COMMENTARY ON GALATIANS
Gal 1:21 “Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; 22 And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: 23 But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. 24 And they glorified God in me.”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Galatians 1:21-24
JUDEAN CHURCHES BELIEVED WHAT THEY HEARD
In a way that is most edifying Paul is establishing the truth of the Gospel that he preached – a Gospel that had demonstrated its power in Paul himself. If the message being preached does not change the one who is proclaiming it, it is not likely that it will change anyone else. First, Paul has established the source of his message. He did not receive it from men, and he was not sent out by men. This was confirmed by his visit with Peter and James a full three years after he was converted. Now he will establish a truth that had been obscured by the false teachers that had invaded the churches in Galatia. They had been preaching a word that was more harmonious with the Old Covenant than with the New. Consequently, the fruit of the Spirit was not being made known in Galatia. Rather, the flesh had risen to prominence, and they had to be reminded of the most elementary things – namely that sin is not acceptable, and that those in Christ have, in fact, been changed morally and spiritually. They have received the Holy Spirit (4:6), have crucified the flesh (Gal 5:24), and the fruit of the Spirit is found in them (Gal 5:22-23). Their distinctiveness is their faith, by which the justified ones live (Gal 3:11). This reality, which is glaringly “evident” had been obscured by the word being preached by others to the brethren in Galatia. Now, Paul will use himself as an example of noticeable change, which is attributable to the power of God. He brings out his past to show its contrast with the newness of life he had in Christ Jesus. Since the Galatian brethren had removed themselves from the One who had called them (Gal 1:6), Paul will have to testify of the change that had been wrought in himself. Further, that change was not a mere opinion he had of himself. He will affirm that the churches in Judea, which antedated the churches in Galatia, did not reject Paul after they had heard of him. How different were the churches in Galatia! They had not merely heard of Paul, but were the product of his own labors. Yet, they had allowed false teachers to subvert them, turning them aside to the broad road that leads to destruction.
WHEN PAUL WAS KNOWN TO THE CHURCHES IN JUDEA
Gal 1:21 “Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; 22 And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ.”
Paul is accounting for the message that he delivered to the Galatians, from which they had departed. That message was so central to the realization of salvation and the consequent fellowship with God and Christ (1 Cor 1:9; 1 John 1:3), that those who forsake or neglect that word are said to have removed themselves “from Him that called” them “into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Gal 1:6). There is no salvation, fellowship with the Lord, or realization of the grace of Christ independent of the Gospel! John alluded to this circumstance in his first epistle: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7). The “light” to which John refers is that which is generated by the Gospel itself – i.e. “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4), for both “life and immortality” are brought “to light through the Gospel” (2 Tim 1:10). If this Gospel is ever obscured, salvation, justification, and sanctification will fade from view, for they all obtain their power through the Gospel.
This is precisely why Paul is establishing the truth of his Gospel in such an orderly and precise manner. First, he did not obtain his insight into it from men. It was revealed to him. He will establish that it wrought a change in him that was perceived by others. Second, after he had appropriated an understanding of the Gospel, he went up to Jerusalem, and passed the test of the apostles themselves. Once they had confronted Paul, heard his testimony, and seen the works that it had produced, they also knew Jesus had taught him, and his Gospel was truth. Now, he will present another proof of the validity of the Gospel he preached, which the Galatians had abandoned in favor of a spurious message that produced unacceptable results.
AFTERWARDS. What follows accounts for Paul’s actions after he had gone to Jerusalem to see Peter, also speaking with James at that time as well. He is giving a summation of his early life in Christ, accenting only key parts of it. This is because he is not merely reacquainting the Galatians with himself, but is primarily confirming the legitimacy and necessity of the Gospel that he had preached to them – the Gospel they had forsaken in order to the embrace of “another gospel, which is not another” (Gal 1:6-7).
SYRIA AND CILICIA. While Paul was in Jerusalem, he was preaching in the synagogues, and stirred up some of the unbelieving Jews as he disputed with them (Acts 9:29). When they sought to kill him, “the brethren knew,” and “they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus” (Acts 9:30). Tarsus was in Cilicia (Acts 21:39), which was joined to Syria at its southmost part. This is the occasion to which Paul refers in this verse.
It was during this period that Barnabas sought Paul out, finding him in Tarsus, and bringing him to Antioch, which is in Syria (Acts 11:25-26). At that time Barnabas and Saul assembled themselves with the brethren at Antioch for a whole year, teaching the people. This is where the disciples were “first called Christians.” It was during this stay that a prophet named Agabus, who had come with other prophets from Jerusalem, “signified by the Spirit that there would be a great dearth throughout all the world” (Acts 12:28). The disciples determined to send relief to the brethren that lived in Judea, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 12:28-30). It was at this point that Luke’s narrative in Acts switched to a brief recounting of the activity of Peter.
