Introduction to the Bible - 48 - Galatians

Introduction to GALATIONS

By Stewart Thompson

See Stewart's personal bio story here.

stu thompson
Galatians Overview    
‘Sola Fide’, the cry that sprang from Martin Luther’s study of the scriptures means "by Faith alone". It was a driving force in the great reformation that delivered Europe from the dark repression of legalism in Roman Catholicism during the 1500's. The books of Galations, Romans and others greatly enlightened Luther. The reason for Galations being written is promptly stated, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:”, ch.1:6.  Galations was the apostle Paul’s response to the threat of legalism in the Jews religion to the essential liberty in the gospel of the grace of God. It primarily addresses the issue of the means of justification before God by ‘law keeping’ or by ‘faith’. It also shows how the believer’s life is lived effectively by the enabling of the Holy Spirit of God in liberty and not in bondage to the law.  
‘Galations’ is distinct from other church letters in that it was written to a number of assemblies in a large region. Whether that region was north or south Galatia [Asia Minor, modern Turkey] is unsettled. But we know that it was written to Gentiles with perhaps a small portion of resident Jews. These people had heard and believed the gospel of Christ, the means of the forgiveness of sins and thus the saving of their souls. Paul had a great love for them, even as that of a ‘birth mother’, ch. 4:19.

This letter contains three key components of the Christian faith; Life, Liberty & Love. Yet the assault of religion on the gospel is spearheaded by two elements; Law & Lust. Both are adapted by the flesh, that fallen nature of mankind, twisted and ruined by sin. Into the conflict Paul sent this letter to preserve both the Christians in Galatia and the very truth of the gospel that he preached. This letter came at a very crucial time, meeting one of the greatest needs of the New Testament era.
Author and Date

Galations begins by saying that Paul is the writer and the content through out has his personal experiences related firsthand. Nevertheless the following excerpt is notable;

“The authorship of Galatians never has been seriously doubted ...” Findlay says, “No breath of suspicion as to the authorship, integrity, or apostolic authority of ... Galatians has reached us from ancient times” (International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. 2, p. 1156). Lightfoot adds, “Its every sentence so completely reflects the life and character of the apostle ... that its genuineness has not been seriously questioned” (St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, p. 57). ...”  

A date in the mid AD 50's seems probable. Taking the visit in chapter two to Jerusalem as that of Acts 15 [AD 49] such a date is reasonable. Various reasons can be suggested to support an earlier date and many to support this recommended date..

Historical Setting

Paul previously preached the gospel to these people in Galatia [ch.1:11, 4:13 & 19] and likely during his first missionary journey recorded in Acts 13-14. After some period of time men, known as ‘Judaizers’ [professing to be Christians but still teaching the claims of Moses’ law] had infiltrated the gatherings of the early Christians in Galatia. They insisted that the male believers be circumcised. This wasn’t just a physical ritual but a commitment to adhere to all that the law demands, ch. 5:3. Doing so compromised the simplicity of the gospel of God’s grace; that a person is saved by faith in Christ, by virtue of his death on the cross as a substitute for the sinner. In submitting to the law one was saying that the death and resurrection of Christ was insufficient to save. The Judaizer said, yes you need Christ, but Christ plus the works of the law. The gospel that Paul preached said, “The just shall live by faith.” plus nothing.

Paul could see the entire future spread of the gospel to all peoples was in jeopardy by this false teaching. It must be confronted irrespective of persons and places. To do this he had to validate his apostleship, seeing he said this message came from Christ to him. He must also show that the message harmonized with the Old Testament scriptures and thus confirm that justification was never by works.


Outline of the Book with Notes
I   The Gospel Defended in Paul’s Apostleship - ch.1&2

 A - Crisis in Galatia - ch.1:1-9  Paul immediately qualifies his apostleship in the salutation as in no other, “not of men, neither by man ...”. This was primary in defending ‘ justification by faith alone’.
* v.6, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed ... unto another gospel:”.

 B - Conversion & Call of Paul - ch.1:10-24   The gospel Paul preached had no human origin, and he reminds them of his conversion to Christ and the call to preach Christ among the Gentiles.
* v.11-12, “... the gospel ... preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

 C - Counsel in Jerusalem - ch.2:1-10 Here Paul reviews the visit to Jerusalem [Acts 15]. The outcome was clear affirmation from the other apostles.
* v.2, 8-9, “I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles ... when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, ... when James, Cephas, and John ... perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; “

 D - Confrontation in Anticoh - ch.2:11-21  Peter’s social separation from the Gentiles supported the false teachers’ demand of keeping the law. This had to be stopped before it spread and compromised the truth of the gospel.
* v.14-16, “...why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as ...Jews? ... Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ,”.

