After Paul successfully evangelized the Roman province of Galatia, he received news that Jewish Christians had snubbed the Gentile neophytes when they refused to share table fellowship with their new brothers and sisters in Christ. In doing so, the Jewish believers challenged the former pagans to get circumcised and follow the mandates of the Jewish Law. Paul fumed. He wrote his letter to the communities in the area to defend the equality of "Jew and Greek." He also wanted to defend his place as an apostle.
II. Dating: Winter of 56-57 CE
Scholars have argued over the dating of Galatians based upon three questions. First, how many times did Paul visit the Church leadership in Jerusalem? Second, why didn't Paul mention the apostolic letter from Acts 15:1-33 in Galatians? Third, who were the Galatians Paul addressed in his letter?
A. Compare reports in Galatians and Acts.
1. Galatians 1:18-19 with Acts 9:26-29.
a. Before his visit: In Gal 1:17, Paul reported his missionary activities before a stopover in Damascus; Acts 9:20-23 focused on his efforts in the Syrian city.
b. Time frame: In Gal 1:18, Paul referred to a three year time span between his conversion vision and his first visit to Jerusalem; Acts remained silent on any gap of time between Damascus (Acts 9:23) and Jerusalem (Acts 9:26).
c. Companions with him: Paul didn't mention any traveling companions in Galatians, yet Acts 9:27 mentioned Barnabas acted as a spokesperson for Paul to explain his conversion vision
d. Whom did he see: In Gal 1:18-19, Paul saw Peter (Cephas) and James, "brother" of the Lord; Acts 9:27 merely reported the "apostles."
e. Conditions on his departure: Paul did not state his reason for visiting Jerusalem or the situation on his departure in Galatians. Acts 9:28-29 told of his evangelization efforts in the city and the opposition he faced among the "Hellenists," Greek speaking and acculturated Jews who lived in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9 mentioned a "Synagogue of Freedmen" that consisted of emancipated slaves or their descendants from the eastern Mediterranean basin; members of this assembly debated Stephen. Whether these specific men debated Paul or if Luke used the term "Hellenists" to describe men like the members of the synagogue is debatable.) Acts 9:30 reported members of the community spirited him out of Jerusalem and sent him back to Tarsus via Caesarea.
Details between the two narratives line up within reason. Galatians merely reported the visit and gave a time frame. Acts glossed over the time frame but gave the reason for the visit and the reaction it had. (We must note the author of Acts (we call "Luke") heightened conflicts between Christians and non-believing Jews to sharpen his point that evangelization was the result of the Spirit's activity and such preaching had sharp, even violent reactions.)
2. Acts 11:26-30
a. Background: In Acts 11:20-24, missionaries from Cyprus and Cyrene had considerable success evangelizing Greek pagans to the faith in Antioch, so leaders of the mother church at Jerusalem sent Barnabas to investigate. Seeing the positive results, he went to Tarsus to recruit Paul for the Gentile outreach (Acts 11:25-26).
Prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch (indicating that clear line of communication existed between the churches; Acts 11:27). One of the prophets foretold of a great famine, so the community at Antioch took up a collection for the believers at Jerusalem (Acts 11:28-29).
b. The visit: In Acts 11:30, Barnabas and Paul delivered the collection to the "presbyters."
This one verse described the visit. It's purpose was simple, deliver charitable aid to the secondary level of church leaders. Any discussion or theories beyond the description remained purely speculative.
3. Galatians 2:1-10 and Acts 15:1-33
a. Before his visit: Like his "Damascus" conversion, in Gal 2:2 Paul acted based upon a vision; at Antioch in Syria (Acts 14:26), some Jewish Christians held Gentiles could not be saved unless they converted to Judaism (be circumcised; Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5).
b. Time frame: In Gal 2:1, Paul mentioned a fourteen year span between his first and second visits; Acts did not define a time frame between Damascus (Acts 9:23) and Jerusalem (Acts 9:26).
c. Companions with him: In Galatians, Paul named Barnabas, a Jewish Christian, and Titus, a Gentile ("Greek") believer (Gal 2:1, Gal 2:4). Acts listed only Barnabas (Acts 15:2; Acts 15:4; note Acts does not list anyone by the name of Titus leading some scholars to hypothesize a pseudonym for the Greek).
d. Whom did he see: In Galatians, Paul named Peter (Cephas), James and John, "pillars" of the community (Gal 2:9). Acts simply said the "apostles and elders" of the mother Church (Acts 15:6).
e. Why did he go: In Galatians, Paul implicitly stated he went to establish himself as the "apostle to the Gentiles" just as Peter was "apostle to the circumcised" (Gal 2:7-8). Acts reported that, after a vigorous debate between Paul and the opponents, he and Barnabas were sent by the church leaders at Antioch to Jerusalem for a definitive ruling (Acts 15:2-3).
f. Opponents: In Galatians, Paul said these were influential "false brothers" who "brought in" to "spy" on Paul and his companions to deny them of their "freedom." (From this statement, Paul implied these believers wished to impose halakhic duties on him and his companions; Gal 2:4.) Acts reported that Jewish Christians who followed Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, not a universal savior, understood their faith through the lens of the Law.
g. Conditions on his departure: In Galatians, Paul reported a peaceful resolution to the conflict. After a rigorous debate (Gal 2:5), he won some of his opponents over ("gave the right hand of fellowship") based upon the scope of his ministry to the Gentiles and the recognition by the apostolic leadership of "grace" given to him (Gal 2:7-9). In the letter from the council at Jerusalem, Acts implied a resolution of the dilemma based upon church discipline, not on theology (Acts 15:20-21, Acts 15:29).
