The Gospel in Galatians – Introduction

Paul’s letter to the Galatians has been compared to spiritual “dynamite,” and rightly so. Except for Romans, no other book in the Bible has sparked as much spiritual revival and reformation. One could argue that out of the pages of Galatians (along with Romans) Protestantism itself was born. It was while reading Galatians that Martin Luther first was touched with the glorious good news of righteousness by faith. “The Epistle to the Galatians,” he said, “is my epistle. To it I am married.”

In turn, it was Luther’s gospel-centered writings that, on Aldersgate Street in London on May 24, 1738, transformed the life of John Wesley, who then spearheaded a spiritual revival that swept not only through the British Isles but across the entire English-speaking world.

Seventh-day Adventists also are indebted to Galatians. Through the study of Galatians, E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones helped the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the 1880s and 90s rediscover the truth of righteousness by faith.

What is it about Galatians that has made it such a backbone of spiritual revival? Why has it been able to touch the hearts of so many? In a manner unlike any other book in the Bible, Galatians addresses a number of themes crucial to the Christian soul. It is in Galatians that Paul tackles issues such as freedom, the role of the law in salvation, our condition in Christ, and the nature of the Spirit-led life, as well as the age-old question, How can sinful humans be made right before a holy and just God?

Of course, other books, such as Romans, address some of these same questions, but Galatians is different. Not only is it more succinct, but its rich themes are written in a powerfully personal and impassioned pastoral tone that can’t help but touch hearts open to the Spirit of God, even today.

Although Paul’s letter speaks to us personally, our understanding can be strengthened if we are aware of the original historical situation that Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was addressing.

Many scholars believe that Galatians may be the earliest of Paul’s letters, perhaps written in A.D. 49, after the famous Jerusalem council (Acts 15). The book may be the oldest Christian document known. As Acts and Galatians make clear, the early church found itself in a fierce battle over the nature of salvation, especially in the case of Gentiles. According to a group of Jewish believers, known as Judaizers, belief in Jesus alone was not good enough for Gentiles. Gentiles must also be circumcised and follow the laws of Moses (Acts 15:1). It is no surprise, then, that when Paul founded a church of Gentiles in Galatia, some of these Judaizers traveled there to “straighten things out.”

When word of this problem reached Paul, he reacted fervently. Recognizing that this false gospel of salvation by faith and works threatened to undermine the work of Christ, Paul wrote the Galatians an impassioned defense of the gospel. In the strongest of words, he identified this false teaching for what it really was—legalism, pure and simple.

This quarter’s Bible study guide invites us to journey with the apostle Paul as he pleads with the Galatians to remain true to Jesus. At the same time, it also gives us a chance to reflect on our own understanding of the gospel. It’s my sincere hope that, over the course of this quarter, God’s Spirit will spark a spiritual revival in our hearts as we rediscover what God has done for us in Christ.

Carl Cosaert, PhD, is an associate professor of New Testament and early Christianity. He teaches at Walla Walla University, College Place, Washington.

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The Gospel in Galatians – Introduction — 7 Comments

  1. this quarters lession must be very timely coz it will change me and our adventist faith image----'on legalism'

  2. "From start to finish in the Christian life, the basis of our salvation is faith in Christ alone. It was because of Abraham’s faith in God’s promises that he was counted as righteous, and that same gift of righteousness is available for anyone today who shares Abraham’s faith". (5th lesson - Friday 28th).
    Which of the two - should be the basis of our LEGAL RIGHTEOUSNESS - our faithfulness, or Gods faithfulness?

  3. An in depth study, based upon known astronomy and upon the best available original Scriptures, shows that Paul's letter to the Galatians was written in Rome beginning shortly prior to Paul's final stand before Caesar Nero, at which time he was set free. That Epistle to the Galatians was then completed shortly after he was released out of those bonds...

    To me, that timing relative to Paul's own very intense experience is a most significant fact indeed. Having had similar experiences myself, I know very well how one's mind is, at such times, very intently focused upon specific issues pertaining to that particular law under which one is bound! It is only too obvious to me that, at the time of his writing his letter to the Galatians, Paul was very much focusing upon such things as had to do with Roman law, that is, a prominent law written by men.

    Additionally I'd like to mention that, although most scholars are likely to continue for a long time yet to pooh pooh my very solidly anchored New Testament chronology, which puts conventional NT chronology consistently between five and twenty years off target, my findings indicate quite clearly that Paul's letter to the Galatians was - except for the Epistle to the Hebrews - the last of his NT Epistles, and that it was written, not in "A.D. 49" but in 45 CE. "The famous Jerusalem council..." of Acts 15, as best I can tell, took place in the fall of 39 CE, twenty years after the crucifixion...

    Gunnar Anders Smårs Jr © MD
    LLUSM Class of 78 A

  4. "You're not saved by works, buy you're not going to heaven WITHOUT 'em." - SDA Pastor C. D. Brooks. Thought the Introduction's need to clarify what constitutes legalism was unnecessary. Ellen G. White wrote something that truly defines the age in which the Church finds itself in: "Love is dwelt upon as the chief attribute of God, but it is degraded to a weak sentimentalism, making little distinction between good and evil." Remember, "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land; But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken [it]. - Isaiah 1:19,20

  5. Kevin, First of all I think that everyone would benefit greatly if would give the reference information for the quote which is “The Great Controversy”, p 558. The subject of the discussion in which the quote is found is on spiritualism and how it has changed into a more deceptive danger because it no longer denies Christ or the Bible but embraces them both but with some changes as the quote states.

    The fact is that we can’t get into heaven based on our works because they are constantly faulty and in violation to God’s law in one way or another (Ref. Jer 13:23, Rom 3:9-20). Since everyone is basically a sinner by nature the question boils down to how we are saved under those circumstances.

    Assuming that everyone wants to live for ever and would like to live in a paradise and that they all have faith that Christ will get them there the question is over exactly who gets to go there.

    I think everyone would agree that a person that enjoys murdering people shouldn’t be there or one who takes great pride in cheating people out of what they have worked so hard for. But what about the person that deviates just a little bit from a law for the sake of personal expediency, like driving faster than you should in order to get to an appointment? You see the judgment is really over your attitude in respect to proper authority. If you would rebel over a little law would you do differently concerning a major one? This is where your law keeping comes in. You either have a correct attitude toward authority, especially God’s, or you don’t which makes you dangerous to save.

    Therefore you are saved by the gift of God because you can’t undo what you have done but you are judged by the relationship you demonstrate toward proper authority. You may have all the faith in the world but if you are a rebel in heart there no way the inhabitants of Heaven will allow you there irrespective of how much faith you have.


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