Tips for Reading the Letter to the Galatians
Galatians was one of the Apostle Paul’s earliest letters. Scholars believe that either Galatians or First Thessalonians was the first letter that he wrote. Galatians was not written to just one church. It was actually written to a group of churches in the region of Galatia. This area today composes the nation of Turkey.
Paul and his team visited that area on his first missionary journey, recorded in Acts 13 and 14. During that trip several churches were established. Paul made several other subsequent trips into the region over the course of his ministry.
The letter to the Galatians was written in response to some serious issues that developed in the churches in that region. The issues related to whether or not non-Jews were required to submit to circumcision, as well as all the other requirements of the Jewish Law before they would be considered a Christian. There were some Jewish Christians who were teaching this in the Galatian churches. These churches were composed of mainly non-Jews. Paul’s response to this teaching was The Letter to the Galatians. In this letter, he angrily denounces these Jewish teachers as false prophets. He made it very clear that these teachers were perverting the simple message of faith-based Christianity that he had taught the Galatian Christians. Paul said, “Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1: 7-9)
In studying this letter, there are several methods that could be considered. The first of these is the Theological or Thematic Method. In this method, the reader will concentrate on the various themes that Paul develops in the letter. A few of the themes that Paul presents are:
1. How Paul Received His Gospel.
2. Paul’s Relationship with the Other Apostles.
3. The Relationship of Faith and Works.
4. The Relationship of the Jewish Law to the Christian’s Faith.
5. Is Circumcision Required for a Non-Jew to Become a Christian?
These are just a few of the theological themes that Paul develops. These themes can be studied by examining what the rest of the New Testament has to say about these issues. The Book of Acts, for example, also talks about the crisis in Galatia in Chapter 15. As mentioned before, Acts 13 and 14 discuss the founding of the Galatian churches. These chapters also discuss some of Paul’s conflicts with the Jewish leaders in the Galatian cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.
A second way that Galatians can be approached is by comparing and contrasting it with other New Testament writings. Paul’s letter to the Romans, for example, covers many of the themes that are discussed in Galatians. Some scholars would argue that Romans is an expanded version of Galatians, minus much of the emotion that the Apostle exudes in Galatians.
Another method of study would be the Biographical Method. This method involves studying the people that are mentioned in Galatians. First of all, the character and personality of Paul needs to be considered. His other letters and the Book of Acts provide insight and understanding into the Apostle. The Gospel that he preached is laid out very clearly in his letters. Paul also mentions several people besides himself: Cephas (Peter), James, John, Barnabas, and Titus. A study of each of the individuals and the role that they played in the church, the conflict, and the letter can be very enlightening.
This letter was very important to the churches that it was written to. It is also incredibly important for us today. The Church often struggles with many of the same types of issues that the Galatian Christians were dealing with. Legalism versus Liberty, Faith versus Works, and Ritual versus Relationship are still areas that produce tension in the Body of Christ. Paul’s teaching on the God’s grace need to be heard as much today as they did when the letter was first written.
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