I am doing a series of sermons on Galatians. These are the Sundays and titles drawn from key phrases in Galatians.
2 June – Galatians 1:1-12 – “I am astonished”
9 June – Galatians 1:11-24 – “I received it through a revelation”
16 June – Galatians 2:15-21 – “justified by faith”
23 June – Galatians 3:23-29 – “for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”
30 June – Galatians 5:1,13-25 – “called to freedom”
7 July – Galatians 6:1-6, 7-16 – “you reap whatever you sow”
A summary of some essential points to keep in mind when reading Paul’s letter to the Galatians are listed below.
No one questions the authenticity of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
No one will say that the letter lacks intensity and conviction.
Many suggest that the letter lays out the “charter of Christian freedom.” Certainly it responds to debates over the central mission of the church specifically as it relates to the relationship of Christ and the Law.
We know from Acts that Paul established churches in the southern area of Galatia (Acts 13 and 14). It appears that he was in Galatia on one or two other occasions (cf. Acts 16:6 and 18:23).
We do not know for certain whether the letter was written as early as 49 CE/AD before or in preparation for the Jerusalem conferences (Acts 15:1-35) or some other gatherings. We do not know if there were other visits by Paul on the issues addressed in the letter or not mentioned in Acts. Many think the letter was written slightly later (mid 50s CE/AD) than a date in the 40s CE/AD.
We do know that there are discrepancies between the way the events were told in Acts and what we hear from Paul. We do know that the issues discussed in Jerusalem and which related to disagreements between Paul, Peter, James, and others have a heightened intensity when he writes the letter to the Galatians. Later when he wrote his letter to the Romans these issues of Christ and the Law especially among Gentiles seem far less urgent despite still in need of being addressed.
The letter to the Galatians, whether Gentiles in the South or in the North of Galatia, deals with circumcision that would likely not have been crucial to Jewish converts. It is clear that there were those “troublemakers” among whom Paul was battling and who were distorting Paul’s understanding of the gospel which freed the Christian from Jewish rites and practices. Paul is promoting the idea that there is a new identity in Jesus Christ that shatters all of the old distinctions.
While the letter follows the normal pattern of letters for that time in that region of the world there are some unusual elements such as not a single word of thanks or any identification of the addressees that suggests a close relationship (cf. Romans 1:7) between Paul and the addressees, a further confirmation of the intensity of the issues.
Each of the series of sermons that come from the epistle reading during this time of the year focus on critical issues that still exist in our times, albeit circumcision is not a “hot” topic in 21st century America. Paul begins his letter with a “hot” topic, and that is the GOSPEL. It is so important that he uses the word gospel six times in the opening of the letter. Paul wrote to the Galatian churches to recall them to the gospel of Jesus Christ - not the gospel-and-anything-else. They were not to be confused by any other teaching. They were not to seek the approval of others by adding anything else. He mustered all the arguments he could find to convince them in his letter that there is only one gospel of grace. In the same way, Galatians challenges us and recalls us to the heart of the gospel. We are saved by God's grace. We are set free by the work of Jesus Christ and not our own works. Paul experienced that and so must we.
**“Two Old Men Disputing” painted in 1628 by Rembrandt (he would have been only 22 years old). It is oil on oak panel. Dimensions are 28.5 inches (height) x 23.5 (width). It is in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia. It is frequently suggested that this is Peter and Paul debating although the traditional symbols of keys for Peter and sword for Paul are lacking. In any case the references in Galatians 1:18 and later in Galatians 2:11 may be the subject they are discussing. For an interesting piece on the acquisition and possible interpretation see http://artothings.blogspot.com/2009/10/two-old-men-disputing.html .