This is an overview of chapters 1 and 2 of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul himself founded the churches in Galatia (Gal 1:8), but after he left, some people, probably Jewish Christians from Jerusalem (2:17), took a dangerously distorted gospel to those churches (Gal 1:6-9). Their intention was to compel Gentile Christians to be circumcised (Gal 2:3, 12) and to live like Jews (Gal 2:14). They argued that man is “justified by the works of the Law” (Gal 2:16) and said:
“Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).
To oppose this distorted gospel, Paul wrote this letter. In the first two chapters he provides his credentials:
He is “an apostle” (Gal 1:1), which means to be sent by God.
God has set him apart even from his mother’s womb and called him to preach among the Gentiles (Gal 1:15-16; 2:7-8).
Paul received his message directly from God, not through other men (Gal 1:1, 11-12, 16-19; 2:6).
The church leaders in Jerusalem accepted his message as from God (Gal 2:9).
He took Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile, along with him on his visit to the church headquarters in Jerusalem, and Titus was not compelled to be circumcised (Gal 2:3, 9). This also confirms that the church leaders accepted Paul’s gospel.
CHRISTIANS ARE NOT SUBJECT TO THE LAW.
In Gal 2:16, Paul attacks the foundation of the demand that Gentile Christians be circumcised. He wrote:
“Man is not justified by the works of the Law
but through faith in Christ Jesus.”
Many people understand this as the main message of the letter to the Galatians but his real message is that Christians are not subject to the Law of Moses:
(1) Paul’s entire purpose is to prevent the circumcision of Gentiles. (Circumcision was the door into Judaism.)
(2) The question “is Christ then a minister of sin?” (Gal 2:17) seems to be an argument used by Paul’s opponents. Paul taught that Gentiles should not be circumcised and should not “live like Jews” (Gal 2:14). Paul’s enemies argued that this teaching makes of Christ is “a minister of sin”.
(3) Through his teaching, Paul has “destroyed” (Gal 2:18) “the barrier of the dividing wall” between Jew and Gentile which is “the Law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Eph 2:14-15).
(4) Paul wrote, “I died to the Law.” This means that Jewish Christians are “released from the Law” and now no longer have to serve “in oldness of the letter” (Rom 7:6).
Statements like these mean that Christians are released from serving by the letter the Law. This is Paul’s real main message against the distorted gospel which attempted to convert Gentile Christians into Judaism.
JUSTIFIED THROUGH FAITH
Paul not only explains that “man is not justified by the works of the Law” (2:16) but also provides the correct method of justification, namely “through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 2:16). He, therefore, contrasts “faith” with “the works of the Law” (Gal 2:16; 3:10):
“Works” are the rituals and ceremonies required by the Law. The Jews, including some early Jewish Christians, thought that they become acceptable to God through these works.
“Faith” is the internal mindset that trusts God and relies on His grace (merciful-kindness). Romans 7 explains what faith is.
ACTS 15 CHURCH COUNCIL
The issue on the table at the Acts 15 Chruch Council exactly was whether Gentiles must be circumcised (Acts 15:1, 3, 5). The church council agreed with Paul (Acts 15:19-20). It is rather strange that Paul does not use the church council’s decision to support his position. Perhaps the church council took place only after Galatians was written. And perhaps the “great dissension and debate” (Acts 15:2), which preceded that meeting, included the letter to the Galatians.
Paul himself founded the churches in Galatia, but, after he left, Jewish Christians from Jerusalem arrived and told the Gentile Christians to be circumcised and to live like Jews. In the first years after Jesus died, the church existed as a sect of Judaism and their real intention was to convert these Gentile Christians into Judaism. They justified their demands by claiming that “man is justified by the words of the law.” These “works” are not works of love but referred to the rituals and ceremonies required by the Law of Moses.
God called Paul and gave to Paul, via revelation, the message he had to preach among the Gentiles. Paul, by implication, was given the task to remove the church out from Judaism. He, therefore, wrote this letter to oppose the Jewish distortion. He wrote that “man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus.” Faith is an internal mindset that trusts God. But Paul’s main message was that Christians are not subject to the Law of Moses.