Paul an apostle — sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead — and all the members of God’s family who are with me, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed! Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.Galatians 1:1-10
Greetings & Salutations (vs 1)
This is the typical opening, typical greeting of letters in Paul’s time, with one exception. Paul gives himself the title of Apostle. The word apostle just means “one who is sent,” so Paul very quickly makes the distinction that he is sent by God, and not by men. A point he will dig into deeper later on. But the entirety of Galatians has to do with correcting the people Paul to whom he himself had taught the Gospel. The people of Galatia were being led astray by those who would claim that Paul wasn’t really sent by God, and that maybe, just maybe, Paul hadn’t quite gotten the Gospel just right. They themselves, we’ll find out from Paul’s letter, seem to think that they do have it right.
The People of Galatia (vs 2)
The people of Galatia were those who had settled in what is now modern day Turkey, and had come from the Gallic people, the Gauls, perhaps from Iberia (Spain), or one of the other Gallic tribes. The entire Roman region was called Galatia, and so it’s not necessarily sure if Paul is referring to an ethnic group, or the churches of the entire region, which would have included Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and Tarsus among others. Since Paul was from Tarsus, it would be quite possible that he would also be considered a Galatian himself.
The Gospel in Brief (vs. 3-5)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. AmenGalatians 1:3-5
It’s pretty impressive how Paul quickly summarizes the message that he has taught the Galatians in verses three through five. He wants to remind the people of what he taught them before he confronts the Gospel other teachers are presenting starting in verse six.
The gist of it is this: Grace and Peace to you (the Galatians) from Jesus Christ, who offered himself as a sacrifice for your sins. He did this so that he might deliver you from this present evil age, according to the will of God, to whom be Glory forever and ever.
There is a cyclical nature in these short verses that speak to what Paul will expound on later in the letter. We receive the gifts of grace, peace, and forgiveness of sins through a sacrifice of one man. The Galatians did nothing, and more importantly, had to do nothing, to receive that gift. And because of this, they give thanks, praise, and Glory to God forever. When they sin again, they are once again forgiven, and once again acknowledge the Glory of God. And the cycle repeats indefinitely, because we will continue to fall short of God’s glory and fall back into sin.
Now, Paul doesn’t make it this explicit in these short verses, but since he goes on through the letter to explain these very truths, he is, in effect, giving them this Gospel in brief to remind them of the truths that he taught them.
One thing that I think bears emphasis is the phrase, “that he might deliver us from this present evil age.” The Gospel is not just something that will save the Galatians from eternal damnation, but is intended to make their lives better now. This is something that Paul brings up not only in this letter, but in other letters as well. The Gospel makes life worth living now, and provides peace, joy, happiness, and self-control (things we’ll see again in chapter 5). This liberty in Christ is a common theme in Paul, and I think that they are often the most misunderstood words. Some believe that this liberty gives them a license to sin as they wish, and others fail to understand what it truly means to be forgiven, an therefore resort to a hybrid faith of living according to an unwritten set of morals that they believe will justify them before the eyes of God.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed! Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval?Galatians 1:6-9
Some politicians have called entire segments of the media “Fake News” simply because they don’t want people to hear the truth; most politicians know that the quickest way to discredit a message is to discredit the messenger. Most criminal defense attorneys know the same thing, and actively try to persuade the people of the jury that the witness on the stand cannot be trusted; often it is just because the witness has an undesirable event in their past. It’s an incredibly effective strategy; most people would clearly not want to be treated or judged in this way, but they are quick to judge another person as untrustworthy simply because that person has been found wanting.
This is, effectively, what Paul had to deal with. While again, we don’t find it here in these verses, there were people speaking against Paul, and the gospel that Paul taught. They were speaking against him because he was preaching without having been “sent” by those in Jerusalem. In other words, Paul was not the “apostle” that he claimed to be. He was preaching a Gospel that didn’t hold the authority of those from Jerusalem, so he should not be trusted. Moreover, it seems that they may have been accusing him of being a people pleaser, since he was not endorsing the need to live up to the Jewish law (specifically, the practice of circumcision), and instead was advocating for a salvation that came through faith alone, which didn’t seem to indicate any particular sacrifice from people – at least not visibly – hence the reason for the accusation that he was pleasing people.
