“Hello. Paul here."
- 1:1 From: Paul, an apostle,1 who didn’t get this job from some committee of humans. I got it through Jesus the Messiah and through God the Father who raised him from the dead.
- 1:2 This letter is also from believers who are with me.
To: All the churches scattered throughout the region of Galatia. 2
- 1:3 My hope for you is that you’ll experience the kindness and peace that come from God our Father and from our leader, Jesus the Messiah.
- 1:4 Jesus died because of our sins. He did this because he wanted to rescue us from this evil world. This was something God the Father wanted for us, too.
- 1:5 We should never stop thanking God for this. And that’s the truth.3
Are you crazy?
- 1:6 Wow! I can’t believe you’re already deserting God. He gave you a gracious invitation through the Messiah. But now you’re headed in the opposite direction, following a fake version of the Good News.4
- 1:7 There isn’t another version of the Good News—at least none that’s genuine. All the others are counterfeit. There are some folks out there who have distorted the Good News about the Messiah. And they’ve confused the dickens out of you.
- 1:8 Listen people, if we or anyone else ever preaches a version of the Good News different from the one we preached to you—doggone it, if even an angel from heaven does it—I hope that person gets exiled5 forever from God.
- 1:9 Okay, I’m going to say it one more time. If anyone stands in front of you and preaches a version of the Good News that clashes with the message you’ve already received, let that person be damned.6
- 1:10 When I talk like this, does it sound like I care what people think? Or am I doing what God wants me to do? Am I trying to get on the good side of people? If I worry about what people are thinking, I’d be working for them instead of working for the Messiah.
I didn’t make this stuff up
- 1:11 I want you to know something, family. The Good News I’m preaching isn’t something that someone made up.
- 1:12 I didn’t get it from human beings. Nobody taught it to me. I got it straight from Jesus the Messiah.7
- 1:13 You’ve heard what I was like in the Jewish religion, and how I obsessively persecuted God’s church. I tried to wipe out the church.
- 1:14 I was passionate about protecting the Jewish traditions of our ancestors. Because of this, I earned a name for myself and I started to advance up the ranks in the Jewish religion. I was getting the jump on others my own age.
- 1:15 But even before I was born, God in his kindness8 developed a plan for my life.
- 1:16 He gave me a job to do: spread the word about his Son to people who aren’t Jews. When I realized that this is what God wanted me to do, I didn’t have to consult with anyone about it.
- 1:17 I didn’t go up to Jerusalem to get the blessing of the apostles. Instead, I left Damascus and went to Arabia9 for a while. Then I went back to Damascus.
- 1:18 It was more than three years later that I went up to Jerusalem and met Peter10. I stayed with him for 15 days.
- 1:19 The only other apostle I met at the time was the Lord’s brother, James.
- 1:20 With God as my witness, I want you to know that what I’m writing to you is not a lie.
- 1:21 After Jerusalem, I went north to the regions of Syria and Cilicia.11
I was just a rumor
- 1:22 Yet after all that time I was still an unknown, as far as the Messiah’s churches in Judea were concerned.
- 1:23 All they knew about me was a rumor: “The guy who used to persecute us is now preaching our message. He joined the faith he tried to bury.”
- 1:24 I gave them a good reason to thank God.
Apostle means “official messenger,” such as a delegate or an ambassador sent to deliver a message. The title “apostle” came to mean disciples hand-picked by Jesus to tell his story and spread his teachings. The title usually referred to the 12 original disciples of Jesus and to Paul, who met Jesus in a miraculous encounter while Paul was traveling to Damascus to arrest Christians (Acts 9:5).
Galatia was a Roman province in what is now central Turkey (see map). Paul wrote the book of Galatians to these people. But Galatia was also the name of territories in northern Italy and in what is now France, then called Gaul.
The Greek word for “Good News” is euangelion, from which we get words such as evangelize and evangelical.
The Greek word for exiled is anathema, often translated as “cursed.” Many Bible experts said the idea is similar to a “ban” in the Old Testament. When something was considered banned by God, the Jews destroyed it. That’s what happened when the Jews returned home from exile in Egypt and they came to the city of Jericho. They considered this city “banned,” so they destroyed it and everyone inside of it. Declaring someone cursed essentially declared them as guilty and then placed them in front of God, who would hold them accountable for what they had done.
The original Greek word, anathema, is often translated as “cursed.” See footnote 1:8.
The Greek word Paul uses to describe this is apokalypsis, often translated “revelation.” This word might refer to the message itself. But most Bible experts seem to think Paul was referring to the manner in which he got the message. “All of a sudden, a light beam hit him. It came from out of the sky and lit up the area all around him… Saul [Paul] said, ‘Who are you, sir?’ The voice replied, ‘I’m Jesus, the one you’re treating like a criminal’” (Acts 9:3, 5).
It’s unclear exactly where Paul went. Arabia could refer to what is now Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and other Middle Eastern countries east of what is now Israel. Why Paul went there is also a mystery. One popular theory is that he went there to spend some time alone rethinking his religion and studying his Bible to see how Jesus fits into the story. When he later started his public ministry, he taught about how the prophets had predicted Jesus.
Paul used the Aramaic form of Peter’s name, Cephas. Aramaic was a language spoken by people in many countries of the region. Many Jews spoke it, along with Hebrew and Greek.
Paul grew up in the Roman province of Cilicia, in the city of Tarsus (Acts 21:39).
This is the angriest surviving letter Paul wrote. He was fed up with Jewish Christians trying to pressure non-Jews into observing all the ancient Jewish laws. Those included laws that require all men to be circumcised, and that everyone eat only kosher food—no pork, no lobster, no softshell crabs. What’s your first clue in this chapter that Paul is going to bring the hammer down?
How do you react to Paul damning people who teach a version of the story of Jesus that clashes with what he taught? Do you think Paul may have been letting his anger get the better of him?
Paul says he didn’t get his new religious ideas from any human beings. “I got it straight from Jesus the Messiah” (1:12). The Greek word describing this is usually translated “revelation.” That’s a pretty vague way of describing. What do you think Paul had in mind?
Why do you think Paul wanted to emphasize that he didn’t get his teaching from any human being or even from the apostles who had spent time with Jesus (1:12, 17)?
After Paul’s encounter with Jesus when Paul was on the road to Damascus, headed there to arrest Jews who embraced the teachings of Jesus, Paul left town. “I left Damascus and went to Arabia for a while” (1:17). Many Bible experts say they have no idea exactly where he went in the sprawling region known as Arabia, how long he stayed, or what he did while he was there. What do you think was going on with Paul? Why do you think he went there?
It’s not surprising that Jews started plotting to kill Saul. First in Damascus. Then in Jerusalem, once Saul went back there. Believers eventually convinced him to sail out of Caesarea and go home to Tarsus. He won’t show up again for many years. Not until a minister named Barnabas invites him to help lead the group of believers in Antioch, Syria (Acts 11:25-26). What would you guess Saul the tentmaker (Acts 18:3) did in Tarsus during those lost years? Just make tents?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul’s turnaround was remarkable—from a Jew who hunted down Christians for trial and execution to one of the principal leaders in the Christian movement. As the story is reported in Acts 9, and as Paul confirms in some of his letters, it took direct intervention from Jesus himself to produce that turnaround. If you have seen anyone whose life turned around dramatically, toward Christ, what did it take to turn them?