The opening word “Paul” leaves no doubt about sender’s identity. In style and subject matter, the letter to the Galatians reflects the apostle’s style in his other letters.
The Roman name “Paul,” meaning “little,” may have been his name from childhood. It was common for Jews in the first century CE to have both a Hebrew name and a Greek or Roman name. The Jewish name “Saul” had the proud distinction of having been the name of Israel’s first king, also of the tribe of Benjamin. Instead of using the name “Saul,” however, the apostle may have chosen to use his Roman name in view of his ministry to the non-Jews, identifying himself with them.
“Apostle” designates one who is sent forth and is in the service of the sender. The Greek word apóstolos is drawn from the verb apostéllo, meaning “to send forth” or “to dispatch.” Ancient Greek historians employed the term apóstolos to denote “messenger,” “ambassador,” or “envoy.” The sole occurrence of the term in the Septuagint is at 1 Kings [3 Kings] 14:6 in the text of Codex Alexandrinus of the fifth century CE. It there applies to the prophet Ahijah as a messenger of God.
Paul’s apostleship was not of human origin. His detractors, who were subverting the faith of the Galatians, evidently implied that his rank was lower than that of the apostles who had walked with Jesus Christ and had been chosen by him. When undermining Paul’s authority, these opponents may have represented him as being merely an apostle of the Antioch congregation — one who did not meet the qualification of having assembled with the other disciples from the time of Jesus’ baptism by John until the day of the ascension. (Acts 1:21, 22; 13:1, 2) Because the faith of the Galatians had been adversely affected, Paul emphasized that his apostleship was “not from men,” or by their appointment, “nor through a man,” that is, through the agency of any man. While God-fearing Ananias baptized Paul, he was not the agent through whom Paul received an apostleship. Paul had already been chosen, for the Lord Jesus Christ revealed this to Ananias when sending him to meet the former persecutor. (Acts 9:15, 16)
To introduce the true source of his apostleship, Paul used allá (“but”), a strong indicator of contrast. His appointment came “through Jesus Christ,” God’s Son, and the head of the Christian congregation. The resurrected, glorified Son of God revealed himself to Paul on the road to Damascus. Therefore, Paul was not a second-rate apostle, merely one sent out by the Antioch congregation. He was commissioned to be an apostle by the risen Lord, the one to whom “all authority in heaven and on earth” had been granted. (Matthew 28:18; Acts 9:3-6, 10-16; 22:12-16; 26:13-20)
Furthermore, the apostleship was through “God the Father,” the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and of all who are his children by reason of their faith in his Son. The relationship of the Son to the Father is that of perfect oneness. (John 17:20-22) Consequently, Paul rightly spoke of his assignment to an apostleship as also coming through God. The Father is the One who “raised [Christ] from the dead,” confirming Jesus Christ’s sonship. (Romans 1:4)
By referring to “all the brothers” or the believers then with him, Paul showed that he was not alone in advocating the truth set forth in this letter. The brothers with him were in agreement with his words, adding persuasive power to what he was about to write. Nevertheless, in not mentioning any of them by name, the apostle may have been indicating that he was not dependent on certain ones to establish the correctness of his position. The truth of what he proclaimed was shared in common by all genuine disciples of Jesus Christ.
Paul directed his letter “to the congregations of Galatia.” The Greek word ekklesía denotes an “assembly,” a “gathering of people,” or a “congregation.” Groups of Christians were to be found in various parts of Galatia, a region in the central part of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe were among the cities in the Roman province of Galatia where Paul had proclaimed the glad tidings about Jesus Christ. Likely only one copy of the letter was sent, with the intent that it be shared with the various groups of believers in Galatia. (Compare Colossians 4:16.)
The prayerful words “favor [cháris] to you” expressed Paul’s earnest desire for the Galatian Christians to continue enjoying the grace, favor, or kindness of the Father and his Son. This would indicate divine blessing, help, guidance, and protection. Everything received from the Father and his Son is really a favor or a kindness — something unearned or unmerited. By reason of human sinfulness, no one is entitled to any of the gifts that the Most High showers abundantly on all, even to the point of permitting the wicked to benefit from the sunshine and the rain. (Matthew 5:44, 45)
A Christian’s enjoyment of an approved standing before the Father and his Son is a favor. This is extended to all who have faith in the atoning value of Jesus’ shed blood. No one work, or a whole lifetime of works, could secure divine approval. In his kindness, however, the Father regards persons as righteous by reason of their faith or complete trust in him, his arrangement for salvation through his Son, and his “word,” the revelation of his will and purpose. Furthermore, the help he gives to safeguard believers for eternal life is a marvelous expression of his favor. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
Paul also wanted the Galatians to enjoy “peace” (eiréne). For believers to have peace involves more than an absence of conflict. Peace is an inner sense of security, a calmness of mind and heart that results from absolute confidence in God’s love and care for his children and the never-failing aid that is available through his spirit. (Compare John 14:26, 27.) Because sin interferes with a person’s having an approved standing before his Creator, God’s forgiveness of sin on the basis of Jesus’ shed blood is essential for the enjoyment of peace. (1 John 2:1, 2; 3:19–21) This peace, or sense of well-being from recognizing the deep love and concern the Father and his Son have for them, enables Christians to resist yielding to the desires of the sinful flesh and allowing themselves to be consumed by worry about daily needs. (Matthew 6:25–34; Luke 21:34–36; Philippians 4:6, 7)
The apostle identified the favor and peace as coming “from God our Father,” indicating that the Galatians were children of God. The interaction of God’s word and spirit on the Galatians had effected a real change in their lives. Liberated from sin by reason of their faith in Jesus Christ, the Galatians had become God’s free children. The godly manner in which they conducted themselves gave evidence that they were sons of God. Intense love for fellow believers in attitude, word and action confirmed that they had indeed experienced the new birth. (Compare John 8:31–44; 1 John 3:8–17.)
