Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
St. Paul shows that he was especially called of God to be an apostle, Gal 1:1. Directs his epistle to the Churches through the regions of Galatia, Gal 1:2. Commends them to the grace of Christ, who gave himself for their sins, Gal 1:3-5. Marvels that they had so soon turned away from the grace of the Gospel of Christ, to what falsely pretended to be another gospel, Gal 1:6, Gal 1:7. Pronounces him accursed who shall preach any other doctrine than that which he had delivered to them, Gal 1:8, Gal 1:9. Shows his own uprightness, and that he received his doctrine from God, Gal 1:10-12. Gives an account of his conversion and call to the apostleship, Gal 1:13-17. How three years after his conversion he went up to Jerusalem, and afterwards went through the regions of Syria and Cilicia, preaching the faith of Christ to the great joy of the Christian Churches in Judea, Gal 1:18-24.
Paul, an apostle, not of men - Not commissioned by any assembly or council of the apostles.
Neither by man - Nor by any one of the apostles; neither by James, who seems to have been president of the apostolic council at Jerusalem; nor by Peter, to whom, in a particular manner, the keys of the kingdom were intrusted.
But by Jesus Christ - Having his mission immediately from Christ himself, and God the Father who raised him from the dead, see Act 22:14, Act 22:15, and commanded him to go both to the Jews and to the Gentiles, to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they might obtain remission of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified. See Act 9:1, etc., and the notes there.
And all the brethren which are with me - It is very likely that this refers to those who were his assistants in preaching the Gospel, and not to any private members of the Church.
Churches of Galatia - Galatia was a region or province of Asia Minor; there was neither city nor town of this name. See the preface. But as, in this province, St. Paul had planted several Churches, he directs the epistle to the whole of them; for it seems they were all pretty nearly in the same state, and needed the same instructions.
Grace be to you, etc. - See on Rom 1:7 (note).
Who gave himself for our sins - Who became a sin-offering to God in behalf of mankind, that they might be saved from their sins.
Deliver us from this present evil world - These words cannot mean created nature, or the earth and its productions, nor even wicked men. The former we shall need while we live, the latter we cannot avoid; indeed they are those who, when converted, form the Church of God; and, by the successive conversion of sinners is the Church of Christ maintained; and the followers of God must live and labor among them, in order to their conversion. The apostle, therefore, must mean the Jews, and their system of carnal ordinances; statutes which were not good, and judgments by which they could not live; Eze 20:25; and the whole of their ecclesiastical economy, which was a burden neither they nor their fathers were able to bear, Act 15:10. Schoettgen contends that the word πονηρος, which we translate evil, should be translated laborious or oppressive, as it comes from πονος, labor, trouble, etc. The apostle takes occasion, in the very commencement of the epistle, to inform the Galatians that it was according to the will and counsel of God that circumcision should cease, and all the other ritual parts of the Mosaic economy; and that it was for this express purpose that Jesus Christ gave himself a sacrifice for our sins, because the law could not make the comers thereunto perfect. It had pointed out the sinfulness of sin, in its various ordinances, washings, etc.; and it had showed forth the guilt of sin in its numerous sacrifices; but the common sense, even of its own votaries, told them that it was impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin. A higher atonement was necessary; and when God provided that, all its shadows and representations necessarily ceased. See the note on Gal 4:3.
To whom be glory for ever - Let him have the glory to whom alone it is due, for having delivered us from the present evil world, and from all bondage to Mosaic rites and ceremonies.
I marvel that ye are so soon removed - It was a matter of wonder to the apostle that a people, so soundly converted to God, should have so soon made shipwreck of their faith. But mutability itself has not a more apt subject to work upon than the human heart; the alternate workings of different passions are continually either changing the character, or giving it a different colouring. Reason, not passion, the word of God, not the sayings of men, should alone be consulted in the concerns of our salvation.
