Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, Part One: Introduction

Who wrote the Letter?

The opening of the letter gives us the author’s name—Paul, the Apostle (Gal 1:1 CSB). The ending of the letter also shows us that Paul wrote this letter with his own hands: “[l]ook at what large letters I use as I write to you in my own handwriting” (Gal 6:11 CSB).  However, since this is our first look at a letter of Paul’s, we are forced to ask just who he is?

Paul tells his audience, in this letter, that he “intensely persecuted God’s church and tried to destroy it” (Gal 1:13 CSB). Paul was a Jew among Jews, if anyone was to enter heaven with their self-righteousness, it would have been Paul (Gal 1:14 CSB). Eventually, God called Paul out from his sinful life through the grace of Christ to become the Apostle to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:15-16a CSB). However, there is more to know of the Apostle Paul.

According to Gerd Theissen (2003, 50), in his New Testament introduction, Paul was a Diaspora Jew (a Jew who was not from Palestine or Jerusalem) from the city of Tarsus, in Cilicia, and had studied in Jerusalem which caused him to become “a Jewish fundamentalist.” However, according to Theissen (2003, 50-53), Paul is not the author of the Christian religion (of which I would agree), but that he was merely a liberal Jew who wanted to open up Judaism to encompass everyone—Jew and Gentile together. Another set of liberal scholars, Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good (2011), in their introduction to the New Testament, state that:

Paul wove his devotion to Israel together with the Stoic philosophy of the Hellenistic world, a school of thought that searched for a single, rational principle underneath the world of nature as well as human society. On that basis, Paul framed a new perspective on the meaning of Jesus as the exemplar and the hope of all humanity…Paul made following Jesus into a radically new and powerful religious movementn (55).

Paul’s hometown of Tarsus was a wealthy one, of which some scholars hold that Paul came from a well-off family, this is due to his citizenship and being able to study Torah in Jerusalem (Chilton and Good 2011, 59). Against this argument, Raymond E. Brown (1997, 425), holds that Paul came from a lower-class family, though he was a step up from one who was still a slave because he was a citizen. It is held by some scholars that Paul was well educated in the city of Tarsus, before he went to Jerusalem, being able to read and write Greek, as well as quote extensively from the Septuagint (LXX), and exemplary skills in Hellenistic rhetoric (Brown 1997, 423-425). For most of these liberal scholars, though, this is all mostly just speculation. What can we really know of Paul?

We can know for sure that Paul was from the city of Tarsus, as we have already noted with the liberal scholarship, and that this city was, indeed, an extremely influential place of Roman imperialism and culture (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 254). Even though Paul’s hometown was heavily influenced by Greco-Roman paganism, as Walter Elwell and Robert Yarbrough (1998, 254) state, in their New Testament survey, “his writings show little significant influence of pagan authors.” It was the Jewish Bible, our Old Testament, that dominates Paul’s thinking (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 254). Paul was, unlike how the liberal scholars hold, educated in Jerusalem, not in his hometown of Tarsus ( Acts 22:3* CSB; Ibid., 255). It was in Jerusalem that Paul studied under the greatest rabbi of his time, Gamaliel I (Acts 22:3 CSB). Paul was a strict and zealous Pharisee (Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 217). All of this gives background to who Paul was when he wrote Galatians.

When was the Letter Written?

South or North Galatia

Map is taken from Encountering the New Testament (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 297).

Dating Paul’s letters is a complicated matter. There are three arguments around the dating of the Epistle of Galatians. All of these arguments stand on the notion of where in Galatia the letter was written to, northern or southern. The Northern Galatia Theory holds to two arguments—due to the argument in Gal 1:6 (CSB) of teachers coming in and presenting a different gospel, it is believed that Paul wrote this around the mid-fifties, that is AD 54-55 (Brown 1997, 477). The second argument for the Northern Galatia Theory is that Paul was planning to gather a collection from his Galatian churches for the Jerusalem church (1 Cor 16:1 CSSB), and after hearing that his flock had accepted a different gospel, he changed his mind and sent a letter instead to correct the problem (Ibid.). Those in this argument for the Northern Galatia Theory hold to a late date, ca. AD 57 while Paul was in Macedonia, written between 2 Corinthians and Romans (Ibid.). The third argument comes from the Southern Galatia Theory, which states that Paul wrote Galatians after the Second Missionary Journey (Ibid., 476). For those within this theory date the letter between AD 48 and early 50s (Ibid.). For some scholars, such as Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good (2011, 70), the letter is dated to ca. AD 53. For other scholars—ie., Gerd Theissen (2003, 56), holds that Galatians is too difficult to date and could either be dated early, ca. AD 52 at the beginning of his time in Ephesus, or later ca. AD 55 right before he writes Romans, while he is ending his time in Ephesus. Raymond E. Brown (1997, 477), holds to a date of the mid-fifties, which puts him in the first argument for the Northern Galatia Theory.

