Article Info

published: 7/2/13

Book of Galatians



Facts and summary

Acts is the ninth book of the Christian New Testament. The author of the book is traditionally understood to be the Aposlte Paul in the late 40's or early 50's A.D. Galatians is six chapters long. Suggestions for its place of origin include Ephesus, Macedonia, Syrian Antioch, and Corinth. The original recipients were churches in southern area of the Roman province of Galatia ( Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe). The purpose of Galatians is to respond to Judaizers, who required Gentile converts to Christianity to be circumcized and who argued that Paul was not an authentic apostle. Its main teaching emphasis is on Paul's apostolic authority, justification by faith apart from legalism. (This book was very influential on Martin Luther.)

Early Christianity gives clear and ample testimony to the book of Galatians. Marcion placed it at the head of his Apostolikon (140 AD); Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Melito, quoted it about the same time. It is echoed by Ignatius (Philad., i) and Polycarp (Philip., iii and v) a generation earlier, and seems to have been used by contemporary Gnostic teachers. It stands in line with the other epistles of Paul in the oldest Latin, Syriac and Egyptian translations, and in the Muratorian (Roman) Canon of the 2nd century. It comes full into view as an integral part of the new Scripture in Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian at the close of this period. No breath of suspicion as to the authorship, integrity or apostolic authority of the Ep. to the Gal has reached us from ancient times.



Argument

Personal History (Galatians 1:11 through 2:21 (4:12-20; 6:17))

Paul asserts himself for his gospel's sake, by showing that his commission was God-given and complete (Gal 1:11,12). On four decisive moments in his course he dwells for this purpose--as regards the second manifestly (Gal 1:20), as to others probably, in correction of misstatements:

(1) A thorough-paced Judaist and persecutor (Gal 1:13,14), Paul was supernaturally converted to Christ (Gal 1:15), and received at conversion his charge for the Gentiles, about which he consulted no one (Gal 1:16,17).

(2) Three years later he "made acquaintance with Cephas" in Jerusalem and saw James besides, but no "other of the apostles" (Gal 1:18,19). For long he was known only by report to "the churches of Judea" (Gal 1:21-24).

(3) At the end of "fourteen years" he "went up to Jerusalem," with Barnabas, to confer about the "liberty" of Gentilebelievers, which was endangered by "false brethren" (Gal 2:1-5). Instead of supporting the demand for the circumcision of the "Greek" Titus (Gal 2:3), the "pillars" there recognized the sufficiency and completeness of Paul's "gospel of the uncircumcision" and the validity of his apostleship (Gal 2:6-8). They gave "right hands of fellowship" to himself and Barnabas on this understanding (Gal 2:9,10). The freedom of Gentile Christianity was secured, and Paul had not "run in vain."

(4) At Antioch, however, Paul and Cephas differed (Gal 2:11). Cephas was induced to withdraw from the common church-table, and carried "the rest of the Jews," including Barnabas, with him (Gal 2:12,13). "The truth of the gospel," with Cephas' own sincerity, was compromised by this "separation," which in effect "compelled the Gentiles to Judaize" (Gal 2:13,14). Paul therefore reproved Cephas publicly in the speech reproduced by Gal 2:14-21, the report of which clearly states the evangelical position and the ruinous consequences (2:18,21) of reestablishing "the law."

Doctrinal Polemic (Galatians 3:1 through 5:12)

The doctrinal polemic was rehearsed in the autobiography (Gal 2:3-5,11-12). In Gal 2:16 is laid down thesis of the epistle: "A man is not justified by the works of law but through faith in Jesus Christ." This proposition is (a) demonstrated from experience and history in 3:1-4:7; then (b) enforced by 4:8-5:12.

From his own experience (Gal 2:19-21) Paul passes to that of the readers, who are "bewitched" to forget "Christ crucified" (Gal 3:1)! Had their life in "the Spirit" come through "works of the law" or the "hearing of faith"? Will the flesh consummate what the Spirit began (Gal 3:2-5)? (a2) Abraham, they are told, is the father of God's people; but `the men of faith' are Abraham's true heirs (Gal 3:6-9). "The law" curses every transgressor; Scripture promised righteousness through faith for the very reason that justification by legal "doing" is impossible (Gal 3:10-12). "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law" in dying the death it declared "accursed" (Gal 3:13).

