Introduction: Galatians is Paul’s letter to an unspecified number of churches in Galatia, a province in modern-day central Turkey. In this harsh letter, Paul attacks his opponents in Galatia for preaching a different gospel, namely one which upheld the importance of the Jewish law and of circumcision. Paul is completely opposed to this view–not only do Gentiles not need to be circumcised, he says, they must not get circumcised. For him, believers are justified through faith, not through the law.
Galatians 1-3: How are you so quickly deserting by gospel and turning to another? You know that my gospel is not of human origin, but from Jesus Christ himself. I was violently persecuting the church until Jesus appeared to me so that I may proclaim him among the Gentiles. After this, I did not go to Jerusalem for 3 years. After three years I did go to Jerusalem, but I didn’t meet any apostles except Cephas and James (the brother of Jesus). 14 years later, I went to Jerusalem and met with the church, but the acknowledged leaders contributed nothing to me; in fact, they agreed that Barnabas and I should go to the Gentiles. I opposed Peter to his face at Antioch, because until certain people came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; after they came, Peter, Barnabas, and the other Jews all joined in the hypocrisy.
We are Jews by birth, but a person is justified through faith in Jesus, not by doing the works of the law! Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law, or by faith? Abraham was justified by belief, so those who believe are his descendants. Everyone who relies on the law is cursed. So why the law? Because it was a prison guard, meant to keep us in prison until Jesus could come and faith could be revealed. Now that Jesus has come, we are no longer subject to the disciplinarian.
Commentary: Here, Paul is very insistent that he did not go to Jerusalem immediately after his conversion, and that even after he went 3 years later, he saw no apostle except Peter and James. Even after this visit, he was “unknown by sight by the churches of Judea” (1:22). This is important–Paul is trying to prove that he could have gotten his gospel from nobody else except Jesus. Acts, however, has a very different account. Acts 8:3 claims “But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.” How could the churches in Judea not recognize him if he was dragging off men and women in Jerusalem? Acts’ depiction of Paul’s first Jerusalem visit has him visiting all the apostles:
When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord […] (9:26-27)
Do we believe Paul, or Luke? Most scholars prefer Paul–he was an eyewitness. Not only was Luke not an eyewitness, he was writing decades after the fact. Additionally, if Paul is lying, his claim in 1:20 (“In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!”) would be exceptionally bold.