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Home > Dictionaries > Holman Bible Dictionary > GALATIANS, LETTER TO THE

Holman Bible Dictionary

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GALATIANGALBANUM
 
GALATIANS, LETTER TO THE

(guhl lay' shuhnss) Paul's letter to the church at Galatia defending his interpretation of the gospel of Christ. Paul's heated defense of justification by faith and freedom in the Spirit has endeared this epistle to all who hold such to be the living core of the Christian faith. From the time of Jesus the sufficiency of faith alone for salvation has been a major issue among Christians. The issue initially came to the forefront in Paul's day when Gentiles believed in Jesus Christ. Must the Gentiles become a part of the Jewish faith to be fully Christian? Certain Jewish Christians, called Judaizers, said that the Gentiles must also obey the law of Moses and be circumcized to be saved. Paul declared that the Gentiles' faith in Jesus, apart from the Jewish faith, was sufficient for salvation.

The churches of Galatia, to whom Paul wrote, were churches he himself founded (Galatians 1:8-9; Galatians 4:19). He preached the gospel to them the first time because of a physical problem (Galatians 4:13). The nature of this ailment is not certain, but it did not hinder the Galatians from hearing Paul's preaching (Galatians 4:14). In Galatians 4:13, the term “at first” normally meant “the former of two times,” meaning Paul visited Galatia twice before he wrote the epistle, a factor important for determining the dating of the epistle and its destination. The readers were Gentiles converted from paganism (Galatians 4:8; Galatians 5:2; Galatians 6:12), although there may have been Jewish Christians and proselytes in the church as well.

Paul did not specifically locate these churches, (Galatians 4:2), with a resulting confusion. The place name “Galatia” belonged to a large province of the Roman Empire. The name was used earlier to designate the northern territory of the province inhabited by a particular people know as “Galatians.” In Acts 13:14-14:24 (first missionary journey) Paul founded churches at Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, cities in the southern part of the Roman province. Paul visited Lystra and Derbe again in Acts 16:1-6 (second missionary journey). In Acts 16:6 Paul then went through the “region of Phrygia and Galatia,” as he did also in Acts 18:23 (third missionary journey). Does “Galatia” in Acts 16:6 and Acts 18:23 refer to the southern portion of the Roman province, or does it indicate that Paul went north and founded churches in the territory of Galatia? Paul probably addressed his epistle to the churches in the southern part of the Roman province, for two reasons: 1) When describing churches founded by him, Paul normally used the titles of the Roman provinces in which the churches were located as in 2 Corinthians 9:2; 2 Corinthians 2:1) Acts specifically mentioned that Paul founded churches in the southern region, but was silent concerning churches in the north.

Determining the date Paul wrote the epistle involves reconciling Galatians 1:11Galatians 2:14 with Acts. Paul mentioned two visits to Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18; Galatians 2:1), but Acts recorded five visits (Acts 9:26; Acts 11:27 and Acts 12:25; Acts 15:4; Acts 18:21; Acts 21:17). Probably Galatians 1:18 and Acts 9:26 record Paul's first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion. Paul did not mention the Acts 11:30; Acts 12:25 visit because he was concerned to relate only his contact with the twelve apostles. This second visit was with the elders, not the twelve. Acts 15:1-29 and Galatians 2:1-10 are both probably accounts of the Jerusalem Council. Though there are differences in the accounts (Paul made no reference in the epistle to the decree of Acts 15:23-29), the principal characters (Paul, Barnabas, Peter, James), and the main issue (whether faith in Jesus is sufficient for salvation or circumcision and obedience to the law of Moses were also necessary) in each account are the same. The council is usually dated A.D. 49 or 50. After the Council, Paul made his second visit to Galatia (Acts 16:1-6), matching the two visits he indicated in the epistle (Galatians 4:13). Then he moved on to Corinth (A.D. 51-52). It was perhaps from Corinth that he wrote the epistle.

Sometime after Paul's last visit (Acts 16:1-6), heretical teachers, who “distort the gospel” (Galatians 1:17 NAS) and trouble the churches (Galatians 1:7; Galatians 5:10, Galatians 5:12), came among the Galatians. They were on the verge of leading the Galatians away from the truth of the gospel. These Judaizers were Jews who unquestionably claimed to be Christians and to faithfully preach the gospel. They taught that circumcision was necessary for salvation (Galatians 5:2; Galatians 6:12-16), as was obedience to the law of Moses, even the observation of days, months, seasons, and years (Galatians 4:10). They were acting out of false and selfish motives, those of personal ambition (Galatians 4:17; Galatians 6:13) and offense at the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:12). To lead the Galatians away from Paul's gospel, they sought to discredit him personally.

Paul gave such a fiery response to this disturbance because of the very real threat of a large-scale abandonment by the Galatians of the gospel. In Galatians 1:1-5 Paul gave greetings to the churches, but he omitted the statement of praise or thanksgiving which normally followed. Paul was too disturbed to give thanks or praise. Instead, in Galatians 1:6-9 Paul expressed distress at their fickle faith. The Galatians had received the one and true gospel but were turning away from it. Paul pronounced a curse on those who preached something different from the gospel he had preached to them.

The major portion of the epistle (Galatians 1:10-6:10) can be divided into three parts. 1) Galatians 1:10-2:21 In this section Paul defended his qualifications as an apostle against the attacks of the Judaizers. He was called to be an apostle by God, and the gospel of grace he preached came from God, independent of the Jerusalem apostles (they even approved of it). Paul closed this section with the main theme of the epistle, a choice between faith in Christ and obedience to the law. Justification (a sinful person coming into a right relationship with God) came not by living bound to the law but by faith in Christ. Faith alone was sufficient for salvation. To be in Christ meant being free from the legal requirements of the law.