As above, details of these two accounts lined up reasonable well. The reasons for the visit might have been different but they did not conflict. The core argument at the meeting ("Jew vs. Gentile") was the same. Leaders resolved the issue; in Galatians, the parties departed on good terms. Yet, many scholars have argued against these two accounts reflecting the same meeting for one simple reason: Galatians did not report the letter from the Jerusalem council.
B. Letter from the Jerusalem Council in Acts.
"...my judgment is that we don't trouble those from among the Gentiles who turn to God, but that we write to them that they abstain from the pollution of idols, from sexual immorality, from what is strangled, and from blood. For Moses from generations of old has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath."
Acts 15:19-21 (WEB)
At the Jerusalem meeting, the leadership instructed the churches in the northeast Mediterranean basin about church discipline. As I detailed in the context page, "Halahkah and Jesus," the letter listed the minimal halahkic code that Jews expected of Gentiles in order to join the community (as a review, the terms "halahkah and "halahkic" referred to the application of the Law to the daily life of a Jew). Notice two things about the letter. First, the ruling applied the Law to non-Jewish believers, so it maintained faith within the lens of the Torah. Next, the ruling implicitly maintained the standing of Jews over Gentiles in the community; it did not resolve the question of full membership in the Church and left a vague institutional prejudice against Gentiles intact.
Paul accepted the ruling on his own terms. Two areas, meats offered to idols and sexual immorality, covered the four restrictions listed. Cities distributed meats offered to idols at religious festivals and sold them at the local marketplace. Some of these offerings included choking the animal to death; such were considered delicacies. And these festivals offered blood from the sacrifice to the populace. Paul argued against consuming such meats and blood, not based upon the Law, but upon the principle of deference for the good of the Christian community (1 Cor 8 and Rom 14:1-4). Of course, he argued against sexual immorality as "slavery" to a former pagan life (1 Cor 6:9-10, 1 Cor 6:13-20, 1 Cor 10:8, 1 Thes 4:3-5, Gal 5:19). In much of 1 Cor 10, he railed against the libertines who selfishly exercised their freedom in Christ by consuming meats offered to idols and indulging in sexual relations with ritual prostitutes.
While different groups could accept the letter from divergent points of view, they ultimately would clash on the status of Gentiles in the Church. Were they equals as Paul maintained or were they second class believers as the more traditional Jewish-Christians held? This problem came to a head over the subject of table fellowship. Meals represented the height of social gatherings. People entertained, strengthened social bonds, made political deals and cut economic agreements at dinner. In fact, one's seating at supper defined one's place in the community. An invitation to dinner meant one was among friends; to deny someone an invitation meant exclusion.
In Gal 2:11-14, Paul opposed Peter himself ("Cephas" in Aramaic) over the subject of table fellowship. This incident cut to the heart of his message; Gentiles were not second-class believers. When Peter and his entourage visited Antioch in Syria, they, along with Barnabas, restricted their meals only to fellow Jewish Christians; in doing so, they not only reinforced an overt prejudice against Gentile believers, they denied Gentile believers access to the Church itself. Paul would have none of this. He challenged the leader of the apostles with a rhetorical question; how could Peter, who dined with Gentiles in order to convert them (Acts 10:1-11:18), now restrict his table fellowship, insinuating the Gentiles needed to become Jews in order to be full members of the Church? (Gal 2:14) More important, how could Peter once invite Gentiles to sit among Jewish Christians in the full expression of the Church, the Eucharist, then restrict them from access? Such a move completely undercut Paul's ministry to the Gentiles; he needed to object.
Paul presented the three encounters with Peter to assert his independence, but more importantly, to defend the raison d'etre of his outreach. He received his faith and his ministry, not from the apostles or another missionary, but directly from the Risen Christ himself (Gal 1:11-16; Acts 9:3-9). Hence he could argue for the legitimacy of his actions and his theology, even in the face of those who believed in the context of a halahkic lifestyle. He laid out his history viz a viz Peter to justify what he did and why he did it. Hence, the letter from the council had a secondary status in his mind. His outreach trumped any mention of the letter in Galatians.
We must also consider a corollary about the letter. While the letter implicitly allowed for shared table fellowship between Jewish and Gentile believers, it still allowed for a two tiered membership in some communities. In other words, Jewish Christians could argue that, while their Gentile co-religionists did belong in the community, they did not have the standing of full membership, since they did not live a complete halahkic lifestyle. Some Jewish believers even in Galatia could invite their Gentile brethren to take the final step in Church membership through circumcision. Such an invitation cut against Paul's belief that "there was neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). Paul might not have included mention of the council letter from Acts simply because his opponents could justify their actions with it.
