THE EPISTLE OF PAUL TO THE
O U T L I N E
Purpose of the book. Galatians was written to converted Gentiles who had been deceived by Judaizing teachers into putting themselves under law. It was written to correct two errors of legality: (1) that the law is needed for justification and (2) that the law is needed to maintain a holy life. Both of these errors are common today, although the second is more prevalent in protestant Christianity. Particularly, the error being taught was “except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). It was ceremonial law that the Judaizing teachers insisted on (circumcision) rather than the moral law (ten commandments). In ch.5 Paul shows that the ceremonial law and the moral law are inseparably linked. You can’t put yourself under just one part of the law. The same error is prevalent today, although in different forms. Today, many Christians insist on the moral law as the rule of life for the Christian. In a sense it is worse, because at least the ceremonies of the law contained types and shadows of Christ. However, both are legality. Even though we don’t often see Jewish ceremonialism today, we do see similar errors copied over in Christianity. For instance, the Catholic teaching that a person must be baptized to be saved, or take the Lord’s Supper to be saved. These are similar errors, and perhaps worse because they are perversions of the blessed privileges of Christianity. In this epistle, Paul uses the sternest language that we have in the New Testament, because the Galatian error was so serious. Had this error prevailed, the gospel would not have continued very long (Gal. 2:5). Many Christians are still under law. It doesn’t have to be the law of Moses, but any legal standard set up by man, whereby men measure themselves for acceptance or holiness. The principle of law puts souls in bondage, and produces the works of the flesh, not of the Spirit. This epistle was written to deliver souls from the bondage of legality.
Writer. This epistle was written by the Apostle Paul, who - when he was Saul of Tarsus - was the champion of Judaism. His history is traces out on the first chapter. After being arrested by the grace of God and converted, Saul was fully delivered from the law, and became Paul - the champion of the gospel of the grace of God. He writes to these "foolish Galatians" as the champion of grace with all the experience of the ex-champion of law. Paul is therefore the perfect instrument to warn the Galatians of the trap they had fallen into, and to explain what they needed to do to be delivered.
Carefulness concerning evil doctrine. In 1 Cor. 15:33 we have a very solemn statement: "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners." Paul gives a principle: that corrupt doctrine (“conversations” or “communications”) leads to a corrupt walk (“manners”). How often doctrine is dismissed as unimportant, and impractical. The very opposite is true. Practice flows from doctrine. He says “be not deceived” because there is a human tendency to be deceived on this point. The two epistles that deal primarily with warnings against evil doctrine are 2 John and Galatians. In the former the danger is evil doctrine concerning the Person of Christ, and in the latter it is evil doctrine concerning the work of Christ. In both cases, the language employed is among the strongest in scripture.
Grace. Another theme of Galatians is grace, which is really the opposite of legality. Someone has defined grace as “the activity of divine love in the midst of evil”. Grace is really a “cornerstone” of Christianity. Galatians shows us that to undermine grace is to undermine the gospel: “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness is by law, then Christ has died for nothing.” (Gal. 2:21). We find that God has always blessed on the principle of grace, even before grace “came” in the Person of Jesus Christ: “For if the inheritance be on the principle of law, it is no longer on the principle of promise; but God gave it in grace to Abraham by promise.” (Gal. 3:18). Grace can do in our lives what the law can never do. It teaches us to live in a way that is pleasing to God; “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16).
Acts, Romans, Galatians develop the gospel. The doctrine of Galatians is individual, just like Romans. It is a natural sequel to the book of Romans, because it defends the truth laid out in Romans.
- In Acts Paul is preaching the Gospel.
- In Romans Paul is teaching the gospel.
- In Galatians Paul is defending the gospel.
Galatians compared to Ephesians. The Epistle to the Galatians does not take up the standing of the Church properly. It doesn’t go beyond the inheritance of promise. The blessings of Galatians are certain privileges that we share in common with every saint. For example: Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. We too believe and are justified. On a basic level, faith has the same blessings at all times; i.e. justification from sins. We Christians are children of promise, entering into the portion of faith as past saints have done before us, although we have them in a greater way, such as being “in Christ”, etc. Hence we get the truth of sonship (Gal. 3 and 4). But it does not rise up to the level of Ephesians, where God is bringing out new, heavenly privileges. If we take our doctrine only from the epistle to the Galatians, we might get the idea that Christians are no more than “graduated” Old Testament saints. Ihat is why we need the truth of Ephesians along with Galatians. If we read both we see this double truth:
- Galatians – the community of blessing throughout all dispensations.
- Ephesians – the special privileges that result from the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.
Setting. Galatians was written on Paul’s third missionary journey after passing through Galatia (Acts 18:23), which was around three years after he had first brought the gospel to that region on his second journey (Acts 16:6). Read more… This is why Paul mentions a number of times that he was shocked at how quickly the Galatians had been persuaded of this error. However, the error had come in through the efforts of Judaizing teachers, also called false brethren. These teachers seemed to follow Paul on his journeys, to usurp the fruits of his labors, and profit from those they brought into bondage.
Judaizing teachers are mentioned in many of the Epistles: they had made inroads among the Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:22), the Philippians (Phil. 3:2), the Colossians (Col. 2:18), the Cretans (Tit. 1:10), but nowhere with as much success as among the Galatian assemblies. The tendency towards natural religion has been the bane of Christianity. They were those of whom Paul wrote, "desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm" (1 Tim. 1:7). They were of Jewish ethnicity but had come under the umbrella of Christianity. They found some benefit to being among Christians. Their primary motive was to gain a following and thereby to profit financially. They claimed to be closely connected to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, but they could not prove their genealogy as Paul could (Phil. 3). Paul was raised up as a suited vessel to deal with the Judaizers, because he himself had been one!
Lines of truth in various epistles.1
In Romans you get “in Christ” (Rom. 8:1) but it is only in the negative sense – what the position saves you from. But in Ephesians it is the positive side (Eph. 1:3) – what the position brings us into. In Romans you get “dead” in the aspect of “dead to sin” or separated from sin as to be no longer affected by its action. But in Colossians it is "dead with Christ" in a personal way.
- Smith, Hamilton. The Epistle to the Galatians: an Expository Outline. E.I.D. Reid.
- Hole, Frank B. Galatians to Philemon. Scripture Truth Publications, 2007.
- Kelly, William. Lectures on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians: with a New Translation. Books for Christians, 1973.
- Darby, J. N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible. G. Morrish, 1940.