From the very beginning of his letter to the Galatians Paul identifies himself as an apostle by Jesus Christ and the Father. He words it this way: “an apostle not of man…” presumably because it had been told the Galatians by Jewish visitors that Paul’s apostleship was given him by one or more of the Twelve, and probably Peter figured prominently in their story. The sense is that if he was ordained by men, Paul couldn’t preach anything new. His Gospel must be the very same as the Gospel preached by those at Jerusalem.
Most likely these Jewish visitors claimed Jesus as the Messiah, but they didn’t see him as their Savior in quite the same way as the Apostles, including Paul. For them salvation came by the Messiah through the Law, making the Law necessary for salvation. Therefore, all gentiles who embraced the Jewish Messiah must become Jews. The disturbance made in Galatia mirrors what was done in Antioch that produced the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15. This being the case, the reason for their visit seems to be that James sent them to tell the churches of the poor’s need. The famine predicted by Agabus in Acts 11:28-30 had arrived, and Paul, as he did later with all the churches he raised up, told the Galatians of the need of the poor at Jerusalem during the sabbatical year when no crops could be planted or harvested from the fields in Judea. Although technically James sent them to all the churches founded by Paul and Barnabas, they exceeded their authority. These men undoubtedly were part of a conspiracy by false brethren, who had crept into the church to spy out the believer’s liberty and bring them into the subjection of the Jerusalem authorities—i.e. the high priests (Galatians 2:4). Paul presumably wrote this epistle from Antioch in Syria to the churches in Galatia immediately after the Jerusalem Council.
According to this understanding, it was not only the Antioch church that was disturbed by these “men from James” but all the churches associated with it in Cilicia and northern Syria. It was Paul’s custom to spend 3 years in an area evangelizing. When Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch, they evangelized all the nearby areas in Syria and Cilicia. Paul said that before his conversion none of the believers in the cities of Judaea knew his face (Galatians 1:24). Yet, after his third missionary journey they knew him (Acts 21:1-16). They had gotten to know Paul during his 3-year stay in Antioch, when he and Barnabas evangelized that area.
What exactly had these agitators done to these churches? Basically, the men from James “removed the Galatians from the grace of God to believe another gospel, which was not the Gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-7). In Galatians 1:3 Paul greets the brethren with grace and peace. Grace is the standard gentile greeting (like “be of good health” “prosper” etc.) and peace (shalom) is the standard Jewish greeting. From God they have to do with the rewards one receives as a result of believing the Gospel. Although God loves the world and is merciful to the world, the world cannot expect these things from God. Believers would have good favor from God in the normal course of events, and that sins would be forgiven etc. In other words, God is at peace with his people and not at war. This is what the Gospel has done for man and God. Man had been in rebellion against God but has now returned to him, submitting to the Father in love and worship in Christ.
In order to remove the Galatians from believing the true Gospel, the men from James had to first attack Paul as a true representative of the Father and Jesus. In other words, the real authority for the Gospel was not Paul but Jerusalem. Paul should be preaching only what the Apostles at Jerusalem were preaching, for only they were sent out by Jesus. While this sounds logical, it prevents God from choosing another person independent of the Twelve, which, according to Luke, Jesus had done while Saul (Paul) was on his way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-5), some fourteen years earlier than the writing of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.
Paul spends the first two chapters of his epistle defending his authority as an Apostle of God. I’ll be writing more about this matter in future blog-posts.