Commentary on Galatians chapter 1

Compiled by Eric Johnson

5 questions for chapter 1 (to answer before you study chapter 1)

  1. In verse 3, Paul says “grace and peace” to those whom he writes. Based on the fact that this book is written to Christians to refrain from obeying the Law as a requirement for salvation and how he wants them to display the fruits of the Spirit (discussed in chapter 5), explain why these two words have a deeper meaning than what may meet the eye.
  2. In verses 6-9 , Paul will talk about the importance of “no other (true) gospel” and how a false gospel is worse than no gospel at all. However, many living in today’s society are proud about being inclusive, saying that all paths to God are valid as long as the adherents are sincere. Should Christians emphasize the similarities or differences when it comes to different religions and Christianity?  Explain.
  3. Paul will admit in verses 13 and 14 that he did not always live as a Christian. In fact, he says, he persecuted the Christians, believing that they were wrong and the movement needed to stop. Sometimes we look around at what is going on and we may become very angry with others and their (false) presentation of the truth. How is it possible to converse (and even disagree) with those from other religions in a healthy matter while not minimizing the truth claims of Christianity? Give some examples of what this might look like.
  4. Paul says in verse 15, “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace.” In what way was Paul “set apart before I was born”? If Paul was set apart in this way, do you think it’s possible that he might have a plan for you too? In what way(s)?
  5. In verses 23-24, Paul said those who knew him when he persecuted Christians were saying, “‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’  And they glorified God because of me.” Do you think people watch you and judge you based on your actions? In other words, is it possible for a person to turn a person toward or against God based on their observance of what you do? What makes you think the way you do about your answer?

Commentary

Highlighted parts are key quotes that may have been used on the radio shows

Galatians 1

 Greeting

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me,

Eric’s commentary: At the very beginning of this book, Paul wants to make sure that everyone understands that the message he will preach comes from divine, not human, sources. In fact, later we will see that Paul disagreed with the most prominent apostle (Peter) and they were able to sort out their issue of disagreement. Here he references the resurrection, which is the most important miracle recorded in the Bible. (See 1 Corinthians 15.)

Moo: “The denial of any human involvement in Paul’s apostolic status is echoed in his later claim that his gospel was not of human origin (1:11-12). The most likely reason for this concern is that the agitators were attempting to undermine Paul’s authority with the Galatians by arguing that his status and teaching depended on the Jerusalem apostles, who views (as represented by the agitators) should therefore trump Paul’s.” (67)

Keller: “Paul is saying that he did not receive his apostolic commission through anyone else at all. No other apostles commissioned him. He was commissioned and taught directly by the risen Jesus Himself (see Acts 9:1-19).” (14)

The resurrection is the central theme of the New Testament, including the following verses:

  • Acts 17:18: “Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler wish to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities’—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.”
  • Rom. 1:4: “and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord”
  • 1 Cor. 15:17, 20: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. . . .
  • But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
  • 1 Peter 1:3: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”

“Brothers” (Greek: adelphoi) refers to believers, both male and female.

To the churches of Galatia:

The NIV Study Bible: “Here Paul probably uses the term to refer to the Roman province of Galatia and an additional area to the south, through which he traveled on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:14-14:23).”


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

The NIV Study Bible: “Grace. The Christian adaptation of a common Greek form of greeting. Peace. The common Hebrew form of greeting.”

Moo: “’Grace’ is a fundamental aspect of NT revelation and of the gospel that Paul defends in Galatians (see also 1:6; 15; 2:9, 21; 5:4; 6:18); indeed, Paul can use ‘grace’ to sum up the Christian message (e.g., Rom. 5:2) … The other key word, eirene, has its roots in OT and Jewish soil. The OT prophets looked forward to the day when God would put his creation in the right again, when he would institute shalom, ‘well-being.’ Paul’s wish that his readers experience ‘peace,’ then, is not a wish that they enjoy a quiet, happy life or that their souls may find rest but that they might experience the full measure of God’s eschatological shalom.” (71)


who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Eric’s Commentary: There is nothing more powerful than the atonement provided by Jesus. Here Paul is referencing Christians (“for our sins”) who desire forgiveness. Indeed, glory should be given for this incredible gift.

