Introduction to Galatians – Galatians 1

Read the Passage: Galatians 1

Authorship and Date – As the very first word of the book of Galatians testifies, this epistle was written by the apostle Paul (cf. Gal. 1:1; 5:2). Pauline authorship was unanimously affirmed by the early church and has not been challenged, for the most part, by even the most liberal literary critics. Dating of this epistle is difficult, as the exact recipients of Paul’s letter are not identified. From the book’s title, however, it is sure that Paul wrote to the Galatians (1:2); yet the identity of the Galatians has been hotly debated by scholars. Some believe that “Galatia” is a reference to the northern area of Asia Minor where the ethnic Galatians live (i.e., the North Galatia Theory) and date the epistle from AD 52–57. Certainly Paul did pass through this area on his second missionary journey (cf. Acts 16:6), and he was in this general area on his third missionary journey (cf. Acts 18:23). Others, however, believe that “Galatia” is a not an ethnic reference but a political one, referring to the Roman province of Galatia in southern Asia Minor which was settled by refugees from Gaul in the third century BC (i.e., the South Galatia Theory). Paul primarily ministered here on his first missionary journey—that is, the cities of Antioch, Iconium, Lysra, and Derbe (cf. Acts 13–14). If the South Galatia Theory is correct, this letter would probably be dated AD 48–50. This would make Galatians the first of Paul’s thirteen (or fourteen, depending upon the authorship of Hebrews) canonical epistles. Note, as well, that Galatians is the only one of Paul’s epistles specifically addressed to churches in more than one city—although, some hold that Ephesians may have been a circular letter.

Purpose and Theme – Regardless of exact recipients and date for the letter of Galatians, Paul’s purpose in writing is clear—that is, to defend the doctrine of justification by faith alone in light of false teaching from the heretical sect history has labeled as the Judaizers. The Judaizers were sect of false teachers who arose in the first century who taught that one must first become a Jewish proselyte, keeping all of the Old Testament ceremonials laws, in order to become a Christian (cf. Gal. 2:16; 3:2; 5:4). Given that Old Testament Gentile converts to Judaism has to adopt Jewish ceremonial laws, this notion may seem logical; yet, in the New Testament context, it essentially turned the gospel into a works-based scheme. The specific topic that Paul focuses upon in this letter is the issue of circumcision, which was required by the ceremonial law (cf. Gal. 6:12–13). This is the same issue that was debated at the Jerusalem Council in the context of their discussion of the Old Testament law (cf. Acts 15:1–29). Note that the Jerusalem Council ruled in favor Paul and against the teaching of the Judaizers.

Structure and Outline – The epistle to the Galatians is known for being doctrinally and structurally very similar to Paul’s letter to the Romans, and is sometime called little Romans.

  • Personal Defense (1:1–2:21)
  • Doctrinal Argument (3:1–4:31)
  • Practical Application (5:1–6:10)

Paul’s Introduction (1:1–5)

A common aspect of Paul’s letters that is lacking from his epistle to the Galatians is a commendation. Interestingly, the apostle begins his letter to the Galatians with a defense of his apostleship, a topic that he expands upon at some length in Gal. 1:11–24. Paul likely omitted a customary commendation because of the urgency of addressing the problem at hand—that is, the distortion of the gospel. One reason for Paul’s defense of his apostleship is that his credentials were likely being questioned by the false teachers. The biographical information Paul supplies in this letter, as well as his reminder of his time with the Galatians (cf. Gal. 4:12–16) would help mitigate the personal attacks of the false teachers. After greeting his readers with a “grace to you” (Gal. 1:3), which itself was a shot at the Judaizer’s false teaching, Paul moved to address the reason for his writing.

Paul’s Gospel (1:6–10)

In addressing the reason for his letter, Paul wrote, “I marvel that you are now turning away so soon from Him who called you” (Gal. 1:6). Paul was so disturbed by the Galatians’ tolerance of error, and he was so sure of the truth of the gospel he had preached, that he exhorted the Galatians to ignore all other “gospel” messages—even if and angel or he himself should preach it. Like most false teachers, the Judaizers undermined the gospel not by explicitly denying it, but by adding to it. As a means of self-defense against the false teachers who were assassinating his character, Paul noted in Gal. 1:10 that he was not trying to please men or operating out of self-interest; rather Paul was a slave of Jesus Christ. Note that Paul’s methodology of argument was not to give new teaching, but to return to and herald the gospel message.

Paul’s Credentials (1:11–24)

In Gal. 1:11–24 Paul gives his apostolic credentials, a topic that he had touched upon in Gal. 1:1. In this section, especially Gal. 1:17–23, the apostle discloses biographical information that is not available in the book of Acts or any other of his epistles. In short, we learn of Paul’s three year training time in Arabia, which chronologically occurred between Acts 9:25 and Acts 9:26. Comparing the books of Acts and Galatians, then, a timeline of Paul’s conversion and early spiritual walk would look like this: confronted by Christ on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 9:1–9); healed and baptized after three days in Damascus (cf. Acts 9:10–19); begins preaching and is persecuted in Damascus (cf. Acts 9:20–25); three year training time in Arabia (Gal. 1:15–17); and visit to Jerusalem to see the apostles (cf. Gal. 1:17; Acts 9:26–30). Note Paul’s emphasis on God’s sovereignty in this passage (cf. Gal. 1:12, 15–16, 19, 24).

Application Questions:

  1. What do you know about the book of Galatians? What comes to mind about this epistle as we look forward to this study?
  2. Why is the message of faith plus works a false doctrine since it does include faith? Why did false teaching arise so early in church history?
  3. Do you think most people, even most Christians, fully understand the gospel message? What are the non-negotiable parts of the gospel?
  4. How do most false teachers articulate their doctrines? Why are false teachers sometimes tolerated by otherwise orthodox churches?
  5. Why does Paul refer to Christ being revealed “in me” (Gal. 1:16) in this passage as opposed to Jesus being revealed to me?