Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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GALATIANS - Introduction

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Galatians - Introduction

Supplemental Commentary:

THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS

Introduction

The Galatians Addressed.  It is not certain whether this Epistle wsa written by St. Paul to the churches in the southern part of the Roman Province of Galatia (Antioch, Iconium, etc.), which he established on his first missionary journey (Acts 13, 13 ff; 14, 1 ff), or to the churches of Galatia proper, the northern part of the Roman Province of Galatia.  These last were probably visited by the Apostle on his second and third missionary journeys (Acts 16, 6; 18, 23).  Some authorities infer from Acts 16, 6 that the Epistle was addressed to both regions.  Cf. Commentary on these passages in Acts.

The solution of this question makes little difference as regards the teaching of the Epistle, that is, that justification and salvation are not to be had through the Mosaic Law, but through faith in Christ.

The Purpose of the Epistle.  Shortly after the foundation of the church at Galatia, the new converts were disturbed by the arrival of certain Judaizers, who, contrary to the teachings of St. Paul, claimed that for salvation it was necessary to be circumcised and to conform to the Mosaic observances (Gal. 3, 1-4).  More boldly they maintained that Paul was not a real Apostle, and that his teaching concerning the Mosaic Law was not authorized by the true Apostles, Peter, James and John.  They sought therefore to undermine his authority.  Hearing also from these Judaizers, who had come probably from Jerusalem or Antioch in Syria, that the preaching of Paul had been subjected to examination at the Council of Jerusalem (Gal. 2, 1-10), and that Peter had openly disagreed with Paul at Antioch (Gal. 2, 11-15), the Galatians were perplexed, and they were about to accept this new doctrine (Gal. 1, 6).

When St. Paul learned of this situation, he hastened to correct the errors, and to prevent the defection of the Galatians from the true faith, by sending the present Epistle.  He saw that the situation was serious, but not entirely desperate (Gal. 5, 10).  Were it possible, he would have gone to them in person (Gal. 4, 20); but he had to be content with defending his person and his teachings in this letter.  His first concern was to defend the divine origin of his teaching and authority; and secondly he proved that justification is not through the Mosaic Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ.

Date of the Epistle.  The Epistle was sent to the Galatian church after Paul had paid a second visit to the community (Gal. 4, 13).  Furthermore, it must have been written soon after this second visit, otherwise the complaint of Paul about the sudden change of mind amongst the Galatians (Gal. 1, 6) could not clearly be explained.  Therefore, the most probable place of its composition is Ephesus, where Paul went immediately after his stay in Galatia (Acts 18, 23 ff); and there is probability that it was written at the very beginning of his activity in Ephesus, about the year 54 A.D., for Paul was stirred with the deepest anxiety for his converts, and certainly would not have delayed in admonishing them.

The Authenticity of the Epistle.  The authenticity of the Epistle is generally acknowledged today because of both internal and external evidence.  Its language is typically Pauline, being a vivid picture of severity tempered by tenderness; while the account of the Galatian situation is such that a later forger would have been unable to invent it.  The Apostolic Fathers, such as Ignatius and Polycarp, quote from the Epistle, and Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria among others directly testify to St. Paul's authorship.

The Style of the Epistle.  The Epistle is vigorous in its style and character.  Its theme is similar to that of the Romans, but in style the latter Epistle is more expository.  Galatians lacks the digressions found in the other Pauline Epistles, nor does it have the usual closing salutations, a sign of the haste with which it was sent.

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OUTLINE

Introduction 1, 1-10

I. Personal Defense 1, 11 -- 2, 21
1. A Defense of His Apostolate 1, 11-24

2. A Defense of His Gospel 2, 1-21
II. Doctrinal 3, 1 -- 4, 31
1. Justification From Faith Not From the Law 3, 1-29

2. Christians Live in a State of Freedom 4, 1-31
III. Moral 5, 1 -- 6, 10
1. General Counsels 5, 1-26

2. Specific Counsels 6, 1-10
Conclusion 6, 11-18


Confraternity Bible:

THE EPISTLE OF ST. PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE GALATIANS

Introduction

The Galatians to whom this Epistle was written were Gentile Christians, and were converted by St. Paul about the year 52 A.D.  His ministry among them had borne great fruit; they had been baptized, and had received the Holy Spirit; miracles worked among them had given evidence of the presence of the Spirit in their hearts.  The Apostle visited them a second time, and by his exhortations confirmed them in the faith.  But after his second visit St. Paul learned, by letter or by special messenger sent to him, that some Jewish teachers who had lately arrived among his new converts were teaching, contrary to his doctrines, that for salvation it was necessary to be circumcised and to observe the Mosaic rites.  Furthermore, these Judaizers sought to undermine the authority of the Apostle by questioning his divine commission.  They claimed that his teaching seemed to be only human and differed widely in many respects from that of Christ and of the other Apostles.  They asserted that he disregarded the sacredness of the Mosaic Law and circumcision, which were an external sign of God's covenant with man, and thereby doubted the truth of the divine promises.  Such were the difficulties that reached the ears of St. Paul in Ephesus; and since he was unable to be with his converts, he met the serious situation by this Epistle.

The Epistle contains a defense of his person and of his doctrine.  In indignation he asserts the divine origin of his teaching and of his authority; he shows that justification is not through the Mosaic Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, who as crucified and who rose from the dead; he concludes that consequently the Mosaic Law was not permanent, that it is not an essential part of Christianity.

The subject-matter of the Epistle resembles closely that of the Epistle to the Romans, and also of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians.  The reason for this similarity is that these Epistles were written when the Apostle was more or less in the same frame of mind, indignant that his converts were being perverted by Pharisaic emissaries.