20 June 2016

Galatians 1:1-5

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3)

Psalm: Psalm 106:1-8


Beginnings are important. In these few opening verses, we learn not only the identity of the writer but also his claim to write with authority and some key hints as to the letter's contents. The author is, undoubtedly, the Apostle Paul and this letter would become one of his most important texts. Arguably, it is second only to Romans in terms of the impact it has had on subsequent Christian theology. (It was apparently Martin Luther's favourite book of the Bible.)

There is much about the letter that is uncertain. We believe it was written between AD49 and 58 and most probably around the mid-50s, but cannot be more exact than that. The people to whom Paul was writing definitely lived somewhere in the Roman province of Galatia. This roughly covered the central band of modern-day Turkey, around the present capital Ankara, and ran from the Black Sea in the north down almost to the Mediterranean in the south. However, the exact boundaries of the province varied considerably over time and, despite extensive scholarly debate, it is not clear in exactly which towns were included. What is apparent, though, is that the Galatians were relatively new Christians and almost certainly members of churches that Paul had established on previous missionary journeys (Acts 16:6; 18:23).

As the letter progresses, we learn that the recipients had apparently been led astray by preachers teaching false doctrines soon after Paul had left them. The exact nature of this false teaching will only emerge gradually in subsequent verses but it clearly upset Paul deeply. He begins by establishing his authority to speak as an "apostle" (v. 1) - in the simplest terms, an envoy or messenger. He insists that he has been given this power not by any "human authorities" but by Jesus Christ himself -  the same Jesus Christ who was raised from the dead by God on Easter Sunday. It is upon this divine authority - not his own persuasiveness or charisma - that Paul will base all of his subsequent appeal to the churches in Galatia.

To Ponder

  • How would you respond to a preacher claiming to speak with apostolic authority?
  • The term 'apostle' is still used in some parts of the world church. Should we actively be seeking new apostles in our own church today? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Geoffrey Farrar

Geoffrey Farrar is currently a Methodist presbyter in the West Hertfordshire and Borders Circuit of the Methodist Church, where he has pastoral charge of three churches in the Watford area. He trained at Wesley House in Cambridge and has recently completed an MA in Ancient History with the University of Trinity Saint David.