Paul's Letter to the Galatians
by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.

Introduction | Outline | Literary Issues | Themes | Questions | Bibliography

[Still under construction.]


Introduction:


An Outline of Paul's Letter to the Galatians:
  1. Letter Opening (1:1-10)
    1. Sender & Recipients: "Paul, an apostle... to the churches of Galatia:" (1:1-2)
    2. Formulaic Greeting: "Grace to you and peace from God..." (1:3-5)
    3. Excoriation & Rebuke, instead of the usual Thanksgiving (1:6-10)
       
  2. Letter Body (1:11—6:10)
    1. Paul's Autobiographical Defense of his Apostleship and his Preaching (1:11—2:21)
      1. Paul's transition from persecuting the Church to preaching the Christian faith (1:11-24)
      2. The Council of Jerusalem: Paul & companions discuss Gentile converts with the "pillars" of the Church (2:1-10)
      3. The Incident at Antioch: Paul confronts Cephas/Peter about refusing to eat with Gentiles (2:11-14),
        and argues that people are justified by the faith of Jesus, not works of the law (2:15-21)
    2. Theological Deliberations: Arguments for Justification by Faith from the Galatians' Experience & the Scriptures (3:1—5:12)
      1. The Galatians received the Spirit by believing in Christ, even before they knew about the law (3:1-5)
      2. God's blessing of Abraham's faith is extended to all nations through Christ (3:6-14)
      3. God's promises to Abraham, which came long before the law, are fulfilled in Christ;
        the law was merely a "disciplinarian" until Christ came and brought faith (3:15-25)
      4. All believers are adopted children and heirs of God, no longer slaves to “elemental spirits” of the world (3:26—4:11)
      5. The Galatians should remember the devotion they had for Paul when he was first among them (4:12-20)
      6. Abraham, Hagar, Sarah, and their two sons are an allegory for Christians as children of freedom, not slavery (4:21-31)
      7. Concluding Application: Christ set us free, so Gentiles need not and should not be circumcised (5:1-12)
    3. Ethical Admonitions: Freedom for Service, Life in the Spirit, and Sharing in Community (5:13—6:10)
      1. Do not use freedom as an excuse for licentiousness, but for loving service (5:13-15)
      2. Live by the Spirit, not the desires of the flesh (with lists of vices & virtues; 5:16-26)
      3. Share with others and do good to all, especially to community of believers (6:1-10)
         
  3. Letter Conclusion (6:11-18)
    1. Personal Postscript, Summarizing Paul's Message (6:11-15)
    2. Final Exhortation and Blessings (6:16-18)

Literary & Historical Issues regarding Galatians:

Location & Date: To Whom and When Was This Letter Written?

Literary Features and Peculiarities:


Major Themes from the Letter to the Galatians:

The Council of Jerusalem: Differences between Paul's and Luke's versions

PAUL (Gal 2:1-10) LUKE (Acts 15)
When? 14 years after Paul's first visit to the Jerusalem apostles (2:1a). Some time after Barnabas & Paul had returned to Antioch from their first missionary journey (Acts 13-14).
Paul went with Barnabas, and took Titus along (2:1b). Paul, Barnabas, "and some others" from the Church at Antioch (15:2).
He went in response to a "revelation" (2:2a). They were sent by the Antioch Church after some people from Judea had caused a disturbance, preaching the necessity of circumcision (15:1-3).
He presents his gospel "privately to those of repute" (2:2b). They are welcomed by and report to the whole Jerusalem Church (15:4).
Titus, a Greek, was not compelled to be circumcised (2:3). [Paul supposedly has Timothy circumcised "on account of the Jews," because "all knew that his father was a Greek" - 16:3]
Paul refused to submit to "false brothers" who wanted to take away
the Gentile converts' freedom and to enslave them (2:4-5).
Some Pharisees insist on the necessity of circumcision and observance of the whole Mosaic law (15:5).
The Christian leaders in Jerusalem made Paul "add nothing" (2:6). The apostles & elders long debate the issues, with speeches by Peter and James (15:6-18); to conclude, James decides they should "stop troubling" the Gentile converts, but also write a letter telling them to avoid idolatry, fornication, meat from strangled animals, and blood (15:19-21, 28-29).

These leaders (James & Cephas & John) recognized that
Paul was sent (by God) to preach to the uncircumcised/Gentiles,
just as Peter was sent to preach to the circumcised/Jews (2:7-9).

[Acts never mentions this division of labor; on the contrary, both Peter & Paul preach to both Jews & Gentiles; see Acts 2; 10–11; 13–14; 15:7; etc.]
These "reputed pillars" of the Jerusalem community gave
Paul & Barnabas "their right hands in partnership" (2:9b).
The Jerusalem leaders send two representatives with Paul & Barnabas to Antioch to deliver their letter, which is gratefully received (15:22-31).
The only request: They were "to be mindful of the poor" (2:10). [Remembering the poor is not in Acts 15, but earlier Paul & Barnabas had delivered relief from Antioch to Judean Christians; 11:27-30]

Some Quotable Quotes from Galatians (NRSV translation):

See also: Justification by Faith in Galatians & Romans

See also: Differences between James & Paul (esp. Galatians & Romans) on Faith & Works

 


Questions for Review and Discussion:


For Further Reading and Study 


Electronic New Testament Educational Resources

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