Observation Galatians

INTRODUCTION

A. The books of Galatians and Romans are the clearest expressions of the new covenant of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone! Galatians has been called "The Magna Carta of Christian Liberty."

 

B. This letter stirred the fires of the Protestant Reformation.

1. Martin Luther said, "the little book of Galatians is my letter; I have betrothed myself to it; it is my wife."

2. John Wesley said he found lasting peace from a sermon on Galatians.

3. In his Study Guide Commentary, p. 11, Curtis Vaughan wrote, "few books have more profoundly influenced the minds of men, have so significantly shaped the course of human history, or continued to speak with such relevance to the deepest needs of modern life."

 

C. This doctrinally oriented letter, possibly Paul's first, was a precursor to Romans and its development of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith apart from Judaism's emphasis on a works righteousness by obedience to the Mosaic Law and traditions of the elders (i.e., Oral Traditions).

1. Salvation cannot be found in both human performance and grace.

2. Salvation must be found in either human performance or grace.

3. Christlikeness will follow a true conversion.

4. Theologically there is a distinction between Judaism's legalism which brought salvation and Christian legalism, which attempts to judge and restrict Christian freedom. Paul denounces Judaism's performance based model as worthy of damnation, but is willing to work with Christian legalism (i.e., weak faith, cf. Rom. 14:1-15:15; 1 Corinthians 8-10). It is the free gospel of salvation by grace through faith that Paul defends, yet he still recognizes the legalistic tendencies in some believers.

 

D. This radically free salvation, by grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone is desperately needed in our day because of the recurrent, subtle pull of our self-oriented, works-oriented religious consciousness. In every age the simple truth of God's initiating, self-giving, unconditional covenant love mediated through human repentance and humble faith is challenged! It is not that the false teachers were rejecting Christ's central place in redemption, but they were adding prerequisites to Him. It is not what we add, but that we add anything!

 

AUTHOR

Paul's authorship of this letter has never been seriously doubted, as it forms a significant pillar of the Pauline Corpus. Galatians is very autobiographical and personal. It is highly emotional yet clearly presented gospel truth.

DATE AND RECIPIENTS

A. These two aspects of background material must be dealt with together because two opposing theories of the identities of the recipients affect the dating of the letter. Both theories have logical weight and limited biblical evidence.

 

B. The two theories are:

1. The traditional theory that was unanimous until the eighteenth century.

a. It is called the "Northern Galatian Theory."

b. It assumes that "Galatia" refers to the ethnic Galatians of the northern central plateau of Turkey (cf. 1 Pet. 1:1). These ethnic Galatians were Celts (Greek Keltoi or Latin Gall) who invaded this area in the third century b.c. They were called "Gallo-Graecians" to distinguish them from their western European brothers. They were defeated in 230 b.c. by Attalus I, the King of Pergamum. Their geographical influence was limited to northern central Asia Minor or modern Turkey.

c. If this ethnic group is assumed, then the date would be the mid 50's during Paul's second or third missionary journey. Paul's traveling companions would be Silas and Timothy.

d. Some have linked Paul's illness in Gal. 4:13 to malaria. They assert that Paul went north into the highlands to get away from the marshy, malaria-infested, coastal lowlands.

2. The second theory is championed by Sir Wm. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1896.

a. As the traditional theory defined "Galatia" as ethnic, this theory defines it as administrative. It seems that Paul often used Roman provincial names (cf. 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Cor. 1:1; 8:1, etc.) The Roman province of "Galatia" included a larger area than ethnic "Galatia." These ethnic Celts supported Rome very early and were rewarded with more local autonomy and expanded territorial authority. If this large area was known as "Galatia," then it is possible that Paul's first missionary journey to these southern cities of Antioch in Pisidia, Lystra, Derbe and Iconium, recorded in Acts 13-14, is the location of these churches.

b. If one assumes this "Southern Theory," the date would be very early—close to, but before, the "Jerusalem Council" of Acts 15, which addresses the same subject matter as the book of Galatians. The Council occurred in a.d. 48-49 and the letter was probably written during the same period. If this is true, Galatians is the first letter of Paul in our New Testament.

c. Some evidences for the southern Galatian theory:

(1) There is no mention of Paul's traveling companions by name but Barnabas is mentioned three times (cf. Gal. 2:1,9,13). This fits the first missionary journey of Paul.

