Galatians 1:1-5, a Puritan Commentary


1 Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)

Matthew Poole

The term apostle, in its native signification, signifieth no more then one sent; in its ecclesiastical use, it signifies one extraordinarily sent to preach the gospel; of these some were sent either more immediately by Christ, (as the twelve were sent: Mt 10:1, Mr 3:14, Lu 9:1), or more mediately, as Matthias, who was sent by the suffrage of the other apostles to supply the place of Judas, Ac 1:25-26, and Barnabas, and Silas. Paul saith he was sent not of men, neither by man, that is, not merely; for he was also sent by men to his particular province (Ac 13:3); but he was immediately sent by Jesus Christ, (as we read in Ac 9:1-43 and Ac 26:14-17), of which also he gives us an account in this chapter (Ga 1:15-17), and by God the Father also, who, he saith, raised Christ from the dead. By this phrase the apostle doth not only assert Christ’s resurrection, and the influence of the Father upon his resurrection, (though he rose by his own power, and took up his own life again, and was also quickened by the Spirit), but he also showeth a specialty in his call to the apostleship. As it differed from the call of ordinary ministers, who are called by men (though their ministry be not merely of men); so it differed from the call of the rest of the apostles, being made by Christ not in his state of humiliation, (as the twelve were called in Mt 10:1-42), but in his state of exaltation, after he was raised from the dead, and sat down on the right hand of God.

John Gill

‘Paul an apostle, not of men, neither by man…’  The writer of this epistle, Paul, puts his name to it, as to all his epistles, excepting that to the Hebrews, if that be his, being neither afraid nor ashamed to own what is herein contained. He asserts himself to be “an apostle”, which was the highest office in the church, to which he was immediately called by Christ, and confirmed in it by signs and wonders. This he chose to mention, because of the false teachers, who had insinuated he was no apostle, and not to be regarded; whereas he had received grace and apostleship from Christ, and was an apostle, “not of men”, as were the apostles or messengers of the sanhedrim; and as were the false apostles, who were sent out by men, who had no authority to send them forth: the apostle, as he did not take this honour to himself, did not thrust himself into this office, or run before he was sent; so he was not sent by men; he did not act upon human authority, or by an human commission: this is said in opposition to the false apostles, and to an unlawful investiture with the office of apostleship, and an usurpation of it, as well as to distinguish himself from the messengers and ambassadors of princes, who are sent with credentials by them to negotiate civil affairs for them in foreign courts, he being an ambassador of Christ; and from the messengers of churches, who were sometimes sent with assistance or advice to other churches; and he moreover says, “nor by man”; by a mere man, but by one that was more than a man; nor by a mortal man, but by Christ, as raised from the dead, immortal and glorious at God’s right hand: or rather the sense is, he was not chosen into the office of apostleship by the suffrages of men, as Matthias was; or he was not ordained an apostle in the manner the ordinary ministers of the Gospel and pastors are, by the churches of Christ; so that as the former clause is opposed to an unlawful call of men, this is opposed to a lawful one; and shows him to be not an ordinary minister, but an extraordinary one, who was called to this office, not mediately by men, by any of the churches as common ministers are:

‘but by Jesus Christ;’ immediately, without the intervention of men, as appears from (Acts 26:16-18) . For what Ananias did upon his conversion was only putting his hands on him to recover his sight, and baptizing him; it was Christ that appeared to him personally, and made him a minister; and his separation with Barnabas, by the church, under the direction of the Holy Ghost, (Acts 13:2-4) was to some particular work and service to be done by them, and not to apostleship, and which was long after Paul was made an apostle by Christ. Jesus Christ being here opposed to man, does not suggest that he was not a man, really and truly, for he certainly was; he partook of the same flesh and blood with us, and was in all things made like unto us, sin excepted; but that he was not a mere man, he was truly God as well as man; for as the raising him from the dead, in the next clause, shows him to be a man, or he could not have died; so his being opposed to man, and set in equality with God the Father, in this verse, and grace and peace being prayed for from him, as from the Father, (Gal 1:4) and the same glory ascribed to him as to the Father, (Gal 1:5) prove him to be truly and properly God. The apostle adds,

