Galatians, Epistle to the

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The date when this Epistle was written has been disputed more than that of any of the others, some placing it early, and others later. The events seem best to agree thus: on Paul’s second missionary journey he went throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia (Acts 16:66Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, (Acts 16:6)). We learn from Galatians 4:13-1513Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. 14And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. 15Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me. (Galatians 4:13‑15) that he had preached the gospel to them, and that they had received him as an angel and would have plucked out their eyes for him. This visit would have been about A.D. 51. Then about A.D. 54 Paul again visited them; all we read as to this journey is that he went over all the country of Galatia, strengthening, or confirming, all the disciples (Acts 18:2323And after he had spent some time there, he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples. (Acts 18:23)). They may, alas, have as readily received the Judaizing teachers, and when this came to the ears of Paul, he wrote this Epistle to them. He grieved that they were so soon diverted to another gospel which was not another. In 1 Corinthians 16:11Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. (1 Corinthians 16:1) we read that Paul had instructed the churches in Galatia as to the collection for the poor. This was written to Corinth about A.D. 55. The collection is not mentioned in his Epistle to the Galatians, and as far as we know he did not visit them again. This has caused some to suppose that Paul wrote the Epistle to them after his first visit; and that he gave them the directions as to the collection on his second visit; but they may have been given by another letter or by a private messenger.
Galatians 1. After a brief opening, in which the intent of the Lord’s giving Himself for our sins is set forth, namely, to deliver us from this present age according to the will of God, the apostle proceeds directly to the point and marvels at the rapid departure of the Galatian converts from the gospel. In the strongest terms he denounces the efforts made to pervert them from the grace of Christ to other ground. Paul would have them know that his apostleship was not by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father; that the gospel he preached was by the revelation of Jesus Christ. The Jews’ religion, by which they were so attracted, had led him to be a bitter persecutor, but it had pleased God to reveal His Son in him that he might preach Him among the Gentiles. His commission and authority had come direct from on high, and had no connection with Jerusalem as a source. The saints in Judaea did but glorify God in him.
Galatians 2. Fourteen years after [his conversion] he went up to Jerusalem and communicated to those there the gospel he preached to the Gentiles. He utterly refused to submit to pressure from Judaizing brethren in the case of the Gentile convert Titus, and in result received the full fellowship of the three pillars—James, Cephas, and John—in regard to his ministry among the heathen. Subsequently, at Antioch, Paul had actually withstood Peter to the face as to the truth of the gospel, which Peter was fatally compromising from fear of the Jews. Peter’s conduct was wholly inconsistent. Peter and Paul had themselves left the law for justification, to find it alone on the principle of faith in Christ. Had Christ become the minister of sin in their doing this? If not, in going back to the law they built anew what they had destroyed, and were confessedly transgressors; for if right in leaving it for Christ, they were wrong in returning to it. For Paul, however, it was true that through law he had died to law, in order to live to God. With Christ he was crucified (was judicially dead); yet he lived, but no longer himself, for Christ lived in him, and his life as still in this world was by faith—the faith of the Son of God, a living object whose love filled his soul. Christ had died in vain if righteousness came by the law.
Galatians 3. The Galatians were as though bewitched. Had they received the Spirit on the principle of law or of faith? To this there could be but one answer. Having begun in the Spirit, were they now to be made perfect by the flesh? Faith was the principle on which Abraham, the head of promise and blessing, was reckoned righteous, and on which the Gentiles would, with believing Abraham, receive blessing, according to God’s promise to him. Those under law were under the curse; and on that ground none could be justified. Christ had borne the curse that Abraham’s blessing might come on the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, and that through faith they might receive the promise of the Spirit. The law, given four hundred and thirty years after the promise, could not set the latter aside, which was made not only to Abraham, but to his Seed, even to Christ. The law came in by the way till the Seed should come: it proved transgressions; it had been useful as a guard: it had been for those under it a tutor up to Christ. Now faith had come, such were no longer under a tutor; the Gentile believers were now God’s sons by faith in Christ Jesus. In Christ distinctions between Jew and Gentile disappeared: all were one, and the Gentile believers being of Christ were Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise.
Galatians 4. Though heirs, the Jews were, under law, in the condition of children under age, held in bondage under the elements of the world, with which indeed the law had to do. But now God had sent forth His Son, to redeem those under law, that believers might receive sonship. He had sent the Spirit of His Son into their hearts, giving the cry of relationship, “Abba, Father.” They were therefore no longer bondmen, but sons; and if sons, then heirs through God. Were the Gentile believers (formerly in heathen darkness, but now knowing God) going to turn back to the principles of law, which the apostle does not hesitate to call weak and beggarly elements? They observed days, and months, and times, and years, as though Christianity were a system for man in the flesh. But he reminds them of their former affection for him, and how they had received him as an angel of God. Was he now their enemy because he told them the truth? These Judaizing teachers had sown this discord in order that they might supplant the apostle in their affections. Spiritually he again travailed in birth with them till Christ should be formed in them. He knew not what to make of them. Let those who wanted to be under law listen to it. He then submits to them the allegory of Sarah and Hagar, in which the principles of law and faith in God’s promise are seen in conflict. The promise is secured in Isaac, that is, in Christ. Believers, as Isaac was, are children of promise, they are not children of the maidservant but of the free woman.
Galatians 5. He exhorts the Galatians to stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ made free. If circumcised they were debtors to do the whole law, and were deprived of all profit from the Christ. They had in such case fallen from grace. Christians awaited the hope of righteousness, by the Spirit, on the principle of faith. For those in Christ faith wrought through love. The Galatians had run well, but who had now hindered them? The guilt of this mischief should be borne by the troubler, whoever he was. The scandal of the cross was done away if circumcision was preached, for it was rehabilitating the flesh. But love was the fulfillment of the law. The flesh and Spirit were in fact utterly opposed, but if led by the Spirit they were not under law. The works of the flesh are set forth in contrast to the fruit of the Spirit. Those that were of Christ had crucified the flesh with its lusts, the Spirit being the only power for christian walk.
Galatians 6. Some closing exhortations follow. The spiritual were to restore those taken in a fault, remembering what they were in themselves. They were to care for one another—to think nothing of themselves—to care for those who ministered to them in the word. He warns them of the consequences of sowing to the flesh, but in sowing to the Spirit they should reap eternal life. Let them do good then to all, but especially to the household of faith. He tells them he had written this letter with his own hand as evidence of his deep concern as to them. He once again refers to the mischief-makers in scathing terms. But the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ was his only boast, through whom the world was crucified unto him, and he to it. In Christ Jesus nothing availed but a new creation; and upon those who walked according to this rule peace and mercy are invoked. This Epistle, in which the grief of the apostle is mingled with indignation, is concluded by an affecting allusion to the sufferings he had endured in the maintenance of the truth which they were so lightly turning from: he bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus. There are none of the customary salutations.
The epistle is an example of the energy and rapidity of the apostle’s style, and of the spiritual power of his argument. We see him deeply moved by the baneful influence of the Judaisers in Galatia and at their success. Alas! it is what has extended everywhere throughout Christendom.