Galatians 1-3

Galatians is a letter that Paul wrote to the church Galatia. Which church, specifically, this epistle was aimed at is a matter for debate (there is a "north theory" and a "south theory"), but geographically, it was somewhere in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, and dates to somewhere between 49 and 62 AD. After opening greetings, Paul immediately expresses surprise and disappointment that the Galatians are "so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel." He tells them that if he were "still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ," and that anyone teaching a different gospel, even "angel from heaven," should be condemned. The gospel he preached to them was "not something that man made up" but he "received it by revelation from Jesus Christ." He reminds them of his conversion story, and tells them that he didn't go to Jerusalem to meet Peter or see any of the other apostles until "after three years."

In chapter two, he talks about going to Jerusalem fourteen years later with Barnabas and Titus, and "set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles...privately to those who seemed to be leaders." And that "those who seemed to be important...added nothing to my message," recognizing that he "had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews." He then relates a story of Peter coming to Antioch and eating with the Genitles, then "draw[ing] back and separat[ing] himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group." Paul said that he had "opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong." Paul insists that "a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ..for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"

Chapter three continues the discussion of faith and the observance of the Mosaic law. Paul challenges them on how they received the holy spirit, "by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?" He chastises them for "trying to attain your goal by human effort." He tells them that those who believe "are children of Abraham," who "believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." He reminds them that God told Abraham that "all nations will be blessed through you." He tells them that those relying on observing the law are "under a curse" and that "no one is justified before God by the law." He points out to them that a human covenant, once established, cannot be "set aside or add[ed] to." He then says that the promise to Abraham, the covenant established by God, was to "Abraham and his seed" rather than "seeds." The promise, therefore, is not for many but for one, "who is Christ." He goes on to explain that by this he means that the law "introduced 430 years later" does not set aside the Abrahamic covenant or do away with the promise, "for if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise." The law, he tells them, "was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come." But clearly, the law cannot be "opposed to the promises of God." No, he tells them, "the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law." And he tells them that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."

Thoughts, questions, issues

Galatians 4-6

Chapter four continues the discussion from chapter three about the inheritance of the promise to Abraham. He tells the Galatians that when "the heir is a child, he is no diffeent from a slave" because he is controlled by guardians and trustees, and that "we in slavery under the basic principles of the world" until that time when "God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons..." So, he tells them, they are no longer slaves but sons and heirs to the promise. When the "did not know God," they were "slaves to those who by nature are not gods." He asks why they would turn back to those times, and asserts that he is "perplexed about you!" He continues the heir analogy by discussing Sarah and Hagar, and how Isaac was heir to the promise and Ishmael was not, how "one covenant is from Mount Sinai [Hagar] and bears children who are to be slaves...but the Jerusalem that is above [Sarah] is free, and she is our mother." He tells them that they, "like Isaac, are children of promise."

In chapter five, he tells the Galatians not only that "Christ has set us free," but that "if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all." Those "who are trying to be justified by law...have fallen away from grace." He tells thems that the "were called to be free," and encourages them to love one another, not to keep "biting and devouring each other." They must "live by the spirit" rather than "gratify[ing] the desires of the sinful nature, for the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit." The acts of the sinful nature, he says, are obvious, and then lists many, and warns that "those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." The fruit of the spirit, on the other hand, he also lists and says that "against such things there is no law" and that "since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."

In chapter six, he instructs them to "restore...gently" someone caught in sin, but also to "watch yourself, or also may be tempted." He tells them to carry one another's burden and "fulfill the law of Christ." He warns them that "if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself." Finally, he apparently wrote the last part himself instead of dictating, because he comment on "what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!" And tells them, again, that "neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation."

Thoughts, questions, issues