GALATIANS, LETTER TO THE
The inspired letter written in Greek, by Paul an apostle, “to the congregations of Galatia.”—Gal. 1:1, 2.
The opening sentence names Paul as the writer of this book. (Gal. 1:1) Also, his name is used again in the text and he refers to himself in the first person. (5:2) A portion of the letter, in the way of an autobiography, speaks of Paul’s conversion and some of his other experiences. The references to his affliction in the flesh (4:13, 15) are in harmony with expressions seemingly relating to this affliction in other Bible books. (2 Cor. 12:7; Acts 23:1-5) Paul’s other letters were usually written by a secretary, but this one, he says, was written with his “own hand.” (Gal. 6:11) In his other writings, almost without exception, he sends the greetings of himself and those with him, but in this letter he does not. Had the writer of the letter to the Galatians been an impostor he would very likely have named a secretary and would have sent some greetings, as Paul usually did. Thus the writer’s form of address and his honest direct style vouch for the letter’s authenticity. It would not reasonably be fabricated this way.
The letter is not usually contested as being a letter of Paul’s except by those who attempt to discredit Paul’s writership of all the letters commonly attributed to him. Among evidences from outside the Bible supporting Paul’s writership, there is a quotation that Irenaeus (c. 180 C.E.) makes from Galatians and ascribes to Paul.
TO WHOM ADDRESSED
Which congregations were included in the address “the congregations of Galatia” (Gal. 1:2) has long been a question of controversy. In support of the contention that these were unnamed congregations in the northern part of the province of Galatia, it is argued that the people living in this area were ethnically Galatians, whereas those of the S were not. However, Paul in his writings usually gives official Roman names to the provinces, and the province of Galatia in his time included the southern Lycaonian cities of Iconium, Lystra and Derbe and the Pisidian city of Antioch. In all these cities Paul had organized Christian congregations on his first evangelizing tour when he was accompanied by Barnabas. That the congregations in the cities of Iconium, Lystra, Derbe and Pisidian Antioch were addressed agrees with the way the letter mentions Barnabas, as one apparently known by those to whom Paul was writing. (Gal. 2:1, 9, 13) There is no indication elsewhere in the Scriptures that Barnabas was known to Christians in the northern part of Galatia or that Paul even made any trips through that territory.
TIME OF WRITING
The period covered by the book is of an undetermined length, but the time of writing has been set between approximately 50 and 52 C.E. It is implied in chapter 4, verse 13, that Paul made at least two visits to the Galatians before he wrote the letter. Chapters 13 and 14 of the Acts of Apostles describe a visit of Paul and Barnabas to the southern Galatian cities that took place about 47 to 48 C.E. Then, after the conference regarding circumcision in Jerusalem, about 49 C.E., Paul, with Silas, went back to Derbe and Lystra in Galatia and to other cities where Paul and Barnabas had “published the word of Jehovah” (Acts 15:36–16:1) on the first tour. It was evidently after this, while Paul was at another point on his second great tour, or else back at his home base, Syrian Antioch, that he received word that prompted him to write to “the congregations of Galatia.”
If it was during his year-and-a-half stay in Corinth (Acts 18:1, 11) that Paul wrote this letter, then the time of writing was likely between the autumn of 50 and the spring of 52 C.E., the same general period during which he wrote his canonical letters to the Thessalonians.
If the writing was done during his brief stop in Ephesus or after he got back to Antioch in Syria and “passed some time there” (Acts 18:22, 23), it would have been about 52 C.E. Ephesus is an unlikely place for writing, though, both because of his short stay there and because if Paul had been so close when he heard of the deflection in Galatia it is to be expected that he would have personally visited the brothers or explained in his letter why it was not possible for him to do so at the time.
What his letter (chap. 1, vs. 6) says about the Galatians “being so quickly removed from the One who called [them]” may indicate that the writing of the letter was done soon after Paul had paid a visit to the Galatians. But even if the writing had not taken place until 52 C.E. in Syrian Antioch, it would still have been relatively soon for such a deflection to occur.
CANONICITY AND TEXTUAL PURITY
Early evidence of the book’s canonicity is found in the Muratorian Fragment and in the writings of Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Origen. These men referred to it by name along with most or all of the other twenty-six books of the Christian Greek Scriptures. It is mentioned by name in the shortened canon of Marcion and even alluded to by Celsus, who was an enemy of Christianity. All the outstanding lists of the books in the canon of the inspired Scriptures, up to at least the time of the Third Council of Carthage, in 397 C.E., included the book of Galatians. We have it preserved today, along with eight of Paul’s other inspired letters, in the Chester Beatty Papyrus No. 2, a manuscript assigned to the early third century C.E. This gives proof that the early Christians accepted the book of Galatians as one of Paul’s letters. Other ancient manuscripts, such as the Sinaitic, Alexandrine, Vatican No. 1209, Codex Ephraemi rescriptus and Codex Bezae, as well as the Syriac Peshitta Version, likewise include the book of Galatians. Also, as a part of the canon it harmonizes completely with Paul’s other writings and the rest of the Scriptures from which it frequently quotes.
As for its textual purity, Professor John Knox, Associate Editor of The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, states that “there is no evidence that the text of the letter has suffered any major derangement or revision in the course of its transmission.”
CIRCUMSTANCES RELATING TO THE LETTER
Interestingly, the letter reflects many traits of the people of Galatia in Paul’s time. Gallic Celts from the N had overrun the region in the third century B.C.E., and therefore Celtic influence was strong in the land. The Celts (or Gauls) were considered a fierce, barbarous people, it having been said that they offered their prisoners of war as human sacrifices. They have also been described in Roman literature as a very emotional, superstitious people, given to much ritual, and this religious trait would likely influence them away from a form of worship so lacking in ritual as Christianity.