C. Who were the Galatians Paul addressed?
1. What do we mean by the term "Galatia?"
In the later part of the third century BCE, a large group of Celtic tribes migrated eastward and settled in the central high country of Anatolia. While opposition from their Greek neighbors restricted their expanse, they proved their worth as mercenary soldiers. In 189 BCE, the Romans conquered these Gallic peoples and eventually established a province they named "Galatia."
How did the Romans define the province? Let's consider several factors. First , when we moderns look at a map of first century CE Anatolia (modern day Turkey), we see areas with defined borders; that, however, masks our prejudice for viewing political entities with clear-cut ways. Ancient people classified an area based primarily upon its self identity and secondarily upon the identity given to it by outsiders. The locus of such identity depended upon major cities in the region. Urban areas named themselves based upon their language, culture and political/economic relations with other cities; rural areas associated themselves with the nearest major city. If a major city identified itself say as "Galatian," most outsiders would also apply that moniker to them. So, to answer the above question, we need to know which cities identified themselves as such.
However, we must address another factor that impacted self-identity: acculturation. In the first century CE, the descendants of the Gallic settlers began to loosen their bonds with their mother culture and adopted the ways of the Hellenistic world. This was a time of transition; by the second century CE, the peoples of the region identified more with the Greek world than with their own ancestors.
Third, we must recognize that some areas had mixed populations that made defining "borders" fuzzy at best. One city and its region identified itself with one way, while a neighboring city saw itself another way. The separation between Galatia and Phyrygia, or Galatia and Pamphylia on the Mediterranean coast, for example, had such uncertainty.
How did the Romans respond to a social structure that placed local loyalty first, regional next? They laid an administrative layer on top of that structure (creating a province with the accompanying bureaucracy) and establishing direct ties between the local city and the Emperor. For example, a city might build a temple honoring the emperor and his family members, thus seeking monies for civic improvements and tax relief. While the Romans did organize provinces and did legislate its governance (especially taxation), they did recognize the importance of the local urban environment.
2. The province of Galatia vs. the native Galatians
Modern scholars are split over two positions on the matter of identity. In his letter to the Galatians, did Paul address those who lived in the Roman province with the name "Galatia?" Or did he address those who defined themselves as such?
a. The "southern Galatia" theory. The scholars who favor this theory hold Paul wrote his letter to the communities he evangelized on his first missionary journey: Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:13-52), Iconium (Acts 14:1-6) and Lystra/Derbe (Acts 14:8-23). These cities lie in the Roman province Augustus established in 25 BCE. Since Paul addressed regional church groups according to the Roman provinces in which they presided (Macedonia in 2 Cor 8:1; Asia in 1 Cor 16:19; Achaia in 2 Cor 1:1), scholars who hold this position reason Paul addressed those churches in the province where he evangelized. If he wrote to these churches in earnest about the problem the "Judaizers" posed, these scholars reason, the apostle wrote Galatians before the Jerusalem council, especially in the light that Gal 2:1-10 did not mention the apostles' ruling in Acts 15:1-33; hence, Gal 2:1-10 related to his visit described in Acts 11:30. These scholars date Galatians to 49-50 CE.
b. The "northern Galatia" theory Those who favor this theory hold the apostle wrote to house churches in the highland region of Anatolia properly called "Galatia" after he traveled through that region on his second (Acts 16: 6-8) and third (Acts 18:23) journeys. These scholars surmised Paul wrote Galatians in the same time frame as Romans based upon similarities in language, structure and theme. They date Galatians to 56-57 CE.
c. Problems with the theories. Each theory has its weaknesses. Those who favor the southern theory base their theory on several assumptions. Did Paul write in earnest before the Jerusalem council? Did he need to mention its apostolic decree? Those who favor the northern theory also skate on thin ice. North Galatia lie off the beaten track in rough terrain, so one could question whether Paul successfully evangelized there. Barnabas did not accompany the apostle on his second missionary journey, so they would not have knowledge of his companion; Gal 1:18-19 and Gal 2:1-10 assumed they did. And, Acts 20:4 did not mention a representative from northern Galatian for the collection Paul would present in Jerusalem; the delegation that accompanied him included representatives from Derbe (Gaius) and Lystra (Timothy). Finally, the themes, grammar and language contained in Romans and Galatians only indicated the same author wrote them; any remarks beyond that was pure conjecture.
