Author

The apostle Paul (1:1; 5:2).

Recipient

Paul identifies his recipients as “the churches of Galatia” (1:2). The traditional view holds that Paul was writing to the churches in central and north Galatia, which Paul probably visited during his second missionary journey. However, most expositors today believe that the epistle was addressed to the churches in the southern part of Galatia, which Paul evangelized during his first missionary trip with Barnabas. These would include churches in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.

Date

The dating of the epistle depends in part on whether Paul’s visit to Jerusalem in 2:1-10 was also the visit for the Jerusalem meeting as recorded in Acts 15. If so, the epistle must have been written after the Jerusalem meeting, between 51 and 57 A.D. If, on the other hand, Paul wrote to the Galatians before participating in the Jerusalem meeting, then this epistle would have been written in 48-49.

Purpose/Occasion

When the gospel began to spread to the Gentiles, some Jewish Christians insisted that observance of the law of Moses, and in particular, receiving circumcision, was necessary for salvation. These Judaizers from Judea infiltrated newly established churches and taught the Gentile believers the false doctrine of salvation by works (Acts 15:1). In an effort to discredit Paul’s preaching, these advocates of the Mosaic law even claimed that Paul was not a genuine apostle.
Soon after Paul had brought the gospel to Galatia, these Judaizers came to the churches in this region and preached a different message. Consequently, the Galatian believers began to turn to this other “gospel,” which Paul called a false gospel (Gal 1:6-7). Seeing the grave danger that the believers were facing, Paul wrote them this urgent letter to guard their faith and liberty in Christ. In defending the gospel of Christ, Paul stressed that he had received his apostolic authority from the Lord, not from man, and hence, the message he preached was the true gospel. He did not hesitate to condemn preachers of a gospel that was different from what the apostles had preached, fearing that the Galatians would fall from the grace of salvation.

Unique Characteristics

  1. This is a letter of strong warnings and powerful apology. Unlike Paul’s other epistles, there is no commendation or thanksgiving. He went straight to the heart of the matter to address the crisis facing the Galatians. For the sake of the gospel of Christ, Paul was not about to give in to the legalists, and he even called down curse upon preachers of a false gospel.
  2. This is the only epistle by Paul that was addressed to a group of churches.
  1. Paul makes use of numerous sets of contrasts in his teachings.
  2. The letter contains much of Paul’s autobiographical information.

Central Verse

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (5:1).

Survey

1. Read the entire epistle once for general impressions. Then go through each section as listed in chart A and record a heading using a key phrase in that section.

Themes

For an overview of the main themes of this epistle, read the verses under each of the following themes and summarize what the verses have to say about their respective themes.

Law and Grace

1:6 _____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 2:16 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 2:21 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 3:2, 5 ___________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 3:10, 11 _________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 3:12 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 3:13 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 3:17-19 __________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 3:21-24 __________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 4:4-5 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 5:3 _____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 5:4 _____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 5:18 ____________________________________________________

6:2 _____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________

Faith

2:16 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 2:20 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 3:2, 14 __________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 3:5 _____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 3:7-9 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 3:11 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 3:12 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 3:22-26 __________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 5:5 _____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 5:6 _____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________

Liberty

2:4 _____________________________________________________ 3:13-14 __________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________

3:22-23 __________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 4:1-7 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 4:8-11 ___________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 4:21-31 __________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 5:1 _____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 5:13 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________

Gospel

1:6-7 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 1:8-9 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 1:11 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 2:4-5 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 2:7-9 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 2:14 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________

3:8 _____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________

Holy Spirit

3:2-3 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 3:5 _____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 3:14 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 4:6 _____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 4:29 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 5:5 _____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 5:16 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 5:17 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 5:18-23 __________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 5:25 ____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________ 6:8 _____________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________

Modern Relevance

Paul’s epistle to the Galatians reinforces the foundation of the Christian faith. Because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, we are justified freely by grace through faith. Christ is the only way of salvation, since no one can be justified by observing the law. Today, many of those who reject the Lord Jesus believe that they can reach God by good works. Many confidently claim that they are “good enough” to go to heaven. But the Scriptures unequivocally teaches us that no one can come to God except through our Savior Jesus Christ. All of our merits and efforts crumble under God’s perfect standard. Christ has set us free from the works of the law so we are no longer under the bondage of futile attempts to reach God. Rather than turn to human endeavors or self confidence, we need to humbly accept and depend on the grace of our Lord.

Since we have accepted the Lord Jesus as our Savior, we have received liberty in Christ. But such liberty should not become an opportunity for indulgence (5:13). Unfortunately, many professed Christians who uphold the doctrine of justification by faith have misused their freedom in Christ as a license for sinful lifestyles. Assuming that confession of the Lord has guaranteed them of salvation, they walk in the lusts of the flesh. That is why even among Christians, there is much immorality and ungodliness. But Paul tells us in this epistle that true freedom in Christ does not mean living in a manner that is contrary to God’s commandments. Rather, it means walking in the Spirit, letting the Spirit guide our steps so we may bear the fruit of righteousness.

Thus, if we are true to the gospel of grace, we would neither depend on our own righteousness nor indulge in sin. We would trust in the saving works of Christ and submit to the work of the Holy Spirit to reap eternal life.

Map & Chart

Map A Geography in the time of the early church