Christ Jesus’s apostle to this present age.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 February 2022
Galatians 1.1-5 KWL
1 The apostle Paul—
not sent by people nor through people’s agency,
but by Christ Jesus,
and by God the Father
who raised him from those who are dead—
2 and all the Christian brethren with me,
to the churches of Galatia.
3 Grace to you all, and peace
from God our Father,
and from master Christ Jesus—
4 Jesus who gave himself for our sins
so he might pluck us from the present, evil age,
consistent with the will of God our Father—
5 glory to Jesus in the age of ages, amen!

No doubt Paul of Tarsus wrote hundreds of letters over his lifetime, but we only have 13 of them in the New Testament. All of them were written within about 15 years:

  • Paul was still “a young man” Ac 7.58 —what we’d today call a teenager—when Stephen was killed, and became a Christian shortly after that. This happened within a year after Jesus’s death and rapture in 33, so figure around then.
  • After this he went to Arabia (probably Mt. Sinai) about three years; then went to Jerusalem to see the apostles. Ga 1.18 Figure the years 33 to 36.
  • Then to Syria and Cilicia for 14 years, Ga 2.1 during which time he got to know Barnabas, got involved in the Antioch church, and went on what’s popularly called his “first missionary journey.” Figure 36 to 50.
  • Then Barnabas, Paul, and Titus went to the Council of Jerusalem in the year 50.
  • Ultimately Paul was arrested, tried, and beheaded during the Neronian persecution—round the year 65.

It’s a rough timeline, but you get the gist. Paul’s two earliest letters were both written after the Council of Jerusalem: Galatians makes reference to the council and its aftermath, and 1 Timothy was co-written by Timothy, 1Th 1.1 whom Paul and Silas met in the very next chapter of Acts after the council. Ac 16.1 Hence all his New Testament letters were written between the council and his death. Fifteen years. It’s not a long time; it’s not a lot of writing either. But man alive has it made an impact on human history.

Anyway. Today I’m picking apart Galatians’s introduction, which was written Roman-style: Whom it’s from, whom it’s to, and salutations. Letters were written on papyrus (’cause parchment, i.e. sheepskin, is expensive!) and ink tends to bleed through, so rather than write the address on the outside of the scroll, Romans put it at the top and permitted people to unroll the scroll just enough to see the addressee. Paul, taking advantage of the fact just about anyone might read this, threw in a lot of Christian stuff. It’s never just “Paul to Timothy,” or “Paul to the church of Cilicia,” but “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus,” or “Paul, to the church of God the Father and our master Christ Jesus.” Evangelists gotta evangelize.

(I should mention that number of 13 letters does not include Hebrews. I realize plenty of Christians claim Paul wrote it; no he didn’t. The New Testament’s letters are bunched by author, and listed in order of length: Paul wrote the longest letter, Romans, and the rest of his letters follow, in order of length (except when, like 1–2 Corinthians, they’re bunched by recipient). The next-longest epistle was Hebrews, and if the ancient Christians believed it was Paul’s they’d’ve put it before Galatians, but they didn’t. We don’t know who wrote it, and the only reason people presume Paul is… well, if it’s not named for the author it must be Paul’s, right? Um, no.)

Galatians may be Paul’s earliest letter. It’s to the churches of central Asia Minor (now Turkey), called “Galatia” because it was settled by Celts, whom Romans called “Gauls.” The Celts invaded Bulgaria in 279BC, moved into the Turkish highlands later that century, and took that over too. Yep, there were actually a bunch of white people living in the ancient middle east. History’s full of odd stuff like that.

Other historians think 1 Thessalonians was written first, ’cause Paul wrote it with Silas and Timothy, so they speculate it was written in the middle of one of their missions, and Galatians once that mission was over.

The apostle introduces himself.

Me, I figure Galatians came first, in part because Paul introduces himself to Christendom in this letter. He starts with his mini-autobiography.

Many followers of Jesus knew a little about Paul of Tarsus—or had at least heard the rumors that the Lord Jesus had flipped a persecutor, and made him an evangelist. Ga 1.22-24 But they hadn’t yet heard from the man himself. And as this letter points out, some of ’em weren’t all that sure he was really Jesus’s apostle.

See, then as now, people assume you can’t be an apostle unless Jesus personally appoints and sends you. Like he did the Twelve. But once Jesus was raptured, supposedly he stopped making apostles… ’cause he’s in heaven now, and not coming back till the second coming, right? No more Jesus, no more apostles. And once those apostles died off, the apostolic age was over.

Except it turns out Jesus still makes special appearances. As he did with Paul—who at the time was going by his Hebrew name Saul.

Acts 9.3-7 KJV
3 And as [Saul] journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: 4 and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. 6 And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

Christians might still claim Jesus will only appear at his second coming… but make an exception for Paul, ’cause it’s in the bible. Ignoring the fact this is hardly Jesus’s only special appearance in the bible; he also appears to Ananias, John, and even Paul again. Each of these appearances reiterates the fact Jesus is Lord and can do as he wants. Including appear to people. And send ’em on missions.

So in Galatians—and in his other letters, ’cause has to keep saying this!—Paul explained he’s an apostle, sent by Christ Jesus, same as the Twelve. Maybe with a slightly different mission, but still.