Thus He conveyed to the nations "the promise of the Spirit," pledged to them through believing Abraham (Gal 3:7,14). (a3) The "testament" God gave to "Abraham and his seed" (a single "seed," observe) is unalterable. The Mosaic law, enacted 430 years later, could not nullify this instrument (Gal 3:15-17 the King James Version). Nullified it wound have been, had its fulfillment turned on legal performance instead of Divine "grace" (Gal 3:18). (a4) "Why then the law?" Sin required it, pending the accomplishment of "the promise." Its promulgation through intermediaries marks its inferiority (Gal 3:19,20).

With no power `to give life,' it served the part of a jailer guarding us till "faith came," of "the paedagogus" training us `for Christ' (Gal 3:21-25). (a5) But now "in Christ," Jew and Greek alike, "ye are all sons of God through faith"; being such, "you are Abraham's seed" and `heirs in terms of the promise' (Gal 3:26-29). The `infant' heirs, in tutelage, were `subject to the elements of the world,' until "God sent forth his Son," placed in the like condition, to "redeem" them (Gal 4:1-5). Today the "cry" of "the Spirit of his Son" in your "hearts" proves this redemption accomplished (Gal 4:6,7).

The demonstration is complete; Gal 3:1-4:7 forms the core of the epistle. The growth of the Christian consciousness has been traced from its germ in Abraham to its flower in the church of all nations. The Mosaic law formed a disciplinary interlude in the process, which has been all along a life of faith. Paul concludes where he began (3:2), by claiming the Spirit as witness to the full salvation of the Gentiles; compare Rom 8:1-27; 2 Cor 3:4-18; Eph 1:13,14. From Gal 4:8 onward to 5:12, the argument is pressed home by appeal, illustration and warning.

After "knowing God," would the Galatians return to the bondage in which ignorantly they served as gods "the elements" of Nature? (4:8,9). Their adoption of Jewish "seasons" points to this backsliding (4:10,11). (b2) Paul's anxiety prompts the entreaty of 4:12-20, in which he recalls his fervent reception by his readers, deplores their present alienation, and confesses his perplexity. (b3) Observe that Abraham had two sons--"after the flesh" and "through promise" (4:21-23); those who want to be under law are choosing the part of Ishmael: "Hagar" stands for `the present Jerusalem' in her bondage; `the Jerusalem above is free--she is our mother!' (4:24-28,31).

The fate of Hagar and Ishmael pictures the issue of legal subjection (4:29,30): "Stand fast therefore" (5:1). (b4) The crucial moment comes at 5:2: the Galatians are half-persuaded (5:7,8); they will fatally commit themselves, if they consent to `be circumcised.' This will sever them from Christ, and bind them to complete observance of Moses' law: law or grace--by one or the other they must stand (5:3-5). "Circumcision, uncircumcision"--these "count for nothing in Christ Jesus" (5:6). Paul will not believe in the defection of those who `ran' so "well"; "judgment" will fall on their `disturber' (5:7-10,12). Persecution marks himself as no circumcisionist (5:11)!

The Ethical Application (Galatians 5:13-6:10)

The ethical application is contained in the phrase of Rom 8:2, "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus." (1) Love guards Christian liberty from license; it `fulfills the whole law in a single word' (Gal 5:13-15). (2) The Spirit, who imparts freedom, guides the free man's "walk." Flesh and spirit are, opposing principles: deliverance from "the flesh" and its "works" is found in possession by "the Spirit," who bears in those He rules His proper "fruit." `Crucified with Christ' and `living in the Spirit,' the Christian man keeps God's law without bondage under it (Gal 5:16-26). (3) In cases of unwary fall, `men of the Spirit' will know how to "restore" the lapsed, `fulfilling Christ's law' and mindful of their own weakness (Gal 6:1-5). (4) Teachers have a peculiar claim on the taught; to ignore this is to `mock God.' Men will "reap corruption" or "eternal life," as in such matters they `sow to the flesh' or `to the Spirit.' Be patient till the harvest! (Gal 6:6-10).

The Epilogue (Galatians 6:11-18)

The autograph conclusion (Gal 6:11) exposes the sinister motive of the circumcisionists, who are ashamed of the cross, the Christian's only boast (Gal 6:12-15). Such men are none of "the Israel of God!" (Gal 6:16). "The brand of Jesus" is now on Paul's body; at their peril "henceforth" will men trouble him! (Gal 6:17). The benediction follows (Gal 6:18).

