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
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
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
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
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
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
race and if so, was entrance into this kingdom subject to the same
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
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
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
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
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
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.