“Favor” or kindness and peace also come from “our Lord Jesus Christ.” Believers acknowledge him as their “Lord,” Master, or Owner because he purchased them with his own precious blood and is their Head, Bridegroom, and King. (1 Corinthians 7:23; Ephesians 1:22, 23; 5:22–24; Colossians 1:13, 18–20; 2 Peter 2:1; Jude 4) The Lordship of Jesus Christ is superior to that of all men who have been called “lord.” He is the “Lord of lords” whose authority extends over the angels and all humans, both living and dead. (Philippians 2:9–11; Revelation19:16)
Note: The reading “from God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ” has the support of certain ancient manuscripts, including the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. It also appears elsewhere in Paul’s letters. (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Philem. 3) The preponderance of manuscript evidence, though, attests the reading “from God [the] Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” This includes P46 (from about 200), fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, and the Majority text (represented primarily by Byzantine manuscripts). Since the usual reading in other letters of Paul is “from God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ,” it appears likely that copyists inadvertently wrote the more familiar form instead of “from God [the] Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jesus Christ “gave himself for our sins,” surrendering his life willingly, not because of feeling compelled to do so by his Father. This voluntary act was an expression of Jesus’ superlative love for sinful mankind. (John 10:17, 18; 15:13; Philippians 2:5–8) When writing “our,” Paul was referring to believers, including himself, the brothers then with him, and the Christians in Galatia. The term “sin” (hamartía) is derived from the verb hamartáno, which in its basic sense means “to miss.” “Sin” is the missing or falling short of the mark of flawless uprightness in attitude, thought, word, and action. In giving “himself for sins,” Jesus Christ took upon himself such sins and the resulting penalty — death. Accordingly, he put himself in the place of sinners, dying sacrificially for their sins and thus making atonement. (Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 1:3; 9:26–28; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 2:2; 4:10)
Jesus’ giving himself “for our sins” made possible a marvelous deliverance. Paul continued, “so that he might rescue us out of the present wicked age.” By accepting, in faith, that Jesus Christ gave himself for their sins, believers are cleansed from such and cease to belong to the present “age” (aión) that is characterized by badness and, therefore, divinely disapproved. It is an age that mirrors the spirit of its god, Satan, for the prevailing standards and practices are contrary to God’s will. (Ephesians 2:1–7) As persons delivered from or “taken out” of the present wicked age and so no longer under divine condemnation, believers belong to a different age, the age to come, an age characterized by righteousness.
The words “according to the will of our God and Father” may be directly linked to what Paul said about the rescue from the “present wicked age.” It is the “will” or desire of the God and Father of believers that humans cease to belong to the present wicked age and be freed from a state of alienation with him. He made the provision for redeeming the human race by sending his own Son to the earth to die sacrificially. (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:13–18) Paul’s words, “according to the will of our God and Father,” could also be understood to mean that, in keeping with the Father’s will, Jesus Christ made possible the deliverance from the “present wicked age” by giving himself “for our sins.” Whether viewed from the standpoint that Jesus Christ did his Father’s will or that the whole arrangement was an expression of the Father’s will, the sense is basically the same.
Because of having been reconciled to the Supreme Sovereign of the universe on the basis of Christ’s shed blood, believers can address him as their God and Father. This is the same manner in which Jesus Christ referred to the One who had raised him from the dead. (John 20:17)
Various ancient manuscripts, including fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, a corrector’s change in fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, and P51 (from about 400), read hypér (“for,” “on behalf of,” “for the sake of,” “because of”) “our sins.” The original reading of Codex Sinaiticus, however, is perí (“concerning,” “with reference to,” “because of,” “on behalf of”). It is also the word found in many other manuscripts, including P46 (from about 200) and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. Since hypér and perí are very similar in meaning, it makes little difference in translation as to which word is the original one.
Manuscripts vary in the word order, the readings being “age of the present wicked” and “present age wicked.” This, however, does not affect the meaning of the expression and so has no bearing on translating the words.
With reference to “our God and Father,” Paul made the prayerful expression, “to whom the glory into the ages of the ages. Amen.” Although there is no verb in the Greek, the Latin Vulgate reads, “is glory,” indicating that “glory,” magnificence, grandeur, or splendor belongs to God for all time to come. Many modern translations, though, represent Paul’s prayer to be that glory or praise be ascribed to God for all eternity.
The apostle deeply appreciated what the Father did in redeeming humans. This appears to have prompted his prayerful expression that the Father be recognized throughout the ages to come — age upon age — as the glorious One deserving to be glorified or praised. The term “Amen” commonly concludes prayers and means “surely,” “truly,” “so be it.”
“I am amazed that you are so quickly departing from the One who called you in [Christ’s] favor.” The Greek word thaumázo means “to wonder,” “to marvel,” or to “be astonished,” “amazed,” or “surprised.” In this case, the amazement is coupled with disbelief. To Paul, it seemed incredible that such a development had occurred. He was dumbfounded that the Galatians, who had eagerly embraced the evangel, were being swayed by teaching that conflicted with the truth. The word “quickly” (tachéos) could either refer to the short time in which this happened or to the fact that the Galatians acted hastily and without careful thought or deliberation.
