Bible Book Number 48—Galatians
Place Written: Corinth or Syrian Antioch
Writing Completed: c. 50–52 C.E.
1. Which congregations are addressed in Galatians, and how and when were they organized?
THE congregations of Galatia addressed by Paul at Galatians 1:2 apparently included Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe—places in different districts but all within this Roman province. Acts chapters 13 and 14 tells of the first missionary journey of Paul with Barnabas through this area, which led to the organizing of the Galatian congregations. These were made up of a mixture of Jews and non-Jews, no doubt including Celts, or Gauls. This was shortly after Paul’s visit to Jerusalem about 46 C.E.—Acts 12:25.
2. (a) What resulted from Paul’s second tour in Galatia, but what followed thereafter? (b) In the meantime, how did Paul proceed with his journey?
2 In the year 49 C.E., Paul and Silas started out on Paul’s second missionary tour into the Galatian territory, which resulted in ‘the congregations being made firm in the faith and increasing in number day by day.’ (Acts 16:5; 15:40, 41; 16:1, 2) However, hot on their heels came false teachers, Judaizers, who persuaded some in the Galatian congregations to believe that circumcision and observance of the Law of Moses were essential parts of true Christianity. In the meantime Paul had journeyed on past Mysia into Macedonia and Greece, eventually arriving in Corinth, where he spent more than 18 months with the brothers. Then, in 52 C.E., he departed by way of Ephesus for Syrian Antioch, his home base, arriving there in the same year.—Acts 16:8, 11, 12; 17:15; 18:1, 11, 18-22.
3. From where and when may Galatians have been written?
3 Where and when did Paul write the letter to the Galatians? No doubt he wrote it as soon as word reached him concerning the activity of the Judaizers. This could have been in Corinth, Ephesus, or Syrian Antioch. It could well have been during his 18-month stay in Corinth, 50-52 C.E., as information would have had time to reach him there from Galatia. Ephesus is unlikely, as he stayed there only briefly on his return journey. However, he then “passed some time” at his home base of Syrian Antioch, apparently in the summer of 52 C.E., and since there was ready communication between this city and Asia Minor, it is possible that he received the report concerning the Judaizers and wrote his letter to the Galatians from Syrian Antioch at this time.—Acts 18:23.
4. What does Galatians disclose as to Paul’s apostleship?
4 The letter describes Paul as “an apostle, neither from men nor through a man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.” It also discloses many facts about Paul’s life and apostleship, proving that, as an apostle, he worked in harmony with the apostles in Jerusalem and that he even exercised his authority in correcting another apostle, Peter.—Gal. 1:1, 13-24; 2:1-14.
5. What facts argue for the authenticity and canonicity of Galatians?
5 What facts argue for the authenticity and canonicity of Galatians? It is referred to by name in the writings of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. Moreover, it is included in the following important Bible manuscripts of rank: Sinaitic, Alexandrine, Vatican No. 1209, Codex Ephraemi Syri rescriptus, Codex Bezae, and Chester Beatty Papyrus No. 2 (P46). Moreover, it is entirely in harmony with the other Greek Scripture writings and also with the Hebrew Scriptures, to which it frequently refers.
6. (a) What two points does the letter of Galatians establish? (b) What was unusual about the writing of this letter, and what does it emphasize?
6 In Paul’s powerful and hard-hitting letter “to the congregations of Galatia,” he proves (1) that he is a true apostle (a fact that the Judaizers had sought to discredit) and (2) that justification is by faith in Christ Jesus, not by the works of the Law, and that therefore circumcision is unnecessary for Christians. Though it was Paul’s custom to have a secretary write down his epistles, he himself wrote Galatians in ‘large letters with his own hand.’ (6:11) The contents of the book were of the greatest importance, both to Paul and to the Galatians. The book emphasizes appreciation for the freedom that true Christians have through Jesus Christ.
CONTENTS OF GALATIANS
7, 8. (a) What does Paul argue concerning the good news? (b) How was Paul confirmed as apostle to the uncircumcised, and how did he demonstrate his authority in connection with Cephas?
7 Paul defends his apostleship (1:1–2:14). After greeting the congregations in Galatia, Paul marvels that they are being so quickly removed to another sort of good news, and he firmly declares: “Even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond what we declared to you as good news, let him be accursed.” The good news that he has declared is not something human, neither was he taught it, “except through revelation by Jesus Christ.” Previously, as a zealous exponent of Judaism, Paul had persecuted the congregation of God, but then God called him through His undeserved kindness to declare the good news about his Son to the nations. It was not until three years after his conversion that he went up to Jerusalem, and then, of the apostles, he saw only Peter, as well as James the brother of the Lord. He was unknown in person to the congregations of Judea, though they used to hear of him and “began glorifying God” because of him.—1:8, 12, 24.
8 After 14 years Paul went up to Jerusalem again and explained privately the good news that he was preaching. His companion Titus, though a Greek, was not even required to be circumcised. When James and Cephas and John saw that Paul had entrusted to him the good news for those who are uncircumcised, just as Peter had the good news for those who are circumcised, they gave Paul and Barnabas the right hand of sharing together to go to the nations, while they themselves went to the circumcised. When Cephas came to Antioch and failed to walk straight “according to the truth of the good news” for fear of the circumcised class, Paul rebuked him before them all.—2:14.
9. On the basis of what is the Christian declared righteous?
9 Declared righteous by faith, not by law (2:15–3:29). We Jews know, argues Paul, “that a man is declared righteous, not due to works of law, but only through faith toward Christ Jesus.” He now lives in union with Christ and is alive by faith to do the will of God. “If righteousness is through law, Christ actually died for nothing.”—2:16, 21.
