Epistle to Galatians - Defending The Gospel of Grace (Messianic Literary Corner) - Messianic Literary Corner

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Epistle to the Galatians :
Defending the Gospel of Grace

The  second piece of writing which emerged from the general controversy over  keeping the Torah (Mosaic Law) was Paul's epistle to the Galatians, As  James was written from the standpoint of a strict Torah observant Jew  who worked to avoid all semblance of looseness and license in the use of  ethical freedom, "the perfect law of liberty" (Jas. 1:25), so Galatians  was written by a champion of freedom who saw that neither Gentiles nor  Jews could be delivered from their sins by self-effort in keeping a set  of ethical principles. Galatians accordingly has been called "The Magna  Charta of spiritual emancipation", because it declared that "Messiah  Yeshua (Christ Jesus) redeemed us from the curse of the law, having  become a curse for us ... that we might receive the promise of the  Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:13,14).

Galatia  is the name that was given originally to the territory in north central  Asia. Minor, where the invading Gauls settled in the third century  before Christ and maintained an independent kingdom for many years.  Gradually the Gallic population was absorbed into the other peoples  living there, and after a number of political changes, the territory  became the property of Rome in 25 B.C.
The  Romans incorporated this northern section into a larger division of  land which they made a province and called by the name of Galatia.  Galatia, then, under Roman rule, could mean Galatia proper, which the  Gauls had founded, or it could be applied to the whole province which  included the southern cities of Antioch, Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra.  Biblical scholars assume that Paul's visit to Galatia proper began on  the second journey when he left the southern territory of Derbe, Lystra,  and Iconium, and traveled through "the region of Phrygia and Galatia."  mentioned in Acts 16:6. According to this view, Paul traversed the  territory of old Galatia, including the cities of Pessinus, Ancyra, and  Tavium, and finally reached Troas after a long journey. A second similar  trip on the third journey is stated in Acts 18:23.

Their  theory supposes that "the churches of Galatia" were those of Antioch of  Pisidia, Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra which Paul established on his first  missionary journey. They were subsequently revisited on the later  journeys (Acts 16:1-6, 18:23). The second tour of these southern  churches did not preclude completely a northern swing in his last  itinerary, for the language of Acts 16:2, 4, and 6 shows that Paul  covered the territory around Derbe and Lystra, and then that he went  along the Phrygio-Galatic border to Mysia and Bithynia, at which point  he turned westward to Troas.

If  then, this theory be adopted, it means that Paul and Barnabas on their  first tour preached in the cities of southern Galatia, and on their  return trip organized the converts into church groups (Acts 14:21-23),  closing their mission about A.D. 48. After their return to Antioch,  Peter paid a visit to the city, and openly fellowshipped with the  Gentile converts. He had not been there long before some men came down  from Jerusalem who professed to follow the strict observance of the law  that James practiced, and who argued that unless the converts were  circumcised, they could not be saved (15:1). Peter, overawed by their  attitude, withdrew from eating with the Gentiles. In the meantime the  same controversy had broken out in Galatia, agitated perhaps by local  Messianic Jewish influences which were quite strong (14:2). Paul  therefore on the eve of the council wrote this letter to the Galatians  churches, in order to settle for them by correspondence the question  which he expected to debate in the coming assembly in Jerusalem. This  conclusion is confirmed somewhat by a comparison of Peter's speech in  Acts 15:7-11 with the structure of Galatians as a whole. His emphasis on  his personal calling and experience, on theological argumentation, and  on the practical development of grace parallels the general outline of  Galatians and also reflects Paul's conversation with him as reported in  Galatians 2. If Galatians can be fitted into this situation, it was  written from Antioch, just prior to the council in A.D. 48 or 49.

The following diagram will give a fairly satisfactory perspective of the chronology involved.

