TO: The churches in the Roman province of Galatia (probably Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe). These are the ones that Paul founded in his very first missionary journey. This would make this letter Paul’s first letter, written perhaps in 48-49, between that journey and the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).
CC: All Christian believers alive today (and that includes you and me!)
FROM: Paul himself. He is the spiritual father of these churches and the one who cared about them most. Fathers take the highest interest in their children and are most hurt and concerned when their lives are side-tracked by deceptive people with ulterior motives.
SUBJECT: I am an authentic apostle, and my gospel is the true message from Christ. Don’t listen to those who say you must first become a Jew before you can be saved. Why enslave yourself again?
MESSAGE: This epistle was one of the foundations of the Protestant Reformation, relied upon by Martin Luther to prove that salvation is by faith alone, without the need to obey the Law of Moses. See 2:16.
Paul would have dictated this letter to a scribe but wanted to ‘sign off’ in his own handwriting – see 6:11. He cared passionately about his spiritual children, and it hurt him badly that they had begun to refuse to walk in their father’s footsteps of faith and had started to avoid him altogether, preferring the attention of some false apostles who did not have their interests at heart.
An Apostle – in the original definition – was someone who had spent time with Jesus himself and who could therefore witness to his life, message, and resurrection. See Acts 1:21-22. Paul was at pains to point out that he was set apart by God for this role, sent by Jesus Christ as an apostle, and had seen the risen Christ first hand – on the Damascus Road (vv15-16). Paul’s qualification to be an apostle was therefore rock-solid. Even Paul’s salvation was planned by God, from before he was born, and the date of his calling determined well in advance.
Also, Paul claimed that his message was direct from God – not plagiarised from the other apostles. It was “not of human origin” (v11) but received “by revelation” (v12). Paul did not even meet the Jerusalem apostles until many years later; this avoided contamination of the ‘purity’ of the gospel to the Gentiles by Judaistic legalism.
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all”. (v6). The ‘One’ who had called these Galatian believers was a combination of both Paul himself and, behind the scenes, Jesus; it was his gospel that they were now rejecting! (See 4:12-20). The phrase: “So quickly” also indicates that this was not too long after Paul had visited them on one of his missionary journeys. The date of this letter is therefore fairly early.
Is our gospel truly ‘good news’? Are we preaching and living a doctrine that is worth converting to? Is our message shrouded with ‘do’s and ‘do not’s, based upon an old-fashioned lifestyle that relates more to Eighteenth Century British life than to the vibrant truth of the true gospel. Does our gospel set people free or enslave them more? Is it a good story or no story at all? Are we promoting a Christ who really did “give himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age”?