“Depart” is a rendering of the Greek term metatíthemi, which may also be defined as “turn away,” “abandon,” “desert,” “transfer,” or “remove.” The Galatians were turning away from the One who had called or chosen them — the Father. He had opened their hearts to embrace the message of salvation and drew them to himself to be his children. (John 6:44; Acts 16:14; 1 Thessalonians 1:4, 5) Accordingly, in abandoning or deserting the One who had called them, the Galatians were making a radical shift in loyalty. Since the Greek word metatíthemi is in the present tense, Paul apparently perceived this turning away by the Galatians as being in progress and, hence, as not yet completed.
The calling was “in favor” (cháris). This denotes that the Galatians either were (1) chosen to be in a state of favor or (2) called in the realm of favor. The tenor of Paul’s letter suggests that the preference should be given to the second meaning (“in the realm of favor”), the choosing being an expression of “favor,” kindness, or grace. This calling did not result from any works the Galatians had performed. They did not have any special merit so that they should have been so highly privileged. Rather, the choosing was totally unearned. It was made possible through Christ. The sole basis for gaining an approved standing before the Father proved to be faith in the atoning value of Christ’s shed blood. Hence, Jesus Christ is really the embodiment of “favor,” kindness or grace. (John 1:16, 17)
In view of Christ’s being intimately associated with God’s calling “in favor,” Paul may have written “Christ’s favor.” Ancient manuscript support for this, however, is not conclusive.
Although having been chosen “in” the element of favor, the Galatians were transferring “into” (eis) another sphere, one to which favor was foreign. Paul refers to this as “another evangel.” The word “evangel” is the anglicized form of the Greek euangélion, meaning “gospel,” “good news,” “glad tidings.” This “other evangel” stressed the necessity of observing the Mosaic law in order to gain full divine approval. Thus, this “other evangel” nullified the vital truth that faith in Jesus Christ was the sole basis for coming to enjoy the dignified status of God’s sons and all the associated rights and privileges.
Note: Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus of the fourth century and Codex Alexandrinus of the fifth century support the reading “in favor of Christ,” as does the text of P51 (from about 400). While the text of P46 (from about 200) is not in a good state of preservation, the indications are that it says, “in favor,” with no reference to Christ. Three other variants found in ancient manuscripts are, “in favor of Jesus Christ,” “in favor of Christ Jesus,” and “in favor of God.”
As to this “other evangel,” Paul added, “which is not another.” The true evangel focuses on Jesus Christ. It is “good news” or “glad tidings” about him and what he accomplished. This other message was a corruption, a perversion, or a twisting of Christian truth. There was nothing good or gladdening about it.
Regarding what was actually happening, Paul continued, “except certain ones are unsettling you and want to change the evangel of Christ. ”
Although the apostle may have known the “certain ones,” he did not mention them by name. This may be because he did not want to give them any recognition. (Compare the case of the relative who selfishly refused to take Ruth as a wife and, therefore, is not dignified by having his name preserved in the Scriptural record [Ruth 4:1–6].)
The Greek word for “unsettle” (tarásso) may also be defined as “stir up,” “disturb,” “throw into confusion,” “disquiet,” “perplex,” or “upset.” By insisting that circumcision and obedience to the Mosaic law were essential for divine approval, “certain ones” disturbed the peace that the Galatians had enjoyed upon embracing the “glad tidings of Christ.” (Compare Acts 15:1, 2, 5, 24.) The fact that Paul used the present tense when speaking about the troublemakers suggests that they were still active in the Galatian congregations.
These “certain ones” wanted to “change” the “evangel.” The Greek word for “change” (metastrépho) basically means to “change from one state to another.” This, however, was not a change for the better. It was a corruption, a distortion, or a perversion of the “evangel of Christ” — the good news about him and his vital place in God’s purpose. By advocating circumcision and strict compliance with the Mosaic law, the troublemakers were drawing attention away from Jesus’ unique role. “Salvation is in no one else.” His is the only name “by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) The “certain ones” were distorting the truth that faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and as the one whom the Father resurrected from the dead was the all-essential requirement for being divinely approved. Their message emphasized human effort as the prime means to attain a righteous standing, whereas, in truth, it is the “work of God” and an expression of his kindness or favor.
Emphasizing the seriousness of any change in the evangel, the apostle said: “But even if we or an angel from heaven were to proclaim an evangel [to you] other than the evangel we proclaimed to you — cursed be he.”
Paul introduced his next statement with the words allá kaí (“but even”). As an indicator of strong contrast, allá serves to make a clear distinction between the “certain ones” and “we or an angel from heaven.” While kaí often means “and,” the context indicates that it here denotes “even.”
The “evangel” that Paul had declared while laboring in Galatia was the complete Christian message. It did not need any adjustments, or additions, but contained everything that was essential for being accounted as righteous from God’s standpoint. Hence, even if Paul or an angel were to proclaim a message that differed from the “glad tidings” that the apostle had declared to the Galatians, neither he nor such an angel should be given any attention. Because the term ángelos means “messenger,” the apostle added “from [ex, out of] heaven,” making it clear that he was referring to a heavenly messenger, an angel. The proclaimer of a different “good news” should come under a curse (anáthema, used in the Septuagint to denote something or someone “under divine ban” or “an accursed one or thing” [Lev. 27:28; Num. 21:3; Deut. 7:26; 13:16, 18; 20:17; Josh. 6:17, 18; 7:1, 11–13; 22:20; Zech. 14:11]). This would only be right, as such an “evangel” would be out of harmony with what Paul had received by direct revelation from the Father and his Son. (Although pará can mean “beyond” or “beside,” this expression here [as in verse 9] appears to have the sense of “other than,” “different from,” or “contrary to.”)