‘and God the Father;’ Christ and his Father being of the same nature and essence, power and authority, as they are jointly concerned and work together in the affairs or nature and Providence, so in those of grace; and particularly in constituting and ordaining apostles, and setting them in the church. This serves the more to confirm the divine authority under which Paul acted as an apostle, being not only made so by Christ, but also by God the Father, who is described as he,

‘who raised him from the dead;’ which is observed, not so much to express the divine power of the Father, or the glory of Christ, as raised from the dead, but to strengthen the validity of the apostle’s character and commission as such; to whom it might have been objected, that he had not seen Christ in the flesh, nor familiarly conversed with him, as the rest of the apostles did: to which he was able to reply, that he was not called to be an apostle by Christ in his low and mean estate of humiliation, but by him after he was raised from the dead, and was set down at the right hand of God; who personally appeared to him in his glory, and was seen by him, and who made and appointed him his apostle, to bear his name before Gentiles, and kings, and the people of Israel; so that his call to apostleship was rather more grand and illustrious than that of any of the other apostles.

2 And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:

Matthew Poole

He writeth not only in his own name, but in the name of all those other Christians that were with him in the place where he now was (whether Rome or Corinth, or some other place, is uncertain); with whose consent and privity probably he wrote, possibly at their instigation, and whose common consent in that doctrine of faith which he handleth, (as well as in other things about which he writeth), he here declareth. Some think that the apostle forbears the term saints, or sanctified in Christ Jesus, &c., commonly used in his other Epistles, because of that apostacy for which he designed to reprove them; but it is implied in the term churches. Galatia was a large country, and had in it many famous cities; it was neither wholly Christian, nor yet such as to the major part; but there were in it several particular congregations of Christians, which he calleth churches; every congregation of Christians using to meet together to worship God, being a church, a particular church, though all such congregations make up but one universal visible church. Nor, being guilty of no idolatry, though corrupted in some particular points of doctrine, and those of moment, doth the apostle deny them the name of churches, though he sharply rebuketh them for their errors.

John Gill

‘And all the brethren which are with me,’ Meaning either the brethren of the church where he was when he wrote this epistle, who were children of the same Father, regenerated by the same grace, belonged to the same family and household of God, and were heirs together of the grace of life; or else his fellow ministers, who were assisting to him in his work, and were companions with him in his travels, and whom he sometimes mentions by name and joins with him in his epistles, as Sosthenes, Silvanus, and Timothy; and the rather he takes notice of the brethren here, whoever are meant, to show that they agreed with him in the doctrines of grace he defends, and in the charges he brought against this church, and in the reproofs and advice he gave them; which he might suppose, and hope, would have the greater weight and influence upon them;

‘unto the churches of Galatia;’ Galatia was a country in the lesser Asia, inhabited by the Gauls, who coming thither out of Europe, mixed with the Grecians; whence it was first called Gallo Graecia, and afterwards Galatia. The metropolis of it, as Pliny says, was formerly Gordium, and the chief towns or cities, according to him, were Ancyra, Tavium, and Pessinus; and in some, or all of these places, it is very probable, were the churches here mentioned. It seems there were more than one in this country; for the primitive churches were not national nor provincial, but congregational, consisting of persons called out of the world, and joined together in holy fellowship and who walked in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord: and though these churches had many among them that were disorderly, and were swerving from the faith of the Gospel, yet were not unchurched, but honoured still with the name of churches, there being no perfection to be expected in this state of things; as not in particular persons, so not in congregated bodies and societies; though it is observed by some, that they are barely called churches, without any additional epithets, as churches of God, beloved of God, called to be saints, faithful and sanctified in Christ, which are bestowed on other churches; whereby the apostle is thought to show his indignation and resentment at their principles and practices. For quickly after the Gospel was preached unto them, false teachers crept in among them, endeavouring to subvert it, by mixing it with the law, and joining Moses and Christ; and in which they very much succeeded; and is the reason of the apostle’s writing this epistle.

