Who is Paul? And why it matters. Studying Galatians 1:1

The defense of the gospel

I begin this post by asking you to consider two questions. 

First question: who is Jesus? 

Second question: who is Paul? 

That’s the most important question that anyone can answer. Is he a good teacher? Is he a good philosopher? Is he a good idea? Is he a good role model? Is he a good man? Or is he the Lord who died for your sins? And the Son of God? And the king of kings? 

But who is Paul? 

While not as important to know Paul as it is to know Jesus, how you view Paul matters, and here’s why. Because how you understand Paul actually points to how you will understand Jesus. 

A history of Pauline heresy

When Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, we don’t know every single detail of background information but one thing seems pretty clear. 

There were people undermining Paul to the churches in Galatia.

Who is Paul? 

He is an Apostle of Jesus Christ.

Apostles were people who had personally seen the risen Lord in the early church and who were commissioned to lead the church. 

1 Corinthians 12 lists offices in the early church:: 

God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 

The apostles are listed first in that list for a reason. They were the authority. 

We also see this in Ephesians 4:11-12: 

he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ

In the Book of Acts, after the ascension of the risen Jesus, and with Judas out of the picture, the first thing the apostles do is appoint another apostle: Matthias. 

The Apostle Stephen dies in Acts 7 and we see Paul later become an apostle. After that, we never see apostles being replaced. And again, as people who had witnessed the risen Jesus, and given the unique role of the apostles in the early church, I would argue that the office of Apostle died out in the age of the original apostles. 

So as I said a moment ago, there were people who were undermining Paul and his apostolic authority. 

People still do that to Paul. 

Many liberal Christians undermine Paul’s writings as just his opinion and not scripture and therefore not authoritative. 

Paul was one Christian giving his views on the scriptures and that’s no more inherently significant than any other Christian. 

But that’s why the answer to my second question matters so much. Who is Paul? 

Is he just some guy who has some thoughts about Jesus? Or is he a man who personally saw the risen Lord Jesus and was personally called by Jesus to be an apostle? 

Two radically different views of who Paul is. 

What you think about Paul matters to what you think about the rest of the New Testament. 

So again, I ask you: who is he? 

I believe that he’s called to be an apostle and that this was affirmed by the confirmation of the other apostles, by the history of the church, by the fact that the early church viewed his writings to have had apostolic authority, by the account of him having been a witness to the risen Jesus and the radical conversion he had from a persecutor of the church to a man who became a martyr for the church, and because of the signs and wonders the Lord enabled him to perform during his ministry. 

And I think that’ll hopefully give some more background and meaning to these first verse of chapter 1. 

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 

Paul wrote 13 letters in the New Testament. All of them begin with his first name. That was a standard letter writing practice at the time. In these ancient letters, you would start by naming the sender. It’s the first thing the reader sees. 

As I’ve already discussed, Paul will affirm his apostolic authority. In nine of his 13 letters, Paul mentions his apostolic office in his opening. 

But there are a couple of unique things about Galatians. 

First, Paul doesn’t defend his apostolic authority in his other letters as fervently as in Galatians. He usually takes it as a given that the readers will accept that fact. 

In Galatians, he says he’s an apostle: not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead

Paul is an apostle because of a divine calling. It’s not because he says so, it’s not ultimately because the other apostles say so. 

In the second half of chapter 1, Paul will again give an extended version of his early actions after coming to faith and a long defense of his apostolic ministry. There is no section in Paul’s letters where he goes into such great detail to explain why he is authentically an apostle. 

And here’s why it matters so much in this letter. 

When people are downplaying Paul’s authority, his writing, his teaching, then it makes it easy to also downplay his message. 

Paul talks so much about being an apostle, not because he’s insecure. 

Paul isn’t being vain. 

It matters that they know, and that we know he’s an apostle of Jesus Christ because Paul has the message of the truth about Jesus Christ, that he is the Lord who has died for us and that God reconciles sinful people to Jesus because of Christ and Christ alone. 

And so Paul so fervently defends his apostolic authority because he needs to defend the gospel itself. 

And he will be pointing to the gospel even from this first verse. not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 

Jesus has been raised from the dead and he has led to a paradigm shift in human history and in salvation history. Everything changes because of the cross and because we have a risen Lord.  

And Paul will point to that gospel. Because that’s what this letter is truly about.

In verse 2, Paul says: 

2 and all the brothers who are with me, 

To the churches of Galatia: 

All the brothers. 

Paul includes his associates in the opening salutation. We don’t know exactly who was with him when he wrote Galatians. But notice that he does not call them apostles. He calls them brothers, while Paul is an apostle. 

And then he addresses his letter to the churches in Galatia. As we’ve discussed the last couple of weeks, this was the region to which Paul had traveled during his first missionary journey. He shared the gospel, many people came to faith, but there were also very many who were hostile to the gospel. In writing to the Galatians, there were people who sought to dilute or distort the true gospel and so Paul writes as a defense of the gospel. 

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