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Bible Commentaries

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

- Galatians

by Dr. Robert Utley



A. The books of Galatians and Romans are the clearest expressions of the new covenant of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone! Galatians has been called "The Magna Carta of Christian Liberty."

B. This letter stirred the fires of the Protestant Reformation.

1. Martin Luther said, "the little book of Galatians is my letter; I have betrothed myself to it; it is my wife."

2. John Wesley said he found lasting peace from a sermon on Galatians.

3. In his Study Guide Commentary, p. 11, Curtis Vaughan wrote, "few books have more profoundly influenced the minds of men, have so significantly shaped the course of human history, or continued to speak with such relevance to the deepest needs of modern life."

C. This doctrinally oriented letter, possibly Paul's first, was a precursor to Romans and its development of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith apart from Judaism's emphasis on a works righteousness by obedience to the Mosaic Law and traditions of the elders (i.e., Oral Traditions).

1. Salvation cannot be found in both human performance and grace.

2. Salvation must be found in either human performance or grace.

3. Christlikeness will follow a true conversion.

4. Theologically there is a distinction between Judaism's legalism which brought salvation and Christian legalism, which attempts to judge and restrict Christian freedom. Paul denounces Judaism's performance based model as worthy of damnation, but is willing to work with Christian legalism (i.e., weak faith, cf. Romans 14:1-15; Romans 1:0 Corinthians 8-10). It is the free gospel of salvation by grace through faith that Paul defends, yet he still recognizes the legalistic tendencies in some believers.

D. This radically free salvation, by grace alone through faith alone, in Christ alone is desperately needed in our day because of the recurrent, subtle pull of our self-oriented, works-oriented religious consciousness. In every age the simple truth of God's initiating, self-giving, unconditional covenant love mediated through human repentance and humble faith is challenged! It is not that the false teachers were rejecting Christ's central place in redemption, but they were adding prerequisites to Him. It is not what we add, but that we add anything!


Paul's authorship of this letter has never been seriously doubted, as it forms a significant pillar of the Pauline Corpus. Galatians is very autobiographical and personal. It is highly emotional yet clearly presented gospel truth.


A. These two aspects of background material must be dealt with together because two opposing theories of the identities of the recipients affect the dating of the letter. Both theories have logical weight and limited biblical evidence.

B. The two theories are:

1. The traditional theory that was unanimous until the eighteenth century.

a. It is called the "Northern Galatian Theory."

b. It assumes that "Galatia" refers to the ethnic Galatians of the northern central plateau of Turkey (cf. 1 Peter 1:1). These ethnic Galatians were Celts (Greek Keltoi or Latin Gall) who invaded this area in the third century B.C. They were called "Gallo-Graecians" to distinguish them from their western European brothers. They were defeated in 230 B.C. by Attalus I, the King of Pergamum. Their geographical influence was limited to northern central Asia Minor or modern Turkey.

c. If this ethnic group is assumed, then the date would be the mid 50's during Paul's second or third missionary journey. Paul's traveling companions would be Silas and Timothy.

d. Some have linked Paul's illness in Galatians 4:13 to malaria. They assert that Paul went north into the highlands to get away from the marshy, malaria-infested, coastal lowlands.

2. The second theory is championed by Sir Wm. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1896.

a. As the traditional theory defined "Galatia" as ethnic, this theory defines it as administrative. It seems that Paul often used Roman provincial names (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 8:1, etc.) The Roman province of "Galatia" included a larger area than ethnic "Galatia." These ethnic Celts supported Rome very early and were rewarded with more local autonomy and expanded territorial authority. If this large area was known as "Galatia," then it is possible that Paul's first missionary journey to these southern cities of Antioch in Pisidia, Lystra, Derbe and Iconium, recorded in Acts 13-14, is the location of these churches.

b. If one assumes this "Southern Theory," the date would be very earlyclose to, but before, the "Jerusalem Council" of Acts 15:0, which addresses the same subject matter as the book of Galatians. The Council occurred in A.D. 48-49 and the letter was probably written during the same period. If this is true, Galatians is the first letter of Paul in our New Testament.

c. Some evidences for the southern Galatian theory:

(1) There is no mention of Paul's traveling companions by name but Barnabas is mentioned three times (cf. Galatians 2:1, Galatians 2:9, Galatians 2:13). This fits the first missionary journey of Paul.

(2) It is mentioned that Titus was not circumcised (cf. Galatians 2:1-5). This fits best before the Jerusalem Council ofActs 15:0; Acts 15:0.

(3) The mention of Peter (cf. Galatians 2:11-14) and the problem of fellowship with Gentiles fits best before the Jerusalem Council.