3 Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ,

Matthew Poole

A common, as well as religious and Christian, form of salutation; Paul’s mark in every Epistle, and used by him without any variation, (except in his Epistles to Timothy and Titus, where he only adds mercy &c.), the want of which, as also of his name, offers some grounds to doubt whether he wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews. Paul had used it in the beginning of his Epistle to the Romans, and both the Epistles to the Corinthians: see the notes on Ro 1:7, 1Co 1:3, and 2Co 1:2). It teaches us, in our common discourses, whether epistolary or otherwise, to speak to our friends like Christians, who understand and believe that the grace, mercy, and peace from God, are the most desirable good things.

John Gill

‘Grace to be you,’ After the inscription above, in which the writer of the epistle, and the persons joined to him, are described, and the churches to whom it is written, follows the salutation in these words, and which is common to all the epistles of this apostle; of the sense of which, see Ro 1:7. The Alexandrian copy reads, “from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ”; and the Ethiopic version reads, “our Father”.

4 Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:

Matthew Poole

Which Christ, though he was put to death by Pilate and the Jews, yet he was not compelled to die; for he laid down his life, no man took it from him (Joh 10:17-18). Sometimes it is said, he died for our sins (as Ro 5:8); sometimes, that he gave himself, (meaning, to death as in Eph 5:2, 25, 1Ti 2:6, Tit 2:14): he was given by his Father, and he gave himself by his own free and spontaneous act.

‘For our sins’ must be interpreted by other scriptures: here is the defect of a word here, which the Socinians would have to be remission; others, expiation (of which remission is a consequent). Both, doubtless, are to be understood, and something more also, which is expressed in the following words of the verse. Remission of sins is granted to be the effect of the death of Christ, but not the primary and sole effect thereof; but consequential to the propitiation (mentioned in Ro 3:25); the redemption (Eph 1:7); the sacrifice (Heb 10:12): both which texts show the absurdity of the Socinians, in quoting those texts to favour their notion of Christ’s dying for the remission of our sins, without giving the justice of God satisfaction. And though some other texts mention Christ’s dying for our sins, without mention of such expiation, propitiation, redemption, or satisfaction; yet they must be interpreted by the latitude of the end of Christ’s death (expressed in other scriptures) relating to sin. Which is not only expiation and remission, but the delivery of us from the lusts and corruptions of this present evil world. The apostle here deciphers this world, by calling it present and evil: by the first, he hinteth to us, that there is a world to come; by the latter, he showeth the sinful practices of the greatest part of men, (for by world he means the corruption of persons living in the world), they are evil; and this was one end of Christ’s death, to deliver his saints from their evil practices and examples; thus (1Pe 1:18) we are said to be by the blood of Christ redeemed from a vain conversation received by tradition from our fathers. This (he saith) was done according to the will of God; the Greek word is θελημα, not διαθηκην: the will of God is his decree, purpose, or good pleasure, so as it signifieth both his eternal purpose, (according to Eph 1:4), and his present pleasure or consent. I see no ground for the Socinian criticism, who would have us understand by it, God’s testament, or present will for things to be done after death; the word importeth no more than God’s eternal purpose, as to the redemption of man by the blood of Christ, and his well pleasedness with his undertaking and performance of that work; this God he calleth our Father, not with respect to creation so much as adoption.

John Gill

‘Who gave himself for our sins,’ The antecedent to the relative “who, is our Lord Jesus Christ”, Gal 1:3 and the words are an illustration of the good will of God the Father, and of the grace and love of Christ, in the gift of himself, for the sins of his people: he did not merely give, “sua, his own things”, what were his properly, but, “se, himself”; not the world, and the fulness of it, gold, silver, and such like corruptible things; no, nor men for them, and people for their lives; nor angels, his creatures, and ministering spirits; but his own self, his life, his flesh, his blood, his body, and soul, his whole human nature, and this as in union with himself, a divine person, the eternal Son of God. He gave himself freely, cheerfully, voluntarily, into the hands of men, justice, and death itself, as a sacrifice for sin, to expiate it, make reconciliation and atonement for it, which could not be done by the sacrifices of the legal dispensation; to procure the remission of it, which could not be had without shedding or blood; and utterly to take it away, finish it, and make an end of it, and abolish it, so as that it might never rise any more to the condemnation of his people: and this reached to “sins” of all sorts, not only original, but actual, and these of thought, word, and deed; and this oblation of himself upon the cross, was not for any sin of his own, who had none, nor for the sins of angels, of whom he was no Redeemer aud Saviour, but “for our sins”; not the sins of the apostles, or of the Jews only, nor yet of all mankind, but of God’s elect, called the friends of Christ, his sheep and church, for whom he gave himself; and his end in so doing was,