The NIV Study Bible: “Present evil age. The present period of the world’s history. In contrast to the age to come (the climax of the Messianic age), this present age is characterized by wickedness (Eph. 2:2; 6:12).”

Moo: “Central to Paul’s attempt to woo the Galatians back to the true gospel is his insistence throughout the letter that the cross of Christ is the decisive and uniquely sufficient means to rescue sinners from death. Embracing Christ’s cross through faith is all that is needed to effect this rescue and to bring believers into the ‘new creation’ (6:15).” (71)

Keller:Who we are: Helpless and lost. That is what the word ‘rescue’ implied in verse 4. Other founders of religions came to teach, not to rescue. Jesus was a great teacher, but when Paul gives us this nutshell version of Jesus’ ministry, he makes no mention of that at all. The average person on the street believes that a Christian is someone who follows Christ’s teaching and example. But Paul implies that’s impossible. After all, you don’t rescue people unless they are in a lost state and a helpless condition! Imagine you see a drowning woman. It doesn’t help her at all if you throw her a manual on how to swim. You don’t throw her some teaching—you throw her a rope. And Jesus is not so much a teacher as He is a rescuer. Because that’s what we most need. Nothing in who we are or what we do saves us. This is what theologians call ‘spiritual inability.’” (15-16)

“There is no indication of any other motivation or cause for Christ’s mission except the will of God. There is nothing in us which merits it. Salvation is sheer grace. That is why the only one who gets ‘glory for ever’ is God alone (v. 5). If we contributed to our rescue…if we had rescued ourselves … or if God had seen something deserving of rescue, or useful for His plan, in us … or even if we had simply called out rescue based on our own reasoning and understanding … then we could pat ourselves on the back for the part we played in saving ourselves. But the biblical gospel—Paul’s gospel—is clear that salvation, from first to last, is God’s doing. It is His calling; His plan; His action; His work. And so it is He who deserves all the glory, for all time.” (16-17)

“The gospel says, You are in such a hopeless position that you need a rescue that has nothing to do with you at all. And then it says: God in Jesus provides a rescue which gives you far more than any false salvation your heart may love to chase.” (17)


No Other Gospel

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 

Eric’s Commentary: How frustrating can it be for the teacher who knows what his students should do and then they don’t do it! “Study for tomorrow’s test,” I would say, and then they come the next day, saying, “Is there a test today?” Too often our friends and those with whom we “hang” can deeply influence our ways and make us go in a direction we never intended. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.'” And the Bible warns many times about following teachers who do not lead to truth, no matter how charismatic they may be.

Moo: “Paul is genuinely surprised and chagrined that his coverts in Galatia are so quickly being tempted to exchange the true gospel that he preached to them for a substitute and false gospel. It is unclear, however, just what Paul means by saying that the Galatians have turned ‘so quickly’ from the true gospel: so quickly after the arrival of the false teachers? Or so quickly after their conversion? Or is Paul focusing on the rashness of their decision? … it probably makes better sense to think that Paul is referring to the brief interval between their acceptance of the true gospel that he preached and their dalliance with the false teachers” (76)

“On our reading of the circumstances of the letter, Paul is writing within a year or so of his initial evangelizing trip through South Galatia. But the ‘so quickly’ language might have another function also: to convey an OT allusion. Perhaps the most famous apostasy in the OT is the decision of the Israelites to fashion and worship a golden-calf image—an apostasy all the worse since it occurred ‘so quickly’ after they had heard God’s word at Sinai. Note Exod. 32:8—‘They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf.” (77)

Keller: “ We’ll see as we walk through Paul’s letter that what caused his opening outburst was a group of teachers who were teaching Gentile Christian converts that they were obliged to keep the Jewish cultural customs of the Mosaic law—the dietary laws, circumcision and the rest of the ceremonial law in order to be truly pleasing to God. . . If the Galatians are really turning their backs on God and taking hold of a gospel that isn’t a gospel at all, then their condition is dangerous. The anxiety and anger that Paul expresses is the same that any loving parent or friend would experience if a child or companion was going seriously astray.” (13-14)