10. What is it that counts for God’s blessing, and so what was the purpose of the Law?
10 Are the Galatians so senseless as to believe that having started by receiving the spirit due to faith, they can finish serving God by works of Law? It is the hearing by faith that counts, as with Abraham, who “put faith in Jehovah, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now, according to God’s promise, “those who adhere to faith are being blessed together with faithful Abraham.” They have been released from the curse of the Law by Christ’s death on the stake. Christ is the Seed of Abraham, and the Law made 430 years later does not abolish the promise concerning that Seed. What, then, was the purpose of the Law? It was “our tutor leading to Christ, that we might be declared righteous due to faith.” Now we are no longer under the tutor, nor is there now any distinction between Jew and Greek, for all are one in union with Christ Jesus and “are really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise.”—3:6, 9, 24, 29.
11. (a) What release are the Galatians ignoring? (b) How does Paul illustrate the Christian’s freedom?
11 Stand fast in Christian freedom (4:1–6:18). God sent forth his Son to release those under Law, that they “might receive the adoption as sons.” (4:5) So why turn back to the slavery of the weak and beggarly elementary things? Since the Galatians are now observing days and months and seasons and years, Paul is afraid his work in their behalf has been wasted. On his first visit to them, they received Paul like an angel of God. Has he now become their enemy because he tells them the truth? Let those who want to be under Law hear what the Law says: Abraham acquired two sons by two women. The one woman, the servant girl, Hagar, corresponds to the nation of fleshly Israel, bound to Jehovah by the Mosaic Law covenant, which covenant brings forth children for slavery. The free woman, though, Sarah, corresponds to the Jerusalem above, who, Paul says, “is free, and she is our mother.” “What,” asks Paul, “does the Scripture say?” This: “By no means shall the son of the servant girl be an heir with the son of the free woman.” And we are children, not of a servant girl, “but of the free woman.”—4:30, 31.
12. (a) By what must the Galatians now walk? (b) What important contrast does Paul make?
12 Circumcision or lack of it means nothing, explains Paul, but it is faith operating through love that counts. The entire Law is fulfilled in the saying: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” Keep walking by the spirit, for “if you are being led by spirit, you are not under law.” As to the works of the flesh, Paul forewarns “that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s kingdom.” In glowing contrast, he describes the fruitage of the spirit, against which there is no law, and adds: “If we are living by spirit, let us go on walking orderly also by spirit” and put away egotism and envy.—5:14, 18, 21, 25.
13. How is the law of the Christ fulfilled, and what is of vital concern?
13 If a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, those spiritually qualified must try to restore him “in a spirit of mildness.” Christians fulfill the law of the Christ by carrying the burdens of one another, but each one should carry his own load in proving what his own work is. A person will reap according to what he sows, either corruption from the flesh or everlasting life from the spirit. Those who want the Galatians to be circumcised are only out to please men and avoid persecution. The thing of vital concern is, not circumcision or uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy will be upon those who walk orderly according to this rule of conduct, even upon “the Israel of God.”—6:1, 16.
14. What example does Paul set for overseers?
14 The letter to the Galatians reveals Paul as the devastating persecutor who became the alert apostle to the nations, always ready to contend in behalf of the interests of his brothers. (1:13-16, 23; 5:7-12) Paul showed by example that an overseer should move quickly to handle problems, quashing false reasonings by logic and Scripture.—1:6-9; 3:1-6.
15. How was the letter beneficial to the Galatian congregations, and what guidepost does it provide for Christians today?
15 The letter was beneficial to the congregations in Galatia in clearly establishing their freedom in Christ and discrediting the perverters of the good news. It made plain that it is by faith that one is declared righteous and that circumcision is no longer necessary in order for one to gain salvation. (2:16; 3:8; 5:6) By setting aside such fleshly distinctions, it served to unify Jew and Gentile in the one congregation. The freedom from the Law was not to serve as an inducement for the desires of the flesh, for the principle still held: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” It continues to hold as a guidepost to Christians today.—5:14.
16. What faith-building explanations of the Hebrew Scriptures are to be found in Galatians?
16 Paul’s letter helped the Galatians on many points of doctrine, drawing on the Hebrew Scriptures for powerful illustrations. It gave the inspired interpretation of Isaiah 54:1-6, identifying Jehovah’s woman as “the Jerusalem above.” It explained the “symbolic drama” of Hagar and Sarah, showing that the heirs of God’s promises are those made free by Christ and not those remaining in bondage to the Law. (Gal. 4:21-26; Gen. 16:1-4, 15; 21:1-3, 8-13) It clearly explained that the Law covenant did not negate the Abrahamic covenant but was added to it. It also pointed out that the time interval between the making of the two covenants was 430 years, which is important in Bible chronology. (Gal. 3:17, 18, 23, 24) The record of these things has been preserved for building up Christian faith today.
17. (a) What important identification does Galatians make? (b) What fine admonition is given to the Kingdom heirs and their colaborers?
17 Most important, Galatians unmistakably identifies the Kingdom Seed, to which all the prophets looked forward. “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed . . . who is Christ.” Those who become sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus are shown to be adopted into this seed. “If you belong to Christ, you are really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise.” (3:16, 29) The fine admonition given in Galatians should be heeded by these Kingdom heirs and those who labor with them: ‘Stand fast in the freedom for which Christ has set you free!’ ‘Do not give up in doing what is fine, for in due season we shall reap if we do not tire out.’ ‘Work what is good, especially toward those related to us in the faith.’—5:1; 6:9, 10.
18. What final powerful warning and admonition are given in Galatians?
18 Finally, there is the powerful warning that those who practice the works of the flesh “will not inherit God’s kingdom.” Let all, then, turn completely from worldly filth and strife and set their hearts entirely upon bringing forth the fruitage of the spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.”—5:19-23.