Paul, an apostle - [sent] not from anyone nor by human [authority] but through Jesus Christ and the Father God who raised Him from the dead - along with all the brothers who are with me...
     To the churches of Galatia...
     Grace to you and peace from our Father God and our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who having given Himself on account of our sins [did so] in order that He might deliver us out of the present evil age [in which we live] according to the purpose of our God and Father, to whom be the glory for each and every age. Amen. - Galatians 1:1-5/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne.

Galatia

A map showing the Roman province of Galatia, now part of central Turkey. PICTURE: Shadowxfox (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

 

IN A NUTSHELL
Paul commences his letter by giving his credentials in strong terms.

I invite you to read the entire letter and then come back and re-read these opening statements. How are they to be read?

"Paul, an apostle - [sent] not from anyone nor by human [authority] but through Jesus Christ and the Father God who raised Him from the dead - along with all the brothers who are with me..."

If you are like me, this part will read as the formal opening of a letter. I suppose I'm referring to a time when we usually wrote letters with a pen before email came along. We would put our address, identify the person or organisation we were writing to and begin "Dear Mr...". This opening in Paul's letter can be read as the formal part of a letter.

Indeed, the publishers of the RSV version, which is resting on my desk in front of me, put the next phrase: "To the churches of Galatia..." 

It is on a line all by itself with a capital "T" for "To" and then on a new line, as if it is the space to provide a special greeting: "Grace to you and peace from our Father God and our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who having given Himself on account of our sins [did so] in order that He might deliver us out of the present evil age [in which we live] according to the purpose of our God and Father, to whom be the glory for each and every age. Amen."

So, it seems, the letter starts with formality. It certainly seems as if this is the formal "bit" we have to go through before we get to the important stuff, which are Paul's comments on a serious problem that had provoked him to write the letter. When we think about it, verses three to five might read like the opening of a church service - "Grace to you and peace etc, etc" might be the opening words of a minister addressing the congregation to commence a service of worship, reminding them of Who it is they have come to worship. So, also here, Paul not only introduces himself, he frames his introduction with his profession of faith. Here we are left in no doubt that Paul is shaking hands with his readers as a Christian.

So we can note Paul's approach to writing a letter. We detect his formality as we consider his urgent communication to these churches. Such introductory formality is good, just like a handshake. It is like a teacher addressing a class: "Good morning!" - in other words, "I'm your teacher; you're my class. I'm glad to be here."

This same formality, establishing how one is related to the "other", is present in the prayer Jesus taught His disciples - "Our Father..." - in other words, "I'm here praying as one of Your children and that's why I'm here with You there...". This formality is not just something we have to endure, or something we have to get done, something neutral with respect to what follows - it is active recognition; it is, in fact, what carries what comes next.

Paul helps the reader, or the one listening to the letter being read out, to know where they are standing. He does this by clearly stating where he, as the writer, stands.

Indeed, we can recall our experiences in kindergarten when we were first introduced to social conventions. We might have sung and acted a song -"How do you do and shake hands, state your name and business!" But the aim of these verses is not to provide us with knowledge about Paul's taken-for-granted rules of social politeness. Why? Apart from the fact that the social conventions help him introduce his message, the way he does it might well make his readers and listeners uneasy. Look at his self-definition in his opening words: "Paul an apostle..."

And then, immediately afterwards, as I have translated it, he qualifies his words thus: "...[sent] not from anyone nor by human [authority] but through Jesus Christ..."

There is great urgency here; an urgency that risks unsettling those he is addressing. He's saying that what he is writing has been urged upon him by Jesus Himself. And so, the formality is no neutral device, simply to fill a few lines and then to be left behind. The conventional formality carries Paul's urgency, and any listener or reader would have immediately recognised this as the letter was read out. The letter confirms his urgency right there in his first two words: "Paul an apostle..."