“If you add anything to Christ as a requirement for acceptance with God—if you start to say: To be saved I need the grace of Christ plus something else—you completely reverse the ‘order’ of the gospel and make it null and void. Any revision of the gospel reverses it. … To change the gospel the tiniest bit is to lose it so completely that the new teaching has no right to be called a ‘gospel.’” (18)

Martin Luther: There is no middle ground between Christian righteousness and works-righteousness. There is no other alternative to Christian righteousness but works righteousness; if you do not build your confidence on the work of Christ you must build your confidence on your own work.”


But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Eric’s Commentary: Paul is serious in saying that a gospel that is not the same as the orthodox gospel is no gospel at all. After all, the word “gospel” means “good news” and a gospel that leads a person down the wrong path is damnable, literally. This is why he says what he says in verse 8 and then repeats himself again in the next verse. It’s really serious.

NIV Study Bible: “accursed. The Greek word (anathema) originally referred to a pagan temple offering in payment for a vow. Later it came to represent a curse (see v. 9; 1 Cor. 12:3; 16:22; Rom. 9:3).”

Moo: “The wrath of God, says Paul, will fall on anyone who preaches a gospel different from the gospel that the Galatians have first heard: whether that ‘other gospel’ be proclaimed by Paul or by ‘an angel from heaven.’ . . . the reference is hyperbolic” (80-81).

“Paul repeats his ‘anathema,’ perhaps to make clear that what he says in verse 8 is not a momentary, irrational outburst but a carefully considered warning that needs to be taken with the greatest seriousness” (81).


10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Eric’s Commentary: A false teacher will often go in the direction of popular opinion, saying what will get him accolades and more followers. Paul’s message will not prove to be popular with many who have been influenced by these heretics, but Paul cares more about truth than he does his popularity.

NIV Study Note: “servant of Christ. Paul once wore the ‘yoke of slavery’ (5:1) but, having been set free from sin by the redemption that is in Christ, he became a slave of righteousness, a slave of God (see Ro. 6:18,22).”

Moo: “The heart of Paul’s concern, as the rest of the verse makes clear, is to deny accusations that he is seeking to ‘please people’. . . Since Paul’s total focus is on pleasing his new master, it is clearly the case that he no longer is seeking to please people” (84).


Paul Called by God

11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.

12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Acts 9:1-9: “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”

Ephesians 3:2-6:  “assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”


 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 

Keller: “Paul refutes the idea that he came to his gospel message through his own reflection, reasoning and thinking. He recounts that, until his conversion, he was ‘intensely’ hostile to the church and to Christianity (v. 13). He wanted to ‘destroy it.’ There was no gradual process of consideration, discuss, revision. There was no way that Paul’s Christian message was the product of his own line of thinking. Rather, it was the exact, polar opposite of where he had been going” (25)

“Paul was a man who had done many terrible things. He had ‘intensely … persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it’ (v. 13). By the time Jesus met Paul on the Damascus road, he had killed many innocent people. He was on his way to arrest and imprison more. He was filled with hate” (27).


14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.

Keller:  “And yet Paul was also a man who had done many religious deeds. He had spent years seeking to live according to the Jewish customs and traditions. He says that he had beaten almost everyone of his own generation (‘of my own age’ v. 14) at being zealous for moral righteousness 9v. 14). And yet it had not made him right with God” (27)

The Judaizers “were encouraging the Gentile Christians to become full converts to Judaism, and to keep all the Mosaic laws of diet and dress, including circumcision (2:12; 3:5; 6:12). But Paul is saying: I’ve already been there and done that! I know all about this subject! You cannot make yourself acceptable to God by the most zealous and detailed following of moral, ethical, or cultural codes.” (27)


15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,

Eric’s Commentary: It is impossible for someone to come to know God until he or she is called. Paul here says it is a calling “by his grace.” We cannot presume that we are so smart as to figure out that we need God in our lives. Rather, God sets out those who are His own.

