For the Love of God, Volume 1/September 25
From Gospel Translations
2 Samuel 21; Galatians 1; Ezekiel 28; Psalm 77
THE OPENING LINES OF Paul’s letters are usually crafted with great care. The simplest form of letters in the ancient Greek world was: “From me, to you, Greetings”—often followed by some statement of thanks, and then the body of the letter. But Paul’s customary practice is to “tweak” every component to anticipate what is coming in the rest of his letter. Thus a study of his letter as a whole enriches our understanding of his opening lines—and vice versa (Gal. 1:1-5).
(1) Paul does not always introduce himself as “an apostle.” Sometimes he uses no designation (e.g., 1 and 2 Thess.); sometimes he refers to himself as a “servant” (Rom. 1:1). Here he is “Paul, an apostle” because some people were troubling the Galatian Christians with a “different gospel” that was “really no gospel at all” (1:6- 7), and to do so they had to undermine Paul’s authority and dismiss him as, at best, a derivative apostle.
(2) Not so, Paul says: not only is he an apostle, but he was “sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father” (1:1). His apostleship was not mediated, as if he had been commissioned by the Jerusalem church, or by some individual first-class apostle there. Rather, he was sent “by Jesus Christ,” based on his Damascus Road experience of seeing the risen and exalted Jesus himself, and by God the Father.
(3) Paul further designates God the Father as the one who raised Jesus from the dead. Paul had seen the raised Jesus, the resurrected Jesus. In his years as a devout Pharisee, he had dismissed Jesus as an evil pretender, a malefactor, cursed by God as was clear from the manner of his death. Seeing the resurrected Jesus for himself made Paul rethink everything. Jesus was vindicated by God himself, and the good news of which Paul was an apostle is grounded in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
(4) However much he insists on his apostolic status and authority, Paul wisely associates himself and his teaching with “all the brothers” with him (1:2). If the Galatians angle off toward this “different gospel,” they must know that they are not only turning away from Paul, but from the countless believers who agree with Paul.
(5) Instead of the traditional greeting Chairein, Paul uses the Christian word grace (charis) and the Jewish greeting peace (shalom in Hebrew) and grounds these blessings in the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus (1:3-5)—not on any particular relationship to the Law of Moses.
(6) Astonishingly, Paul leaves out the “thanks” section, and immediately drives toward his astonished rebuke of the impending defection of his readers (1:6- 10). However rare, there are times when a rebuke will not wait.