At the heart of these arguments is the number of times Paul actually visited Jerusalem. Within this argument circles the view that there are three visits in Acts and two in Galatians, as well as why wouldn’t Paul mention the famine in Acts 11, which is within in the South Galatia Theory, and the mentioning of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, which is part of the North Galatia Theory (McClelland 2012, 1329). On the North Galatia Theory, the argument is that either Luke added one extra visit, or that Paul left one out (Ibid.). This is the argument that most liberal scholars like, due to the simple fact that they do not trust the accuracy of the Luke in his telling of the story in Acts, however, they honor the truth from Paul, since he lived his life and Luke wrote everything much later. However, to hold this view, as I have mentioned in the author’s note, is a misinterpretation of the Scriptures. Basically, we are able to hold to a South Galatia Theory, which would date this letter to ca. AD 48-50 (Ibid.; Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 293-294). We are able to do this for various reasons. Paul’s explanation of his two visits to Jerusalem (of which Acts was written after Galatians, thus it has an extra visit different than Paul’s in Galatians) in Gal 1:17-24 (CSB) and 2:1-10 (CSB) with those in Acts 9:26 and 11:28-30 (CSB; Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 293). Paul mentions nothing of the council in Jerusalem from Acts 15 (CBS; Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 293). Along the same line is Peter’s retreat from the table fellowship (Gal 2:11-21 CSB), showing that this was before the Council (Carson, Moo, Morris 1992, 293).

Who were the Original Recipients of the Letter?

As we have seen, the dating of the letter relies heavily on the notion of who the original recipients were. Again, the argument is based on two theories, the North Galatia and the South Galatia Theories. For those in favor of the North Galatia Theory, think that Paul visited the cities, and established churches, in the northern-central portion of the Roman province of Galatia, which would have been the possible towns of Pessinus, Ancyra, and Tavium (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 297). The only problem with this is that it was during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey, as described in Acts 15:36-18:22 (CSB).

Paul's Second Missionary Journey
Image is taken from

Acts only report of the previous towns that Paul had gone to were from his first trip, traveling to Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium. Then Luke states that they went through the regions of Phrygia and Galatia, which sounds like Luke stating that Paul did not actually stop anywhere in Galatia, but moved through the region to his next stop in Troas. Just who, then, were the Galatians?

To begin, Galatia was actually a province of the Roman Empire that was taken over in 287 BC (McClelland 2012, 1328). It is was in the area known as Anatolia in the Classical period, Asia Minor during the Second Temple period, and Turkey in our period. Caesar Augustus made it a province in 25 BC. Augustus wasted no time in this area, restructuring the province into a more progressive urbanization making cities, roads, and the creation of the imperial cult throughout the region (Egger 2016). The ethnic Gauls established the ancient cities of Ancyra (modern-day capital of Turkey, Ankara), Tavium, and Pessinus (McClelland 2012, 1328). These three cities were established in Northern Galatia. The Romans made Ancyra the capital of the province, bolstering some marvelous “baths, stadiums, theatre, temple to Augustus, and numerous other public buildings” (Egger 2016). Pisidian Antioch was made into a Roman colony in 6 BC, also known as Caesarea Antiocheia, and the capital city of the Southern portion of the Galatian province (Barry et al. 2016). Lystra was one of the southern cities of Galatia, made a Roman colony, of which Pisidian Antioch was a chief military colony, in 6 BC (Odor 2016). Lystra was a trade and market town (Ibid.). During the time of Paul’s journeys and this letter, Lystra did not have many inhabitants (Ibid.). Since this is more of a circular letter, then, the question is still asked of who the people of Galatia were? What we do know is that the area known as Galatia was colonized by the people of the ancient Gauls (Mclelland 2012, 1328).