Now the list of those who approved of Paul and what he preached is increased to include Barnabas, the brethren in Antioch, some prophets from Jerusalem, and the elders in Judea. Further, there were a number of prophets and teachers in Antioch (Acts 13:1). None of these suspected Paul of lacking credibility, or preaching a fraudulent gospel. In fact, while in Antioch, the Holy Spirit called for a separation of Barnabas and Paul for a special work (Acts 13:2). A new gospel was not revealed to him at that time, as the one he was preaching was sufficient for the work. Thus heaven is added to the list of those approving of Paul.
UNKNOWN BY FACE. During a rather lengthy period, the churches in Judea did not see Paul. He did not labor in that area, but was in the regions of Cilicia and Syria. Therefore, the view the brethren in Judea had of Paul was based on testimony, not the personal appearance of Paul. They were not personally familiar with him, yet they had not come to despise him as the Galatians, among whom Paul had personally labored.
The point being made here is twofold. First, this confirms that Paul had not learned of the Gospel from the brethren in Judea, for he had not spent time among them. These brethren, who were taught by the apostles and had an understanding of the Gospel, did not teach Paul. Nor, indeed, did they send him forth to preach. Following Paul’s departure to Cilicia and Syria, the churches in Judea had “rest,” “and were edified; walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 11:30). Yet, those kind of people received Paul.
WHAT THE CHURCHES IN JUDEA DID KNOW ABOUT PAUL
1:23 “But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.”
Second, not only had Paul NOT been taught by the brethren in Judea, they had heard about him. He was a topic of conversation, so to speak, among them. Consider that they were taught by the apostles, and that they had been walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Also, heaven had honored their message and their walk by multiplying their number (Acts 9:31). Therefore, their view of Paul will carry some weight.
THEY HAD HEARD ONLY. These brethren had not seen the face of Paul. Their knowledge of him was only through what others had heard about him. We know from various records that some evil reports were given of Paul (2 Cor 6:8; Acts 16:20; 17:6; 21:28; 24:5). We know there were some Jews in Jerusalem itself who did not think well of Paul, and had even sought to take his life (Acts 9:29). What kind of reports had the churches in Judea chosen to believe? To whom did they give their ears?
Jesus had taught His followers, “Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given” (Mark 4:24). Other versions read, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it shall be measured to you; and more shall be given you besides,” NASB and “Be careful what you are hearing. The measure [of thought and study] you give [to the truth you hear] will be the measure [of virtue and knowledge] that comes back to you—and more [besides] will be given to you who hear.” AMPLIFIED
A Principle. The kinds of things to which persons subject their minds will determine the measure of illumination they receive from the Lord. Those who choose to fill their minds with trivia, or even with falsehood, need not expect great beams of light to fall upon them from heaven. By the same token, when a person bearing the true message of God is rejected by those who hear him, it is not likely that the truth will come to them from some alternate source. The reception of the truth must be “for the truth’s sake” (Psa 115:1; 2 John 1:2), and not because of the one who delivers it. This is even further compounded by the fact that true freedom can only be obtained and maintained when the truth is known, which postulates its unequivocal acceptance (John 8:32). Add to this the fact that NOT receiving the “love of the truth” will cause a person to be sent “strong delusion” (2 Thess 2:11). Now, let us see what these brethren in Judea chose to believe.
HE PERSECUTED US IN TIMES PAST. “ . . . he which persecuted us in times past.” Other versions read, “he who formerly persecuted us,”NKJV “once persecuted us,” RSV and “used to persecute us.” AMPLIFIED
The brethren knew about Paul’s PAST life, and spoke freely about it. He was noted for persecuting “us” – the brethren. That is what he once did – did in the past. However, that was a part of his life that had now passed away. It is in the category of “old,” of which it is written, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor 5:17). Those pasts things do not remain – not in those who are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Eph 2:10). No person in Christ commences the newness of life with the old life maintaining dominance over him. Those in Christ are described as being “freed from sin” (Rom 6:7). Their past lives are in the category of “were,” not “are” (1 Cor 6:11). They “were the servants of sin” (Rom 6:17). They “were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1). They “were without Christ” (Eph 2:12),and “were sometimes darkness” (Eph 5:8). They “were as sheep going astray” (1 Pet 2:24).
The point Paul will make is that even those who heard about him knew that he no longer persecuted the church. That was something in the past, which indicates that something had happened in his life that altered the way he lived.
PREACHES THE FAITH. “Preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.” Other versions read, “he once tried to destroy,” NKJV and “which he set out to ruin and tried with all his might to destroy.” AMPLIFIED
Here “the faith” equates to “the faith of the Gospel” (Phil 1:27) – i.e. the faith that comes from hearing the Gospel of Christ (Rom 10-:17). In this expression the thing produced by the Gospel is put for the Gospel itself. That is, the Gospel of Christ, which is God’s “power unto salvation” (Rom 1:16), never fails to produce faith in those who receive it. Paul’s attempt to destroy the faith was directed toward those who embraced and declared the Gospel through which faith was generated. The aim in persecuting the church was to stop its mouth, so that the Gospel would spread no further. If early believers had not said anything, they would not have been persecuted. The same was true of the Lord Jesus Himself. It is what He said that caused the opposition to assert themselves.
