Handbook of Galatians
By Grace, Not by Law
Finality of the Gospel
In Central Asia Minor. Region of Paul's First Missionary Journey. Its borders at times varied. It included the cities of Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and probably Pisidian Antioch. (Read Acts 13 and 14.)
Galatians were a branch of Gauls, originally from north of the Black Sea, split off from the main migration westward to France, and settled in Asia Minor, 3rd century B.C.
Occasion of This Epistle
Paul's work in Galatia had been extremely successful. Great multitudes, mostly Gentiles, had enthusiastically accepted Christ. Sometime after Paul had left Galatia, certain Jewish teachers came along insisting that Gentiles could not be Christians without keeping the Law of Moses. And the Galatians gave heed to their teaching with the same whole-heartedness with which they had at ,first received Paul's message;
and there was a general epidemic of Circumcision among these Gentile Christians. Circumcision is the name of the Initiatory Rite into Judaism. Paul heard of the movement.
And then it was that Paul wrote this Epistle to explain to them that Circumcision, while it had been a necessary part of Jewish National Life, was nor a part of the Gospel of Christ and had nothing whatever to do with Salvation.
Paul had founded these Galatian Churches about A.D. 45-48. He had re-visited them, as he was setting our on his Second Journey about A.D 50 (Acts 16:1-6); and again, as he was starting on his Third Journey, about A.D. 54 (Acts 18:23).
The commonly accepted traditional date of the writing of this Epistle is about A.D. 57, at the close of Paul's Third Missionary Journey, while he was in Ephesus, or Macedonia, or Corinth shortly before he wrote the Epistle to the Romans.
Some think it more probably was written about A.D. 49, from Antioch, soon after Paul's first return from Galatia, before the Jerusalem Council of A.D. 50, whose Letter stating that Circumcision was Not Necessary was carried without delay to the Galatian Churches (Acts 15:1-16:4); for, if written after that, it seems like Paul would have referred to the Jerusalem Lefter, But "first" (4:13), favors the later date.
Judaizers were a sect of Jewish Christians who, not willing to accept the teaching of the Apostles on the question (Acts 15), continued to insist that Christians must come to God through Judaism, that a Gentile, in order to be a Christian, must become a Jewish
Proselyte, and keep the Jewish Law.
They made it their business to visit and unsettle and trouble Gentile Churches. They were simply determined to stamp Christ with the Jewish Trademark.
Against this Paul stood adamant. "Had the observance of the Law been imposed on Gentile converts Paul's whole lifework would have been wrecked."
"The expansion of Christianity from a Jewish sect into a World Religion was Paul's consuming passion, in pursuit of which he broke every hindering tie, and strained every faculty of mind and body for upwards of thirty years."
The effort to Judaize the Gentile Churches was brought to an end by the Fall of Jerusalem, A.D. 70, which "Severed all relation between Judaism and Christianity. Up to this time Christianity was regarded as a Sect or Branch of Judaism. But from then on Jews and Christians were apart. A small sect of Jewish Christians, the Ebionites,
remained, in decreasing numbers, for two centuries, hardly recognized by the general Church, and regarded as Apostates by their own race."
Circumcision was the name of the initiatory physical rite of Judaism. If a male, not born a Jew, wished to become'a Jewish Proselyte, he could do so by being Circumcized, and observing the ceremonial law of the Jews; in some respect, as a foreigner may become a citizen of our country.
To discredit Paul in the eyes of the Galatians the Judaizers, it seems, were saying that Paul was not an original Apostle, and that he derived his teaching from the Twelve. This may supply the background for his passionate vindication of himself as an independent Apostle. He got his Gospel direct from God, and there is no other Gospel.
"Arabia" (17). There is no mention of this in the account in Acts. The three years (18), includes the time he was in Damascus and in Arabia (Acts 9:23). According to Jewish usage of reckoning pan years at the beginning and end of a period as years the three years may have been only one full year and parts of two years. Arabia is the desert country east of Palestine, extending southeastward from Damascus. Paul was so stunned by the stroke from heaven, and the instant realization that his whole life had been wrong, that he felt he had better think is over, and sought solitude to get himself
reconstructed. It was in Arabia that some of his revelations came (16).
