The Book of Galatians
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D, 1980
Edited by David Sielaff, August 2003
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This epistle has been called the Christian’s "Declaration of Independence" and so it is! Its teaching was a first step in securing a religious emancipation for God’s people from the domination of man. The message is as valid today as it was when Paul wrote it.
The most abrupt introduction to any book of the Bible is that of Galatians. Paul was deliberate, to the point, and very decisive in stating that he was "an apostle (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ)" (Galatians 1:1). Within three words of introduction Paul set the theme of the whole epistle his teaching was not from any man. Not even the angels of heaven had a hand in giving it to Paul (Galatians 1:8), but it came directly from Jesus Christ and God the Father (Galatians 1:1).
Paul, however, was upset with the Galatians. They had become enamored by men, even with Christian leaders who resided in Jerusalem, and Paul had to correct their ways. "I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel" (Galatians 1:6). Then, for the next two chapters, Paul shows that he did not get his Gospel from any man, not even from the Christian apostles who were at Jerusalem. In fact, Paul stated very clearly that he had had so little contact with the apostles at Jerusalem, that for a seventeen year period, he went to Jerusalem only once and then he only saw the apostle Peter for fifteen days and James for a brief time (Galatians 1:18–19). What an admission on Paul’s part! He went to "headquarters" only once for a whole period of seventeen years, and yet he lived only about 400 miles north not much more than a ten-day trip away. He must not have thought it was all that important for him to have remained away so long. The truth is Paul was not interested in getting any approval of men in order to please men, even if it meant the "apostles before me" [those who were apostles before Paul in time] (Galatians 1:17).
"Do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man [not even from the top apostles in Jerusalem as he later went on to say], neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ."
Finally, however, Paul decided to go up to Jerusalem at the end of the seventeen-year period but even then he says, "I went up by revelation" (Galatians 2:2). He had to be told by Jesus Christ to go. And when he got to Jerusalem he,
"… communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation [the top apostles], lest by any means I should run, or had run [had run to Jerusalem] in vain."
In other words, his whole reason for going to explain his Gospel to those in Jerusalem would have been useless had he not told the top apostles of what he was preaching among the Gentiles. Yet note one thing carefully: Paul did not go to Jerusalem to get an approval from the other apostles to preach. He had long been preaching and without any authority from them to do so.
"For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it [by man], but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. ... Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me"
Galatians 1:12, 17
Paul was ordained by none of the Jerusalem apostles nor did he seek to get their authority to preach. Christ Jesus had given him his commission and that was all he felt he needed. The Gospel which Christ had given to Paul taught that the Gentiles did not have to be circumcised to be saved (Galatians 6:15), while the apostles in Jerusalem (and most of the people in Judea) were claiming that circumcision was very necessary. Paul called this teaching a perversion of the Gospel (Galatians 1.6) and that those people teaching it were "false brethren."
"And that because of false brethren unawares brought in [to the Jerusalem conference], who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you."
Paul placed himself in subjection to none of those in Jerusalem no matter who they were. True, the Jerusalem men thought they were high and important, but Paul gave them no recognition (as far as "rank" was concerned). "But of these who seemed to be somewhat [somewhat important and of rank] (whatsoever they were, it makes no matter to me.’ God accepts no man’s person.)" (Galatians 2:6). Paul could not care less what "ranks" or so-called "high positions" any of them claimed to have, "it makes no matter to me."
However, they heard Paul out and understood that God had given him his special Gospel (Galatians 2:7–8), and then James, Peter, and John gave to Paul and Barnabas their right hands of fellowship. They acknowledged that Paul had been given his commission by Christ, "When they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me. ... they perceived the grace that was given unto me" (Galatians 2:7, 9).
Note carefully: Paul did not say the apostles at Jerusalem committed the Gospel to him. They did not grant him his grace to preach. They did not give him some kind of authority from "headquarters." They simply "saw" and "perceived" that Christ had already given it to Paul. The Jerusalem apostles were not even consulted on the matter. Indeed, when some Jewish elders came from James to Antioch on one occasion, they (and even Peter and Barnabas) withdrew their fellowship from uncircumcised Gentiles (Galatians 2:12–13). Paul not only rebuked those who came from James for their uncharitable actions, but he gave Peter a sound verbal lashing for his part in the unchristian attitude he expressed in the matter (Galatians 2:13–21). So, not only did Paul not receive any part of his Gospel from the apostles in Jerusalem, but he rebuked them publicly for teaching a "perversion of the Gospel" among the Gentiles!
But what were the Galatians now doing? For some reason they had been listening to people coming from Jerusalem who told them they had to be circumcised and to keep the law [like the Jews] or else they could not be saved. The Galatians believed them.
"O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you?"
Paul devotes chapter 3 to describing the reason why the law of the Old Testament was given in the first place. The Law,
In a word, the law of Moses (all of it, not only sacrifices and rituals) was intended by God to govern "children" those not yet mature in faith. And it led directly to bondage. "Even so we, when we were children, were in BONDAGE under the elements of the world" (Galatians 4:3).
Note that Paul said that "we ... were in bondage under the elements of the world." Paul included himself (and all Jews who kept the law). What were these "elements of the world"? Paul mentions them again in verse 9. "How turn you again to the weak and beggarly elements, wherein you desire to be in bondage?" He equated them with the same things they were doing while they were in heathenism when "you did service unto them which by nature are not gods." (Galatians 4:8). 1 The Galatians were subjecting themselves back to the same bondage that Paul, the early Jewish apostles, all the Jewish people, and all Gentiles too, found themselves in before the time of Christ. But the Galatians were now doing it by listening to Jewish preachers from Jerusalem who demanded that they be circumcised and keep the law of Moses.