The postscript reveals the inwardness of the legalists' agitation. They advocated circumcision from policy more than from conviction, hoping to conciliate Judaism and atone for accepting the Nazarene--to hide the shame of the cross--by capturing for the Law the Gentilechurches. They attack Paul because he stands in the way of this attempt. Their policy is treason; it surrenders to the world that cross of Christ, to which the world for its salvation must unconditionally submit.

Themes

The grace of God the one source of salvation Gal (1:3; 2:21; 5:4), the cross of Christ its sole ground (1:4; 2:19-21; 3:13; 6:14), faith in the Good News its all-sufficient means (2:16,20; 3:2,5-9,23-26; 5:5), the Spirit its effectuating power (3:2-5; 4:6,7; 5:5,16-25; 6:8)--hence, emancipation from the Jewish law, and the full status of sons of God open to the Gentiles (2:4,5,15-19; 3:10-14; 3:28-4:9,26-31; 5:18; 6:15): these connected principles are at stake in the contention; they make up the doctrine of the epistle.

Circumcision is now proposed by the Judaists as a supplement to faith in Christ, as the qualification for sonship to Abraham and communion with the apostolic church (Gal 3:7,29). After the Council at Jerusalem, they no longer say outright, "Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1). Paul's Galatian converts, they admit, "have begun in the Spirit"; they bid them "be perfected" and attain the full Christian status by conforming to Moses--"Christ will profit" them much more, if they add to their faith circumcision (Gal 3:3; 5:2; compare Rom 3:1).

This insidious proposal might seem to be in keeping with the findings of the Council; Peter's action at Antioch lent color to it. Such a grading of the Circumcision and Uncircumcision within the church offered a tempting solution of the legalist controversy; for it appeared to reconcile the universal destination of the gospel with the inalienable prerogatives of the sons of Abraham. Paul's reply is, that believing Gentiles are already Abraham's "seed"--nay, sons and heirs of God; instead of adding anything, circumcision would rob them of everything they have won in Christ; instead of going on to perfection by its aid, they would draw back unto perdition.

Paul's Depreciation of the Law

Paul carries the war into the enemies' camp, when he argues, (a) that the law of Moses brought condemnation, not blessing, on its subjects (Gal 3:10-24); and (b) that instead of completing the work of faith, its part in the Divine economy was subordinate (Gal 3:19-25). It was a temporary provision, due to man's sinful unripeness for the original covenant (Gal 3:19,24; 4:4). The Spirit of sonship, now manifested in the Gentiles, is the infallible sign that the promise made to mankind in Abraham has been fulfilled. The whole position of the legalists is undermined by the use the apostle makes of the Abrahamic covenant.

The religious and the personal questions of the epistle are bound up together; this Gal 5:2 clearly indicates. The latter naturally emerges first (1:1,11 ff). Paul's authority must be overthrown, if his disciples are to be Judaized. Hence, the campaign of detraction against him (compare 2 Cor 10 through 12).

The line of defense indicates the nature of the attack. Paul was said to be a second-hand, second-rate apostle, whose knowledge of Christ and title to preach Him came from Cephas and the mother church. In proof of this, an account was given of his career, which he corrects in Gal 1:13 through 2:21. "Cephas" was held up (compare 1 Cor 1:12) as the chief of the apostles, whose primacy Paul had repeatedly acknowledged; and "the pillars" at Jerusalem were quoted as maintainers of Mosaic rule and authorities for the additions to be made to Paul's imperfect gospel.

Paul himself, it was insinuated, "preaches circumcision" where it suits him; he is a plausible time-server (Gal 1:10; 5:11; compare Acts 16:3; 1 Cor 9:19-21). The apostle's object in his self-defense is not to sketch his own life, nor in particular to recount his visits to Jerusalem, but to prove his independent apostleship and his consistent maintenance of Gentilerights. He states, therefore, what really happened on the critical occasions of his contact with Peter and the Jerusalem church.

To begin with, he received his gospel and apostolic office from Jesus Christ directly, and apart from Peter (Gal 1:13-20); he was subsequently recognized by "the pillars" as apostle, on equality with Peter (Gal 2:6-9); he had finally vindicated his doctrine when it was assailed, in spite of Peter (Gal 2:11-12). The adjustment of Paul's recollections with Luke's narrative is a matter of dispute, in regard both to the conference of Gal 2:1-10 and the encounter of 2:11-21; to these points we shall return, iv.3 (4), (5).

