Overview of Galatians
and Study of Galatians 1-3
December 6th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians around A.D. 50 to counter claims by opponents that he was wrong about salvation by grace (1). Paul had been recruited by Barnabas to work in Galatia, where he had spread the Good News of God's mercy and grace and baptized the people in the Holy Spirit of God. However, his opponents, known as the Judaizers, alleged that Paul had watered down the Gospel to make it more appealing to the Gentiles. In contrast to the real message, these contrarians claimed that salvation required three parts: Faith, plus following the law, plus outward appearance (i.e. circumcision).

The strong words for the Corinthians pale in comparison to the emotion and the language in Galatians, which is probably the most intense and critical published letter from Paul, as we shall see. The letter to the Galatians had been written before the ones to the Corinthians, but the members of the Council of Nicaea in the 4th century A.D. decided to place the letters in the order we see them today.

Although there are only six chapters, there is a lot of important information to absorb which applies to those of us living in the 21st century A.D.. One source notes that this letter is "...an eloquent and vigorous defense for the essential New Testament truth that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ - by nothing less or nothing more. Furthermore, we are sanctified by depending on the grace of God and by experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit working within us. (Therefore) Some of have called this letter the Magna Charta of Christian Liberty (2)."

We will be reviewing the whole book in two days, but a devoted student could spend a lot more time evaluating each passage of this Magna Charta. The Reverend Gregory Doll conducted a Bible Study over a period of several months from 2010 to 2011. During that time he led his students through a deep evaluation of several verses each week. Doll noted that this book has been an important reference for many theologians over the centuries, including Martin Luther, the founder of the Reformation.

As we read the book of Galatians we might ask ourselves what we believe with regard to salvation and wonder to what extent Paul is addressing us. The chapters can be considered in the following groups (3):

    Galatians 1-3 (The Foolish Galatians) - December 6th

    • Introduction (1.1–10)
    • Paul's authority as an apostle (1.11—chapter 2)
    • The gospel of God's grace (chapters 3-4)

    Galatians 4-6 (The Only Thing That Counts) - December 7th

    • Christian freedom and responsibility 5.1—6.10
    • Conclusion (6.11 - 6.18)

References used for the analysis of this book include the following:

  • Doll, the Reverend Gregory, "Lectures on Galatians," delivered at Noroton Presbyterian Church, September 2010-January 2011
  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version , Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993
  • Hunter, Archibald M, Layman’s Bible Commentary, Volume 22 (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, ColossiansJohn Knox Press, Richmond, VA, 1959
  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)
  • Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)
  • The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970
  • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005
  • “Sermon Library,” Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT www.norotonchurch.org/sermons/min_sermons.html

Galatians 1-3 (The Foolish Galatians)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

- I can’t believe your fickleness—how easily you have turned traitor to him who called you by the grace of Christ by embracing a variant message! It is not a minor variation, you know; it is completely other, an alien message, a no-message, a lie about God.

- Galatians 1:6-7 (MSG)

Summary of Chapters

Paul begins with a brief introduction and then gets right to the point by telling the Galatians that he is astonished that they have so quickly deserted the truth that he taught and switched to a false gospel.

Paul eternally condemns anyone who teaches a false gospel and then summarizes his own qualifications. He was an expert in Judaism who was called by God to serve as an apostle for Christ. His training did not come from any man but “by revelation from Jesus Christ (Gal 1:11 - NIV).” He does not share the details, but notes that he spent three years in the desert with the Lord after his calling.

In chapter 2, Paul explains how he addressed the central conflict with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem who had been part of the opposition to his teaching. At the end of the meeting, the leaders, identified as James, Peter, and John, acknowledged that Paul was teaching the same Gospel as them and allowed him to continue his work with the Gentiles.

Tension between different practices emerged again, as described by Paul in the second part of this chapter. Paul confronted Peter who was still pushing for Gentiles to be circumcised and refused to eat with anyone who was not circumcised – even though Peter had spent time with these people.