At the beginning of this section, we posed three questions to determine a date for the composition of Galatians. First, how many times did Paul visit the Church leadership in Jerusalem? We assumed, as most scholars did, that the visits detailed in Galatians and in Acts could describe the same events. After close scrutiny, we could reasonably conclude that Gal 1:18-19 and Acts 9:26-29 did lay out Paul's introduction to the apostolic leadership in Jerusalem; in Acts, Luke heightened the resistance Paul's preaching faced to promote his themes. We can discount Acts 11:30 as a visit set forth in Galatians since it only described the delivery of charitable contributions to the "presbyters" not the apostles; any theorizing beyond this point would entail mere speculation. Finally, we can conclude Galatians 2:1-10 and Acts 15:1-33 described the same visit; Paul and Barnabas had an audience with the apostolic leaders (and implicitly with Paul's opponents) to thrash out a resolution to the issue. In Galatians, he sought recognition for his ministry and his Gentile audience. In Acts, the clash between Paul and his opponents at Antioch caused him to visit Jerusalem. At the council, the leadership saw the outreach to non-Jews as legitimate (thus supporting Paul in Galatians), yet framed the resolution in terms of halahkah to placate the traditionalists (in Acts). As long as Gentiles kept four duties based upon the Law, they could join the faith community and have a seat in table fellowship with Jewish Christians. Paul could accept this ruling based upon the morals of the community (which forbade sexual immorality) and the principle of deference (which placed the good of the Jewish Christian above the freedom of Gentile in terms of diet). In other words, Paul did not win his opponents over, but compromised with them. He and Gentile converts gained legitimacy; his opponents applied the Law to Gentiles albeit in a minimal way.
Next, if Paul and his opponents did compromise at the Jerusalem council, why didn't he mention the apostolic letter from in Galatians? Maybe we should ask the opposite question. Why should he mention it? After all, the letter from the council was framed in terms of duty to the Law. He preached freedom in Christ from those duties. He went so far as to claim his position ultimately came from a direct revelation, not through the apostles (Gal 1:11-12). If he did mention the letter and its minimal duties, he would have given his opponents an opening to assert their superiority. They could say, "You Gentiles do have a place at the table but only as second class believers. Get circumcised and join us as ‘complete Christians.'" They could also degrade Paul's status as an apostle (he did write extensively to defend his place as an apostle). So, no real reason existed for Galatians to mention the four duties outlined in the apostolic letter. (As a side note, we must recognize the council's degree did not have its intended effect; the problem of Jew vs Gentile existed not only in Antioch and the Galatian communities but as far away as Rome itself )
Finally, who were the Galatians Paul addressed in his letter? Before we address the various theories about his intended audience, let's consider the urgency the apostle had in penning the letter. Gal 4:13-15 described an aliment he suffered that gave rise to the warm hospitality the Galatians showed him; in that encounter, he preached the Good News to them and they received him "as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus," even to the point of self-sacrifice (using the metaphor of plucking one's eyes out). Then, Gal 4:16-17 insinuated their apostasy based upon the rejection they faced from Jewish Christians; they, as outsiders, wanted to join the insider's club, so they quickly turned on Paul.
With the reason for the letter in hand, let's assume Paul wrote to those living in the Roman province of "Galatia" including the towns of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. Within the time frame laid out above, he returned to Antioch from the Jerusalem council and worked with Barnabas for a time (Acts 15:30-35). Now, let's assume Peter followed Paul to Antioch but was intimidated by "men from James" who insisted upon separate table fellowship (Gal 2:11-14). (Of course, one could object that James had already agreed to the council but what did the phrase "men from James" mean? Men personally sent by James or men from the "party" of James who acted on their own? This argument assumed the later meaning.) Sometime after this, Paul and Barnabas parted company (Acts 15:36-41). Based upon this logic, he wrote the letter after the council at Jerusalem but before he began his second journey which included the cities in the province of Galatia during his first efforts (Acts 15:40-16:1) in early 50 CE.
Now, let's assume Paul wrote to the northern region where native Galatians lived. Paul implicitly evangelized Galatia and Phrygia during his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6-8) and returned to the region on his third journey, "strengthening the disciples" (Acts 18:23); the participle in 18:23 clearly indicated the apostle exhorted local believers on his later visit. And in the light of the care believers gave him during his visit there (Gal 4:13-15), he implicitly wrote his letter to a single rural community; without a nearby major city, he could have addressed the community members simply as "Galatians." These details, along with the themes, grammar and vocabulary shared in the letter to the Romans, have convinced many scholars that Paul wrote Galatians on his third journey about the same time he penned his epistle to the community in Rome, winter of 56-57 CE, either on the road in Macedonia or during his winter stay in Corinth.
I'm persuaded by the northern theory: Paul wrote to rural ethnic Galatians in 56-57 CE. The compressed time frame of the "southern theory" assumed too much, too quickly. The "northern theory" allowed events to unfold over time and dovetailed nicely with the dating, grammar and themes of Romans.
The overall structure is ABCBA:
A. Step A1: Salutation and doxology (1:1-5)
B. Step B1: The divine initiative of the Good News (1:6-2:14)
C. Step C: Power of the Good News (2:15-4:31)
D. Step B2: Freedom in the Spirit (5:1-6:17)
E. Step A2: Brief Blessing (6:18)
IV. Synopsis and Commentary
A. Step A1: Salutation and doxology (1:1-5)
In quick succession, Paul opened his letter to the Galatians by claiming his office and mission came directly from God and the Risen Christ (Gal 1:1); he implicitly held those who agreed with him had the same status before the divine (Gal 1:2). In his doxology, he praised God from deliverance from this "wicked age" through the salvific death of his Son (Gal 1:3-4). Thus, the brevity of Paul's salutation allowed him to cut to the heart of the matter.
