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The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians
Introduction to the Epistle:
There is no doubt that this epistle was written by St. Paul as the early fathers: Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, and Justin (late first century, and first half of second century A.D.) have referenced it.
The province of Galatia is north of the middle part of Asia Minor (which includes at present Ankara the Capital of Turkey). The Galatians were descendants of the Celts who resided in this region since the third century B.C. As cited by most popular sources, St. Paul wrote this epistle from Ephesus (Acts 19:10) (or from Macedonia - Greece) between the years 53 and 57 A.D., after the Council of Jerusalem had convened (Acts 15) in the year 49 or 50. During his second missionary trip, St. Paul remained in Galatia because of his sickness (Acts 16:6, Gal 4:13), but this resilient combatant did not surrender to his sickness and evangelized it (Gal 1:6).
However, others mentioned that this epistle was written early on (in the year 49 A.D. or earlier) right before the Council of Jerusalem was convened. In this case, this epistle would be the first epistle written by St. Paul, and before writing the first gospel. It was directed to the congregations to whom he preached during his first missionary trip in the southern areas that include Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:8, see map at the end).
It is obvious that St. Paul wrote the epistle himself (Gal 6:11), and did not dictate it.
Summary of the Epistle:
What motivated St. Paul to write this letter to the Galatians was what false teachers had taught them, that they have to become Jews and to follow the Law of Moses (like circumcision, keeping the Sabbath, etc.) as a condition to become Christians. Most probably these teachers were Jews who became Christians but remained holding to their heritage and their privileges as God’s people and desired to impose their laws on the Gentiles. Hence, they came to Galatia and disputed the apostolic authority of St. Paul and his legality as a disciple of Jesus Christ (since he was not one of the Disciples of Christ and was not a witness of his resurrection, Acts 1: 21, 22). They claimed that his teachings came from others. They incited the Galatians to rebel against him, to reject his individual ministry, since he was not abiding by the Law of Moses, while the rest of the apostles did not prohibit the practice of the Mosaic Law. They also accused him of inconsistency, as he preached that it was not necessary to be circumcised, but at the same time he asked Timothy, as a Greek, to be circumcised, to facilitate his missionary work among the Jews (Acts 16: 1-3).
St. Paul, therefore, reveals to the Galatians the danger of what they are facing. He incites them to stand firm in freedom and not to slip back into man’s slavery after they have been delivered by faith in Christ (). He defends his Apostleship and his election by the Lord, “by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal 1:12). He speaks about his departure from Judaism, and the persecution of the Church of God, to his preaching of Christ and his meeting with the pillars of the Church, and that he has been entrusted with the task of “preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles” (Gal 2:7-9), and his holding to the truth and the orthodox faith, even to facing St. Peter and blaming him of changing his position when he was afraid of the Jews (Gal 2: 11-14).
He presents his case that Justification to all is by faith “there is neither Jew nor Greek” (Gal 3:28), and that salvation is completely the work of grace. He mentions Abraham who was justified by faith before there was a written law. He concludes his epistle by inciting them to walk in the Spirit, because “those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh (sinful nature) with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24), revealing the works of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21) and the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22, 23).
This short epistle (6 chapters) is characterized with a number of important contrasts:
1- Grace & Law (Gal 4: 1 – 31),
2- Faith & Works (Gal 2: 16 -21),
3- The work of the flesh & the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5: 19 – 23),
4- The cross & the world (Gal 2: 20, 6: 14).
Also, this epistle is characterized by a great number of famous verses:
1- “If I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Gal 1: 10).
2- “Man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2: 16).
3- “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2: 20).
4- “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Gal 3: 13)
5- “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3: 27).
6- “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law …” (Gal 4: 4, 5).
7- “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).
8- “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails, but faith working through love” (Gal 5: 6).
9- “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal 5:16).
10- “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace … Against these there is no law” (Gal 5:22,23).
11- “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world was crucified for me …” (Gal 6:14).
12- “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Gal 6: 15).
Contents of the Epistle:
1- Introduction (1:1-10)
The apostolic greeting (1:1-5), the reason for writing the epistle (1:6, 7), warning against false teaching (1:8, 9), and refusing to try to please man and not God (1:10).
2- St. Paul defends the authenticity of his mission., his calling, and his ministry as the apostle to the Gentiles (1:11- 2:14)
His past and his encounter with the Lord (1:11–16), his first meeting with the Apostles after years of preparation (1:17, 18), then his second meeting after 14 years (1:18 – 2:10), and his opposition to Peter (2:11-14).
3- Righteousness is in Christ through faith and not through the works of the Law (2:15 - 5:12)
Righteousness is through faith in Christ who was crucified for us (2:15-21), reprimanding the Galatians for reverting and continuing in the flesh (3:1-5), the faith of Abraham as an example (3:6-18), the role of the law (3:19–25), we are all one in Christ, children and heirs (3:26 – 4:7), a return to reprimand with love (4:8-20), a comparison between Hager and Sarah – the children of the promise and the free (4:21-31), teaching of justification by the law is failing from the grace (5:1-12), and facing the trouble makers (5:7-12).
4- Practical Application of the Gospel of Christ (5:13 – 6:17)
Christian freedom is not an opportunity for the flesh, but it is life led by the Spirit (5:13-18), the works of the flesh (5:19-21), the fruits of the Spirit (5:22, 23), walking in the Spirit (5:24 – 6:10), and Christ is the ultimate goal, not circumcision or uncircumcision (6:11–17).
5- Conclusion (6: 18)
Saint Mark's Orthodox Fellowship urges you to study the Bible and encourage others to do the same. Please feel free to make copies of these notes to distribute them. The Fellowship welcomes any questions, comments or additional references, whether for publication in these "Short Notes" or in private correspondence.
Map to show The Province of Galatia, and the southern cities Lystra and Derbe.
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