Since not even Paul nor an angel from the very heavens was to be believed in the event a different “evangel” was proclaimed by either one, the Galatians had even more reason to reject the teaching of those who were trying to tear down the apostle’s work — men whose credentials were far inferior to those of the apostle and an angel from heaven. The danger of listening to the supposed message of an angel when such contradicted a revelation from God is illustrated in the case of a prophet who lost his life because of doing so. (1 Kings 13:14–26)
Note: Manuscripts vary in their readings. The word “you” (hymín) does not appear in the original reading of the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus but was added by a corrector after the verb euangelízetai. Although the text is poorly preserved, P51 (from about 400) seems to have the word “you,” but it precedes the verb (as it does in the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus).
The apostle reemphasized the strong point he had made. “As we have said before, now, too, I say again, If someone proclaims to you an evangel other than the one you accepted — cursed be he.” The words “said before” could refer either to what Paul had earlier told the Galatians while laboring among them or what he had just stated in this letter. If referring to a previous occasion, the verb proeirékamen (“we have said before”) could be understood to mean what Paul and his associates had said to the Galatians. In view of Paul’s emphasis on his apostleship, however, it appears that the second person plural is an editorial “we,” agreeing with the “we” and corresponding plural verb in verse 8. Also, the apostle’s wonderment about developments among Galatian believers indicates that he, while with them, likely would not have used such strong language respecting another evangel. Therefore, his words about what had been said before probably relate to the similar statement previously made in this letter. Anyone attempting to proclaim a message that differed from the “glad tidings” that believers in Galatia had embraced was to be regarded as cursed by God, being under a sacred ban, or as one designated to be devoted to destruction.
Modern translations commonly render pará (par’), the preposition preceding hó parelábete (which you received, which you accepted) as “other than” or “different from.” In its basic sense, pará signifies “beside” and, therefore, Paul’s words have also been understood to mean a message that “goes beyond” the evangel (Wuest). Earlier, however, the apostle had specifically stated that the message being proclaimed by the troublemakers was not “another” evangel (that is, no glad tidings at all). So it appears that he was here referring to a proclamation of something that was “contrary to,” “different from,” or “other than” the true evangel rather than a mere addition thereto (1:7).
The original reading of the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus is, “I have said before” (proeíreka), not “we have said before” (proeirékamen). The first person singular form appears to have been a copyist’s error or a deliberate alteration made in view of the expression “I say” (légo) that follows.
The reading parelábete (literally “you received alongside”) is better attested than elábete (“you received”), found in P51 (from about 400). As both Greek words, in this case, signify “you accepted,” the variation has no bearing on translation.
“Now, indeed, am I trying to win over men or God?” The Greek term for “indeed” (gár) may also mean “in fact,” “certainly,” or “for.” Since Paul’s words are not presented as a reason for his previous statement, the apparent meaning of gár is “indeed.” The expression “win over” is one meaning for the Greek word peítho. Often this term has the sense of “persuade,” “conciliate,” or “convince.” In this context, however, the thought is that of “gaining approval or favorable recognition.”
If directly linked to Paul’s previous words, the question may be paraphrased as follows: “Does what I have just said sound as though I am trying to have men’s or God’s approval?” It may also be that Paul’s question served to answer the misrepresentation of the troublemakers, the Judaizers. They may have portrayed the apostle as advocating circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic law when it suited his purpose and not doing so when non-Jews would have responded unfavorably. Possibly, to back up their contention, the Judaizers may have pointed to Paul’s circumcising Timothy. (Acts 16:3) In view of the strong language the apostle had used regarding proponents of a different “good news,” however, there should have been no doubt in the minds of the Galatians that his primary concern was to have God’s approval, not that of men.
Building on the previous question, the apostle raised yet another one that focused on men. “Or am I seeking to please men?” The obvious answer to this rhetorical question is, No. Paul was not attempting to please or to curry the favor of men, sacrificing truth so as to make the “good news” more acceptable to them.
Summing up his reason for not seeking human approval, Paul said: “If I were still pleasing men, I would not be Christ’s slave.”
An inordinate desire to please men makes one a slave to them. All words and actions are evaluated in the light of what others may think or feel, be they right or wrong. The individual who seeks to please men must be on constant guard that he does not give offense for any reason but does and says whatever wins him favor despite his having serious reservations. Since being a disciple of Christ requires that the Son be accorded superior love and the kind of obedience commensurate with his position as Lord, clearly the person whose aim is to have the favor of men cannot be a slave of Christ. Such a person’s efforts to please men would constitute a denial of Christ’s Lordship. (Matthew 10:37; Luke 6:46) Accordingly, as Christ’s slave or as one in the service of his Master, Paul could not, at the same time, be trying to please men. As a fanatic adherent to Jewish traditions, he evidently had been concerned about pleasing men. Upon becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, however, this ceased to be the case. Though he had once pleased the unbelieving Jews by his way of life and his violent opposition to Christ’s disciples, he incurred their wrath as a believer. He definitely was not “still pleasing men” as he once did.
Note: The Majority text (primarily Byzantine manuscripts) reads, “for [gár] if I were still pleasing men.” The word gár, however, is missing in P46 (from about 200) and the fourth-century manuscripts Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, as well as other ancient manuscripts. Accordingly, “for” is missing from modern translations. The inclusion or omission of “for,” though, is really immaterial to the meaning of Paul’s words.
