Author: Galatians 1:1 clearly identifies the Apostle Paul as the writer of the Epistle to the Galatians.
Date of Writing: Depending on where exactly the Book of Galatians was sent and during which missionary journey Paul started the churches in that area, the Book of Galatians was written somewhere between 48 and 55 A.D.
Purpose of Writing: The churches in Galatia were formed partly of converted Jews and partly of Gentile converts, as was generally the case. Paul asserts his apostolic character and the doctrines he taught, that he might confirm the Galatian churches in the faith of Christ, especially with respect to the important point of justification by faith alone. Thus the subject is mainly the same as that which is discussed in the Epistle to the Romans, that is, justification by faith alone. In this epistle, however, attention is particularly directed to the point that men are justified by faith without the works of the Law of Moses. Galatians was not written as an essay in contemporary history. It was a protest against corruption of the gospel of Christ. The essential truth of justification by faith rather than by the works of the law had been obscured by the ‘Judaizers’ insistence that believers in Christ must keep the law if they expected to be perfect before God. When Paul learned that this teaching had begun to penetrate the Galatian churches and that it had alienated them from their heritage of liberty, he wrote the impassioned remonstrance contained in this epistle.
Key Verses: Galatians 2:16: “Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 3:11: “Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Galatians 4:5-6: “to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’” Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 6:7: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
Brief Summary: The result of justification by grace through faith is spiritual freedom. Paul appealed to the Galatians to stand fast in their freedom, and not get “entangled again with a yoke of bondage (that is, the Mosaic law)” (Galatians 5:1). Christian freedom is not an excuse to gratify one’s lower nature; rather, it is an opportunity to love one another (Galatians 5:13; 6:7-10). Such freedom does not insulate one from life’s struggles. Indeed, it may intensify the battle between the Spirit and the flesh. Nevertheless, the flesh (the lower nature) has been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20); and, as a consequence, the Spirit will bear His fruit such as love, joy, and peace in the life of the believer (Galatians 5:22-23). The letter to the Galatians was written in a spirit of inspired agitation. For Paul, the issue was not whether a person was circumcised, but whether he had become “a new creation” (Galatians 6:15). If Paul had not been successful in his argument for justification by faith alone, Christianity would have remained a sect within Judaism, rather than becoming the universal way of salvation. Galatians, therefore, is not only Luther’s epistle; it is the epistle of every believer who confesses with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). The books of James and Galatians illustrate two aspects of Christianity that from the very beginning have seemed to be in conflict, though in reality they are supplementary. James insists on the ethic of Christ, a demand that faith prove its existence by its fruits. Nevertheless, James, no less than Paul, emphasizes the need of the transformation of the individual by the grace of God (James 1:18). Galatians stresses the dynamic of the gospel that produces ethic (Galatians 3:13-14). Nor was Paul less concerned than James about the ethical life (Galatians 5:13). Like the two sides of a coin, these two aspects of Christian truth must always accompany each other.
Connections: Throughout Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, saving grace—the gift of God—is juxtaposed against the law of Moses, which does not save. The Judaizers, those who would return to the Mosaic law as their source of justification, were prominent in the early church, even temporarily drawing such a prominent Christian as Peter into their web of deceit (Galatians 2:11-13). So attached were the early Christians to the law that Paul had to continually reiterate the truth that salvation by grace had nothing to do with law-keeping. The themes connecting Galatians to the Old Testament center around the law vs. grace: the inability of the law to justify (2:16); the believer’s deadness to the law (2:19); Abraham’s justification by faith (3:6); the law bringing not salvation but God’s wrath (3:10); and love, not works, fulfilling the law (5:14).
Practical Application: One of the main themes of the Book of Galatians is found in 3:11: “The righteous shall live by faith.” Not only are we saved by faith (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9), but the life of the believer in Christ—day by day, moment by moment—is lived by and through that faith. Not that faith is something we conjure up on our own—it is the gift of God, not of works—but it is our responsibility and joy to exhibit our faith so that others will see the work of Christ in us and increase our faith by the application of the spiritual disciplines (Bible study, prayer, obedience). Jesus said we would be known by the fruit of our lives (Matthew 7:16) which gives evidence of the faith within us. All Christians should be diligent in striving to build upon the saving faith within us so that our lives with reflect Christ and others will see Him in us and “glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, NKJV).