Who: The ancient people of Galatia were of Celtic descent. They were the relics of a Gaulish invasion which swept over South-eastern Europe and poured into Asia Minor in the early part of the third century before Christ.
These tribes governed themselves until they were subdued by Rome and made one of their colonies. This occurred under the reign of Augustus Caesar, approximately 26 years before the incarnation of Christ.
Historians tell us that they retained much of their ancient language and manners, while picking up a good bit of Greek culture as well. Generally speaking they were very intelligent, impulsive in feeling and action, vain, fickle and quarrelsome. They have also been described as impetuous, impressible and perpetually engaged in strife.
They practiced a very superstitious religion; they are said to have worshipped the mother of the gods under the name Agdistis. Prisoners captured in war became human sacrifices to this pagan god. But eventually Jews settled among them in considerable numbers. Their presence prepared the way for Paul to come into the region with the gospel.
It should be noted that ‘Galatia’ refers to a territory or province, not a single city. There were several major cities within the region of Galatia. The exact number of churches is unknown, but it is not improbable that a church had been established in each of the larger cities, and that the churches were in relatively close proximity to each other. The letter to the Galatians was directed to them all.
Why: What is the main reason for writing this letter? It seems that the churches of Galatia had some of the same difficulties we find in other early New Testament churches – Jewish Christians attempting to bring Jewish Law into the church and compelling Gentile converts to fulfill the Mosaic rituals. These rituals included circumcision, food laws, keeping the sabbath, etc.
In other words, they wanted to make the Gentiles into Jews, before they could become Christians! This was a tendency of many new churches, and Paul worked diligently to remove these errors from the body of Christ. Hence, justification by faith apart from the law is a main focus of this book, as it is in the book of Romans.
Another topic covered extensively in this letter is the apostleship of Paul.
When: The date of this letter is very uncertain. Scholars generally fall into one of two categories – those who favor an early date of 52-53 AD and those who favor a date as late as 57-58 AD.
Where: Part of the ‘where’ question would be answered by the ‘when’ question. If the letter was written at the earlier date (52-53), then the most likely place of writing was Ephesus. If the letter was written during the later period (57-58), it must have been penned in Corinth. (Although, honestly, it really doesn’t matter.)
Galatians 1:1 – Paul, an apostle – not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead –
Paul declares clearly and emphatically at the very beginning of this epistle that he has been made an apostle by God himself.
Why was that so important?
In order to get the full picture, we need to look back at the state of the early church. Paul and Barnabas had been called by Holy Spirit to go forth and preach the gospel, planting new churches wherever they went (Acts 13:1-3). As they did so, they preached a doctrine of faith in Christ. Salvation was a free gift, available by the blood of Jesus.
However, there were other teachers (Pharisees) traveling from church to church preaching a different doctrine. They were trying to circumvent the freedom of the gospel by teaching that men must observe the Mosaic Law in order to be a Christian. Particularly, they were very insistent that anyone who intended to become a Christian needed to be circumcised.
This was no small issue – it was a fundamental difference which prompted the Jerusalem council of Acts chapter 15.
Acts 15:1-2 – But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.
So we find this grievous doctrinal controversy going on in the early church. Things could not continue on this course, or the church would be divided against itself and it would fall. A decision had to be made. The church must either stand upon salvation by works through the law, or it must embrace grace – salvation by the sacrifice of Christ alone.
Fortunately, Holy Spirit worked through the apostles at the Jerusalem council to set the record straight. In the end, Christians were admonished to abstain from sexual immorality, things sacrificed to idols, from blood and from anything strangled. That was it. The Mosaic Law was officially put aside. Salvation is obtained through the blood of Jesus; men/women are justified by faith – a free gift that has nothing to do with the works of man.
But that did not stop some men from continuing to preach a message of works. They slandered Paul and undermined his doctrine by calling his apostleship into question. Their reasoning went something like this: If they could convince the people that Paul wasn’t really an apostle appointed by God, then the authority of his message vanished and there was no reason for people to believe it or live by it. They were then free to preach their religion of works.
The false teachers proceeded to claim that Paul’s apostleship was the result of mankind. They may have been making a reference to the apostleship of Matthias, who was chosen by Holy Spirit through via lot to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts chapter 1). They may also have been trying to assert that Paul’s apostleship was simply a title awarded to him by the council in Jerusalem. In either case, their intentions were the same – to discredit Paul’s authority in Christ.
But Paul doesn’t waste any time setting the record straight. He is not only an apostle, he is an apostle ‘through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead’. What higher authority could there be?
Eleven of the apostles were called by Jesus during his earthly ministry, and no one questioned their authority. One was chosen by Holy Spirit through a lot, and no one questioned that either.
How then, can they question the apostleship of Paul who was miraculously called by Jesus when he was seated at the right hand of God, after being raised from the dead? Clearly, Paul’s claim to apostleship was every bit as valid as the other twelve.
He received an inward and immediate revelation of Jesus and the gospel during his commission. He was instructed to go to both the Jews and the Gentiles and preach the remission of sins through the blood of Jesus. Therefore, his authority should not be challenged; his doctrine (justification by faith) was of God.
How do you view the role of works in the Christian life? What do you believe?
I believe the bible makes this distinction: Mankind is saved solely by accepting the blood of Christ as payment for sin. If a person confesses Jesus as Lord with their mouth and believes in their heart that God has raised them from the dead, they are saved (Romans 10:9). Works do not contribute to salvation.
However, once a person has been forgiven by Jesus they become a new creature. They have a new nature and part of that nature includes doing righteous things, including good works. In fact, scripture also tells us that God has good works set aside for each one of us to perform (Ephesians 2:10). As a result of doing these good works, God sets aside treasures for us in heaven.