By time he got to the part of the letter that we know as chapter 3, Paul was ready to explode with emotion. He opened the section with the phrase "You foolish Galatians (3:1 - NIV)!” He reminded them that the miracles and other experiences they had been part of had come from faith not from observance of the law. Even in the life of Abraham and Moses the rescue came before the law. Paul summarizes the theological position in near the end of chapter 3: " Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian (Gal 3:23-25 - NIV).

Paul concludes chapter 3 by declaring that we are all equal sons and heirs under Christ:

    There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ.

    - Galatians 3:28 (NIV)

Reflection and Application

Paul was tough on the Galatians throughout this letter but he demonstrated adept facilitation skills in his account of the meeting in Jerusalem. Paul could have chosen to ignore the festering problem or send a delegate to resolve it, but decided to go directly to the leaders “up” in Jerusalem.

In verse 3 he says he “went in response to a revelation,” in other words, God told him to go. When we sense that God has told us to go somewhere we can consider ourselves wise if we obey like Paul did – even if the odds seem to be against us, as it seemed for Paul. Paul was also following the advice of Jesus on resolving conflicts in the church, as recorded in Matthew 18:

    “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses'.”

    Matthew 18:15-16 (NIV)

Paul had completed the first step, when he met with Peter, as described in chapter 1. He then completes the second step according to the guidebook, bringing both Barnabas and Titus with him, but keeping the meeting private. This is good practical advice for us in any situation of conflict. No one is going to back down if given a public lambasting, but if you approach someone quietly you might find an open ear. If that does not work bring witnesses who will back you up.

Paul and his companions entered Jerusalem in a conciliatory spirit but would not surrender their principles to achieve their objective. Some of the Judaizers tried to get Titus to agree to circumcision, but Titus held his ground – consistent with the Gospel that Paul taught.

Paul spoke plainly to the leaders and they saw his point of view. If we follow the same steps as Paul and speak the truth to our opponents then we have an opportunity to win them over.

God's covenants are eternal but human agreements are not. Paul had to once again address a difference of opinion with Peter. In describing this to the Galatians Paul demonstrates the consistency of his approach, regardless of a man’s social or organizatonal position. We would do well to treat all people equally as well.

Verses 24-25 in chapter 3 might be the central point of this whole letter:

    The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

    -Galatians 3:24-25 (NIV)

The law does have a purpose – it leads us to Christ and helps us recognize how much we need his forgiveness because we can’t possibly obey all the laws all the time.

Verse 28 is also a key point worth repeating: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ.” In Paul’s culture the social gap between these opposing categories of ethnicity and gender were significantly greater than it is today. Consequently, his statement must have astounded his original audience. Paul drives home the controversial point that salvation is not warranted by our genealogical routes or social position, but is equally available to all – even to the Judaizers if they were to open their eyes and ears to hear and see the truth.

This statement stands today. Anyone can become a child of God by expressing their belief and accepting Jesus in his or heart. It is not reserved for people in the Western world or specific religious organizations or ideological beliefs or any other division created by man. No, we are all one in Christ.

For further reflection on this section of Galatians you can click on the link below that takes you to an essay called “Paul’s Primer for Resolving Organizational Conflicts” The essay is based on a Bible Study of Galatians 2:1-10 presented by the Listening for God Ministry ( Paul’s Primer ).

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What experiences have you had trying to facilitate the resolution of differences between two parties?
    2. In what situations would you like to use the advice from Matthew 18?
    3. How can we help to spread the message that salvation is available for everyone?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, thank you for providing the law and the mercy to recognize we cannot fully uphold it at all times. Help us to allow Christ to work through us.

    Prayer Concern
    People who have conflicts to resolve today


    (1) Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version , Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993,
    (2) IBID
    (3) Good News Bible, online version, British Bible Society, Introduction to Galatians

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Galatians 4-6 (The Only Thing That Counts)

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