The writers of the Bible use a number of different literary forms to communicate their message. There is historical prose, drama, biography, poetry, proverb and prophecy. But one of the most distinct forms in the New Testament is the epistle.

The epistles of the New Testament are personal letters written both to individuals and to churches. I can think of no other literary device more designed to communicate on a personal level. It is the form of intimate relationship.

Whenever the mail is delivered to our house, I go through it very briefly to sort out what to open and what to discard. I look for what we commonly refer to as "junk" mail. These are not personal letters but actually mass mailings designed to appear personal. It will be addressed to me, so the only way I can tell that it is junk mail is to check the return address. When people wrote letters in the ancient world, they always followed a specified format.

1. First came their own name.

2. Then came the name of the recipients of the letter - those to whom the letter was addressed.

3. Finally would come a greeting.

Any number of examples of this format can be found both in the pages of the Bible as well as in ancient letters brought to us via archaeology.




Ezra 7:12

James 1:1

Julius Caesar

Name of the Author

Artaxerxes, king of kings...

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ...

Gaius Julius Caesar Imperator and high priest and dictator the second time...

Name of the Recipients

To Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven...

To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad...

To the magistrates, senate, and people of Sidon...


Perfect peace



In each of these examples, the entire greeting would take place within the equivalent of a single verse. And yet Paul takes up five verses to give us his opening salutation in this epistle. Why? It is because he will utilize the format of the salutation to introduce the message of his letter. This is not filler material so that the real epistle can start in verse 6. This introduction is foundational to his message and sets the stage for everything that is to follow.



Paul, an apostle, not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead (Galatians 1:1).

Before we start with the concept of an apostle, let us take a step back and say something about the name "Paul." When he is first introduced in the book of Acts, his name is not "Paul" but rather "Saul."

It has been customary to think that Paul CHANGED his name from its original "Saul" to "Paul" so that he could better identify with the Gentiles (Saul is a Hebrew name, while Paul is a Latin name). However, I do not believe that this is completely the case. In the days in which Paul lived, all Roman citizens had THREE names.


An individual name given at birth


A tribal name. In Rome there were about 1000 tribes which could trace their ancestry back to a common origin


At first, the cognomen was given as a family nickname, usually referring to some outstanding feature in the individual. Here are a few examples...

  • Crassus (Fat)
  • Longus (Tall)
  • Rufus (red)
  • Felix (Happy)
  • Paulus (Little)

All Roman citizens possessed three of these names. Here are a few well-known examples...

As you can see in the above example, PAULUS was a cognomen. It was ALWAYS used as a cognomen. As such, it was a family name.

Although Paul was a Jew, he had also been born as a citizen of Roman (Acts 22:28). At some time in the past, one of his ancestors has been "adopted" into one of the families of Rome and given a Roman name. Thus, when Paul uses this name for himself, he is not making it up. He is merely using one of his names which would serve to better identify himself with the Gentiles. It is rightfully his own name.



Paul, an apostle, not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead (Galatians 1:1).

It was customary when identifying yourself in a letter to include whatever official titles might be yours. Paul does this when he calls himself an apostle.

Our word "apostle" is a transliteration of the Greek word apostolos. The Hebrew counterpart of this word was the sheliach. A well-known Hebrew proverb states: "The authority of the send one (sheliach) is equal to that of the sender." Thus authority is inherent in the term "apostle" from both its Greek and Hebrew backgrounds.

While the word "apostle" comes from the root verb "to send from" it seems to have a more specific meaning. Indeed, the Greeks of the Peloponnesian Wars used this as a military term for the admiral of their fleet who was "commissioned" with a special duty. When used in this sense, it seems to speak of one who is sent out with special AUTHORITY. The authority of the apostle was dependent upon the authority of the one who sent him out.

1. Stated in the Negative.

Before Paul states what IS the source of his apostleship, he first sets for what is NOT the source of his apostleship.

a. Not sent from men.

Paul had not been sent by the church in Jerusalem to be an apostle. No board had ever looked over his resume and decided, "Yes, Paul has what it takes to be a worthy apostle." There was no council involved in choosing him to this position. He did not with his apostleship through a popularity vote. He never claimed to be sent by the apostles in Jerusalem.

b. Nor through the agency of man.

