Introduction to Galatians
Galatia was not a city, like Rome or Corinth, but rather a Roman province containing many cities and numerous churches. At least some of these churches, such as those in Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, had been founded by Paul on his first missionary journey (note Acts 14:1-13, along with Galatians 3:1-5).
This was prior to the calling of the Jerusalem Council, where Paul and Barnabas argued against the teachings of the Judaizing Christians, who were claiming that Gentile Christians had to be circumcised and obey the Mosaic laws in order to be saved or else to become sanctified Christians after being saved through faith. The Council, however, settled this question once and for all, in favor of Paul’s doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, completely apart from these works of the law. This decision was fully supported by the Apostles Peter and James (see Acts 15:1-29).
However, the “churches of Galatia,” to whom Paul addressed this epistle (Galatians 1:2), were being confused and led astray by either the same or similar Judaizers with similar arguments. Since it seems unlikely that this could have happened after the Jerusalem Council, many New Testament scholars believe that Galatians must have been written prior to the Council; otherwise it would seem that Paul would have referred to it in his Galatian letter.
On the other hand, others believe that Galatians was written after the Council. They argue that the Judaizers at Antioch were contending that believers were not saved until they were circumcised. Those in Galatia, however, were simply claiming that circumcision and the law were essential, not for salvation, but for Christian maturity and sanctification. Both groups believe that Paul was writing to the churches in southern Galatia, those founded by Paul in Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe on his first missionary journey.
There is a minority group of scholars, however, who believe that Galatians was written to churches in northern Galatia, even though none of these are mentioned by name in the New Testament. Galatia, in fact, was named after the Gauls who inhabited north central Asia Minor at the time, and who thus were the true ethnic Galatians. The southern portion of the Roman province was not originally part of Galatia, and was inhabited more by Greeks and Romans than by descendants of the Gauls.
Whichever theory is correct really is irrelevant as far as the message of the book is concerned. The great theme of Galatians is that of justification by faith without the works of the law. Furthermore, we are not only saved by grace but kept by grace—not by works. Galatians extols Christian liberty—freedom in Christ. Liberty is not libertinism, of course; “use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh,” Paul wrote, “but by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).
Legalism in any form—whether circumcision or ritualism or anything else—will neither save a sinner nor perfect a saint. The Christian life is not controlled by commandments but by the Holy Spirit. “Walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). That is the message of Galatians for the Christian believer.
1:2 churches of Galatia. Galatia was not a city, but a Roman province located in what is now north-central and northeastern Turkey. It had earlier been overrun by Gauls, for whom the area was named, but was later incorporated in the Roman Empire. Several of the cities reached on Paul’s first missionary journey (Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe) were in the area just south of Galatia proper, and could be considered as Galatian churches, but there is no internal evidence to that effect. Possibly the churches to whom Paul was writing were certain unknown churches in Galatia proper, churches that Paul had reached on his second missionary journey.
1:4 gave himself. This is the first of six times in the New Testament where we are reminded that Jesus Christ not only has given us forgiveness and blessing, but in fact has given Himself! See also Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2,25; I Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:14. There can be no greater love!
1:4 present evil world. The word for “world” is aion; Paul indicates that the present age is an evil age, and that one purpose for which Christ died was to deliver us from it.
1:6 another gospel. The word “another” in this verse is heteros, meaning “another of a different kind.” That is, any gospel that is not centered on “the grace of Christ” is not just an alternative gospel; it is a false gospel—no gospel at all.
1:7 not another. In verse 7, on the other hand, the word for “another” is allos, which means “another of the same kind.” Galatians 1:6–7 stresses that the so-called gospel that was misleading the Galatians was not really one with just minor variations from the true gospel, but was altogether opposite to it, a false gospel.
1:8 angel from heaven. Note Revelation 14:6,7, which tells how, during the coming tribulation period, God will send an angel to preach the “everlasting gospel” from the heavens. The message of the angel will exhort people to worship the true God who had created all things. This obviously can only be the same gospel that Paul said that “we have preached unto you.” The gospel thus includes the creation as the foundation of all things, as well as the death and resurrection of Christ (I Corinthians 15:1-4) for our sins. It also includes the coming eternal kingdom when He will reign over all things (Matthew 4:23). We must accept it by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).
1:8 accursed. “Accursed” is the Greek anathema, referring to being dedicated to a false god, and therefore under the curse of God.
1:11 gospel. The word “gospel,” both in English and in Greek, means “good news,” not “good works” or “good advice.” It is the good news concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ, with the forgiveness and salvation He provides—not information concerning the divine laws we must keep to be saved, as the men troubling the Galatian churches were teaching.
1:12 revelation. Paul frequently claimed divine inspiration for his own teachings (e.g., I Corinthians 2:13), just as he did for the Old Testament Scriptures (e.g., II Timothy 3:16). There is a strong emphasis here in Galatians on divine inspiration, as it was in I and II Corinthians, because Paul was forced to counter the influence of the false apostles and false teachers who were trying to turn his converts away from “the simplicity that is in Christ” (II Corinthians 11:3).
1:15 from my mother’s womb. This is a strong testimony to God’s electing sovereignty and unmerited grace. Paul for many years had “persecuted the church of God” (Galatians 1:13), yet he had been a “chosen vessel” unto God (Acts 9:15) from his mother’s womb. Note also Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:15. In God’s own good time, God called him by His grace.
1:18 after three years. Even before such a learned man as Paul was truly fit to preach and teach God’s Word, he must spend three years alone with Christ, as it were, just as the eleven apostles had spent three years being taught by Him. It is presumptuous for a new convert to think he is ready for such a ministry before he also has spent at least the equivalence of three full years in intensive study of the Scriptures. Note the warnings in I Timothy 3:6 and James 3:1.
1:19 James the Lord’s brother. James, the presiding elder of the initial church at Jerusalem (Acts 15:13,19; Galatians 2:9), as well as author of one of the New Testament books (James 1:1), is thus confirmed by Paul as one of the human brothers of Jesus. Christ’s brothers at first did not believe on Him (John 7:5), but they later joined their mother in fellowship with the rest of His disciples (Acts 1:14). Whether the Greek original of this verse requires the understanding that James was also an apostle has been argued by scholars. The fact that the Holy Spirit chose James as one of the authors of the New Testament would indicate that he also had been specially called and prepared as an apostle, even though no particulars have been recorded. He had been among those who had seen Christ after His resurrection (I Corinthians 15:7). The same would then apply to Jude (Jude 1). Both James and Jude are named as among Jesus’ brothers (Matthew 13:55).