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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Galatians Epistle to the
Epistle to the Gala´tians. The Pauline origin of this epistle is attested not only by the superscription which it bears (), but also by frequent allusions in the course of it to the great Apostle of the Gentiles (comp.; ), and by the unanimous testimony of the ancient church. It is corroborated also by the style, tone, and contents of the epistle, which are perfectly in keeping with those of the Apostle's other writings.
The parties to whom this epistle was addressed are described in the epistle itself as 'the churches of Galatia' (; comp. 3:1). Into this district the Gospel was first introduced by Paul himself (;;; ). Churches were then also probably formed; for on revisiting this district some time after his first visit, it is mentioned that he 'strengthened the disciples' (). These churches seem to have been composed principally of converts directly from heathenism, but partly, also, of Jewish converts, both pure Jews and proselytes. Unhappily, the latter, not thoroughly emancipated from early opinions and prepossessions, or probably influenced by Judaizing teachers who had visited these churches, had been seized with a zealous desire to incorporate the rites and ceremonies of Judaism with the spiritual truths and simple ordinances of Christianity. So active had this party been in disseminating their views on this head through the churches of Galatia, that the majority at least of the members had been seduced to adopt them (; , etc.). From some passages in this epistle (ex. gr.; ) it would appear also that insinuations had been disseminated among the Galatian churches to the effect that Paul was not a divinely-commissioned Apostle, but only a messenger of the church at Jerusalem; that Peter and he were at variance upon the subject of the relation of the Jewish rites to Christianity; and that Paul himself was not at all times so strenuously opposed to those rites as he had chosen to be among the Galatians. Of this state of things intelligence having been conveyed to the Apostle, he wrote this epistle for the purpose of vindicating his own pretensions and conduct, of counteracting the influence of these false views, and of recalling the Galatians to the simplicity of the Gospel which they had received. The importance of the case was probably the reason why the Apostle put himself to the great labor of writing this epistle with his own hand ().
The epistle consists of three parts. In the first part (Galatians 1-2), after his usual salutations, Paul vindicates his own Apostolic authority and independence as a directly-commissioned ambassador of Christ to men, and especially to the Gentile portion of the race, asserting that the Gospel which he preached was the only Gospel of Christ—expressing his surprise that the Galatians had allowed themselves to be so soon turned from him who had called them, to a different Gospel—denouncing all who had thus seduced them as troublers of the church, perverters of the doctrine of Christ, and deserving, even had they been angels from heaven, to be placed under an anathema instead of being followed—maintaining the divine origin of his Apostolic commission, which he illustrates by the history of his conversion and early conduct in the service of Christ—and declaring that, so far from being inferior to the other Apostles he had ever treated with them on equal terms, and been welcomed by them as an equal. Having in the close of this part of the epistle been led to refer to his zeal for the great doctrine of salvation by the grace of God through faith in Christ, he enters at large, in the second part (Galatians 3-4) upon the illustration and defense of this cardinal truth of Christianity. He appeals to the former experience of the Galatians as to the way in which they had received the Spirit, to the case of Abraham, and to the testimony of Scripture in support of his position that it is by faith and not by the works of the law that men are accepted of God (). He proceeds to remind them that the law has brought a curse upon men because of sin, a curse which it has no power to remove, and from which the sinner can be redeemed only through the substitutionary work of Christ, by whose means the blessing of Abraham comes upon the Gentiles. And lest any should object that the law being of more recent origin than the covenant must supersede it, he shows that this cannot be the case, but that the covenant must be perpetual, while the law is to be regarded only in the light of a temporary and intercalary arrangement, the design of which was to forward the fulfillment of the promise in Christ (). The relation of the Jewish church to the Christian is then illustrated by the case of an heir under tutors and governors as contrasted with the case of the same person when he is of age and has become master of all; and the Galatians are exhorted not willingly to descend from the important and dignified position of sons to that of mere servants in God's house—an exhortation which is illustrated and enforced by an allegorical comparison of the Jewish church to Ishmael, the son of Hagar, and of the Christian to Isaac, the son of Sarah, and the Child of Promise (). The third part of the Epistle (Galatians 5-6) is chiefly hortatory and admonitory. It sets forth the necessity of steadfast adherence to the liberty of the Gospel in connection with obedience to the moral law as a rule of duty, the importance of mutual forbearance and love among Christians, and the desirableness of maintaining a firm adherence to the doctrine of Christ and Him crucified. The epistle concludes with benedictions and prayers.
Respecting the time when and the place where this epistle was written, great diversity of opinion prevails. But the majority of writers on this subject concur in the opinion that the Apostle wrote and dispatched this epistle not long after he had left Galatia for the second time, and, perhaps, while he was residing at Ephesus (comp.; , sqq.).
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Galatians Epistle to the'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/g/galatians-epistle-to-the.html.