The phrase “churches of Galatia” does not refer to an individual church or a specific city, but to a group of churches located in a general area. We commonly refer to Paul’s letter to these churches simply as “Galatians” or “The Letter of Paul to the Galatians”. It was meant to be circulated among the various churches.
At the time of the writing of this letter the term "Galatia" was used both in a geographical and a political sense. The former referred to north central Asia Minor, north of the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe; the latter referred to the Roman province (organized in 25 B.C.) which included southern districts and those cities just mentioned. If the letter was written to Christians in North Galatia, the churches were founded on the second missionary journey and the epistle was written on the third missionary journey, either early from Ephesus (about 53) or later (about 55) from Macedonia. In favor of this is the fact that Luke seems to use "Galatia" only to describe North Galatia (Acts 16:6; 18:23).
If the letter was written to Christians in South Galatia, the churches were founded on the first missionary journey, the letter was written after the end of the journey (probably from Antioch, about 49, making it the earliest of Paul's epistles), and the Jerusalem council (Acts 15) convened shortly afterward. In favor of this dating is the fact that Paul does not mention the decision of the Jerusalem council which bore directly on his Galatian argument concerning the Judaizers, indicating that the council had not yet taken place.
The Ryrie Study Bible, Introduction to the Letter of Paul to the Galatians, Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Moody Press, p. 1769
In the introduction of the letter we read:
Paul an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia:
This is not a letter written to a single church as in the cases of those to
Corinth and Ephesus. This is a letter addressed to a number of churches. Who were these Galatians? If you read the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of the book of Acts you will discover the background of these churches. They were churches begun by Paul when he was on his very first missionary journey, traveling with Barnabas into the cities of Antioch, Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra. In Lystra, on one occasion, he was stoned and dragged outside the city and left for dead after having first been welcomed and treated as a god. In all these cities he experienced persecution. These were the cities of Galatia.
The name of the province comes from the same root as the word Gaul. Any of you who took Latin in school remember that you began your reading of Julius Caesar with the words, Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres. "Gaul as a whole is divided into three parts." Gaul is the ancient name for France. About 300 years before Christ some Gauls from what is now France had invaded the Roman Empire and sacked the city of Rome. Then they crossed into northern Greece and continued across the Dardanelles straits into Asia Minor. At the invitation of one of the kings of the area, these Gauls settled there.
So they were not Arabs or Orientals but a Celtic race, of ancestry similar to that of the Scots, the Irish, the Britons, and the French. Since many Americans are also of that ancestry, this letter is particularly pertinent to us, as you will recognize when you read Julius Caesar's description of the Gauls: "The infirmity of the Gauls is that they are fickle in their resolves, fond of change and not to be trusted." Or, as another ancient writer put it, "They are frank, impetuous, impressionable, eminently intelligent, fond of show but extremely inconstant, the fruit of excessive vanity." Doesn't that sound like Americans? Most of the world would agree to that.
On his second journey, this time with Silas instead of Barnabas, Paul set out to go back through these Galatian cities and visit the churches that had been established, and on this occasion he stayed a considerable time in various cities because he became sick.
Ray Stedman :: Galatians: Don’t Submit Again to the Slave’s Yoke, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/stedman_ray/Adv_Gal/Adv_Gal.cfm? a=1092001
For a map showing Paul’s missionary journeys and the location of Galatia see: http://www.blueletterbible.org/images/rosepub/imageDisplay/#s=maps_pa ul3_b
The theme of Galatians is justification by faith. There was a group of people who had come to Galatia who promoted a theological position that Paul opposed in this letter who are referred to as “Judaizers”. This term is not used in Galatians...but it represents a system of thought found there. In order to understand what Paul is teaching it is necessary to be familiar with what they taught. Simply put, the Judaizers taught that salvation by faith in Christ through grace (justification by faith) by itself was not adequate to make a person righteous (and thereby acceptable to God). Not only must a person have faith in Jesus...but he must also keep the Jewish Law. In particular, there was emphasis placed on circumcision (as a sign of keeping the Law). Those who taught this concept were primarily Jews who professed to have become followers of Christ...but, who also required that the practice of the Jewish Law was necessary for righteousness. The term “Judaizer” literally means “to live according to Jewish customs”. The teaching of the Judaizers was spreading rapidly. It had begun in Jerusalem and now Paul was confronting it in Galatia.
