Galatians 1:1: Paul an Apostle

Galatians 1:1  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 7
“Paul, an apostle, not from men, nor by means of a man, but by means of Jesus Christ, and God (the) Father, the One-having-raised Him out from among (the) dead (ones).” (vs. 1).
Immediately, in the very first words of the epistle, Paul replies to the attack of his enemies. They had said, “Paul is not an apostle. He is not one of the twelve apostles. He has not seen the Lord. The apostles at Jerusalem did not send him out nor did they give him authority to go. He has not been properly ordained.”
The Greek word “apostle” means “a sent one.” But it means more than that, for it has the meaning “sent from,” and so it carries in the name “apostle” the authority of the one who sends him. Paul writes, “Paul, an apostle” (vs. 1). That is, “Paul, one sent from,” and then he adds, “not from men, nor by means of a man, but by means of Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead.”
Paul’s enemies had said, “You were not sent from the apostles at Jerusalem.” Paul replies, “You are right! I was not sent from any men, nor by means of any man, but by Jesus Christ.” What an excellent answer! The enemies said, “The source of your authority is not the apostles at Jerusalem.” Paul replies, “The source of my authority is not at all from earth, but from heaven. I have the highest authority: the authority I carry is from Jesus Christ Himself, and from God the Father, the One who raised Him out from (among) the dead.” Could any man have higher authority?
One of the proofs of an apostle was that he had seen the Lord. In 1 Cor. 9:11Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? (1 Corinthians 9:1), Paul says, “Am I not an apostle?... have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?”. The twelve apostles had seen the Lord Jesus, a Man on earth, and had received their authority as apostles from Him then. Paul also truly had seen the Lord; but he had seen Him in the glory. And it was from the glory, from the Lord Himself in the glory, that Paul had received his authority as an apostle.
But there is more in this first line of this epistle. “Not from men, nor by means of a man, but from Jesus Christ, and God the Father.” This tells me that Jesus Christ is not “man” in the way that Peter or Paul, or you or I, are “man.” This tells me that Jesus Christ is infinitely more than man. Jesus Christ is truly God. And as I see the name of “Jesus Christ” in this verse linked with “God the Father,” I know that Jesus Christ is equal with God. And as I read on in this epistle, I find three times in the first four verses that Jesus Christ and God the Father are thus linked together on an equality; and I remember the old proverb, “A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:1212And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)).
Yet only a few verses further down in this same chapter I read the words, “James, the Lord’s brother” (vs. 19). Paul says he saw “James, the Lord’s brother” (vs. 19). He writes quite naturally, as he might have written, “I saw Timothy” or “I saw Peter.” It was probably only a little over thirty years since James shared the same humble home with “the carpenter” of Nazareth. We have heard the people ask in scorn, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James?” (Mark 6:33Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. (Mark 6:3)). And now Paul writes, I saw “James, the Lord’s brother” (vs. 19). These simple words tell me that my Lord is truly Man. If the first verse of Galatians tells me with trumpet tones that Jesus is truly God, the nineteenth verse tells me with equal certainty that He is also truly Man. I may not understand it, but I believe it, and I adore and worship Him who was the “Child,” whose name is “Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Isa. 9:66For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6).
As I ponder those years at Nazareth, and think of James growing up with that One whom they called his “brother,” I recall that James himself has written an epistle, and I turn to see what he will say of Him whom he knew so intimately. I read, “James, bondman of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:11James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. (James 1:1)) JND. James and Paul bear the same witness. James, the brother of the Lord, links together the holy names, God and the Lord Jesus Christ, just as Paul does in the epistle before us. We have a proverb that says, “You must live with a person to truly know him.” James had lived for years with Him whom they called “a Nazarene” (Matt. 2:2323And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:23)). Notice he does not speak of Him as “my elder brother,” but “James, bondman [or, slave] of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
But we must turn back to our epistle. Notice that Paul says he is “an apostle, not from men [plural], nor by means of a man [singular].” In our day, a servant of Christ is generally sent out by a missionary society, or by a committee, or by some group or company of men. They are the source from whence his authority comes. But it is generally one man who actually sends him forth. It may be the Chairman of the Committee, or the President of the Society, who acts for the whole body in sending this man forth. Paul says, “I am an apostle, neither from a company of men, nor by means of a single man.”
What a grand and glorious commission! Reader, is your authority, like Paul’s, from Jesus Christ and God the Father? Or are you sent out from a company of men, by means of one man? Is your authority from heaven or from earth? Are you sent forth “from men?” from a society? from a mission board? from a committee? We all do well to ponder these words of the Apostle: “not from men, nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father.” These servants who are sent forth from men, or by a man, can never know the happy liberty of which we read in the epistle to the Galatians.
There are few today who can follow Paul through the first verse of our epistle! On the contrary, today men consider it necessary, and even an honor, to belong to a society and to be sent forth by a board of men. Today, men must be ordained by means of a man and hold a degree from a college or Bible school, proving they are “from men,” in order to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. How different the Apostle Paul! And he glories in the fact that he had none of these things. Are our methods today really an improvement on God’s methods as set forth in this scripture? The Lord Jesus said, “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go...” (John 15:1616Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. (John 15:16)). How true this was of Paul. Is it true of me? of you? May we be able to say with one of old,
“Mine the mighty ordination
Of those pierced hands.”
Let us read those blessed words once more and may they find a lodging place in the depths of our hearts: “Paul, an apostle, not from men, nor by means of a man, but by means of Jesus Christ, and God (the) Father, the One-having-raised Him out from among (the) dead (ones).”
