A Commentary by John Stott
Galatians 1: 1-2. 1). Paul’s authority.
Paul claims for himself the very title which the false teachers were evidently denying him. He was an apostle, an apostle of Jesus Christ. The term already had a precise connotation. ‘To the Jew the word was well defined; it meant a special messenger, with a special status, enjoying an authority and commission that came from a body higher than himself’.
This is the title which Jesus used for His special representatives or delegates. From the wider company of disciples He chose twelve, named them ‘apostles’, and sent them out to preach (Lk.6:13; Mk.3:14). Thus they were personally chosen, called and commissioned by Jesus Christ, and authorized to teach in His name. The New Testament evidence is clear that this group was small and unique. The word ‘apostle’ was not a general word which could be applied to every Christian like the words ‘believer’, ‘saint’ or ‘brother’. It was a special term reserved for the Twelve and for one or two others whom the risen Christ had personally appointed. There can, therefore, be no apostolic succession, other than a loyalty to the apostolic doctrine of the New Testament. The apostles had no successors. In the nature of the case no-one could succeed them. They were unique.
To this select company of apostles Paul claimed to belong. We should get used to calling him ‘the apostle Paul’ rather than ‘Saint Paul’, because every Christian is a saint in New Testament vocabulary, while no Christian today is an apostle. Notice how he clearly distinguishes himself from other Christians who were with him at the time of writing. He calls them, in verse 2, *all the brethren who are with me*. He is happy to associate them with him in the salutation, but he unashamedly puts himself first and gives himself a title which he does not give them. They are all ‘brethren’; he alone among them is ‘an apostle’.
He leaves us in no doubt about the nature of his apostleship. In other Epistles he is content to describe himself as ‘called to be an apostle’ (Rom.1:1) or ‘called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus’ (1 Cor.1:1). Or, without mentioning his call, he styles himself ‘an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will (or ‘command’) of God’ (cf. 2 Cor.1:1; Eph.1:1; Col.1:1; 1 Tim.1:1; 2 Tim.1:1). Here, however, at the beginning of the Galatian Epistle, he enlarges on his description of himself. He makes a forceful statement that his apostleship is not human in any sense, but essentially divine. Literally, he says that he is an apostle ‘not from men or through a man’. That is, he was not appointed by a group of men, such as the Twelve or the church at Jerusalem or the church at Antioch, as, for instance, the Jewish Sanhedrin appointed apostles, official delegates commissioned to travel and teach in their name. Paul himself (as Saul of Tarsus) had been one of these, as is plain from Acts 9:1, 2. But he had not been appointed to Christian apostleship by any group of men. Nor even, granted the divine origin of his apostolic appointment, was it brought to him through any individual human mediator, such as Ananias or Barnabas or anybody else. Paul insists that human beings had nothing whatever to do with it. His apostolic commission was human neither directly nor indirectly; it was wholly divine.
It was, in his words, *through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead*. Only one preposition is used: ‘*through* Jesus Christ and God the Father’. But the contrast with the phrase ‘from men’ and ‘through man’ suggests that Paul’s apostolic appointment came not from men but from God the Father, nor through a man, but through Jesus Christ (the inference being, incidentally, that Jesus Christ is not just a man). We know from elsewhere that this was the case. God the Father chose Paul to be an apostle (his call was ‘by the will of God’) and appointed him to this office through Jesus Christ, whom He raised from the dead. It was the risen Lord who commissioned him on the Damascus road, and Paul several times refers to this sight of the risen Christ as an essential condition of his apostleship (see 1 Cor.9:1; 15:8, 9).
Why did Paul thus assert and defend his apostleship? Was he just a braggart, inflated with personal vanity? No. Was it from pique that men had dared to challenge his authority? No. It was because the gospel that he preached was at stake. If Paul were not an apostle of Jesus Christ, then men could, and no doubt would, reject his gospel. This he could not bear. For what Paul spoke was Christ’s message on Christ’s authority. So he defended his apostolic authority in order to defend his message.
This special, divine authority of the apostle Paul is enough in itself to discredit and dispose of certain modern views of the New Testament. Let me mention two.
Tomorrow: a). The radical view.