Author’s Note(s)

* How you view the authority of scripture is going to determine how you interpret it. What I mean by that is if you find it inerrant and infallible then you are going to take the Bible, as a whole, as authoritative and divine in regards to your interpretation; if however, you take a more liberal, or moderate, view of the Bible (meaning that you do not hold it infallible or inerrant) then you decide what is factual in the Bible, instead of the Bible tell you what is factual or not. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy defines inerrant as “the quality of being free from all falsehood or mistake and so safeguard the truth that Holy Scripture is entirely true and trustworthy in all its assertions” (MacArthur 1980, 197). Further, the Statement defines infallible as “the quality of neither misleading nor being misled and so safeguards in categorical terms the truth that Holy Scripture is a sure, safe and reliable rule and guide in all matters.” (Ibid.). If you are not holding to these truths in regards to interpreting the Scriptures, then you are misinterpreting it (Ibid.). Basically, we need to know that there were human authors, who wrote in the genres of their time, yet God was completely in control of the whole thing from start to finish (Ibid).

Reference List

Barry, John D., David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder, eds. 2016. “Antioch of Pisidia.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Brown, Raymond E. 1997. Introduction to the New Testament. Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday.

Carson, D. A. and Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. 1992. Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Chilton, Bruce and Deirdre Good. 2011. Studying the New Testament: A Fortress Introduction. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Egger, John A. 2016. “Galatia.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder.  Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Elwell, Walter A. and Robert W. Yarbrough. 1998. Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

MacArthur, John F. 1980. Why Believe the Bible? Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

McClelland, Scott E. 2012. “Galatians.” In Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary. Edited by Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill, 1327-1354. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Odor, Judith A. 2016. “Lystra.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Theissen, Gerd. 2003. Fortress Introduction to the New Testament. Translated by John Bowden. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

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Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians: 1:1-10 No Other Gospel Part A—A Rough Greeting



Every letter in the New Testament fits into a genre known as an epistle. Paul used letters for several reasons. First, thanks to the Pax Romana (Peace of Rome), travel between areas, cities, and territories of the Roman Empire was easy and safe. The Romans were one of the first to create, some would say engineer, roadways and then police them with their soldiers for safety. Because of this, mail carrying was easy, quick, and safe. Second, Christianity was fastly growing within the Roman Empire, especially within the cities (Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 231). Due to the speed of her growth, Paul needed to be able to reach his churches, with instructions, with the utmost rapidity. Second, as D. A. Carson, Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris (1992, 232) state, in their New Testament introduction, “[p]eople in Paul’s day saw the letter as a means of establishing personal presence from a distance, and this perfectly served the needs of the apostles in pastoring their flocks from a distance.” The genre of letter writing, in the Second-Temple period of Paul’s day, was pretty generic. Basically, Greco-Roman authors ranged in their styles, the number of actual letters, and words. For example, Cicero (actually pronounced Keekaro) has 776 letters averaging between 22-2,530 words, Seneca has 124 letters averaging between 149-4,134 words, were as Paul has 13 letters (that we know of, some scholars believe that he had one written to Corinth before 1 Corinthians was written) averaging about 1,300 words, where Romans bolsters a significant 7,114 words (Ibid., 232). We can see that Paul was very verbose about instructing his churches. As amazing as this is, a look at the structure of the letter genre is vitally important.

In the Greco-Roman world, letters had an address and greeting (of which were very short), a body, and a conclusion; Paul’s letters followed this, only with a few minor changes (Ibid.). As we have mentioned in the Intro to Jude, Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart (2014, 59), in their book on how to read the Bible, state that there are six features common, mostly, between the secular and the New Testament letters format:  author, recipient, greeting, prayer/thanksgiving, body, and a farewell/final greeting. Paul takes some liberties with his formatting. Paul addresses the Galatians (by the way this is what we call an occasional letter, also known as an ad hoc epistle—see Fee 2002, 17), which is the author and recipients (Gal. 1:1-5 CSB).

Galatians 1:1-10 Word Cloud
The Word Cloud is taken from the Logos 7 Passage Guide.

Then, Paul changes the greeting, to fit his own personal style. In the Greco-Roman world, the greeting was the Greek word chairein. Paul uses the word charis, “grace” (Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 232).  Typically, after the greeting portion, Paul would go into a prayer or thanksgiving. However, Paul is not so happy with his audience, so therefore he offers no prayer or thanksgiving. Instead of this, Paul moves right into the body of the letter (Gal. 1:11-6:10 CSB). Then, Paul ends his letter with a personal appeal, no doxology or benediction—again, Paul is not very happy with the Galatians (Gal. 6:11-18 CSB).


Greeting 1:1-5


Galatians 13–5 [widescreen]

The image is taken from Logos 7 Passage Guide.

The main point of Paul’s greeting is, a, straight out of the box defense of where he received his Gospel from.  Paul comes out swinging, right from the corner. Paul already knows that he is under attack because his message is assaulted. For Paul, this is personal and very serious. In the Churches of Galatia, there are some serious issues of how someone is saved, which means that the wrong message or view of this will send you straight to hell.