From him that called you - The apostle seems here to mean himself. He called them into the grace of Christ; and they not only abandoned that grace, but their hearts became greatly estranged from him; so that, though at first they would have plucked out their eyes for him, they at last counted him their enemy, Gal 4:14-16.
Another gospel - It is certain that in the very earliest ages of the Christian Church there were several spurious gospels in circulation, and it was the multitude of these false or inaccurate relations that induced St. Luke to write his own. See Luk 1:1. We have the names of more than seventy of these spurious narratives still on record, and in ancient writers many fragments of them remain; these have been collected and published by Fabricius, in his account of the apocryphal books of the New Testament, 3 vols. 8vo. In some of these gospels, the necessity of circumcision, and subjection to the Mosaic law in unity with the Gospel, were strongly inculcated. And to one of these the apostle seems to refer.
Which is not another - It is called a gospel, but it differs most essentially from the authentic narratives published by the evangelists. It is not gospel, i.e. good tidings, for it loads you again with the burdens from which the genuine Gospel has disencumbered you. Instead of giving you peace, it troubles you; instead of being a useful supplement to the Gospel of Christ, it perverts that Gospel. You have gained nothing but loss and damage by the change.
But though we, or an angel - That Gospel which I have already preached to you is the only true Gospel; were I to preach any other, I should incur the curse of God. If your false teachers pretend, as many in early times did, that they received their accounts by the ministry of an angel, let them be accursed; separate them from your company, and have no religious communion with them. Leave them to that God who will show his displeasure against all who corrupt, all who add to, and all who take from the word of his revelation.
Let all those who, from the fickleness of their own minds, are ready to favor the reveries of every pretended prophet and prophetess who starts up, consider the awful words of the apostle. As, in the law, the receiver of stolen goods is as bad as the thief; so the encouragers of such pretended revelations are as bad, in the sight of God, as those impostors themselves. What says the word of God to them? Let them be accursed. Reader, lay these things to heart.
Let him be accursed - Perhaps this is not designed as an imprecation, but a simple direction; for the word here may be understood as implying that such a person should, have no countenance in his bad work, but let him, as Theodoret expresses it, Αλλοτριος εστω του κοινου σωματος της εκκλησιας, be separated from the communion of the Church. This, however, would also imply that unless the person repented, the Divine judgments would soon follow.
Do I now persuade men, or God? - The words πειθειν τον Θεον may be rendered to court or solicit the favor of God as the after clause sufficiently proves. This acceptation of πειθειν is very common in Greek authors. While the apostle was a persecutor of the Christians, he was the servant of men, and pleased men. When he embraced the Christian doctrine, he became the servant of God, and pleased Him. He therefore intimates that he was a widely different person now from what he had been while a Jew.
But I certify you, brethren, etc. - I wish you fully to comprehend that the Gospel which I preached to you is not after man; there is not a spark of human invention in it, nor the slightest touch of human cunning.
I neither received it of man - By means of any apostle, as was remarked Gal 1:1. No man taught me what I have preached to you.
But by the revelation of Jesus Christ - Being commissioned by himself alone; receiving the knowledge of it from Christ crucified.
Ye have heard of my conversation - Την εμην αναστροφην· My manner of life; the mode in which I conducted myself.
Beyond measure I persecuted the Church - For proofs of this the reader is referred to Act 9:1-2 (note); Act 22:4 (note), and the notes there. The apostle tells them that they had heard this, because, being Jews, they were acquainted with what had taken place in Judea, relative to these important transactions.
And profited in the Jews' religion - The apostle does not mean that he became more exemplary in the love and practice of the pure law of God than any of his countrymen, but that he was more profoundly skilled in the traditions of the fathers than most of his fellow students were, or, as the word συνηλικιωτας may mean his contemporaries.
Who separated me from my mother's womb - Him whom I acknowledge as the God of nature and the God of grace; who preserved me by his providence when I was a helpless infant, and saved me by his grace when I was an adult persecutor. For some useful remarks on these passages see the introduction, sec. 2.
