When word reached Paul that the churches in Galatia were being misled by false teachers, he took pen and parchment and crafted his warning. In comparison to Paul’s other epistles, the Epistle to the Galatians starts with a very different set of opening comments. Typically, when Paul began a letter to a church, he would start with praises of what the church was doing, and then move on to a prayer that he was currently praying for them. As we begin reading Galatians, we find that Paul takes no time for any of that. The danger is imminent, and Paul answers with urgency, skipping over the usual formalities.
Apparently, when the false teachers had attacked, they had not only taught error; they systematically sought to remove Paul’s credibility among the Galatian believers. They argued that since Paul was not converted until after Christ had risen and returned to heaven then he could never have been personally commissioned by Jesus, and never have seen the resurrected Christ. According to them, without those two things, then Paul had no authority as an Apostle. But their arguments were unfounded.
In Acts 9, Paul (called “Saul” at the time) was persecuting the church when he was interrupted by the bright and shining glory of a resurrected Jesus. Paul’s entire conversion hinged on the truth that Jesus personally intercepted and called him to follow Him. Paul was eventually confirmed and sent out by the other Apostles in Jerusalem, further validating what was already settled on the road to Damascus. Any who would deny that Paul was a true apostle, either did so from ignorance or from willful deceit. Whatever the reason for these claims, the problem was that the false teachers were not only undermining Paul’s authority, but that they were undermining the very gospel that Paul had preached.
As Paul starts his epistle, with ferocity he devastates the claims against his apostleship - “Paul, an apostle (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father).” In other words, “When you challenge my authority, you are standing in opposition to Jesus, Himself.” The Apostles were the authoritative representatives of Jesus in the early church. Paul may have come a bit later than the others, but his conversion on the road to Damascus had secured him a place as one of the Apostles.
As Paul continues his introduction, he attacks the heresy that had begun to creep into the Galatian churches. He does this, not by first naming the error, but rather, by first naming the truth. Up against the things that Paul has already taught the Galatians, the lies of the false teachers stand in glaring contrast. Paul begins with, “Grace and peace have come from God, and from Jesus, Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us…to whom be glory forever and ever.” The false teachers taught that the believers must add things to the work that Christ had already accomplished. Paul, however, reminds the believers in these first few verses that God has already done everything in Christ that we need for forgiveness and peace. Finally, in Paul’s estimation, only God and Christ deserve the praise and glory for our salvation. If we saved ourselves, we would be able to brag about our power. By simply preaching the truth, Paul drew a clear distinction between truth and error. Paul will eventually attack the heart of the problem, and eventually will appeal to the Galatians to return to the gospel truth that he originally delivered to them from Christ.
Food For Thought: If Paul was converted after Christ had returned to heaven, how could he call himself an Apostle?