Paul’s Galatian epistle is the divine commentary on the doctrine of justification as set forth in the first four chapters of his epistle to the Romans.
Some time after Paul had been severed (Ac.13:2) and had gone among the nations preaching justification by faith (Ac.13:39) and had returned to Antioch, Judaising teachers came down from Jerusalem teaching that "If you should not be circumcised after the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." (Ac.15:1). The matter was taken up in the council of the apostles at Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabas were sent with the decrees which made it manifest that circumcision was not necessary for the nations who believed.
After they had delivered these decrees Paul passed through the Galatian province (Ac.16:6) and founded the ecclesias to which this epistle is addressed. Some years later he visited the Galatian province again, establishing the disciples (Ac.18:23).
We never hear again that the Judaisers taught that circumcision was essential to salvation. The decrees of the twelve effectually forbade this. Now, however, they try to graft the law onto the evangel and make circumcision and the keeping of the law a further privilege and a means of perfection for the believers among the nations. It is against this subtler form of error that this epistle is directed. Paul shows that spirit and flesh, grace and works, faith and law, cannot be reconciled. Paul is called upon to present a defense of his evangel. This is divided into two distinct lines of thought. First, he discusses its origin and then its essence. He proves that its origin was quite independent of Peter and the twelve. He demonstrates that its essence is incompatible with the keeping of the law. Then he further shows that its fruits cannot be produced in legal bonds. The origin of the evangel involves Paul's personal history after his call, and his points of contact with the twelve, especially Peter. He carefully rehearses the details of his three meetings with Peter, showing that he had no opportunity to receive his evangel from him, but that, in each case, he communicated his evangel to Peter and the others.
The doctrinal defense discusses the difference between the Abrahamic and Sinaitic covenants, showing the priority of the Abrahamic promise and the subordinate and temporary function of the law. It acted as an escort, during the minority of the chosen nation, to lead them to Christ. It was a guardian, suitable only for those under age. It must not continue. If faith came four hundred years before its advent, it is in no need of law. When law utterly fails then faith remains. Hence the utter folly of the Galatian ecclesias, to whom the law was never given by God, in voluntarily subjecting themselves to its demands when they already had far more than it could ever give them. Before law came, and after it fails, the just lived by faith. It never could give either righteousness or life. The Galatians had both, by faith in Christ.
In practice, the law is powerless through the flesh. But grace, working through faith, can overfill the law's demands by ignoring its commands and curses.
1 Paul loses no time in coming directly to the heart of the trouble at Galatia. If he received his commission from the twelve apostles at Jerusalem or through Peter, he could have no distinct evangel for the nations. But he insists that he, as well as they, received his evangel directly from the risen Lord. He was given it without the intervention of Peter, he proclaimed it on a par with Peter, he maintained it in spite of the opposition of Peter.
6 Unlike Paul's other epistles, there is no note of thanksgiving or blessing in this opening strain. Corinth, with all its moral and doctrinal evil, did not fail to call this forth. But here, the defection is too serious. Instead, he marvels at the Galatians and hurls his anathema at those who are disturbing them.
The two evangels were different in kind and could not be classed together. They had been called in the grace of Christ. They were being transferred to the bondage of law.
8 The intense zeal of the apostle for the evangel he had proclaimed comes out in the fact that he calls down this anathema on himself, in case he should be guilty of distorting the message he is proclaiming. It is worthy of note that he is not objecting to the apostles of the Circumcision preaching a distinct evangel to them. That was what they had been commissioned for. But they had agreed that they would not go to the nations. Hence he repeats the words to you thrice.
9 The apostle now includes the Judaising teachers in the second anathema.
11 Those who were disturbing the Galatians had no message except what they had received from the twelve apostles. But Paul is unwearied in his insistence that he received nothing from them. His evangel was a fresh revelation made known to him by the Lord Himself. If Paul merely proclaimed what the twelve taught, why did he not receive it through them? What need for the Lord to descend and call him on the Damascus road? Why should he be severed from the rest at Antioch? Why did the believing Jews in Jerusalem oppose his ministry among the nations?
14 While his opposers know nothing of the grace of Paul's evangel, he was better acquainted with Judaism than they were. And not only so, but he had exceeded them in the energy and zeal with which he had defended it.