Paul concludes the defense of his apostleship and gospel  by saying, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”.

II   The Gospel Defined in the Old Testament - ch.3 & 4

 A - Challenge to the Galations - ch.3:1-9 The apostle demonstrates how law keeping and faith conflict. The receiving, supplying and working of the Spirit are through ‘faith’ not ‘works’ which are by the flesh. Abraham is introduced as the precedent for, righteousness by faith alone. Only those ‘of faith’ are sons of Abraham.
* v.9, “ ... they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”

 B - Curse of the Law - ch.3:10-14  By four Old Testament quotes Paul establishes that the principle of law keeping brings only a curse. But faith brings the blessing of God through Christ.
* v.13, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us ...”.

 C - Covenant by Promise - ch.3:15-22  Continuing with Abraham the passage teaches that God’s promise of blessing via faith preceded the law which had no legal power to annul the promise. Abraham’s ‘seed’ [Christ] would come, by whom the covenant of promise for blessing for ‘all nations’ would be ratified.
* v.22, “... the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”

 D - Christ, the Objective of the Law- ch.3:23-27  The law served to identify transgression and awaken the need of justification which is only in Christ.
* v.24, “... the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

 E - Christ & the believers are Abraham’s Seed - ch.3:28-29   Faith in Christ secures each person and all believers as ‘one in Christ’.
* v.29, “... if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

 F - Children or Sons? - ch.4:1-7   Jews & Gentiles had ceremonies for boys ‘coming of age’. No longer considered a child, they were viewed as privileged and responsible sons. Those keeping the law for justification are like a child. The believer in Christ is placed into the position of a full son of the Father.
* v.4-5, “...God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

 G - Concern for the Galations - ch.4:8-20  Paul expresses great concern for the Galatians’ spiritual welfare. If they follow the teachers of the law they’ll lose contact with him and not grow in Christ’s likeness.
* v.19, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,”

 H - Conclusion in an Allegory - ch.4:21-31  Paul’s last appeal to Old Testament scriptures [‘the law’, v.21] refers to the two sons of Abraham. The story illustrates the two covenants; the son of the bondmaid is the covenant based on the works of the law and the son of the freewoman is that based on the promise to Abraham. He concludes that the two are incompatible, “the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.”
* v.31, “... brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.”

III   The Gospel Designed for Walking in Liberty - ch.5

 A - Circumcision & Bondage in the Law - ch.5:1-12   Paul calls the ‘free’ believer to stand fast in this liberty from Christ. Submitting to the false teacher’s demand of circumcision, a person was obligated to keep all the law which was bondage and not the product of grace.
* v.6, “... in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.”

 B - Called unto Liberty to Love - ch.5:13-15   The potential for a person who recognizes their liberty in Christ to live selfishly and thus neglect others is relentless. This is as much the work of the flesh as is law keeping.
* v.14, “... the law is fulfilled in one word, ... Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

 C - Conflict of the Spirit & the Flesh - ch.5:16-26   This is a struggle that every genuine Christian experiences. Christian liberty is walking in the power of the Holy Spirit and not being in bondage to the flesh. The flesh is ‘self serving’; both in ‘law’ [self justification], ch.3:2-3, and in ‘lust’ [self gratification]. In contrast the Spirit is ‘other serving’, motivated by love. The flesh is manifest in ‘works’ but the ‘Spirit in ‘fruit’.
* v.25, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

IV   The Gospel Designed for Working in Humility - ch.6

 A - Consideration of Others & Oneself - ch.6:1-5   Chapter five tells us that liberty is expressed by love toward others and of the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit.  Here the spiritual believer [one walking in the Spirit] is to restore the fallen believer yet always remembering they are not beyond such temptation themselves.
* v.2, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”

 B - Communication or Corruption - ch.6:6-10   The principle of supporting those who have taught us the word of God is presented. Doing otherwise is ‘sowing to the flesh’ and inevitably reaping corruption. Again contrasting the Spirit’s work, serving others or the flesh’s work, gratifying self.
* v.9, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”

 C - Conclusion at the Cross - ch.6:11-18   False teachers boasted in the evident submission of another convert seen in circumcision. Paul boasted in nothing but the cross of Christ, “by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world”. For this faithfulness he was continually persecuted by those opposing the gospel of the grace of God.
* v.18, “ Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”