The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians
Explanation of the Epistle
1- The Introduction (1:1–10)
From the first line, St. Paul confirms the legality of his apostleship. Even if he was not from the early disciples who were appointed by the Lord, he was chosen by the Lord Himself after His resurrection and ascension to be an apostle to the Gentiles. He is an apostle “sent not from men, nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead” (1:1).
The introduction reveals the hurt of the apostle and his heavy heart toward what the Galatians have slipped to, i.e. their deviation from the Gospel of Christ that he has preached to them. He directs his epistle shortly to the “Churches of Galatia” without saying the believers or the “beloved”, or the “saints” as he is used to say in most of his epistles. He directs their hearts to the person of Christ “who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age” (1:4).
He then reveals his intrigue and pain, wondering about their fast conversion from the true teaching to a different gospel (he stresses that it is “not another” [1:7], i.e. because it is not a gospel) under the influence of false teachers, assuring them of the truthfulness of the teaching he gave them, and cautioning them not to deviate from it “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach … (1:8,9). He is telling them, as a witness to the truth, and a disciple of Christ, that he will not compromise or try to please his opponents, “For If I still pleased men 1, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (1:10). If he had chosen to please the Jews to save his old stature, he would not have been an apostle to the Savior of the world. If he now tries to please people, he would have betrayed the One who saved him from his fanaticism and narrow mindedness, and delivered him from death. He would have not followed Christ as His servant, even more as His slave.
2- St. Paul defends the authenticity of his mission, his calling, and his ministry as the Apostle of the Gentiles (1:11 – 2:14)
While defending his teaching, St. Paul defends his position as an apostle to the Gentiles, chosen by Christ and not by people. He reveals that he did not accept the gospel he is preaching from man, neither anyone taught it to him, but by a “revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12). (His famous encounter on the way to Damascus, and later in “Arabia”, 2Cor. 12:1-5, Gal. 1:17).
+ Concerning his past and his encounter with the Lord:
St. Paul goes back to his early days, expecting that they all knew of his previous life in the Jewish religion, and how he persecuted the Church of God, pouring all his anger on the believers,2 “I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries … being zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (1:14). “But when it pleased God who separated me from my mother’s womb 3 and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood (i.e. men)4, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostle before me; but I went to Arabia and returned again to Damascus” (1: 15-17).
St. Paul has a special calling from the Lord who set him apart from his mother womb. After his striking encounter with the Lord, he preached first in Damascus (Acts 9: 2-22) without trying to meet with the Apostles who were before him. He retreated for three years in the wilderness (may be in the Jordan desert, or south of Damascus, not in Sinai, or the Arab Peninsula) and then returned to Damascus.
+ His encounter with the Disciples after the years of preparation:
After the time of his preparation for the ministry, his contact with the Lord, and his delight in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, he ascended to Jerusalem to meet with Peter, and he stayed with him fifteen days (only). He did not see anyone else except James (the Lord’s brother).5 So, he stayed three years, after his encounter with the Lord, without meeting with the apostles, and he did not stay with Peter except fifteen days, and did not see anyone else except another disciple. Later, we will know that he preached to the Jews and the Gentiles for another fourteen years (!) before going to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles. What he wants to say is that his selection by the Lord, and his appointing as a minister to the Gentiles was enough reason for him. He did not need acknowledgement or recommendation from anyone. Not because of any superiority on his part, but because he got his legitimacy from the Lord Himself.
After his first meeting with Peter and James, St. Paul preached in the cities of Syria and Asia Minor. The Churches in Jerusalem heard about him without seeing his face. They were glorifying God because “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy” (1:23).
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- But he says in another occasion “even as I try to please everybody in every way” (1 Cor. 10:33). His intention is to get close and please everyone to save them. He pleased them, in this situation, for the sake of Christ. ↩
- In his defense against the Jews, he said in the presence of the commander “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letter s from them to their brothers in Damascus….” (Acts 22: 4, 5) ↩
- Same as it happened to Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5), and Isaiah (Isa. 42:1) ↩
- The story of the encounter of Paul with the Lord, his transformation, and his selection to preach to the Gentiles, was mentioned thrice in the Acts of the Apostles, two of these, Paul mentions in front of his judges (Acts 9: 3–9, 22: 3–11, 26: 13–18). ↩
- The book of Acts mentions about this period, that “they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles” (Acts 9: 26-30). Paul was telling them about his encounter with the Lord and his preaching in Damascus. He kept preaching the name of the Lord to the Grecian Jews, and they tried to kill him. The believers took him to Caesarea and then to Tarsus his native country. St. Paul mentions his short visit to Jerusalem, as he was defending himself in front of the Jews. He says “when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking, ‘Quick’ he said to me. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me….Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles” (Acts 22: 17-21). ↩