Galatians 1:1–3 “Paul an apostle, not from men nor through men, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead, and all the brethren with me, to the churches of Galatia: grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

This introduction teems with much passion and great fervor. In fact not only the introduction, but indeed the whole letter, so to speak, is like this as well. For those who always speak calmly to their students, when the students require sternness, this is characteristic not of a teacher, but of a corrupter and an enemy. Consequently even our Lord, though he often spoke gently with his disciples, sometimes used a more rough style, at one time blessing, at another rebuking. So when he announced that he will lay the foundations of the church on Peter’s confession, he said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah.”[2] But not long after these words he said: “Get behind me, Satan. You are my stumbling block.”[3] And in another passage, again, he said “Are you also so completely foolish?”[4] Moreover, he inspired them with such fear that even John said that when they saw him conversing with the Samaritan woman and reminded him about eating, yet: “No one dared to say to him, ‘What are you looking for?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’”[5] Paul understood this, and following in the steps of his teacher he varied his speech with an eye to the need of his students, at one time cauterizing and cutting, and at another applying a gentle salve. Thus to the Corinthians he said: “What do you want? Should I come to you with a rod, or in love and the spirit of gentleness?”[6] Yet with the Galatians he took a different tack, “O you foolish Galatians.”[7] And not just once but even a second time he employed this sort of threatening. He upbraided them at the end of the work, saying, “Let no one cause me troubles.”[8] And again he seeks to minister gently as when he says, “My little children, whom I again bring forth with labor pains.”[9] There are in fact many such expressions as these.

But it is evident to all, even on a first reading, that this letter is full of passion. So we must explain what it was that had aroused Paul’s anger against his students. For it was no minor issue, nor something trivial, since Paul would not have employed such a marked thrust.[10] Becoming angry in the face of misfortunes is typical of cowardly, cruel, and miserable men, just as losing nerve at major obstacles is the habit of those more sluggish and duller. But Paul is not such a person. So then, what was the particular sin that had stirred him up? It was something great and excessive, and something alienating them all from Christ, as he himself said a little further on: “Look! I Paul tell you plainly that if you submit to circumcision, Christ will do you no good at all.”[11] And again, “Whoever of you seek to be justified by the law, you have disqualified yourselves for grace.” So what in the world was this sin? We must identify it rather precisely: those of the Jews who had come to faith were at the same time both holding to their former commitment to Judaism and inebriated by empty doctrine. And wanting to arrogate to themselves the prerogatives of teachers, going to the people of Galatia they began to teach that it was necessary to be circumcised, and to keep sabbaths and new-moons, and not to tolerate Paul who was removing such practices. “For Peter, James, and John (the first[12] of the apostles who were with Christ),” they say, “do not forbid such practices.” And truly they did not forbid them. Yet in doing this they were not presenting it as authoritative teaching, but rather accommodating the weakness of the believers who came from the Jews. But Paul, because he was preaching to the Gentiles, had no need of such accommodation. Therefore, when he was in Judea, he himself also employed this sort of accommodation. But his opponents, in their deception, were not stating the reasons why both Paul and the other apostles were making an accommodation. Instead, they deceived the weaker brothers in claiming that they should not tolerate Paul. For he had shown up “yesterday and a moment ago,” while they had been with Peter. He had become a disciple of the apostles, while they were disciples of Christ. And he was by himself, while they were many, and the pillars of the church. So they were casting at him the charge of hypocrisy, alleging that he was himself abrogating circumcision, “though he has clearly made use of such things elsewhere, and preaches one thing to us, but differently to others.”