Even so, the congregations in Galatia may have included many who had been like this as pagans formerly, as well as many converts from Judaism who had not entirely rid themselves of scrupulously keeping the ceremonies and other obligations of the Mosaic law. The fickle, inconstant nature attributed to the Galatians of Celtic descent could explain how at one time some in the Galatian congregations were zealous for God’s truth and a short time later became an easy prey for opponents of the truth who were sticklers for observance of the Law and who insisted that circumcision and other requirements of the Law were necessary for salvation.
The Judaizers, as such enemies of the truth might be called, apparently kept the circumcision issue alive even after the older brothers in Jerusalem had dealt with the matter. Perhaps, too, some of the Galatian Christians were succumbing to the low moral standards of the populace, as may be inferred from the message of the letter from chapter 5, verse 13, to the end. At any rate, when word of their deflection reached the apostle, he was moved to write this letter of straightforward counsel and strong encouragement. It is evident that his immediate purpose in writing was to confirm his apostleship, counteract the false teachings of the Judaizers and strengthen the brothers in the Galatian congregations.
The Judaizers were crafty but insincere. (Acts 15:1; Gal. 2:4) Claiming to represent the congregation in Jerusalem, these false teachers opposed Paul and discredited his position as an apostle. They wanted the Christians to get circumcised, not seeking the Galatians’ best interests, but so that the Judaizers could bring about an appearance of things that would conciliate the Jews and keep them from opposing so violently. The Judaizers did not want to suffer persecution for Christ.—Gal. 6:12, 13.
To accomplish their objective they claimed that Paul’s commission came to him secondhand, that it was only from some men prominent in the Christian congregation—not from Christ Jesus himself. (Gal. 1:11, 12, 15-20) They wanted the Galatians to follow them (4:17), and, in order to nullify Paul’s influence, they had to paint him first as no apostle. Apparently they claimed that when Paul felt it expedient he preached circumcision. (1:10; 5:11) They were trying to make a sort of fusion religion of Christianity with Judaism, not denying Christ outrightly but arguing that circumcision would profit the Galatians, would advance them in Christianity and that, furthermore, by this, they would be sons of Abraham, to whom the covenant of circumcision was originally given.—3:7.
From the following outline of the letter to the Galatians we will see how thoroughly Paul refuted the contentions of these false Christians and built up the Galatian brothers so that they could stand firm in Christ. It is encouraging to note that the Galatian congregations did remain true to Christ and stood as pillars of the truth. The apostle Paul visited them on his third missionary tour (Acts 18:23) and the apostle Peter addressed his first letter to the Galatians, among others.—1 Pet. 1:1.
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
I. Paul’s apostleship and the authenticity of the good news he declares
A. Paul an apostle through Christ and God (1:1)
B. Anyone adding to the good news is accursed (1:8, 9)
C. Paul’s good news from God through revelation by Christ (1:12)
D. Paul’s conversion and early Christian activity (1:13-24)
II. A man is declared righteous, not due to works of Law, but only through faith toward Christ Jesus
A. The council at Jerusalem; circumcision not required; Paul receives acknowledgment of commission to uncircumcised nations from governing body (2:1-10)
B. Paul did not even try to please Cephas (Peter), a delegate from Jerusalem, when Peter put on a false pretense for fear of the circumcised class (2:11-14)
C. To go back under Law is to shove aside undeserved kindness of God and make Christ’s death of no account (2:15-21)
III. Those who belong to Christ are really Abraham’s seed
A. Spirit received through faith; having started in spirit, cannot be completed in flesh (3:1-6)
B. Those who adhere to faith are blessed with Abraham (3:7-9)
C. Those under Law are under a curse; Christ released those under curse (3:10-14)
D. Abrahamic promise not by Law (3:15-18)
E. Law added to make sin manifest and served as a tutor (3:19-25)
F. Those baptized into Christ are Abraham’s seed (3:26-29)
IV. Those purchased by Christ are God’s free nation
A. Such are not slaves but adopted as sons free of Law (4:1-11)
B. Judaizers act from bad motive, bringing Galatians back into slavery, stealing their happiness; contrasted with Paul’s sincere concern for them (4:12-20)
C. Drama: Abraham with wife and slave concubine; Jehovah with wife (Jerusalem above, bringing forth seed through Abrahamic covenant) and secondary wife (Jerusalem on earth, bringing forth natural Israel through Law covenant). Free sons, Christians, opposed by sons of servant girl, as Isaac was opposed by Ishmael (4:21-31)
V. Stand fast in Christ’s freedom
A. To become circumcised parts one from Christ, brings him no benefit, but puts him completely back under obligation to keep the whole Law (5:1-6)
B. False teachers to be adversely judged (5:7-12)
C. Do not misuse freedom as license for wrongdoing (5:13-15)
D. Spirit and flesh in conflict in Christians (5:16-18)
E. Works of the flesh, which prevent entry into Kingdom (5:19-21)
F. Fruitage of the spirit; walk by such in harmony with claim as Christian, not stirring up competition with one another (5:22-26)
VI. Boast only in Christ; work in behalf of others
A. Assist others rather than exalt self above them, and show appreciation for assistance received (6:1-6)
B. Each will receive according to what he does (6:7-10)
C. Selfish, fearful, yet boastful, motive of Judaizers (6:12, 13)
D. Boast in provisions of Christ, not flesh, the proper rule of conduct (6:14-16)
E. Paul’s credentials beyond successful challenge; his desire for the continued undeserved kindness of Christ to be with the spirit shown by the Galatians (6:17, 18)