Study Guide

The Galatians in Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon

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The Galatians

The Epistle to the Galatians isn't addressed to one single church or city. It was actually meant for a whole mess of churches that were all located in the northern region of Galatia (which would be part of modern day Turkey). So who are these guys?

When in Galatia

Acts says that Paul visited there twice after the Council in Jerusalem, but the story doesn't go into any detail about the adventures he had (Acts 16:6, 18:23). Maybe not much was going on?

Not quite.

Paul had managed to start a series of churches throughout the area with converts that were predominately urban folks and Gentiles. We know they're non-Jews because Paul says, "formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods" (Galatians 4:8). Also they're super worried about whether or not they should be circumcised. Jewish Christians wouldn't have had this issue—they would have already been snipped.

So in the beginning, things are going well. But by the time Paul is writing to them around 55 CE, things weren't so sunshiny.

The Naysayers Come to Town

It seems the Galatian Christians have had some visitors: Jewish Christians who happen to agree with Paul about Jesus being the Jewish messiah. But they also differ with Paul on one key issue: they think that Gentile Christians need to obey the Torah, too. That just means that these guys are going around saying that in order to follow Jesus you also have to follow Jewish law. Like lox and bagels, the two things go hand in hand.

Not only are these naysayers spreading this "different gospel" (Galatians 1:6); the Galatian Christians are buying it. Paul is ticked:

• "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ." (Galatians 1:6)
• "Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?" (Galatians 3:3)
• "You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted." (Galatians 4:10-11)
• "Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you." (Galatians 5:2)

Basically, the Galatian Christians have turned away from what Paul has taught them and have started listening to what other Christians are saying instead. Follow Jewish law. Be circumcised. Eat kosher foods. Celebrate Jewish holidays. Paul's not pleased with this because he knows that what he told them is exactly what God wanted. And that means the Galatians are about to get on the stairway to eternal damnation.

Lovers of the Law

Who are these opponents of Paul? Well, they're Jewish Christians. Maybe they even have ties with the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Paul goes through a lot of trouble to let the Galatians know that, while he did visit Jerusalem, he got all his ideas straight from God. What's more, the guys in Jerusalem actually agree with Paul. How do you like them apples, naysayers?

What else does Paul think of them?

  • • These guys totally "pervert the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:7).
    • They've also "bewitched" the Galatians with their evil ways (Galatians 3:1).
    • They are "under a curse" (Galatians 3:13) because they follow the law.
    • They've stopped the Galatians from "obeying the truth" (Galatians 5:7). Not good.
    • They will "pay the penalty" (Galatians 5:10). Uh-huh.

Geez, Paul. If you can't say something nice…

Even though Paul's opponents probably did genuinely believe that what they were saying about Jesus was correct, Paul won't give them the benefit of the doubt. He pretty much thinks they're self-centered jerks who only care about making things easy for themselves. He also thinks they're kind of hypocrites:

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. (Galatians 6:13)

Even these law-lovers don't really follow the law, says Paul. At one point, Paul gets so angry that he basically says that if they love trimming foreskin so much, why don't they just go ahead and chop it all off! "I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!" (Galatians 5:12).


All Will Be Well

But for all their faults, Paul's not mad at the Galatians. He still loves them tons:

Friends […] You have done me no wrong […] What has become of the goodwill you felt [for me when we first met]? For I testify that, had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me […] My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.

Aw. See, Paul might be a little upset, but he only writes these scathing rants for their own good. He cares about him. They're like his children. He wants to see them make it in this world. Father knows best, Galatians.

So what ever happened to the churches in Galatia? Did they straighten up and fly right? The short answer is we don't know.

Paul may or may not have lost the battle in Galatia, but we know he won the war overall. In the end, his arguments won out—Christians didn't need to follow Jewish law—and Paul's thoughts about it wound up in the Bible.

That's Paul, 1. Galatian Naysayers, 0.

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