Question: "Why is justification by faith such an important doctrine?"
Answer: The teaching of justification by faith is what separates biblical Christianity from all other belief systems. In every religion, and in some branches of what is called “Christianity,” man is working his way to God. Only in true, biblical Christianity is man saved as a result of grace through faith. Only when we get back to the Bible do we see that justification is by faith, apart from works.
The word justified means “pronounced or treated as righteous.” For a Christian, justification is the act of God not only forgiving the believer’s sins but imputing to him the righteousness of Christ. The Bible states in several places that justification only comes through faith alone (e.g., Romans 5:1; Galatians 3:24). Justification is not earned through our own works; rather, we are covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:5). The Christian, being declared righteous, is thus freed from the guilt of sin.
Justification is a completed work of God, and it is instantaneous, as opposed to sanctification, which is an ongoing process of growth by which we become more Christlike (the act of “being saved,” cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:23). Sanctification occurs after justification.
Understanding the doctrine of justification is important for a Christian. First, it is the very knowledge of justification and of grace that motivates good works and spiritual growth; thus, justification leads to sanctification. Also, the fact that justification is a finished work of God means that Christians have assurance of their salvation. In God’s eyes, believers have the righteousness necessary to gain eternal life.
Once a person is justified, there is nothing else he needs in order to gain entrance into heaven. Since justification comes by faith in Christ, based on His work on our behalf, our own works are disqualified as a means of salvation (Romans 3:28). There exist vast religious systems with complex theologies that teach the false doctrine of justification by works. But they are teaching “a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6–7).
Without an understanding of justification by faith alone, we cannot truly perceive the glorious gift of grace—God’s “unmerited favor” becomes “merited” in our minds, and we begin to think we deserve salvation. The doctrine of justification by faith helps us maintain “pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). Holding to justification by faith keeps us from falling for the lie that we can earn heaven. There is no ritual, no sacrament, no deed that can make us worthy of the righteousness of Christ. It is only by His grace, in response to our faith, that God has credited to us the holiness of His Son. Both Old and New Testaments say, “The just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38).
Who were the Judaizers?
Galatians 1:1-2:14-Paul Establishes His Authority to Teach Justification by
Galatians 1:1-10-Paul’s Authority is based on his calling as an Apostle by God Galatians 1:1-2-In these verses Paul immediately establishes the source of his Apostolic credentials...they are not from men...they are from God. This is critical because there is a group that is opposing his teaching that claims to have the same authority that he has. This is so important that Paul will continue to establish the basis for the superiority of his authority through chapter 2, verse 14. Galatians 1:3-5-Now Paul summarizes the content of the Gospel that he preaches. In so doing, he is reminding them of the doctrines that he had previously taught them.
Galatians 1:6-10-Paul says that he is amazed that the Galatians have been so easily persuaded to follow a false gospel, different from what he had taught them. He says that anyone who preaches such a gospel is cursed.
There is an interesting play on words in the Greek that is not easily seen in the English translations. In verse 6 (NASV), Paul says that he is surprised that they are so quickly “deserting” Christ for “another gospel”. Notice that the word “deserting” doesn’t mean to simply accept a variation of something...but to choose one thing in place of another.
