22 June 2016

Galatians 1:13-24

“They glorified God because of me” (v. 24)

Psalm: Psalm 110


Today's passage gives us some vital background detail about the life of Paul, this letter's author. In the New Testament, we are first introduced to Paul as Saul in Acts 8. While "violently persecuting the church of God" (v. 13), Jesus spoke to him directly on the road to Damascus and he became a committed Christian (Acts 9:1-22). These verses in Galatians tell us what happened afterwards: how he went to Arabia, then Damascus, briefly back to Jerusalem and then out into Syria and what is now south-eastern Turkey (Cicilia). There is much more we would like to know about his growth as a Christian during this vital period but it is still very important information about one of the Bible's most important characters.

Paul is telling the Galatians these details because he feels the need to defend his own authority and credibility. He is writing to newly-converted Christians in the churches of Galatia that he had only recently helped to establish (Acts 16:6 18:23). They were being led astray in their faith by other missionaries who were teaching them that Paul was wrong and that they needed to obey aspects of the Jewish law, such as circumcision (Galatians 5:2-12). To support their case, and undermine their opponent's, these false teachers were apparently attacking Paul himself. The details are hard to establish but they seemed to be claiming that Paul's authority was not as great as some of the other Apostles, especially those based in Jerusalem. These included Peter, who is here referred to by the Aramaic version of his name Cephas, and James, the brother of Jesus (Mark 6:3), who became the leader of the early Church. This is why throughout the letter, and here in particular, Paul keeps insisting that his right to act and speak as God's special messenger - or 'apostle' - came to him directly from Jesus, not from any human (even ones as important as Peter and James). He was directly set apart by God, from birth, for this purpose.

To Ponder

  • Who has the authority to make definitive statements about matters of faith and life today?
  • How often do we judge an argument by its own validity and how often on the basis of the person making the argument?
  • To what extent do we glorify God because of the good things we see in other people (v.24), or do we simply glorify the people themselves?

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.