Real Talk with Roderick
Introduction Per the request of the Holy Spirit the church leaders Barnabas and Saul, assisted initially by John Mark, were sent by the anything-but-ordinary fellowship in Antioch on the first missionary journey (Acts 13:4-5). As they went from city to city, commended by their sending church to the grace of God, they faced increasing success and resistance. First, they were opposed by a sorcerer in Paphos. Paul ended the interference by declaring blindness on the evil false prophet. Seeing what had happened the proconsul of that island city believed (Acts 13:6-12). Second, jealous Jewish brethren in Pisidian Antioch, contradicted the teaching and blasphemed in a dog-in-the-manger attempt to stop the work of witnessing to the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas are expelled but not before the word spreads throughout the region, a multitude hear the gospel, and many choose to become disciples of Jesus Christ (Acts 13:49-52). Leaving Antioch they go to Iconium. Before they are finally forced to leave Iconium because of the threat of stoning the Lord supports their witness with signs and wonders (Acts 14:1-3). In that city a great multitude of Jews and Greeks believed.
In Lystra Barnabas and Paul continue to have Jesus-enabled miracle support in their preaching. Unfortunately their audience mistake them for the gods Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14:8-18). Before everything gets sorted out enemies from cities visited earlier (Antioch and Iconium) show up and make matters worse. Paul is stoned, dragged out of the city, and left for dead (Acts 14:19-20). But he is not dead and gets up to go back to the previously visited cities to encourage, explain the necessity of Christian suffering, and establish structure through the installation of spiritual leadership.
When Paul and Barnabas, having come through persecutions and a stoning, return to their sending church they report their experiences. It was a success! Especially the work among the Gentiles in Galatia. Churches have been established among the Gentiles in Galatia. And now these godly men can relax for a while. Right?
(Galatians 1:1-5; Mark 10:45; Isaiah 53) 1 Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), 2 and all the brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: 3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. The writer opens the letter to the Galatians using a name he began using during his first missionary journey (Acts 13:9). Besides the fact that Luke will no longer use Saul when referring to the former Pharisee, Paul (Greek - small or little) himself will not use his Jewish name in any of his letters. Why the change? He is doubtless not ashamed of his heritage (Philippians 3:4-5) and probably used the Jewish-Roman Saul Paul among Jews of the diaspora. His chosen designation of Paul is one way in which he has embraced his calling (2 Timothy 1:11).
Some scholars have equated this change of names with a major shift in Paul’s preaching career: his transition from a largely Jewish orientation to his new role as Apostle to the Gentiles. George, T. (1994). Galatians (Vol. 30, p. 77). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Immediately after stating his name Paul goes on to state his title: an apostle (Galatians 1:1). This is a standard feature in his letters and readily seen as part of his salutation formula: name (Paul), title (an apostle), blessing (grace and peace), and then thanksgiving for the recipients. He uses this self-designation in eight of the twelve New Testament letters that bear his name (66.7%).
The opening of this letter at first glance seems to be just like all of his other writings. It contains his name (Paul), his title (an apostle), and a blessing (Grace to you and peace...). However, a closer inspection reveals important differences. The elaboration on his title not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead is unique. There are no other letters where Paul uses so many words in the salutation to gird up the authenticity of his authority. And there are other differences.
Though the salutation includes the usual identification of author and recipient together with a customary greeting, the usual expression of thanksgiving and praise for believers is totally absent. Campbell, D. K. (1985). Galatians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 589). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
So, there is an elaboration on his position as an apostle and an absence of thanksgiving for the recipients. Is this worthy of note? Do we care? Yes! Each departure from his usual opening signifies an issue precipitating the letter itself. The issue being handles in the letter has and does keep coming up for the church. The list of deviations, although short, is pregnant with meaning and advice for the modern Christian.
As we try to interpret Galatians for its original audience and today these exceptional features of the salutation signal counterparts that are coming in the body of the letter. In Paul's prescript he portends the content. That is, the why of Paul's letter is indicated by the items included or excluded from his usual salutation.
Galatians defends the authority of its author and the sufficiency of what has been said concerning salvation. In its words a former leader in legalism refutes the accusation of an inferior apostleship, razes the camp that would corrupt the gospel, corrects the teaching concerning the purpose of the law, and calls his readership back to grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. By this book we are loosed from the sophistry of man-made salvation and the futility of attempting to live by the law. We are led back to confidence in Christ, in His cross work, and the effectiveness of His Spirit in doing God's will.
The salutation is important for the proper understanding of the book of Galatians. And the larger work, salutation and following material, arms us in our war with those who would attack the veracity of Scripture, against seemingly spiritual people who would lead us into the bondage of legalism, and against people who would corrupt the gospel.
(Galatians 1:6-10) 6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. 10 For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ. Paul is dumbfounded by the defection of the Galatian disciples. He is astonished by their apparently rapid abandoning of the grace of Christ to a different gospel. News of their falling away is the reason why their is no thanksgiving for their faith. He is not sure of their faith at this point! When the essentials of the gospel are given up there can be no assurance of salvation, no hope for a heavenly home, and no counting on the Comfort of Holy Spirit for the recipients.
When compared with the opening of 1 Corinthians this is even more striking, for despite the Corinthians’ deep moral defection Paul nonetheless expressed commendation. But here in the face of theological departure he did not express thanks, thus emphasizing the more serious nature of doctrinal apostasy. Campbell, D. K. (1985). Galatians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 590). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
When the foundational facts of the gospel are removed you no longer have grace. The preacher becomes a panderer of one more religious system where man saves himself, where the cross work of Christ is necessary but not sufficient, and where Jesus is only a significant contributor to redemption. That false gospel is no cure for what ails but a poison pill that makes the perdition certain.
To make this work you have to undermine the credibility of the work and witness of Paul. They made him out to be someone leading people into licentious living to gain favor with the Gentiles. It is not hard to imagine the damaging words of his detractors: "He will do anything to gain favor among the nations. He even said something like I am all things to all men that I might by all means save some. So he throws out the Law to win approval."
Apparently the Judaizers had charged Paul with teaching freedom from the Law in order to curry the Gentiles’ favor. But the tone of this letter, specifically the harsh language Paul had just used, was hardly calculated to win the approval of men. Men-pleasers simply do not hurl anathemas against those who proclaim false gospels. Indeed, if the apostle had wanted to please men, he would have remained a zealous Pharisee and promoter of the Law rather than becoming a servant of Christ. Campbell, D. K. (1985). Galatians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 591). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
The tone of his letter would be a problem for his enemies. The words he had penned in the opening of this letter were infused with a tone that did not fit the profile of a people pleaser. Instead of smooth words aimed at promoting calm and collaboration with the Judaizers... he cursed them and anyone else that would dare to change the gospel.