Epistle to the Galatians 1 – 2:14

Pekka Jauhiainen
Reija Becks

Paul as a teacher of the gospel

In chapters 1-2, Paul brings up that he is a true teacher of the gospel and apostle. Paul had to prove this because there were false teachers who had come to Galatia, and they were mixing adherence to the law of Moses into the gospel. The false teachers thought that every Christian should at least be circumcised and follow the Mosaic law regarding food regulations and feast days (Gal. 2:11-13; 4:9-11; 5:2-4; 6:12-13). According to these teachers, it is only this way that you can be a true Christian. Since the false teachers tried to put an end to the doctrine brought by Paul, he had to convince the Galatians that he was a true teacher. In the opening chapters, he asserted this in the following ways:

  1. (Gal. 1:1–5) Paul says that he received his apostleship directly from Jesus Christ and God the Father. At the same time, he says that the centre of the gospel is the work of Jesus who sacrificed himself for our iniquities. Christ was raised from the dead by God the Father. The opening verses also include the greeting of grace and peace, like at the beginning of all Paul's letters.

  2. (Gal. 1:6–10) Paul rebukes the Galatians for having departed from the true gospel. At the same time, he gives judgment in harsh words to those proclaiming a false gospel – especially those who had come to Galatia to confuse things. He also says that to be mistaken about the essence of the gospel is fatal. So, the letter deals with particularly serious issues.

  3. (Gal. 1:11–24) The first thought in this section is that the gospel is not according to the human mind. Man cannot in his own ingenuity bring out the gospel or even understand it. One evidence of this is the fact that Paul had persecuted Christians. He had heard about Jesus and the gospel but nonetheless persecuted the followers of the true doctrine. Only after meeting Jesus did he understand it. This required crucial action by Jesus. After his conversion, Paul received the gospel and his mission directly from Jesus and not from people. He was called in the same way as the other apostles. Thus, Paul’s commission has greater authority and is more reliable than that of his opponents. As a result of this assignment, Paul immediately after his conversion also worked in Arabia without any special invitation.

  4. (Gal. 2:1–10) It was only after Paul’s conversion 14 years later that a meeting is held in which Paul explains what the gospel he preaches is like. Peter had similarly given an explanation after proclaiming the gospel to gentiles (Acts 11, 15). Paul had been working longer among the Gentiles whereas Peter had just begun his ministry. In this meeting, the important persons of the church in Jerusalem understood that Paul had been given the great commission to preach the gospel among the Gentiles. The meeting had been infiltrated by false brothers who wanted to push them to also proclaim slavery to the law (Gal. 2:4). This same group had begun to go from place to place and was also behind the problems in Galatia.

  5. (Gal. 2:11–14) Paul's gospel is the true gospel, and therefore he can even oppose the actions of Peter, or Cephas, if necessary. Because Peter acted wrongly concerning the false gospel, his action consequently led others to act wrongly. In the same way, Christians were now being lured in the wrong direction in Galatia and Paul had the right to correct the situation.

This is how Paul proved that his gospel has great authority and is based on a direct assignment from Jesus Christ.

Paul's authority is often questioned in many ways:
1) It can be considered an inferior presentation compared to the other texts in the Bible.
2) Some of Paul's texts are considered only products of their time.
3) In the worst case, Paul's texts are completely rejected.

As Paul's mission is directly from Jesus, and we believe that the Holy Spirit was influencing the writing process, we must give them authority (2 Tim 3:16-17; 1 Pet 1:12; 2 Pet 1:19-21). We do not always understand everything that Paul writes, but that is because of our imperfection.

After Paul gave reasons for his authority, he writes about his personal relationship with Christ. In his testimony, the focus is the crucified Christ. His example is discussed under the next heading.