Galatians Sermon Notes 01
GALATIANS: An Introduction
Of all of the letters penned by the Apostle Paul, few shine brighter than the Letter to Galatians. According to much contemporary New Testament scholarship, Galatians is likely the first letter written by Paul, despite its location in our New Testament canon of Scripture.
It may also stand as one of the most important. Clearly, it is a frontal attack on the insurgent Judaism preying on the early New Testament communities that Paul founded in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. Paul was alarmed and angry that the Jewish interlopers were feeding on the young sheep in the fold.
A part of his frustration came as these enemies of the faith had begun to erode confidence in the new disciples in HIS credibility as an apostle. (1:11-2:14). His defense of his apostleship also provides us with an amazing autobiographical sketch of his life and calling.
The letter went to a region of Asia Minor which Paul visited on his first missionary journey. The name “Galatians” (Gauls) applied to Celtic people, wherever they settled in central Asia Minor. It is difficult therefore to pinpoint the location of the churches Paul founded and for which this letter was originally intended.
Culturally, the Gauls were considered a warlike and barbarian people. Uprisings among their tribal groups constantly tormented their Roman conquerors. In 230 BC, the Gauls were conquered by Greece and contained in the area of Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). It was considered a victory of Hellenistic civilization over barbarianism. The area was later conquered and annexed by the Roman empire between 6 BC and AD 4.
This said, the area of Galatia had a colorful background. Hardly known as a cultural center, the people seemed open to receiving the Gospel that Paul preached. Apparently did not stay long enough in any region of Galatia to firmly establish them in their newfound faith. No pastor/elder/leader was addressed in the letter, so it may be safely assumed there were none since the missionary team headed by Paul returned intact.
In reading Acts 16:6, the missionaries Paul and Silas found themselves searching for a place where the Spirit of God had opened a door for them to enter Europe. They finally did so through Macedonia. (“they went through the Phrygian and Galatic region, having been forbidden to speak the word in Asia”). From there passage would have been possible into the Galatic region.
Galatia is again mentioned in Acts 18:23 as Paul returned west on the way to speak the Word in Ephesus. But neither circumstance in Acts 16:6 or 18:23 allow for the possibility that Paul visited the Northern Galatian area, since to do so would have been virtually impossible from Lystra and the Cilician Gates where they started.
This gives birth to what is often referred to as the “South Galatian” theory, which indicates that the Galatian congregations were established on Paul’s first missionary journey. This in turn is evidence that the letter to the Galatians was written early in Paul’s ministry. In fact, many believe, this was the first letter from the Apostle Paul.
THE GALATIAN PROBLEM
Unlike any other letter from Paul, Galatians begins with urgency and with great energy. The appeal and question, “who has bewitched you” gives us an idea of the concern Paul feels. While most pastors would understand using that kind of phrase with one person who wanders from the faith, few of us have had the experience of addressing this to an entire group.
From inferences drawn from the letter itself, we can detect that a group (probably Jewish) had come in and begun teaching that to be true followers of Christ, they must be circumcised. (This, notably, would have discouraged many from continuing further).
They also taught observance of special days (festivals, Sabbaths) that were peculiar to the Jews. From Paul’s encounter with Peter in Galatians 2:11-14, we can also see that certain food laws were instituted.
All told, a number of typically Jewish laws and restrictions were being introduced to the new and impressionable Christ followers in Galatia. This legalistic addition to the Gospel Paul referred to as “another Gospel,” or one which was not a Gospel at all.
Paul’s determination was to clarify the Gospel as he had presented it, to drill down into bedrock the basic claims of the faith, and to refute and reject the claims being made by the Jewish “troublemakers” (his words).
Galatians goes further and deeper into the true purpose of the Law and the place of the Spirit and the evidence of walking in the Spirit in later chapters. All in all, the deep problems which prompted the letter aside, it is one of the most foundational documents we have in our Bible.
- Scott, J S, Dictionary of New Testament Background, (IVP)
- Bruce, FF. New International Commentary of the Greek New Testament: Galatians
- Morris, Leon. Galatians: Paul’s Charter of Christian Freedom