THURSSDAY, SEPTEMBER 27
SCRIPTURE: Galatians - an overview
BY: Jeremy Witt
Today we return to the New Testament to one of Paul’s first writings, the book of Galatians. Paul went to Galatia on his first missionary journey with Barnabus as well as to the cities of Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Paul’s purpose in writing was to refute those who claimed that he was not an apostle and had no authority of the Gospel. The group making the accusations against Paul were Jews who were teaching the Gentile believers that they had to obey the Old Testament in order to be saved. The issue was how were the Gentile believers to apply the Old Testament Law which help us today is one of the underlying themes of the book.
By way of reminder, any Old Testament law repeated in the New Testament is applicable to us today. Those sacrificial and civil laws not repeated do not apply; however, the principles behind the laws need to be applied not necessarily the law itself. For example, when it is referring to no garment should be made out of two different materials such as Leviticus 19:19 (wool and silk), what is the principle behind the law? God’s purpose was for the nation of Israel to be pure, holy, set apart. They were to dress differently, act differently, etc from the world. The purpose was to point people to God and live in a different way so that they would want to know the LORD. This principle applies to us today, not the law regarding specific garment material.
This is still an issue in many circles today. Paul called this group “Judaizers” as they insisted that following the Law was necessary in order to be saved. We see this today as legalism, self-righteousness, or the “holier than thou’s.” If we add anything to the Gospel, then we are guilty of this sin ourselves. If baptism, church membership, voting like us, looking like us, etc. is necessary for salvation, then we are guilty of the same wrongs that Paul is addressing. The problem for believers who add to salvation today is that Paul addresses the Law, faith, our spiritual freedom, and the Holy Spirit within this book of Galatians. This book directly attacks this false teaching. Paul’s tone in the writing could be termed “angry” in places as we will discover. He does not desire the Gentile believers to be shackled to something that Christ has set us free from by His death and resurrection. His fear was that the believers were losing their grip on the gospel of grace which he had taught them as in 1:6-7.
Before we go and “judge” the Judaizers, let’s look at us first. Grace is a very difficult concept to grasp. We want it for ourselves, but typically want discipline/punishment/judgment for others. Giving grace to others is a very difficult thing for us to do today and an impossible task without the Holy Spirit being in control of our lives. It is difficult to accept even for ourselves. These Jews had lived in this manner all their lives and felt the traditions were critical, because that is what they had always known. It was the way things “always were.” They should be corrected in love, but also shown grace so that they can repent and be true to God’s Word.
Paul mentions two visits to Jerusalem in the book of Galatians. The visit in 1:18 is most likely the same as Acts 9:26-30. Luke indicates Paul visited Jerusalem in Acts 11:28-30 and 15:4-21, which is the Jerusalem council. The second mention of Paul in Jerusalem is 2:1 which is most likely the same as Acts 15. Regardless of which time Paul was there, we know that in one of these visits Paul went to the church leaders in Jerusalem to share what he and Barnabus had experienced among the Gentile believers, and this meeting is known as the Jerusalem council. It is this council that said that the Gentiles were not subject to the Law. The Gentiles were instructed not to eat food offered to idols, flee sexual immorality, not to eat meat from strangled animals, and consuming blood. (Acts 15:19)
The outline of the book deals with 3 main parts. The authenticity of the Gospel is 1:1 through 2:21. Paul then addresses the superiority of the Gospel in 3:1 through 4:31, and finally Paul focuses on freedom of the Gospel in 5:1-6:18.
There is not a single church addressed in Galatia, so it was most likely circulated to several in the region. Paul typically did not end a letter in the manner he does in Galatians as in 6:11-18. It is quite clear that Paul did not approve of the Jews behaving this way and wanted to protect the new believers in our LORD.