In the whole Bible, there is no more passionate, comprehensive, yet concise statement of the truth of the gospel than Galatians. Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone (2:16; 3:11, 12). No work can earn salvation. Paul’s succinct refutation of the Judaizers in this letter has transformed the lives of many—from Martin Luther to John Wesley. In general, people want to earn their salvation by works that can easily be identified. In this letter, Paul reveals the arrogance of such thinking. It amounts to a desertion of the truth of the gospel and a turning away from God (1:6). We can stand justified before God only through faith in Jesus Christ; nothing else will save us.

Author • The writer of Galatians identifies himself as Paul (1:1). He claims to be an apostle, and then goes on to argue at length for the apostolic authority behind his gospel message. Much of the personal information he gives in the course of his defense corresponds to the narratives about Paul in the Book of Acts, as well as to the autobiographical material in Philippians 3:4–6. The use of the Old Testament in chapters 3 and 4 fits Paul’s rigorous training in Judaism. Finally, the theology presented in this letter corresponds perfectly with the theology Paul expresses in his other writings, notably the Epistle to the Romans.

Date • Paul addresses his letter “to the churches of Galatia” (1:2) and to readers he expressly calls “Galatians” (3:1), but it is not easy to determine what this means precisely. At the time Paul was writing, the word “Galatians” could be used with an ethnic or with a political meaning.

To a great extent assigning a date for Galatians depends on making a decision about the destination of the letter. If the churches of Galatia were founded on Paul’s second missionary journey in the northern part of Galatia (see Acts 16:6), the earliest the epistle could have been written was around A.D. 52. The similarity in content between Galatians and Romans, among other things, has led some to date the letter in the mid-50s. On the other hand, if Galatia is understood to be southern Galatia, including Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch (see Acts 14:21), congregations planted on Paul’s first missionary journey, the letter could have been written as early as A.D. 48.

To determine the date, the possible role of the Jerusalem council (see Acts 15) in the controversies addressed in Galatians must also be considered. If Galatians was written after the Jerusalem council had made its authoritative decisions, Paul most likely would have centered his argument on those decisions, or at least made an unmistakable reference to them. Since he did not, Galatians probably dates from A.D. 48. This means it is one of the earliest New Testament books.

Purpose • Apparently Paul became aware of a perversion of the gospel of grace that was actively infecting the Galatian churches. The false teachers who had come to Galatia since Paul’s ministry there were advocating salvation by “the works of the law”—that is, by keeping the law. Specific emphasis was placed on the Jewish rite of circumcision.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians was a swift and decisive attempt to counter this message, which was a different gospel. Paul had to convince his “little children” in the faith, whom he had evangelized personally, that the new teaching was in fact a distortion of the gospel of Christ. In his argument Paul reasserted his authority as an apostle, which apparently had been minimized by the Judaizing teachers. Paul wrote not out of anger, but out of love. He saw the Galatians leaving the correct path by their additions to the gospel message, and he loved his fellow believers too much to allow them to go astray.

The NKJV Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), Ga.



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