The title is Pros Galatas, “To the Galatians.” Being addressed to “the churches of Galatia,” it is the only epistle of Paul addressed to a group of churches.
DATE: A.D. 49 OR 55
The date when Paul penned this letter depends on the destination of the letter. There are two main views, The North Galatian View and The South Galatian View. Ryrie summarizes this and writes:
At the time of the writing of this letter the term “Galatia” was used both in a geographical and in a political sense. The former referred to north-central Asia Minor, north of the cities of Pisidian Antiochdb01, Iconiumdb02, Lystradb03, and Derbedb04; the latter referred to the Roman province (organized in 25 B.C.) that included southern districts and those cities just mentioned. If the letter was written to Christians in North Galatia, the churches were founded on the second missionary journey and the epistle was written on the third missionary journey, either early from Ephesus (about A.D. 53) or later (about 55) from Macedonia. In favor of this is the fact that Luke seems to use “Galatia” only to describe North Galatia (Acts 16:6; 18:23).
If the letter was written to Christians in South Galatia, the churches were founded on the first missionary journey, the letter was written after the end of the journey (probably from Antioch, ca. A.D. 49, making it the earliest of Paul’s epistles), and the Jerusalem council (Acts 15) convened shortly afterward. In favor of this dating is the fact that Paul does not mention the decision of the Jerusalem council that bore directly on his Galatian argument concerning the Judaizersdb05, indicating that the council had not yet taken place.fn50
THEME AND PURPOSE:
The Epistle to the Galatians was the battle cry of the Reformation because it stands out as Paul’s Manifesto of Justification by Faith. It has therefore been dubbed as “the charter of Christian Liberty.” Lutherdb06 considered it in a peculiar sense his Epistle.fn51Galatians stands as a powerful polemic against the Judaizers and their teachings of legalism. They taught, among other things, that a number of the ceremonial practices of the Old Testament were still binding on the church. Thus, the apostle writes to refute their false gospel of works and demonstrates the superiority of justification by faith and sanctification by the Holy Spirit versus by the works of the Law.
In addition, these Judaizers not only proclaimed a false gospel, but sought to discredit Paul’s apostleship. In the first two chapters Paul vindicated his apostleship and message. In these two chapters Paul demonstrated convincingly that his apostleship and his message came by revelation from the risen Christ. Then, in chapters 3 and 4 he contended for the true doctrine of grace, the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Some, however, would immediately claim such a doctrine leads to license, so the apostle demonstrates that Christian liberty does not mean license. Thus, chapters 5 and 6 show that Christians must learn to live by the power of the Spirit and that the Spirit controlled walk will manifest not the works of the flesh but rather the fruit of the Spirit.
The phrases “justification by faith” and “freedom from the Law” form the key words of the epistle.
2:20-21. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!
5:1. For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.
5:13-16. 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.
The fact that believers are not under the Law in no way means the freedom to do as one pleases, but the power to do what we should by God’s grace through the Spirit. In this sense, chapter 5 is a key chapter. Our freedom must never be used “as an opportunity to indulge the flesh” but rather as a basis for loving one another by walking in the strength of the Spirit (5:13, 16, 22-25).
CHRIST AS SEEN IN GALATIANS:
Through His death by which believers have died to the Law and through the Christ exchanged life (2:20), believers have been freed from bondage (5:1f.) and brought into a position of liberty. The power of the cross provides deliverance from the curse of the law, from the power of sin, and from self (1:4; 2:20; 3:13; 4:5; 5:16, 24; 6:14).
- I. Personal: The Gospel of Grace, Justification by Faith Defended (1:1-2:21)
- A. Introduction (1:1-9)
- B. The Gospel of Grace Came by Revelation (1:10-24)
- C. The Gospel of Grace Was Approved by the Church in Jerusalem (2:1-10)
- D. The Gospel of Grace Was Vindicated in the Rebuke of Peter, the Chief of the Apostles (2:11-21)
- II. Doctrinal: The Gospel of Grace, Justification by Faith Explained (3:1-4:31)
- A. The Experience of the Galatians: The Spirit is Given by Faith, Not by Works (3:1-5)
- B. The Example of Abraham: He was Justified by Faith, Not by Works (3:6-9)
- C. Justification Is by Faith, Not by the Law (3:10-4:11)
- D. The Galatians Received Their Blessings by Faith, Not by Law (4:12-20)
- E. Law and Grace Are Mutually Exclusive (4:21-31)
- III. Practical: The Gospel of Grace, Justification by Faith Applied (5:1-6:18)
- A. The Position of Liberty: Stand Fast (5:1-12)
- B. The Practice of Liberty: Serve and Love One Another (5:13-15)
- C. The Power of Liberty: Walk by the Spirit (5:16-26)
- D. The Performance of Liberty: Do Good to All Men (6:1-10)
- E. The Conclusion (6:11-18)