(4) When the money was taken to Jerusalem several companions of Paul from different areas (cf. Acts 20:4) were listed. None, however, were listed from northern Galatia cities, although we know these ethnic Galatian churches participated (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1).

3. For the detailed presentation of the different arguments concerning these theories consult a technical commentary. They each have valid points but at this point in time there is no consensus, but the "Southern Theory" seems to fit all of the facts best.

C. Relationship of Galatians to Acts:

1. Paul made five visits to Jerusalem, recorded by Luke in the book of Acts:

a. Acts 9:26-30, after his conversion

b. Acts 11:30; Acts 12:25, to bring famine relief from the Gentile churches

c. Acts 15:1-30, the Jerusalem Council

d. Acts 18:22, brief visit

e. Acts 21:15ff., another explanation of Gentile work

2. There are two visits to Jerusalem recorded in Galatians:

a. Galatians 1:18, after three years

b. Galatians 2:1, after fourteen years

3. It seems most probable that Acts 9:26 is related to Galatians 1:18. Possibly Acts 11:30 or 15:1ff or an unrecorded visit is mentioned in Galatians 2:1.

4. There are some differences between the Acts 15:0 and Galatians 2:0 accounts but this is probably due to:

a. different perspectives

b. different purposes of Luke and Paul

c. the fact that Galatians 2:0 may have occurred sometime before the meeting described in Acts 15:0 but in conjunction with it

D. Possible chronology of Paul's writings following F. F. Bruce and Murry Harris with minor adaptations.

BookDatePlace of WritingRelation to Acts 11.-13.Galatians 1 Thessalonians 2 Thessalonians 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Romans Prison LettersColossians Ephesians Philemon Philippians Fourth Missionary Journey1 Timothy Titus 2 Timothy 48 5050 5556 57 early 60searly 60searly 60slate 62-63 63 (or later,63 but before64 A.D. 68)Syrian Antioch Corinth CorinthEphesus MacedoniaCorinth RomeRomeRomeRome MacedoniaEphesus (?)RomeActs 14:28; Acts 15:2; Acts 18:5 Acts 19:20; Acts 20:2Acts 20:3 Acts 28:30-31


A. Paul addressed three distinct areas of concern about the message of the false teachers. These heretics have been labeled "Judaizers" (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:0) because they believed that one had to become a Jew before he could become a Christian (cf. Galatians 6:12). His concerns revolved around the charges of the Judaizers (learned from Paul's defensive statements):

1. Paul was not truly an Apostle like the Twelve (cf. Acts 1:21-22); therefore, he was dependent on their authority or at least the authority of the Mother Church in Jerusalem.

2. Paul's message was different from theirs, and thus, false. This seems directly related to the concept of "justification by faith apart from the Law." The Apostles in Jerusalem were still very Jewish in their personal lives.

3. An element of libertinism was connected in some way with these churches (cf. Galatians 5:18-8). Exactly how this is to be explained is debated. Some have even seen two target groups in Paul's letter: Judaizers and Gnostics (cf. Galatians 4:8-11). However, it seems best to relate these verses to pagan practices. The believing Jews were concerned about the lifestyle of believing Gentiles. How did Paul's radical free grace relate to pagan idolatry and excess?

B. Doctrinally, this letter is a precursor to Paul's letter to the Romans. These two books contain Paul's major doctrines repeated and developed in different settings and later summarized in Ephesians.

C. In reality Galatians focuses on the differences between the Old Covenant (OT) in Moses and the New Covenant (NT) in Christ. The first was understood by the rabbis (Paul does not react against the Mosaic covenant, but its misinterpretation and application by Jewish tradition) to base God's acceptance on human performance, but the second was based on a new heart and a new spirit (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-38). Both were based on God's grace; both desire a righteous people. The difference between them is how that righteousness is accomplished. This is developed in the NT book of Hebrews.


A. Prologue, Galatians 1:1-10

1. general introduction to the book

2. the occasion for writing the book

B. Paul defends his Apostleship, Galatians 1:11-14

C. Paul defends the doctrinal truths of his gospel, Galatians 2:15-20

D. Paul defends the practical implications of his gospel, Galatians 5:1-10

E. Personal summary and closing, Galatians 6:11-18

Like all of Paul's letters, there is a doctrinal section (i.e., chapters 1-4) and a practical section (i.e., chapters 5-6).

READING CYCLE ONE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Therefore, read the entire biblical book at one sitting. State the central theme of the entire book in your own words.

1. Theme of entire book

2. Type of literature (genre)

READING CYCLE TWO (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Therefore, read the entire biblical book a second time at one sitting. Outline the main subjects and express the subject in a single sentence.

1. Subject of first literary unit

2. Subject of second literary unit

3. Subject of third literary unit

4. Subject of fourth literary unit

5. Etc.

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