The Visit to Jerusalem (1-10). Paul waited three years after his conversion before he returned to Jerusalem, where he had laid waste the Church. Was there only 15 days, talking things over with Peter (18). Compare the account in Acts 9:26-30. Then after 14 years he went again to Jerusalem. This must have been the visit recorded in Acts 11:27-30, which was in A.D. 44, for the context, along with the implication of "again" in 1, appears to mean his second visit to Jerusalem after his conversion. He took Titus, one of his Gentile converts, along as a test case, in the moot question of Gentile circumcision. He stood his ground, and won the complete endorsement of the other Apostles (9).
Peter's Dissimulation at Antioch (11-21). It is not stated when this visit took place. Probably it was soon after Paul's return to Antioch from the visit referred to in 1, and before Paul set out on his First Missionary Journey. To get the setting and significance of the incident our tentative chronology would be something like this: Peter received the first Gentile convert without circumcision, Cornelius (Acts 10), probably about A.D. 40, which action was approved by the other Apostles (Acts 11). Then, about A.D. 42 the Gentile church at Antioch came into being, with the approval of Barnabas as emissary from Jerusalem (Acts 11:22-24). Then, A.D. 44, this trip of Paul, with Titus, to Jerusalem, at which Peter joined in the endorsement of Paul's reception of Gentiles without circumcision. Then, soon thereafter, about A.D. 44 or 45, this trip of Peter's to
Antioch, at which he separated himself from the uncircumcised Gentiles, and drew the scathing rebuke from Paul (11). But five or six years later, at the Jerusalem Council, A.D. 50, Peter was the first to speak out in favor of Paul's work (Acts 15:7-11).
What does this vascillation on the part of Peter, and this disagreement over so fundamental a teaching between the two leading Apostles, mean? In this particular incident either Peter or Paul was wrong. How can we know which it was? If either of them was mistaken in one thing, how do we know but what they may have been mistaken in other things? Does nor the doctrine that the Apostles were Inspired of God break down under this incident? Not at all; for the simple fact that God did not reveal the full complete truth about His Kingdom to the Apostles all at once, Jesus had told them that he still had many things to teach them that they could not then bear (John 16:12). Jesus dealt very patiently with human prejudice, allowing them to hold to their old notions of the Messianic Kingdom, till, as need arose, he led them, step by step, into the newer phases of the Kingdom. He did not bother them with the Gentile problem till the problem arose. Then, after the Gospel had been fully proclaimed among the Jews over their Palestinian homeland, God, by direct and special revelation, undertook to instruct Peter on the Gentile matter (Acts 10), which was probably about ten years after the Pentecostal birthday of the Church. It took a few years for the Apostles to get
readjusted to the new teaching. Paul came out of the old notion more readily than Peter did. The Galatian incident happened after Paul had come all the way out, and while Peter was on the way out. But Peter came all the way out before any of the New Testament books were written, and there is not an iota of difference between the teachings of Paul and Peter in the New Testament.
These Gentile Galatians had swallowed the Judaizers' message so completely that they had instituted Jewish Festival Days and Ceremonies (4:8-11), evidently trying to combine the Gospel with Mosaic Law. But Paul tells them that the two systems do'not combine. Did the Judaizers work any miracles among them, as he had done? (3:5). Did not that mean anything to them? Abraham figures largely in these two chapters, because the Jewish message which they had accepted was based largely on the promise to Abraham. They were misinterpreting the promise, as was shown plainly in the Abraham narrative itself (4:21-31). Their early love for Paul was in sad contrast with their present coolness (4:12-20. For note on his "infirmity," 4:13, see under II Corinthians 12).
How any human being would deliberately choose to risk his salvation on his own works lather than on the gracious mercy of Christ, Paul could not see. Christ saves us. We do not save ourselves. It is the difference between freedom and slavery. But freedom in Christ does not mean license to continue in sin. Paul never fails to lay special stress on that. Those who follow fleshly lusts cannot be saved (5:19-21). One of the "spiritual laws of the natural world" is that a man shall "reap what he sows" (6:7), inevitable in its working, whether the seed be wheat or tares. "Large letters" (6:11), evidence of the genuineness of his own handwriting (see note on his "thorn in the flesh" under II Corinthians 12). "Branded with the marks of Jesus" (6:17). His enemies claimed that Paul was not a genuine Apostle of Christ. His battered, bruised, and scarred body was his testimony. (See II Corinthians 4, 6, 11)