Relations to Other Epistles

(1) The connection of Galatians with Romans is patent; it is not sufficiently understood how pervasive that connection is and into what manifold detail it extends. The similarity of doctrine and doctrinal vocabulary manifest in Gal 2:13-6:16 and Rom 1:16-8:39 is accounted for by the Judaistic controversy on which Paul was engaged for so long, and by the fact that this discussion touched the heart of his gospel and raised questions in regard to which his mind was made up from the beginning (1:15,16), on which he would therefore always express himself in much the same way.

Broadly speaking, the difference is that Romans is didactic and abstract, where Galatians is personal and polemical; that the former presents, a measured and rounded development of conceptions projected rapidly in the latter under the stress of controversy. The emphasis lies in Romans on justification by faith; in Galatians on the freedom of the Christian man. The contrast of tone is symptomatic of a calmer mood in the writer--the lull which follows the storm; it suits the different address of the two epistles.

Galatians and Romans

Besides the correspondence of purport, there is a verbal resemblance to Romans pervading the tissue of Galatians, and traceable in its mannerisms and incidental expressions. Outside of the identical quotations, we find more than 40 Greek locutions, some of them rare in the language, common to these two and occurring in these only of Paul's epistles--including the words rendered "bear" (Rom 11:18 and Gal 5:10, etc.); "blessing" or "gratulation" (Grk: makarismos), "divisions" (Rom 16:17; Gal 5:20); "fail" or "fall from" (Grk: ekpipto); "labor on" or "upon" (of persons), "passions" (Grk: pathemata, in this sense); "set free" or "deliver" (Grk: eleutheroo); "shut up" or "conclude," and "shut out" or "exclude"; "travail (together)," and such phrases as "die to" (with dative), "hearing of faith," "if possible," "put on (the Lord Jesus) Christ," "those who do such things," "what saith the Scripture?" "where then?" (rhetorical), "why any longer?"

The list would be greatly extended by adding expressions distinctive of this pair of letters that occur sporadically elsewhere in Paul. The kinship of Galatians-Romans in vocabulary and vein of expression resembles that existing between Colossians-Ephesians or 1 and 2 Thessalonians; it is twice as strong proportionately as that of 1 and 2 Corinthians. Not only the same current of thought, but with it, much the same stream of language was running through Paul's mind in writing these two epistles. The association of Galatians with the two Corinthian letters, though less intimate than that of Galatians-Romans, is unmistakable.

Links with 1 and 2 Corinthians

We count 23 distinct locations shared by 2 Corinthians alone (in its 13 chapters) with Galatians, and 20 such shared with 1 Corinthians (16 chapters)--a larger proportion for the former. Among the Galatians-1 Corinthians peculiarities are the sayings, "A little leaven," etc., "circumcision is nothing," etc., and the phrases, "be not deceived," "it is manifest" (Grk: delon as predicate to a sentence), "known by God," "profit nothing" and "to be something," "scandal of the cross," "the spiritual" (of persons), "they that are Christ's (of Christ Jesus)." Peculiar to Gal through 2 Cor are "another gospel" and "false brethren," "brings into bondage," "devour" and "zealously seek" or "am jealous over" (of persons); "a new creation," "confirm" or "ratify" (Grk: kuroo); "I am perplexed," the antithesis of "sowing" and "reaping" (figuratively); the phrase "on the contrary" or "contrariwise" (Grk: t'ounantion), etc.

The conception of the "two covenants" (or "testaments") is conspicuous in both epistles (Gal 3:17-21; 4:21-31; 2 Cor 3:8-18), and does not recur in Paul; in each case the ideas of "law" (or "letter"), "bondage," "death," are associated with the one, Grk: diatheke, of "spirit," "freedom," "life," with the other. Gal 3:13 ("Christ .... made a curse for us") is matched by 2 Cor 5:21 ("made sin for us"); in Gal 2:19 and 6:14 we find Paul "crucified to the world" in the cross of his Master and "Christ" alone "living in" him; in 2 Cor 5:14,15 this experience becomes a universal law for Christians; and where in Gal 6:17 the apostle appears as `from hence-forth .... bearing in' his `body the brand of Jesus,' in 2 Cor 4:10 he is "always bearing about in" his "body the dying of Jesus."

