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NEW TESTAMENT SURVEY NewTestament Survey


STUDY 11 - THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS


For this study see: M.C.Tenney, pp.267-275; R.H.Gundry, pp.341-351. Further reading: D.A.Carson, et al., An Introduction to the New Testament, pp.289-303.

1. AUTHORSHIP AND DESTINATION

A Pauline epistle
Together with Romans and 1 Corinthians, Galatians is recognised as one of Paul's main epistles.  Like Romans it deals with the doctrine of justification by faith.  It is a manifesto of Christian liberty.  It compares with James.  M.C.Tenney adds:

"The second piece of writing that emerged from the general controversy over keeping the law was Paul's epistle to the Galatians.  As James was written from the standpoint of a strict Jew who worked to avoid all semblance of looseness and license in the use of ethical freedom, 'the perfect law of liberty' (Jam.1:25), so Galatians was written by a champion of freedom who saw that neither Gentile nor Jews could be delivered from their sins by self-effort in keeping a set of ethical principles.  Galatians accordingly has been called 'the Magna Charta of spiritual emancipation' because it declared that 'Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us... that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith' (Gal.3:13-14)". [1]

Martin Luther recognised the significance and greatness of this epistle.

'To the churches in Galatia' (1:2)
Study what M.C.Tenney says here:

"Galatia is the name given originally to the territory in north-central Asia Minor where the invading Gauls settled in the third century before Christ and maintained an independent kingdom for many years.  Gradually the Gallic population was absorbed into the other peoples living there, and after a number of political changes the territory became the property of Rome in 25 B.C.  The Romans incorporated this northern section into a larger division of land that they made a province and called by the name of Galatia.  Galatia, then, under Roman rule, could mean Galatia proper, which the Gauls had founded, or it could be applied to the whole province, which included the southern cities of Antioch, Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra". [2]

But to whom is the apostle referring when he writes 'Galatia' (Gal.1:2) and 'Galatians' (3:1)? Reference must be made to Paul's missionary journeys in the Acts, and to the mention of 'the region of Phrygia and Galatia' (16:6), and to 'the region of Galatia and Phrygia' (18:23). Two views are held, the so-called North Galatian theory and the South Galatian theory.  The South Galatian theory is the more popular theory today - but the issue is still debated.  It is of interest to historians who are interested in the spread of Christianity in the first century.  Consider:

The two theories

  1. The North Galatian theory, championed by J.B.Lightfoot, interprets the region to indicate the Celtic peoples in the north. [3] 

  2. The South Galatian theory, represented by Sir William M.Ramsay, views Paul ministering in the southern part of the province, namely to the cities of Antioch, Iconium, Derbe and Lystra.  (This theory did not rule out Paul possibly travelling northwards, for the language of Acts 16:2,4 and 6 show that he covered the area around Derbe and Lystra, and that he then went along the Phrygio-Galatic border to Mysia and Bithynia, and then turned westwards towards Troas.) [4]

2. DATE AND PLACE OF WRITING

Date of writing
Dating relates to the above theories. The South Galatian theory accepts an early date of A.D. 48.  The fact that the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-21) is not mentioned, which dealt with the question of salvation and the observance of the law, supports the earlier date. The North Galatian theory dates the epistle after Acts 18:93, that is, during Paul's third missionary journey, between A.D. 53 and 55.

Place of writing
The South Galatian theory would see Paul writing from Antioch, just before attending the Council at Jerusalem in A.D. 49/50 (general dating - Tenny advocates A.D. 48/49). The North Galatian theory makes either Macedonia or Achaia the place of writing.

3. CONTENTS AND OUTLINE

"You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?" (3:1).  Paul reveals a deep concern for his converts - and anger with the Judaisers who oppose the gospel.

The Judaisers
Judaisers were insisting on circumcision, the observation of holy days, and the unalterable nature of the law.  Salvation was gained by keeping the law. Paul's gospel was condemned. The epistle does not name the opposers of the gospel.  Who were the Judaisers? Acts 15:1-5 records that certain Christians insisted that circumcision and keeping the law of Moses was necessary for Gentile salvation. However, in Galatians, they may have been Jews, Jewish Christians or gnostics. [5]

The contents of the epistle
M.C.Tenney writes:

"Galatians was not written as an essay in contemporary history.  It was a protest against corruption of the gospel of Christ.  The essential truth of justification by faith rather than by the works of the law had been obscured by the Judaizers' insistence that believers in Christ must keep the law if they expected to be perfect before God.  When Paul learned that this teaching had begun to penetrate the Galatian churches and that it had alienated them from their heritage of liberty, he wrote the impassioned remonstrance contain in this epistle. [6]

An outline of the epistle
M.C.Tenney demonstrates that Galatians is symmetrical and logical in structure.

  • Galatians: The Defence of Christian Liberty

  • Introduction (1:1-9)

  • The biographical argument: an independent revelation (1:10-2:21)

  • The theological argument: the failure of legalism (3:1-4:31)

  • The practical argument: the end of legalism (5:1-6:10)

  • Conclusion (6:11-13. Written by Paul, these verses are significant).

4. EVALUATION

M.C.Tenney is worth quoting at length here:

"If the early date for Galatians is correct, the book is the earliest of Paul's extant writings.  It summarizes the heart of 'the gospel which (he preached) among the Gentiles' (2:2).  In it he showed that man's chief problem is obtaining a right standing with God.  Since he is incapable of establishing this himself because 'a man is not justified by the works of the law' (2:16), it must be provided for him by another.  "Christ has given this standing, for he 'gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil world' (1:4).  His provision is available to those who put their full trust in him, for 'the promise by faith in Jesus Christ (is) given to them that believe' (3:22). This standing is not simply a legal fiction, applied only externally or ceremonially, but it becomes part of the inner life through union with Christ.  'I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me' (2:20).  Salvation is thus not only the application of a new life, but also its impartation. [7]

Paul's gospel
Galatians, then, represents Paul's gospel - the message he shared in his Gentile mission. The doctrine of justification by faith apart from the law is stressed (2:15).  The role of the law is explained (3:24).  He defines a Christian as a new creation (6:15). The believer's sonship is actualised by the Spirit (4:6f.).  The Western church is still working out the liberty of Gal.3:28 in terms of class distinctions and sex discrimination.  Christ is obviously central to the apostle's life and message as his testimony reveals: "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" (2:20; cf., 1:7).

ENDNOTES

1. M.C.Tenney, p.267. 

2.  M.C.Tenney, pp.267ff.

3. See: J.B.Lightfoot, St.Paul 's Epistle to the Galatians, London, Macmillan, 1890.

4. See: W.M.Ramsay, A Historical Commentary on St.Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, London, Macmillan, 1899.

5. Some commentaries take, "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently" (Gal.6:1) to be a sarcastic remark aimed at those who saw themselves as super-spiritual, namely the 'spirituals' or pneumatics.

6. M.C.Tenney, pp.262 & 271.

7. M.C.Tenney, p.272f..



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