To reveal his Son in me - To make me know Jesus Christ, and the power of his resurrection.
That I might preach him among the heathen - For it was to the Gentiles, and the dispersed Jews among the Gentiles, that St. Paul was especially sent. Peter was sent more particularly to the Jews in the land of Judea; Paul to those in the different Greek provinces.
I conferred not with flesh and blood - I did not take counsel with men; σαρξ και αἱμα, which is a literal translation of the Hebrew בשר ודם basar vedam, flesh and blood, is a periphrasis for man, any man, a human being, or beings of any kind. Many suppose that the apostle means he did not dally, or take counsel, with the erroneous suggestions and unrenewed propensities of his own heart, or those of others; but no such thing is intended by the text. St. Paul was satisfied that his call was of God; he had therefore no occasion to consult man.
Neither went I up to Jerusalem - The aim of the apostle is to show that he had his call so immediately and pointedly from God himself, that he had no need of the concurrence even of the apostles, being appointed by the same authority, and fitted to the work by the same grace and Spirit, as they were.
But I went into Arabia - That part of Arabia which was contiguous to Damascus, over which Aretas was then king. Of this journey into Arabia we have no other account. As St. Luke was not then with him, it is not inserted in the Acts of the Apostles. See introduction to this epistle. Jerusalem was the stated residence of the apostles; and, when all the other believers were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, we find the apostles still remaining, unmolested, at Jerusalem! Act 8:1.
After three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter - These three years may be reckoned either from the departure of Paul from Jerusalem, or from his return from Arabia to Damascus.
To see Peter - Ιστορησαι Πετρον, to become personally acquainted with Peter; for this is the proper import of the verb ἱστορειν, from which we have the word ἱστορια, history, which signifies a relation of things from personal knowledge and actual acquaintance. How far this is, now, from the sense in which we must take the word, ninety-nine of every hundred of our histories sufficiently show. They are any thing but true relations of facts and persons.
And abode with him fifteen days - It was not, therefore, to get religious knowledge from him that he paid him this visit. He knew as much of the Jewish religion as Peter did, if not more; and as to the Gospel, he received that from the same source, and had preached it three years before this.
James the Lord's brother - Dr. Paley observes: There were at Jerusalem two apostles, or at least two eminent members of the Church, of the name of James. This is distinctly inferred from the Acts of the Apostles, Act 12:2, where the historian relates the death of James, the brother of John; and yet, in Act 15:13-21, and in Act 21:18, he records a speech delivered by James in the assembly of the apostles and elders. In this place James, the Lord 's brother, is mentioned thus to distinguish him from James the brother of John. Some think there were three of this name: -
1. James, our Lord's brother, or cousin, as some will have it;
2. James, the son of Alphaeus; and
3. James, the son of Zebedee. But the two former names belong to the same person.
Before God I lie not - This he speaks in reference to having seen only Peter and James at Jerusalem; and consequently to prove that he had not learned the Gospel from the assembly of the apostles at Jerusalem, nor consequently received his commission from them.
Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria, etc. - The course of the apostle's travels, after his conversion, was this: He went from Damascus to Jerusalem, and from Jerusalem into Syria and Cilicia. "At Damascus the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket; and when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples;" Act 9:25, Act 9:26. Afterwards, when the brethren knew the conspiracy formed against him at Jerusalem, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus, a city of Cilicia, Act 9:30. This account in the Acts agrees with that in this epistle.
And was unknown by face - I was not personally acquainted with any of the Churches of Judea; I was converted in another place, and had not preached the Gospel in any Christian congregation in that country; I knew only those at Jerusalem.
They had heard only - As a persecutor of the Church of Christ, I was well known; and as a convert to Christ I was not less so. The fame of both was great, even where I was personally unknown.
They glorified God in me - Hearing now that I preached that faith which before I had persecuted and endeavored to destroy, they glorified God for the grace which had wrought my conversion. I owe nothing to them; I owe all to God; and they themselves acknowledge this. I received all from God, and God has all the glory.
1. It appeared of great importance to St. Paul to defend and vindicate his Divine mission. As he had none from man, it was the more necessary that he should be able to show plainly that he had one from God. Paul was not brought into the Christian ministry by any rite ever used in the Christian Church. Neither bishop nor presbyter ever laid hands on him; and he is more anxious to prove this, because his chief honor arose from being sent immediately by God himself: his conversion and the purity of his doctrine showed whence he came. Many since his time, and in the present day, are far more anxious to show that they are legitimately appointed by Man than by God; and are fond of displaying their human credentials. These are easily shown; those that come from God are out of their reach. How idle and vain is a boasted succession from the apostles, while ignorance, intolerance, pride, and vain-glory prove that those very persons have no commission from heaven! Endless cases may occur where man sends and yet God will not sanction. And that man has no right to preach, nor administer the sacraments of the Church of Christ, whom God has not sent; though the whole assembly of apostles had laid their hands on him. God never sent, and never will send, to convert others, a man who is not converted himself. He will never send him to teach meekness, gentleness, and long suffering, who is proud, overbearing, intolerant, and impatient. He, in whom the Spirit of Christ does not dwell, never had a commission to preach the Gospel; he may boast of his human authority, but God will laugh him to scorn. On the other hand, let none run before he is sent; and when he has got the authority of God, let him be careful to take that of the Church with him also.
2. The apostle was particularly anxious that the Gospel should not be corrupted, that the Church might not be perverted. Whatever corrupts the Gospel, subverts the Church. The Church is a spiritual building, and stands on a spiritual foundation. Its members are compared to stones in a building, but they are living stones - each instinct with the spirit of a Divine life; Jesus is not only the foundation and the head-stone, but the spirit that quickens and animates all. A Church, where the members are not alive to God, and where the minister is not filled with the meekness and gentleness of Jesus, differs as much from a genuine Church as a corpse does from an active human being. False teachers in Galatia corrupted the Church, by introducing those Jewish ceremonies which God had abolished; and the doctrine of justification by the use of those ceremonies which God had shown by the death of his Son to be of none effect. "If those," says Quesnel, "are justly said to pervert the Gospel of Christ, who were for joining with it human ceremonies which God himself instituted, what do those do, who would fondly reconcile and blend it with the pomps of the devil? The purity of the Gospel cannot admit of any mixture. Those who do not love it, are so far from building up that they trouble and overturn all. There is no ground of trust and confidence for such workmen."
3. If he be a dangerous man in the Church who introduces Jewish or human ceremonies which God has not appointed, how much more is he to be dreaded who introduces any false doctrine, or who labors to undermine or lessen the influence of that which is true? And even he who does not faithfully and earnestly preach and inculcate the true doctrine is not a true pastor. It is not sufficient that a man preach no error; he must preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
4. How is it that we have so many Churches like those in Galatia? Is it not because, on one hand, we disturb the simplicity of the Christian worship by Jewish, heathenish, or improper rites and ceremonies; and on the other, corrupt the purity of its doctrines by the inventions of men? How does the apostle speak of such corrupters? Let them be accursed. How awful is this! Let every man who officiates as a Christian minister look well to this. His own soul is at stake; and, if any of the flock perish through his ignorance or neglect, their blood will God require at the watchman's hand.
5. St. Paul well knew that, if he endeavored to please man, he could not be the servant of Christ. Can any minor minister hope to succeed, where even an apostle, had he followed that line, could not? The interests of Christ and those of the world are so opposite, that it is impossible to reconcile them; and he who attempts it shows thereby that he knows neither Christ nor the world, though so deeply immersed in the spirit of the latter.
6. God generally confounds the expectations of men-pleasing ministers; they never ultimately succeed even with men. God abhors them, and those whom they have flattered find them to be dishonest, and cease to trust them. He who is unfaithful to his God should not be trusted by man.