Power and authority to raise the dead is certain proof of power and authority to send forth His servants. It was after His resurrection that the Lord said, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore” (Matt. 28:18-1918And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: (Matthew 28:18‑19)). May we each be able to say: That is the mark; that is the badge; that is the sign of the authority that sends me forth, even the resurrection power, the mighty power of God, the One that raised our Lord Jesus out from among the dead. This is the first time the epistle refers to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ and it is to tell out that Paul’s authority and apostleship are in resurrection power. It is this power, this authority, that we need today.
Paul’s authority was not Christ and Peter; or Christ and the apostles; or Christ and any man. Paul’s authority and commission were from Jesus Christ and God the Father alone. No man added anything to his authority or his commission.
Perhaps we should ask, When did the Lord Jesus Christ send Paul forth? When did He ordain him an apostle? In Gal. 1:1515But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, (Galatians 1:15) we read that God set him apart for this work from his mother’s womb. In Acts 26:16, 1716But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; 17Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, (Acts 26:16‑17) Paul is speaking before king Agrippa, and he says that when the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus, He said to him, “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee” (Acts 26:16-1716But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; 17Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, (Acts 26:16‑17)). So we see that the Lord gave Paul his commission to go to the Gentiles at the time of his conversion. But His servant needed training and preparation for this work, and we will see that God gave him this also.
In Acts 22:17, 18, 2117And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance; 18And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me. (Acts 22:17‑18)
21And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles. (Acts 22:21)
we read that while Paul was praying in the temple at Jerusalem he saw the Lord saying to him, “Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning Me.... Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.” In Gal. 1:1818Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. (Galatians 1:18) we read that it was three years after his conversion that Paul went up to Jerusalem. So we see that then the Lord repeated His commission, sending Paul to the Gentiles.
In Acts 13:2-42As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. 3And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. 4So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:2‑4) we read, “The Holy Ghost said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed”.
The Lord had been training His servant, and now the time was come for him to go forth. Once again Paul receives a command from God, this time God the Holy Ghost, to go forth to the special work for which he was set apart. The Bible tells us plainly that the Holy Spirit sent him forth. It is true his brethren in Antioch fasted, prayed, laid their hands on him and sent him forth. This showed their fellowship in the work to which the Lord had called him, just as later on the apostles in Jerusalem gave Paul and Barnabas “the right hands of fellowship” (ch. 2:9) for this same work. But we must never forget that it was the Lord Himself, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, who sent Paul forth: so he could truthfully say, “Paul, an apostle, not of men, nor by a man.” We do not read that an assembly has power or authority to send men forth to work for the Lord. It is God alone who has this authority.
It is a very happy thing when a servant of the Lord has the fellowship of his brethren, and their prayers, when he goes forth to serve the Lord. Indeed, if he has not the fellowship of his brethren, he would do well to wait on the Lord before he goes forth, to see if there is some cause in himself that has hindered that fellowship. For we must always be on the watch that we do not give the enemy an opportunity to attack us. The New Testament speaks of this as giving the enemy “a base of operations.” (Gal. 5:1313For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)). If an enemy wishes to attack another country, the first thing it wants is a small place in that country as “a base of operations.” Our enemy, the devil, is the same; and this is especially true for one going forth to serve the Lord. Sin, or even any “weight” in our lives, provides this “base of operations” for the enemy. So let us “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us” (Heb. 12:11Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, (Hebrews 12:1)), and let us value very highly the fellowship of our brethren, which cannot truly be given if we are allowing sin in our lives. Notice the lack of fellowship with Barnabas in Acts 15:3939And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; (Acts 15:39), compared with the fellowship once again given to Paul in the following verse.
Not only is it a happy thing for the servant going forth to have the fellowship of his brethren at home, but it is a happy privilege and a happy responsibility for them to freely give their fellowship unless there is cause to withhold it. How much those who have gone forth to the front lines of the battle need the fellowship and the prayers of their brethren at home. In ch. 6:6 of this epistle we read, “Let the one being taught the Word, be having fellowship with the one teaching, in all good things.” The saints at Antioch showed this fellowship to Paul and Barnabas. We might truly take up the words of Samuel of old: “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you” (1 Sam. 12:2323Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way: (1 Samuel 12:23)). But we must never forget that it is the Lord, and the Holy Spirit, who send forth the servants.
We might notice that in Acts 13:11Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. (Acts 13:1) the Scriptures speak of Barnabas and Saul as “prophets and teachers,” (Eph. 4:1111And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; (Ephesians 4:11)) but in ch. 14:4, after being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, He then calls them “apostles.” I think this is the first time the Scriptures call Paul an apostle.
Before we leave this first verse of our epistle, let us note that the word “Father” tells of the Son. Without a child, no man is a father. It is the child that gives the character of father to a man. So, as we read these words, “... from Jesus Christ, and God the Father,” (vs. 1) we not only see the deity of our Lord, and His equality with the Father, but we see also His relationship of “the Son with the Father” (Matt. 4:2121And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. (Matthew 4:21)). As we read on in the epistle we will find this character as “Son of God” more clearly set forth.
What an amazing collection of glories for our Lord Jesus Christ do we here find gathered together in a few words. All who trust in the law, or add the law to the finished work of Christ, take away from Him these glories of which He is so worthy. How suitable, then, that the first verse of this epistle should shine so brightly with His honor and His glory!
“Thou art the everlasting Word,
The Father’s only Son;
God manifest, God seen and heard,
The heaven’s beloved One;
Worthy, O Lamb of God, art Thou
That every knee to Thee should bow.”