Paul marvels at how they are turning away from the Gospel “so soon” and turning to a “different gospel.” They are not preaching a “better gospel” or just a different “good” gospel; instead, these men are diluting the good news, taking the power away from the Gospel of freedom and faith that Paul preached to them. The exact nature of the message that these men were preaching becomes clearer in later chapters. They were preaching a gospel that relied heavily on following the Mosaic law (chapters 3 & 4), and in particular following through on circumcision (chapter 5). The entire logic behind returning to a law-based gospel completely befuddles Paul. He cannot seem to understand why people would want to place themselves under the law, under a set of rules, when Christ offers freedom from this sort of behavior.
But it wasn’t just the Galatians that followed this sort of behavior. There are people that place themselves into legalistic frameworks even now. And while it seems counterintuitive, following a legalistic, rules based faith is often easier than being free in Christ. Why? Because when we are following rules, we come to believe that our future success, or future salvation depends upon how well we keep those rules. But in a Gospel driven by a relationship with the God of the universe, we are required to examine ourselves and check our motivations, to look upon our neighbors with love, and to treat them as we want to be treated. We might be able to follow the rules and feed the poor in our community, but look upon them with contempt, and not with love. A legalistic faith is an easy faith, a weak faith. And, ironically, also a more oppressive faith. This is why Paul wanted those who taught this gospel to be accursed. The Gospel that he taught is one of liberty, and, while it grants the believer more freedom, it also requires that constant cyclical faith that we saw in verses 3-5. But this clear-cut, straightforward faith is easier to digest than what Paul taught them, and that is why the Galatians – and so many people today – jump into a faith that justifies them before the eyes of their neighbors and before God simply by living up to a certain moral standard.
Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.Galatians 1:10
Because a legalistic faith is in many ways an easier faith than the constant self-examination and willingness to allow the Spirit to mold us, Paul finishes this train of thought with a couple of questions. “Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people?” He asks this because in many ways, those preaching this gospel of legalism were allowing people to reduce their faith to a set of rules. It made their faith easier in many ways, because they could assume their own righteousness simply by keeping the law. Even though it seems counterintuitive, these men were in many ways preaching a gospel the people wanted to hear. But Paul knew that this gospel would eventually be more oppressive than the Gospel of liberty that he preached, because it would demand more and more adherence to rules, rather than a life lived in a true relationship with the divine.
In my own experience, I have been confronted by people who do not want to hear a difficult message, simply because they would rather hear that they are doing well according to whatever standard of morality they hold for themselves. But just because people give to the church, help out the poor and less fortunate, refrain from gossip, or whatever else is on their numbered list of oughts, does not mean that they have truly entered into a relationship with the God of the universe.
This is why Paul finishes this final thought with the statement, “If I were pleasing people, I would not still be a bondservant of Christ.” In other words, if Paul were pleasing people, he wouldn’t still be going around preaching the Gospel he is preaching. It would be much easier for him to simply preach what people wanted to hear, and if he did that, then he could go right along with what these other men were preaching. But Paul wants them to come to a deeper relationship with God, and not just find a way to assuage their own consciences about their faith.
Important Words and Phrases
μετατίθημι– metatithemi – “To fall away,” from τίθημι – tithemi 1
μεταστρέφω – metastrepho – “I change, alter, pervert.” Used only twice in the New Testament, and means “to turn,” and “to change.” Used in Acts 2:20 and Gal. 1:7 2
ἀνάθεμα, ατος, τό – anathema – This word, based on accents, can mean both “something dedicated to deity” and “something put under divine curse.” Paul usually uses the word as the object of a curse. “Handing over to God’s judicial wrath is the idea.” 3
πείθω – peitho – “to convince, persuade” In Gal. 1:10 the sense depends on whether the two questions are parallel. If they are, God is the answer, for it is God’s favor that Paul seeks. If they are not, he is asking whom he seeks to persuade with his preaching, and the answer is “men.” In this case, the parallel is a material one; Paul pleases God by his efforts to persuade men. 4
ἀρέσκω – aresko – “to please” in expression of an attitude or approach 5
1 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in one Volume (TDNT, I Vol.), pp 1179
2 TDNT, I Vol., pp 1096
3 TNDT, I Vol., pp 57
4 TNDT, I Vol., pp 818
5 TNDT, I Vol., pp. 77
Mike is a jack of all trades, master of none. He’s a data analyst, programmer, and loves to cook. If he doesn’t have his face buried in a book or is staring blankly at a computer screen, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride.
Mike holds a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary.