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The Blue Letter Bible

Dr. J. Vernon McGee :: Notes for Galatians

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WRITER: Paul (Galatians 1:1)

DATE: About A.D. 57
This epistle was probably written on the third missionary journey from Ephesus, during Paul’s two years of residence there. There is substantial basis, however, for the claim that it was written from Corinth, shortly before Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans. Dr. Lenski advances the theory that it was written from Corinth on the second missionary journey, about April, A.D. 53.

OCCASION: Paul visited the Galatian churches on each of his three missionary journeys. There is no mention in the epistle of another visit to the churches. The epistle was evidently Paul’s last word to these churches, written after he had visited them on the third missionary journey.

GALATIANS — The people: The destination of this epistle has given rise to what is known as the North Galatian and the South Galatian theories. It seems more reasonable to suppose that it was sent to the churches in the area Paul visited on his first missionary journey, but this does not preclude the possibility that it had a wider circulation, even as far north as Pessinus, Ancyra, and Tavium. The word “Galatians” could be used in either an ethnographic sense, which would refer to the nationality of the people, or it could be used in a geographic sense, which would refer to the Roman province by that name. Regardless of the position taken, there is a common blood strain which identified people in that area where there was a mixture of population. The people for whom the province was named were Gauls, a Celtic tribe from the same stock that inhabited France. In the 4th century B.C. they invaded the Roman Empire and sacked Rome. Later they crossed into Greece and captured Delphi in 280 B.C. At the invitation of Nikomedes I, King of Bithynia, they crossed over into Asia Minor to help him in a civil war. They were warlike people and soon established themselves in Asia Minor. They were blond orientals. In 189 B.C. they were made subjects of the Roman Empire and became a province. Their boundaries varied, and for many years they retained their customs and language. The churches Paul established on his first missionary journey were included at one time in the territory of Galatia, and this is the name that Paul would normally give to these churches.
These Gallic Celts had much of the same temperament and characteristics of the American population. Caesar had this to say: “The infirmity of the Gauls is that they are fickle in their resolves, fond of change, and not to be trusted.” Another described them as “frank, impetuous, impressible, eminently intelligent, fond of show, but extremely inconstant, the fruit of excessive vanity.” Remember that they wanted to make Paul a god one day, and the next day they stoned him (see Acts 14).
Surely the Epistle to the Galatians has a message for us of like temper, who are beset on every hand by cults and isms innumerable that would take us, likewise, from our moorings in the gospel of grace.

GALATIANS — The epistle:

1. It is a stern, severe, and solemn message (Galatians 1:6-9; 3:1-5). It does not correct conduct, as the Corinthian letters do, but it is corrective — the Galatian believers were in grave peril. Because the foundations were being attacked, everything was threatened.
The epistle contains no word of commendation, praise, or thanksgiving. There is no request for prayer, and there is no mention of their standing in Christ. No one with him is mentioned by name (Galatians 1:2). Compare this with the other epistles of Paul.

2. The heart of Paul the apostle is laid bare, there is deep emotion and strong feeling. This is his fighting epistle — he has on his war paint. He has no toleration for legalism. Someone has said that Romans comes from the head of Paul while Galatians comes from his heart. “Galatians takes up controversially what Romans puts systematically.”

3. It is the declaration of emancipation from legalism of any type. This was Martin Luther’s favorite epistle, and it was on the masthead of the Reformation. It has been called the Magna Charta of the early church, the manifesto of Christian liberty, the impregnable citadel, and a veritable Gibraltar against any attack on the heart of the gospel. “Immortal victory is set upon its brow.”

4. It is the strongest declaration and defense of the doctrine of justification by faith in or out of Scripture. It is God’s polemic on behalf of the most vital truth of the Christian faith against any attack.
Not only is a sinner saved by grace through faith, but the saved sinner lives by grace. Grace is a way to life and a way of life.

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