Paul did not go to them for approval but went into isolation in Arabia. A church council of Christians with Paul as a participant did not formulate his gospel.
Alibi 4. 1. 18-20. Furthermore, Paul adds, it would be three more years after his stay in Arabia that he would go to Jerusalem and even then he saw only two of the other apostles – and for a very short period. ‘Fifteen days’ with Peter was hardly enough time to be taught by man. Thus he didn’t receive his gospel at a ‘seminary’ under those who were in Christ before him.
Alibi 5. 1. 21-24. Paul then left Jerusalem and the surrounding area of Judaea without visiting the churches there. He headed for the Gentile areas of Syria and Cilicia. Paul was ‘unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea’. They had only heard about his conversion ‘and glorified God in me’, he said. Therefore, he did not get this gospel from a mother church. The church did not give us the gospel (Bible) but Christ gave it to the church through the apostles.
Alibi 6. 2. 1-10. It would be fourteen more years before Paul went to Jerusalem. But he did not go as a student to learn but as a teacher to communicate, ‘I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles’. When he was with the other apostles he was an equal on the basis of having direct commission from the Lord Jesus; not as their disciple. When the other apostles heard Paul’s gospel they gave him ‘the right hands of fellowship’, for it was the same gospel as the Lord had given them. They didn’t add to the gospel Paul preached for it wasn’t lacking anything. The only thing different was Paul’s audience; he was called to go to the Gentiles. The one problem in Jerusalem came not from the apostles but from ‘false brethren’. They tried to force the Gentile Titus, who came with Paul, to be circumcised; thus adding an additional requirement for salvation besides faith in Christ. Paul did not submit for one moment or for the sake of peace to this request, ‘no, not for an hour’. Why not? ‘That the truth of the gospel might continue with you’. Paul would make concessions to weak brethren but not to ‘false’ brethren, Rom. 14.
Alibi 7. 2. 11-14. Finally, Christ’s apostle brings up a confrontation that happened with Peter, the leading apostle at the church in Gentile Antioch. Paul withstood this ‘pillar’ apostle, ‘of reputation’ and ‘to the face’ and ‘before them all’. Why was he so bold as to do this? ‘Because he was to be blamed’, that was the reason. This is the type of confrontation today’s churches seek to avoid at all cost – mostly in the name of love. Peter’s talk had not changed but his walk, that is those with whom he associated, had changed. He had eaten with uncircumcised believers in the past; knowing they were God’s children by faith alone in Christ, see Acts 15. 8-11. But the big fisherman himself was showing that he could be subject to peer pressure. He feared some, who believed that the Law of Moses needed also to be kept in order for God to accept them. These men came from James and so Peter withdrew from eating with these true Gentile believers, where previously he had been quite happy to do so. Peter’s action conveyed that they might not be fully saved – and others followed him. His walk, not his talk, preached ‘another gospel’. By this bold confrontation with a ‘pillar of the established leadership’, Paul courageously demonstrated that the revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ is above any church-based status of authority or movement that might be popular in numbers or names.
To be continued.