The book of Galatians is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the local churches in Galatia around 60 A.D. during Paul’s third trip to Corinth. The purpose of the letter was to vindicate the Gospel of grace as opposed to human works, keeping the Mosaic Law and legalism. Paul refutes two false doctrines that were being set forth by a group called the Judaizers. This group was teaching keeping the law for both salvation and the spiritual life. Both of these false doctrines were addressed by Paul in the book of Galatians and shown to be false.
As to the location of the churches of Galatia, there are two views. The first is that they were located in Northern Asia Minor, but this seems unlikely based on Luke’s account in the book of Acts of Paul’s visit to this region. Luke uses the word disciples rather than churches in connection with Paul’s visit. This seems clear that Paul was visiting scattered believers throughout the region, not assemblies of believers (local churches).
The location of Galatia becomes important in the understanding of the people to whom Paul is writing. Paul always used the name of the Roman province when referring to an area, which is the case for the cities in Galatia. Therefore, the best conclusion is that the book of Galatians was written to a group of churches in South Galatia that had been established by Paul on one of his missionary journeys to that region. Paul also visited Northern Galatia, but it is unlikely that the Judaizers spent time there since there seem to be no local churches.
The people of this region were a mixed group of Jews and Greeks and their cities were places of thriving commerce. It was Paul’s habit to establish churches in and around the Roman capitals and link them together along the principle routes. Antioch, Corinth and Ephesus were some of these cities where churches were established by Paul.
The religion that the citizens of these cities practiced was more oriental than Greek and full of all sorts of pagan rituals. There was also a Jewish synagogue. Paul, of course preached a message of grace, not law. Many who heard Paul’s message accepted it and believed in Jesus Christ as Savior. Then came a group of people we call the Judaizers. They were, for the most part, Jews who probably were not believers who said that keeping the Mosaic Law was the means of righteousness and spirituality. Therefore, Paul wrote this letter to defend the true Gospel message and the spiritual life, both of which are based on God’s grace, not the Mosaic Law.
There are three main sections in this letter besides the introduction and the conclusion. The first section deals with the Apostle Paul himself and his defense of his apostolic authority, the second section is doctrinal and deals with grace verses works for salvation and the third section is practical and deals with grace as the basis for the Christian way of life.
In Galatians 1:1, Paul in no uncertain terms makes his claim to be commissioned by God the Father and Jesus Christ as an apostle with full authority to preach the Gospel and establish local churches. This commission, Paul states, was not from men. The Greek word for apostle is “apostolos,” which is taken from two words, “apo” meaning from and “stello” meaning to send. Thus, apostle means a person sent on a mission to represent the sender. Paul’s use of the word apostle, however, refers to a representative with an official status who has been provided with proper credentials. The New Testament spiritual gift of apostle was given to certain men in order to establish the early church and they often had authority over many churches. When the last apostle died (John), the spiritual gift of apostleship died with him.
Paul’s use of the Greek language once again clarifies the fact that he was pointing out the fact that his commission was not of human origin, but rather divine in character. The word Paul used for not of men was “anthropos,” meaning the human race. If Paul had meant a specific individual he would have used “aner.” Furthermore, Paul says that God did not even use a human being (man) to confer this commission on Paul – it came directly from God. (Acts 9:3-8; I Corinthians 9:1)
Galatians 1:2 tells us that Paul was not alone in his travels, but had with him a number of people. The greeting from all of them would indicate that they were involved in Paul’s ministry and fully agreed with his position of grace. Since there is no mention of their names, it seems likely that the churches in Galatia knew who was traveling with Paul and therefore there was no need to name them all.
Paul and his traveling companions address this letter to all the churches in the region indicting the widespread defection from the Gospel of grace that they had first believed. The word church is the Greek word “ekklesia,” and means a called out assembly. Often in Greek it referred to a legislative body called out for a legal matter (similar to a jury). In the New Testament this word most often refers to a local assembly of believers, not the entire body of believers, but can refer to either.
