Galatia was a large Roman province in the middle of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The name Galatia comes from the name of the people who moved into this area several hundred years before Christ. They were the “Keltai” or Celtic tribes. The entire Roman province of Galatia stretched almost from the Black Sea in the north to the Mediterranean Sea in the south. The province included the cities of Iconium, Lystra, Derbe and Pisidian Antioch.
THE GALATIAN CHRISTIANS
Acts 13 and 14 tell us how Paul established Christian congregations in the southern Galatian cities on his first missionary journey. Both Jews and Gentiles became believers (Acts 14:1). Paul was accompanied by Barnabas as he preached in Iconium, Lystra and Derbe in southern Galatia. Read Acts 14:1-23. Paul made two more visits to Galatia, on his second and third missionary journeys (Acts 16:6 and 18:23). It is not certain just which cities of Galatia he visited in these journeys. It was probably soon after Paul’s first visit in Galatia that some false teachers worked among the Galatian Christians. We commonly call those false teachers “Judaizers.” These Judaizers taught the Galatians that a person had to be circumcised and observe the Jewish laws in order to be saved. They also taught about Jesus Christ; but they mixed law with gospel and works with grace. The result was that the Galatians were confused. The gospel was really shoved aside to make room again for the old law. If the Galatians continued to accept the Judaizers’ teaching, they would lose their salvation. (This was exactly the same problem which the council at Jerusalem discussed, as told in Acts 15.) The Galatians needed to have the false doctrine of the Judaizers clearly exposed to them. They needed to have the pure Gospel of grace clearly presented to them again.
THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS
When Paul heard how the Galatians were listening to the Judaizers, he was astonished and perplexed (1:6, 4:20). How could they turn away so quickly from the teaching of free salvation by faith in Christ? Didn’t they know they were in the process of throwing away the Gospel, Christ himself, and their salvation by following the Judaizers? Paul wrote the Galatians a clear and forceful letter in order to expose the false teaching of the Judaizers, establish his authority as an apostle of Christ, and to clearly present the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone apart from observing the law. In stressing the doctrine of justification, Galatians is similar to Romans. Both epistles clearly and unmistakably present the pure Gospel of grace. But perhaps we could say that when writing Galatians, Paul was writing in a more urgent and forceful way because of the immediate fatal damage the Judaizers were doing.
WHEN AND WHERE WRITTEN?
There have been many different answers to this question. One widely accepted answer is that Galatians was written from Antioch after Paul’s first missionary journey before the council in Jerusalem. This would be about 47 or 48 A.D. If this is true, then Galatians is the first book of the New Testament to be written. (Others say it was written from Ephesus in 56 or 57 A.D.)
THE CONTENTS OF GALATIANS
1.Paul defends his apostleship. (1-2) In Paul’s absence, the Judaizers attacked Paul’s ministry and said that his words could not be trusted. Paul therefore shows that he is a true apostle called and sent by God. His words are God’s own truth. 2.Paul explains the doctrine of justification. (3-4) Paul carefully and forcefully shows that human effort can make no one righteous before God; anyone who relies on the law to save him is cursed by the law. Man is justified by faith in Christ alone. 3.Paul writes of the Christian’s freedom in Christ. (5-6) He encourages the Galatians not to let themselves be burdened again by slavery to the Law of Moses, but to stand in the freedom that Christ gave. At the same time he warns them not to use their Christian freedom to live a life of sin, but to live a new life in the Spirit.
A THEME FOR GALATIANS:
“MAN IS JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, NOT BY OBSERVING THE LAW”
THE EFFECT OF THE LETTER TO THE GALATIANS
Paul’s letter evidently accomplished its purpose. The Galatian churches joined in gathering the offering for the poor at Jerusalem. They must have expelled the Judaizers and clung to Paul’s Gospel. Galatians greatly affected Martin Luther 1,500 years later. Luther called Galatians “my own little epistle” and said that he was “married” to this epistle. Galatians gave Luther the strength to fight against the legalism of the Church of Rome and to hold high the Gospel of pure grace in Christ. Anyone who is weak concerning the doctrine of justification and the place of the law will find real “meat” and strength in the Letter to the Galatians.
SOME IMPORTANT PASSAGES FROM GALATIANS
“Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (1:8) “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, `The righteous will live by faith.'” (3:11) “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” (3:13) “You are all the sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (3:26) “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (5:6) “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (5:16) “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (5:22-23)
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