Galatians 1: Christ Alone

Christ_alone_01062014By Stephen W. Hiemstra

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14 ESV).

How do you introduce yourself?

Paul’s first statement after his name is to say he is an apostle and, not through men, but through Jesus Christ (v 1).  In other letters, Paul refers to himself either as an apostle or as a slave (δοῦλος) of Christ.  Moses is likewise referred to as a slave of the Lord (מֹשֶׁ֖ה עֶ֣בֶד יְהוָ֑ה (Joshua 1:1 WTT))

Paul’s introduction as an apostle is surprising because in the Greek apostle (ἀποστολικός BDAG1010) means messenger, envoy.  For most of the apostles, the term referred to disciples who were specifically appointed by Jesus and had served Jesus for three years (Mark 3:16-19).  By contrast, Paul never knew Jesus during this ministry and never followed him.  Quite the contrary, Paul persecuted the church (Acts 8:3). Paul’s commissioning as an apostle came through a vision of the risen Christ (Acts 9:4-19).  Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus led him to a dramatic change in faith and calling much like the prophet Ezekiel (2:1-3).  We might expect that Paul would brag, not about his call, but about his education under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).

After his introduction (vv 1-2) and a blessing (vv 3-5), Paul gets down to brass tacks:  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 (Galatians 1:6 ESV).  Paul basically accuses them of heresy and twice lays down a curse (ἀνάθεμα) on those that might preach it (vv 8-9).  Verse 6 accordingly sets up an important theme for the entire letter.  What is the “grace of Christ”; what is this “different gospel”; and how do they differ?  Paul then goes on to justify his authority to offer this critique—the focus of the rest of chapter 1.

Paul’s careful introduction of himself and his autobiography form an important foundation for the gospel that he presents latter in his letter.  His unusual credentials as an apostle called directly by the risen Christ, not by men (v 1), serves to initiate this foundation.  He then argues that the gospel of Christ is a revelation, not of men, but of Christ himself (vv 10-12).  Paul’s schooling as a pharisee (in this different gospel) and persecution of the church make it unlikely that he simply thought up a new doctrine (vv 13-16).  Neither was Paul taught by the Jerusalem church nor Christian leaders whom he only visited after 3 three years in Arabia (vv 17-20).  In fact, he was already preaching and teaching in Syria and Cilicia before he had any contact with the church (vv 21-24).  The point of this long biography is to reinforce the uniqueness of the gospel of Jesus Christ which Christ and Christ alone revealed to Paul.

How does your faith story affect the faith that you profess?

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