Introduction

This epistle was probably written by Paul (Gal. 1:1) about A.D. 57, on the third missionary journey from Ephesus during his two years of residence there. There is substantial basis, however, for the claim that it was written from Corinth, shortly before Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans. Dr. Lenski advances the theory that it was written from Corinth on the second missionary journey about April, A.D. 53. After Paul visited the Galatians, he discovered that the Judaizers had followed him and the churches were listening to them. Paul wrote this letter to counteract their message and to state clearly the gospel.

Paul visited the Galatian churches on each of his three missionary journeys. There is no mention in the epistle of another visit to the churches. This epistle was evidently Paul’s last word to these churches, written after he had visited them on his third missionary journey.

In the case of the Epistle to the Galatians, the people to whom it was sent are important, which is not always true with other epistles. Also, the destination of this book has given rise to what is known as the North Galatian and the South Galatian theories. It seems more reasonable to suppose that it was sent to the churches in the area Paul visited on his first missionary journey, but this does not preclude the possibility that it had a wider circulation, even as far north as Pessinus, Ancyra, and Tavium. I believe that Paul was writing to all the churches of Galatia. This area was large and prominent and many churches had been established there.

The word Galatians could be used either in an ethnographic sense, which would refer to the nationality of the people, or it could be used in a geographic sense, which would refer to the Roman province by that name. Regardless of the position which is taken, there was a common blood strain which identified people in that area where there was a mixture of population. The people for whom the province was named were Gauls, a Celtic tribe from the same stock which inhabited France. In the fourth century A.D. they invaded the Roman Empire and sacked Rome. Later they crossed into Greece and captured Delphi in 280 A.D. They were warlike people and on the move. At the invitation of Nikomedes I, King of Bithynia, they crossed over into Asia Minor to help him in a civil war. They soon established themselves in Asia Minor. They liked it there. The climate was delightful, and the country was beautiful. When I visited Turkey, I was pleasantly surprised to find how lovely it is along the Aegean and inland, also along the Mediterranean.

In 189 A.D. these Celtic tribes were made subjects of the Roman Empire and became a province. Their boundaries varied, and for many years they retained their customs and own language. They actually were blond Orientals. The churches Paul established on his first missionary journey were included at one time in the territory of Galatia, and this is the name which Paul would normally give to these churches.

These Gallic Celts had much of the same temperament and characteristics of the American population, that is, of those who came out of Europe or England. It is interesting to see what was said concerning my ancestors (and maybe yours). Many of these Germanic tribes were wild and fierce. Caesar said of them: “The infirmity of the Gauls is that they are fickle in their resolves, fond of change, and not to be trusted.” This description fits the majority of Americans in our day. We are fickle in our resolves. We are fond of change—we want a new car every year. We like to get the magazine that is dated next week. Another described them as “frank, impetuous, impressionable, eminently intelligent, fond of show, but extremely inconstant, the fruit of excessive vanity.” That is a picture of the American population today. A man runs for office and we vote for him. Then in four years we forget him. Do you remember who was president ten years ago? Or twenty years ago? We are fickle people, not very constant. I’m very happy that it was said we are eminently intelligent, because that’s what we think also. And the reason for our high estimation of ourselves is the fruit of excessive vanity.

In the Book of Acts we read that the Galatians wanted to make Paul a god one day, and the next day they stoned him. What do we do? We elect a man to the presidency and then we try to kill him in office. I think it is quite interesting that our system of government has survived as long as it has.

Therefore the Epistle to the Galatians has a particular message for us because it was written to people who were like us in many ways. They had a like temper, and they were beset on every hand by cults and “isms” innumerable—which takes us, likewise, from our moorings in the gospel of grace.

1. It is a stern, severe, and solemn message (see Gal. 1:6–9; 3:1–5). It does not correct conduct as the Corinthian letters do, but it is corrective. The Galatian believers were in grave peril because the foundations of their faith were being attacked—everything was threatened.

The epistle, therefore, contains no word of commendation, praise, or thanksgiving. There is no request for prayer, and there is no mention of their standing in Christ. No one with him is mentioned by name. If you compare this epistle with the other Pauline epistles, you will see that it is different.

2. In this epistle the heart of Paul the apostle is laid bare, and there is deep emotion and strong feeling. This is his fighting epistle—he has on his war paint. He has no toleration for legalism. Someone has said that the Epistle to the Romans comes from the head of Paul while the Epistle to the Galatians comes from the heart of Paul. A theologian has said, “Galatians takes up controversially what Romans puts systematically.”

3. This epistle is a declaration of emancipation from legalism of any type. It is interesting to note that legalists do not spend much time with Galatians. It is a rebuke to them. This was Martin Luther’s favorite epistle. He said, “This is my epistle. I am wedded to it.” It was on the masthead of the Reformation. It has been called the Magna Carta of the early church. It is the manifesto of Christian liberty, the impregnable citadel, and a veritable Gibraltar against any attack on the heart of the gospel. As someone put it, “Immortal victory is set upon its brow.”

This is the epistle that moved John Wesley. He came to America as a missionary to the Indians. But he made a startling discovery. He said, “I came to America to convert Indians, but who is going to convert John Wesley?” He went back to London, England, and was converted. When I was in London I had a guide take us to Aldersgate and we saw the marker that designates the place where John Wesley was converted. (His was called an “evangelical conversion,” which is the only kind of conversion the Bible speaks of.) John Wesley went out to begin a revival—preaching from this Epistle to the Galatians—that saved England from revolution and brought multitudes to a saving knowledge of Christ. Wilberforce, one of his converts, had a great deal to do with the matter of child labor and the Industrial Revolution that brought about changes for the working man.

