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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes


- Galatians

by Thomas Constable



Galatians has been the least disputed of any of Paul’s epistles.

"The most uncontroverted matter in the study of Galatians is that the letter was written by Paul, the Christian apostle whose ministry is portrayed in the Acts of the Apostles." [Note: Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians, p. lvii. See also Donald Guthrie, Galatians, pp. 1-7.]

The Apostle Paul directed this epistle to the churches of Galatia (Gal_1:2), and he called its recipients Galatians (Gal_3:1). However who these people were and where they lived are problems that have proved difficult to pinpoint.

The traditional opinion held that the recipients lived in the geographical district known as Galatia located in the northern part of the Roman province called Galatia in Asia Minor. [Note: J. B. Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians; H. D. Betz, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia; A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 4:272-73; et al.] This view holds that Paul founded these churches on his second missionary journey after the Spirit forbade him to preach in the province of Asia (Act_16:6). Paul could have written this epistle then during his third journey either from Ephesus about A.D. 54 or from Corinth about A.D. 57. The main arguments for this "North Galatian theory" are as follows. The popular use of the term "Galatians" usually signified people in this area. Second, Luke normally referred to geographical districts rather than Roman provinces in Acts. Third, there is some similarity between the Galatians as Paul referred to them in this epistle and the Gallic inhabitants of northern Galatia. Fourth, Paul traveled through this region during his second journey (Act_16:6-8).

The more popular view today maintains that Paul wrote to the churches located in the Roman province of Galatia that he founded on his first missionary journey (cf. Act_13:38-39; Act_13:46; Act_13:48; Act_14:3; Act_14:8-10). [Note: William M. Ramsay, A Historical Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians; F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians; Merrill C. Tenney, Galatians: The Charter of Christian Liberty; Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians; Longenecker; Leon Morris, Galatians: Paul’s Charter of Christian Freedom; Donald K. Campbell, "Galatians," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament; Guthrie, Galatians, p. 27; et al.; Donald A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 458-61; et al.] The arguments for this "South Galatian theory" are as follows. Act_16:6; Act_18:23 offer no support to the theory that Paul made a trip to the northern part of provincial Galatia. Second, there is no specific information about the northern Galatian churches in Acts. Third, the geographic isolation of the North Galatia district makes a visit by Paul improbable. Fourth, Paul usually referred to provincial titles in his writings. Fifth, the name "Galatians" was appropriate for the southern area. Sixth, the mention of Barnabas in Galatians 2 suggests that the Galatians had met him. Seventh, the absence of a North Galatian representative in the collection delegation referred to in 1Co_16:1 implies that it was not an evangelized area. Eighth, the influence of the Judaizers was extensive in South Galatia.

If Paul wrote this epistle to the churches of South Galatia, as I think he did, he probably did so at one of two times. If Paul’s visit referred to in Gal_4:13 is the same one described in Act_16:6, he must have written this epistle after the Jerusalem Council (i.e., in or after A.D. 49). Nevertheless it seems more likely that Gal_4:13 refers to the visit described in Act_14:21, so Paul must have written before the Jerusalem Council (i.e., before or in A.D. 49). Assuming the earlier date, Paul probably wrote Galatians from Antioch of Syria shortly after his first missionary journey and before the Jerusalem Council. [Note: Fung, pp. 22, 28; Longenecker, p. lxxxviii; Morris, p. 22; Campbell, p. 588; et al.] Another less likely possibility is that he wrote it from Ephesus during his third missionary journey. [Note: See Richard B. Rackham, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 360.]

The dating of the epistle affects the occasion for writing. Assuming the South Galatian theory and an early date of writing, Paul wrote mainly to stem the tide of Judaizing heresy to which he referred throughout the letter. Romans , 1 and 2 Corinthians also deal with the Judaizing controversy to some degree. Paul mentioned people who opposed him in every chapter (Gal_1:6-7; Gal_2:4-5; Gal_3:1; Gal_4:17; Gal_5:7-12; Gal_6:12-13).

The identity of the Judaizers is also important. Their method included discrediting Paul. The first two chapters of Galatians especially deal with criticisms leveled against him personally. His critics appear to have been Jews who claimed to be Christians and who wanted Christians to submit to the authority of the Mosaic Law and its institutions. They probably came from Jerusalem and evidently had a wide influence (cf. Acts 15). One man seems to have been their spokesman (Gal_3:1; Gal_5:7; Gal_5:10) though there were several Judaizers in Galatia as the many references to "them" and "they" scattered throughout the epistle suggest. [Note: For fuller discussions of these matters, see Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 2:72-89; Bruce, pp. 3-32, 41-56; James M. Boice, "Galatians," in Romans-Galatians, vol. 10 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 412-20, and Fung, pp. 1-28.]

"This short letter has an importance out of all proportion to its size. There is always a need for Paul’s forthright setting out of the truth that justification comes only through faith in Christ, not by works." [Note: Carson and Moo, p. 473.]


I.    Introduction Gal_1:1-10

A.    Salutation Gal_1:1-5

B.    Denunciation Gal_1:6-10

II.    Personal defense of Paul’s gospel Gal_1:11 to Gal_2:21

A.    Independence from other apostles Gal_1:11-24

1.    The source of Paul’s gospel Gal_1:11-17

2.    The events of Paul’s early ministry Gal_1:18-24

B.    Interdependence with other apostles Gal_2:1-10

C.    Correction of another apostle Gal_2:11-21

III.    Theological affirmation of salvation by faith Gal_3:1 to Gal_4:31

A.    Vindication of the doctrine ch. 3

1.    The experiential argument Gal_3:1-5

2.    The Scriptural argument Gal_3:6-14

3.    The logical argument Gal_3:15-29

B.    Clarification of the doctrine ch. 4

1.    The domestic illustration Gal_4:1-11

2.    The historical illustration Gal_4:12-20

3.    The biblical illustration Gal_4:21-31

IV.    Practical application to Christian living Gal_5:1 to Gal_6:10

A.    Balance in the Christian life ch. 5

1.    Living without the Law Gal_5:1-12

2.    Living without license Gal_5:13-15

3.    Living by the Holy Spirit Gal_5:16-26

B.    Responsibilities of the Christian life Gal_6:1-10

1.    Toward sinning Christians Gal_6:1

2.    Toward burdened Christians Gal_6:2-5

3.    Toward teachers Gal_6:6-9

4.    Toward all people Gal_6:10

Conclusion Gal_6:11-18


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