(2) It is mentioned that Titus was not circumcised (cf. Gal. 2:1-5). This fits best before the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.

(3) The mention of Peter (cf. Gal. 2:11-14) and the problem of fellowship with Gentiles fits best before the Jerusalem Council.

(4) When the money was taken to Jerusalem several companions of Paul from different areas (cf. Acts 20:4) were listed. None, however, were listed from northern Galatia cities, although we know these ethnic Galatian churches participated (cf. 1 Cor. 16:1).

3. For the detailed presentation of the different arguments concerning these theories consult a technical commentary. They each have valid points but at this point in time there is no consensus, but the "Southern Theory" seems to fit all of the facts best.

 

C. Relationship of Galatians to Acts:

1. Paul made five visits to Jerusalem, recorded by Luke in the book of Acts:

a. Acts 9:26-30, after his conversion

b. Acts 11:30; 12:25, to bring famine relief from the Gentile churches

c. Acts 15:1-30, the Jerusalem Council

d. Acts 18:22, brief visit

e. Acts 21:15ff., another explanation of Gentile work

2. There are two visits to Jerusalem recorded in Galatians:

a. Gal. 1:18, after three years

b.  Gal. 2:1, after fourteen years

3. It seems most probable that Acts 9:26 is related to Gal. 1:18. Possibly Acts 11:30 or 15:1ff or an unrecorded visit is mentioned in Gal. 2:1.

4. There are some differences between the Acts 15 and Gal. 2 accounts but this is probably due to:

a. different perspectives

b. different purposes of Luke and Paul

c. the fact that Galatians 2 may have occurred sometime before the meeting described in Acts 15 but in conjunction with it

 

D. Possible chronology of Paul's writings following F. F. Bruce and Murry Harris with minor adaptations.

 

 BookDatePlace of WritingRelation to Acts
1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.-10.

11.-13.

Galatians 

1 Thessalonians  

2 Thessalonians 

1 Corinthians  

2 Corinthians 

Romans  

Prison Letters

Colossians  

Ephesians  

Philemon  

Philippians   

Fourth Missionary Journey

1 Timothy  

Titus 

2 Timothy 

48 

50

50 

55

56  

57

early 60s

early 60s

early 60s

late 62-63

63 (or later,

63 but before

64 a.d. 68)

Syrian Antioch  

Corinth 

Corinth

Ephesus 

Macedonia

Corinth 

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Macedonia

Ephesus (?)

Rome

Acts 14:28; 15:2

Acts 18:5

Acts 19:20

Acts 20:2

Acts 20:3

Acts 28:30-31

PURPOSE OF THE LETTER

A. Paul addressed three distinct areas of concern about the message of the false teachers. These heretics have been labeled "Judaizers" (cf. 2 Corinthians 3) because they believed that one had to become a Jew before he could become a Christian (cf. Gal. 6:12). His concerns revolved around the charges of the Judaizers (learned from Paul's defensive statements):

1. Paul was not truly an Apostle like the Twelve (cf. Acts 1:21-22); therefore, he was dependent on their authority or at least the authority of the Mother Church in Jerusalem.

2. Paul's message was different from theirs, and thus, false. This seems directly related to the concept of "justification by faith apart from the Law." The Apostles in Jerusalem were still very Jewish in their personal lives.

3. An element of libertinism was connected in some way with these churches (cf. Gal. 5:18-6:8). Exactly how this is to be explained is debated. Some have even seen two target groups in Paul's letter: Judaizers and Gnostics (cf. Gal. 4:8-11). However, it seems best to relate these verses to pagan practices. The believing Jews were concerned about the lifestyle of believing Gentiles. How did Paul's radical free grace relate to pagan idolatry and excess?