"to remove a person or thing from one place to another" (meta, implying "change," tithemi, "to put"), e.g., Act 7:16, "were carried over," signifies, in the Middle Voice, "to change oneself," and is so used in Gal 1:6 "(I marvel that) ye are... removing," RV (not as AV, "removed"); the present tense suggests that the defection of the Galatians from the truth was not yet complete and would continue unless they changed their views. The Middle Voice indicates that they were themselves responsible for their declension, rather than the Judaizers who had influenced them.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3346&t= NASB
Then pay attention to the words “different” in verse 6 and “another” in verse 7 (NASV). Both of these words are commonly translated into English by the word “another”...as is done in the KJV.
6. I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7. which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
6. I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7. Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
But there is an interesting and important distinction between these two words. The Greek word for “another” in verse 6 is “allos”. The Greek word for “another” in verse 7 is “heteros”. Notice the difference between the two words...
have a difference in meaning, which despite a tendency to be lost, is to be observed in numerous passages. Allos expresses a numerical difference and denotes "another of the same sort;" heteros expresses a qualitative difference and denotes "another of a different sort." Christ promised to send "another Comforter" (allos, "another like Himself," not heteros), Jhn 14:16. Paul says "I see a different (AV, "another") law," heteros, a law different from that of the spirit of life (not allos, "a law of the same sort"), Rom 7:23. After Joseph's death "another king arose," heteros, one of quite a different character, Act 7:18. Paul speaks of "a different gospel (heteros), which is not another" (allos, another like the one he preached), Gal 1:6, 7. See heteros (not allos) in Mat 11:3; Act 27:1; in Luk 23:32 heteroi is used of the two malefactors crucified with Christ. The two words are only apparently interchanged in 1Cr 1:16; 6:1; 12:8-10; 14:17, 19, e.g., the difference being present, though not so readily discernible.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words,
While the NASV actually translates the two different Greek words into English by two different words...the purpose of Paul’s use of the words is not as evident. The Message Paraphrase captures this difference.
6-7. I can’t believe your fickleness—how easily you have turned traitor to him who called you by the grace of Christ by embracing a variant message! It is not a minor variation, you know; it is completely other, an alien message, a no-message, a lie about God.
Perhaps there were some people (maybe even those who were opposing him) who were attempting to make this look like only a slight change. “It’s really the same Gospel that Paul preached...just with a slight variation...it’s just semantics.” But Paul states adamantly that this is an entirely different Gospel. They may use the same words. They may tell the same stories. But the Gospel that they are presenting is not the same as the one he preached. Paul says that they are trying to “disturb” believers and “distort” the Gospel. He pulls no punches. These are strong accusations that he makes against these false teachers because the eternal lives of people are involved.
(d) of subverting the souls of believers, by evil doctrine, Act 15:24; Gal 1:7; 5:10;
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G50 15&t=NASB
"to transform into something of an opposite character" (meta, signifying "a change," and strepho,) as the Judaizers sought to "pervert the gospel of Christ," Gal 1:7; cp. "the sun shall be turned into darkness," Act 2:20; laughter into mourning and joy to heaviness, Jam 4:9.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3344&t= NASB
But Paul doesn’t stop there. He says that if anyone...those with Paul, an angel, anyone...preaches a message to them that is “contrary” (different) from what they have already been taught...let that person be “accursed” (:8). And he is so determined to make his point that he repeats it a second time just in case they didn’t get it the first time (:9).
Curse, Cursing (Noun and Verb), Cursed, Accursed:
transliterated from the Greek, is frequently used in the Sept., where it translates the Heb. cherem, "a thing devoted to God," whether
(a) for His service, as the sacrifices, Lev 27:28 (cp. anathema, a votive offering, gift), or
(b) for its destruction, as an idol, Deu 7:26, or a city, Jos 6:17. Later it acquired the more general meaning of "the disfavor of Jehovah," e.g., Zec 14:11. This is the meaning in the NT.
It is used of (a) the sentence pronounced, Act 23:14 (lit., "cursed themselves with a curse;" see anathematizo below); (b) of the object on which the "curse" is laid, "accursed;" in the following, the RV keeps to the word "anathema," Rom 9:3; 1Cr 12:3; 16:22; Gal 1:8, 9, all of which the AV renders by "accursed" except 1Cr 16:22, where it has "Anathema." In Gal 1:8-9, the Apostle declares in the strongest manner that the Gospel he preached was the one and only way of salvation, and that to preach another was to nullify the Death of Christ.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words,
Curses in New Testament Times.
