(A Brief Analysis of Galatians)

By Evan Pyle


Having traveled on these many missionary journeys to Africa over the past several years, I have come to identify somewhat with the great missionaries of the Bible. I can identify with some of their troubles as well as their successes. During our last trip to Tanzania, events there caused the book of Galatians to come alive to my understanding. I invite you to open your Bible with me and take a brief tour of this epistle, praying that we may learn from the troubles and triumphs experienced by our intrepid travelers, Paul and Barnabas.

The area known as Galatia in the New Testament is located in the east-central part of modern day Turkey. Interestingly, this area had been conquered and settled by fierce Celtic Gaels around 300 B.C. This is the group that gave Galatia its name. These pagan warriors controlled the opium production still carried on in that region today. So, think about whom Paul and Barnabas. faced when they entered this region. They brought the gospel to a fierce, pagan warrior drug cartel. I don’t imagine too many Christians today would be lining up to volunteer for a summer mission trip to Galatia. It is ironic that the Galatians were led astray by, of all things, Jewish-Christian legalists.

The biblical history of Galatia is recorded in Acts 14. Paul and Barnabas. had great success in ministry in Antioch of Pisidia, but the Jews became filled with envy at their success with the Gentiles (chapter 13). When Paul and Barnabas. were forced out of that region they traveled first to Iconium, where they ministered at the local synagogue. God gave testimony to the gospel of grace that Paul preached by granting miracles and signs. We will see that it was this very gospel of grace that the envious Jews attacked in attempting to regain their position of power with the people of the region. The threat to their lives was so severe in Iconium that Paul and Barnabas. had to flee that place (14:5-6). They then went Lystra and Derbe, cities of Galatia, places that apparently had no Jewish synagogue, for Paul never preached in one there, as was his usual manner. The people of Lystra and Derbe attempted to do sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas., thinking them Greek gods coming to them in the form of men (14:11). Just as Paul was making an impact there, Judaizing Christians followed Paul from Antioch and Iconium. These jealous religious leaders objected to Paul’s gospel of grace. They insisted that these Gentiles must observe the Law of Moses in order to be saved. They persuaded the people to such an extent that they stoned Paul (14:19). Nevertheless, ministry success was evident in that the missionaries “returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith” (vv. 21-22). Paul and Barnabas. then ordained elders in every church before making the journey home.

Reading Galatians makes it all too clear that those converts did not continue in the faith of the gospel they had received from Paul, the gospel of grace. After a terse opening, Paul expresses shock that they were so soon removed from Christ to another gospel (Gal. 1:6). The fact that it is called another gospel tells me that this lamentable perversion was represented as the gospel of Christ. Those who offered this false gospel claimed Christ, and presented themselves as Christians and as ministers of the gospel. It was a gospel all right, but a false gospel (v. 7). Paul made no bones about the nature of this gospel masquerading as truth. He emphatically condemned its teachers, even calling them accursed (vv. 8-9).

Paul then cuts to the heart of the problem by using his personal testimony to drive home his point. Nobody walked the walk of the Jewish religion quite like him, walking with zeal to the point that he profited above his peers (v. 14). He then contrasts his saved life to his old life. By comparison, his old life is but dung (Phil. 3:8); useless for “winning Christ,” for whom Paul gladly suffered the loss of all things.

The problem is described in 2:4 as false brethren who entered the flock undetected and whose aim was to destroy the liberty these Christians enjoyed in Christ and bring them into the bondage of Jewish law, a yoke that nobody could bear (Acts 15:10). Things became so twisted that Peter was caught up in the hypocrisy and Barnabas. was likewise carried away with their dissimulation (hypocrisy). Note that the reason Peter fell into this hypocrisy was that he feared the false brethren. These were not contrary men that walked in off the street, so to speak, but respected men that Peter feared to cross. The false brethren that crept in among the Galatians were Judaizing Christians that followed Paul to the area as recorded in Acts 14. They had status as ministers of Christ and leaders of the people of God.

Paul’s solution to this problem was a return to the doctrine of grace he preached.