Galatians 1:3 is the formal salutation from Paul. Grace and peace spoken of from the Father and the Son in this verse refer to grace as the means of fulfilling the Christian life and peace from God by the execution of the plan, purpose and will of God both under the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit. This is what the Judaizers were ultimately depriving the believers of by attempting to make them obey the Mosaic Law for salvation and spiritual growth. The use of the Greek preposition “apo” (from) indicates that the Father and the Son are jointly the source of grace and peace for the believer.
In Galatians 1:4, Paul is obvious in reminding the believers that it was the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ that secured forever their salvation. Paul is also quick to point out that it is on the basis of Christ’s payment for sin that the believer has the potential of being delivered from this present world system, thus bringing in grace in salvation and grace in the Christian life. This payment for sin was according to the will of God the Father, “to Whom be glory forever and ever.” Glory belongs to God alone because He is the One Who secured our salvation not our human merit. (Hebrews 10:9)
The Greek word used to describe the evil of the world system is “poneros” and means the activity of evil. Those who practice this form of evil are not content to practice it alone. Their desire is to take as many with them down the path of evil as they can. The Judaizers, obviously being used by Satan, certainly fit this description in their attempt to destroy the early church by teaching a false gospel message and requiring adherence to the Mosaic Law as a means of spirituality.
Galatians 1:6 begins Paul’s description of the problem within these local churches. Paul said that he was astonished, even surprised that in such a short period of time believers within these churches had defected to a false gospel. The Greek word for astonished is “thaumazo” and is actually a fairly mild word, considering the severity of their defection. Perhaps Paul used this word “like heaping coals of fire upon their heads.”
The Greek word for removed or deserted is “metatithemi” and means to transpose two things, one of which is put in the place of the other. In classical Greek the word referred to a turncoat. Paul was saying that the believer who followed the false teachings of the Judaizers was turning his back on God. It was God who had called them by means of the grace of Christ to accept the free gift of eternal life. Paul marvels that it took such a short time for these believers to abandon grace for a gospel of works, which we know is not another Gospel (there is only one). Paul makes this clear by the use of two Greek words for another gospel. The first word is “heteros,” which means another of a different kind (quality) and “allos,” which means another of the same kind (numerically).
This false doctrine of the Judaizers was neither another gospel of like quality nor was even a second gospel. The message of the Judaizers was simply false doctrine.
Galatians 1:7 speaks of those who were troubling (disturbing) the believers in Galatia. The Greek word for trouble is “tarasso” and means to disturb mentally. This mental disturbance for these Galatians seems to indicate their acceptance of the perverted message of the Judaizers. What these false teachers were doing is completely changing the Gospel of grace into a system of law-keeping. The Greek word for pervert is “metastrepho,” which means to reverse, to change to the opposite or to turn about. The opposite of grace is human effort. (Romans 11:6)
Galatians 1:8 is a stern warning from the Apostle Paul with all the force of his apostolic authority. He said that if anyone proclaims any other gospel than the Gospel of grace, which he preached, that they should be destroyed. Paul makes it clear that the controversy is not between the preachers, but it is between truth and error. The word for angel in Greek can also be translated messenger, or in this verse, heavenly messenger. Paul is attempting to show this group of believers that the true Gospel is what he has been preaching and anything else is an accursed message. However, Paul goes one step further in pronouncing a curse on the one who preaches the false message. The word for accursed in Greek is “anathema” and means to set apart for destruction. So serious is the perversion of the Gospel of Christ that Paul says that those who preach it should be destroyed.
Galatians 1:9, repeats the curse showing just how serious of an offense to God that perverting the Gospel can be. We know from this verse that those to whom Paul’s letter was addressed were unquestionably believers. The Greek word for received is “paralambano,” which means to appropriate and makes it clear they were believers.
Grace is all that God is free to do for mankind on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Grace is undeserved mercy and unmerited favor. Grace is the title of God’s plan and His policy for all mankind before and after salvation. (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 2:11-12)