Therefore when Paul saw that the whole gentile world was aflame, that a troubling fire had been lit against the church of the Galatians, and that the whole structure was tottering and ran the risk of falling, he was gripped on the one side with righteous anger, and on the other with despair. He made this very clear indeed when he said, “I wanted to be present with you then, and to change my tone.”[13] He is writing the letter to respond to all this. And from these opening comments he refers to that which they were saying while undermining his reputation, saying that the others were disciples of Christ, though Paul himself was a disciple of the apostles. Thus he began like this: “Paul, an apostle, not from men nor through men.”[14] For those cheats were saying (as I mentioned before) that he was the last of all the apostles, and had been taught by them. For Peter and James and John were called first, and were the main leaders of the disciples. They received their teaching from Christ, and thus more obedience was owed them than him. They, moreover, did not forbid circumcision nor keeping the law. Thus making these claims and others like them, Paul’s opponents were seeking to diminish him, and were at the same time exalting the glory of the other apostles. This they did not in order to extol them, but that they might deceive the Galatians by inappropriately persuading them to pay attention to the law. So naturally he began in this fashion. For because they were treating his teaching with contempt, saying that it was from men, while Peter’s was from Christ, he immediately, from the introduction, set himself against this notion, stating that he was an apostle “not from men, nor through men.” For Ananias baptized Paul,[15] but he had not freed him from error, and did not lead him to faith. Instead, Christ himself after ascending sent that astounding voice to him, through which the Lord caught him like a fish. For while Christ was walking along the sea, he called Peter and his brother, and John and his brother. But Paul he called after ascending to heaven. And just as the other men did not need a second voice but immediately, dropping their nets and all their other affairs, followed him, so Paul also from that first call ascended to the most important position, was baptized, and undertook an implacable war against the Jews. And it was in this respect most of all that he surpassed the other apostles. “For I labored more than they,” he said.[16] But for the time being he does not argue this. Rather, Paul is content in claiming equality with the other apostles. For he was eager not to show that he surpassed them, but to refute the premise of the error. Thus his first statement, “not from men,” was common to all men. For the gospel has its origin and root from above. But the second statement, “not through men,” is particular to the apostles. For Christ did not call them “through men,” but of his own accord “through himself.”

Why did he not mention his call and say “Paul, called not from men,” but instead mentioned his apostleship? It is because his whole argument concerned this point. For his opponents said that the apostles had been entrusted with this teaching by men, and thus it was necessary for him to follow them. But Luke made clear that it was not delivered to him “from men” when he wrote: “And while they were worshiping and fasting before the Lord, the Holy Spirit said ‘Now set apart for me Paul and Barnabas.’”[17] From this it is clear that the authority of the Son and the Spirit is one. For Paul says that in being sent by the Spirit, he was sent by Christ. And it is clear from elsewhere that Paul attributes the things of God to the Spirit. Thus when he is speaking to the elders of Miletus he says, “Keep watch for yourselves and for the flock over which the Holy Spirit has set you as pastors and overseers.”[18] And yet he says in another letter, “Those whom God has established in the church, first apostles, second prophets, then pastors and teachers.”[19] So he uses this expression indiscriminately, saying that the things of the Spirit are of God, and those of God are of the Spirit. And in another way, he also stops up the mouths of heretics, saying “through Jesus Christ and God his Father.”[20] For because heretics say that this word was attributed to the Son as though he were lesser, see what Paul does: he uses the word in the case of the Father, thereby teaching us not to apply any principle whatsoever to an inexpressible nature, not to establish measures or degrees of divinity between the Son and the Father. For after he said “through Jesus Christ,” he added “God the Father.” If in mentioning the Father by himself he had said “through whom,” then they would have devised some sophism,[21] saying that this expression “through whom” is applied to the Father, since the works of the Son reflect on him. And yet Paul mentions the Son and the Father at the same time; and in applying this expression to them jointly he no longer allows their argument any place. For he does not do this as though attributing now the deeds of the Son to the Father. No, he shows that this expression admits no difference in substance whatsoever. And what then would those say who, with respect to baptism, consider it somehow lesser because one is baptized into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit? For if the Son were lesser than the Father, then what would they say now that the apostle here begins with Christ then moves on to the Father? But we shall speak no such blasphemy. We must not in contending with them depart from the truth. No, even if they should rage ten thousand times, we must keep our eyes on the standards of piety. Therefore, just as we would not say that the Son is greater than the Father simply because he mentioned Christ first—for that would be the very height of absurd foolishness and consummate impiety—so neither would we say that because the Son is placed after the Father, we must suppose that the Son is lesser than the Father.

