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Introduction to the Book of Galatians


I. Writer


Paul the apostle (Gal. 1:1; 5:2; 6:11).

    According to the records of the Bible, Paul was Saul previously (Acts. 13:9) and he was an Israelite, of tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1). According to the lineage, he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews (Pill. 3:5). He was born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the Jewish law (Acts. 22:3). Later he lived a Pharisee after the strictest sect of Judaism (Acts. 26:5). He was zealous in the law of the elders and persecuted the church (Pill. 3:6). However, he did it ignorantly in unbelief (1Tim. 1:13). One day when he came near Darmascus in order to arrest believers, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in the way (Acts. 9:1-5). From then on, he became a Christian, was called to be an apostle (Rom. 1:1) and mainly preached the gospel to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:8). He wrote at least thirteen epistles of the New Testament successively and he was the main interpreter of the truth in Christianity.


II. The Recipients


         To the church in Galatia.

       Galatia was an administrative province in the ancient Roman Empire (it is a part of Turkey today) and it was divided into the south Galatia and the north Galatia. On Paul’s first journey, he preached the gospel and established the church in the south Galatia, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe of Lycaonia and other places (Acts. 13:13-14:28). On Paul’s second journey, he came to the churches in the province of Galatia, encouraged and strengthened all believers (Acts. 16:1-5). And whether Paul had gone to the north Galatia was not clearly recorded in the Bible.


III. The Time and Location the Book was Written


         Paul mentioned that he came to Galatia “at the first” in this book (Gal. 4:13-14) and it means that he had come to this place at least two times. And therefore this book should be written after the matter that was recorded in Acts. 16:1-5.

    From the contents of this book and the book of Romans, probably these two books were written in one period. The book of Galatians should be written before the book of Romans because the words in the book of Romans were more detailed. The book of Romans was written about A.D. 56-57 before Paul arrived at Corinth on his third journey (Rom. 15:25-28; 1Cor. 16:1-6; Acts. 19:21; 20:2-3). We could conclude that the book of Galatia was written at that time or a little earlier (about A.D. 46-57) in this journey. The certain place where it was written was not in detail.


IV. The Background


         After Paul went to the south Galatia on his second journey and before he went to Greece, Judaizers who were zealous in the law and called themselves Christians came to the churches in Asia Minor. They attacked the teachings of Paul from three aspects:

  1) they defamed Paul and questioned his ministry of apostleship.

  2) they held that the Gentiles should be circumcised and Judaised and then they shall be saved.

  3) they opposed Paul that he only preached grace and did not preach the law. They emphasized that men had to pay attention to behaviors beyond grace and they agitated Christians to keep the Jewish ceremonies and regulations.

  These churches had shallow knowledge of the truth. They actually accepted the statements of the Judaizers and held that they won’t be saved unless they kept the circumcision and the Law of Moses.

  When Paul went to Greece on his third journey, some people told him that how the Judaizers misled them and the churches in Galatia hesitated. And then Paul wrote this book to guide, encourage them and make them abandon the wrongness and return to the truth. And it is the book of Galatians.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          


V. Special Points


         1) There aren’t words of praise. In the other epistles of Paul, he always praised the good points of the recipients first.

         2) There aren’t words of thanksgiving. Paul was accustomed to giving thanks to God for the recipients and Paul even thanked God for the church in Corinth which was corrupt in the moral (1Cor. 1:4). From this we could know that the corruption of faith is more terrible than the moral corruption.

3) The words are quite sharp-pointed. The terms in the book were quite frank and Paul denounced them relentlessly. He accused those who preached the heresy and he would they were even cut off (Gal. 1:8-9; 5:12).

4) The letter that Paul had written with his own hand was large (Gal. 6:11).

5) This book is the sharp weapon to deal with those who insisted on the law.


VI. General Description


         The three themes of this book:

1) It guides men how to have freedom------only rely on the pure Christ’s gospel which God reveals (Gal. 1).

2) It tells men the good pointes of having freedom:

a. One does not need to be circumcised if he has freedom (Gal. 2:1-10).

b. One should not follow the life style of the Jews if he has freedom (Gal. 2:11-21).

c. One is not restrained by the law if he has freedom (Gal. 3-4).

3) It tells men how to enjoy the freedom that they have:

a. Do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh (Gal.5:1-6:10).

b. Deal with the old men by cross and be a new creation (Gal. 6:11-18).


