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Introduction to Galatians

The author of Galatians is the beloved apostle Paul.  In the greeting of the letter, Paul identifies himself as the one writing the letter with the first word from his inspired hand.  There is no credible opposition to the authorship of this epistle being Paul.  The form of writing is so similar to that of Romans and other epistles that to try and discredit Paul as the author of Galatians would be comparable to bringing an attack of Paul's authorship on many of his other epistles as well.  The Bible student familiar with Paul's writings would be able to recognize Galatians as one of his letters even without the presence of his inspired autograph at the beginning of it. 

This epistle was addressed to "the churches of Galatia" in verse 2.  This poses a question in that the name "Galatia" was used in reference to two different land areas in the 1st century.  Geographically, the portion of the known world known as Galatia was a country in the northern part of the central plateau of Asia Minor, touching Paphlagonia and Bithynia on the north, Phrygia to the west and south, Cappadocia and Pontus to the southeast and east, and situated about the headwaters of the Sangarius and the middle course of the Halys.  It was a very large territory that was north and west of Ephesus.  In the political scheme of the Roman Empire, Galatia included not just the original country of Galatia but also parts of Paphlagonia, Pontus, Phrygia, Pisidia, Lycaonia, and Isauria.  The Roman Empire did not always leave national borders in the same place they were when they assimilated a new territory into the Empire. 

The name "Galatia" was introduced into Asia after 278 B.C., when a large body of migrating Gauls crossed from Europe at the invitation of Nicomedes I of Bithynia.  After ravaging much of western Asia Minor they were eventually confined to a particular region, and boundaries were set for them after 232 B.C.  This marked the beginning of the nation of Galatia which was inhabited by three principle tribes of Gauls named Tolistobogii, Tectosages, and Trocmi.  Each of these leaders established central cities which were known as Pessinus, Ancyra (modern Ankara), and Tavium.  The Gauls conquered the territory and imposed their language and customs on the original inhabitants and treated them as servants. 

These three kings shared the rule of Galatia until one of the successive kings named Deiotarus pronounced himself the sole king by murdering the other two kings.  Deiotarus was a faithful ally of the Romans and became involved in the struggles between the Roman Generals that led to the fall of the Republic from 44 B.C.  Deiotarus sided with Pompey in his stand against Julius Caesar, who was defying the Senate, and after being defeated at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC escaped with him to Asia.  When Pompey was defeated he faced execution, but was saved when Julius Caesar pardoned him and allowed him to retain his kingship. 

After his death in 40 B.C. his power passed to grandson Castor, and then to Amyntas (36 B.C. - 25 B.C.).  Amyntas bequeathed his kingdom to Rome, and it was made a Roman province.  Amyntas had also ruled parts of Phrygia, Pisidia, Lycaonia, and Isauria. The new Roman province of Galatia included the original kingdom known as Galatia and the portions ruled by Amyntas beforehand.  More holdings were added to Galatia later on as it evolved to become the Galatia of the Roman Empire. 

When Paul addressed his letter to the Galatians, it was to a significant audience that he wrote.  It was certainly addressed to more than one congregation to say the least.  Most of the scholars agree that these congregations at the time were concentrated in the southern portion of Galatia.  We do not know how many churches there were but we do know that this epistle was written to all of the congregations of Christians which were located within the boundaries of the Roman province of Galatia wherever they might have been. 

The Purpose of the Letter:

Paul emphatically states the purpose for the letter in Galatians 2:16 where he writes, "knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified." (NKJV).  The law in view here is the Law of Moses, also known as the Levitical Law.   

The letter of Galatians is in response to a major crisis that was in progress in the church.  Jewish Christians, Pharisees in particular, were insisting that the gentiles had to first go through the steps of becoming a proselytized Jew before they could become a Christian.  They were still holding on to their belief that they were the chosen people of God and that Christianity was available only through their bloodline so they were trying to force the Gentiles to observe all kinds of tenants of the old abolished law of Moses before becoming a Christian.  This attitude among them was nothing new. Jesus having previously dealt with their propensity for making and binding more law on the people than was necessary, condemning them for this very thing in Matthew 23:1-4 and Luke 11:46. 

We see the beginning of the confrontation in Acts 15:1, "And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." (NKJV).  Moving into verse 2 we learn that Paul and Barnabas confronted this teaching coming out of Judea head on, "Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question."  This marked the beginning of what we know today as the Jerusalem council.    In verse 5, we learn the identities of these Judaizers, "But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.

We notice from verse 2 that Paul and Barnabas objected to this teaching from the beginning.  Both these men along with others were sent to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles and the elders over this issue.  It was in Jerusalem that the Pharisees rose up and declared the necessity of Gentile converts to keep the law of Moses.  There followed a big dispute and Peter rose up and silenced them by recounting the conversion of Cornelius in verses 6-11.  The Pharisees' insistence on circumcision and the old law was responsible for the struggle for Gentile equality in the assemblies of Jesus the Christ.  The Pharisees insisted that anyone wishing to join the kingdom of the people of God from the outside must, with few exceptions, conform to the normal procedure prescribed for proselytes which was circumcision and a commitment to the abrogated law of Moses. 