The Role of an Apostle


Apostle Word Pie

The image is taken from Logos 7 Bible Word Study.

First things first, a complete understanding of an apostle and his role in the Church. Even though the word cloud has the word “apostle” very small—meaning that it is not that important, it is significant for our understanding of who Paul claims to be. Granted, Paul only uses the word once, mainly in this passage, it’s highly influential for Paul’s authority and for his Gospel. Paul uses this word at least three times in this letter (Gal 1:1, 17, 19 CSB). This needs to be completely clear, Paul uses this word, a lot, in all of his letters. Paul is constantly defending himself as an apostle in every one of his letters. So, what is an apostle? The word, in Greek, is apostolos and loosely translates as apostle, messenger, or envoy.  At its simplest form, the word means “[s]omeone, or something, sent” (Nässelqvist 2016; Fitzmyer 2008, 231). However, there is history to the term, one that gives it its meaning. Outside of the Bible, it was used for maritime messages—Joseph Fitzmyer (2008, 231) claims it was used for naval expeditions—of certain colonies being sent, or trade-vessels, and even, as Herodotus used in his Histories “an envoy, messenger, ambassador” (History 1.21; 5.38 quoted in Fitzmyer 2008, 231; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 17.300 cited in Nässelqvist 2016). Within the Bible, it’s used in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament, also known as LXX); in 1 Kgs 14:6 (NASB) the Hebrew šālûaḥ is translated into the Greek apostellein, “send” (Fitzmyer 2008, 231). Within the New Testament, the word takes on a different meaning, one that is more than a message or messenger, it becomes one with a message and authority. The best way to understand this shift in meaning for the New Testament period is in first century Judaism. Basically, the Jerusalem authorities (most likely the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin) would send out rabbis as “commissioned emissaries” with the authority of the Sanhedrin to settle matters of financial, calendar, and doctrinal issues that sprouted up within the Diaspora—disperssed Jews throughout the Roman Empire (Fitzmyer 2008, 231). Jesus stated, “that something [Himself] greater than the temple is here” (Matt 12:6 CSB). For Paul, his authority, as one sent out (an apostle), came not from men unlike those rabbis from Jerusalem and the Temple where the Sanhedrin resided, but “by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead” (Gal 1:1 CSB).


God as the Father



Greek Word Pie is taken from Logos 7


Paul moves quickly from stating his role as an apostle to his main point, within the greeting—where his real authority comes from. Before we talk about the role of Christ in Paul’s theology, we must first look at his view of who God is. Paul call’s God “the Father” (Gal 1:1 CSB).  Paul uses the word Father three times in his greeting (Gal 1:1, 3, 4 CSB). This signifies how Paul sees God, just as Jesus saw God as His and our Father, so does Paul. He uses the word some forty-three times in all of his epistles. Twice he quotes Jesus, “Abba Father” (Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15 CSB). In Greek, the word is pater and is literally translated as father. For Paul, God is the only Father—God is the Father of Jesus (Gal 1:1 CSB) and He is the Father of all Christians (Gal 1:3, 4 CSB)—which is shown as God giving life to both Jesus through his resurrection and then to all Christians by way of justification (Martyn 2008, 84). Because God is Father, Jesus was raised back to life from death, redeeming all who believe in Him, of which Paul saw Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6 CSB). In other words, Jesus is Paul’s way to salvation, yet it was God who was the main source (McClelland 2012, 1332).


Jesus’ Death and Resurrection as an Atonement


John Huss on Jesus' Sacrifice as an Atonement

The Image is taken from Ritzema, Elliot, and Rebecca Brant, eds. 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Medieval Church. Pastorum Series. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013.


To understand what Paul’s Gospel is, we need to carefully dissect Paul’s statement in verse 4: Jesus Christ “who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal 1:4 CSB). First is the understanding of the word sin. Paul uses this word some sixty-four times in his letters. Paul, however, only uses this word three times in his Epistle to the Galatians. In Greek, hamartion is the plural form of hamartia, which simply means sin. It can also be used as wrongdoer and guilt. In the Old Testament, sinning was defined as missing the mark, [k]hata. This word, for the ancient Israelites, was more than an individual missing the mark or failing; to be honest, this word meant a problem for the whole of the community. In other words, sinning was not merely an individual act, its consequences covered the whole kingdom of Israel ( Henderson 2016). In the overall understanding of the Jewish view of sin, it is this, as J. Henderson (Ibid.) states in his article on sin, its a “direct violation of His [God’s] will.”

Sin Word Pie
The Word Pie is taken from Logos 7. 

