Do You Look Like the Galatians?

An Introduction to the Epistle to the Galatians

Most commentators would agree that quotations from the Jewish Scriptures play a key role in the argumentation of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. From there, it is only a short step to the conclusion that the Galatians possessed a fairly broad knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures.1 How’s your knowledge of these same scriptures? In this series on the Epistle to the Galatians, we will take a verse by verse look at Paul’s strong case for justification by faith and how that helps us in our everyday life.

Historical Background

  • Galatia was a region.
  • This letter was written to churches, plural not a specific, single church.
  • It was not written to an individual nor was it written to a church in a city.
  • This letter was meant to be passed around a region and therefore deals with issues relative to that region as opposed to issues within a specific church.
  • A church is a family and an individual church can have problems just like an individual family can have problems.
  • Spiritual problems, certain sins exist in a city which affects everyone who lives in that area.
  • These ‘city’ problems eventually make their way into the church because people bring them there.
  • This letter is a section letter, not an individual letter.
  • It was written approximately 47-49 A.D. prior to Paul’s visit to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.
  • The area of Galatia was composed of many cities.
  • Four major cities, located in the southern part of the region, are of note in the Book of Acts; Antioch, Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra.

Acts 14:19-21 (KJV) 19 And there came thither certain Jews from ANTIOCH and ICONIUM, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead. 20 Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to DERBE. 21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to LYSTRA, and to Iconium, and Antioch,

  • Galatia was an area northwest of Israel which had been settled by the Gauls in the 3rd century.
  • The Galatians were thus descendants of tribes which were known for their bravery in battle and for their restless spirit.2
  • Branches of the Celts later settled Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
  • So, the Galatians are distant cousins of the Irish and the Scots.
  • The Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar reorganized the Galatian kingdom into a Roman province.
  • The new boundaries included both the original ‘ethnic’ Galatian territory or the Northern part of Galatia and also the southern regions of Phrygia and Lycaonia known as Southern Galatia.3
  • In other words, Galatia was expanded by Roman decree to include territory and people who were not native Galatians.
  • Although the area was cosmopolitan, the Celtic element predominated. These people were known for their sturdy independence, but also for their drunkenness and revellings. They were of an inquisitive disposition and were easily impressed with new ideas, particularly of a religious kind. They were nevertheless easily turned aside and had a reputation for fickleness. In religious matters, there is evidence that they were highly superstitious and were especially attracted to the wild rites of the goddess Cybele.4
  • The point here is that whatever is going in the world gets into the church.
  • The fickleness and the fact that the Galatians were a people easily impressed with new ideas is seen in this epistle.

Galatians 1:6 (NKJV) 6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel,

Galatians 3:1 (NKJV) 1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?

Galatians 4:8–10 (NKJV) 8 But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. 9 But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years.

  • The Galatian people were going one way in Christ who then reversed course over a preoccupation with ‘keeping the law’ which Paul immediately addresses in his letter.

Historical Background: Galatia, a Region of Farmland

  • Galatia was a rural province. The few major cities, notably Ancyra and Pisidian Antioch, and small villages were separated by vast tracts of countryside. The province was normally able to supply its own needs for food by the production of grain, the basic staple of life. Wool was the product that brought wealth to the province. Much of the central and southern area of the country was a huge sheep farm. Strabo informs us that many people made their fortunes from sheep, especially Amyntas, who had three hundred flocks. Many of the decorated tombstones of Galatia depict the same objects: a yoke of oxen with plow and sickles to portray the planting and harvesting of grain, a distaff and bobbin to indicate the care of sheep and weaving of wool, and a vine or bunch of grapes to show that for many the production of wine was important.5

The THEME of Galatians

  • The theme of this book is grace versus legalism.
  • Legalists, also known as Judaizers, taught that certain Old Testament, like circumcision, were still binding on followers of Jesus.
  • They taught circumcision must be added to faith in order for salvation to occur.
  • They strongly implied that faith was not enough.
  • The Judiazers sought to discredit Paul by calling him a second-rate apostle, one who was inferior to James and Peter.
  • You can now understand Paul’s introductory remarks.

Galatians 1:1–2 (NKJV) 1 Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), 2 and all the brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:

  • Paul establishes the basis of his authority.
  • He informs these churches of his right to correct the false steps they were making.
  • His right is established in the fact that he was an apostle placed in that position by both God the Father and God the Son.
  • The word apostle is the translation of apostolos (ἀποστολος), a Greek word made up of apo (ἀπο) “from” and stello (στελλο) “to send,”.6
  • It means a special envoy, messenger or ambassador.
  • The Judiazers had argued that Paul was a compromiser who made the gospel more attractive to the Gentiles by removing the Laws legal demands.
  • Paul countered that by showing that his authority was of God implying that the ones who were spreading the wrong doctrine were false apostles appointed by men.
  • Paul double emphasizes the source of his authority.
  • Paul’s authority was ‘not from men.’
  • His apostleship was not of the flesh at all.
  • It was not his idea nor any other man’s idea.
  • He did not make himself an apostle.
  • He did not decide that he would become one and neither did anyone else decide that.
  • He didn’t assume the role of an apostle because ‘brother so and so’ thought it might be a good idea.
  • His apostleship was not from man.
  • Paul’s authority was not only ‘not from man’, it also was ‘not through men.’
  • In other words, anointed men didn’t lay hands on him and set him apart to the office that they all had confirmed by the Spirit of God that he should stand in.
  • Men were not involved at all in the process of Paul becoming an apostle.
  • Paul got ordained directly by God without any human input.
  • In order for the Galatians to benefit from this letter, they would have to accept Paul’s words on this matter.
  • Note, Paul didn’t set out to prove to the Galatians that he was an apostle.
  • In order to benefit from the anointing in the life of one gifted in ministry, that person must be accepted and received as such.

Matthew 10:41 (NKJV) 41 He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.

  • The reward of a prophet or a righteous man is the fruit of his ministry.
  • A prophet is one of the five-fold ministry gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11.
  • The reward of his ministry is the anointing from God which rests upon his life.
  • According to Jesus, everything rests on the receiving.
  • You have to receive the person specifically acknowledging the anointing upon his life as originating from the Lord.
  • That’s why Paul lays out his apostolic credentials so the Galatians can benefit.

Call to Action:

Have you received your Pastor as your pastor, as the man of God that he or she is? If not, the anointing upon his or her life won’t benefit you. A simple heart adjustment here will help change this.

Question: Do you think background information like what you’ve read in this post is beneficial to Bible study? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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References:

  1.  Christopher D. Stanley, Arguing with Scripture: The Rhetoric of Quotations in the Letters of Paul (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 116.
  2. Timothy George, Galatians, vol. 30, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 39.
  3. Timothy George, Galatians, vol. 30, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 39–40.
  4. Donald Guthrie, “Galatia,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 829.
  5. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 326.
  6. Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), Ga 1:1.