Galatians – The Impetus of Galatians

July 26, 2008

History has shown that Christians do best when they approach the Bible comprehensively. Many have profited in Bible study by availing themselves of ample background information, prayerfully reading through the text, considering the opinions of worthy commentators and carefully pondering those elements of the story not expressly stated in Scripture.

A good backdrop for a study of the Book of Galatians is that the Jewish people historically classified men into two races: Jews and Gentiles. In the Apostolic age, however, Christians began to believe that humanity had three races: Jews, Gentiles, and Christians born anew in Jesus Christ.

For centuries, theologians assumed Paul wrote this epistle to the ethnic Gauls in northern Galatia. In the 20th Century, many began to consider an earlier early dating of the epistle and put forth a strong argument that Paul wrote instead to the Jews and Gentiles in southern Galatia. This latter position seems more credible for many convincing reasons, such as the fact that there is no reference to the Council of Jerusalem in the book and that the Galatian names listed in the epistle are from the south. Commentator F. F. Bruce recently stated that Galatians was the earliest of Paul’s letters, composed just before the Council of Jerusalem.

The issue of whether living a fully Christianity life required circumcision had great significance for the early Church, especially considering the lack of anesthesia and the rabbinical practice to use a stone knife for the procedure. History leaves few details about the Judaizers specific to Galatia, but it is likely that they traveled from church to church to spread their positions and claimed a commission from the pious and powerful James, Proto-Bishop of Jerusalem.

From the onset, Paul passionately affirms that his message is from God, not from man (cf. Gal 1:1). He then juxtaposes the grace and peace of Christ’s gospel with the troubling perversions that come from the Judaizers. He writes, "even if … an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Gal 1:8). Not treating the issue as a mere discussion of doctrinal theory, he passionately points out all that is essential to know Jesus Christ and live in His resurrection.

After reflecting on Galatians, a number of questions emerge: What place should Jewish teachings and the Old Testament have in the Church? Who or what tries to pervert the gospel in this age? What is essential to live the Gospel? How do we best live out that which is essential?

Music: Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A Major performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra

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