16 The first revelation which came to Saul of Tarsus prepared the way for those which were to follow. He was called outside the land. Hence he found his sphere of service among the nations. He was not seeking God, but was His most implacable human enemy. He is saved by a display of grace which had hitherto been unknown. Hence his evangel is the exponent of the unadulterated grace of God. His first meeting with Christ was after His ascension and glorification. Hence he is concerned, not with His earthly life, but with His heavenly position. He recognizes Him as the Son of God, and, as such, he immediately proclaims Him (Ac.9:1-20).
17 The natural course for one in Saul's case would be to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and submit to them what he had received from the Lord and seek their patronage and fellowship in its proclamation, or, indeed, ask their opinion and permission to promulgate it. But what did he do? He went into the desert where no human influence was at work. He waited three years before telling Peter about it, and then he does not even form the acquaintance of the twelve or of the ecclesia. They actually did not know him personally, though they were glorifying God for the great change in him. All of this shows conclusively that Paul did not, at that time, derive his doctrine from Peter or the twelve.
1 Paul's next visit to Jerusalem was pursuant to a revelation. The time had come to obtain official recognition of his apostleship and evangel. The occasion was furnished by those of the Circumcision themselves. They insisted that it was needful to circumcise those among the nations who had believed, and to teach them to observe the law of Moses. Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to put this question before the apostles and obtained from them the assurance that circumcision and lawkeeping were not necessary for salvation.
2 Paul's method in Jerusalem seems to have taken into account the low spiritual state and prejudices of the Jewish believers. It would have been practically impossible to impress the whole company with the character and divinity of his commission to the nations, so he singles out the leading brethren and seeks to show them how God has committed a distinct work to him. Peter and James seem to have grasped the essential points which he wished to impress upon them. Peter had had some preparation for this change, through the vision given him in connection with the proselyte Cornelius (Ac.15:7-l1).
3 Titus was taken along as a test case. If circumcision was essential, then he must submit to it. If it was not essential, then he was to be a living proof that it was not necessary.
7 At the private meeting with those of repute Paul obtained the fullest recognition of his apostleship. James, Cephas, and John, who were recognized as the chiefs, acknowledge his commission. This puts Paul on a par with Peter, the chief of the Circumcision apostles. There was a mutual understanding arrived at among them that they would confine themselves to the Circumcision, while Paul and Barnabas went to the nations. This agreement should have kept the judaizing disturbers of the Galatian believers from interfering with them. Paul kept his part of the compact, especially that which concerned the collection for the poor saints in Judea. He brought gifts from the nations. In return, they harassed those to whom he had been sent and would have killed him.
11 Paul's third meeting with Peter is most conclusive. At his first meeting, he tells Peter of his commission. At his second he gets Peter's recognition. At his third, he towers far above him and withstands him to the face. Peter had been taught not to call anyone common or unclean who had the witness of the holy Spirit, so that, when he first came to Antioch, he ate with the uncircumcised. But he was afraid of the Circumcisionists, and changed his attitude when they came down from Jerusalem. What prestige these men had, who could intimidate the very chief of the apostles!
14 Peter's double-dealing did not deceive Paul, though he seems to have dragged all the rest of the Jews in Antioch with him, not even excepting Barnabas. Paul is left alone as the champion of the truth. He has far more cause to fear Peter than Peter has to fear his misguided subordinates, but he does not flinch. He exposes Peter's inconsistent conduct.
Paul's logic is unanswerable. Peter had been living as the nations. If he was right then the nations were right in living as they did, and the Judaisers were wrong in trying to make Jews out of them. He could not withdraw without incriminating himself.
15 Paul then takes up the case from the standpoint of the Jews who were with him. He and they were justified by the faith of Christ, apart from the law. Should they now voluntarily resume their former relations to the law they would become sinners, and Christ a dispenser of sin, for the law is not laid down for the just but for sinners. In fact, to go back under law would prove either that they had been wrong in leaving it or were wrong in returning to its bondage.
19 Death is the ultimate effect of the law, yet it is also deliverance from law.
20 We have endeavored to transcribe this marvelous compendium of the faith as nearly as possible as it is in the original, for even the order of the words is exquisite. The sentence opens and closes with Christ, and a negative I occupies its center. It may be shown graphically thus:
have I been crucified,
yet I am living–
no longer I,
but living in me is
21 What a contrast between the slavery of the law and the exultant life by faith of the Son of God and the gift of His love!
1 Paul has now finished his personal defense, thereby establishing his own apostleship and the unique character of his evangel, which, far from being derived from Peter, he upholds in spite of Peter.
3 Paul now appeals to the experience of the Galatians themselves. Before the Judaisers came they received the Spirit of God, and suffered for the evangel, and did mighty works quite apart from the law.
6 Three great names are associated, in Scripture, with three distinct lines of truth. David is the one with whom the kingdom covenant was made. and his name is foremost in the proclamation of the evangel of the kingdom. When justification is in view we are taken back to Abraham and his faith in God. God's covenant with him was unconditional and included all nations in its scope. The conciliation engages us with Adam and embraces all mankind in its gracious provisions.
All injustice finds its earliest source in the unbelief of Eve, and all righteousness acceptable to God is based on a reversal of the lack of confidence her act revealed. Nothing can be more just than to take God at His word.
9 How striking the contrast! As many as are of faith are blessed. Accursed is everyone who does not remain in all which has been written in the scroll of the law to do it. Who would be so perverse as to choose law? Yet the heresy of Galatianism is far more prevalent today than ever. Life under law can only come to one who keeps every precept perfectly at all times, yet is forfeited at the slightest infringement. Life through faith does not depend on conduct but on the One in Whom the faith is placed.
13 The sacrifice of Christ made provision for all classes and all contingencies. For those under law, He bore its curse so that they may receive the blessing of Abraham. And He bore the sins of those not under law that they, too, may obtain the righteousness of Abraham. So both through faith receive the spirit by which they may exceed the righteous demands of the law.
15 A contract, or agreement or covenant once ratified cannot be set aside, neither can any of its provisions be altered. The Abrahamic covenant contained no conditions to invalidate it. It did not depend on obedience to confirm it. It depended solely on God, who swore by Himself that He would carry it out (Gen.22:15-18 ).
17 The priority of the promise is most important. Nearly half a millennium elapsed before the law was given. The promise is in no way dependent on the law for its fulfillment.
19 Law changes sin from a mere mistake into the overstepping of a divine command. It enhances the sinfulness of sin. Transgression is sin against a known law, entailing not only the usual penalties, but the added displeasure of God against one who defies His precepts. The law was not given to the people directly, but through Moses who acted as the mediator. Neither was it given through Christ, the Seed of the promise.
21 Far from being against the promises, the law was intended to guard those to whom the promise was made and to lead them to Christ. It could not give life or justify in itself. but it could bring them to a realization of the sinfulness of sin and the need of a Saviour. These were its functions, and these it fulfilled. This was, however, only until the Seed should come.
24 It was the custom in well-to-do Roman families to have the boys escorted to and from school under the guardianship of a slave, or have them instructed at home by a learned Greek pedagogue-slave (paidagogos) who was their tutor.
25 Those who believe are not under law. The grown sons would scorn the escort of their boyhood days. His presence would be an insult to their manhood. So those who know their maturity in Christ refuse the bondage of law as both unnecessary and humiliating. We are not children but sons. Law leads minors. Faith controls sons.
27 Baptism, as practiced in Paul's early ministry, was a symbol of unity with Christ in His death. burial and resurrection. "As many as" shows that not all the Galatians had been baptized. Nevertheless, the truth of unity with Christ held for all, for in Him all physical distinctions vanish. In service, or in the Lord, the slave was still a slave, the sexes were still recognized, but in Christ, by faith, all have the same high place of privilege. All are entitled to the promise and the righteousness which comes by faith in God.
1 The place of an infant heir differs from that of a slave in right but not in fact. Though entitled to all, he is treated as though master of nothing. He is watched by guardians, and supervised by stewards. This was the position of Israel under the law. Theirs was the sonship and the glory and the covenants, but these are all reserved for future display. Dignities are suited to capacity; privileges to age. Infancy is debarred from their use, not merely by the formal legal prohibition, but by intrinsic disqualification. The responsibilities of property are beyond the strength and understanding of a child.
3 Israel, during the period of minority, was in bondage under the "elements" of the world. These "rudiments" or elementary religious observances, while "infirm and poor" (9) and put in contrast with Christ (Col.2:8), were necessary to their education and served an essential purpose in the progress of revelation. But no one who knows the liberty of sonship would tolerate their shackles for an instant.
4 In Israel the assumption of the responsibilities and dignities of manhood was a notable event in a man's life. In the life of the nation, this was signalized by the advent of God's Son, Who reclaimed them from the bondage of the law.
6 The people in our Lord's day were bi-lingual. They used an Aramaic dialect in the familiar talk of the household, but all understood Greek, which was almost a universal language at that time, "Abba" is Aramaic, corresponding to our familiar "Papa".
9 It is most remarkable that the apostle puts the Mosaic ceremonial on a par with heathen rites. They were not turning back to their previous idolatry but to the observances under the law, which they had not practised before. But he insists it is all the same in God's sight as if they really had returned to the rites of heathenism.
10 Do any of us observe these things? Paul would be afraid of us!
12 If Paul had given up the Mosaic ritual and became as they were for their sakes, surely they ought to follow his example, for he certainly had far more reason to cling to it than they had to lapse back into it.
15 Eye diseases are very common in the East. Paul's first acquaintance with the Galatians was when, as a sick traveler, he proclaimed the evangel to them in the midst of his infirmities. From this passage, we get a glimpse of the fervent love his message evoked, and are led to suppose that he had some affliction of the eyes.
17 The words zealous and jealous probably were once the same in English, as they are so closely allied in form and meaning. They represent a single Greek word. It is not always clear which is the better rendering, but here jealousy, rather than zeal, seems to satisfy the context.
19 What affectionate mothering stirs the apostle as he broods over his erring children!
22 The controversy turns on the question "Who are the heirs of Abraham?" Is the ground of sonship circumcision and law keeping, or faith? The Judaisers said, We are Abraham's sons! Abraham had two sons, says Paul. Which line do you belong to, Ishmael or Isaac? You are Ishmaelites, sons of Hagar, born of the flesh, born into slavery. You are not heirs of Abraham! Isaac, the child of promise, is the true heir. These two sons of Abraham illustrate the relation between law and promise, flesh and spirit. Ishmael came into Abraham's home between the promise and the advent of the true heir. Born of unbelief, he was a continual trial and persecuted the son of promise. But finally, the decree went forth: Cast out this maid and her son!
It could hardly be that the Galatians are listening to any but so-called "believing" Jews who were associated with the apostles, and with James. They would not listen to the persecutors of the ecclesia in Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of Jews believed but they all were zealous of the law (Ac.21:20). This shows that those associated with the Pentecostal administration were virulently opposed to Paul and his doctrine of grace. When he was in Jerusalem they led the multitude against him and nearly killed him. These Jewish Christians were the most troublesome enemies of the ecclesias among the nations which had been founded by Paul.
1 This paragraph is the summary and conclusion of the doctrinal argument. Tersely, he puts the case. Which shall it be Christ or circumcision!' No half-hearted allegiance here, no serving of two masters. Circumcision might have been a badge of privilege in the past, but now it has become a sign of apostasy. It does not lead to justification from sin, but to exemption from Christ. It is incumbent on such to keep the entire law. Grace has no room in which to operate.
4 "Falling from grace" is not, as usually supposed, a loss of the benefits of Christ's salvation through breaking the law. But, on the contrary, through attempting to keep the law. He who falls into sin does not forfeit the grace of God. Blessed to relate, grace abounds in such a case (Rom.6:1). But he who seeks to establish his own salvation by works has no need of the grace of God and forfeits all right to the benefits flowing from His redemption. He thus repudiates grace. He falls out of the sphere where grace operates. This is what "falling from grace" really means.
5 Righteousness is here put before us as an expectation for which we are waiting. This is required by the contrast between that produced by the law and that effected by faith. At present, in God's sight, the one righteous thing to do is to believe Him. The man who believes God is absolutely right in that act. If we could view this from God's side we would see that such a man is just, and needs nothing more to make him righteous. The effect of this on his dealings with others may not be fully in harmony with this fact now, but the time is coming when our conduct will partake of the righteousness of faith. This is the "expectation of righteousness".