Jewish synagogues practiced excommunication or anathema in the NT period (Lk 6:22; Jn 9:22; 12:42; 16:2). Later, Christians excommunicated persons by declaring them outside of the redeemed community (Mt 18:17) or “delivered to Satan” (1 Cor 5:5; 1 Tm 1:20). Both practices stemmed from the OT ban. Unlike that curse, however, the excommunication could be removed as soon as the person repented.
Since the anathema branded a person as “rejected” or “cursed by God,” Saul of Tarsus, before his conversion, tried to compel Christians to renounce Christ by calling him accursed (cf. Acts 26:11). Later, as an apostle, Paul (Saul) warned that no one speaking by the Spirit of God could call Jesus accursed (1 Cor 12:3). Paul pronounced anathema (destined for judgment and perdition) upon anyone who preached another gospel than the one he and the other apostles preached (Gal 1:8, 9). Paul said he wished he could be accursed, cut off from salvation and the people of God, if that could lead to the salvation of his fellow Israelites (Rom 9:3). His desire reflected the love of Christ, who accepted the “curse of the Law” upon himself in submitting to suffering and death on the cross in order to redeem human beings from that curse (Gal 3:8–14; cf. Dt 21:22, 23). The NT promises that a time will come when “there shall no longer be any curse” (Rv 22:3 NASB).
Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 561). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, F. B. HUEY JR. & PETER H. DAVIDS, LOGOS BIBLE SOFTWARE
We must be cautious in our day because this same attempt to lead people away from the true Gospel is still being used. Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Christian Scientists and other cults will use the same vocabulary that is used by those of us who believe in the God of the Bible. They carefully choose significant words that convey deep theological truth and meaning to us and use them to convey their own message.
the death of Jesus on the cross.
Time and again, in a conversation they suggest that we are in agreement. We are talking about the same thing...with only a few minor variations in the details. But that is not the truth and they are deliberately being extremely deceitful. Here is why. While they may use the same words that we use...they have different definitions for those words, those words mean different things. So, we say that we believe in one God, and trust in the Bible, and have faith in Jesus, and have the hope of eternal life...and they smile and say that they do, as well. But...each of those things mean something entirely different to them than what they mean to us...and they know it. Their attempt is to deceive nominal, unknowing Christians into believing that we are in basic agreement. Then, after a friendship is established, they slowly begin to indoctrinate them with false teaching.
Galatians 1:11-12-Paul’s Authority was given by revelation from God
These false teachers generally claimed that they had authority based on what others said about them or where they had been trained. Paul could easily have made these same claims and have easily been shown to have been superior in both instances. But he doesn’t do that. Instead, he goes directly to the ultimate source of authority...God, Himself...and says that God is the one who gave him his authority. That claim is easier said than proven. But Paul doesn’t hesitate. He then proceeds to explain how God’s calling was substantiated by the
testimony of men.
For information on the life of Paul see:
For a helpful timeline of Paul’s life see: https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/paul/timeline.cfm
Galatians 1:13-24-Paul’s Authority was confirmed by Peter and James
Paul says that his teaching did not come from man, but through a revelation from Jesus Christ. When he first received this revelation he did not go to the other Apostles, but instead, he went to Arabia (a non-specific destination, it would have taken place between Acts 9:21 and 9:22) for 3 years. After that he went to Jerusalem and stayed with Cepha (Peter) for 15 days...the only other apostle he met was James (:18-19). He then went into the area of Syria and Cilicia (:21). His purpose here is to clarify that before he ever sought counsel
from men he had already received a revelation from God.
Prayer: Father, please help me to be faithful to the true gospel. Don't let me be deceived by anything else, at all.