The book of Galatians is typically viewed as a polemic against a legalistic works salvation. While that is certainly an aspect of of Paul's letter, it is not the whole story. We have a clue to what was actually going on in Galatia given us in verse 10 of the first chapter.
It is commonly understood in verse 10 of Chapter 1, Paul is denying a charge leveled against him by the Judaizers, purveyors of the Galatian false gospel. Apparently, his opponents claimed Paul denied the need for the Mosaic ritual because he was a people-pleaser. Their claim was that Paul used this tactic to gain more converts.
Devout followers of Yahweh had always railed against those who claim allegiance to the Lord while pandering to the ungodly. Someone guilty of this behavior was sometimes called a "people-pleaser." In the Greek, people-pleasers are called anthropareskoi (Ephesians 6:6, Colossians 3:22), or designated with the composite term anthropois areskein as it is here in Galatians 1:10. The term or phrase refers to people who were compromisers and hypocrites.
In the century prior to the birth of Christ, the term had been used in pharisaic literature to describe "profaners" willing to fraternize with pagans. Unfortunately, these people-pleasers were not hurting just themselves but the entire community of God. They pretended to be zealous for the ways of Yahweh, "excessive in words, excessive in appearance above everyone" using "harsh . . .words in condemning sinners at judgment."1 Nevertheless, it was all for show. The people-pleasers were not motivated by a commitment to Yahweh but by a desire for self aggrandizement. As a result they destroyed peaceful houses, scattering the children of the godly as orphans, deceiving with words destroying and agitating with all thier soul.2 In short, the people-pleasers were a threat to the apprehension of the covenant promises.
It seems the Judaizers – many of whom were Pharisees (Acts 15:1, 15, 21:20) – viewed Paul as an enemy of what they considered the true gospel. The Judaizers accepted Jesus as Messiah but they believed salvation also required participation in the Mosaic ritual. Thus, according to the Judaizers, a people-pleaser in the first century would be happy to present a false gospel, relaxing the need for obedience to God's law – and it seems that was the charge they made against Paul.
More than that, the charge is that Paul is guilty of threatening the very fabric of the godly community. He is putting the realization of the Abrahamic promises in jeopardy. After all, Paul was willing to fraternize with uncircumcised Gentiles. According to the Judaizers he was feigning his commitment to Yahweh and as was not above using harsh words and condemning sinners in judgment (Galatians 1:8-9).
Of course, Paul denies the charge. After all, if he was a people-pleaser he would not be a servant of Christ. Paul believes that should be self-evident. It is the Judaizers, people afraid of Jewish disapproval, who are willing to jeopardize the Abrahamic promises by preaching a false gospel.
Truly the Galatian problem was not just a matter of legalism vs grace but a showdown over the definition of the kingdom of God; are the covenant promises realized through Jesus alone or are they actualized through Jesus and the observance of the Mosaic ritual? That is the question Paul sets out to answer in his letter to the church in Galatia.
1. "Psalms Of Solomon," in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, First Edition, vol. 2 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co, 1985), p. 655.
2. Ibid, 656.
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