uplifting thoughts and inspiration on faith
The Book of Galatians is one of the Epistles Paul wrote in order to instruct and encourage members of the emerging first century church.
Most agree that Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians and scholars generally date the writing to between 50 and 60 years after the death of Jesus. There is some debate over whether Galatians refers to a specific geographical area in the Roman province of Galatia in central Anatolia or to the political province of Galatia, an area which the Roman government designated as Galatia that would have included Lystra, Derbe, and Iconium, cities substantially to the south of the geographical region.
This seems hardly worth debating since Paul’s letters were kind of like a library book. The recipients always knew to read it aloud to their congregation so everyone could hear it and then they passed it on so others could hear it and ultimately many could gain knowledge and instruction from it much as we still do today.
In this letter Paul is primarily addressing the issue of holding true to the beliefs of the Gospel of the Grace of Christ he preached to them originally.
One must remember when reading any of Paul’s letters that the first century church was made up of one of two kinds of people, either converted Jews or converted Gentiles. Having a clear picture of the setting and the culture of the day will help you understand what is being written and why.
The Jews are a nation and an ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion, are strongly interrelated with Judaism being the faith of the Jewish nation and ancestry traced to the Biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Practicing Jews follow the LAW given to them by Moses, often referred to as the Mosaic Law.
The term Gentile (“of or belonging to a clan or tribe”) is used by English translators for the Hebrew words goy and nokhri and the Greek word éthnē. The original words Goy and Ethnos refer to “peoples” or “nations”. The general implication of the word gentile is “non-Jew”. In the time of the Galatians the equivalent of Gentile was a broad spectrum coverage of pagans, idol worshippers, philosophers, gnostics, atheists, and heathens of all sorts. Therefore, you were either a Jew or a Gentile. A Jew or not-a-Jew.
Practicing Jews adhered to the Mosaic LAW of rules, regulations, rituals, traditions, and strict legalism. Mosaic LAW is part of the Old Covenant between God and man. As a contractual agreement God had a part and man had a part. Man was to follow all of the LAW and if he did then God was to bless him. The Mosaic LAW was put in place to show man his inability to be or become righteous on his own and his deep need of a savior. The Jews had been under the LAW for hundreds of years and not only was it ingrained in them as individuals beginning at birth but it defined them as a people and as the backbone of their belief system.
In the days of the Galatians, Rome had taken over and conquered much of the known world. Roman rule could be bearable if the people complied or it could be barbaric and tyrannical if they did not. Rome had no desire to use money and personnel to micro manage newly attained territories so as long as the people paid their taxes and didn’t cause too much of a stir they left things pretty much in tact. However, if Rome felt any real or perceived opposition they had no qualms about making life extremely unpleasant.
As a result of this, the Jewish leaders had essentially been left in charge of religion, all religion. You didn’t have to be Jewish to use the temple to worship or meet but you did have to work with the Jewish leaders and coordinate with them. This kept the Jewish leaders abreast of exactly what was going on in the world of worship and they wanted to keep a low profile. Any kind of fringe cult or sect could bring unwanted attention and they did their best to keep the people in line so Rome felt no need to get involved. The Jewish leaders’ greatest fear was being stripped of their power.
NOTE: In the time of the Galatians, THE Temple was in Jerusalem. It had been rebuilt by Herod the Great and the main gate was decorated with the golden eagle as a sign that the Temple had been placed under the protection of Rome. Cities contained synagogues also called temples with portions open to all peoples. The inner portions of the temples were sacred to the Jews and there were restrictions on who could enter certain sections but large portions of the overall facilities were public.
When Jesus and His Gospel enter the scene he is a huge problem for the Jews on many levels. He was claiming to be the Son of God and anointed of God and he was healing people, which was one of the prophecies regarding a coming messiah.
Isaiah 35:5-6 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
Matthew 15:30-31 And a great multitude came to Him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the dumb, and many others, and they put them down at His feet; and He cured them, So that the crowd was amazed when they saw the dumb speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they recognized and praised and thanked and glorified the God of Israel.
Luke 4:14-22 Then Jesus went back full of and under the power of the [Holy] Spirit into Galilee, and the fame of Him spread through the whole region round about. And He Himself conducted [a course of] teaching in their synagogues, being recognized and honored and praised by all. So He came to Nazareth, [that Nazareth] where He had been brought up, and He entered the synagogue, as was His custom on the Sabbath day. And He stood up to read. And there was handed to Him [the roll of] the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened (unrolled) the book and found the place where it was written,
The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon Me, because He has anointed Me [the Anointed One, the Messiah] to preach the good news (the Gospel) to the poor; He has sent Me to announce release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to send forth as delivered those who are oppressed [who are downtrodden, bruised, crushed, and broken down by calamity],To proclaim the accepted and acceptable year of the Lord [the day when salvation and the free favors of God profusely abound].
Then He rolled up the book and gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were gazing [attentively] at Him.
And He began to speak to them:
Today this Scripture has been fulfilled while you are present and hearing.
And all spoke well of Him and marveled at the words of grace that came forth from His mouth; and they said, Is not this Joseph’s Son?
They believed a savior was indeed coming but they believed he was coming as a king to overpower other governments and other races and to set the Jews up as a people, a ruling nation, and a superior religion. When Jesus shows up and is the son of a carpenter, with no royal riches, no army, and claiming to be the Messiah this caused all sorts of chaos. Not only did they think he was a crackpot but they thought it was going to get the attention of Rome and cause major trouble for them. Additionally, it was a total affront to everything they held sacred. For Jesus, a poor vagabond, to claim to be the Messiah was like mocking their core beliefs, hopes, and dreams.
The word messiah comes from the Hebrew word mashiyach. When Old Testament Hebrew was translated to New Testament Greek the word became christos because both words mean anointed or anointed one. In Biblical times anointed typically refered to a person officially being inducted (consecrated, sanctified, set aside for holy use) into the service of God by having oil poured over his head.
Anointing With Oil
Exodus 29:7 And you shall take the anointing oil, pour it on his head, and anoint him.
Leviticus 8:12 And he poured some of the anointing oil upon Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him.
Psalm 133:2 It is like the precious oil poured on the head, that ran down on the beard, even the beard of Aaron [the first high priest], that came down upon the collar and skirts of his garments [consecrating the whole body].
Saul was the first king of the Jews and he was selected and appointed by God Himself. God instructed His servant Samuel to anoint the man of God’s choosing to be king over the people. This reiterates the concept of Old Testament Jewish life not being compartmentalized into secular and religious segments. The Jewish people were Jewish ethnically and they were Jewish by faith. Their beliefs, politics, traditions, and heritage were intricately intertwined in their genetics and religious practices and they didn’t try to separate them.
Anointing of Kings
1 Samuel 9:16 [God speaking to His prophet Samuel] Tomorrow about this time I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be leader over My people Israel;
1 Samuel 10:1 Then Samuel took the vial of oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him and said, Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over His heritage Israel?
1 Kings 1:39 Zadok the priest took a horn of oil out of the tent and anointed Solomon. They blew the trumpet and all the people said, Long live King Solomon!
2 Kings 9:3 Then take the flask of oil, and pour it on his head, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord: “I have anointed you king over Israel.”’ Then open the door and flee, and do not delay.”
The prophecies throughout the Old Testament of The Messiah, the ultimate anointed one, depicted a coming time of peace, prosperity, the mighty power of God working on their behalf to subdue all other nations and religions under them so that the Jewish people would be exalted above all others.
Old Testament Prophecy of a Messiah
Isaiah 2:2-4 It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be [firmly] established as the highest of the mountains and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow to it. And many people shall come and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law and instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge between the nations and shall decide [disputes] for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord,
“When the plowman shall overtake the reaper,
And the treader of grapes him who sows seed;
The mountains shall drip with sweet wine,
And all the hills shall flow with it.
I will bring back the captives of My people Israel;
They shall build the waste cities and inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them;
They shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them.
I will plant them in their land,
And no longer shall they be pulled up
From the land I have given them,”
Says the Lord your God.
Isaiah 32:16-18 The Peace of God’s Reign
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field. The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places
Isaiah 60:15-18 Whereas you have been forsaken and hated, so that no man passed through you, I will make you [Jerusalem] an eternal glory, a joy from age to age. You shall suck the milk of the [Gentile] nations and shall suck the breast of kings; and you shall recognize and know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. Instead of bronze I will bring gold, and instead of iron I will bring silver; and instead of wood, bronze, and instead of stones, iron. [Instead of the tyranny of the present] I will appoint peace as your officers and righteousness as your taskmasters. Violence shall no more be heard in your land, nor devastation or destruction within your borders, but you shall call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise.
Zechariah 8:23 Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men out of all languages of the nations shall take hold of the robe of him who is a Jew, saying, Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.
Zechariah 14:9 And the Lord shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be – “The Lord is one,” And His name one.
Isaiah 11:1 And there shall come forth a Shoot out of the stock of Jesse [David’s father], and a Branch out of his roots shall grow and bear fruit.
Jeremiah 23:5-6 Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch (Sprout), and He will reign as King and do wisely and will execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah shall be saved and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is His name by which He shall be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.
Jeremiah 30:7-9 Alas! for that day will be great, so that none will be like it; it will be the time of Jacob’s [unequaled] trouble, but he will be saved out of it. For it will come to pass in that day, says the Lord of hosts, that I will break [the oppressor’s] yoke from your neck, and I will burst your bonds; and strangers will no more make slaves of [the people of Israel]. But they will serve the Lord their God and David’s [descendant] their King, Whom I will raise up for them.
Jeremiah 33:14-16 Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the good promise I have made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time will I cause a righteous Branch [the Messiah] to grow up to David; and He shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah shall be saved and Jerusalem shall dwell safely. And this is the name by which it will be called, The Lord is Our Righteousness (our Rightness, our Justice).
Based on everything the Jews had been taught regarding the coming ultimate anointed ruler, they believed they would be able to identify The Messiah by looking to see who was king when they had peace, prosperity, and were no longer subject to any other nation.
Obviously, to them, the man Jesus had never been anointed king, he wore no crown, he ruled nothing, theirs was not a time of peace nor prosperity and they were being oppressed by the Roman Empire. If that was not enough proof that Jesus was NOT the long-awaited Messiah of Old Testament prophecy then consider the fact that as far as they were concerned, HE WAS DEAD! The Sadducees did not even believe in resurrection so Jesus being the savior of anyone was impossible for them to even consider.
Therefore, “Christians” i.e. follers of the anointed one, were a cult of crazy people causing way too much trouble. The whole situation was intensified by the Jews having divisions amongst themselves. The two major ruling parties of the Jews were the Sadducees and the Pharisees. They didn’t agree on much of anything.
Paul was a Pharisee
Philippians 3:5 [Paul says:] Circumcised when I was eight days old, of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew [and the son] of Hebrews; as to the observance of the Law I was of [the party of] the Pharisees
Acts 23:6 But Paul, when he perceived that one part of them were Sadducees and the other part Pharisees, cried out to the council (Sanhedrin), Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; it is with regard to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am indicted and being judged.
Saul loved his people and took pride in being a Jew. Saul loved God and was so zealous for the LAW he was a well-known persecutor of the first century church. Authorized by the high priest to arrest and “deal with” any followers of Jesus in the city of Damascus, his passion inspired him to go from town to town seeking anyone who even looked like they believed in Jesus as the Christ. He delighted in putting them in prison or having them stoned to death. He felt they were making a mockery of God’s holy word. Saul really believed he was doing God’s work.