"You observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain."
Under no circumstances does this mean they were returning to the observance of pagan days. The whole theme of the epistle is that concerning circumcision, the law of Moses, the apostles at Jerusalem, Abraham, works of the law. And indeed, a few verses later Paul made it very clear that it was the law of Moses (the Old Covenant, all of it) that he was talking about. "Tell me, you that desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?" (Galatians 4:21).
And what "law" was it that Paul had in mind? "For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman" (Galatians 4:22). Where was that story found? In some pagan source book? Of course not! It was directly from Genesis, the first of the five books of Moses. The law they were returning to was not any form of pagan law it was the Old Covenant with all its days, months, times, years, circumcision, and other works of the law. This is made plain because Paul went on to tell the Galatians about the bondwoman and the freewoman.
"Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which genders to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all."
There can be no doubt about the matter! The bondage Paul was talking about was the Old Covenant made with Israel at Mount Sinai in the time of Moses. And it ought to be emphasized that the law given at Mount Sinai included the Ten Commandments!
"For if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather [more] glorious."
2 Corinthians 3:7–8
The giving of the Ten Commandments did have a certain amount of glory associated with them. "For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory" (2 Corinthians 3:9). Though the Ten Commandments may have been glorious, the glory is now done away for something more glorious. "For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remains is [more] glorious" (2 Corinthians 3:11). For that glory of Moses when he came down the Mount carrying the Ten Commandments was to be done away completely abolished.
"Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished."
2 Corinthians 3:13
And if anyone has any doubt about what Paul was talking, he made it clear that "the same veil [is] untaken away in the reading of the old testament [the Old Covenant]; which veil is done away in Christ" (2 Corinthians 3:14). Understand one thing plainly: The Old Covenant included the Ten Commandments as its basic "constitution" and those ten laws headed the Old Covenant legislation mentioned in Exodus chapters 20 through 23. But when the New Covenant message was introduced, The teaching was not to be found in laws written on tables of stone [like the Ten Commandments which Moses had in his hand when he came down from Mount Sinai and his face shone in glory], but the New Covenant laws are found in tables of the heart within a person: "Written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart" (2 Corinthians 3:3).
Though the Ten Commandments were "holy, just, and good" they were only engraved on stone. This did little good for the heart, What the Christian now has is the Holy Spirit placed within him which causes him to express true "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law" (Galatians 5:22–23). These attributes represent "the law of Christ" that Paul talked about in Galatians (Galatians 6:2). But the Old Covenant was different. It was, as should now be clear,
"the one from the mount Sinai, which genders to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answers to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children, But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all."
The truth is, the Old Covenant (with the Ten Commandments at its head) made people to be in bondage. And the Jews in Jerusalem were in that bondage.
Certainly the Jews in Jerusalem considered the Old Covenant as the only law to keep. But Paul said they were in servitude. They were still observing Old Covenant days, months, times, and years, circumcision, and the sundry other laws. 2 The teaching that Paul was trying to combat was that which was coming from people who resided in the "Jerusalem which now is" and were insisting that the Gentiles be circumcised and keep the law for salvation. But Paul said that such teaching was a perversion of the Gospel.
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if you be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing."
Paul said it was "the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2) that the Galatians were under, not that of the law of Moses which "engenders to bondage" which the people at Jerusalem were trying to keep. Galatians chapters 5 and 6 home in on the fact that circumcision is not a means to salvation. It has nothing to do with the redemption that is in Christ which comes through faith. And such faith does not involve Old Covenant holydays, works, circumcision, the Jerusalem on earth, or anything else stemming from Mount Sinai (Galatians 4:24–25).
Though faith does not grant license (Galatians 5:19–21), it will bring in love, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance: "against such there is no law" (Galatians 5:22–23). These things are "the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). If they are practiced, and in a way that glorifies Christ Jesus and God the Father, Paul shows in Galatians that no one needs to return to the Old Covenant ways of works which were given on Mount Sinai. No one any longer needs a priesthood of men to have authority between God and man to mediate between them (1 Timothy 2:5). The Galatians should not have been listening to those teachers coming from Jerusalem. Paul recognized none of their "authority" in the preaching of his Gospel and with Paul this included even the Jerusalem apostles: "the apostles before me [in time]" (Galatians 1:17).
So, what do we have with the Book of Galatians? It is the Christian’s "Declaration of Independence" from the bondage of men and from outdated religious practices. If people would apply the message of Galatians, and practice the fruits of the Spirit, they would finally begin to understand what true freedom is all about. That freedom involves no keeping of Old Covenant sabbaths, holydays, circumcision, new moons, sacrifices, tithing, clean and unclean laws of purity, etc. It does mean that one will exercise the fruits of God’s Holy Spirit. This involves love, joy, peace, faith, etc. (Galatians 5:22–23). When one begins to practice a true love to all, in order to glorify Christ in heaven, then he can know what real liberty in Christ means.
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."
Ernest L. Martin, 1980
Edited by David Sielaff, August 2003
Read the companion article: the Principal Theology of the Book of Romans
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