We are not saved because we do good works. We perform good works because we have been saved (justified) by our faith in God!
Galatians 1:2 – and all the brothers who are with me.
Paul did not travel alone. The majority of the time, he had others with him. He sometimes refers to them as ‘fellow laborers’ in the gospel.
Philippians 4:3 – And I entreat you also, true yoke fellow, help those women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other of my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life.
Although Paul is the only author of the epistle, there are other Christian men who acknowledge his authority and are in agreement with his doctrine. This either refers to the fellow laborers who traveled with him, or to prominent men within Galatia who were no doubt gravely concerned about the false teaching of others.
Either way, these men provided further proof that Paul’s doctrine was not some heretical nonsense, but acceptable truth from God.
Galatians 1:3 – Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
This is a typical Christian salutation, which Paul uses in his other letters. It expresses a desire for the best blessings of God towards his people.
Let’s talk about blessings for a moment. Jewish fathers always blessed their children. They did so by laying hands on them, and speaking words of blessing over them. A good example of this can be found in Genesis chapter 48, where Israel blessed his two grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh just before his death.
The blessing was always given to the children by their father (or grandfather), because he was the one in authority over them. He had the power to declare life and blessing or death and hardship.
And that is not all. When God brought the Hebrews out of Egypt, he gave them the law and instituted the priesthood. The priests had spiritual authority over the children of Israel. Therefore, they were in a position to bless the Jews.
Sure enough, God gave the priests a specific blessing that was to be spoken over his children. You can find the whole blessing it in the book of Numbers chapter 6, verses 23-27.
Numbers 6:23 – Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, In this way you shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them…
So… are you a parent? If so, you occupy a position of authority over your children, and you have the capacity to speak blessings over them. Are you doing that? It’s not too late to start.
If your children (or grandchildren) are younger, you can easily lay your hands upon them and speak a blessing as you tuck them in at night. If your children are older, you can bless them as they leave the house for the day. In either case, lay your hands on your children and speak words of material, physical, mental and spiritual blessings upon them. If you have never done this before, it may seem a bit awkward at first, but don’t let that stop you. After a few times, it will be very natural. Don’t miss the opportunity to bless your household because of fear or pride!
Now back to the apostle Paul. Since he has been made an apostle by Jesus, that puts him in a place of spiritual authority, just like the priests of the Old Testament. So when he speaks the grace and peace of God upon the reader, it becomes a viable blessing.
The blessings he speaks over us are those of grace and peace, as bestowed upon us by God the Father and Jesus his Son. Grace includes God’s favor and goodwill towards us, as well as the mercy he shows us. It implies a relationship between us and God.
We must have mercy before we can experience peace.
Peace includes both inward comfort and outward blessings of prosperity. Both come from the same source – God the Father. Both are made available to us through the shed blood of Jesus the Son.
Galatians 1:4-5 – who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
What does Paul refer to when he speaks of the ‘present evil age’ that we have been delivered from?
Well, he wouldn’t be referring to fallen created nature (the literal earth), because we wouldn’t be able to live without the earth. At some point God will redeem the earth, but not until the end of time.
He also can’t be referring to sinful men, because we need them too – the church is made up of former sinners! In fact, that is the task we have been charged with – to preach the gospel in every corner of the world, so that people can be saved. We don’t need to be delivered from sinners, we need to go find them so they too can be justified by faith in Christ!
The present evil age refers to the adherence of some Jews to the old Mosaic Law. In other words, Paul was instructing the Galatians that God has done an astonishing thing – he has completely fulfilled the Law. Since it has been completely fulfilled by Jesus, there is no longer any reason for mankind to cling to it. To try and hold onto it is sinful. To try and earn salvation by keeping the law is futile.
Just to be clear, the Law itself was good because it pointed out the sin and guilt of mankind, but it NEVER had the ability to permanently redeem us. Only the blood of Christ could do that.
So the period of time in which certain Jewish leaders refuse to allow the law to pass away becomes an evil age. It is evil because these beliefs and traditions actually prevent people from entering into a life giving relationship with God which was opened up by the blood of Jesus.
Clearly, it was only by the will of God that Jesus laid down his life for us. Since that is the case, we cannot continue under the law; neither can we mix the law with grace.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
Don’t be an old wine skin (Mark 2:22)! The Pharisees just couldn’t let go of the old Mosaic Law and customs, even though they knew perfectly well that Jesus had fulfilled them and established a new order.
Are there customs or traditions that you are holding onto that prevent you from experiencing freedom in your relationship with God? For instance, you may have grown up in a church that held the belief that miracles were only for the time of the apostles.
Right now I would encourage you to search the scriptures with an open mind, allowing Holy Spirit to speak to you. Listen to the testimony of other believers. Then see if you need to let go of this (or other) old beliefs!
Let me offer you some relief:
Are you part of a religious system that stresses rules and regulations? Do you feel condemnation when you fail? You might be relieved to know that what God really wants from you is not perfection in keeping rules. He is primarily interested in having a close relationship with you. After all, that is why he sent Jesus – so you could be in fellowship with him once again.
In the midst of that relationship, you will find that it is natural and simple to do the things that please God. You will also find that condemnation is gone; when you fail God will graciously call it to your attention so it can be forgiven and forgotten.
Let me offer you some strength:
There are times when we enter into earthly relationships only to find that people let us down or fail us. For that reason, we sometimes tend to hold back from fully committing ourselves to God. We have this nagging suspicion that he will let us down too.
But there is no need to worry! God loves you so much, he was willing to let Jesus die for your sin. He is the only one who will never leave you, desert you or hurt you. So don’t be afraid to fully commit your life to him. You’ll be glad you did.