Introduction to Galatians
In a lot of ways, 1 and 2 Corinthians could be a little intense at times - especially 2 Corinthians. Galatians is going to take this to a new level. Whereas the "tone" of 1 Corinthians could be phrased as "patiently corrective" and 2 Corinthians could be "exasperated and frustrated", Galatians is definitely bordering on "angry". What is at stake here? As with the end of 2 Corinthians, it is the Gospel itself. Whereas in 2 Corinthians people are confused and being misled, in Galatians it seems that people have wholehearted forsaken the Gospel. Check out a few verses that capture some of the tone:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (paraphrase: damned to hell).
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
As always, here's some general introductory material:
"A. The book of Galatians is one of the clearest expressions of the radically new and free truth of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone. It is often called “The Magna Carta of Christian Liberty.”
B. This letter stirred the fires of the Protestant Reformation.
1. Martin Luther said “the little book of Galatians is my letter; I have betrothed myself to it; it is my wife.”
2. John Wesley found lasting peace from a sermon on Galatians.
3. In his Study Guide Commentary , p. 11, Curtis Vaughan wrote “few books have more profoundly influenced the minds of men, have so significantly shaped the course of human history, or continued to speak with such relevance to the deepest needs of modern life.”
C. This doctrinally oriented letter, possibly Paul’s first, was a precursor to Romans and its development of the doctrine of justification by faith apart from Judaism’s emphasis on keeping the Law:
1. Salvation cannot be found in both Law and grace.
2. Salvation must be found in either Law or grace.
3. Christlikeness will follow a true conversion.
4. Beware of Christian legalism.
D. This radically free salvation, by grace alone through faith alone, is desperately needed in our day because of the recurrent, subtle pull of our self-oriented, works-oriented religious consciousness. In every age the simple truth of God’s initiating, self-giving, unconditional love mediated through human repentance and humble faith is challenged! It is not that the false teachers were rejecting Christ’s central place in redemption, but they were adding to Him. It is not what we add, but that we add anything!
PURPOSE OF THE LETTER
A. Paul addressed three distinct areas of concern about the message of the false teachers. These heretics have been labeled “Judaizers” because they believed that one had to become a Jew before he could become a Christian (cf. 6:12). His concerns revolved around the charges of the Judaizers:
1. Paul was not truly an Apostle like the Twelve (cf. Acts 1:21–22); therefore, he was dependent on their authority or at least the authority of the Mother Church in Jerusalem.
2. Paul’s message was different from theirs, and thus, false. This seems directly related to the concept of “justification by faith apart from the Law.” The Apostles in Jerusalem were still very Jewish in their personal lives.
3. An element of libertinism was connected in some way with these churches (cf. 5:18–6:8). Exactly how this is to be explained is debated. Some have even seen two target groups in Paul’s letter: Judaizers and gnostics (cf. 4:8–11). However, it seems best to relate these verses to pagan practices. The Jews were concerned about the lifestyle of Gentiles. How did Paul’s radical free grace relate to pagan idolatry and excess?
B. Doctrinally, this letter is very similar to Paul’s letter to the Romans. These two books contain Paul’s major doctrines repeated and developed in different settings."