Preparation Prior to the study session, participants should read the entire book.
Orientation Galatians is book #9 of 27 in the New Testament, and and is one of Paul's letters. For more information see the Bible Overview page.
Synopsis Paul had visited the church in Galatia (western Turkey) before, teaching that salvation is by simple faith in Christ. Several years later, Paul gets word that newcomers to the church have added a new requirement: salvation for the gentiles is not only faith, but also by complying with the old Jewish laws! Paul reacts harshly to this false teaching.
First he states his credentials as an apostle to the gentiles (2:7). He discusses his confrontation with Peter (2:11) in which the church became segregated during meals. He states if salvation can be earned by following the Law, then Christ died for nothing! (2:21). Salvation is by faith alone and that a conversion to Judaism is not required (3:2). Paul argues the Jewish law was only intended to be in force until the Messiah arrives (3:19) - and now that this has occurred, we are no longer under supervision of the Law (3:25).
In Christ there is no distinction between Jew and gentile, free or slave, male or female. All believers are one, and heirs (3:28). Paul traces the descendants of Abraham to explain how the Jews and gentiles have a common ancestor (4:22).
While Christians are free from the Old Testament laws, Paul says Christians must live godly lives anyway. He turns the concept around. Instead of laws causing godly behavior, under the new system godly behavior causes growth, with believers growing fruits of the spirit (5:22); while being free of the tyranny of the old law system. He ends with practical advice on assisting other believers who are caught in sin (6:1).
Activity Consider the fruits of the spirit (5:22). How are fruits of the spirit different from the gifts of the spirit, listed in 1 Corinthians 12:1? * List the fruits of the spirit. For each, list practices and methods by which we can develop and bear these fruits. Discussion points This book notes a major crisis point in the church. The popular thought was that people had to become Jews before they could become Christians. Paul strongly vetoed that idea. Gentiles can become Christians directly, by faith. How would the church have turned out if Paul's correction had not taken hold? **
Connections The issue of gentiles converting to Judaism as a route to Christianity had been previously debated and settled in Paul's favor at a meeting of Christian leaders in Jerusalem, about AD 49. The meeting is recorded in Acts 15.
Galatians 6:11 may be a hint to identifying Paul's physical 'thorn in the flesh' mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7. ***
For source citations see the home page. Revised April 11 2014
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** All Christians would have to become Jews, bound by the Old Testament laws. Christianity would not have become a major relation, but rather a a branch of Judaism. Gentiles who converted into Judaism would likely have been seen as lower status, resulting in a segregated system, which he clearly warns against in Galatians 2:12.
***Paul's note about writing in big letters may be a hint of a visual disability.