B. Step B1: The divine initiative
of the Good News (1:6-2:14)
1. Chiasmus a1: Rebuke and curse (1:6-10)
Paul wrote the churches of Galatia in swift anger. The communities he helped to establish turned away from his "gospel" towards another teaching that distorted the Good News, thus upsetting believers (Gal 1:6-7). He cursed this alternate "gospel" emphatically (with a doublet; Gal 1:8-9), even to the point of refusing human praise. No! He was an ambassador-slave of Christ (Gal 1:10).
The key phrase in these verses came early; in Gal 4:6, Paul identified himself as "the (one) calling you by the grace [of Christ]." In other words, he saw himself as the conduit of divine revelation. This point would drive his argument through 1:11-24.
2. Chiasmus b1: Divine origin of Paul's call
and the Good News (1:11-24)
The story of Paul's call had four different tellings, here (Gal 1:11-24) and three times in Acts (Acts 9:1-22 in the narrative of the event, Acts 22:3-16 in Paul's testimony before the Sanhedrin, Acts 26:9-20 in his witness before King Agrippa). Believers know the story well. Before his conversion, the well educated and highly motivated Paul (known by his Hebrew name "Saul") sought to destroy the nascent Jesus movement (Gal 1:13-14) but received a revelation directly from Jesus Christ (Gal 1:12). His faith did not rely on the testimony of others (Gal 1:11). In Acts, the author described this revelation in one phrase: "I AM Jesus..." (Acts 9:5, Acts 22:8, Acts 26:15). "I AM" echoed the name YHWH gave to Moses in Exodus 3:14, "I AM who am"; the phrase asserted divine origin. In the three tellings from Acts, the author identified the source of divine power not with YHWH but with Jesus. Some scholars saw all revelation for the Israelites flowed from that original utterance of the divine name in Exodus 3:14; in like manner, we could argue that all of Paul's insight burst forth from his initial conversion vision of the Risen Jesus. From that moment, he focused on faith in Christ, giving Jesus the divine title that all of his Jewish contemporariness only gave to YHWH, "Lord."
Paul envisioned that conversion moment not merely as revelation, but as calling to preach and grace, both of which pleased God. Because of this unique event, he reiterated that he did not rely on any human witness or intervention, nor did he seek any (Gal 1:15-16). He proclaimed his gospel for three years in the hinterlands east of the Jordan River ("Arabia"; Gal 1:17) before he made a courtesy call to the leadership in Jerusalem (Gal 1:18-19) then pushed north to the coastal regions of Syria and south eastern Turkey (Cilicia; Gal 1:21). His missionary activity caused wonder and divine praise among those who heard of his preaching (Gal 1:22-24).
Notice Paul described his history to make a point; he received and acted upon divine revelation. The authority he received to evangelize came from the Risen Jesus. His gospel was the authentic proclamation, anything else was a non-gospel, even an anti-gospel (Gal 1:6-9).
3. Chiasmus b2: Paul visits Jerusalem
as the "Apostle to the Gentiles" (2:1-10)
See the "Dating" section for the commentary.
4: Chiasmus a2: Paul rebuked Peter at Antioch (2:11-14)
See the "Dating" section for the commentary.
C. Step C: Power of the Good News (2:15-4:31)
1. Chiasmus a1: Salvation only in Christ (2:15-21)
Speaking the first person plural, Paul acknowledged his status as a Jew but held salvation did not come from adherence to the Law; instead, it came from a faith allegiance to Jesus Christ (Gal 2:15-16). Here, he mentioned the notion of "justification." The term referred to the right of standing before a superior. The apostle fought against those who claimed a right of place before God based upon birthright and/or behavior; according to this reasoning, the justified were either natural born "sons of Abraham" or strict followers of the Law. In this sense, a person "earned" their place before God. Paul rejected this notion; he claimed one could only be justified before God by accepting the freely given gift of faith.
Paul turned his focus upon an argument that, on the surface, could be easily brushed off but underneath had far more serious implications. If Christ died for sinners like the apostle, wasn't he a sinner himself (Gal 2:17)? This was guilt by association; after all, as Deuteronomy 21:23 stated: "...anyone hung on a pole is under God's curse." He argued against that charge in two ways. First, employing a construction metaphor, if he sinned ("torn down") against a morality he extolled (that which "he built up again"), he revealed himself as a sinner (Gal 2:18). In other words, he took personal responsibility for his sin; his guilt did not transfer to Christ.
Second, Paul implicitly recognized that even though Jesus died in the manner of a sinner, Christ was not a sinner; instead, he died as the innocent representative for sinners, echoing themes from Isaiah's "Suffering Servant songs," especially Isa 53:6-9 where "...YHWH has laid on him the iniquity of us all...although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth." Notice personal sin incurred individual guilt and did not transfer, but Christ's death was corporate; it saved all in the Church and, through the Church, it offered salvation to the world. In a sense, the apostle personally identified with the death of Christ. Just as Christ died on a cross representing sinners, so, too, Paul died on that same cross to his former life; he now lived in the eternal life of the Risen Christ (Gal 2:19-20).