11 The proclamation of circumcision, or of lawkeeping. or of any human effort to attain the favor of God entails no persecution. The cross is a snare, which not only captures but crushes us. No human pretensions can abide the great fact of His utter humiliation and shameful death for us on the cross and the sober truth that such were our deserts, not His. Christ Himself is our righteousness. We loathe every effort of our own.
15 The Galatians were biting and devouring one another, while they supposed themselves to be keeping the law. The law usually acts thus. It makes men self-righteous and contentious. Instead of fulfilling its letter, they destroy its spirit. Law should lead to regard for others and find its fruition in love. But it leads its votaries to despise others and finds its fruit in hate.
16 Here is the divine prescription for our most troublesome problem–the flesh. Every attempt to directly control the flesh, to curb it or cure it must end in failure. The only way to deal with it is to ignore it. In the epistle to the Romans, this is fully set forth under the figure of death. Here the conflict between flesh and spirit is met by such complete occupation with the spirit, that no opportunity is left for the flesh to accomplish its desires.
19 In this list there are some sins which we have come to condone or even justify, yet they are in the midst of a catalogue of crimes. Enmity and strife, jealousy and faction, too often assume a righteous garb. Sectarianism is defended as though it were an improvement on the divine unity of the body of Christ. In the kingdom of God, there will be no one practicing such things.
22 The flesh acts, the spirit bears fruit, delicious not only to us but to God. Fruit is not the result of mechanical effort but the natural expression of life and growth. If we love others we will need no legal restrictions to keep us from injuring them. Law is a useless encumbrance to those who walk after the spirit. They need no promptings to do good and are above the penalties imposed on evil doers.
24 The crucifixion of the flesh means far more than putting it in the place of death. It gives it the kind of death it deserves, for it is a criminal of the deepest dye. The shameful, ignominious death borne by Christ for our sins is the only fit finish for the flesh.
1 A true self-knowledge will humble us so that we can deal meekly with a brother who has suddenly slipped. The law would condemn him, but we are to seek to bring him back into line.
5 There is a contrast here between a burden and a load. Burden is from the element meaning heavy. Both of these elements occur together in Mt. 23:4 "heavy loads". In Mt.l1:30 our Lord did not say "My burden is light", but "My load is light". When a brother becomes overburdened it is our duty and privilege to help him bear his burden. But the load the Lord lays on us is not too heavy. We cannot do a service which God has assigned to another. In this, each one must bear his own load.
6 In order to perpetuate the instruction of His saints God has made it obligatory that such a service should be recognized and proper compensation provided for those who instruct.
7 The figure of sowing and reaping is a most encouraging one to consider. The farmer plants the seed and sees no results at all for some time. He waits long and patiently ere he reaps the harvest. So we, too, may see little come of our sowing for the spirit, but in the proper season, we shall reap as we have sown. That which is for the flesh will rot. That which is for the spirit will endure for the eons. There is much, very much, to make us despondent, but we should ever keep in mind the eonian harvest for which we are preparing.
11 It seems probable that the rest of the epistle was penned by Paul himself. His usual custom was to write only a short ending to attest the genuineness of a letter, but here he is so concerned that he rehearses the heart of the argument in his own handwriting. It has been suggested that the writing was in large characters because of his defective eyesight.
12 In this marvelous finale, Paul focuses the light of the cross upon the motives actuating both sides of the controversy. The Circumcisionists played for popularity. They dreaded persecution. They appealed to the flesh. How many of us are following the spirit of this course today? Paul boasted only in the cross, which puts an end to the flesh, whether in us or in the world. Now there is a new creation, in which the flesh has no place. This should settle the whole controversy.
16 Paul does not wish to condemn all of the Circumcision indiscriminately for the sins of his opponents. Those amongst them who acknowledge the power of the cross in the midst of their observances, on these he invokes peace and mercy, for they are the true Israel of God.
17 It was customary to mark a slave with the brand of his master. Paul's many persecutions had doubtless left many marks, all of which indicated his loyalty to his Lord.
18 Note the emphasis on spirit in line with the teaching of the epistle.