Understanding The Bible
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BY THE AUTHOR
Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible
THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS
INTRODUCTION: (From Arthur S. Way's Letters of St. Paul)
"Galatia was a political division in the center of what we now know as Asia Minor.
It was a mountainous district, peopled by inhabitants whom Livy speaks of as 'Gauls'. Greek historians speak of the inhabitants of ancient France as 'Galatians'. Thus the two terms are merely the Greek and Latin forms of the same 'barbarian' appellation. Galatia was, then, really the 'Gaul' of the East and the letter might be more informingly called "The Epistle to the 'Gauls'"!
The Galatians were descendants of a stream from the torrent of barbarians which swept down upon Italy and Greece in the third century before Christ. They had now for some 200 years been under the dominion of Rome, and with the original Celts were blended Italians, Greeks, and Jews.
Paul, on his second missionary journey, was compelled to make a halt among them through severe bodily affliction, probably acute ophthalmia, which causes not only intense pain, but also repulsive disfigurement (4:13‑15). This warm-hearted, impressionable people received him with pity and sympathy, listened to his teaching with delight, and accepted the gospel with enthusiasm. He paid them a brief visit in the course of his third journey, and found it necessary to give them some warnings; but it was not till three years later, while he was staying at Corinth, that he heard of their serious lapse from the Faith.
The Christians of Galatia were they who had received the apostle 'as if he had been an angel', who, if it had been possible, would have 'plucked' out their eyes and given them to him, and then were 'so soon removed' by new teachers 'from him that called them, to another gospel', who began to 'run well', and then were 'hindered', who were 'bewitched' by that zeal which compassed sea and land to make one proselyte, and who were ready in their party spirit to 'bite and devour one another', as they were willing to change their teachers and their gospels.
It is no mere fancy which discovers, in these expressions of the Epistle, indications of the character of that remarkable people, which all writers have described as susceptible of quick impressions and sudden changes, with a fickleness equal to their courage and enthusiasm, and a constant liability to that disunion which is the fruit of excessive vanity.
Paul had hardly arrived in Corinth upon his second journey thither to set right the moral wrongs in the church there, than he heard the sad news concerning the state of the Galatian churches. (During his absence, emissaries from Judea came to them, proclaiming that there was no salvation except through conformity to the Mosaic Law and the Tradition of the Elders, laying special stress on the necessity for circumcision. Their preaching had such an extraordinary fascination for these impressionable, fickle highlanders, naturally prone as they were to superstition, that the apostle can compare the effect on them to nothing but the spell of the evil‑eye, from which a steadfast gaze at the crucified Saviour could and should have saved them.)
At the cost of falsehood and detraction they sought to loosen the hold of Paul upon the affection and respect of his converts. They accused him: (1) of a want of uprightness in observing the law himself, while among the Jews, yet persuading the Gentiles to renounce it (5:11), declaring his motive was to keep them in a subordinate state, excluded from the privileges of a full covenant with God which was enjoyed alone by the circumcision; (2) declaring him to be an interested flatterer (1:10); (3) insisting that he falsely represented himself as an apostle, for that he had not, like the 'twelve', been a follower of the Lord upon the earth, but that he was only a teacher sent out by the 'twelve', whose teaching was to be received only as it agreed with that of the 'twelve'.
By such representations they had alienated many of the Galatians from the apostle, many had submitted to circumcision, and the rest of the church was thrown into agitation and division.
Upon receiving the intelligence of these things, Paul hastened, by means of this Epistle, to check the evil. He begins with an abruptness and severity not found in other epistles. He rebukes error in doctrine here more severely than error in morality (in Corinthians).
As in the letters to the Corinthians he met the attacks of the Judaizers on his personal character and influence, so in this letter, which may be called the first draft of the letter to the Romans, he meets their attack on the great principle of Justification by Faith, which he preached. He not only meets it, but carries the war into the enemy's country."
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS
MAIN DIVISIONS OF GALATIANS (VARIOUSLY VIEWED) (W. Graham Scroggie)
The Personal Narrative
The Doctrinal Argument
The Practical Exhortation
|Paul vindicates his apostolic authority||Justification is alone by faith in Christ||Enter the full consequences of your spiritual liberation|
SUMMARY OUTLINE (Learn!)
A PRACTICAL EXHORTATION TO ENTER INTO THE FULL CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR SPIRITUAL LIBERATION 5:2‑6:10
The effective subversion of liberty in Christ, 5:2‑12
The highest expression of liberty in Christ, 5:13‑15
The abiding secret of liberty in Christ, 5:16‑26
The practical outcome
of liberty in Christ, 5:26‑6:10
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