2) Galatians 3:1-5:12 This section is the major argument of the epistle, where the differences between Paul's gospel and the Judaizer's heresy came to full light. Paul supported his thesis of faith alone on three principles: the gift of the Spirit, the promise and faith of Abraham, and the curse of the law. The gift of the Spirit came to them through faith, not the law. Abraham received the promise and righteousness by faith 430 years before the law was given. People of faith were true children of Abraham and heirs of the promise. Because people did not keep the law when it came, they fell under its curse. The law could only condemn sinners. Christ removed the curse of the law. The law was given as an interim provision until Christ came. Now He has come, and the believer is free. To turn back to the law was to return to slavery. With the coming of Christ, faith and law had become mutually exclusive as ways to approach God.

3) Galatians 5:13-6:10 In this final section, Paul guarded against abuse of this freedom from the law. Christian freedom required the believer to walk by the Spirit, which was contrary to the desires and works of the flesh. Christian freedom must be tempered by Christian love.

Paul closed (Galatians 6:11-18) again urging them not to yield to circumcision and all it represented.

Outline

I. The Players (Galatians 1:1-5)

A. Paul's credentials came not from humans but from the risen Christ (Galatians 1:1).

B. The churches of Galatia receive grace and peace (Galatians 1:2).

C. Christ gave Himself for our sins (Galatians 1:3-5).

II. The Problem: The Nature of the Gospel (Galatians 1:6-10)

A. People who follow a different gospel desert God (Galatians 1:6).

B. People who advocate another gospel confuse the church (Galatians 1:7).

C. People who preach another gospel are condemned eternally (Galatians 1:8-9).

D. The minister of the true gospel pleases God, not people (Galatians 1:10).

III. The Answer, Part I: Believers Are Justified Simply by Faith in Christ (Galatians 1:11-5:12).

A. Personal example proves faith is the only requirement to be right with God (Galatians 1:11-2:21).

1. The gospel comes from Christ, not people (Galatians 1:11-24).

2. The gospel of grace has apostolic endorsement (Galatians 2:1-10).

3. Whoever adds to the gospel of grace is a hypocrite (Galatians 2:11-14).

4. Faith in Christ saves, but legalism cannot save (Galatians 2:15-21).

B. To return to legalism is to accept slavery instead of sonship (Galatians 3:1-5:12).

1. Faith in the crucified Christ, not legalism, brings the indwelling Spirit (Galatians 3:1-5).

2. Abraham's inheritance comes through faith to both Jews and non-Jews (Galatians 3:6-9).

3. Christ has provided redemption for all who believe (Galatians 3:10-14).

4. Christ is the true heir of Abraham (Galatians 3:15-16).

5. The law cannot annul the justification by faith promised to Abraham (Galatians 3:17-22).

6. The law was used as a tutor to bring believers to Christ (Galatians 3:23-25).

7. Faith in and baptism into Christ make us one in Christ (Galatians 3:26-29).

8. The law acted as guardian until believers became full sons of God through Christ's redemption (Galatians 4:1-7).

9. Return to legalism from faith is a son's return to slavery (Galatians 4:8-11).

10. Zeal must be directed to the source of your joy—Christ (Galatians 4:12-19).

11. Interpretation of Scripture shows legalism leads to slavery, while Christ leads to the promised freedom of sons (Galatians 4:20-5:1).

12. Return to legalism is to fall away from the grace of Christ, which expresses itself in love (Galatians 5:2-12).

IV. The Answer, Part 2: Believers Are Justified Simply by Faith in Christ to Serve Freely in the Spirit through Love (Galatians 5:13-6:10).

A. Scripture shows love fulfills the whole law (Galatians 5:13-15).

B. Life in the Spirit overcomes the weakness of the law (Galatians 5:16-24).

1. Life under the law stands in direct conflict with life in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-18).

2. Sinners will not inherit God's kingdom (Galatians 5:19-21).

3. The fruit of the Spirit fulfills the intention of the law (Galatians 5:22-23).

4. Life in Christ crucifies fleshly desires (Galatians 5:24).

C. Believers should live and walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:25-6:10).

1. Life in the Spirit leaves no room for pride and envy (Galatians 5:25-26).

2. Life in the Spirit leads us to help one another, even one who is wayward (Galatians 6:1-2).

3. Life in the Spirit leads to a realistic self-appraisal (Galatians 6:3-5).

4. Life in the Spirit leads to sharing with Christian teachers (Galatians 6:6).

5. Sowing to physical pleasure reaps destruction, while sowing to please the Spirit reaps eternal life (Galatians 6:7-9).

6. Life in the Spirit does good to all people, especially Christians (Galatians 6:10).

V. Conclusion: Boast Only that You Are New Creations in Christ (Galatians 6:11-18).

A. Summary (Galatians 6:11-17)

1. Legalism is not true to its own claims (Galatians 6:11-13).

a. Legalism seeks to impress others, not God (Galatians 6:11-12).

b. Legalism wants to avoid persecution for the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:12).

c. Legalists boast of controlling others rather than keeping the law themselves (Galatians 6:13).

2. Christ recreates us to meet God's claims (Galatians 6:14-17).

a. Christians glory in the cross of Christ through which worldly values are crucified (Galatians 6:14).

b. In Christ legal requirements are unimportant, for the believer has new values and desires (Galatians 6:15).

c. New creatures in Christ form the true Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).

d. Personal experience shows the teaching to be trustworthy (Galatians 6:17).

B. Farewell: May Christ's grace be with the Christian family (Galatians 6:18).

Bruce Warren


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'GALATIANS, LETTER TO THE'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<http://classic.studylight.org/dic/hbd/view.cgi?number=T2169>. 1991.

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