Those who were advocating this belief were reinforcing their position by going behind Paul and attacking his standing as a genuine Apostle of Jesus Christ.  It is evident from scripture that this heretical teaching was gaining a substantial foothold in the Lord's church and had become a major problem that had to be dealt with. 

While the gospel was being preached primarily to Jews by Jews, the development of the Lord's church progressed smoothly.  But as Christians pushed out into Gentile communities and the gospel began to take root there, questions arose regarding a Christianís relationship to the law of Moses and to Judaism as a system. Was the church to open her doors wide to all comers, regardless of their ethnicity or relationship to the law Moses?  Was this new kingdom of God open to the entire human race and if so, was entrance into this kingdom subject to the same terms worldwide?

At the conclusion of the Jerusalem council it was concluded that Gentiles were not to be unnecessarily burdened by the Mosaic regulations.  The requirements for entrance into the family of God was the same as it was for the Jews.  The Jewish people had to come to terms with the fact that they were no longer the children of God as their birthright. They had to come to the realization that only Christians were of the family of God and that they were not Christians by birth.  This was a hard lesson for them to learn and it took time to overcome the racial prejudices of the Jewish culture. 

It is generally accepted that Paul's account of the Jerusalem Council is documented in Galatians chapter 2 starting in verse 1.  If this is true, then the letter to the Galatians was authored after the Jerusalem Council.  As such this letter marks a major milestone in the acceptance of Gentiles into Christianity by the Jewish community.   However, we must bear in mind that this letter was not written to a Jewish audience.  It was written to a predominantly gentile audience and as such speaks directly to the heresy being propagated by the Jewish Christians.  And Paul had words of condemnation for those who were guilty of this as well.  This false teaching had far reaching implications.  Both those who advanced this erroneous doctrine and those who followed after it were equally in condemnation for it (Galatians 1:8-9, Galatians 5:4). 

Theme of Galatians:

The theme of Galatians is that of the Law of Moses vs. the Law of Christ, with its teaching of Justification by the Faith of Christ. The Christian freedom proclaimed in the name of this epistle is true to the extent that it is understood as freedom from the burdens and ceremonies of the Law of Moses and the ultimate and final freedom from the bondage of sin which the law of Moses could never accomplish (Hebrews 10:2-4).

Misuse of Galatians Today

Many among those who claim Christ as savior today try to use Paul's letter to the Galatians to make the application that the keeping of the law of Christ is as useless in the justification of the sinner as is the law of Moses.  Those today who advance this teaching claim that Paul's teaching against the observation of the Law of Moses has a much broader application than just the old law.  They teach that Paul's treatment of the old law extends to the keeping of God's law under the new covenant.  The inescapable conclusion to this doctrine is that one need not be obedient to the will of God under the new covenant in order to live an acceptable life before God and be saved.  This is a conclusion which Paul flatly denies within the letter to the Galatians itself in 3:1, 5:7, 5:25 and 6:7-9

Those who advance this false teaching set forth the doctrine that one is saved by grace alone through faith alone.  This is a doctrine which is not supported by the whole of scripture regarding the issue of salvation.  This doctrine is arrived at by a selective use of scripture without regard to what the whole of the word of God teaches.  If salvation were by grace alone through faith alone then why on earth would Paul instruct the Philippian Christians to work out their own salvations with fear and trembling?  Statements such as this and many other like it make no sense if salvation is obtainable by faith alone. 

The inspired words of James are significant to this issue: James 2:24-26, "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.  Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way  For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." (NKJV).

When one strips away all the false beliefs and preconceived beliefs and gets right down to the core issue, one either has to be obedient to the will of God or not.  There can be no requirement for partial obedience.  Such a notion does not even make sense.  Where advocates of salvation by faith alone go wrong is in an inconsistent application of their own beliefs.  It is a part of God's law that one must believe in the Son of God (John 3:18).  Belief in and of itself is a command which if not obeyed leads to condemnation.  If one is saved by grace alone, then belief would not even be necessary in order to be saved.  You won't find a single advocate of salvation by grace alone through faith alone that will try and set forth the notion that an unbeliever can be saved.  Therefore the grace alone part of this equation cannot hold up to the facts. 

As for faith alone, Jesus Christ Himself denies this in Matthew 7:21 where He said "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (NKJV).  People who say 'Lord Lord' are believers.  People who say 'Lord Lord' have faith.  But Jesus says that only those who do the will of God will be allowed into the kingdom of heaven.  If anything other than faith is required for salvation, then salvation is not by faith alone.   