These identical or closely congruous trains of thought and turns of phrase, varied and dominant as they are, speak for some near connection between the two writings. By its list of vices in Gal 5:19,20 Galatians curiously, and somewhat intricately, links itself at once with 2 Corinthians and Roman (see 2 Cor 12:20; Rom 13:13; 16:17). Galatians is allied by argument and doctrine with Romans, and by temper and sentiment with 2 Corinthians. The storm of feeling agitating our epistle blows from the same quarter, reaches the same height, and engages the same emotions with those which animate 2 Corinthians 10 through 13.

With the Corinthians-Romans Group

If we add to the 43 locutions confined in the Pauline Epistles to Galatians-Romans the 23 such of Galatians-2 Corinthians, the 20 of Galatians-1 Corinthians, the 14 that range over Galatians-Romans-2 Corinthians, the 15 of Galatians-Romans-1 Corinthians, the 7 of Galatians-1-2 Corinthians, and the 11 running through all four, we get a total of 133 words or phrases (apart from Old Testament quotations) specific to Galatians in common with one or more of the Corinthians-Romans group--an average, that is, of close upon 3 for each chapter of those other epistles.

With the other groups of Pauline letters Galatians is associated by ties less numerous and strong, yet marked enough to suggest, in conjunction with the general style, a common authorship.

With Other Groups of Epistles

The proportion of locutions peculiar to Gal and the 3rd group (Colossians-Philemon-Ephesians-Philippians) is 1 to each of their 15 chapters. The more noticeable of these are in Galatians-Colossians: "elements of the world," and the maxim, "There is no Jew nor Greek," etc., associated with the "putting on of Christ" ("the new man"); "fullness of the time" (or "seasons") and "householders of faith (of God)," also "Christ loved me (the church) and gave up himself for me (her)," in Galatians-Ephesians; "he that supplieth (your supplying of, Grk: epichoregia) the Spirit," and "vain-glory" (Grk: kenodoxia), in Galatians-Philippians; "redeem" (Grk: exagorazo) and "inheritance" are peculiar to Gal with Colossians-Ephesians together; the association of the believer's "inheritance" with "the Spirit" in Galatians-Ephesians is a significant point of doctrinal identity.

The Thessalonians and Timothy-Titus (1st and 4th) groups are outliers in relation to Galatians, judged by vocabulary. There is little to associate our epistle with either of these combinations, apart from pervasive Corinthians-Romans phrases and the Pauline complexion. There are 5 such expressions registered for the 8 chapters of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 7 for the 13 of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus--just over one to two chapters for each group. While the verbal coincidences in these two cases are, proportionately, but one-half so many as those connecting Galatians with the 3rd group of epistles and one-fifth or one-sixth of those linking it to the 2nd group, they are also less characteristic; the most striking is the contrast of "well-doing" (Grk: kalopoieo) with "fainting" or "wearying" (Grk: egkakeo) in Gal 6:9 and 2 Thess 3:13.

General Comparison

No other writing of Paul reflects the whole man so fully as this--his spiritual, emotional, intellectual, practical, and even physical, idiosyncrasy. We see less of the apostle's tenderness, but more of his strength than in Philippians; less of his inner, mystic experiences, more of the critical turns of his career; less of his "fears," more of his "fightings," than in 2 Corinthians. While the 2nd letter to Timothy lifts the curtain from the closing stage of the apostle's ministry, Gal throws a powerful light upon its beginning. The Pauline theology opens to us its heart in this document.

The apostle's message of deliverance from sin through faith in the crucified Redeemer, and of the new life in the Spirit growing from this root, lives and speaks; we see it in Galatians as a working and fighting theology, while in Romans it peacefully expands into an ordered system. The immediately saving truth of Christianity, the gospel of the Gospel, finds its most trenchant utterance in this epistle; here we learn "the word of the cross" as Paul received it from the living Saviour, and defended it at the crisis of his work.

Recommended for You


More on Christianity


More Religious Texts


World Religions - Main pages


Christian beliefs

Christian denominations

Christian facts

Christian history

Christian holidays

Christian biographies

Christian practices

Christian symbols

 

Christian writings

Bahai writings

Buddhism writings

Hinduism writings

Islam writings

Jehovah's Witnesses writings

Judaism writings

Mormonism writings

Taoism writings

Buddhism

Christianity

Confucianism

Hinduism

Islam

Jehovah's Witnesses

Judaism

Mormonism