God often works through the agency of man. Men are the tools that He most often uses. The Lord had used the early church and the casting of lots to choose Matthias to be the Twelfth Apostle to fill the vacancy of Judas Iscariot. But this was not the case with Paul. His apostleship did not come through the agency of any man. It came directly through the agency of Jesus Christ when He knocked Paul to the ground on the Damascus Road and blinded his eyes so that he could see.

2. Stated in the Positive.

Paul, an apostle, not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead (Galatians 1:1).

Paul's commission to apostleship had come right from the top. Jesus Christ Himself had appointed Paul and an apostle. To dispute Paul's message is to dispute Jesus Christ and God the Father. Paul is the legally appointed representative of the Godhead.

Now I want you to notice something. Paul did not have anything to do with his becoming an apostle. To the contrary, Paul's former occupation had been an enemy and a persecutor of the church. But God struck him down and called him on the Damascus Road. Paul did not choose God. It was God who chose Paul.

It is the same with us today. Our calling was probably not as dramatic as Paul's, but it is still God who chooses us and who calls us to Himself.



Paul... and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia (Galatians 1:1-2).

For the last four thousand years the plains of central Anatolia have been a smelting pot of a multitude of ethnic groups and races. From earliest history invading armies have marched through this land. This was the scene for the Hittite Civilization. Then came wave after wave of invaders -- the Phrygians, the Assyrians, the Lydians. And then came the armies of Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes and Alexander.

In the 3rd century before Christ a great migration of Germanic tribes began a push that was to influence the entire ancient world. There were three different groups involved in these movements:

The Galatians came under the rule of Rome in 25 B.C. when the region was divided up into a series of Roman provinces. Thus when you spoke of the Galatians, there were two ideas which could be designated:

  1. Old Galatia: This was made up of all of the lands in which the Gauls had settled throughout the central territories of Anatolia.
  2. The Roman Province of Galatia: Included not only the northern territories but also most of the cities in the south that Paul and Barnabas had visited during their First Missionary Journey.

Octavius Augustus had established this region as a Roman Province in 25 B.C. This included Psidian Antioch, Iconium and Lystra. In 41 A.D. the boundaries were extended southward to include Derbe.

Paul and Barnabas came to the Province of Galatia during their first missionary journey. Coming up from the ocean, they moved from city to city, setting up churches as they went. Each of these cities had a mixed population of both Jews and Gentiles. It was from the Jewish synagogues that the greatest opposition arose.

As Paul writes this epistle, it is evident that the Jewish opposition has now taken a new form. It will be in the teaching that it is necessary for one to be circumcised and become a Jewish proselyte in order to become a Christian.

Most of us do not face this kind of opposition. I know very few Christians who have struggled with whether they ought to conform to Judaism in order to be saved. If this is the case, then is this epistle important for us today? I believe that it is. Paul is going to deal with the issue of LEGALISM.

Strictly speaking, legalism refers to a system of law-keeping. Legalism can be defined as any attempt to stand before God on the basis of my own good works. As such, there are two kinds of legalism.

1. Legalism for Salvation: This is the attempt to try to be saved on the basis of something that I do as opposed to something that God has done on my behalf.

2. Legalism for Spirituality: This is the attempt to try to be spiritual merely on the basis of my own self-efforts and keeping of certain rules rather than by trusting in the Lord and depending upon His Spirit.

Notice the brevity of Paul's description of his recipients: Paul... and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia. This is the only time in any of Paul's epistles that he does not include some qualifying statement when addressing a church.

There is no such qualifying statement made in this epistle. It is unique. Paul does not thank God for the Galatians. He does not praise them. He does not even state that they are in Christ. He has nothing good to say to them. Why is this?

It is because he has received news that they are in the process of turning from the faith. They are denying that the death of Christ was sufficient in and of itself to save them. Their position does not lend itself to thanksgiving. There is nothing to be praised in what they are doing. It is even questionable as to whether they are really saved.

Even the Corinthians with all of their sinful practices are referred to as those who have been sanctified (1 Corinthians 1:2). But the Galatians are in the process of denying the very basis of any possible sanctification.



Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:3).

The normal greeting found in most ancient letters was only one or two words. But Paul takes it much further than this to use it as the introduction for his epistle.

Most letters contained the single word chairein ("greeting"). An example of this is seen in the salutation of James 1:1. But instead of the usual chairein, Paul uses charis ("grace"). And that is not all. He also adds the word "peace."

The Hebrew equivalent (shalom) was used by the Hebrews as the greeting in the beginning of their letters, just as chairein was used by the Greeks. Thus, Paul's greeting combines the Greek and the Hebrew salutations into one greeting.

1. Grace and Peace.

Paul combines the Greek and Hebrew greetings in his salutation to the Galatians. However, I think that there is also another reason for this particular greeting. There is a definite order and plan to this arrangement. Peace must always come after grace. Without grace there can be no peace.

Grace is the undeserved favor of God directed toward man. It excludes all human merit. You cannot earn it through your good works. It doesn't involve anything that you can do for God. It is the sum total of all that God has done for you. The problem with the world today is that it is trying to find peace without grace. But it is only as man meets the grace of God and accepts it that he can find peace with God, with himself, and with his fellow man.

This was the problem in Galatia. They were seeking peace through their own self effort. But peace cannot come through works.

2. The Source of Grace and Peace: God our Fatherů the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:3).

Here is the only source of grace and peace. It is from God. The Father is mentioned first. This is because the Father holds a position that is higher than the Son (John 14:28). But our grace also comes from the Son. This is not a separate source. It is the same source. There is a oneness among the members of the Godhead. Therefore, it is from this one source that grace and peace are offered to the Galatians.

The Galatians do not deserve this. They have been guilty of turning aside from the grace of God. They have demonstrated themselves to be undeserving. But this is how grace works. Grace is always extended to the undeserving.



Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5).

Paul now proceeds to outline the basics of his gospel message. It can be summed up in three words: God saves sinners.

1. The Gift of the Gospel: Who gave Himself for our sins (1:4).

Paul turns to the mechanics of how grace and peace have been brought to man. It is through the death of Christ. Paul considers three aspects of that death: The sacrifice, the purpose, and the origin of the plan. The death of Christ involved the greatest sacrifice ever made. He literally gave Himself for us. He did this willingly. At His own trial before Pilate, He testified that no man was able to take His life from Him.

Now let me ask you a question. How many of our sins did Christ give Himself for? The answer is obvious. He gave Himself for ALL our sins. This means that the sin issue has been settled forever.

The error of the Galatians was over this very point. They felt that the work of Christ on the cross was not enough to take away their sins. They thought that they had to add something to the work of Christ. But Christ's sacrifice was able to accomplish what it was designed to do.

Who gave...


for our sins

So that He might rescue...


from this present evil age

2. The Goal of the Gospel: So that He might rescue us from this present evil age (1:4).

This is what Christ's death was designed to do. It was a rescue mission. It was to save us. This is important. If the Galatians cannot be saved through faith in the finished work of Christ, then Christ's work must not be enough. If Christ's work is not enough to save, then Christ died uselessly.

These Galatians who were placing themselves back under the Law were allowing themselves to be enslaved. Those who had been delivered from bondage were placing the chains back upon their members.

3. The Plan of the Gospel: According to the will of our God and Father (1:4).

Now we come to the origin of the plan. The death of Christ was planned by the Father before time began.

"This Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death." (Acts 2:23).

Who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity. (2 Timothy 1:9).

The death of Christ was no accident. It was the reason for which He came to earth. And that plan includes our freedom. The end result is that God is glorified.

4. The Glory of the Gospel: To whom be the glory forevermore. Amen (Galatians 1:5).

Past Tense

Present Tense

Future Tense

Who gave Himself for our sins

So that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father

To whom be the glory forevermore

Here is the point of legalism. Legalism always glorifies man. We look at man's work, man's obedience, man's righteousness, even man's faith. But the true gospel always glorifies God.

Notice the tenses that are used throughout these two verses. They reflect the three tenses that are used of our salvation.

About the Author
Return to the John Stevenson Bible Study Page
Have a Comment?