 During the Greco-Roman era or the Second Temple Period, sin (hamartia) was viewed as a deviation from justice (Ibid.). For Socrates, sin, as well as guilt, was rooted in ignorance (Ibid.). Plato, modifying Socrates’ understanding, says that sin is not only just stemming from ignorance, it also comes from a conquering of reason by passion and appetite (Ibid.). Again, Henderson (Ibid.), in his article on sin, states that Aristotle (expanding on both Socrates and Plato’s understanding) viewed sin as


“further distinguish[ed] between the various was the rational part of the soul can know right from wrong: There is in fact a type of knowledge of right and wrong that cannot be overcome by passion or appetite, while there is a weaker type of knowledge seen in those under the influence of the passions that is similar to one who is dreaming, mad, or drunk.”

To the early Church, the Jewish notion of sin was kept, but modified around the death and resurrection of Jesus (Ibid.). Henderson (Ibid.), states in his article on sin that Jesus’ death and resurrection was seen by the early Church as an

“inaugurat[ion] [of] the new age, though they did not maintain that the old age had fully passed away. Thus, the early early Christians find themselves still living in the world surrounded by sin until the second coming of Christ and the new creation.”

Therefore, sin is not simply missing the mark, nor thinking incorrectly, it is, as Henderson (Ibid.) states, ” an internal, impersonal force within each person and within the church, closely connected with the very personal force of Satan, who seeks to turn people away from God.” Therefore, it is a complete struggle for power over people, sin is seen as a powerful force (Ibid).


Ther is only one thing that can save us from the struggle of sin—Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Greek word, exaireo, means rescue, deliver.

Rescue Word Pie
Rescue Word Pie image is taken from Logos 7.

It can also mean to take out, tear out, or remove. Paul’s use of this word is actually difficult, the Greek word is actually exeletai. In Greek, there is a form of language that we Americans do not have—the aorist tense. This tense is mostly past, however, it also indicates present and future at the same time. Paul uses the word rescue, which is tied to Jesus’ action of atonement, as a fixed moment in time, that was done in the past, however, continues to be used into the future (Morwood 2001, 61). This word is difficult to translate, however. The lexical form of the word is exaireo, as mentioned earlier, which means to deliver, take out, rescue. Strangely, the root of the word is aireo, which means to destroy; execute. To help matters, the word is not translated the same in all Bible versions. In the ESV, the word is “deliver.” However, in the CSB, NIV, NABRE, NET, and LEB* it’s “rescue.” The GNB has it as “set free,” and in the NJB it’s “liberate.” In all cases, what Paul is referring to is the theological understanding of the atonement.


Romans 323–24 [widescreen]

The image is taken from the Logos 7 Passage Guide.

J. I. Packer (1993, 134), in his Concise Theology, defines atonement as the “means [of] making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for wrong done; thus reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship.” To be completely clear, this entire epistle is about salvation—soteriology—or the work of the person of Christ. Though Paul does not use the word, atonement, in this letter, he does use it in thought for Jesus’ actions, ” who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age” (Gal 1:4 CSB). However, to completely understand the atonement of Christ, we need to look closer at the context of it. After God saved Israel from the Egyptians, He had to set up ways that He could commune with His people. For that to happen the people needed to be cleansed of their sins because God is holy and incorruptible. God despises sins (Jer 44:4; Hab 1:13 CSB). Because this is who God is, He must punish those who are sinful (Ps 5:4-6; Rom 1:18; 2:5-9 CSB). That being said, God had to make ways for the people to be atoned for. Leviticus tells us all about how the priests were to make atoning sacrifices for the people (Lev 17:11 CSB; Packer 1993, 134-135). By the time of the early Church, the understanding of atonement, established by the ancient Israelites, revolves around the work of Christ—Jesus’ death was a once-and-for-all, fixed moment in history, atoning event, one that surpassed what the Law required (Brockway 2016). Paul cashes in on this notion when, in Romans, he speaks of the atonement of Jesus. It’s in Romans 3:25 that Paul says, “God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed” (CSB). It’s here, in Romans, that the word hilasterion is used. This word can mean propitiation or mercy seat. Propitiation means that God demanded a righteous sacrifice to wipe away our sins, that we may be reconciled to Him(Lightner 1995, 195). As we have seen in the meaning of the use of exeletai, “rescue,” Paul was thinking of this notion, long before he wrote Romans. Paul understood the work of Christ, how his death and resurrection was done for us, to bring glory to God. This notion of salvation is all throughout the entirety of the epistle and we will look at it every time we come to it.