Next we read “who raised him from the dead.”[22] What are you doing, Paul? Though you desire to lead the Judaizing men to faith, you do not bring before them any of those great and brilliant expressions such as you wrote to the Philippians. You said, for example, “Though being in the form of God he did not consider equality with God something to be laid hold of.”[23] You also later said to the Hebrews that “He is the radiance of God’s glory, and the express image of his nature.”[24] And then the son of thunder in his introductory words shouted forth that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[25] Many times Jesus himself, when discussing[26] with the Jews, used to say that he is as powerful as the Father, and that he possesses the same authority.[27] But do you, Paul, not say here any of those things? Instead, omitting them all, do you mention Christ’s dispensation according to the flesh, making his cross and death the main point? “Yes,” he says. For if Paul were addressing people who had no grand conception about Christ, then saying those things would be called for. But since those who believe that they will be punished if they depart from the law are opposing us, Paul thus mentions the acts through which Christ abolishes the need of the law. I mean, to be precise, the benefit that arose for all from his cross and resurrection. For the statement “in the beginning was the Word,” and “He was in the form of God” and “making himself equal to God” and all such—these would suit someone demonstrating the divinity of the Word, not someone adding anything to the present topic. But the statement “who raised Him from the dead” is characteristic of someone calling to mind the chief point of the kindness on our behalf, the very thing that serves Paul’s purpose for the question under discussion. For many people are in the habit of not attending to words that represent God’s majesty as much as they are to those that manifest his kindness toward men. Therefore, declining to say those kinds of things he spoke about the kindness that was done for us.


[1] This translation is based on the text provided in Sancti Patris Nostri Joannis Chrysostomi, In Divi Pauli Epistolam Ad Galatas Commentaria, Oxford 1852, Field.

[2] Matthew 16:17.

[3] Ibid., v. 23.

[4] Matthew 15:16.

[5] John 4:27.

[6] 1 Corinthians 4:21.

[7] Galatians 3:1.

[8] Galatians 6:17.

[9] Galatians 4:19.

[10] The vivid metaphor Chrysostom employs here is military. καταφορά (kataphora), prevalent in the Roman historians Polybius, Josephus, and others, is typically used to describe the sudden downward stroke of a sword.

[11] Galatians 5:2.

[12] πρῶτοι (prōtoi) indicates both chronological priority and preeminence.

[13] Galatians 4:20.

[14] Ibid., 1:1a.

[15] Acts 9:18.

[16] 1 Corinthians 15:10.

[17] Acts 13:2.

[18] Cf. Acts 20:28ff.

[19] Chrysostom has here conflated, whether deliberately or as a consequence of quoting from memory, two different passages: Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:28. From the latter he took the words οὓς μὲν ἔθετο ὁ θεὸς ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ πρῶτον ἀποστόλους, δεύτερον προφήτας, (hous men etheto ho theos en tē ekklēsia prōton apostolous, deuteron prophētas), while he finished the quote with a portion from Ephesians 4, namely ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους (poimenas kai didaskalous).

[20] Galatians 1:1b.

[21] Chrysostom uses here the verb σόφιζω (sophizō), “to act like a sophist.” In this he alludes to a long tradition stretching back tgo Gorgias, Prodicus, and other opponents of Socrates in the Platonic dialogues who made the weaker argument the stronger.

[22] Galatians 1:1c.

[23] Philippians 2:6.

[24] Hebrews 1:3.

[25] John 1:1.

[26] Chrysostom uses here the somewhat unusual participle φθεγγόμενος (phthengomenos). This is done apparently variationis causa, since he has in previous sentences made use of a range of synonyms including γράφω (graphō), λέγω (legō), ἀναφωνέω (anaphōneō), and ἀναβοάω (anaboaō).

[27] In his use of the terms δύναται (dunatai) and ἐξουσίαν (exousian), Chrysostom registers the long-held distinction between ability and authority and ascribes both to Christ. This distinction is perhaps more common to students of the Latin language, where it is represented by the terms potentia and potestas. Though the two do not mutually entail the other, in the persons of the Trinity the distinction is not consequential.

David C. Noe is an elder at Reformation OPC, Grand Rapids, Michigan, a licentiate in the Presbytery of Michigan and Ontario, and serves as an associate professor and chair of the Philosophy and Classics Department at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also serves on the OPC Committee for the Historian.

Joseph A. Tipton is a member of Coeur d'Alene Reformed Church OPC and a Fellow of Classical Languages at New St. Andrews College in Moscow, ID. Ordained Servant Online, February 2020.

Publication Information

Contact the Editor: Gregory Edward Reynolds

Editorial address: Dr. Gregory Edward Reynolds,
827 Chestnut St.
Manchester, NH 03104-2522
Telephone: 603-668-3069

Electronic mail: reynolds.1@opc.org

Submissions, Style Guide, and Citations


Editorial Policies

Copyright information


+1 215 830 0900

Contact Form

Find a Church