In these verses, Paul summed up his theory of salvation; all sinned so all needed to die "in Christ" to be saved. If a Jew could "justify" himself merely through adherence to the Law, the apostle's theory would collapse; Christ would have died for no real purpose (Gal 2:21).
2. Chiasmus b1: Practical advantages to faith in Christ (3:1-5)
Paul presented Christ as crucified in public (Gal 1:3). So, what caused the Galatians to join the party of circumcision? In a set of rhetorical questions that formed a chiastic structure, Paul defended his position.
a. Step a1: Faith in Christ gave believers access to the Spirit and its manifest gifts (Gal 3:2).
b. Step b: Faith in Christ strengthened the community in times of trial, so their suffering would not be in vain (Gal 3:3).
c. Step a2: Faith in Christ allowed the Spirit to work miracles in the community and empowered proclamation of the Good News (Gal 3:4).
Notice the "A" steps, 3:2 and 3:4 emphasized the work of the Spirit, while 3:3 as the "B" step pointed to perseverance of the community in the face of opposition. Did mere adherence to the Law provide any of those benefits?
3. Chiasmus c1: Scriptural advantages to faith in Christ (3:6-14)
Employing pesher interpretation, Paul argued his position with a series of Scriptural references. Quoting Genesis 15:6, he claimed Abraham not only as the father of a nation but as a father in faith (Gal 3:6). Those who followed in the steps of the patriarch faith were "sons of Abraham" (Gal 3:7). Gentile believers fulfilled Gen 12:3 and Gen 18:18; through them, all nations would bless Abraham (Gal 3:8). At this point, Paul developed a chiastic structure that paralleled 3:2-4.
a. Step a1: As spiritual "sons of Abraham," they, too, would share in blessing of nations (Gal 3:9). In Galatians, Paul would use the term "son" in three different senses: 1) "son" by example, 2) "son" by birthright/association and 3) "son" by adoption. In 3:9, he employed the term in the first sense; by trusting in God, Gentile Christians imitated the relationship Abraham had with YHWH and, thus, walked in his example as spiritual "sons."
b. Step b: Having defined Gentile Christians as true "sons of Abraham," Paul opposed blessing with the notion of curse. Anyone who could not perfectly fulfill the Law was cursed (Gal 3:10, quoting Deu 27:36), but could only find salvation through faith in Christ (Gal 3:11-12, quoting Hab 2:4) who died as a curse to save those cursed under the Law (Gal 3:13, quoting Deu 21:23). Here, the apostle cut to the heart of the matter; the curse of Christ's death forgave the curse of violating the Law.
c, Step a2: In Gal 3:14, Paul returned to and specifically identified the Abraham's "blessing of nations:" The promise of the Spirit. Note Paul first argued the practical effects of life in the Spirit (Gal 3:1-5), then the Scriptural support such a life (Gal 3:6-14), thus tying the two together. He implicitly held only faith in Christ could release the power of the Spirit in the community.
4. Chiasmus d: 3:15-29 Divine promise vs divine Law?
In this dense section, Paul argued 1) divine promises referring to Christ trumped the Mosaic covenant (Gal 3:15-18), 2) the Law had a prophetic function, foreshadowing the coming of the Messiah (Gal 3:19-22) and 3) with the appearance of the Messiah, faith superseded the Law (Gal 3:23-29). First, the apostle compared a covenant and a promise; to remain believable, neither could be modified so one could not modify the other. Arguing in a time line fashion, he stated that the promises to Abraham preceded the Mosaic covenant which established the Law, but the covenant could not change the meaning of the promise. Since YHWH made the promise to Abraham and his offspring (in the singular) who Paul identified as Christ, then the Law could not oppose the inheritance implicit in the promise (Gal 3:15-18). Notice the apostle shifted the notion of "son" from a metaphorical "example" (first sense) to a physical progeny (second sense); as the Jewish Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth descended from the loins of the patriarchs.
Next, Paul faced two obvious questions. First, why did the Law exist? For him, it had a prophetic function; it defined sin and thus clarified the function of "offspring" who would save believers from sin. Indeed, the Law was revealed through THE Prophet, Moses, (referred to as an "intermediary" or "mediator") by means of heavenly power (angels). The revelation (the Law) of the Prophet (Moses) could not contradict its true source, otherwise dual powers would exist, but as Gal 3:20 and Deu 6:4 stated, "God is one." Hence, Paul implied, two competing revelations could not exist; the adherence to the Law did not modify or replace faith in Christ (Gal 3:1-20).
The answer to the first question helped to explain Paul's response to the second one: did the Law contradict God's promises? No, for if mere adherence to the Law could grant life in the Spirit, implicitly faith in Christ would be in vain. And, as he reminded his audience, the Law had a prophetic function, repeating the theme found in Gal 3:19 (Gal 3:21-22).