Author’s Note(s)

*These translations are: English Standard Version, Christian Standard Bible, New International Version, New American Bible Revised Edition (not to be confused with the New American Standard Bible), New English Translation, Lexham English Bible, Good News Bible, and the New Jerusalem Bible. The NABRE and NJB are two different Catholic translations, both of which are good for Protestants to use, due to seeing what Catholics view as Christianity.

Reference List


Brockway, D. 2016. “Atonement.” Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. 1992. Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Fee, Gordon D. 2002. New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stuart. 2014. How to Read the Bible for all its Worth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. 2008. Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 33. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

Henderson, J. Jordan. 2016. “Sin.” In Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Lightner, Robert P. 1995. Handbook of Evangelical Theology: A Historical, Biblical, and Contemporary Survey and Review. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Martyn, J. Louis. 2008. Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 33A. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

McClelland, Scott E. 2012. “Galatians.” In Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary. Edited by Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Morwood, James. 2001. Oxford Grammar of Classical Greek. New York: Oxford University Press.

Nässelqvist, Dan. 2016. “Apostle.” Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Packer, J. I. 1993. “Sacrifice: Jesus Christ Made Atonement for Sin.” In Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, Part Two: Introduction

The Importance of Galatians for Us Today

Galatians 220 [widescreen]

Galatians has had a very large impact on the Church throughout her history. Merrill C. Tenney (1973, 15-16), in his commentary on Galatians, states the letter to be the manifesto of Martin Luther in his “revolt against the Roman ritual and hierarchy.” It has been known as the “Magna Charta of spiritual emancipation,” especially with its teachings of faith and liberty for the whole Church (Tenney 1973, 16).  Almost from the beginning of the writings of Paul, Galatians has been used throughout the whole of the Church (Ibid., 19-21). It’s thought that Paul used, or even expounded upon, it when he wrote Romans (Ibid., 19). It’s believed that Polycarp alluded to Galatians twice in his Epistle to the Philippians (Ibid.). Polycarp says, “God is not mocked” (5.1 connected with Gal 6:7 CSB; Tenney 1973, 19). He also states, “”Father who raised him [Jesus Christ] from the dead” (XII. ii connected to Gal 1:1 CSB; Tenney 1973, 19). Irenaeus mentions the Epistle by name (Against Heresies 5.11.1) and Origen (ca.  AD 200) talks about it in his various commentaries, and finally, Jerome and Pelagius (fourth-century scholars) both focused on the Epistle to the Galatians in their works (Tenney 1973, 20). At the start of the Reformation, this Epistle was vastly important. Luther said, “[t]he Epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it [sic] I am as it were in wedlock. It is my Katherine [his actual wife]” (Luther 1535, Kindle Edition). If this letter can leave such a powerful experience on Luther, then we, who follow, should also be left with such an experience.

Why was this Letter Written?

Galatians Word Cloud

In this graph, the larger the word the more often it is used in the text. Also, Galatians appears in black because it is shown to be the portion of Scripture where these words come from for the graph. Word cloud taken from

Paul writes his epistle with a very specific tone of voice toward his various churches in Galatia (Gal 4:20 CSB). Paul has to speak, rather harshly it seems, due to a very important issue that has happened in churches. It is even noticeable that out of all of his letters, this one does not even have a thanksgiving or praise part to it, which was vitally important in this genre during Paul’s day (there are only two other letters, 2 Cor., 1 Tim., and Titus that did not have the thanksgiving portion in it). Paul uses very harsh words, things like curse and mutilation. In English, these words do not hold a very harsh or scary tone to them, but in the original Greek, they hold a very different meaning. When Paul says, twice, that anyone who teaches a different gospel is to be cursed, the Greek word is anathema, which is Paul saying that they are to be damned, to go to hell (Gal 1:8-9 CSB). Also, when Paul wishes that false teachers would be mutilated he is talking of not just circumcising themselves, he wants them to cut their whole manhood off—if you get what I mean—which is what is found in the meaning of the Greek word apokopsontai (Gal 5:12 CSB). The Greek word does mean to cut off, however, Paul means the whole thing, take it all the way he is telling his agitators. That is some harsh wording for his audience, even for his enemies. 

