Lesson 53: Introduction to GALATIANS
Re-read: Acts 13:13--16:8
Paul's Missionary Journey Epistles. Welcome to lesson #53. The book of Galatians! Please turn to that book! There are a lot of theories about this book among the commentators. There's the North Galatia theory, the South Galatia theory, the early theory, the late theory and I don't know what else. But, the biggest question is, very simply; which churches were Paul writing to? In Acts chapter 13-14 we read about Paul and Barnabas leaving Antioch of Syria and going over Cyprus and then crossing over into Asia Minor or what is called Turkey, today. This tour is better known as Paul's First Missionary Journey. You should have this marked on your map-worksheet, we're talking about cities #18,19,20, 21 on your map. After John Mark left them, Paul and Barnabas, established churches in Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, cities 18,19,20,21 in that order. After establishing these congregations, Paul and Barnabas retracted their steps in an inverse sort of way, i.e. in reverse, confirming the souls of the disciples and ordaining elders in every congregation (that's Acts 14:22-23) on their way back to Antioch of Syria, from which all of Paul's missionary journeys began. Eventually, then, Barnabas took John Mark and went back to Cyprus. Paul took Silas and began what we usually term Paul's second missionary journey. They went through Cilicia, which likely included Paul's hometown of Tarsus, city # 7 on your map-work-sheet. This information is found near the end of Acts chapter 15. From Cilicia, Paul and Silas went to Derbe, Lystra and back over Galatia again, that's the first few verses of Acts chapter 16.
I know very little about the people of Galatia in general. It is obvious the Galatian people were a fickle and changeable sort of people. At Lystra when Paul and Barnabas arrived from Iconium; they at first wanted to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods. Then just as quickly when the Jews came from Iconium, they were persuaded to stone Paul (Acts 14:19). The people of Antioch and Iconium were very changeable people also; that's very evident as you read Acts chapter 13-14. One week Paul was speaking in their synagogue; the next week he and Barnabas were fleeing from that city. Nevertheless, many of these people obeyed the gospel quickly. Elders were installed over a very brief period. The population was mostly Gentile; but, as we have said there were some Jews settled in that region. Percentages, I have no idea. There were synagogues in Antioch and Iconium; but, not at Lystra or Derbe. The territory of Galatia had been under Roman dominance for a long time; but in the reign of Augustus Caesar, the one mentioned in Luke 2:1, Galatia was made a Roman province. The borders of Galatia may have been a little hard to define and those borders may have even been shifted from time to time. Thus, the exact territory included in Galatia there in the middle of Asia Minor becomes a little vague; at least to me it does.
In Acts 16:6, Luke more or less summarized by saying: "Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia", i.e. Paul and Silas, the H.G. gave them more instruction, etc. However, some think: that (verse 6 there) opens up the possibility that Paul and Silas went to other places in Galatia and started other congregations in what is usually termed North Galatia. Congregations for which we don't have names; that Luke didn't discuss. Whether this be true or not, I'll let you decide. Nevertheless, the point is (some think) Paul wrote this book of Galatians to the churches of North Galatia, not names. Personally, I believe Paul included the congregations at Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe in South Galatia in this letter. I may have included more than those four congregations. I don't know and I have no qualms with that. It probably did! But, we need to, first of all, understand who Paul was writing to in this book, we call Galatians. In verse 2, here in the first chapter of this book, we call Galatians. In verse 2, here in the firstt chapter of this book, Paul said: "all the brethren which are with me, Unto the churches of Galatia..." So, Paul includes greetings from his co-workers that were with him and Paul was writing to a plurality of congregations located in Galatia. North or South, I don't know. Please observe, the word churches has and "s" on it!, i.e. churches in the sense of local congregations of the Lord's church or kingdom. Alright, what was Paul's message? Why did Paul write this book? It boils down to the same thing, essentially, for which Paul wrote the book of second Corinthians that we just finished. More false teachers and obviously teachers of the Judiazing doctrine similar to the ones that caused such a stir at Corinth. The Judiazers had come into the regions of Galatia spreading their doctrine. Now, I get the impression their doctrine had sort of suddenly become popular in that part of Asia Minor. In other words, the Judiazing teachers for the most part had come to Galatia after Paul left Galatia. I also get the impression that Paul had only recently received some kind of intelligence concerning the spread of Judaism in the regions of Galatia. Possibly a report by some brother, very much like Titus brought to Paul (about the Corinthians) when Paul was in Macedonia. So far as I know, there are no hints as to who carried that report; at least