In “preaching the faith,” Paul was declaring the appointed message through which men believe. It was the same Gospel through whom the Judean churches had believed.
THEY GLORIFIED GOD IN ME
1:24 “And they glorified God in me.”
The churches in Judea, although they had not personally seen Paul, took the reports of him seriously. They were obviously in strict harmony with the nature of conversion, with which they were familiar. They had been taught the true Gospel, and knew of the effects that it had upon the hearts of those who believed it. They correlated that knowledge with the reports about Paul.
THEY GLORIFIED GOD. Other versions read, “they praised God,” NIV “gave glory to God,” NJB “kept on praising God,” WILLIAMS
The fact that Paul was now preaching the Gospel, and doing so with great power and effectiveness, proved to be a continued stimulus to the glorification of God among the churches. Thus he had gained the approval of Peter, James, the apostles, Barnabas, the brethren in Antioch, and the churches in Judea. And why was this so? Because these brethren had recognized in Paul the fruit of the Gospel. They had witnessed his faith under duress, and had heard of the turning of many from the power of Satan unto God, and from darkness to light.
There was a unity in the churches of Judea, as they glorified God with “one mind and with one mouth” (Rom 15:6). Their eyes were not merely on themselves, but they were quick to recognize the work of God in others – even those they had not seen.
IN ME. Other versions read, “God because of me,” NASB “for what happened to me,” GWN “on my behalf,” TNT “on my account,” WEYMOUTH “for me,” WILLIAMS “[as the Author and Source of what had taken place] in me.” AMPLIFIED
The churches in Judea glorified God because they had witnessed the work of God in Paul. Paul knew that he was what he was by the grace of God (1 Cor 15:10), and those who knew him were also keenly aware of that fact. No one can glorify God unless they behold His working, and know that they have. Such glorying is not stimulated by exhortation, but by observation. Paul was a living exhibit of the “new creation,” something he will briefly expound to the Galatians later (Gal 6:15).
This also confirms the nature of spiritual life, which rejoices to behold the hand of God at work. Paul’s light had been
shining (Matt 5:16), and even the report of it brought joy to the saints. This is part of thinking on “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil 4:8).
THE LINE OF REASONING. There is a certain line of reasoning here that must be seen. Remember, the Galatians had been “bewitched” (Gal 3:1) into believing “another gospel” (Gal 1:6). Although they had been reconciled to God, they were now “removed” from Him (Gal 1:6). Rather than remaining in the “grace of Christ,” they had now embraced and preferred “another gospel” – one that was devoid of the power that is associated exclusively with “the Gospel of Christ” (Rom 1:16). They now stood in jeopardy of Christ having no “effect” upon them, and of falling from grace. In fact, Paul is not sure this has not already taken place (Gal 5:4). Although it certainly was not pleasant to think upon, Paul stood in fear for them, thinking it possible that he had wasted his time among them (Gal 4:11).
Because they were apparently unable to think properly, Paul now shines the Gospel light upon himself. He confirms that what he says is a matter of public view, and that it is not a mere personal opinion of himself. He has embraced the same Gospel that he is peaching, and therefore what it has wrought in him is germane to the matter with which he is dealing.
There was an obvious line of demarcation in Paul’s life – a dividing line that separated the old from the new, and the past from the present. It was a point at which the Holy Spirit of God began to work in him, which is sent into the hearts of those who are the sons of God (Gal 4:6). Later, Paul will affirm the result of the Spirit’s work within – “the fruit of the Spirit” (5:22-23). He will declare that if we “live in the Spirit” – i.e. if He is the author of our new life – then we also ought to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:25). He will further assert that those who are, in fact, Christ’s “have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal 5:24).
All of these, and more, are the things that distinguished Paul’s new life from his old one; the present from the past. He is an “epistle of Christ” that can be read by the Galatians if they will only do so (2 Cor 3:2-3). The Galatians were once exhibits of the truth themselves. They had “run well” (Gal 5:7). They had been “called unto the grace of Christ” (1:6), had been “baptized into Christ,” and “put on Christ” (Gal 3:27). Now, however, they lacked the evidence of these things because they were “removed” from the One who worked them. Therefore Paul now points to himself as the exhibit of the truth of the Gospel. Everyone who knew him, or even had heard about him, knew that he was not what he formerly was. They had even glorified God for the change wrought in him, as well as for his present activity. If the Galatians would once again embrace the true Gospel, that same evidence would be found in them again.