Upon examination of the whole text of the letter, it is apparent that Paul is not referring to "the faith" of Christ as merely "faith in" Christ.  The words "the faith" in direct reference to the system of faith which pertains to the Christian faith are what is in the inspired viewpoint of Paul.  It was not Paul's intent to subvert the necessity of keeping of God's law under the present age, rather it was to set aside the belief that one must in any way whatsoever keep any tenant of the law of Moses in order to be saved.  Any attempt to make a 'faith alone' application from this epistle is to mishandle not only this body of text, but the totality of God's word as well. 

For example, if Paul meant that one is saved by faith exclusive of the law of Christ then Paul contradicted himself in Galatians 5:19-21 where he provided a lengthy list of sinners who would not inherit the kingdom of God.  If one were saved by Faith alone exclusive of the law of Christ then one need not observe God's laws against Adultery, fornication,  murder, drunkeness and the other transgressions against God's law which Paul listed in that context.  Paul could not teach that one is justified by faith apart from the law of Christ and then provide any transgressions of His law that would keep one from inheriting eternal life.  If Paul taught salvation by faith apart from any law, then what he wrote in Galatians 5:19-21 cannot be the truth.  When one or more statements regarding one's salvation cannot be true then there is a conflict.  Our understanding of scripture must be such that everything written about a particular topic is true.  When our understanding causes one or more statements about a subject to be untrue, then it is our understanding that must be altered so that it comes into alignment with all of what scripture has to say about it. 

Likewise, if Paul meant that one is saved by faith exclusive of the law of Christ then Paul also contradicted himself in Galatians 3:1 when he asked his readership who had bewitched them into believing they did not have to obey the truth.  If one were saved by Faith alone exclusive of the law of Christ then one need not obey anything in order to be saved.  The same thing stands true for Galatians 5:7 as well which reads "...who hindered you that ye should not obey the truth?"

In Galatians chapter 6 starting in verse 7 Paul writes the familiar words about sowing what we reap.  In verse 8 Paul says that those who sow to the ways of a fleshly lifestyle will reap corruption.  If Christians were saved by faith in exclusion to the law of Christ then it wouldn't matter what one sowed.  There would be no consequences to a fleshly existence.  Paul continues this thought into verses 9 and 10 where he writes, "And let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith."  Good works are how one sows unto the spirit.  If law did not matter, one would not have to sow anything, nor would they have to continue tirelessly in well doing.  What Paul wrote here would be a contradiction of himself. 

Advocates of salvation by faith alone set faith and obedience up as opposing ideals.  True faith is not in opposition to obedience, rather it seeks, embraces and includes obedience to the law of God.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  Where there is no faith, there can be no obedience, likewise where there is no obedience, there is no faith.

Paul wrote the letter of Galatians specifically to address the teachings of Judaizing apostates who were going around behind him, attacking his qualifications as an apostle and teaching Gentile converts that in order to become a true Christian, they first had to be identified as a Jewish proselyte which involved several things from the law of Moses, but specifically circumcision (Acts 15:1-5).  Paul confronted this heresy head on, even going so far as to travel to Jerusalem for a special apostolic conference over the issue.  It only makes sense in light of the magnitude of the Judaizing problem that a letter be written about it.  Galatians is not the only letter where Paul addresses the issue of Judaizing but it is the one letter which is devoted specifically to this issue. 

The Judaizers had carried their heresy to Galatia and had succeeded in their efforts to bring some of Paul's beloved brethren in Christ under the bondage of the old law.   Paul became aware of the seriousness of the situation and authored the epistle to the churches of Galatia to combat the heresy.  He knew the letter would be copied, distributed and read among the churches there and beyond.  In this letter, Paul demonstrated his authority as an apostle, gave testimony of his access to the will of God directly from the source and not from other men and established his independence from the other apostles over this issue, even going so far as to correct Peter to his face.  Paul let his readership know conclusively that he was acting under the direct authority of God, knew the truth, preached the truth and stood for the truth no matter what the personal cost was to himself.  Paul confronted the problem with the Judaizers from the top, having traveled the considerable distance to Jerusalem himself to meet with the other apostles and there playing a leadership role in the correction of the problem.

The primary context of the letter to the Galatians is in opposition to the observation of Mosaic law in order for a Gentile to become a true Christian.  The application for us today is the same.  The letter was written to them and preserved for us.  It is our responsibility to make the correct applications from it to our lives today.  

 


Church of Christ Commentary and Study Guide for the book of Galatians

Author

Lesson Title

David Hersey Introduction to Galatians
David Hersey Outline of Galatians
David Hersey Galatians Chapter 1
David Hersey Galatians Chapter 2
David Hersey Galatians Chapter 3
David Hersey Galatians Chapter 4
David Hersey Galatians Chapter 5
David Hersey Galatians Chapter 6
David Hersey Galatians Paraphrase
David Hersey Timeline of the Apostle Paul

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