‘that he might deliver us from this present evil world;’ by which is meant, either the Jewish world, or church state, in which were a worldly sanctuary, and which were subject to ceremonies and traditions, called the elements and rudiments of the world; and who were possessed of worldly notions, and in expectation of a worldly kingdom to be set up by the Messiah; and both in principle and in practice were sadly degenerated, and were become very evil and wicked: or the present age and generation of men, whether of Jews or Gentiles, which was so corrupt, as the like was never known; or in general the present world, and the men of it, in distinction either from the world before the flood, as in 2 Peter 3:5-7 or rather from the new heavens and earth, which will be after the present ones, and wherein will dwell righteousness; or, in a word, from the world which is to come, as they are frequently opposed in Scripture: and which is said to be “evil”, not with respect to the matter, that being all very good, as created by God; but with respect to the men of it, who lie in wickedness, under the power of the wicked one, and of their own sins; and to the things which are in it, all which are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Now Christ gave himself a sacrifice for the sins of his people, that as in consequence of this they might be delivered and saved from the damning power, so from the governing power and influence of all that is evil in this present world; as from Satan, the god of it, who has usurped a power over it; from the lusts that are predominant in it; from the vain conversation of the men of it; from the general conflagration of it at the last day, and from the perdition of ungodly men, and their eternal destruction in hell: and all this is

‘according to the will of God, and our Father,’ It was by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God that Christ was delivered up into the hands of wicked men, and put to death by them; it was his will of purpose and decree, to deliver him up into the hands of justice and death, and that he should give himself sacrifice for sin; yea, it was his will of command, that he should lay down his life for his sheep, to which he was obedient; it was his pleasure, it was what was agreeable to him, was to his good liking, that he should die for the sins of his people; it was owing to the love of God, who is our Father in Christ, and by adopting grace, and not to any worth or desert of ours, that Christ gave himself for us; as his own love, so his Father’s will, were what solely moved him to it.

5 To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew Poole

To which Father (yet not excluding the Son), for great benefits bestowed upon us, be honour, and praise, from age to age, and to all eternity. The term Amen, being always used in Scripture either as a term of assertion, to aver the truth of a thing, or as a term of wishing, may here be understood in either or both senses; the apostle using it either to assert the glorifying of God to be our duty, and a homage we owe to God; or to signify his hearty desire that this homage may from all hands be paid unto him.

John Gill

‘To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.’ That is, either to Christ, who gave himself to expiate the sins of his people, on the account of which all honour and glory are due to him from them; or to God the Father, according to whose will of purpose and command Christ gave himself, for which glory ought to be ascribed unto him; and it may well be thought, that both are taken into this doxology: the Father is to be glorified, who of his everlasting love, and free favour, did in his eternal purposes and decrees in his counsel and covenant, so wisely frame and order things, that his own Son should be given to be an offering for sin; and Christ is to be glorified, that he, of his free rich grace and love, agreed to give himself, and did give himself to be a ransom for his people, which has been testified in due time. This ascription of glory to both shows the greatness of the blessing, and the grateful sense which all interested in it ought to bear upon their minds continually, “for ever and ever”; or “to the ages of ages”, a Jewish phrase, the same with Nymle ymlel. To which the apostle adds his “Amen”, as joining with all the saints, above or below, in ascribing salvation, and the glory of it, to him that sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever.

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