Study of Galatians


An Introduction to Galatians

Background of Galatians

The destination of the Epistle to the Galatians as well as its date and place of writing are not certain. Statements regarding these matters are only educated guesses. According to Galatians 1:1-2, Paul wrote this epistle to the churches of Galatia. The problem is that there were two territories known as Galatia. One was the original territory known as Galatia which contained cities such as Ancyra, Pessinus, and Tavium, cities not mentioned in the New Testament. The theory held by those who believe that Galatians was written to churches in this original territory of Galatia is known as the north Galatian theory. Paul did not visit these areas until his second and third missionary journeys; and, even then, it is not clear that he actually established any churches there. Acts 16:4-7 states,

(4) And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.

(5) And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.

(6) Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia,

(7) After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.

In Acts 18:23 it is stated,

(23) And after he had spent some time there (i.e. in Antioch of Syria), he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples (comment added).

Furthermore, according to Acts 19:1,

(1) And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus. . . .

Until the mid 1800s, the north Galatian theory was the prevailing view among expositors. If the north Galatian theory is correct, it means that Galatians could not have been written until the mid 50s A.D. It is interesting that no churches from this northern portion of Galatia are ever mentioned specifically in the New Testament; yet, Galatians was written to the churches of Galatia which Paul had established. Galatians 1:1-2 states,

(1) Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)

(2) And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia.

Galatians 1:8-9 says,

(8) But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

(9) As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

Paul had also bestowed labor upon these churches. He mentions this in Galatians 4:11,

(11) I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

Furthermore, Paul figuratively went through birthpangs for the recipients of this letter, apparently at the time of his preaching the gospel to them. Galatians 4:19 says,

(19) My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.

Paul also had some physical problems at the time he was preaching the gospel to the Galatians. Galatians 4:13-15 says,

(13) Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.

(14) And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.

(15) Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.

To the south of this original territory of Galatia was another territory which the Romans added to it in 25 B.C., and the original Galatia plus the new territories to the south became known as the Roman province of Galatia. This new territory included cities such as Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe which Paul visited on both his first and second missionary journeys. Paul's experiences on the first missionary journey, when he was accompanied by Barnabas, are recorded in Acts 13-14. After the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, Paul, accompanied by Silas, visited this same area in Acts 16 on his second missionary journey.

Since the mid 1800s, nearly all expositors have accepted the south Galatian theory, which teaches that the churches of Galatia mentioned in Galatians 1:1-2 included the churches Paul established in Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. This writer believes that the south Galatian theory is correct.

It seems strange, although not impossible, that Paul would write a letter to churches in north Galatia, which he had supposedly founded but which are never mentioned in the Book of Acts, and that he would write no letter to churches in south Galatia, where he had labored so diligently under some very difficult conditions.

Another problem is the relation of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15:1-29 to the events described in Galatians 2:1-10. In view of their similarities, some have concluded that both passages refer to the same meeting. If Acts 15 and Galatians 2 refer to the same meeting, this means that Galatians would have been written after A.D. 49, the approximate date of Acts 15. Others, however, have concluded that the meeting in Galatians occurred before the meeting in Acts 15. This would make Paul's visit to Jerusalem in Galatians 2 coincide with Paul's visit to Jerusalem in Acts 11:30 or with a visit not recorded in Acts. Acts 11:27-30, which is known as the famine visit, says,

(27) And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.

(28) And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.

(29) Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea:

(30) Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

In Acts 15:7-11 during the Jerusalem council Peter made a bold statement regarding God putting a yoke upon the neck of Gentile believers which the Jews had not been able to bear. By contrast, according to Galatians 2:11-13 when certain Jews came from James, Peter out of fear of the circumcision withdrew from the Gentiles and would not eat with them. If Acts 15:1-29 and Galatians 2:1-10 refer to the same meeting, then the reader is left to wonder why Peter would so fear those of the circumcision that he would withdraw from the Gentiles and not eat with them shortly after making such a bold statement about God's putting a yoke upon the neck of Gentile believers which the Jews had not been able to bear. One would also be left to wonder why Barnabas, who likewise testified before the Jerusalem council in Acts 15:12, would follow Peter in his hypocrisy. One would then further wonder why Paul would not refer to the results of the Jerusalem council in his letter to the Galatian believers.

It seems more reasonable to believe that the events of Galatians 2:1-10 occurred before the events of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15:1-29 and that Galatians was written before the Jerusalem council took place. This would make Galatians Paul's first epistle to be preserved in the New Testament writings by the Holy Spirit. It is this writer's opinion that Galatians was likely written from Antioch after the return of Paul and Barnabas from their first missionary journey when they abode a long time with the disciples at Antioch (Acts 14:28) and before the council at Jerusalem in Acts 15. This would make the date of the writing of Galatians approximately A.D. 48, not too long before the council at Jerusalem in A.D. 49. Acts 14:26-28 says,

(26) And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled.

(27) And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.

(28) And there they abode long time with the disciples.