Finally, Paul used the metaphor of maturation to explain the existence and limits of the Law. Before the appearance of the Christ, the Law acted as a strict nanny-mentor (a "guardian") to teach right living to those under its care. But, with the Incarnation, a faith adherence to the Risen One replaced the tutelage of the Law. Now, believers stood, not as minors requiring correction, but as full, adult "sons of God" in a relationship based upon trust (Gal 3:23-26). Those "baptized into Christ have clothed (themselves) in Christ" (Gal 3:27), thus finding true equality (Gal 3:28) and fully realizing their place as children "of Abraham and heirs according to the promise" (Gal 3:29). Notice again Paul continued the term "son" in reference to Jesus as the offspring of Abraham and claimed him as the rightful heir to the divine promise; all those who had an intimate relationship with him and his community (believers "in Christ") shared in that inheritance, implicitly as "adopted sons" (third sense).
5. Chiasmus c2: Adopted by God (4:1-11)
In Gal 4:1-11, Paul shifted the "son" image to that of adoption. Among Roman aristocracy, rich clans planned for few children so the eldest son could carry on the family name, its legacy and influence. However, with almost half the population dying before their sixteenth birthday, such expectations could face uncertain ends. So, Roman ancient society developed the practice of adoption as a solution to the problem of clan continuity. A patriarch would adopt a male with an honorable reputation. The adoptee would take on the new clan's name and, in most cases, would enjoy the status and perks of a natural born son, even rise in the class hierarchy of ancient society. The adopted male would not cut ties with his biological family nor keep the adoption secret.
In Gal 4:1-2, Paul described the legal status of a minor; in a society that recognized the power of the patriarch over the clan, even in matters of life and death, children had the standing of a slave. With this metaphor, the apostle bridged the image of moral maturation (Gal 3:23-26) to the slavery of "forces" found in "this world" (Gal 4:3). He pointed to the birth and life of Jesus as the moment when adulthood arrived for the believer, "adopting" the faithful, investing them with full legal rights (Gal 4: 4-5). With this new status, believers had an equal standing with the natural-born heir (Christ as a brother) and could address the divine "patriarch" directly ("Abba, Father"), without the need for an intermediary (Gal 4:6) for they shared in the divine inheritance (Gal 4:7).
After he described their privileged standing, Paul reminded the faithful in Galatia of their former life as pagans enslaved to forces of nature (Gal 4:8). Then, stating the intimacy they had with the Father ("know God...be known by God"), he wondered why they would regress into practices mandated by the Law (celebrating religious feasts and seasons; Gal 4:10). Why did they want to enslave themselves again (Gal 4:9)? Were all his efforts to evangelize them in vain (Gal 4:11)?
6. Chiasmus b2: Paul''s confusion over the Galatians change (4:12-20)
The sudden shift in faith practice by the Galatians confused Paul. They received him as an equal (even as an "angel of God, as Christ Jesus himself"; 4:14). They treated him hospitably; they even cared for him while he convalesced. (Gal 4:12-15) Their charity overwhelmed him; but what happened? Why did they turn on him simply because he told them the truth (Gal 4:15-16)? Paul's opponents treated the Galatians as second class believers to entice them so they would convert to Judaism (Gal 4:17). The apostle recognized the value of being pursued but only for a good purpose and not only when he could visit them (Gal 4:18); implicitly, that pursuit made them feel valuable. Paul so desired to return to them, even to the point of anguish ("birth pangs"), so he could change his tone and his gospel could take root in them. But he was still confused why they changed (Gal 4:19-20).
7. Chiasmus a2: Allegory of Hagar and Sarah (4:21-31)
Paul cautioned the Galatians against the eager desire to convert to Judaism (Gal 4:21). They didn't understand the narrative of Hagar and Sarah which the apostle explained as an allegory. Such interpretation was popular in the ancient world; such guiding lights as Philo read the Scripture narratives as symbolic, seeking universal truths through the event in the Bible. Paul applied the story of Abraham's sons to the situation of the Galatians as an allegory. The patriarch fathered two sons, one by a slave woman (Hagar) through natural means and one by a free woman (Sarah) through a divine promise (Gal 4:22-23). Hagar represented the earthly, hence enslaved; the apostle portrayed her as Mt. Sinai and its logical heir, Jerusalem on earth. Sarah represented the heavenly, hence free; he portrayed her as the heavenly city of God (Gal 4:24-26).
Then, Paul took an interesting turn by quoting Isa 54:1 (Gal 4:27). The apparently barren (Sarah) actual bore far more children ("fruit") than those with a husband (Hagar). In other words, not only did Paul's missionary efforts among the Gentiles bore greater results than those who toiled among Jewish populations, the spiritual life of the new Christians outstripped that of Jewish believers. They lived in the Spirit; the apostle called them "children of the promise" like that of Isaac (Gal 4:28). And, as Abraham rejected Ishmael in favor of Isaac (Gen 21:10), they should reject conversion to Judaism and the demands of its Law. They should live as children of the free, not of the enslaved (Gal 4:29-31).