There was an aspect to which Paul desired the Galatians to give their attention. He introduced it with the words, “But I want you to know, brothers.” What Paul wanted the Galatians “to know,” to understand fully, or to be very clear on was the source of the “glad tidings” that he proclaimed. Even though they had permitted themselves to come under the baneful influence of false teachers, Paul did not treat them as enemies. He still called them his “brothers,” regarding them as fellow sons or children of God, and appealed to them on that basis.
The apostle continued, “the evangel which was proclaimed by me is not according to man.” In this case, the Greek term (euangelízo) for “proclaimed” or “preached” is a verb form of “evangel” and, therefore, means “preaching or proclaiming the good news.” The words “according to man” may be understood to mean “not of human origin” (NAB, NRSV, REB) or “not dependent on human authority.”
The opponents of Paul who were interfering with the spiritual growth of the Galatians by introducing a perversion of the “glad tidings” apparently tried to downgrade the apostle’s work. Judging from the language that Paul used in this letter, one may reasonably conclude that the false teachers (advocates of circumcision and observance of the Mosaic law for non-Jewish believers) made it appear that Paul was proclaiming a message that he received merely secondhand from the apostles who had been chosen by Jesus while he was on earth. The argument possibly was that Paul got his information from the apostles and elders of the Jerusalem congregation and, therefore, was dependent on them for support and backing. By claiming firsthand knowledge of what the apostles at Jerusalem believed, the Judaizers could speak with authority and their utterances would carry weight with the Galatians. Getting to the heart of the matter, Paul disavowed any human dependence or influence respecting the “glad tidings” that he proclaimed.
Note: There is considerable support for the reading dé (but), the second word in the Greek text (including P46 from about 200); certain other ancient manuscripts read gár (for).
Focusing on what could not be said about the evangel that he was proclaiming, the apostle continued, “for neither did I receive it from man nor was I taught [it].” It was not a matter of Paul’s receiving the whole deposit of Christian teaching from any man or any human source or agency. He was, therefore, not just passing on secondhand information, but he was able to speak with the kind of authority characteristic of one possessing firsthand testimony. Furthermore, Paul was not taught the evangel by any man or group of men. Therefore, he was not in a subordinate position to the apostles and elders of the Jerusalem congregation by reason of having learned the “good news” through a course of instruction that was conducted or authorized by any of them.
“But,” as Paul said respecting the source for what he proclaimed, the evangel was “through revelation of Jesus Christ.” In this case, “but” is a rendering of allá, a stronger indicator of contrast than the word dé, which also may be translated “but.” Like the apostles who were personally instructed by the Master, Paul received the “glad tidings” by “revelation” (apokálypsis, “uncovering,” “unveiling”) from Jesus Christ. The glorified Son of God appeared to him on the road leading to Damascus, and so the apostle could speak of having the evangel revealed, uncovered, or unveiled to him by Jesus Christ. Accordingly, Paul’s apostleship and teaching authority rested on the same solid basis as that of the “twelve.” The means by which the apostle had received the evangel was “through revelation,” and the source of that revelation was God’s Son, as indicated by the genitive construction, “revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Note: The reading oúte, “nor,” has superior manuscript support (including P46 from about 200) to that of oudé, “not even” (literally “not but”), “nor.”
Further establishing why he could not have received the evangel from a human source, Paul pointed to his previous manner of conduct as a zealous practicer of the Jewish religion. “For you have heard of my previous conduct in Judaism, that to an extreme I persecuted the congregation of God and devastated it.”
The apostle did not say from whom the Galatians had heard about his previous way of life. Perhaps the expression “you have heard” may be understood as meaning that what he had done was common knowledge and so could have been communicated to them by any of a number of believers. It is also possible that the apostle himself talked about his former life as a Pharisee, as he did when making his defense before Agrippa. Paul said: “My manner of life from youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem, is common knowledge among the Jews. They have known me for a long time and could testify, if they would, that I followed the strictest party in our religion and lived as a Pharisee” (Acts 26:4, 5, NJB). With unflagging zeal, he, as a Pharisee, directed his efforts against the “congregation of God,” the people who were the special property of the Most High. In referring to it as the “congregation of God,” Paul called attention to the seriousness of what he did. Engaged in a vicious campaign against those who belonged to the Almighty, he was a fighter against God.
The extent to which Paul relentlessly persecuted the “congregation of God” is described by the Greek expression kath’ hyperbolén, meaning “beyond measure,” “utterly,” “to an extreme,” or “to an excess.” In Greek, the verbs for “persecuted” (dióko) and “devastated” (porthéo) are in the imperfect tense, indicative of a continual action that was not completed in the past. Accordingly, Paul’s objective had been to continue persecuting disciples of God’s Son until the “congregation of God” was annihilated. Since the total annihilation, destruction, or devastation of the congregation did not occur, however, a number of translations render porthéo as “tried to destroy” (NAB, NIV, REB) or “was trying to destroy” (NRSV).
