Dover Church of Christ

Paul's Letter to Galatia

This letter of Paul's is unusual in that it was written to a region rather than to a specific congregation; Galatia would be in the area of modern-day Turkey. It was evidently the intent that this letter would be carried from congregation to congregation of the Galatian region.

The dating of the letter varies according to whether the North Galatian theory (A. D. 56) or the Southern Galatian theory (A. D. 49) is used. Either way, the book to the Galatians was one of the earliest New Testament books written.

Even by A. D. 50, the church was beset by the problem of how much Old Law to subscribe to. Even Simon Peter was carried away at times by the tendency to go back to the rigors and rudiments of the Old Law (Galatians 2: 11- 16). Paul's confrontation with him over the circumcision issue points out the humanity and the fallibility even of apostles.

Paul begins by "immunizing" the Galatians against any other messenger who might come to preach to them some other Gospel (1: 8, 9). His exhortation is not unlike that of the Revelation (22: 18, 19) and shows the seriousness of scripture-tampering. Falsifying scripture is a very serious matter and cannot be tolerated in the first century or any other.

In chapters 3, 4, and 5, Paul begins a characteristically learned argument in showing the Galatians that they should not compromise their Christian liberty in going back to keeping the Old Testament. They had been called to liberty and should not subject themselves to the Judaizing teachers. His frustration with those Jews culminates in 5: 12, "Would that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves." In effect he said, "If cutting a little off to accomplish circumcision is of any benefit, why don't they just cut it all off?"

In recent years, some have tried to use chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5 to argue against doing any work as part of salvation. That is a misapplication of the scripture and would pit Galatians at variance with the Sermon on the Mount, James chapter 2, Titus 3: 14, Philippians 3: 13, and the judgment scene in Revelation 20: 11-15, to mention only a few. "Work" or "works" occurs nine times in Galatians. Six of those are in the phrase "works of the law;"one other "work" was done by God, one is the "works of the flesh" in 5: 18, and one is about man testing his own "work" in 6: 4. The predominance of the times "work" is mentioned in Galatians is in reference to the Old Law. "Law" in reference to the Old Law occurs 28 times. "Circumcision" occurs 14 tiems. I mention all of this to point out that Galatians is a book about not going back to the Old Law of Judaism, not a proof text to convince believers to not do any work for the Lord. Circumcision is particularly criticized by Paul as a rite to be avoided. But if Galatians is supposed to be a proof text against all work and all obedience, Chapter 6 of Galatians is a problem. Galatians is a long "to-do" list of works that Christians should do.

Paul goes from those topics to that of teamwork in walking the Christian walk. Galatians 6 is a class chapter on the strong helping the weak. Even as the strong help the weak, they should be careful not to be overcome themselves by temptation. He urges them to "do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith." Galatians is a long "to-do" list of works that Christians should do.

The old saying is true of works: You won't go to heaven because of them, but you won't be going without them either."


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