A Commentary by John Stott
Galatians 1:1-2 a). The radical view.
The view of modern radical theologians can be simply stated like this: The apostles were merely first century witnesses to Jesus Christ. We on the other hand are twentieth-century witnesses, and our witness is just as good as theirs, if not better. So they read passages in the Epistles of Paul which they do not like, and they say: ‘Well, that is Paul’s view. My view is different.’ They speak as if they were apostles of Jesus Christ and as if they had equal authority with the apostle Paul to teach and to decide what is true and right. Let me give you an example from a contemporary radical: ‘St. Paul and St John’, he writes, ‘were men of like passions to ourselves. However great their inspiration…being human, their inspiration was not even or uniform… For with their inspiration went that degree of psycho-pathology which is the common lot of all men. They too had their inner axes to grind of which they were unaware. What therefore they tell us must have a self-authenticating quality, like music. If it doesn’t, we must be prepared to refuse it. We must have the courage to disagree.’ We are told to disagree, you observe, on purely subjective grounds. We are to prefer our own taste to the authority of Christ’s apostles.
Again, Professor C.H.Dodd, who has made a great contribution to the biblical theology movement, nevertheless writes in the Introduction to his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans: ‘Sometimes I think Paul is wrong, and I have ventured to say so.’ But we have no liberty to think or venture thus. The apostles of Jesus Christ were unique – unique in their experience of the Jesus of history, unique in their sight of the risen Lord, unique in their commission by Christ’s authority and unique in their inspiration by Christ’s Spirit. We may not exalt our opinions over theirs or claim that our authority is as great as theirs. For their opinions and authority are Christ’s. If we would bow to His authority, we must therefore bow to theirs. As He Himself said, ‘he who receives you receives me’ (Mt.10:40; Jn.13:20).
b). The Roman Catholic view.
The Roman Catholics teach that, since the bible authors were churchmen, the church wrote the Bible. Therefore the church is over the Bible and has authority not only to interpret it, but also to supplement it. But it is misleading to say that the church wrote the Bible. The apostles, the authors of the New Testament, were apostles of Christ, not of the church, and they wrote their letters as apostles of Christ, not of the church. Paul did not begin this Epistle ‘Paul an apostle of the church, commissioned by the church to write to you Galatians’. On the contrary, he is careful to maintain that his commission and his message were from God; they were not from any man or group of men, such as the church. See also verses 11 and 12.
So the biblical view is that the apostles derived their authority from God through Christ. Apostolic authority is divine authority. It is neither human, nor ecclesiastical. And because it is divine, we must submit to it.
We turn now from Paul’s credentials as a writer to his purpose in writing, from his authority to his gospel.