It must be understood, the Churches themselves are not the problem and therefore Paul says, “[y]ou have not wronged me; you know that previously I preached the gospel to you because of a weakness of the flesh. You did not despise or reject me though my physical condition was a trial for you. On the contrary, you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus himself” (Gal 4:12b-14 CSB). If Paul is not blaming his churches for the problem, then what is it that he is so harshly reprimanding them for? Paul even has to ask them this: “[y]ou were running well. Who prevented you from being persuaded regarding the truth” (Gal 5:7 CSB)? What has happened, then, is something like this. Some Jewish-Christians, those who have been named Judaizers (Gal 2:14 CSB), came into Paul’s churches in Galatia and began teaching that Jesus was not the only answer to salvation, that their faith was not enough, they needed to follow the Law in order to be fully saved. Now, technically, there is no translation that uses the word Judaizer, most say “live like Jews” (Gal 2:14 CSB, ESV, NABRE, NET, and NRSV). However, the meaning is still the same, to make someone who is not Jewish, live like one who is. This is the straight problem that fills all of the epistle. 

There are many schools of thought on what this letter, then, means. The first argument comes from Gerd Theissen (2003, 63) who believes that Paul was exaggerating in his remarks of the so-called proponents in his letter. He then states the actual truth was more in the fact that the Judaizers came in to fully complete Paul’s work by introducing circumcision (Ibid.). Theissen then completes his interpretation of the so-called proponents as holding to a more Jewish understanding of conversion in a two-stage process. First the Gentiles become God-fearers by attending services at the local synagogue; second, themselves or their children become fully Jewish by becoming circumcised (Ibid.). Thus, Paul’s argument (as Theissen believes) is that circumcision is not necessary to complete their faith but that faith itself finishes this work (Ibid., 64-65). Theissen plays down the seriousness of Paul’s letter. For him, the so-called proponents are just simply misunderstood.

Conversion of St. Paul

The image is taken from

Bruce Chilton and Deirdre Good (2011, 66-69), interpret Galatians with the background of the events in Acts 15 (CSB) and James’ letter to the Gentile believers. For Chilton and Good, Paul and James do not get along, James believes that the Gentiles are nothing more than a mere support to the true Israelites and for Paul, everything in the Torah and its rituals is not spiritual but merely idol worshipping (Ibid.). Because of the issue in Antioch, with Peter and Barnabas siding with the Judaizers, switching dinner fellowship from the Gentiles to the Jews, causes Paul to be excommunicated from Antioch (Ibid.). Therefore, Paul sets up shop in Ephesus and shows his fierce anger at the Galatians when the same thing begins to happen in their churches (Ibid.). For Chilton and Good, Paul is nothing more than an excommunicated, angry, free-spirited, radical Jew who will not have anything Jewish in his churches. If Theissen sees the anger of Paul as over exaggerated, then Chilton and Good view Paul as right to be so angry, maybe not even mad enough.

There is a field of research in New Testament studies known as Social-Science Criticism. Basically, these are sociologists and social historians (historians who focus on the social aspect of history) who apply sociology and social-science methodology in their understanding of the New Testament. One group of scholars in this field, Bruce Malina and John Pilch (2006, 178-180), have written a commentary on the so-called authentic letters of Paul (most liberal scholars do not think that all thirteen letters were written by Paul). They believe that Galatians is written by Paul on the defense of Greek Jews living outside of Judea not needing to live as those in Judea (Ibid.). Basically, in Malina and Pilch’s understanding, Paul did not convert anyone outside of Judaism to Christ. What this means, in their field, is that for the Jew there were Judean Jews (Greeks thought of them as barbarians) and Greek Jews (Greeks were the civilized ones); essentially, Greek Jews did not practice all of the strict rituals that the Judeans did (Ibid.). Paul went to the Greek Jews in Galatia, taught them of Christ, saw that the Greek view of Judaism was compatible with his message of Christ and did not require them to become Judean in their practice of Judaism. This is a tough pill to swallow, mainly because Acts records that Paul went to the Jew first in the synagogues, and then when he was rejected he moved on to the Gentiles, not Jewish Greeks but Greco-Romans, pagans (Acts 18:6 CSB).

Let’s look at these arguments from a different view. First, we know that Paul and Barnabas (thanks to Luke’s account of Paul’s journeys in Acts 13-14, CSB) went throughout the southern region of Galatia preaching and teaching first in the synagogues, then when other Jews began to stir up trouble they moved to the Gentiles (Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 295).

