In Paul's day, Greek letters began with a formal salutation: the writer's name, the recipient's name and a greeting. Paul introduces himself as an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead. The title apostle designated one who was given authority to represent another. This title was used in the early church in a broad sense to designate missionary leaders (see Acts 14:14). The title was also used in a narrow sense for those who had been given unique authority from Christ to be his representatives and the founders of the church (see Acts 1:21-26). In Galatians 1 Paul claims the title for himself in the narrow sense. He recognizes that there were those who were apostles before him (1:17), but he does not see himself as subordinate to the original apostles. If the original apostles had been the source of his commission or the agents of his commission (as the false teachers in the Galatian church were probably suggesting), then he would have been subordinate to them. But his authority was not derived from a human source or even through a human agency; his authority was directly given to him by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead. Note how this antithesis clearly places Jesus Christ on the side of God (not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ). The risen Lord had directly commissioned Paul. So those who challenged Paul's message were in fact challenging the Lord who had commissioned him.
Have you ever found yourself questioning, challenging or even rejecting any of Paul's statements? Paul's claim to apostolic authority should cause us to reconsider when our own opinions or "the general consensus of scholarly opinion" would lead us to disagree with him. It appears that the Galatian readers were in danger of turning from Paul's message and hence discrediting his authority. From Paul's time to our day, many have pointed to apparent contradictions and "hard sayings" in his letters and scolded him for his errant teachings. But if Paul has apostolic authority by virtue of his direct commission from the risen Christ, then we may not judge him on the basis of our opinions, for he is the apostolic representative of Christ. Our acceptance of Paul's authority should be guided by Jesus' own words to his apostles: "He who receives you receives me" (Mt 10:40).
Paul's affirmation of his divine appointment also encourages us to affirm our own divine appointments. We may not play the role of apostles, but we are given work to do by God's appointment. If we view our work as just another job to do for a difficult boss, we will soon become discouraged. But if by faith we can see that God has given us work to do for him, then we can overcome even the most difficult obstacles. All work is sacred if it has been given to us by God. Paul was able to endure through all the hardships he faced because he was convinced that his work was given to him by God.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.