Why Did Paul Marvel?
Were it not for the first word of the book, we might never guess that the apostle Paul wrote the book of Galatians. It is missing so many of his trademarks. He skips his habitual barrage of praise for the church he addresses. Gone are the friendly greetings to beloved brethren. Missing is the intricate doctrinal development of Romans, Ephesians, and (if indeed he wrote it) Hebrews. Instead we see him hastily, even angrily, piling argument upon argument in an attempt to bring his readers to their senses. Perhaps even more than Philippians, it is the most emotional of all his epistles.
Paul says in Galatians 1:6, "I am amazed ["I marvel," KJV] that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel." (All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.) His concerns are so profound and so diverse, he is moved to use every rhetorical tool in his ample arsenal, with devastating effect.
Paul marveled that they rejected the all-sufficiency of the Savior. They heard the glorious gospel of the crucified Lord, Paul reminds them in chapter 3. He sums up this point in verses 2 and 3 - "This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" They had not needed the Law to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit (as many of them undoubtedly had), or to understand His words as imparted to Paul and other inspired teachers and prophets. But their actions intimated that to be "perfected" they felt they had to submit to circumcision.
Paul puts it even more bluntly in chapter 5, verses 2-4 -- "Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you ... You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." Paul did not mean that no Christian could be circumcised and be a partaker of grace; he himself was circumcised (Phil. 3:5). He circumcised at least one of their own, a young Lystran named Timothy (Acts 16:1). The problem was the binding of the procedure as law. Paul tells in Galatians 2:3 how he refused to circumcise Titus, signifying to the Jewish Christians that it was not necessary and that Paul refused to "kowtow" to their prejudices.
Paul marveled that they rejected the new covenant for the old. As chapter 3 continues, Paul reminds his readers that the promises made to Abraham preceded the Law of Moses by 430 years. The law didn't nullify that promise. Instead, the law was a "tutor" or "schoolmaster," entrusted with the task of leading us to Christ (v.24). It is through Christ that we are sons of God, not through the law.
Paul marveled that they rejected his apostolic authority. Occasionally Paul is moved to defend his apostleship; generally, through, he does so grudgingly, embarrassed that he needs to draw attention to himself. ("I speak as if insane," he says in 2 Cor. 11:23). Not so in Galatians. Immediately he insists that the gospel he preached was the only one to be heeded. The Judaizers apparently claimed a higher authority for their teaching than Paul had for his -- perhaps even (falsely) carrying the name of one or more of the other apostles. Paul had been cast as a secondary apostle, deriving his authority from "the twelve." Paul vehemently denies this.
First he reminds them that his teaching was divine in origin. "For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ," (Gal. 1:12). Then, after receiving it, he went away to Arabia and then back to Damascus -- not to Jerusalem to get "marching orders" from Peter and James. When he finally did go to Jerusalem, he didn't even see most of the apostles. Chapter 2 tells how Paul returned for the "Jerusalem Conference" (see Acts 15) and how he stood up for his doctrine of Gentile inclusion even then before James and Peter, and how they accepted it. He even chastised Peter publicly for slighting the Gentiles - something Peter himself taught against (Acts 10:34; 11:17).
Paul marveled that they rejected him personally. It is clear from chapter 4 that their apostasy affected Paul emotionally. He reminds them how they cared for him in their infirmity that brought him to them in the first place. They were eager to receive him "as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself," (v.14). How could they blindly accept a doctrine that reflected so poorly on the one who brought them the gospel initially?
Paul marveled that they rejected a specific warning. Paul had warned them about the Judaising teachers just a couple of years prior to the writing of this epistle. Now, after delivering the letter from James and the brethren that was penned in Acts 15 (citing aspects of Gentile society that could not be tolerated, and leaving out central elements of the Jewish faith - including circumcision), here they were falling into the very trap of which he spoke.
We must take heed today as well. There are some today who minimize the importance and validity of Paul's doctrine, who try to bind parts of the law upon Christians, who reduce Christianity to a prideful works-based doctrine instead of the Christ-centered teaching of grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-10). Let us not make the Galatians' mistake of succumbing to some slick talker who would rob Christ of His due glory. Let us live our lives in humble obedience, knowing that trust in the word, its inspired writes, and the Savior who inspried it will bring "peace and mercy" (Gal. 6:16) into our lives.
By Hal Hammons
From Expository Files 5.8; August 1998