Hierarchical Précis

Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians

There is, not surprisingly, some disagreement over the dating and circumstance of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches. One very plausible suggestion is circa A.D. 50, when Paul had returned from his first missionary journey to find a growing problem concerning the preaching of the gospel by people from Judea. They taught that Gentile converts had to accept Jewish law and submit to the covenant sign of circumcision if they were to be saved. This opposed the true gospel that justification is by faith and not works; the problem had to be resolved. Consequently, Paul went to Jerusalem, taking Barnabas and Titus with him, to confront the Christian leaders there [Acts 15]. This was a successful meeting in that there was an acceptance of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, and that they should not be required to follow Jewish law. Paul then wrote this letter to the churches in Antioch Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe .

The gospel received by special revelation

[Gal 1] Following a brief introduction, Paul expresses surprise that the Galatians were already paying heed to the teaching of another gospel. As confirmation that he preaches the only true gospel, Paul reminds them of how he was converted by Christ himself from persecutor to missionary, and how he subsequently received no teaching from man concerning the gospel.

Paul’s teaching sanctioned by the apostles at Jerusalem

[Gal 2] Paul adds weight to his statement of receiving the gospel only by divine revelation by telling of his recent visit to Jerusalem. It had been fourteen years since his first visit following his conversion, this time taking Barnabas and Titus with him. He received no opposition to his teaching and Titus, a Greek, was not pressed to be circumcised. The elders at Jerusalem accepted that Paul’s mission is to the Gentiles, and offered him and his companions the right hand of friendship, requesting they always remember the poor saints in Jerusalem. (We know from Acts 15:20 they also asked that Gentiles should abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.) Paul further substantiates his gospel of freedom and faith by recalling his public rebuke of Peter at Antioch. Peter had stopped communing with Gentiles in fear of criticism from visiting Jews. He then concludes this portion of his letter by stating that justification is by faith, for if it was by the law, then Christ’s death by crucifixion would have been in vain.

Slavery under the law

[Gal 3-4] Paul now expands on his doctrine of justification by faith by first speaking against justification by the law. He begins by questioning the foolishness of having first received the Spirit of God through faith; they should then think their continuing salvation should be by obedience to the law. He refers to Abraham as their example, as he had been declared righteous through faith before the law was given some four hundred and thirty years later. There can be no hope of salvation through the law since none can keep it, hence all are condemned by it. Hope, then, is in Christ Jesus who bore our sin. The purpose of the law was to prepare the way for Christ, as through His sacrifice we are no longer slaves to the law and all become adopted children of God, both Jews and Gentiles, through faith alone. Paul implores the Galatians not to forsake the freedom of the gospel by reverting to obedience to the law. He uses the situation of Ishmael and Isaac as an illustration, in that it was Isaac who was born of the promise to Abraham and Sarah (the free woman), and it was he who inherited God’s promises to Abraham.

Freedom in Christ

[Gal 5-6] Stand fast in the liberty in Christ is Paul’s plea to the Galatians. There is a choice to be made between the law and grace. Choosing the way of the law is to deny the gospel in that Christ becomes of no effect to them. The gospel brings liberty, but not liberty to do as one wishes. True liberty manifests itself in love by walking in the Spirit. However, the flesh and the Spirit are contrary to one another, demonstrated by the listed works of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit. Those ‘crucified’ in Christ have crucified the flesh and live and walk in the Spirit. In this we must watch over one another, not considering ourselves to be better than another, and to do good to all men as the opportunity presents itself, especially to fellow Christians. Paul makes a final appeal to the Galatians to choose the cross over circumcision, that is, faith over the law, which is the heart of the gospel. Peace and mercy will come to all who walk according to the true gospel.
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