VII. It’s Relations with Other Books in the Bible


         1) This book and the book of Romans: the salvation is both talked about in these two books and one is primary and the other is secondary, just as the book of Ephesians and the book of Colossians in which Christ and the church are discussed. Justification is both mentioned in these two books and the contents of the two books are similar. However, the book of Galatians is quite simple and the book of Romans, abundant. The book of Galatians is to restrain the present baneful influence and the book of Romans is to prevent the prospective baneful influence. These two books are the bases of the religious doctrines of Christianity and they are quite important.

     2) This book and the book of Hebrews: these two books have many similar points:

       a. the similar aim: the aim of this book is to save them from falling from grace (Gal. 5:4) and the aim of the book of Hebrews is to save them from losing God’s grace (Heb. 12:15).

       b. the similar objects: this book is written to the churches that were confused by Judaism and the book of Hebrews is written to the churches who had not fully departed from Judaism and wanted to returned to Judaism.

       c. the scriptures that are quoted are similar: “the just shall live by faith” (Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38).

       d. the similar title: the law is talked about in these two books; however, the recipients of this book are the Gentile believers and therefore grace is spoken earlier than the Law. And the recipients of the book of Hebrews are the Jewish believers and therefore the law is spoken earlier than grace.

       e. the similar content: in these two books the author both mentioned “Jerusalem” (Gal. 4:25; Heb. 12:22), “promise” (Gal. 3:18; Heb. 6:13) and “the angel” (Gal. 1:8; Heb. 1:14). In these two books the author both talked about the “covenant” (Gal. 3; Heb. 8), made men remember God’s servants (Gal. 6:6; Heb. 13:7), discussed that the recipients suffered many tribulations (Gal. 3:4; Heb. 10:32-39), encouraged them not to use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh and to pursue purity and love each other (Gal. 5:16-24; Heb. 12:14-17, 13:1). The greetings are similar.

       f. the heresies that are talked about in these two books are similar: a different gospel is discussed in this book and the different teachings are discussed in the book of Hebrews. It is written in this book that the heretical ones changed the Lord’s gospel (Gal. 1:17) and it is written in the book of Hebrews that the gospel is better than the law of the Old Testament (Heb. 9:11). It is discussed in this book that we should not fall from grace and it is written in the book of Hebrews that there remains no more sacrifice for sins if one departs from the Lord. It is written in this book that the freedom of the truth of the gospel is not restrained or controlled by Judaism and the advantages of the New Testament is talked in the book of Hebrews. It is written in this book that men are misled because of ignorance and it is written in the book of Hebrews that believers who do not make progress are babies. Judaism is called the elements in both books (Gal. 4:3; Heb. 5:12).


VIII. Key Verses 


         “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

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


IX. Key Words


         Lawis used thirty-one times; “flesh” is used eighteen times; “the Holy Spirit is used twenty-two times; “faith” is used twenty-two times; “freedom” is used eleven times; “promise” is used ten times; “justification” is used six times.


X. Outlines of the Book


I. Paul defended for his apostleship and the authority to preach the gospel of grace:

  A. Paul’s apostleship was not from men but from God (Gal. 1:1-5).

  B. Some people preached a different gospel that was different from what Paul preached (Gal. 1:6-10).

  C. The gospel that Paul preached was of God’s revelation and it was not according to men (Gal. 1:11-24).

  D. The gospel that Paul preached was proved by all apostles (Gal. 2:1-10).

  E. Paul was faithful to the gospel that he preached and stood fast (Gal. 2:11-21).

II. Paul restated the contents of the gospel of grace and verified that grace is the only way to be saved:

  A. The experience that the Galatians were saved proved that the gospel is justification (Gal. 3:1-5).

  B. The fact that Abraham was justified by faith proved that the gospel was of God (Gal. 3:6-14).

  C. God’s covenant of promise was before the law and it proved that one receives grace not by keeping the law (Gal. 3:15-22).

  D. The convention that babies cannot inherit the inheritance proved that the law was only the herald of the gospel (Gal. 3:23-4:11).

  E. The situation that the Galatians were saved proved that they had received Christ by faith (Gal. 4:12-20).

  F. The two covenants that were typified by Sara and Hagar proved that believers of the covenant of grace were born by promise (Gal. 4:21-31).

III. Paul pointed out the result of the gospel of grace that makes men depart from the control of the law and live freely in grace:

  A. In Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything (Gal. 5:1-5).

  B. Believers walk in the Spirit instead of the flesh and therefore they are not under the law (Gal. 5:16-26).

  C. Only when men do good by the Spirit will the law of Christ be fulfilled (Gal. 6:1-10).

  D. We should be a new creation and only boast the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:11-18).


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

   Translated by Sharon Ren