Isaiah 49:1: “Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.”

Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Romans 1:1: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.”

Ephesians 1:4-6:even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

Keller: “Grace is the free, unmerited favor of God, working powerfully on the mind and heart to change lives. There is no clearer example than Paul that salvation is by grace alone, not through our moral and religious performance. Though Paul’s sins were very deep, he was invited in. . . . No one is so good that they don’t need the grace of the gospel, nor so bad that they can’t receive the grace of the gospel. Paul was deeply religious, but he needed the gospel. Paul was deeply flawed, yet he could be reached with the gospel” (28).

Martin Luther: “Did God call me on account of my holy life? Or on account of my pharisaical religion? Or on account of my prayers, fastings, and works? Never. Well, then, it is certain God did not call me on account of my blasphemies, persecutions, oppressions. What prompted Him to call me? His grace alone.”


 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Eric’s commentary: God has a plan for Paul. He would reach the Gentiles through him. It was God-ordained and not something he devised or conjured up with other believers. Sometimes it is so obvious when our life experiences are rough and not very clear, and then as you look in the rear view mirror, you realize that God has a plan all along. I love those “aha” moments.

Gentiles = Nations or peoples

Flesh and blood = Implication of human weakness and ignorance.

Arabia = The Nabatean kingdom stretching from Damascus southwest to the Suez.

Damascus = Ancient capital of Syria

Moo: “Instead of ‘going up’ to Jerusalem, Paul ‘went away into Arabia.’ In none of his other autobiographical comments does Paul mention such a trip to Arabia, and the reference here is so brief that we can only speculate about it. ‘Arabia’ in Paul’s day would have referred to any part of a fairly large area to the northeast, east, and south of Israel” (106).

Keller:  “Paul had been resisting God and doing so much wrong (see Acts 26:14), but God was overruling all his intentions and using his experiences and even his failures to prepare him first for his conversion, and then to be a preacher to the Gentiles (v. 16)” (28)

“Why did God choose, prepare and then call Paul, the proud persecutor of His church? Was it because Paul was in some way, in any way, pleasing to God? No, it was simply because God ‘was pleased’ to do so. God set His loving grace on Paul not because he was worthy of it, but simply because God took delight or pleasure in doing so” (29)

Martin Luther: “The Law terrorizes the conscience. The Law reveals the wrath and judgment of God. The Gospel does not threaten. The Gospel announces that Christ is come to forgive the sins of the world. The Gospel conveys to us the inestimable treasures of God.”


 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 

Cephas = Peter, the apostle

The NIV Study Bible: Probably the visit referenced  to in Acts 9:26-30, though some equate it with the one in Acts 11:30.

Moo: “Paul’s purpose in going up was to “visit” Peter. The verb Paul uses here is properly translated ‘get acquainted with’ and does not signify that Paul went to Jerusalem to receive instruction about the basic meaning or implications of the gospel…. Of course, it is inconceivable that Paul and Cephas spent fifteen days discussing the weather. They would certainly have talked about their respective Christian experiences; and it would not be counter to Paul’s argument to think that Paul would have eagerly sought information from Peter about Jesus’ life and teaching and the history of the Christian movement” (109).


 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 

James, the leader of the elders in the Jerusalem church and the brother of Jesus (Luke 8:19).

Moo: “Paul adds a solemn oath to underscore the truthfulness of what he is saying” (110).


 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

Moo: “His purpose remains clear: to show how little contact he had with the Jerusalem apostles so that no one can accuse him of having learned his gospel from them (v. 12)” (112).


22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 

Moo: “The point is clear enough: during all these years, Paul felt no need to stay in Jerusalem and learn about the gospel” (112).


23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

Moo: “Most of the English versions here translated ‘they glorified [or praised] God because of me.’ However, although this rendering is on the right track, it is easily susceptible of a misinterpretation, as if the people were praising God for something inherent in Paul himself. The sense, rather, is that people were praising God ‘in Paul’s case’, or that ‘they found in me an occasion’ for praise” (115)