In a sense I believe this epistle has been the backbone and background for every great spiritual movement and revival that has taken place in the past nineteen hundred years. And, my friend, it will be the background for other revivals. I would like to see the Spirit of God move in our land today. I would like to hear the Epistle to the Galatians declared to America. I believe it would revolutionize lives.

4. Galatians is the strongest declaration and defense of the doctrine of justification by faith in or out of Scripture. It is God’s polemic on behalf of the most vital truth of the Christian faith against any attack. Not only is a sinner saved by grace through faith plus nothing, but the saved sinner lives by grace. Grace is a way to life and a way of life. These two go together, by the way.

(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 46: Galatians. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)

Poems & Quotes

Galatians Introduction—1:1

“I came to America to convert Indians, but who is going to convert John Wesley?"
          –John Wesley

Galatians 3:8-17

“Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.”
          –John Calvin

Galatians 4:6-24

“You forget that the old dead cat has nine lives. When you throw him away, he is going to be right back tomorrow.”
          –Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer

Galatians 5:1-4

“I want to so trust Christ that when I come into His presence and He asks me, ‘Why are you here?’ I can say, ‘I am here because I trusted You as my Savior.’”
          –Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer

Galatians 5:22-26

“I am not to judge you, but I am a fruit inspector, and I have a right to look at the fruit you are producing.”
          –Dr. Jim McGinley

Galatians 6:1-5

“No home is there anywhere that does not sooner or later have its hush.”
          –Spanish proverb

“Everyone thinks his own burden is heaviest.”
          –French proverb

“No one knows the weight of another’s burden.”
          –George Herbert

The Proud Pigmy Versus the Humble Human Being

I have a Scripture for this, and it’s found in Proverbs the 6th chapter, beginning at verse 16. Will you listen to this: “These six things doth the Lord hate, yea seven are an abomination unto Him. A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” Now God says that these are the things that He hates, and it’s an ugly brood as you can see. And these are the things that are actually in the heart of the natural man—that is, you and I before we were converted (that is, if we have been converted). And we still have that old nature, and these things can still be down in our hearts. Now pride here is number one on God’s hate parade. It comes ahead of a lying tongue and murder. It’s one of the polite sins—perhaps I should say “impolite” sins. It leaves no evidence that a crime has been committed. There is no smoking gun or a corpus delicti. No reputations are wrecked. Pride can go to church undetected and is not even rebuked or condemned. Pride is a sin for which you will never be arrested. It’s not a secret sin. It may not leave any fingerprints, but it surely does leave “face prints.” The Lord said He even hated the proud look—it shows itself in the face. It does leave, however, shattered lives, wrecked churches, and even great nations have been affected by it. It’s the sin that relieved Lucifer, the Son of the Morning, of his exalted position in heaven and he became Satan, the enemy of God. You find that in Isaiah 14:12-15 and also Ezekiel 28:12-17. Now it caused God to drive Adam and Eve from the Garden—they wanted to be gods instead of humble humans. It has been the downfall of many great men. It caused Alexander the Great to weep because there were not any more worlds to conquer, but he didn’t conquer himself. He died a drunkard’s death—the victim of pride, if you please. And in Proverbs 16:18 you have this statement: “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Now Rome was rotten to the core because of gross immorality, and it fell apart like a rotten apple. But pride blinded Rome to its miserable condition. Pride is one of the heads of the hydra-headed monster that is destroying our country. Since World War II, we’ve attempted to lead the world to the Elysian fields of plenty. We are dying within. Pride blinds us to our true condition. Pride goes to church every Sunday and receives a royal welcome. It should be treated as a plague, but it is not. Notice what is said in the 8th chapter of Proverbs verse 13. “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil, pride and arrogance, and the evil way, and the forward mouth, do I hate.” God, again and again, lets it be known the way that He feels about the pride that is so destructive of mankind. Now, the great sin of the ministry is not money or sex—it’s pride, and it has destroyed many ministers. Paul reminds us that the preachers have nothing, but if they have anything, it was something they received. Paul says, “I am what I am by the grace of God,” and that’s something every minister can say. Now the opposite of pride is humility. It was said of the Lord Jesus that He humbled Himself, and we are enjoined to do the very same thing. Now you will recall James in the 4th chapter spoke about this in verse 10. He said, “Humble yourself in the sight of God and He shall lift you up.” Now, why not start a new style, or trend, today in your group? Put on a dress or a suit that will be a little bit different. And you’ll remember, Peter and James both said, put on humility just like you put on a garment. Say, your friends will want to know who your dressmaker and your tailor is!
          –J. Vernon McGee

Galatians 6:6-11

You can not put one little star in motion,
You can not shape one single forest leaf,
Nor fling a mountain up, nor sink an ocean,
Presumptuous pigmy, large with unbelief!
You can not bring one dawn of regal splendor,
Nor bid the day to shadowy twilight fall,
Nor send the pale moon forth with radiance tender;
And dare you doubt the One who has done it all?
          –Ella Wheeler Wilcox

“When the Lord gave me a new heart at my conversion, He did not give me a new stomach. I am paying for the years I spent drinking.”
          –Mel Trotter

Galatians 6:11-18

“Everybody, sooner or later, sits down to a banquet of circumstances and consequences.”
          –attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson