Introduction to Galatians: History, Purpose, Summary and Outline
Introduction to the book of Galatians
This is a brief outline of Galatians, and also a brief history of the book, as well as counsel on how to read the book, and also resources on the study of this book.
The Letter to the Galatians: Galatians is a term that refers to people living in a region known as Galatia, in Roman Times. This region was mostly modern day Western Turkey. It consisted of North and South Galatia. There is some debate on if Paul was writing to a specific region, but we wont get into that here.
The Date of this letter is 50 A.D., taking place sometime during Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey before the Jerusalem Council. The Jerusalem Council, which you can read in Acts 15, deals with the exact controversy that Paul was addressing to the churches in the region of Galatia. Thus Acts 15 serves as a very helpful backdrop to understand the nature of this false teaching that was weighty in influence, causing even the Apostles, Jesus’ original disciples, to meet together to figure out the answer to the question: should non-Jewish, Gentile Christians keep the Law of Moses? Should their men be circumcised? Should they place their faith in Jesus and then adhere to the Law in the Old Testament through dress, custom and dietary laws?
Timothy George, whose commentary I am primarily using for this sermon series, which I will get into later, summarizes this book and writes this as if it were written from the perspective of the false teachers who came into this early church. This is fictional, of course, but George writes it in order to help us understand the exact nature of the problem with the churches in Galatia:
The book of Galatians is separated intro three sections, which can outline as
Historical - 1:1 - 2:14
This section tells of Pauls’ conversion and his early days of ministry, and even a story of a confrontation between him and the Apostle Peter. The reason why he does is this because he want them to understand who he is, the authority of his teaching and what source his authority came from - not from man, but from Jesus. He tells of his Damascus Road experience, Jesus appearing to him. And he includes various details and stories from his early ministry years.
The next section of the book of what we can call the “Theology” of the book. It will be found in 2:14 - 4:31. Here Paul dives into all the theological underpinnings of why it was so important for these early Christians to reject these false teachings and embrace the pure faith and grace that is found in Jesus. He address the believers union with Christ, their adoption into his family, and the very nature of the faith that we have as beginning by example as far back as even Abraham - way before the Law was ever written. It is full of Old Testament allusions and quotations, proving with great zeal that all of the Christian faith was foretold in the Old Testament, and even foretold was the coming of the breaking of the shackles of the law. Some of it is weighty, but we will work through them over the course of around 8 or 9 weeks.
The Final section is what Paul normally does in his letters - he ends them with application, or how we actually live this out. This takes us through chapter 5 to the end of the book chapter 6.
Finally, in this introduction, I will walk through with you some helpful resources that I encourage you to get. I do not want you to only have some sort of dry, academic understanding of the book. I want you to live in it throughout the summer, mastering its content, yes, but also having the entirety of your prayer life being filled with color from this book. And these resources are going to be very helpful.
One has already been mentioned, and it serves as a more academic reference for the bible nerds in the church: It is volume 30 of the New American Commentary, using the next of the NIV, by Timothy George. He has his Th.D from Harvard, and is founding dean and professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School, Samfort University in Birmingham. He’s written various books in his more scholarly work, and also serves as editor at Christianity Today. This commentary is lightly academic, though pretty accessible to the average reader. One thing I appreciate about his commentary is that he doesn’t shy away from the Gospel itself and the implication on our lives, even in the midst of the necessary exegetical and interpretive work he does heavily into. It currently is rated the highest in terms of a modern day commentary on Galatians, and I can’t recommend it more.
The second resource is more for a quick read, devotional approach to Galatians, very accessible, but nevertheless so very helpful - it is called “Galatians for you” by Timothy Keller. It briefly covers each section of Galatians, verse by verse, and gets straight to the simple meaning of the text. Very usable, and if you were to purchase something to have during our sermon series, I encourage you to do pick up this one.
Now, for some historical and classic commentaries on Galatians, they are available for free online - the two would be Martin Luther’s commentary on the book of Galatians, and also John Calvin’s commentary on Galatians. I will warn you before hand: these men were writing in the middle of the Protestant reformation, during the days of the deep corruption of the Catholic Church and the obscurity of the Gospel that resulted. Therefore they have a heavy bias against the Catholic Church and the Pope, and are not afraid to talk about it and use rough and strong words in doing so.
Yet, the reminder of their commentaries define the Gospel so well, so incredibly well, that I must recommend them. Yes, there are inherit biases in Luther/Calvin’s commentaries, and they probably read too heavily into the works/Gospel issue of his day. Nevertheless, it is worth your read.
And there you have it - a quick introduction to Galatians, as well as some resources for helping you to understand it. I’m looking forward to diving into the book with you all and seeing what Jesus has for us through its pages.