I don't find any. As one reads Acts 20:4, he is inclined to focus on Gaius of Derbe as a candidate; but, that is simply a shot in the dark. Nevertheless, while you're looking at that list in Acts 20:4; take a moment to think through the connection here. These men were selected by their respective congregations to travel with Paul and help carry and deliver the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem and Judea. You will remember, I trust, that Paul in I Corinthians 16:1 connected this collection to the churches of Galatia also. The very churches to which this book of Galatians is written. This, I get the impression there was at least some Galatian participation in that collection. Paul (here) in the first few verses of Galatians expressed surprise that these Christians had departed from the truth so quickly and, I would assume, espoused the Judiazing doctrine. Paul and Silas must have taught against that Judiazing doctrine as far back as Paul's second missionary journey; there in Galatia. I think Acts 16:4 is saying that Paul left with the Galatian churches copies of that little letter about six verses long found in Acts 15:23-29. Silas, Paul's companion on that tour, was one of those sent by the apostles in Jerusalem to help explain that little letter at Antioch of Syria, if you remember. That's Acts 15:22. So, I get the impression the Judiazing doctrine had been deterred for a time in the region of Galatia. Paul again "went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening the disciples," at the beginning of Paul's third missionary journey. That's Acts 18:23. That must have been about three or four years before this book of Galatians was written. All we know about the Galatian churches at the time of Paul's third missionary tour is very brief; but, there are no indications the Judiazers were rampant at that time.
What WAS the Judiazing doctrine? Acts chapter 15 probably gives us the best outline of that doctrine. Now, you must realize, man-made doctrines evolve, i.e. they change from time to time. God's word does not change! True Christianity today follows the same God-given doctrine as it did in the days of Paul. But, the Judiazing doctrine may have evolved a little from year to year. I don't know! However, you must allow for that. We tried to put together a little resume or simple description of the Judiazing teachers and their doctrine back at the time we started Second Corinthians chapter 10-11-12-13. Do you remember that? You better review that! And, please review Acts chapter 15, one more time. The Judiazing teachers there came to Antioch of Syria. That's not the Antioch in Galatian territory. But in Antioch of Syria, they taught the brethren (Acts 15:1): "Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved." The Judiazing doctrine included circumcision. So, why don't you add that to your list! Then down in Acts 15:5, Luke rephrased the description of the Judiazers like this: "there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, that it was needful to circumcise the, and to command them to keep the law of Moses." I know, you've looked at that before; but, take the time to analyze it again. Where did this sect come from and what did they teach? They were Pharisees! Who were the Pharisees? Well, if you took the 4-gospels and the ACTS course as you supposedly have; you know the answer. These were Pharisees that believed; did you get that? Undoubtedly that means some Pharisees believed in Jesus and I would assume they were baptized and thus claimed to be Christians. The point is they didn't change totally as Christians are required to do. As so-called Christians, they tried to adapt the Pharisaic doctrine, i.e. the Pharisaic interpretation of the Jews religion, adapt it to Christianity and continue to teach the Mosaic law in addition to, at least some of, the things Jesus taught. In other words a cafeteria-style religion. Take what you want and leave what you don't want. Then put on a little catsup, a little mustard and salt it up like you want it. We have many modern cafeteria-style religions today. Have you heard of Joseph Smith in the 1830's? Ellen G. White? Charles Taze Russell? Judge Rutherford? Mary Baker Eddie? SunMung Moon? and well! you can find those Judiazing-style modern day cafeteria religions almost any place you want to look. But, let's get back to the Bible. Acts 15:6 says: "the apostles and elders (i.e. at Jerusalem) came together for to consider of this matter." Inspired men, men guided by the Holy Ghost came together to consider this matter, i.e. the doctrine of the Judiazers. And, I trust you remember they wrote the little letter of which we have a copy in Acts 15:23-29. That little letter, we've mentioned before, contains the conclusion of those inspired men. They said: "we have hear, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with word, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law; to who we gave no such commandment." (Acts 15:24). That verse says: (#1) what the Judiazers were teaching, (#2) that doctrine didn't come from the apostles, the apostles denied that, and, (#3) this doctrine will subvert your soul, i.e. destroy your soul. And, if cafeteria-style-religions that teach a little of Jesus and a little of what ever you like; would subvert you soul in the days of Paul; it will subvert your soul today. You can be sure of that! Paul was concerned ! That's why he wrote the book of Galatians.
Now, the Judiazers did not accept Paul as an apostle. Do you remember that? Guess what! Paul uses the first two chapters here in Galatians to defend his apostleship. The first 9 verses are more introductory. A quickie, easy way to break the book down into divisions in your mind is: chapter 1& 2 has to do with Paul explaining his apostleship. Then, the test in chapter 3 & 4 is built around the freedom of Christians from the Mosaic Law. Finally, in the last two chapters, chapter 5 & 6, Paul exhorts Christians to faithfulness. Roughly the same amount of space is devoted to each theme. Three divisions! Have you got it? Apostleship. The Mosaic law, and faithfulness.
Now, WHEN did Paul write this book? Well again, the commentators don't agree. There's a lot of variation. Rubel Shelly thinks it was written even before the so-called Jerusalem conference. Let's go back to Macedonia a moment, hi second Corinthians we learned Titus returned to Paul, some place in Macedonia, and reported to Paul what had taken place at Corinth after the Corinthians received Paul's letter, i.e. the letter we call first Corinthians, (we have assumed). Some repented, second Corinthians chapter 7, some argued, second Corinthians chapter 10-11-12-13. Immediately, Paul wrote the letter of second Corinthians and apparently sent it to Corinth also by the hand of Titus. With Titus, Paul sent two other brothers. You know that story. Near the end of the second Corinthians letter, Paul said, "This is the third time I am coming to you..." (II Corinthians 13:1). Even back in first Corinthians 4:19, Paul had said, "I will come to you shortly...". Some were puffed up. Paul had said in first Corinthians 16:6 as he closed that letter, "it may be that I will abide, yea, and winter with you" (i.e. with the Corinthians). Luke in covering this, Acts 20:3, said Paul went from Macedonia into Greece; which was probably Corinth, "And there abode three months." If you continue to read the text there in Acts chapter 20, it says Paul went from Corinth back to Philippi and it says there he "sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread", i.e. after the Jewish Passover, which was roughly the beginning of spring. Paul was obviously in Greece, I'm assuming Corinth, during the winter months and Acts 20:3 said three months. Some commentators think and I would agree, that Paul wrote the Galatian letter DURING those three winter months he spent in Corinth, probably the winter of AD 57-58. The Roman letter, we hope to eventually get to in this study, was written from Corinth also during that same three month period. Paul wrote the Roman letter while he was staying in the household of Gaius, Romans 16:23. Do you remember who Gaius was? Paul baptized Gaius with his own hands, I Cor. 1:14, obviously one of the first converts of Achaia, i.e. in or around Corinth. Paul mentioned three that he himself baptized: Crispus, Gaius and the household of Stephanas (I Cor. 1:14-16). Then the house of Stephanas (one of these) is said to be the first fruits of Achaia (I Cor 16:15). I would tend to think Paul wrote both letters at the same time. Some have called the book of Galatians, the short book of Romans, i.e. the content of both books are similar. There are many clues! For example, take the word "circumcision". What did the Judiazers teach? Circumcise and keep the law of Moses, Acts 15:5. From Genesis to Revelation, in the entire Bible, the word "circumcision" occurs 37 times. Out of that 37 times, 15 times it is found in the book of Romans and 7 times in the book of Galatians. Thus, roughly 2/3rds of the times in the entire Bible. I wonder why? The Judiazers taught circumcision at Corinth where Paul wrote FROM and the Judiazers were teaching circumcision in Galatia where Paul where Paul was writing TO. Thus, circumcision was heavy on Paul's mind. This doesn't prove anything; but, it gives one a strong hint. Doesn't it ? In the mind of Paul, "circumcision" at that time was synonymous with the Judiazing doctrine. For example, over in 5: 11 here in Galatians, Paul said: "brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I suffer persecution?" A very revealing passage. Now, whether Paul made copies of this letter we are studying and sent a copy to every congregation, or whether he had each congregation read the letter and then pass it on to another congregation like he did the Colossian letter (Colossians 4:16), I don't know. Familiarize yourself with this book. Tune in next time and we'll see what we can find. Until then: have a good day!