Galatians 2:16-21:
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.
18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.
19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.
20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

Respected religious leaders, using all the right words and behaving in a way that appeared holy, built again the things that Christ destroyed by his sacrifice. Using clever words they bewitched the Galatians, concentrating on ritual and outward appearances. The visible and outward symbol on which these false brethren focused was circumcision. The core issue was forsaking the walk of the spirit and returning to the flesh, though cloaked in religious words and rituals. These false brethren desired to make a “fair show of the flesh,” parading their converts as trophies, their altered flesh a cheap but visible substitute for a faith that shines from the circumcised flesh of the heart by the Holy Spirit (6:12-14). Paul describes this as returning to “weak and beggarly elements.” Yet the Galatians were not returning to Jewish law, as it was new to them; they were returning to the flesh, the carnal. Though cloaked in fancy words and impressive ritual, the bondage of this false gospel was every bit as carnal as their pagan idolatry had been (4:8-9). Paul caps his argument with a comparison of Abraham’s sons (one of the flesh, the other of promise) with the two covenants. Hagar and her son Ishmael compare to the Jerusalem that now is in bondage by trying to add the old covenant back into Christ. But Sara and her son Isaac compare to the new covenant and “Jerusalem which is above,” which is free. 4:29 summarizes the problem, which is the conflict between those who are after the flesh and those who are after the Spirit. 4:30 then summarizes the solution, which is to cast out the old Jerusalem entirely. No accommodation is to be given and no compromise is to be made. She is to be discarded entirely, because she is of the flesh and will always persecute those who are of the Spirit.

Galatians 4:29-30:
But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.
30 Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.

The Galatians are challenged in 5:2 that if they are circumcised, Christ will profit them nothing. How could the simple act of cutting away some flesh actually negate the blessings of Christ? After all, circumcision was instituted by God himself. How could it hurt to fix some of the outer details of these pagan idolaters? The answer is that Christ is become of no effect. Paul goes on to say that “you are fallen from grace” (5:4). Circumcision itself is not the problem; the problem is in abandoning faith for the works of the flesh. Getting circumcised will not bring any power to your Christian walk. On the other hand, refraining from circumcision will likewise bring no power to your Christian walk. Both are concerns of the flesh and are contrary to the Spirit.

What is the solution to the situation in Galatia? Paul makes no compromise or accommodation whatsoever.

Galatians 5:7-8, 12:
Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?
8 This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.

12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you.

If these were not the words of the apostle Paul, the religionists would be howling at his uncompromising stance. Imagine, desiring that these well-meaning and pious men be cut off! (Remember, we are talking about circumcision here. Being “cut off” may have a more obvious meaning than has been offered for this verse.) Early in the epistle, Paul called these purveyors of another gospel accursed. Just as Israel was not to make accommodation for the other nations when they entered the land of promise, Christians are to make no accommodation for the flesh whatsoever. Even well-intentioned “cleaning up” of the outward is a work of the flesh and will bear its fruit. It may seem odd, considering the outward piety of these false brethren, but the result of these religious works of the flesh are anything but benign.

vv. 19-21:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day. They opposed the Lord at every turn. Motivated by a burning jealousy and hatred, they ultimately crucified their very own Messiah. Similarly, Paul’s strongest speech is directed toward these leaders who would stop at nothing to preserve their power among the people of the Lord.

2 Corinthians 11:3-4:
But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
3 For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.

The Corinthians put up with these false apostles too easily.

2 Corinthians 11:18-20:
Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also.
19 For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise.
20 For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face.

Note that Paul held the Corinthians responsible for enduring and putting up with those who would lead them away from the grace that is in Christ.

The motive of the religionists is exposed for all to see. They desire to make a “fair shew in the flesh” (6:12) that they may glory in what they’ve accomplished. “Look at these poor pagans and look what we’ve done! Why, they even look like Christians now.” They may use these outward emblems as justification to those who support them financially. But God forbid that any should boast of anything, save in the cross of Christ, for it is only his sacrifice and faith in him that has any power to produce the change of heart promised by the gospel message.

John 10:1, 5, 12:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.

5 And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.

12 But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep.

Ministers, our obligation is to minister Christ to the church of God. We do not own the people of God: they belong to the Lord alone. Let us be faithful ministers, who free people by preaching the gospel of the grace of God.



From the July 2007 issue of The Vine & Branches