Paul’s record as a persecutor is preserved in the book of Acts. He approved of the murder of the Christian disciple Stephen. (Acts 7:58–8:1) Thereafter he dragged believing men and women from their homes and saw to it that they were imprisoned. (Acts 8:3) Not content with his efforts against the followers of Christ in Jerusalem, Paul obtained authorization from the chief priests to bring believing Jews from Damascus to Jerusalem for punishment. (Acts 9:1, 2, 14, 21; 22:4, 5) Regarding his course as a persecutor, Paul, in his defense before Agrippa, said: “I once thought it was my duty to use every means to oppose the name of Jesus the Nazarene. This I did in Jerusalem; I myself threw many of God’s holy people into prison, acting on authority from the chief priests, and when they were being sentenced to death I cast my vote against them. I often went round the synagogues inflicting penalties, trying in this way to force them to renounce their faith; my fury against them was so extreme that I even pursued them into foreign cities.” (Acts 26:9–11, NJB) In a hateful, arrogant manner, Paul fought against the “congregation of God.” (1 Timothy 1:13)
Paul’s reference to his past course provided additional proof that he could not possibly have received the evangel through any human agency. The great change from a rabid persecutor to a faithful, self-sacrificing disciple of Jesus Christ could not have been effected by any human persuasion.
Note: Instead of the usual epórthoun (“devastated”), two ninth-century manuscripts read epolémoun (“fought”).
Comparing himself to many others in his age group, Paul continued, “and I progressed in Judaism beyond many of the same age in my race, being much more zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” The Greek verb for “progress” or “advance” (prokópto) literally means “to strike before” or “to cut before” (pró, “before”; kópto, “cut”). Since this verb is in the imperfect tense, the thought is that Paul kept on or continued to make progress or advancement in Judaism. Among other young Jewish men of his age, Paul stood out prominently because of his fanatical devotion to the traditions to which the strictest sect of Judaism clung tenaciously. (Compare Matthew 15:1–6; Mark 7:6–13.)
It was not zeal for the law as set forth in the Scriptures that prompted Paul’s violent attacks on the disciples of Jesus Christ, but it was his superior regard for human traditions — the rules and regulations formulated by the religious leaders of Judaism and transmitted from generation to generation. From his perspective, the disciples of Jesus Christ lived a life that was contrary to these cherished traditions. All who did not recognize the inestimable value of these traditions and observe them were, in his estimation, deserving of death. Paul had become thoroughly imbued with the Pharisaical spirit. This was a process that had started at the very beginning of his life, for he was “a son of Pharisees.” (Acts 23:6) When older, Paul had Gamaliel, the most notable Pharisee in Jerusalem, as his teacher. (Acts 22:3) In later times it was said of this highly esteemed man: “When Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, the glory of the Law ceased and purity and abstinence died.” (Mishnah, Sotah, 9.15) Even though Gamaliel does not appear to have been an extremist, his reasonable attitude seemingly did not influence Paul. Instead, Paul evidently was further confirmed in his unrestrained zeal for defending traditions at all costs.
His dramatic encounter with the risen Lord Jesus Christ, however, produced a change in Paul that no human power could have accomplished. The apostle recognized this event as an expression of God’s kindness or favor, saying: “When, however, [it] pleased [God], who separated me from my mother’s womb and called [me] through his favor.…” Although Paul had been a fighter against Him, the Most High was “pleased” or “delighted” to act in harmony with his sovereign will respecting the vicious persecutor. Paul’s reference to being separated from his mother’s womb could mean that he attributed his life outside the womb to the One who made human birth possible — God. The Greek term for “separated” (aphorízo), however, may also be defined as “set apart,” and this appears to be the apostle’s meaning. By reason of divine providence, factors that influenced Paul’s life from birth, including his training and experiences, prepared him for the time when he was confronted by the Son of God. It was at a time when Paul was at his worst, while on a mission to harm Christ’s disciples in Damascus, that it “pleased” God to call the persecutor. This was indeed a call “through favor.”
Note: Since the words ho theós (“the God”) are missing in P46 (from about 200), the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, and other ancient manuscripts, there is a question as to whether they were in the original text. They are, however, found in the Majority text (mainly Byzantine manuscripts), the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus.
Paul attributed the revelation of the Son to the Father, saying, “to reveal his Son in me.” Since the expression “in me” could denote that Paul was the instrument that God used to reveal his Son to others, the Revised English Bible conveys this thought with an expanded rendering of the text — “in and through me.” The apostle’s focus, though, had been on the source of the “glad tidings” that he proclaimed, and so it is unlikely that he meant “through me.” It appears preferable to regard “in me” as signifying “within me.” In his inmost self, Paul experienced a full revelation of the Son, and this revelation produced a radical change in his life. (Compare Matthew 16:16, 17.)
Commenting on the purpose respecting God’s revealing of the Son, Paul continues, “so that I might proclaim him among the nations.” The Greek term for “proclaim” (euangelízo) is the verb form of the word “evangel” and, therefore, means to proclaim or to preach the glad tidings or good news. The evangel is about Jesus Christ. Accordingly, Paul’s preaching of the evangel was to be a proclaiming of “him” — who Jesus is, what he has accomplished, and his vital role in God’s purpose. The primary realm of the apostle’s labors was to be in the midst of or among the non-Jewish nations.
Paul’s undertaking the commission to proclaim the glad tidings concerning Jesus Christ to the non-Jews proved that his apostleship could not have been of any human origin. Even the apostle Peter had considered it defiling to enter a Gentile home and, by means of a vision, was helped to see that it was acceptable for him to declare the evangel to the Roman centurion Cornelius. (Acts 10:10–29) Far greater would have been the aversion of a strict Pharisee, such as Paul had been prior to his conversion. (Compare Acts 11:2, 3.) From a human standpoint, the choice of Paul as an apostle to the nations would have been inconceivable.
