Chapter One opens the letter, and expresses Paul’s astonishment that the Galatians were listening to some Judaizers that tried to persuade them to become circumsized and obey the other laws of the Mosaic Covenant. He said that was another Gospel that was no gospel at all, and (twice for emphasis) that whoever promoted such heresy should be eternally condemned. He then went on to defend his apostleship, which he continued into the second chapter. He also described there an altercation with the Apostle Peter. In Chapter Three, Paul describes in some detail just what the Gospel is and is not; and establishes the tenet that Gentile believers are spiritual children of Abraham, and inherit the promises God made to him. Chapter Four discusses the two wives of Abraham, the slave woman (Hagar, son Ishmael) and the free woman (Sarah, son Isaac) as a metaphors of the Mosaic law and the Gospel. Chapter Five contrasts those who accept the Gospel and practice love toward others with the selfishly oriented people who seek righteousness through works, but practice many evils toward others. Chapter Six brings the letter to a conclusion with exhortations to practice Christian living, and a reminder that in Christ neither circumsion nor uncircumcision avail anything.


The Letter to the Galatians is thought by many theologians to be the earliest letter we have from Paul. Because there are two ethnic groups within Galatia, and it is not clear which one is the recipient of this letter, there is a dispute as to whether it was written shortly after Paul’s first missionary journey (to southern Galatia) or after his third (to northern Galatia). The letter is important to us, whichever group was the recipient.

Galatians is the first letter of Paul that clearly sets forth the full and true Gospel, though it is not as formal and documented as is Romans 1-8. He establishes once for all that the gospel is a free gift from God, and cannot be earned, particularly by keeping the law, because no one but Jesus himself was able perfectly to keep the law. He also points out that if the believer attempts to keep the law, he loses his status as a follower of Christ, and cannot be saved.

It is evident from the letter that some Judaizers who opposed Paul had come to the Galatians and (almost) persuaded them that it was necessary to salvation to come under the Mosaic law, particularly circumcision. Paul is horrified at the thought, and uses the very first paragaph after the opening greeting to express his absolute opposition to any addition to the requirements of the Gospel he gave them. He called such an augmented gospel no gospel at all, and declared anathema on anyone who advocated it: (“let him be eternally condemned!” (v.9)). Apparently the Judaizers also attacked Paul and accused him of being a maverick, in rebellion against the leaders of Christianity in Jerusalem. Paul uses the rest of this first chapter to defend himself, and gives us vital information about how he received revelation directly from Jesus Christ Himself, and did not obtain his teaching from the other apostles in Jerusalem. He briefly recounts his early efforts to wipe out Christianity, his encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, and his subsequent conversion and commission by Christ to bring the true gospel to the Gentiles. After a full three years of revelation in Arabia and ministry in Damascus, he went to visit with Peter for 15 days in Jerusalem, where he compared notes and (as stated in 2:6) found no contradiction between what he taught and what the other apostles taught. He saw no one else among the apostles on this visit. “I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: ‘The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they praised God because of me” (vv. 22-24).


Continuing his defense in the second chapter, Paul relates how he went up to Jerusalem, along with Barnabas (his companion on his first missionary journey) and Titus, a Gentile co-worker, many years later. He set his Gospel before the Jerusalem apostles, who accepted him gladly and didn’t even demamd that Titus be circumcized, although the matter was discussed. Paul adamantly refused to consider such demands for Gentile believers to be accepted, and the other apostles agreed with him. They also agreed that Paul would continue to work with Gentiles and they would go the Jews. They gave the right hand of fellowship to Paul and Barnabas. The thing they added was that he and Barnabas remember the poor, which was what Paul was eager to do.

Later, an altercation with Peter arose, when he drew back from the Gentiles with whom he had been freely associating, when some of the circumcision party came to Antioch from Jersualem. He was afraid of their criticism and even persuaded Barnabas to draw back as well. Paul said to Peter in front of them all: “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” {v.14). He went on to remind them that the Christian Jews knew that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

He finished his argument with the words: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (vv. 20,21). The point Paul was making was that Chrisitianity does not set aside the law—quite the contrary—Christians should obey the law as carefully as Jews. But since no one can obey the law perfectly, justification cannot come by the law. It is only because Christ paid our penalty of death because we all have broken the law, that we can be saved, but only by faith in Him.


In the third chapter, Paul really gets to the meat of the letter. He opens it with “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” He asks if it was from observing the law or from believing in Jesus Christ that: (1) you received the Spirit. (2) After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to gain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing?; (3) God works miracles among you. Obviously none of these things occur from observing the law.

Paul then cites Abraham as the man of faith, and quotes God’s promise to him: “All nations will be blessed through you” (Gen. 18:18). Thus the Gentiles are to be justified by faith, just as the Jews are. Paul then states that all who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for Deut. 27:26 states that “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Since no one but Christ has obeyed the Law perfectly, all others are under the curse. But Christ, by becoming a curse for us, “redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (v. 14).

The Law was given 430 years after the promise, because of transgressions, until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. But the Law did not set aside the promise. For if the Law could have imparted righteousness the promise was not needed. Since the Law cannot impart righteousness, only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ can provide that righteousness for us. “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. For all of you who were baptized into Christ hve clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (vv.26-29).


Chapter 4 (vv.1-7) continues the theme of Abraham and his spiritual children. “But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (vv. 4-7). Once again Paul asks the Galatians why, after they had been given the Holy Spirit, did they turn back to “those weak and miserable principles”? He then reminisces about the time of his illness when visiting the Galatians on his first missionary journey, when they “welcomed me as if I were an angel of God … I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me” (v.15). Does that indicate what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was? Many commentators and others think so, but it is still speculation.

In the final portion of this chapter, Paul likens the Law to the slave woman Hagar, whose son by Abraham (Ishmael) represents the covenant of the law given at Sinai, and the Gospel to the free woman Sarah, whose son by Abraham (Isaac) represents the covenant of grace given to Abraham as a promise (Gen. 17:19). “But what do the Scriptures say? (Gen. 21:8-14) ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.’ Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman” (vv.30,31). What does that mean for Moslems today? For they are sons of the slave woman.


Chapter Five is perhaps the epitome of the letter. Paul starts this chapter by asserting that he who becomes circumcised is obligated to keep the entire law, and if he does so, Christ avails him nothing. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (v.6). He then develops the theme of love to show that it leads to the blessed life: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness. These are the virtues the Holy Spirit exercises through the believer, to show God’s love for all His people. It isn’t the believer’s responsibility to try to excel in these virtues. The believer merely acts as the channel through which the Holy Spirit pours out the blessings these virtues produce on all the people in the world.

These virtues contrast with the many vices of the selfishly oriented person who seeks righteousness through works: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like. What a list of the evils that plagues unbelievers, whether they attempt to obey God’s law outwardly or ignore it!

Paul then concludes this chapter with the following verses: “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (vv. 24-26).


In Chapter Six, Paul admonishes his Galatian congregation in practical living as Christians: (a) “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a man in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (v.1). (b) “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (v.2). (c) But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load” (v.4). (d) “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (v.7). (e) Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (v.10).

Finally, Paul gives his conclusion in his own hand (a secretary having written the bulk of the letter): “… not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh… For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumsion avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God….Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.” (vv. 13,15,16,18).

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