Shortly after Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the gospel in Galatia and had seen a number of churches established, some others had come along and caused great confusion among the new believers by teaching them that they had to keep the law in addition to believing the gospel. These persons had also sought to discredit Paul in the eyes of the Galatian believers.

In Galatians 1:1 Paul asserts that his apostleship came directly from Jesus Christ and from God the Father. Reading between the lines, one concludes that Paul was being accused in the Galatian churches of being less of an apostle than the twelve. Paul was charged with being an apostle sent by some group of men, perhaps the twelve, or of being an apostle through the intermediate agency of some individual rather than of being an apostle sent directly by Jesus Christ as the twelve apostles had been and, therefore, of having less authority than they had. Galatians 1:1 states,

(1) Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead).

In Galatians 1:6 Paul indicates his amazement that some could come along so soon after he and Barnabas had preached the gospel in Galatia, change the gospel with the result that it was no longer a saving gospel, and, apparently, influence some of the Galatian believers against Paul and his teaching. The fact that Paul learned about this and was writing to counteract this false teaching suggests that at least one person had objected to it and had communicated with Paul regarding it. Galatians 1:6-7 states,

(6) I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:

(7) Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

In Galatians 1:10 it appears that Paul had been accused of persuading men rather than God and with seeking to please men rather than God. He states,

(10) For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

Paul was also charged with preaching a gospel which was different from that of Peter and the rest of the apostles. Paul answers this false accusation in Galatians 2:6-10,

(6) But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me:

(7) But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter;

(8) (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)

(9) And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.

(10) Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.

Paul had also been accused of preaching a gospel which promoted sin in contrast to the law which forbade sin. He answers his critics in Galatians 2:15-21 by quoting his words to Peter and perhaps adding a few of his own comments,

(15) We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,

(16) Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

(17) But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.

(18) For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.

(19) For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.

(20) I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

(21) I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

Galatians 5:13 likewise hints that Paul had been accused of preaching a gospel which promoted sinful living.

(13) For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh,

but by love serve one another.

At least some of the Galatian believers had already begun to practice certain aspects of the law by keeping Jewish holidays. Paul expresses his concern for the Galatians in Galatians 4:9-11,

(9) But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?

(10) Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.

(11) I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

In Galatians 4:13-15 Paul reminds them of the blessedness they had when they first trusted Christ as their Savior,

(13) Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.

(14) And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.

(15) Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.

Paul's statement in Galatians 4:16 suggests that an attempt had been made by the Judaizers to drive a wedge between Paul and his converts in Galatia. The motives of the Judaizers were wrong. Galatians 4:16-17 states,

(16) Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?

(17) They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.

Paul also addresses the real motives of the Judaizers in Galatians 6:12-13,

(12) As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.

(13) For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.

The necessity of circumcision was also being promoted by the Judaizers as they pressed the Galatian believers to keep the law in addition to believing the gospel. It appears that the Galatian believers had not yet taken this step, and Paul was writing to advise them that they should not be circumcised. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1-3,

(1) Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

(2) Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

(3) For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

Galatians 5:11 suggests that Paul was also being falsely accused of preaching the necessity of circumcision, but Galatians 5:12 states his real thought toward those promoting circumcision. Galatians 5:11-12 states,

(11) And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.

(12) I would they were even cut off which trouble you.

To counteract the influence of the Judaizers and to keep the Galatian believers' thinking straight on the gospel and its implications for holy living, Paul wrote Galatians, a monument to the Biblical teaching that justification is by faith and not by works. Its influence has been felt throughout the centuries.

The Message of Galatians

The message of Galatians is that a person is saved by faith and not by works of the law. There is only this one gospel; and when someone changes it, it ceases to be a gospel that will save sinners. The Judaizers were teaching that righteousness comes by keeping the law rather than by faith; but they were wrong. Righteousness comes only by believing that Jesus Christ died on the cross, paid for sin, and rose again from the dead. The Judaizers were also teaching that failure to require that the law be kept would result in promoting sin. However, being genuinely saved will result in the Holy Spirit's taking up residence in the believer and producing the fruit of the Spirit in the believer's life, thereby giving him victory over sin.

An Outline of Galatians

Introduction - 1:1-10

I. The Personal Argument - 1:11 - 2:21

A. Paul's statement - 1:11-12

B. Paul's explanation of his statement - 1:13-24

C. Paul's message approved by the leadership of the church in Jerusalem - 2:1-10

D. Paul's message not different from Peter's message - 2:11-21

II. The Doctrinal Argument - 3:1 - 4:31

A. The Galatian believers saved by faith in Christ alone - 3:1-5

B. Salvation by faith alone supported by Abraham's example - 3:6-9

C. Justification by faith rather than by works of the law - 3:10-14

D. God's covenant with Abraham unable to be changed - 3:15-18

E. The purpose of the law - 3:19-25

F. The results of justification by faith - 3:26-29

G. The present and former status of believers - 4:1-20

H. A Biblical illustration - 4:21-31

III. The Practical Argument - 5:1 - 6:10

A. A defense of Christian liberty - 5:1-15

B. Walking in the Spirit - 5:16-26

C. Serving one another - 6:1-10

Conclusion - 6:11-17