  Resurrection:  Pentecost
  Acts  1:3,5; 2:1
         A.D. 29
  Salvation  of Paul  
  Acts  9:1-18
         A.D. 31
  ·          Visit to Arabia
  Gal.  1:17
         A.D. 31
  ·          Return to Damascus
  First  Visit to Jerusalem
  Gal.  2:1-10
         A.D. 46
  ·          Accompanied by Barnabas & Titus

  ·          Motivated by revelation

  ·          Private interview

  ·          Complaint about false brethren

  ·          Agree with James, Cephas & John

  First  Missionary Journey

  Return  to Antioch
  Gal.  2:11

  ·          Visit of Cephas

  ·          Controversy

  ·          Writing of Galatians

  Council  of Jerusalem
  Acts  15:1-35
         AD 48/49

Galatians  was not written as an essay in contemporary history. It was a protest  against corruption of the gospel of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ). The  essential truth of justification by faith rather than by the works of  the law had been obscured by the Torah observant Messianic Jewish  insistence that believers in Messiah 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 that is  contained in this epistle. The tone of the book is warlike. It fairly  crackles with indignation though it is not the anger of personal pique  but of spiritual principle. "Though we, or an angel from heaven, should  preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you,  let him be anathema" (1:8), cried Paul as he reproved the Galatians for  their acceptance of the legalistic error.
The structure of Galatians is symmetrical and logical. Its outline is as follows:


Introduction:  1:1-9
·         Salutation: The Ground of Liberty  1:1-5
·         Occasion: The Challenge to Liberty  1:6-9

I. The Biographical Argument: An Independent Revelation  1:10-2:21
·         Independent of Human Teaching  1:10-17
·         Independent of Judean Congregations  1:18-24
·         Independent of Judaizing Brethren  2:1-10
·         Independent of Apostolic Pressure  2:11-18
·         Independent of Selfish Interest  2:19-21

II. The Theological Argument: The Failure of Legalism  3:1-4:31
·         From Personal Experience  3:1-5
·         From Old Testament Teaching  3:6-14
·         From Priority of Promise  3:15-22
·         From Superiority of Mature Faith  3:23-4:7
·         From Danger of Reaction  4:8-11
·         From Contrast of Motives  4:12-20
·         From Contrast of Bondage and Liberty  4:21-31

III. The Practical Argument: The Effect of Liberty  5:1-6:10
·         Introductory Statement  5:1
·         The Consequences of Legalism  5:2-12
·         The Definition of Freedom  5:13-15
·         Individual Practice  5:16-24
·         Social Practice  5:25-6:10

IV. Conclusion  6:11-18
·         The Motive of Liberty: The Cross  6:11-16
·         The Price of Liberty: Suffering  6:17
·         The Benediction of Liberty  6:18

The  book is the earliest of Paul's extant writings. It summarizes the heart  of "the gospel which [he preached] among both Jews and Gentiles" (Gal.  2:2). In it he showed that man's chief problem is obtaining a right  standing with God. Since humanity is incapable of establishing this  himself because "a man is not justified by the works of the law" (2:16),  it must be provided for him by another. Messiah Yeshua has given this  standing, for He "gave himself for your sins, that He might deliver us  out of this present evil world" (1:4). His provision is available to  those who put their full trust in Him, for "the promise by faith in  Messiah [is] given to them that believe" (3:22). This standing is not  simply a legal fiction, applied only externally or ceremonially, but it  becomes part of the inner life through union with Yeshua. "I have been  crucified with Messiah; and it is no longer I that live, but Messiah  liveth in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in  faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave  himself up for me" (2:20). Salvation is thus not only the application of  a new life, but is also its impartation.

The  books of James and Galatians thus illustrates the two aspects of Jewish  and Gentile believers which from the very beginning have seemed to be  conflicting, though in reality they are supplementary. In James there is  a stern insistence upon the ethic of Messiah, 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, for he says, "Of his own will he brought us forth by the word  of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures"  (Jas. 1:18). Galatians stresses the dynamic of the gospel which produces  the ethic. "Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law, having  become a curse for us ... that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing  of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the  Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:13, 14). Nor was Paul less concerned than  James about the ethical life, for he says: "Use not your freedom for an  occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another"  (5:13). Like the two sides of a coin, these two aspects of spiritual  truth must always accompany each other.

Today’s  Messianic Jews struggle in a similar way, whether to hold to mandatory  Torah observance or not. Paul’s writing clearly demonstrates that Jewish  and Gentile believers in Messiah Yeshua are not bound to the Law, but  rather grace. With this freedom, Messianic Jews may celebrate Torah  observance conscious of their New Covenant freedoms and with respect for  other Jewish and Gentile believers that are not so observant.

(This study has been adapted from "New Testament Survey", by Merrill C. Tenney, Wheaton
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