 

B. Doctrinally, this letter is a precursor to Paul's letter to the Romans. These two books contain Paul's major doctrines repeated and developed in different settings and later summarized in Ephesians.

 

C. In reality Galatians focuses on the differences between the Old Covenant (OT) in Moses and the New Covenant (NT) in Christ. The first was understood by the rabbis (Paul does not react against the Mosaic covenant, but its misinterpretation and application by Jewish tradition) to base God's acceptance on human performance, but the second was based on a new heart and a new spirit (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38). Both were based on God's grace; both desire a righteous people. The difference between them is how that righteousness is accomplished. This is developed in the NT book of Hebrews.

 

BRIEF OUTLINE

A. Prologue,  Gal. 1:1-10

1. general introduction to the book 

2. the occasion for writing the book

B. Paul defends his Apostleship,  Gal. 1:11-2:14

 

C. Paul defends the doctrinal truths of his gospel,  Gal. 2:15-4:20

 

D. Paul defends the practical implications of his gospel,  Gal. 5:1-6:10

 

E. Personal summary and closing,  Gal. 6:11-18

Like all of Paul's letters, there is a doctrinal section (i.e., chapters 1-4) and a practical section (i.e., chapters 5-6).

 

 TERMS AND PHRASES TO BRIEFLY IDENTIFY

1. "this present evil age," 1:4

2. "a different gospel," 1:6

3. Judaism, 1:13

4. ancestral traditions, 1:14

5. "may it never be," 2:17

6. "you foolish Galatians," 3:1,3

7. bewitched, 3:1

8. "if indeed it was in vain," 3:4; 4:11

9. "under a curse," 3:10

10. "his seed," 3:16

11. "having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator," 3:19

12. "we were kept in custody under the law," 3:23

13. "the elemental things," 4:3,9

14. Abba, 4:6

15. "a bodily illness," 4:13

16. "by the bondwoman. . .by the free woman," 4:23

17. allegorically, 4:24

18. "walk by the Spirit," 5:16

19. "the fruit of the Spirit," 5:22

20. "what large letters," 6:11

21. "the brand-marks of Jesus," 6:17

 

PERSONS TO BRIEFLY IDENTIFY

1. "an angel from heaven," 1:8

2. Cephas, 1:18

3. Barnabas, 2:1

4. Titus, 2:2

5. "those who were of reputation," 2:2,6

6. "false brethren," 2:4

7. "who were reputed to be pillars," 2:9

8. "the party of the circumcision," 2:12

9. "guardians and managers," 4:2

10. Hagar, 4:25

 

MAP LOCATIONS TO PLOT

1. churches of Galatia, 1:2

2. Arabia, 1:17

3. Damascus, 1:17

4. Syria, 1:21

5. Cilicia, 1:21

6. Antioch, 2:11

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Explain in your own words 1:11-12.

2. When did Paul persecute the church of God? (1:13)

3. Why did some want Titus circumcised? (7:3)

4. Explain 2:6 in your own words.

5. Galatians 2:16 may be the theme of the whole book. Why?

6. Explain 2:20 in your own words.

7. How would you answer Paul’s question in 3:3?

8. Explain the significance of Paul’s quote of Gen. 15:6,8 in Gal. 3:6-8.

9. How was Jesus cursed? (3:13)

10. What is the purpose of the OT in light of 3:19?

11. Why is 3:22 such a good summary statement?

12. Why is 3:28 such a significant truth?

13. What was Paul’s bodily illness mentioned in 4:13?

14. What is the goal of Christianity? (4:19)

15. What is Paul’s theological point in 5:3?

16. Explain the proverb in 5:9.

17. What does 5:4 mean, "you have fallen from grace"?

18. How does 5:13 relate to Romans 14:1-15:13?

19. Explain 5:23 in your own words.

20. How are believers to relate to sinning believers? (6:1-5)

21. What is the spiritual principle stated in 6:7?

22. How does 6:10 relate to those outside the believing community?