Continuing to emphasize that he had received the evangel through revelation and apart from any human agency, Paul added, “I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood.” The reference to “immediately” (euthéos) apparently is to be understood as pointing to what the apostle did not do upon receiving the “revelation of Jesus Christ.” Paul did not at once feel compelled to seek advice from any human — “flesh and blood.” In this context, the Greek term for “confer” (prosanatíthemai) is understood to denote “consult with” or “ask advice of.” It literally signifies “to put or place” something before another for consideration (prós, “toward”; aná, “up”; títhemi, “put” or “place”). While his detractors may have claimed that he received instruction from others, Paul stressed that he did not seek the guidance or advice of men about what he should do to carry out his commission.
He did not even consult the apostles. Paul said, “Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those [who were] apostles before me.” Jerusalem is located about 2,500 feet above sea level and, hence, it was common to speak about “going up” to the city.
Jesus Christ had specifically commanded the apostles to remain in Jerusalem until they received the holy spirit. For some years thereafter, they appear to have made the city their home. (Acts 1:4; 8:1; 15:4–6)
Since Paul had received the glad tidings by direct revelation, he did not immediately head for Jerusalem to consult with those who already were apostles. By referring to them as apostles “before” him, Paul ranked his apostleship with theirs. It was only a matter of their having been apostles for a longer period of time.
Instead of quickly going to Jerusalem, Paul wrote, “but [allá, an indicator of strong contrast] I went to Arabia and again returned to Damascus.” Although the term “Arabia” could apply to any area in the Arabian Peninsula, it probably is to be understood, in this case, as designating the Syrian Desert to the east of Damascus. In view of the fact that no mention is made in the book of Acts about the apostle’s going to Arabia, it cannot be determined specifically when this occurred. Paul may simply be saying that, during his early days as a believer, Arabia was the only place to which he went outside of Damascus. He may first have spent some time in Damascus, making public expression of his faith in the synagogues there. Then, for an undisclosed reason, he may have gone to Arabia and afterward returned to Damascus, remaining there until his forced departure from the city.
It seems more likely, however, that Paul left Damascus immediately after his baptism, going to Arabia to meditate on what his taking up the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ would mean for him. Even God’s Son, after his baptism, spent 40 days in the wilderness of Judea before beginning his ministry. (Mark 1:9–13) In the event Paul headed for Arabia right after his conversion, his preaching in the synagogues of Damascus occurred upon his return to the city. (Acts 9:20–25)
Note: Although anélthon (I went up, I did go up) appears in printed editions of the Greek text, there is very ancient manuscript evidence for apélthon (I went, I did go).
“Then, after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days.” The fact that three years passed indicates that Paul was in no hurry to meet the apostles and that he did not consider it necessary to have their validation of his apostleship. This period of three years may either count from the time of Paul’s conversion or his return to Damascus after his stay in Arabia. Since the apostle provided no indication about when he departed from Arabia, likely the three years are to be counted from the time of his conversion. It was then, for the first time as a believer, that he “went up to Jerusalem.” “Three years” could mean either complete years or one full year preceded and followed by some months (parts of three years).
Cephas, the Semitic equivalent for the Greek name “Peter,” means “rock.” It was the name that Jesus Christ gave to Simon upon being introduced to him by Simon’s brother Andrew. The name evidently reflected Jesus’ confidence in Peter’s rocklike or firm conviction upon accepting him as the promised Messiah. (John 1:41, 42)
The Greek term for “visit” (historéo) is not found elsewhere in the Scriptures, not even in the Septuagint. Based on the way the term is used in other writings, it may be defined as “visiting with the objective of becoming acquainted with someone or something.” Since Paul’s purpose, as evident from his words to the Galatians, was not to learn something from Peter, apparently his visiting would have been to get acquainted with him.
The book of Acts reveals that Paul desired to associate with believers in Jerusalem, but found this difficult because they greatly feared him. It seemed inconceivable to them that this vicious persecutor could have become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Barnabas, though, came to Paul’s aid and apparently introduced him to Peter. Likely it was after this that Paul remained with Peter for fifteen days. Paul’s stay in Jerusalem, however, ended quickly, as Jews of the dispersion plotted to kill him. (Acts 9:26–30) Moreover, in a trance, he was given direction by Jesus Christ to leave the city. (Acts 22:17–21)
The short period of fifteen days was not enough for Paul to have been given extensive instruction by Cephas (Peter). Besides, during much of the time, Paul was boldly witnessing to others about Jesus. (Acts 9:28) His mentioning the specific number of days involved supported the argument that the evangel he proclaimed had not been taught him by any human agency.
Note: The most ancient manuscripts support the reading of the Semitic name “Cephas” instead of the Greek equivalent “Peter.”
Paul did not see any other of the twelve apostles. He said: “But another of the apostles I did not see, except James the brother of the Lord.” This may be understood to mean that, besides Cephas, he did not see any other apostle. The only other disciple of note whom he did see was “James the brother of the Lord.” Since, though, Acts 9:27 reports that Barnabas introduced Paul to the apostles, the meaning probably is that the only apostles whom Paul saw were Cephas and James. In this case, James would be regarded as an apostle of the Jerusalem congregation.
This James is evidently the one to whom the people of Nazareth referred when saying about Jesus: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3, NRSV). As a prominent elder, James had an active part in making vital decisions that affected the growing Christian congregation. (Acts 12:17; 15:13–29; 16:4) He also wrote the letter bearing his name. (James 1:1) That he was widely known in the Christian community is apparent from the fact that Jude (Judas) introduces his letter with the words, “Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” (Jude 1:1, NAB)
Paul’s contact with James must have been even more limited than that with Cephas, as he did not stay in the home of James during the fifteen-day period. In view of Paul’s brief association with Cephas and James, no one could say that he had received the whole deposit of Christian teaching from the apostles.