Paul and Barnabas are called gods
The image is taken from

Therefore, the churches of Galatia are going to be mostly Gentile (Ibid.). Second, the local issue of the Jewish-Christians is not that they are simply Jewish, mostly because the Jews did not bother trying to correct Christian understanding, they just came against them (Ibid.). What this means, then, is that these Jewish-Christians are false teachers (Ibid.). Next, Paul’s Gospel was brought into question, which means that the true Gospel of God was under fire (Elwell and Yarbrough 1998, 298-299). Because his Gospel is called into question, Paul is thus doubted as a true apostle (Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 295). This is why Paul opens his letter, “an apostle—not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead” (Gal 1:1 CSB). It’s also why Paul states at the end of his letter, “let no one cause me trouble, because I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Gal 6:17 CSB; Carson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 295). The false gospel, being taught by the false teachers, was that Jesus was not the only way to be saved, you still had to follow the Law—mainly, circumcision and dietary (Gal 2:15-16; 3:10, 23; 5:2-6, 12; 6:12 CSB). Paul’s rhetoric, which is valid and strong, states that if one is to take on circumcision, then one is to practice the whole Law and therefore negating the freedom one has under Christ (Carlson, Moo, and Morris 1992, 295). What is Paul’s answer to the false teachers? It’s not a simple one, though it seems that way to others. Paul’s answer is that we are “justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law…[we] have been crucified with Christ…[we] live by faith in the Son of God [Jesus]…for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing” (Gal 2:16, 20, 21 CSB). 

What is the Doctrine of Justification and Why is it so Important?

Galatians' Word Cloud from Logos

The word cloud is taken from Logos 7 Passage Guide

When you read the epistle of Galatians, certain things begin to pop out at you. One of the first things to be seen is best illustrated with the two word clouds on the whole of the Epistle to the Galatians, the first one taken from Blue Letter Bible (BLB) and the one, directly above, is from Logos 7.  You can see that one of the major words in the cloud is “justify” and one other word, that stems from the same Greek word, which is slightly smaller in the Logos 7 word cloud is “righteous.” When we look at the key verse for this in Galatians (2:15-21 CSB), we can see that the word justified is even bigger, while righteousness is smaller.

Galatians 2:15-21 Word Cloud
The word cloud is taken from Logos 7 Passage Guide

Next, we can see that there are several large words, other than justified, within this word cloud. First, it must be noted that the word sinners is fairly large, as well as Christ and died. What is happening in this portion of the text is something crazy, which gets carried out throughout the whole portion of the letter—the dualism between sinners (under the Law) and those who are justified (the ones that have faith in Christ). To understand this, we need to grasp the word dikaioutai, which the lexical form dikaioo, in English, means to justify, vindicate, or be free. The word pie below, taken from Logos 7 Bible Word Study Guide, shows that the lexical form of dikaioo, justify, has its root in the word dike, which means punishment; or penalty; or justice. Basically, this is a legal term, which shows that justified means that we are made right with God, through our faith in the sacrificial act of Jesus on the cross.

Justified Greek Word Pie
The Word Pie, on the Greek word for Justified, taken from Logos 7 Bible Word Study Guide

The Council of Trent (1531) states “[f]or faith, unless hope and charity be added to it, neither unites man perfectly with Christ nor makes him a living member of His body.” What this means, is that for modern Roman Catholics, one is only justified if they meet it with charity—fides caritate formata (Dulles 2011, 98).  However, this was not how the reformers saw it. According to scripture (Galatians, Romans, 1 Corinthians, etc.), we are justified by faith alone (sola fide). R. C. Sproul (2014, 233), states “justification is a legal pronouncement made by God. In other words, justification can occur only when God, who is Himself just, becomes the Justifier by decreeing someone to be just in His sight.” This is why the words justified and sinner are bigger words in the word cloud than any other. As sinners, we deserve the full wrath and judgment of God, however, Jesus Christ came, as a human, lived righteously, because we could not. When He was placed on the cross, he took our sins, in exchange we received His righteousness upon His resurrection from the dead. This is how our faith, in Christ, makes us right with God. Thus, this is the message of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Reference List

Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. 1992. Introduction to the New Testament. 289-303. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Chilton, Bruce and Deirdre Good. 2011. Studying the New Testament: A Fortress Introduction. 66-69. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Dulles, Avery. “Faith and Revelation.” In Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives. Edited by Francis Schüssler Fiorenza and John P. Galvin. 79-108. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Elwell, Walter and Robert W. Yarbrough. 1998. Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey. 296-303. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Luther, Martin. Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (1535). Translated by Theodore Graebner. Kindle edition.

Malina, Bruce J. and John J. Pilch. 2006. Social-Science Commentary on the Letters of Paul. 177-218. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Sproul, R. C. (2014). Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology. 233-236. Orlando: Reformation Trust.

Tenney, Merrill C.  1973. Galatians: The Charter of Christian Liberty. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Theissen, Gerd. 2003. Fortress Introduction to the New Testament. Translated by John Bowden. 62-66. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

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