To discredit Paul’s message of salvation by grace through faith alone (sola fide) those wanting a works oriented religion challenged his credentials. They impugned the source of his teaching. and they attacked the legitimacy of his message. Therefore, Paul begins his letter to the Galatians with “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.” To understand the origin of this conflict we need to understand what happened on the first missionary journey that took Paul to Southern Galatia where he preached the gospel in various cities: Perga, Attalia, Pisidia, Lystra,  Iconium and Derbe.  This missionary journey is recorded for us in the Book of Acts.

The first word in the letter Paul wrote to the Galatians is “Paul.” Up to Acts 13:9, The Apostle was called by his Jewish name, Saul. It made him acceptable to his Jewish audiences. When he joined Barnabas and John Mark on the first missionary journey to Galatia, his role changed radically. To begin with the journey was led by Barnabas who brought his cousin, John Mark, along. Both Barnabas and John Mark were solid Jewish believers. I would argue that their intention was to go to the Jews only, but while on the Island of Cyprus a “Jewish” false prophet attempted to prevent the governor, Sergius Paulus, a Roman Official, from accepting the faith. It was then that Paul stepped up and cursed the false “Jewish” prophet with blindness. Sergius Paulus became the first gentile convert under the Apostle Paul’s ministry. It is interesting that after Acts 13:9, Saul becomes Paul from that point on. Some early church fathers think that Saul took his gentile name at that time to honor his first convert who had the same name. But I see it as part of God’s plan to move Paul from a Jewish focus to a gentile focus. But more importantly to move Paul from a Law focused ministry to a Grace focused ministry. John Mark deserted the mission when they reached Perga. I believe he did so because he could not subscribe to a ministry that offered God’s salvation freely to any sinner by faith alone. He was still chained to the standards of the law.

Being of the tribe of Benjamin (As we read in Philippians), I’m fairly certain that his parents named Saul for the first King of Israel who was also from the tribe of Benjamin, Saul, the King, was head and shoulders taller than most of the men in Israel at that time and it made him stand out. It is interesting that “Paul” means “small” or “little.” Maybe that was an intentional change for this proud Pharisee who was humbled and knocked to his knees and blinded by the Lord. Paul’s blindness led to his salvation, but not so with the “Jewish” false prophet. Instead it led to the salvation of Paul’s first gentile convert. The Jews who insisted on forcing the Law into the salvation equation were as furious with Paul’s message as the Religious leaders were of Jesus who put Himself above the Law. Religious people hated Jesus. Religious people hated Paul. Religious people are violently opposed to a salvation message that is freely offered to irreligious people.