Emphasizing that he had not concealed anything, Paul added: “But what I am writing to you — Look! before God, I am not lying.” Up to this point, the apostle had written specifics, establishing that it would have been impossible for him to have received the evangel in any way other than revelation. To show that he was not hiding anything but was presenting matters truthfully, Paul made God his witness to the fact that what he wrote was no lie. It was the whole truth.
Continuing with the presentation of his personal history, Paul said: “Then I went into the regions of Syria and of Cilicia.” Upon his hurried departure from Jerusalem, Paul was conducted by fellow believers to the seaport of Caesarea. From there, he left for his hometown, Tarsus in Cilicia. (Acts 9:30) Later, based on reports about a growing number of non-Jewish believers in Antioch, the Jerusalem congregation sent Barnabas to this capital of Syria. Recognizing the need for a qualified companion to help him there, he located Paul in Tarsus. Both men then served together in Syrian Antioch. (Acts 11:22–26) Accordingly, as Paul wrote to the Galatians, he did go into the regions of Syria (an area north of Galilee) and of Cilicia (the narrow strip of land in the southeast corner of Asia Minor). Syria and Cilicia were neighboring regions, separated by mountains.
Regarding the congregations in Judea, Paul wrote: “But I was unknown by face to the congregations of Judea, those in Christ.” Believers in Judea did not know Paul “by face,” or personally, because circumstances prevented the apostle from making their acquaintance. In Jerusalem, great fear of him existed, as the disciples of Jesus Christ found it inconceivable that this one-time persecutor had indeed become a believer. Hence, initially, Paul’s efforts to associate with them proved to be fruitless. Not until Barnabas came to his aid was there a change. Soon afterward, though, Paul’s stay in Jerusalem was cut short because opposers sought an opportunity to kill him (Acts 9:26–30). So there really was insufficient time for the congregations in Judea to come to know him personally.
Distinguishing these congregations from the Jewish synagogues in Judea, Paul referred to them as being “in Christ.” To be “in Christ” means to enjoy a oneness with him. Believers are themselves members of the body of Christ, united to him as head. (John 17:20–23; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 4:15, 16)
The apostle’s mentioning his being personally unknown to the believers in Judea contributed to his argument that he was not indebted to them for any help in coming to know the evangel. He, like the twelve, was taught the glad tidings by Jesus Christ.
Still, news about Paul did spread in the congregations of Judea. He continued: “But they only were hearing that the one who formerly persecuted us now is proclaiming the faith which he formerly devastated.” The Greek expression for “were hearing” (akoúontes ésan) indicates that there must have been successive reports about Paul’s activity as a believer. Doubtless news of the amazing change in the man who had spearheaded the persecution against them caused quite a sensation in the congregations of Judea. According to Paul’s words, these believers recognized that the “faith” (that which is the object of faith) he proclaimed was the same one that he once tried to destroy. It was the faith in Christ as the sole basis for having sins forgiven and attaining the status of beloved sons or children of God, with all the attendant blessings. (Compare Peter’s words at Pentecost with those of Paul when preaching in Pisidian Antioch [Acts 2:29–39; 13:32–41].)
The Greek word euangelízo, often translated “proclaiming” or “preaching,” signifies “to proclaim the evangel.” It is the verb form of euangelíon, meaning “evangel,” “good news,” or “glad tidings.”
As in verse 13 (see comments on that verse), the verb for “devastate” (porthéo) is in the imperfect tense, indicative of a continued action. Thus, the very “faith” that he had again and again tried to destroy, Paul was then proclaiming as “good news.”
Regarding the effect the change in him had on the congregations of Judea, Paul continued, “and they glorified God in me.” Unlike those who were trying to discredit Paul in the eyes of the Galatians, believers in Judea were moved to “glorify,” praise, extol or magnify God “in” him. Divine power had transformed Paul from a vicious persecutor and would-be destroyer of the congregations of God into a believer and zealous advocate of the evangel. So, as the apostle says, “in me,” or “in my case,” the congregations of Judea “glorified God,” the One who worked mightily within him. (Although the Greek preposition en (in) has been rendered “because of” and “for,” it appears preferable to preserve the meaning “in” and understand it to mean “in Paul’s case.” [Compare 1 Corinthians 4:6, Philippians 1:30, and 1 John 2:8 for this significance of en.]) Paul himself — what he had become and was doing — caused believers in Judea to extol the Most High.
In the apostle’s case, the prayer of the dying Stephen had been answered: “Do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60; REB) Believers in Judea acted in harmony with the forgiving spirit of this prayer. There was no harboring of ill-will toward the former persecutor for all the injury that he had caused. By their attitude toward the apostle and their heartfelt praise of God for the wondrous change that he had effected within their persecutor, the Judean believers acknowledged that Paul was proclaiming the “faith” that he had once so viciously opposed.
Thus, the apostle made it clear to the Galatians that the evangel he preached was the complete message of salvation. Though he had not received it from the apostles or anyone else associated with the congregations of Judea, the evangel he proclaimed was the same one that the apostles declared. Hence, the contention of the Judaizers was wrong. They had no basis for claiming that the evangel proclaimed by Paul was an incomplete or defective message, one that needed to be supplemented with the teaching that non-Jewish believers should be circumcised and submit to the requirements of the Mosaic law in order to enjoy the fullness of divine approval. (Compare Acts 15:1, 5; Galatians 5:1, 2, 10–12.)