And the core of Paul’s mission is the same as that of the Twelve: Share the gospel. Because God’s kingdom has come near, Mk 1.15 and if you wanna live in it forever, Jesus makes it possible. Trust that he did everything it takes to make us God’s children; repent and follow him.

Popular pagan belief presumes any way we earnestly approach God—with or without Jesus—is totally fine with God, ’cause he’s flexible and forgiving like that. But this profoundly confuses theological apathy with grace. If it were all the same to God, he’d never have bothered to send us Jesus!

Hence the only way to get to the Father is via the door, the road, the truth—that is, Jesus. He’s the king, and holds the keys, of God’s kingdom. There’s no getting into the kingdom around him. And there’s no alternative to the kingdom but weeping and gnashing of teeth. There is no other gospel. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Problem was, people were totally telling the Galatians different. And it was working on them. Hence Paul’s letter.

Which I oughta start expounding upon, huh?

An apostle sent by Jesus.

Paul didn’t simply give himself the title “apostle,” like so many Christians do nowadays. Nor is it an official title conferred by a church body. He was sent by Jesus, ’cause only Jesus can make apostles.

Galatians 1.1 KWL
The apostle Paul—
not sent by people nor through people’s agency,
but by Christ Jesus,
and by God the Father
who raised him from those who are dead—

Now yeah, certain churches do claim they have every right to make apostles; that when they lay their hands on a minister, and identify him as someone God commissions to do a certain work, this makes ’em an apostle. They claim it’s not so much that they make apostles; they only confirm God made ’em apostles. Me, I figure since it’s entirely possible for them to make someone a minister and lay hands on ’em without any input from the Holy Spirit whatsoever, it really is them making apostles. Sometimes they really are legitimate apostles! But sometimes—way more often than should be the case—they’re really not.

And likewise lots of people claim to be apostles, and claim Jesus sent ’em to do this or that… and no he didn’t; they’re dirty liars. Fake apostles. There were fake apostles in the bible, y’know:

2 Corinthians 11.13-15 KJV
13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. 14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.

Jesus says we can identify such people by their bad fruit, so when we have an “apostle” who encourages Christians to get angry, pick fights, pursue worldly political power, pursue wealth (and maybe send him some wealth while we’re at it), and otherwise violates Jesus’s teachings in favor of some “biblical principles” he thinks he’s discovered: Yep, that’s a false teacher. A fake apostle. A con artist. Warn your fellow Christians away from them.

Galatians 1.8-9 KJV
8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

Is Paul a legitimate apostle? Well you’ll know Christians by our fruits, and Paul was the right kind of fruity. Not just because he taught about fruit of the Spirit in this very letter, but because people could see Paul lived a life consistent with the good fruit Christians oughta display. And of course the Spirit empowered him to cure the sick, raise the dead, do signs and wonders and so forth; but that stuff means absolutely nothing if you’re not also fruitful.

Further, Paul preached orthodox Christianity. As he wrote in the very first verse, God the Father raised Christ Jesus from those who are dead. Ga 1.1 To the ancient Greco-Romans, resurrection wasn’t a thing: When you died, you shuffled off your mortal coil and became pure spirit, and stayed that way. Coming back to life, returning to a corporeal form, was a regression, not advancement! And because the very idea of resurrection bugged pagans, a number of Christians compromised the gospel and taught weird heretic things about how Jesus didn’t really become human, nor return from death. Paul didn’t deal with those heresies as much as John did, but those heresies were definitely around in the Roman Empire of Paul’s day.

Galatians deals more with Pelagianism—the popular heresy that we earn salvation, and I’ll get to that later ’cause the epistle gets to that later.

Plucked from this age, into the age to come.

In the scriptures, God’s kingdom is synonymous with the age to come. That’d be the next age. Right now we’re in the Christian era, the “last days” of human history, as opposed to the “first days” before Jesus came to earth. Human history has either two or three ages: The age before Jesus was born, the age after, and the millennium; or maybe it’s just before the second coming and after. In general we figure the coming of Jesus splits history.

The odd thing about the Christian era is we now kinda live in two ages. That is, we live in our current age: We live in a depraved world, full of corrupt systems, selfish people, a ruined environment, disease and death and chaos. But because we’re Christian, the Holy Spirit empowers us to tap into the next age: Selfless systems. Selfless people. Restored environment. Miracles which cure disease. Miracles which raise the dead. Miracles which undo chaos. It’s a potential we don’t take advantage of anywhere near as much as we can, and should. But it’s there! We can live in the age to come already.

Jesus “gave himself for our sins so he might pluck us from the present, evil age,” Paul wrote. Ga 1.4 No, he’s not talking about rapturing us away from suffering, or from the evils and perils of this age. We still gotta live in it, live with it… and share the gospel with it. We gotta follow Jesus despite the age we live in. Some of us do. Some really don’t, and have compromised the gospel greatly so they can accommodate the world around them. Legalistic Christians are immediately gonna think of all the concessions churches have made to sinners; me, I’m more bothered by all the fascist politics creeping into politically-minded churches. The world affects our churches way more than it oughta. We’re meant to be above all that! We’re meant to exist in the next age, not this one. Not even a “reformed” version of this one. God’s kingdom is run by Jesus personally. Accept no substitutes; they’re all inferior, and deadly.