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Alternate Lecture on: NT 600 New Testament Survey - The Letter to the Galatians

Alternate Lecture on: NT 600 New Testament Survey

The Letter to the Galatians

by Timothy Kenney, PhD

The Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians was actually written about 54 AD, probably from Ephesus, before the Letter to the Romans. Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and his Cross is the most important theme found in Galatians.

Paul, on his second missionary journey, was compelled to make a halt among the mountanous regions of Galatia through severe bodily affliction, probably acute ophthalmia, which causes not only intense pain, but also repulsive disfigurement. This warm-hearted people received him with pity and sympathy, listened to his teaching with delight, and accepted the gospel with enthusiasm. He paid them a brief visit in the course of his third journey, and found it necessary to give them some warnings; but it was not till three years later, while he was staying at Corinth, that he heard of their serious lapse from the Faith.

The Christians of Galatia were they who had received the apostle 'as if he had been an angel', who, if it had been possible, would have 'plucked' out their eyes and given them to him, and then were 'so soon removed' by new teachers 'from him that called them, to another gospel', who began to 'run well', and then were 'hindered', who were 'bewitched' by that zeal which compassed sea and land to make one proselyte, and who were ready in their party spirit to 'bite and devour one another', as they were willing to change their teachers and their gospels.

Paul had hardly arrived in Corinth upon his second journey to set right the moral wrongs in the church there, than he heard the sad news concerning the state of the Galatian churches. During his absence, emissaries from Judea came to them, proclaiming that there was no salvation except through conformity to the Mosaic Law and the Tradition of the Elders, laying special stress on the necessity for circumcision. Their preaching had such an extraordinary fascination for these impressionable, fickle highlanders, naturally prone as they were to superstition, that the apostle can compare the effect on them to nothing but the spell of the evil eye, from which a steadfast gaze at the crucified Saviour could and should have saved them.

At the cost of falsehood and detraction they sought to loosen the hold of Paul upon the affection and respect of his converts. They accused him:

1) of a want of uprightness in observing the law himself, while among the Jews, yet persuading the Gentiles to renounce it (5:11), declaring his motive was to keep them in a subordinate state, excluded from the privileges of a full covenant with God which was enjoyed alone by the circumcision;

2) declaring him to be an interested flatterer (1:10);

3) insisting that he falsely represented himself as an apostle, for that he had not, like the 'twelve', been a follower of the Lord upon the earth, but that he was only a teacher sent out by the 'twelve', whose teaching was to be received only as it agreed with that of the 'twelve'.

By such representations they had alienated many of the Galatians from the apostle, many had submitted to circumcision, and the rest of the church was thrown into agitation and division.

St. Paul hastened, by means of this Epistle, to check the evil. The direct and confrontational personality of Paul clearly comes out in the Letter to the Galatians, especially in Chapter 2, when he confronts Peter in Antioch over the "Judaizers." There was a significant group known as the Judaizers in early Christianity, especially among Jewish Christians, who felt that Christian converts had to observe the Jewish Law as well as follow the teachings of Christ, and this applied even to Gentiles. Paul had addressed this issue earlier at the Council of Jerusalem [Acts 15] and had clearly won the day with his argument that Christianity stood on its own and did not need to observe the customs of the Jewish law, such as circumcision and other Mosaic rituals.

Chapter 1:12 is a key reference for Paul receiving a direct revelation from Jesus Christ. Chapter 2 and 3 of Galatians are Paul's first discussion of his argument of justification by faith in Jesus Christ as the road to salvation, and not in adherence to the Law of Moses. This theme is more fully developed in his Letter to the Romans.

Perhaps the most quoted passages from Galatians are Chapters 2:19-20, that Paul "has been crucified in Christ;" Chapter 3:23-29, that we are justified by faith in Christ; and Chapter 5:16-26, which contrasts the works of the Spirit and the Flesh.

In Galatians 6:7, St. Paul also emphasizes the importance of good works, for truly one reaps what he sows.

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A general outline is provided below:

1:1-1:5 ------------ Salutation
1:6-1:10 ------------ There Is No Other Gospel
1:11-1:24 ------------ Paul's Vindication of His Apostleship

2:1-2:10 ------------ Paul and the Other Apostles
2:11-2:14 ------------ Paul Rebukes Peter at Antioch
2:15-2:21 ------------ Jews and Gentiles Are Saved by Faith

3:1-3:14 ------------ Law or Faith
3:15-3:18 ------------ The Promise to Abraham
3:19-4:7 ------------ The Purpose of the Law

4:8-4:20 ------------ Paul Reproves the Galatians
4:21-5:1 ------------ The Allegory of Hagar and Sarah

5:2-5:15 ------------ The Nature of Christian Freedom
5:16-5:21 ------------ The Works of the Flesh
5:22-5:22 ------------ The Fruit of the Spirit

6:1-6:10 ------------ Bear One Another's Burdens
6:11-6:18 ------------ Final Admonitions and Benediction

We now turn to St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians in our next article.

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