Galatians 1: 1 – 10 No other gospel
Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead – and all the brothers and sisters with me,
To the churches in Galatia:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: if anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
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This epistle is written very much from the mindset of someone deeply familiar with Judaism and used to a rabbinic style of argument. It is difficult for a 21st century human to grasp the nuances because we are used to a very different way of presenting our point of view.
I am not a New Testament scholar; rather I have been trained and worked as a scientist, and now I am a writer of fiction. I am very conscious that I will probably make mistakes in the way I interpret Paul’s words. I shall pray before reading and writing each blog post, and trust God to draw me closer to Jesus. Nevertheless, treat my conclusions with care; they may easily be wrong.
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Paul begins the letter by saying who has sent it.
“Paul, an apostle – sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead – and all the brothers and sisters with me…”
It is from Paul the apostle and the brothers and sisters who supported him; but what is this statement at the heart of the introduction, about not being sent by men or a man?
It is to do with establishing by whose authority he is writing the letter.
One authority he might have invoked would be that of the other apostles in Jerusalem. They had been with Jesus during his earthly ministry, and their opinions had a great deal of influence. And yet Paul explicitly denies being sent by them; he is “sent not from men…”
He might have followed the practice of Jewish rabbis of the time. Under normal circumstances, a Jewish rabbi would say by whom he had been trained.
This was because a young man who wished to become a rabbi was trained by someone who was already notable as a rabbi. The bond between rabbi and disciple was very strong. The disciple sought not merely to learn from his teacher, but to imitate him in how he lived his life. As he progressed in his career, he would declare who he had studied under; these were his credentials. For example, see how Paul introduces himself to the crowd in Jerusalem who were rioting in protest against his visit to the temple. “Then Paul said: I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors.” (Acts 22: 3)
However, Paul explicitly denies being sent by a rabbi in that way; he is “sent not from…a man…”
Instead, Paul claims the highest possible authority. He is “…sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”
As we read verses 6 – 10, we start to understand why Paul is so concerned to claim the highest credentials. It is clear that the Galatians are turning from the gospel that Paul originally brought to them to something which is so far removed from what Paul taught that it is “really no gospel at all”. Paul expresses himself very strongly. He calls down God’s curse on anyone who preaches a gospel that was not the message that the Galatians first believed. He says it doesn’t matter how powerful or influential such a preacher is; he might even be an angel. Even if Paul himself changes his message, he would be wrong. The Galatians must believe the gospel as they first received it.
We will learn more about this in the next few days.
For me, this epistle holds a challenge. Paul has claimed the highest authority for his letter, but is he right to do so? Let us see how he develops his argument.
You want all mankind to know the truth about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Please help me to understand what Paul writes in the light of your truth about Jesus.
In Jesus’ name, Amen