D. Step B2: Freedom in the Spirit (5:1-6:17)
1. Chiasmus a1: Freedom over the Law (5:1-15)
Paul built another small chiasmus to address the uselessness of conversion (step b) in the face of freedom (steps a1 and a2).
a. Step a1: Stand firm in Christ's freedom (Gal 5:1).
b. Step b: The dangers of conversion. The sign of conversion for males was circumcision. Paul argued such a move obligated the convert to keep the entire Law (including a kosher diet, holy days, etc.) which could prove difficult. He further held that conversion meant seeking a right relationship to YHWH through practice of the Law thus trumping faith in Christ as a means to God (Gal 5:2-3). Such a move made faith hollow ("fall away from grace" in Gal 5:4). He insisted a life in the Spirit gave hope for a right relationship (Gal 5:5). Indeed, in Christ, circumcision had no value, only "faith worked effectively through love" (Gal 5:6).
In Gal 5:7, Paul again asked the question: what happened? The urge to convert did not come from Christ, "the One calling you" (Gal 5:8) He warned them with the analogy of leaven (Gal 5:9) and assumed the one who preached conversion would meet with resistance (Gal 5:10). Then, in frustration, he imagined if he were in the shoes of his opponents preaching conversion to Judaism as the path to faith in Christ and asked: why was he facing opposition (Gal 5:11)? In the end, he threw up his hands, wishing his opponents would castrate themselves (Gal 5:12).
c. Step a2: Freedom in Christ had a purpose: serving each other in love not the self (Gal 5:13-14, quoting Lev 19:18). This step had a corollary that warned against the controversies caused by new teachings (Gal 5:15).
2. Chiasmus b1: Walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh (5:16-26)
Paul portrayed life in the Spirit as diametrically opposed to works of the flesh (defined by the Law; Gal 5:16-18). He compared an evil life (Gal 5:19-21) with that of believer in the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). He warned the evil that they would not find eternal life (Gal 5:21) whereas those in the Spirit found life; the "gifts" of the Spirit were subject to no law (Gal 5:23). The former pagan, now Christians had their life in the flesh crucified to Christ (Gal 5:24); implicitly, the Spirit empowered them to live moral lives. They should live in humility, not judging others and causing controversies because of their pride (Gal 5:25-26).
3. Chiasmus b2: Exhortations (6:1-10)
Paul listed a series of exhortations for the Galatians. Treat sinners with patience (Gal 6:1-2). Think before boasting, consider one's neighbor and be responsible (Gal 6:3-6). Be hospitable (Gal 6:6). At this point, he shifted to an agricultural metaphor ("the way one sowed was the way one reaped") to exhort his audience to do good especially for fellow believers (Gal 6:7-10).
4. Chiasmus a1: About opponents, about ministry (6:11-17)
After signing the letter (Gal 6:11), Paul wondered why his opponents insisted that Gentile Christians convert to Judaism. He gave two reasons: 1) to save them from opposition by non-believing Jews (Gal 6:12) and 2) to boost their egos (Gal 6:13). The apostle then noted the focus of his preaching (the crucified Christ) and its effects of persecution ("the world has been crucified to me and I to the world"; Gal 6:14). In that context, nothing else mattered, especially the controversy over circumcision, only the "new creation" found in the Resurrection (Gal 6:15); he wished peace and mercy upon those who saw this "bigger picture" and upon Israel (Gal 6:16). In the end, he hoped for a reprieve based upon what he had suffered for the Good News (Gal 6:17).
E. Step A2: Brief Blessing (6:18)
Like the salutation and doxology (Gal 1:1-5), the brief closing had few details. It lacked personal greetings from Paul's companions (Phel 23-24, Phil 4:21-22, 1 Cor 16:21-24, Rom 16:1-16, Rom 16:21-23) or practical matters (1 Thes 5:25, 1 Cor 16:1-14, Phil 4:10-20, Philemon 1:22; 2 Cor 8:1-9:15, Rom 15:22-33). Gal 6:11 did share the detail of his personal signature with Philemon 1:19, but nothing else. The brevity of the final verse, along with the tone of the letter itself, indicated Paul's displeasure with the Galatians.
Galatians stands as a testament to Paul's genius. It argued for the salvation of Jew and Greek alike, not based upon duties of the Law but upon a faith allegiance to Christ. In Paul's mind, the Law did not have a normative function but a formative and prophetic one. The Law did not save through obedience to its rules and regulations. Instead it formed people through its definition of morality and prepared them for the appearance of the Messiah. He would place morality on the plane of freedom through his death. With their faith in him, his disciples would find acquittal from past sins and live a moral life, not based upon duty, but in love. In short, faith trumped duty to the Law.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote a dense argument that he would later expand in his epistle to the Romans.
Harrington, Daniel J. Sacra Pagina Series. Liturgical Press, 1991.
Stergiou, Costas. TheWord.net. Computer software. Vers. 5.0. TheWord.net. 2015. 2015 <http://theword.net/>.
NET Bible. theWord.net module. The NET Bible. 2015 <https://netbible.com/>.
Novum Testamentum Graece. theWord.net module. Vers. NA27. <theWord.net>.