The Galatian Epistle

For those who have trouble following the line of thought of a rather complex argument Paul made to the church at Galatia, this teaching may help. One of the best ways to think of the letters is as just that – someone’s mail. This short study walks through the “argument” of the letter as though it were a summation at the end of some court drama.


The argument of the book of Galatians has to do with what we will call the formula for justification before God. Paul’s argument in the book follows in this way: (Divided by six chapters)

1) The gospel I came to preach to you in unchangeable (1:1-10), because it was given to me by the revelation of Jesus himself (1:11-17), and was evidenced by the miraculous change in my life (1:18-24).

2) The gospel of justification by faith in Jesus as our substitute (apart from any human work) is the gospel I have always preached, and can be tested against the case of Titus (2:1-3). The confusion over the gospel formula was introduced by false teachers (2:4-10), who desired to add to the formula. They desired to have you believe that “Faith in Jesus plus obedience to Judaic ceremonial law equals justification”. This teaching was never endorsed by the Apostles (2:7-10), however even the Apostles confused the principle with some inconsistent personal practices (2:11,12). To clear the issue consider the following truths (2:15-21):
1. The purpose of the law and the purpose of the coming of Jesus were to fulfill two different ends. The law was given to direct us to our
need, but Jesus came that we might see the grace of God provide for a need we were unable to meet.
2. If the law was able to provide for justification, then Jesus need not have come and died.

3) The evidence that God accepted you apart from any commitment to ceremonial law was manifest in you because you received the Spirit on the basis of your acceptance of Jesus alone (3:1-5). Lest you think that accepting people on the basis of faith alone is a new work of God, consider His work with Abraham (3:6-9), who was counted righteous by his faith.

If you desire to add law to the formula for being declared righteous by God you must acknowledge three facts (10-14):

1. You are cursing yourself with a standard higher than you can keep, and the law will condemn you.
2. You will eventually settle for an exterior appearance of obedience, and never settle the heart issue of faith.
3. You are rejecting the work of Jesus in taking your place in judgement under the law and you are nullifying the very freedom he gave you.

Above these three facts, you must consider that the law came after the promise of God to Abraham (cp. Gen. 22), and must be considered only part of that greater plan (3:15-18). The promise to Abraham was both a nation and a future Messiah. The law did not negate or fulfill this promise. What did the law do then? The law (which was mediated by men and angels) guided to the place where the promise (given directly by God) was fulfilled (3:19-20). Does the law hinder the fulfillment of the promise of God (3:21- 22)? Absolutely not! The law could not fulfill the promise and produce life of itself. In fact, the Scripture leads us to understand our own unrighteousness unacceptability. The fulfillment of the promise can only be in the Messiah. The law guided us to the fulfillment of the promise in the Messiah (3:23-29), but if we continue imposing the law in the justification formula, we are looking to be guided beyond the fulfillment of the promise. We have become identified with Jesus, and both Jew and Gentile are guided by Him as heirs to the promise of Abraham, fulfilled by his seed — Jesus!

4) Children who are heirs are subject to servants and tutors as they grow up (4:1- 7). These tutors were as the law to Israel. When God sent His son, he made it possible for us to receive the full inheritance of sons. I fear that you desire the security of being guided again now that you are free heirs. You are keeping observances as though you don’t understand your position (4:8-11)! You have always listened intently to me when I was with you. Even when I was ill (4:12- 20) you followed the truth of my instruction. I am trusting this will be the case in my absence. Paul now directly addresses those (4:21-31) who are arguing for the formula of salvation which includes the law. He argues from a Genesis allegory, based on the two sons of Abraham. Gen. 16 records that Hagar (the maidservant of Sarah) came into Abraham and bore Ishmael. This practical earthly solution was not as God intended to make the nation from Abraham. Later, Sarah bore Isaac who was the “child of the promise”. The Apostle relates Hagar and Ishmael to the law and Isaac to the coming of the Messiah. Ishmael as a persecutor of Isaac was a “foreshadow” of the “faith plus law for salvation” party in Galatia. Yet, Paul maintains that the blessing is with the children of Isaac.

5) In the application of the above truths, Paul asserts (1-12) that they must cling to the liberty of the “faith alone” formula, and not concede to any addition to this standard. He advises the removal of anyone who cannot abide by the standard of faith alone, and insists that adding to the standard will compromise the clarity of the gospel. He then follows with an exhortation (13-15) to avoid misusing the liberty in a way that would not serve the others in their church community. He then specifies (5:16-26) that the Spirit can guide them away from misuse of liberty. Those who misuse their liberty demonstrate they are not His!

6) Paul asks them to turn to help those who have fallen, (1-10) having already commanded the removal of those who would not comply with his teaching. Some should be restored, other unrepentant ones should be shunned that they might correct themselves. God will show each that they reap what they sow. In 6:11-18 Paul brings the argument to bear in an undictated hand-written section that simply shows his absolute unwillingness to bend on the salvation “formula”. He closes with a clear statement of his desire to depend solely on his faith in the work of Jesus as Messiah. His benediction includes mercy for those who accept this message, including the ” Israel of God” (the Jew who found his Messiah in Jesus), lest he be seen as anti-Jewish!

Summary of Galatian Argument

Paul does not speak to the issue of allowing Jewish believers to maintain their obedience to the law. He speaks directly to the issue of trusting the law in part or in whole for justification. He does not insist that they not be circumcised, he insists that circumcision is irrelevant to living out one’s faith in this economy, and that the practice has no positive effect on the observer’s justification before God. The only possible argument for dispensing with the Jewish practices is the possibility of clouding the Gospel.