In the middle of the great debate still raging in Antioch, Paul received alarming news – from Galatia. The Judaists had heard from John Mark about Paul’s successful testimony before Sergius Paulus, and his determination to advance the Gentile mission without further delay. They knew that in Pisidia Paul and Barnabas had boldly announced, “Lo, we turn to the Gentiles!” Days later the apostles had proceeded into Galatia, preaching in the cities of Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. The Judaists determined both to tackle the source of the mischief in Antioch, and also to correct any mischief created by Paul in Galatia. So their emissaries had set ff .

Thus Galatia, too, had been dragged into the Judaist controversy. And Paul was most distressed to see how quickly the brothers and sisters in that region had been seduced by the pseudo-gospel of salvation by external tokens and works of the law, circumcision and Sabbath-keeping. As if it was not enough to be wrestling with these people in Antioch! He must now deal with the controversy in Galatia also. Unable to spare time for a visit, he was compelled to write the letter to the Galatians. And how much richer we are for that!

An outline

I. Opening salvo (1:1–10)

A. Greetings (1:1–5)

B. Only one gospel (1:6–7)

C. A curse on the troublemakers (1:8–10)

II.Paul defends his apostleship and his gospel (1:11–2:21)

A.His gospel received from Jesus Christ (1:11–12)

B.His gospel not derived from man (1:13–24)

i. A history of persecuting zeal (1:13–14)

ii. Called, and immediately goes into Arabia (1:15–17)

iii. Only fifteen days with Peter (1:18–19)

iv. An asseveration of truthfulness (1:20)

v. In distant parts: Syria and Cilicia (1:21–24)

C. His gospel accepted in Jerusalem (2:1–10)

i. Directed by revelation to Jerusalem (2:1–2)

ii. Refused to concede to false brethren (2:3–5)

iii. His gospel recognised by Jerusalem’s leaders  (2:6–8)

iv. His grace acknowledged by the apostles (2:9–10)

D. His gospel vindicated in Antioch (2:11–16)

i. The Judaists draw Peter and others away (2:11–13)

ii. Paul rebukes Peter, and brings him back to the gospel (2:14–16)

E. The implications of his gospel (2:17–21)

i. Sin does not make Christ the minister of sin; but rebuilding the Law undoes his sacrifice (2:17–18)

ii. Righteousness and life are by love, faith and grace, not by the Law (2:19–20)

iii. Justification by the Law would nullify God’s grace (2:21)

III. Salvation by faith in the promises, not compliance with the Law (3:1–5:1)

A. An appeal to their experience (3:1–5)

B. An argument from Scripture and history (3:6–29)

i. The promise justifies (3:6–9)

ii. The Law curses (3:10–12)

iii. Christ accepted the curse of the Law, to take it away (3:13–14)

iv. The Law came after the promise (3:15–18)

v. The Law’s role temporary (3:19–25)

vi. Now we are sons! (3:26–29)

C. A series of appeals (4:1–20)

i. Do not return to the Law! (4:1–7)

a. The child comes of age (4:1–2)

b. No longer under the Law: sons and heirs (4:3–7)

c. Why go back? (4:8–11)

ii. Remember our relationship! (4:12–20)

a. Their former appreciation (4:12–16)

b. His selfless care (4:17–20)

D. The allegory of Hagar and Sarah (4:21–5:1)

i.The story of Hagar and Sarah (4:21–23)

ii. Its message for the present (4:24–27)

iii. Stand fast in liberty, and cast out the slaves!  (4:28–5:1)

IV.The life of faith and freedom in the Spirit (5:2–6:10)

A. A clear choice and a stern warning (5:2–12)

i. Circumcision counts for nothing; only faith matters (5:2–6)

ii. Warning: circumcision is only the troublesome beginning (5:7–12)

B. Live in the Spirit, not in the flesh (5:13–26)

i. Liberty is not licence (5:13–15)

ii. Walk in the Spirit (5:16–18)

iii. The works of the flesh (5:19–21)

iv. The fruit of the Spirit (5:22–23)

v. Crucify the flesh, live in the Spirit (5:24–26)

C. The law of Christ (6:1–10)

i. Bear one another’s burdens (6:1–5)

ii. Do good to all men (6:6–10)

V. Conclusion (6:11–18)

A. Paul’s autograph (6:11)

B. Paul’s adversaries (6:12–13)

C. Paul’s boast (6:14–17)

D. Paul’s blessing (6:18)

The short version

After an opening salvo (1:1–10), Paul vigorously defends his apostleship and his gospel from the insinuations of the Judaists (1:11–2:21). Having established the validity of his apostleship and the veracity of his gospel, he argues that righteousness and salvation are the gift of God to those who believe the promises, not to those who keep the Law (3:1–5:1). He urges disciples to embrace the life of faith and freedom in the Spirit (5:2–6:10), and concludes with some final thoughts (6:11–18).

So much for the short version. Let us consider in detail what Paul has to say in this, the first of his letters.

I. Opening salvo (1:1–10)

Paul greets the disciples (1:1–5), but he cannot long contain his distress at their rapid departure from the Gospel he had taught them. He emphasizes the great fact that there is only one gospel (1:6–7). Any other must be false, and a perversion of that which is true. Impassioned, he calls down the curse of God on the troublemakers (1:8–10).

A. Greetings (1:1–5)

1 “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) 2 And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia: 3 Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: 5 To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. “

1:1–2. Paul commonly introduces himself as an apostle, an official representative of the Lord Jesus, chosen and sent by him to establish, instruct and guide his people. But only here in Galatians, his very first letter, does he immediately go on the front foot to defend his apostleship and the way in which it came to him. His name stands alone. There are other names, of course, many of them, for “all the brethren” stand with Paul (v 2). But before they are mentioned, Paul emphatically asserts the central facts of his apostleship.

He was not chosen “of men” (KJV); he did not derive his apostleship “from men” (ESV); but the Lord was the source of his apostleship. Neither was he chosen “by man”, or “through man” (RV), or “through the agency of man” (NASB), or even “by a man” (NIV). His “call to be an apostle did not come from human beings or by human means” (GNB). Perhaps the Judaists suggested that it was Ananias who had converted him. But the Lord himself called him on the road to Damascus, speaking from heaven. His calling was divine, going back even beyond the Lord Jesus Christ to “God the Father, who raised him from the dead”.

Who would dare argue with Him, or interfere with His appointments? And who would dare minimise the great fact of the resurrection? Remarkably, this is the only direct reference to it in this epistle, but it was the risen Christ who had converted Paul, and he is everywhere in Paul’s writings. Who would dare sideline the carpente rprophet from Nazareth who died for our sins, the Son of God risen with power, and ascended to the right hand of God, the living Lord who demands loyalty and requires obedience, the inspiration and exemplar for the disciple’s transformation from flesh into Spirit, the priest-king who will return to reign, the glorious pattern for our own immortality? Who? There are such, and they are squarely in Paul’s sights. He will come to them shortly.

1:3. But first, for all his frustration and anxiety, Paul pauses to pray for those he has brought to Christ. “Grace and peace” is his standard prayer, but no empty formality: for we have been called to “the grace of Christ”, and the phrase sums up all we have experienced in him (1:6). Certainly it had been Paul’s experience, both in being forgiven for the great wrongs he had done the followers of “that way”, and in the great commission he had been given by the Lord Jesus, to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (1:15; 2:9). It is the righteousness of God extended to us through the cross of Christ (2:21), and it is in that grace, righteousness as the gracious gift of a gracious God, that we stand accepted by Him (5:4). And peace is one of the lovely things brought forth by the Spirit – peace with God, peace in oneself, peace in the ecclesial community (5:22). It comes to those who are new creatures, in whose lives faith works by love (6:16). So signal are grace and peace in our experience of God that the letter closes with another prayer for these two blessings (6:16, 18). Even with such a crisis on his hands – perhaps especially because he was confronted with such a crisis – Paul’s first response was to pray that the brothers and sisters of Galatia might experience the riches of God’s grace and peace in Jesus Christ.

1:4. And this they would do, if they thought upon what Christ had done for them. He “gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father”. It was God’s purpose, God’s plan, God’s will. Yet the Lord’s cooperation was not demanded. It was requested. He went to his death not as a conscript, but as a volunteer. And his extraordinary self-giving was a bold stroke, conceived by God, but implemented by the Lord at enormous cost to himself, to challenge us with the righteousness of God and the love of God, to fill up the measure of man’s guilt and to offer complete forgiveness in one and the same act, to “rescue us” (NASB, NIV, NET) or “set us free” (NRSV) from this sin wearied world, to empower us to shrug off the old life of sin and to grow toward God in a new life of the spirit, and to carry us at last across the darkness of death into his eternal kingdom.

1:5. What kind of a God could find it in His heart to rescue sinners in such a way? “To Him be glory for ever and ever!” Amen!

B. Only one gospel (1:6–7)

6 “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.”

1:6. But Paul can no longer keep at bay his distress at what has happened in Galatia. Omitting completely his usual expression of thanksgiving, his indignation and amazement burst upon the page.

“I marvel,” “I am amazed” (NASB), “I am astonished” (NIV), he wrote, controlling himself with difficulty, “that ye are so soon removed from him that called you” – that is, God the Father (Rom 8:30; 9:24–25; 1 Cor 1:9; 7:15, 17; 1 Thess 2:12, 14; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Pet 5:10) – “into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.”

Thee Greek reads literally, “a different gospel” (Gk heteros, ‘another of a different kind’). The changes introduced by the Judaists had so altered the gospel as to make it unrecognizable. About a year after the Galatians had first received the gospel of God’s grace they were “so quickly deserting Him” (NASB) and embracing the gospel of self-salvation by compliance with the Law. So little time! Such swift desertion! No wonder Paul was astonished.

1:7. “Which is not another,” he hastens to add, for there can be only one. Now Paul uses a different Greek word, allos, ‘another of the same kind’. There is not a gospel and a gospel. Rather, the gospel as redefined by the Judaists is the one true gospel perverted or distorted. “There be some that trouble you,” he asserted: and the elect of this evil work was to cause the Galatians to doubt Paul, to question his gospel, to lose confidence in the faith, the hope and the love which he had taught them, and which they had been so clear about and so committed to only a year or two earlier.

C. A curse on the troublemakers (1:8–10)

8 “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye 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 yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ”.

1:8. Suddenly Paul is very vehement. “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed!” To call down the curse of God on the heads of the Judaists was a fearsome thing, especially for somebody like Paul, “a Pharisee of the Pharisees,” who had stood with them before his conversion.

But now he knew the great truth that salvation could not be earned with a proud heart and a troubled conscience and a false mask of righteousness and an obsession with legal scruples and the thousand petty things of human tradition, “the commandments of men.” Rather, salvation was the gift of God: and He gave it to those who turned to Him in faith and repentance. Since Christ had come there could be only one basis for faith: and that was Jesus Christ crucified and risen again. God accounted righteous those who believed, then worked in them to produce the fruits of righteousness, the true righteousness which the Law had always illustrated, and at which it always aimed, but to which it could never bring man. Only faith could make men and women children of God.

Paul’s attitude was summed up in his later letter to the Corinthians. “I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucfied” (1 Cor 2:2). The attitude of the Judaists, by contrast, might be summed up in the slogan ‘Jesus plus’. They taught that Jesus was only the beginning. Certainly those who acknowledged their guilt before God – and of course, the world was crawling with “sinners of the Gentiles” – could find repentance and forgiveness at the foot of the cross. But God’s demand for righteousness by obedience had never changed: “Ye must be circumcised and keep the Law” (Acts 15:24). The Gentiles could inherit the promises, but only if they converted to Judaism.

This was more than an error in some detail of the gospel. It struck at the very heart of salvation in Christ, and Paul condemned those who proclaimed it. “Though we, or an angel from heaven,” he added hyperbolically, but with a sideways glance at the assertion of the Judaists that the Law was superior because it had been given to men by angels (cf Gal 3:19), “preach any other gospel … let him be accursed.” Perhaps it was not, after all, simply an alternative, but as some translations have it, “a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you” (ESV; and again v 9).

1:9. It was not a momentary loss of temper but a fixed opposition to this heresy that moved Paul to speak so fiercely. Using the perfect tense, he repeated his statement to make it clear that he meant exactly what he said: “as we have said before” (NASB).

1:10. Such bold speech must make him highly unpopular, especially among the circumcision party, but Paul was not aiming to please. “Do I now persuade men, or God?” The KJV is rather peculiar: in what sense was Paul setting out to “persuade God”? We should rather read, as do other translations, “Am I now seeking the favour of men, or of God?” (NASB) or “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?” (NIV).

“Of God,” the form of the rhetorical question clearly implies. He was not promoting an easy gospel to please men, as the Judaists hinted. He was first and foremost the servant of Christ, took his orders from his heavenly Master, and sought God’s approval.

The Judaists were seeking to please men rather than God; an assertion to which he returns later in the letter (2:11–14; 5:11; 6:12–13). Not Paul, however: he says, “Am I striving” (NASB) or “trying” (ESV) to please man? The form of the question clearly implies, “No, Paul, you are not.” Just as well: for as Paul points out, “If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.”

The ground has been cleared: a ring has been drawn: coats have been removed: the crowd has taken a step back. With these fighting words in the air, Paul is ready for the serious work of defending the validity of his apostleship and the veracity of his gospel.