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This introductory course is designed to provide key insights into the book of Galatians by pulling together a number of key resources: overview videos from The Bible Project, helpful contextual information from The ESV Study Bible, commentary recommendations from The Gospel Coalition, a single sermon that sums up the book from beginning to end by Mark Dever, and much more. By watching, listening to, and reading these resources, you’ll be better prepared to read, study, teach, or preach the book of Galatians.
Like the rest of the Pauline letters, Galatians follows the conventions of letter writing in NT times. There is a salutation, a body, a paraenesis (set of moral exhortations), greetings, and a benediction. There is no initial thanksgiving, however, which indicates Paul’s agitation and alarm over the theological situation in Galatia. Paul gets right to the point, which is that the Galatians are in danger of turning to a different gospel, thereby risking the everlasting ruin of their souls. The main argument of the epistle is advanced by the use of autobiography, example, allegory, satiric rebuke, and exhortation.
The doctrinal thrust of Galatians gives it a strong internal unity. In one way or another, everything in the epistle is related to Paul’s defense of justification by faith alone. The letter is also unified by the apostle’s intensity of tone, which comes through as strongly here as it does in any of his writings—especially in his intolerance of false doctrine and his indignation with people who promote it. Stylistically, Galatians finds literary coherence in its thematic contrasts: the true gospel vs. a false gospel, faith vs. works, law vs. grace, liberty vs. legalism, sonship vs. slavery, and the fruit of the Spirit vs. the desires of the flesh.
“Galatia” was originally a Celtic region in north central Asia Minor (modern Turkey). It became a client kingdom of Rome under Pompey (mid-1st century B.C.). With the death of the client king Amyntas (d. 25 B.C.) an expanded Galatia came under a Roman governor. In Paul’s day the province of Galatia included parts of Pontus and Paphlagonia to the east and north and encompassed portions of Phrygia, Pisidia, Isauria, Lycaonia, and Cilicia to the south. Thus many of the cities of Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13–14) were considered part of the province of Galatia (or at least near its sphere of influence). Starting with territorial alterations under the emperor Vespasian (end of the 1st century A.D.), the province changed shape; thus the other ethnic territories were gradually drawn off, back to their earlier affiliations, and the province of Galatia returned to its more ethnically defined northern boundaries. Some contend that these subsequent reductions to the province of Galatia influenced the later church fathers to assume that Paul wrote his epistle to residents of northern Galatia. Archaeological evidence indicates a combination of Hellenistic, Celtic, and Roman influences in the province of Paul’s time.
Christ’s death has brought in the age of the new covenant (Gal. 3:23–26; 4:4–5, 24), in which believers do not have to become Jews or follow the outward ceremonies of the Mosaic law (Gal. 2:3, 11–12, 14; 4:10). To require these things is to deny the heart of the gospel, which is justification by faith alone, not by obedience to the law (Gal. 2:16; cf. Gal. 1:6–7). In this new age, Christians are to live in the guidance and power of the Spirit (chs. 5–6).
Galatians 1:4; 2:20; 3:13
Paul is himself an illustration of this: his conversion to Christ and his apostleship were not through human consultation but through the direct revelation of Christ.
Galatians 1:1, 11–12, 15–20
Galatians 2:12–14, 16; 3:10; 4:10; 5:3
Gen. 15:6; Hab. 2:4
Galatians 5:24; 6:14
Galatians 5:6, 16, 18, 25
Galatians 1:10; 6:12, 14
A crisis has hit the church in Galatia. The church came into being as a result of God’s Spirit at work in Paul’s proclamation of the gospel (Gal. 3:1–5; 4:13–15). But within the short space of time since Paul left (Gal. 1:6), the church has been visited or infiltrated by false teachers whom Paul calls those “who trouble you” (Gal. 1:7) or “those who unsettle you” (Gal. 5:12). These teachers have convinced the Galatians of a false gospel which requires them to be circumcised. Paul sees that these pseudo-Christians merely want to win converts for their own prestige: they want to win approval from the Jewish authorities by showing how effective they are in converting Gentiles to a form of Judaism (Gal. 6:12). Since the Jewish establishment approves of the fact that they are making Gentiles Jewish, the false teachers have the best of both worlds: they have created a sect of which they are the leaders, and they also escape any Jewish persecution. One further effect of this on the Galatians appears to have been the division within their church, presumably over these issues of circumcision and law that the false teachers have raised (Gal. 5:15).
Although the Galatians appear to have come under the spell of these teachers and have become convinced of their teaching (Gal. 1:6), Paul does not regard the situation as hopeless (Gal. 3:4). Nevertheless, Paul is more critical of his audience here than in any other letter, and he chastises the Galatians for being foolish (Gal. 3:1) and provides numerous reasons why they should return to the truth.
The less important question, which makes little difference to how one interprets the letter, is, which Galatians? There was a people group of Galatians who lived in the northern part of what is now Turkey, but there was a Roman province called Galatia that extended into southern Turkey. The Galatians in the letter are probably those in the Roman province, especially the southern part, because Paul did much less in the way of missionary activity in the north, and he usually refers to places by their Roman imperial names.
Through Jesus Christ, salvation and justification come to both Jew and Gentile, fulfilling the promise to Abraham of blessing to the nations (Gal. 3:8; Gen. 12:3).
This Galatians Bible Boot Camp was taught by Garrett Kell at Del Ray Baptist Church in 5 sessions on October 27–28, 2017. This handout provides structure for the following lectures.
Introduction and Galatians 1
The following recommendations are from D. A. Carson, New Testament Commentary Survey. 7th ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013.