Acts 9:1-22 Meanwhile Saul, still drawing his breath hard from threatening and murderous desire against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and requested of him letters to the synagogues at Damascus [authorizing him], so that if he found any men or women belonging to the Way [of life as determined by faith in Jesus Christ], he might bring them bound [with chains] to Jerusalem.
Now as he traveled on, he came near to Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him, and he fell to the ground. Then he heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me [harassing, troubling, and molesting Me]? And Saul said, Who are You, Lord? And He said, I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting. It is dangerous and it will turn out badly for you to keep kicking against the goad [to offer vain and perilous resistance].
Trembling and astonished he asked, Lord, what do You desire me to do? The Lord said to him, But arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.
The men who were accompanying him were unable to speak [for terror], hearing the voice but seeing no one. Then Saul got up from the ground, but though his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was unable to see for three days, and he neither ate nor drank [anything].
Now there was in Damascus a disciple named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, Ananias. And he answered, Here am I, Lord. And the Lord said to him, Get up and go to the street called Straight and ask at the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying [there]. And he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias enter and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.
But Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard many people tell about this man, especially how much evil and what great suffering he has brought on Your saints at Jerusalem; Now he is here and has authority from the high priests to put in chains all who call upon Your name. But the Lord said to him, Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of Mine to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the descendants of Israel; For I will make clear to him how much he will be afflicted and must endure and suffer for My name’s sake.
So Ananias left and went into the house. And he laid his hands on Saul and said, Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, Who appeared to you along the way by which you came here, has sent me that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And instantly something like scales fell from [Saul’s] eyes, and he recovered his sight. Then he arose and was baptized, and after he took some food, he was strengthened. For several days [afterward] he remained with the disciples at Damascus.
And immediately in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, saying, He is the Son of God! And all who heard him were amazed and said, Is not this the very man who harassed and overthrew and destroyed in Jerusalem those who called upon this Name? And he has come here for the express purpose of arresting them and bringing them in chains before the chief priests. But Saul increased all the more in strength, and continued to confound and put to confusion the Jews who lived in Damascus by comparing and examining evidence and proving that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah).
By the time of the Galatians, Paul was teaching a pure Gospel message of freedom from the Mosaic LAW and reliance on the grace of Jesus Christ as Messiah, Savior, and Lord to cleanse from all unrighteousness. He then added the concept of a Holy Spirit living in your and working through you to guide you.
The tribe of Levi, from which all the priests descended, had not been given land and were wholly dependent on their income from the sacrifices related to the LAW and from tithes, gifts, and offerings brought into the Temple to sustain them. Abolishing the LAW and adhering to teachings of grace threatened to destroy their livelihood.
Acts 21:27-28 When the seven days were drawing to a close, some of the Jews from [the province of] Asia, who had caught sight of Paul in the temple, incited all the rabble and laid hands on him, Shouting, Men of Israel, help! [Help!] This is the man who is teaching everybody everywhere against the people and the Law and this place! Moreover, he has also [actually] brought Greeks into the temple; he has desecrated and polluted this holy place!
They had enough bickering amongst themselves, the last thing they needed was another reason for commotion that might capture the eye or ear of Rome. The Roman Empire had a well-known reputation for cruelty, persecution, and pain for the sport of it and they did not want to invite any reason for Rome to bring any kind of religious persecution their way.
Keep in mind that it had been the Roman emperor to whom the Jews had originally pleaded with to put Jesus to death. Ultimately it was the Romans who crucified Jesus and then were left with egg on their face when his body went missing. The whole of it had left a bad taste in their mouth and it was now an irritation to them and they were not going to tolerate too much of it. This setting was the impetus spurring the Jews on to compromise.
Paul writes the Galatians because he knows they are struggling with who and what to believe. They had embraced the good news of the Gospel of Christ when Paul presented it to them but now that he was gone they were being charmed by people with ulterior motives.
The Jews were willing to make nice and give The Way some breathing room if The Way would meet them halfway by being a little more Jewish.
Paul says absolutely not! Hence, Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians.