Galatians 1.1-2 – A Letter With A Purpose

The book of the Bible we refer to as Galatians was written, according to the vast majority of scholarly opinion, by the Apostle Paul. Most would place the original writing of it around the year A.D. 48 and would place it as being written before the council detailed in Acts 15. 

In v.1 Paul states his credentials as an apostle, and clears up any doubt that he bestowed this honour-filled title upon himself. We read,

“From Paul, an apostle (not from men, nor by human agency, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead)  and all the brothers with me, to the churches of Galatia”.

(vv.1-2, NET, emphasis added)

Paul’s role, his mission, came not from men, but from Jesus Christ and God the Father. This was refuting a worrying false teaching infiltrating the churches of Galatia that Paul was essentially some weird and wacky, self-appointed teacher of a false gospel. Donald K.Campbell writes that

“Judaizing false teachers had infiltrated the churches in Galatia, denying Paul’s authority as an apostle and teaching that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Reacting quickly and vigorously to Peter’s actions and the threatened lapse of the Galatians into legalism, Paul wrote this strong letter prior to attending the Jerusalem Council”. 

Therein we see the somewhat dual purpose of his letter to the churches of Galatia: to refute false teaching and to combat legalism. Due to this second purpose in particular, his letter to the churches of Galatia has garnered the nickname ‘A Short Romans’ and was loved by the great reformer Martin Luther (who, apparently, referred to this letter as his wife on occasion). 

These judaizing false teachers, as Campbell writes, were seeking to divide the newly formed Christian communities by insisting that there needed to be strict observance of the former Jewish laws in order to benefit from the newfound liberty in Christ that Paul was proclaiming. We can easily imagine Paul’s position, can’t we? Working so hard to establish communities that are living radically obedient lives to the teachings of Jesus, communities that have accepted that yes, He is the Messiah and this is what it means for you, only to hear that these very communities were being divided by judaizing teachers who were insisting on legal obligations  over faith based liberty. This desperate situation was addressed in the strongest terms, as we will see as we walk day by day through his letter to the churches of Galatia. 

Paul’s original readers were being told and taught, contrary to what they had heard from him, that they had to do and be certain things in order to fully experience the salvation of the Messiah, of the Christ, of Jesus. Maybe you have been told things like that. Maybe you still believe things like that. Things like “You need to make sure you do this or that every day/week to prove you are a Christian,” or maybe something like “You are this type of Christian, which means that you should do…and you certainly shouldn’t…”

As we move through Galatians then, ask yourself questions like this regularly,

What am I doing in my life out of a sense of compulsion and not faith? 

What am I doing to tick a box?

Have I been lured into legalism?

Published by James Travis

Pastor of Saar Fellowship in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Married to Robyn and Dad to our two boys.

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